Relevant Passages: Exodus 25:9, 40; Hebrew 8:5; 1 Peter 1:19; 1 Corinthians 5:7
God’s Picture Book. One of the important methods the early Christians used to attempt to understand the ministry of Christ was the earthly sanctuary and its services. In 1 Peter 5:7 Jesus is referred to as “the lamb without blemish and without spot”; in 1 Cor. 5:7 Jesus is referred to as “our Passover,” who “was sacrificed for us.” Yet a picture book may not always be helpful; sometimes it can actually be misleading. Consider the following aspects:
1. Canaanite Pattern, Platonic Pattern. In Exod. 25:9 God commands Moses to follow the “pattern” in making the sanctuary. This same theme is picked up in the New Testament in Heb. 8:5. What is particularly interesting is that the OT pattern is remarkably similar to the pattern used in Canaanite temples. Was God adapting his “pictures” to the ability of people to understand, people who lived in a world of Canaanite temples? Similarly, the book of Hebrews seems to be working within the understanding that everything on earth is a replica of a greater and original “idea” in heaven, a concept popularized by the Greek philosopher Plato. Is it possible that God uses the same set of pictures, but in a different way, adapting them to a world which is now steeped in the philosophy of Plato? What does this method tell us about the possible dangers of making the pictures “absolute” rather than adaptations to human understanding? Note Ellen White’s comment about God’s condescension:
The Lord speaks to human beings in imperfect speech, in order that the degenerate senses, the dull, early perception, of earthly beings may comprehend His words. Thus is shown God’s condescension. He meets fallen human beings where they are. The Bible perfect as it is in its simplicity, does not answer to the great ideas of God; for infinite ideas cannot be perfectly embodied in finite vehicles of thought. (1SM 22)
2. The Picture Book Gone Awry. In Jeremiah’s day, the Jerusalem temple and its services had actually tempted God’s people to put their trust in the wrong place, in the pictures instead of in God. Thus in his so-called “temple speech” Jeremiah rebukes the people for running to the temple for refuge after they have committed evil deeds. Putting matters very bluntly, he simply said: “Do not trust in these deceptive words: `This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord'” (Jer. 7:4). Similarly, Jeremiah hints that the ark itself had been misleading. Speaking of the restored state, he exclaimed: “They shall no longer say, `The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed; nor shall another one be made” (Jer. 3:16). Perhaps the misuse of the ark by Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas (1 Sam. 4:1-11) was not the only occasion when God’s people misused that precious symbol of God’s presence. Is there evidence of similar misunderstandings of God’s pictures in Jesus’ day? What about in our modern world today? Can God-given symbols also lead us astray?
3. The Real Question: What Kind of Messiah? If the pictures were so clear, why did Jesus’ own people reject His message that He was the suffering servant? Where is the bridge between the ruling king (e.g. Isaiah 11:1-5) and the suffering servant (Isaiah 53)?