Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
Fellow blogger Colin Markham, at Fellowship of St. Peter , recently posted an essay on the destruction of the Temple that occurred in 70 A.D. He draws the analogy of the Temple’s demise with the establishment of the church, highlighting Jesus, now, as our High Priest, sanctuary, and sacrifice.
I am also featuring this, with permission, because amid the intensifying darkness of the world, also prophesied, it is easy to forget the “fundamentals,” the profound simplicity of the Gospel, the refreshing and rejuvenating love of God through Christ Jesus, the Word Made Flesh. It is easy to forget the uplifting message of the Sermon on the Mount, specifically the Beatitudes, as our guide, by grace, to peace.
Getting back to fundamentals: The Beatitudes
by Colin Markham
The grandeur of the cathedral set my mind to ponder on where it had all gone wrong. As I looked round at the high archways, massive pillars and marble steps, it came to me that the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 had failed to register as a prophecy of key significance in the establishment of the church. Human pride overcame an ethos of love and turned it into imperialism: the pursuit of power, prestige and wealth. Had Jesus not prophesied the event? (Mark 13.2). And had he not revealed himself as the sanctuary that would replace the Temple? (John 2.19-22).
In Christ, priesthood, sanctuary and sacrifice are interwoven because, as Messiah and Son of God, he is effectively heaven come down to earth, the Word made flesh (John 1.1-5). The Temple was a symbol of holiness and the spiritual centre of Judaism. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of holiness and the absolute centre of our faith.
As High Priest, Jesus is our only mediator, for he has gone ahead into the heavenly sanctuary and is seated at the right hand of God (Mark 16.19; Hebrews 8.25; 1 Timothy 2.5). There is no requirement for a caste of priests to serve as additional intermediaries. The Temple priests are now superceded by one who has in his own person undergone the perfect sacrifice and entered the sanctuary of heaven where he administers judge-ment (John 5.22-27; 2 Corinthians 5.10).
As sanctuary, Jesus functions in two ways. Firstly, as the focus of our worship, just as the inner sanctum of the Temple served as the Holy of Holies, except that we can freely approach Christ in prayer and adoration, whereas the sanctuary of the Temple could only be entered by the High Priest on rare occasions. Secondly, Jesus is the fount of the Holy Spirit, whom the Father sent in his name (John 14.26). As the sanctuary of the Spirit he frees us from the letter of the Law because he is the very Word of God (John 1.14). He is the synthesis of God. The Law is replaced by the Word dwelling in our hearts in the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ summarises the Law as love of God and love of neighbour (Luke 10.25-37).
As sacrifice, Jesus has entered the sanctuary with his own blood, having redeemed mankind. As the sinless one, he is the perfect sacrifice to God through the eternal Spirit (Hebrews 7.26; 9.12-14; 1 John 5.5-8). This sacrifice was a once-and-for-all event. It is memorialised to recall the agony of the Cross by which mankind was freed from slavery to sin (Matthew 26.26-28). The Last Supper is a fellowship meal, the breaking of bread, not a ritualised separation of clergy and laity. In the early church the meal was a joyous affair celebrating the resurrection, later changed to a solemn ritual recalling the crucifixion. Sacrifice is now spiritual, one of self-denial and self-sacrifice, not the liturgy of the altar (1 Peter 2.4-5).
The New Covenant, wrought in Christ’s blood, is a new era. It is not Judaism in another form. The Christian faith was nurtured in Judaism but emerged from it as a religion in its own right, and this began early on (Acts 2.1-47; 10.34-38; 13.26-49; 15.1-29; 16.5). Sanctuaries, altars, sacrifices and priests are redolent of the Temple. They have no place in Christianity which is built on an ethos of love, for God is love. God sent his Son to teach us a new Way, the refreshment of new wine poured from new wineskins (Luke 5.37-39). The theme of renewal runs through the New Testament. Our old nature was crucified with Christ (Romans 6.6), our new nature is created by Christ (2 Corinthians 5.17) and sustained by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12.1-11).
The teachings of Christ are radically new because they draw us away from legalism towards self-giving love. Humanity is restored by a reoriented faith in God through Christ. In the power of the Holy Spirit we become a priesthood mediating Christ (1 Peter 2.9-10), not in an ecclesiastical sense but as disciples ministering in his name, using spiritual gifts which he has bestowed on us (Ephesians 4.11-13).
The Christian ethos is captured beautifully in the Beatitudes which serve as a prelude to the greatest of all Christ’s discourses, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 to 7). Everything we do in his name brings a blessing, by exuding the highest attainments of the human spirit: humility, gentleness, justice, mercy, purity of heart, peace, courage in the face of persecution. None of these qualities can be achieved without the infusion of God’s grace and our unswerving trust in his power. Christ demonstrated the Beatitudes in his life and ministry, and ultimately in submitting himself to sacrifice on the Cross. Through the Cross and resurrection Christ triumphed over death and evil, and salvation to eternal life is promised to those who follow him (John 14.1-6).
Picture of Canterbury Cathedral from Wikimedia Commons.
Composite images of Christ from Wikimedia Commons