29 September 2010

The Incarnation

'And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . .'

'Dwelt' here is the verb form of the noun skene, tent or tabernacle. OT-sensitive readers of John’s Gospel would immediately think of the portable temple, the tabernacle, transferred throughout the wilderness in their wanderings between Egypt and the promised land.

What was a tabernacle? What was a temple?

Unlike some other elements of Jewish faith, a temple was not unique to Judaism. Virtually every ancient religion had a temple of some kind. The temple, for Judaism and other religions, was a tangible, physical location where the immortal met the mortal, where the supernatural and the natural collided, where the eternal and the temporal intersected, where the sacred and the profane stood face to face. The temple was where the divine and the fleshly could meet--never to mix, but to come into brief contact with one another.

But at the center of all human history, the divine and the fleshly did mix. 'And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.' Rumbling through the OT was the development of the theme of the presence of God among his people, a presence centered in the most sacred of Jewish places, the tabernacle and then the temple. The tabernacling presence of God is ultimately clinched in a myriad of powerful ways in Revelation.

It was here in this movable temple that God dwelt among his people (Exod 25:8). It was here that glory rested. Fellowship with God briefly resumed. In a sense, the tabernacle was a miniature Garden of Eden—complete with a sky-blue ceiling and a lampstand decorated like a flourishing tree. In fact, the Hebrew word that corresponds to the Greek word skene was shekan, from which we get our language of Shekinah, the glory of God that became so terrifyingly palpable in the temple. Notice then what John says in the rest of verse 14: 'And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen his glory.' And in Isaiah 40:6-8, glory, flesh, and God's word had already been clustered together, but there it was to erect an absolute antithesis between human flesh and God's word.

In 1 Kings 8:27 Solomon offered a prayer of dedication to the temple, wondering aloud at the notion that an earthly building could contain the God of the heavens. Jonathan Edwards rightly reflected on this verse with a handwritten note in the margin of his Bible:
If it was a thing so very wonderful in Solomon’s eyes, such a marvelous instance of condescension for God to dwell on earth in the manner he did in the tabernacle and temple, how much a greater and more wonderful thing was it for him to dwell with us as our Immanuel in the manner that he did in the human nature of Christ.
In the OT the supernatural collided with the natural in a physical building, where, with severely limited access, humans could meet with God in his glory. In the NT the supernatural collided with the natural in a physical body, where, with unlimited access, humans could meet with God in his glory. The OT temple repelled the sick, deformed and unclean. The NT temple attracted the sick, deformed and unclean.

We no longer enter into a temple of wood and stone to meet with God; God has entered into a temple of flesh and blood to meet with us.

What a Savior.

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