SO, WHAT’S ALL THIS OLD TESTAMENT STUFF ABOUT ANYWAY?
In the pervious post we answered, What is a covenant and the Ark? We also learned about the ancient Jewish Tabernacle, Temple, and even sacrifices (and not the type in the Temple of Doom). Before we get back into Indy and Raiders, it’ll be helpful to understand what all this ancient Jewish ritual stuff is about…
As Christians, we interpret all of the events written of in the Old Testament in the light of the revelation of God through Jesus Christ, who came not to abolish the Old Testament, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17). The whole of the Old Testament is foreshadowing Christ and preparing Israel, God’s chosen people, for his coming – and through this God will bless the whole world (as we saw in the last post in God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3.)
The Book of Hebrews (especially chapters 8-9) in the New Testament helps us to understand the significance of the Tabernacle (and later the Temple), the rituals, and the Ark in light of Christ’s work.
The Tabernacle/Temple (as well as the religious rituals centered on them) are a “shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb.8:5). In other words, they are physical representations of spiritual realities. The Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle/Temple represents coming into God’s presence, but there is a separation between God and his people, symbolized by the veil. This separation is caused by our sin, and the “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Thus, to enter into the presence of the Holy God will destroy us. To atone for sins, the High Priest makes a blood sacrifice as a substitute, enters the Most Holy Place, and sprinkles the blood on the Mercy Seat above the Ark.
Hebrews 9:22 tells us, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” But Hebrews 10:4 also tells us, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” So, why does God make Israel do all this? To point to our need for a sacrifice that can truly take away sin and reunite us with God — to point to our need for a savior — to point us to Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death on the cross. Thus, the answer to the mysteries of the Old Testament is revealed in Jesus Christ.
Jesus said at the Last Supper, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20), and Hebrews 9:15 calls Christ “the mediator of a new covenant.”
Remember, covenants can be mutually binding, and God made a mutually binding covenant with Israel after freeing them from slavery in Egypt in Exodus 19-24. God promised to protect and bless them, and Israel said,
“’All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood [of the peace offerings] and threw it on the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.’” (Exodus 24:7-8)
But Israel didn’t keep up their end of the agreement. Israel rebelled against God; Israel turned from God’s moral law; Israel worshipped other gods. Like a cheating wife, Israel broke its vow, and, thus, the contract was null and void. So, God removed his protection and blessings. He allowed them to be taken into exile; he allowed Jerusalem, even his own Temple — the very way Israel had access to God — to be destroyed.
But he didn’t forget his promises in his earlier covenants, and in his mercy, he promised a new covenant. The writer of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah’s Old Testament prophecy:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:31-34)
And Hebrews 9:11-14 says,
“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent [Tabernacle] (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
Christ is our perfect high priest who gave his body — a perfect temple — and became our perfect sacrifice. And in this new covenant, one has only to trust in what Christ did for them and they’ll enter into God’s presence no longer fearing death.
Thus, there’s no more need for the Tabernacle/Temple, the high priest, the sacrifices, or the Ark. The work is finished by Christ’s work, not our own.
Jeremiah 3:16 even spoke of this day, a day when the Ark will not be needed anymore:
And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the LORD, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the LORD.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again.
In short, all this Old Testament stuff is about preparing the world for Jesus.
NEXT: The Ark in Action!