The Holy Spirit Upon the Messiah: The Gospels’ Use of Isaiah

This post examines how the New Testament (NT) Gospel writers explicitly appropriated the Old Testament (OT) book of Isaiah’s pneumatology in their presentation of Jesus as the Messiah. A working assumption of this examination is that explicit quotations are the most prominent and clear markers of OT borrowing. By the time of Jesus, there was a widespread belief that the Messiah would be empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Gospel writers especially used Isaiah’s prophecies about the Spirit to show that Jesus was the expected Spirit-filled Messiah.

Because the Gospels are concerned with presenting Jesus as the Messiah, it is not surprising that the Gospel writers include OT quotes that predict the Spirit upon the Messiah. Less explicitly but just as significant, all four Gospels give an account of the Spirit descending upon Jesus at the commencement of his ministry. In the Spirit’s descent in the synoptics, most see an allusion to the Isaianic servant of 42:1 (with perhaps a shading of 61:1 in Luke).[1] Each Gospel has its own nuance with the common theme being the Holy Spirit rests on Jesus, fulfilling messianic expectations.

Photo credit to from Pixabay (208356 on Pexels)

In Matthew (3:16-17) and Luke (3:21-22), the Spirit’s descent upon Jesus (and the OT allusions) at the beginning of his ministry is given further treatment using explicit OT quotations. In Matthew, that quotation does not appear for some time and yet Matthew connects and builds on his earlier allusion. Matthew, more than any other Gospel, depicts Jesus’ baptism and receiving the Spirit in the midst of conflict with the Pharisees. When Isa 42:1-4 is explicitly quoted later in Matt 12:18-21 the Pharisees are not only opposing Jesus’ ministry they “conspired against him, as how to destroy him” (12:14). Matthew 12:15-21 reads:

But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, and warned them not to tell who He was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “BEHOLD, MY SERVANT WHOM I HAVE CHOSEN; MY BELOVED IN WHOM MY SOUL is WELL-PLEASED; I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT UPON HIM, AND HE SHALL PROCLAIM JUSTICE TO THE GENTILES. HE WILL NOT QUARREL, NOR CRY OUT; NOR WILL ANYONE HEAR HIS VOICE IN THE STREETS. A BATTERED REED HE WILL NOT BREAK OFF, AND A SMOLDERING WICK HE WILL NOT PUT OUT, UNTIL HE LEADS JUSTICE TO VICTORY AND IN HIS NAME THE GENTILES WILL HOPE.”  

Matthew 12:15-21 (NASB)

This quotation reminds the readers that Jesus is the Spirit-endowed servant Messiah. However, this OT concept is not reintroduced to make a pneumatological point but to explain the events at this juncture of Jesus’ ministry. David Turner posits three purposes for quoting Isa 42:1-4: 1) It explains why Jesus withdraws from conflict, not proclaiming his identity but quietly ministering to the weak. 2) As Jewish opposition increases, Matthew is gradually introducing the divine necessity (and receptivity) of the gentiles. 3) This quote sets up Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ accusation (Matt 12:24) that Jesus performs miracles by the power of Beelzebub.[2]  If Turner is correct then the purposes for using Isa 42 are not primarily about pneumatology. Instead, Matthew shows how the Spirit enables Jesus’ messianic ministry to gently proceed towards the divine end despite loud opposition.

In contrast to the religious leaders’ false judgments about Jesus and his works, the use of Isa 42:1-4 highlights the just dealings of the Messiah. In its original context, Isa 42:1-4 emphasized the just decision that the servant will render on Yahweh’s behalf, more than the identity of the servant.[3] If Matthew is maintaining this emphasis then the public, false judgments of the Pharisees are self-condemning and contrast with the Spirit-filled Messiah quietly advancing God’s restorative plan (the subject of chs 40-55 in Isaiah) to the oppressed.[4]  

The surrounding material of Isa 42:1-4 describes God’s plan for restoration from exile; a restoration that will be greater than the exodus from Egypt.[5] This plan will be accomplished through Yahweh’s servant on behalf of Israel and this restoration will take on a world-wide scope to the nations (Isa 42:6; 49:6; 56:6-8; 66:18-23).

With this OT quotation Matthew reinforces the portrait of Jesus and his ministry as empowered by the Spirit and as a fulfillment of Isaiah’s new exodus theme. Such a portrait is based on understanding the servant of Isa 42 as the Messiah who would usher in justice (the other side of salvation) in the new age of restoration. Matthew’s appropriation of Isa 42 demonstrates that his understanding of the Messiah fits in the broad expectations for the Messiah in the second temple period.  

In Luke’s Gospel, the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at the beginning of his ministry (Luke 3:22) is soon followed by an OT quotation that emphasizes Jesus’ spiritual empowerment.  After Jesus’ baptism, he is “full of the Holy Spirit” and is lead around “by the Spirit” in the wilderness for forty days (Luke 4:1). Jesus returns to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit” and begins his public ministry. Luke chooses to focus on Jesus in Nazareth and particularly on his scripture reading in the synagogue.  Luke 4:17-21 states:

And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.” And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:17-21 (NASB)

With this quotation of Isa 61:1-2 (with Isa 58:6 sandwiched in the middle) Jesus announces that the commencing of his ministry fulfills OT prophecy. The previous context confirms that Luke is very interested in depicting Jesus as being led by the Spirit. Now, Luke brings in the scriptural authority to not only support his depiction, but to demonstrate how Jesus fulfills these scriptures from the very beginning of his ministry. Essential to that fulfillment (in Luke’s reckoning) is that Jesus is anointed with the Spirit of God as he proclaims the good news of God. The “good news” of Isa 61:1-2 in its original context probably picked up renewal themes from Isa 40-55 that looked forward to a new exodus and world-wide salvation. Those predictions of renewal are announced in Isa 61 (and now here by Jesus) as coming to pass. This Spirit endowed individual will take up the task to announce comfort to the downtrodden since that task was neglected by those (Israel in Isa 49:1-4) to whom it was originally given.[6]

 With this quotation, Luke presents Jesus as the one who is taking up Yahweh’s task in the power of Yahweh’s Spirit. Having established Jesus as the Spirit-filled prophet of the good news, references to the Spirit greatly subside (only three more in the whole Gospel of Luke: 10:21; 11:13; 12:10) until Jesus promises “power from on high” in 24:49 and then the Spirit bursts on the scene in Acts.  At that point, Jesus (as the risen Messiah and Lord) gives his followers the Spirit to continue the proclamation of the now-realized good news.

 The two aforementioned OT quotes (and their supporting material/allusions) do not exhaust the NT writers’ associations between the Messiah and the Spirit. They do explicitly show a common pneumatological tenet, drawn from the OT, and applied to Jesus. That tenet is the Spirit of Yahweh will be upon the Messiah. The book of Isaiah, with its eschatological expectations of a messianic figure empowered by God’s Spirit, provided the perfect source texts.[7]  Space does not permit a discussion about this tenet itself being a development within the OT. Suffice it to say here that God’s empowering Spirit would necessarily be upon (in an even greater degree) the Messiah just as that Spirit was upon the kings and prophets of Yahweh’s choosing. By the time of Jesus, the OT idea that the Messiah would be filled with the Spirit had solidified further. When the NT writers appropriated OT scripture with this pneumatological/Christological tenet they drew from an existing interpretive stream within second temple Judaism. 


[1] See Matthew  3:13-17, Mark 1:11, and Luke 3:21-22 in CNTUOT (ed. G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 14, 122-128, 279- 281, respectively.  

[2] David Turner, Matthew (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 316-317.

[3] John Goldingay and David Payne, Isaiah 40-55 (Vol 1; ICC; New York: T & T Clark, 2006), 208-222.

[4] For a strong argument that Matthew maintains Isaiah 42’s emphasis on justice see: Richard Beaton, “Messiah and Justice: A Key to Matthew’s Use of Isaiah 42:1-4?” JSNT 75 (1999): 5-23.

[5] Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 844-845.

[6] John Watts, Isaiah 34-66 (WBC 25; Rev. ed.; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 872-874.

[7] Wonsuk Ma, Until the Spirit Comes: The Spirit of God in the Book of Isaiah (JSOTSup271; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1999), 203-213. Although I do not agree with Ma’s assumptions on the various layers of composition, his separate treatment of the canonical layer is helpful.

THE HOLY SPIRIT AS INSPIRER OF SCRIPTURE

THE HOLY SPIRIT AS INSPIRER OF SCRIPTURE

 When the New Testament (NT) writers cited the Old Testament (OT), they drew from a core assumption that the Spirit of God inspired the OT scriptures. In this way the NT writers shared the assumptions of the broader world of second temple Judaism. This pneumatological assumption, however, was not merely “past.”  Instead, the NT writers also assumed the “present” working of the Spirit in the preaching of Christ’s gospel and the apostolic teaching. These points will be demonstrated in order.

The Spirit of God inspired the OT scriptures

Throughout the NT canon, the Holy Spirit is consistently associated with the inspiration of OT scripture.  Such inspiration fits within the broader concept of the Spirit moving within the ancient prophets as they spoke on God’s behalf. Second Peter reflects this work of the Spirit in 1:20-21, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”[1]  In this passage the author credits the Holy Spirit with moving the prophets (specifically the writing prophets) to speak/write the words of God. Other NT writers also assume this pneumatological tenet as they cite OT scripture. Continue reading

From a Holy Place to a Holy Person to a Holy People. (Study 11)

Study 10 showed how John’s Gospel presented Jesus as the fulfillment of all previous sacred places. If Jesus was the fulfillment of these places, what happens now that Jesus has ascended into heaven? How are believers to experience the presence of God now? Moreover, how does God manifest his presence in the age to come? We will answer these questions in the next couple studies.

Study Series Note: This study is the eleventh in a series that examines the Bible’s sacred places (tabernacle, temple, etc.).  In today’s post, we will focus on how the Spirit of God dwells with his people today. In the exile God’s Spirit dwelled among his people, God now dwells in his people through the Holy Spirit.[i] God’s presence went from a place—the temple, to a person—Jesus. That presence now dwells in the people who trust in Jesus. Sometimes believers perceive the presence of the Spirit dwelling inside; sometimes they do not, but perception does not always match reality.

The Spirit of Truth Will be in You

Studies 8 and 9 introduced the exilic prophets and their predictions about God giving his people a new Spirit in the coming restoration. These prophecies are fulfilled through Christ, who establishes a restored and forgiven people of God—a people who are made holy by Christ’s sacrifice and can now be indwelt by the Spirit of God.dove

Because Jesus is the reality behind all sacred places, the Spirit would not only continue to manifest the Father’s presence; the Spirit would manifest Jesus’ presence after his ascension back to heaven. In this way, the people of God become a holy sanctuary of the triune God’s presence on earth.

In John 14:16-20 Jesus says:  16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

This passage is found in Jesus’ final dialogue with his disciples before he is crucified. Jesus prepares the disciples not only for his death, but for what his departure will mean for his followers.

What reassuring promises does Jesus give? (Possible answers: Jesus will send another Helper, the Spirit of truth who will be IN them. He will not leave them orphans. Because Jesus lives they will live. Jesus will be in the Father and IN them and they will be in him.)

If Jesus manifests God’s presence and is the reality behind sacred places, what does it mean for the Spirit to make Jesus’ presence known to his followers? (Possible answer: Jesus’ followers now become a people indwelt with God’s presence. God’s people become the temple.)

In verse 17, notice that the Spirit was with the disciples as they were with the Spirit-filled Christ, but after Jesus’ sacrificial death the Spirit will be sent to indwell them. Remember, Jesus is the reality that stands behind all biblical sacred places because he is the ultimate revelation of God’s presence to humanity. That ultimate revelation can continue to not only be with, but indwell, God’s people as the Spirit of God and Christ transform the hearts of believers. These believers are to bring Christ’s presence to the whole world until the end of the ages.

 

Built up into a Temple of God

Jesus restored a people for God not just from the Israelites, but from all nations (Gentiles). This expansion of God’s people was in keeping with God’s plan to bless all nations through the descendants of Abraham. Both Jews and Gentiles would be built up into a household and temple of God as the Spirit manifests Christ in God’s restored children. This point is made by the Apostle Paul in the book of Ephesians.

Ephesians 2:11-22: 11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands-12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Verses 11-17 describe the Gentiles being brought into the people of God through Christ’s sacrifice. What does the writer say about the Gentiles being brought into God’s people? (Possible answer: The Gentiles were strangers to God’s covenants and people [v.11-12]. They have been brought near to God by Christ’s blood [v. 13]. Through Christ’s sacrifice, all divisions between these two groups have been abolished to make one new and unified people of God [v.14-16]).

In verse 18, another reason for this new unity is given; what is it? (Possible Answer: Through Christ, both groups have access to the Father through the same Spirit).

Verses 19-22 use both household and temple imagery. The new messianic community is being built up into a household of God and his holy temple. Continuing with that building imagery, how is this new temple being built? (Possible Answer: It is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus is the cornerstone [v. 20]. The people seem to be parts, as they are “built together” into this dwelling [v. 22].)

Using repetition with variation for emphasis, verses 21-22 describe how believers constitute a new temple. In Christ, the cornerstone, the whole house is joined together and grows into a temple of the Lord. Both Jewish and Gentile believers are being built together into a dwelling place for God the Spirit. Christ, who manifests the divine presence of the heavenly temple, sends his Holy Spirit to his people. The Spirit of God indwells the people—making them the new temple. Gordon Fee explains, “Here is the ultimate fulfillment of the imagery of God’s presence, begun but lost in the Garden, restored in the tabernacle in Exodus 40 and in the temple in 1 Kings 8. It is God’s own presence among us that marks us off as the people of God . . .”[ii] John 14:16-20 stated the presence of God (and Christ) would indwell the people of God. This passage in Ephesians concurs. The divine presence that Christ embodied is still available in his new temple, the people of his church. The church, however, is not a building. The church is the people of God indwelt by the Spirit presence of God. God’s temple presence has gone from a place (tabernacle, temple) to a person (Christ), to a people.

How does the depiction of Christ’s followers here differ from common conceptions of the church? (Possible answer: Many people consider church a boring building to attend religious services. Here, the church is a diverse collection of different types of people who are unified in Christ and who experience the presence of God through the Spirit.)

When the Israelites visited the tabernacle or temple, they knew that God’s glory presence dwelled in the Holy of Holies. But as they stood before the sanctuary, do you think they, or the officiating priests, always felt God’s presence? (Possible answer: Probably not. Other than the times when God manifested his presence in the glory cloud, many Israelites would have believed God was present in the Most Holy Place, even though they could not perceive him. In the Bible, sometimes God manifests his presence in an obvious, earth-shaking way. At other times, people are unaware until God opens their eyes.)

If you are a Christian then sometimes you probably don’t feel indwelt by the Spirit of God. How can you make God’s presence a more experienced reality in your life? (Possible answers: Stop being a loner. Although the Spirit dwells in individuals, the Bible emphasizes the household aspect of the Spirit. In the new reconciled community the Spirit is experienced in and through the people. Since the apostles and prophets make up the foundation of the temple and Christ is the cornerstone, we experience life as a temple the more we are connected to Christ [prayer and worship] and the words of his messengers [prophets and apostles wrote scripture]).

Why does this passage keep emphasizing the centrality of Christ in the bringing together and building up this new household and temple of the Lord? (Possible answers: Christ’s sacrifice cleanses all people who believe in him, regardless of background, to make them holy for God’s presence. Jesus manifested God’s presence and sends the Spirit to continue to manifest the presence to believers [as John 14 described]. These believers then become a temple of the Spirit to bring God’s presence into the entire world. If we want to experience Christ’s presence more, we need to walk with him.)

What does God’s presence dwelling in his people reveal about God’s character and his plan for his people? (Possible Answers: God is loving and rescues his people for his family through Christ. He plans to have a close, heart transforming relationship with his people. His people are indwelt by his presence and they are to manifest his presence throughout their world and lives.)

 

END NOTES

[i] For a thorough discussion of this topic see: James Hamilton, God’s Indwelling Presence (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006).

[ii] Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 689. R. McKelvey, The New Temple: The Church in the New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), 179-180, speaking generally about the church as the new temple agrees: “The New Testament declares that God has fulfilled his word of promise made by the prophets and erected a new and more glorious temple. . . . God no longer dwells in a house with his people: he dwells in them; they are his temple.”

Review of Michael Horton’s “Rediscovering the Holy Spirit.”

With high levels of interest in the Holy Spirit, Michael Horton’s Rediscovering the Holy Spirit seeks to ground and re-integrate Christian pneumatology into historic Trinitarianism. horton HSIn the first chapter Horton states this purpose: “One of my central concerns in these chapters is to explore the Spirit’s distinctive role in every external work of the Godhead. The Spirit is neither ‘shy’ nor a freelance operator; his work is not merely supplemental to the creating and redeeming work of the Father in the Son but is integral to the divine drama from beginning to end. In short, I want to widen our vision of the Spirit’s work.”(16) Throughout his book, Horton pursues this purpose by examining the Spirit’s unity with the Father and Son alongside the Spirit’s distinctive role in all of the Triune God’s various works. While books about the Holy Spirit have multiplied recently, contemporary discussions have tended to depersonalize, compartmentalize, and unmoor the Spirit from the Trinity. For this reason, Horton’s contribution is timely and worth reading. Continue reading

Returning and Rebuilding after the Exile. Study 9.

Study Series Note: This study is the ninth in a series that examines the Bible’s sacred places (tabernacle, temple, etc.).  The previous study discussed the prophet Jeremiah’s warnings that empty ritual in the temple would bring about its destruction. This post discusses the rebuilding of the temple and the role of God’s Spirit presence in the restoration.

As the prophet Jeremiah predicted, the Babylonians destroyed the temple and deported the people of Jerusalem. This time in captivity was known as the “Exile.” The Exile had a profound effect on how the Jewish people viewed God’s presence and the temple. In particular, the concept of God’s Spirit gained greater prominence when describing God’s active presence among his people.flame Moreover, God’s Spirit would bring the needed heart restoration so that God’s glory could dwell closely with his people again.[i]

The Exile ended when the ascendant Persian empire allowed the Jewish people to return and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. The Old Testament books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Haggai describe this rebuilding. The rebuilt temple is often referred to as the “second temple.” The second temple was much more modest than Solomon’s temple and the Holy of Holies lacked the Ark of the Covenant. For this and other reasons, many Jews maintained an emphasis on the Spirit as God’s presence among his people, even though the temple (the traditional place of God’s special presence) was rebuilt.[ii]

God’s Presence among his People

The Exile culminated with the destruction of the temple, but even before this event some Jews like Ezekiel were exiled to Babylon. From exile, Ezekiel predicted that the temple would be destroyed and the remaining Jews also would be sent into exile. Ezekiel (like Jeremiah) also spoke against those in Jerusalem who thought that they had a superior status because of their closeness to God’s presence in the temple. Ezekiel (chapter 11) would proclaim that the Jerusalemites had nothing to boast over the exiles.[iii] In fact, Ezekiel was granted a vision of God’s glory leaving the temple in response to Israel’s apostasy. Whether in exile or in Jerusalem, God would choose to be near those who followed him and stayed true to the covenant.

Scripture study and Discussion:

Ezekiel 11:14-16: 14 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 15 “Son of man, your brothers, your relatives, your fellow exiles and the whole house of Israel, all of them, are those to whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, ‘Go far from the LORD; this land has been given us as a possession.’ 16 Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, Though I had removed them far away among the nations and though I had scattered them among the countries, yet I was a sanctuary for them a little while in the countries where they had gone.”‘

These verses describe how those living in Jerusalem felt that God had removed the exiles from his presence (in the temple) to give the land to those whom he allowed to remain. But God’s presence was not confined to the temple nor was God done judging the nation. Ezekiel’s vision of God’s glory leaving the temple, and the temple’s eventual destruction, confirmed these truths.

How does the Lord respond in verse 16 to those who would say that the exiles were away from the sanctuary so that they were away from the Lord? (Suggested answer: By saying, “though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone” the Lord confirms that his presence has been with the exiles. The Lord, therefore, has been a sanctuary for them because the temple is really about God’s presence. The Jerusalemites can’t boast that they have the temple, especially since the temple was about to be destroyed anyway. The Lord was not done judging the nation, nor was he done bringing about an eventual restoration.)

Ezekiel 11:17-21: 17 “Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries among which you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.”‘ 18 “When they come there, they will remove all its detestable things and all its abominations from it. 19 “And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God. 21 “But as for those whose hearts go after their detestable things and abominations, I will bring their conduct down on their heads,” declares the Lord GOD.

God’s plan is eventually to restore his people to the land. As these verses describe, however, the Lord is less concerned with the temple rituals and more concerned with a people that follow him from the heart.

What does God promise to do for his people in this restoration? (Suggested answer: He will give them a new spirit so that they live out covenant faithfulness from the heart. Note verses 19-20, “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”)

Despite God’s presence in the temple, his people are unfaithful to him and profane his holiness. Mere rituals in a temple do not honor God, but faithfulness from the heart is what God desires from his people. For true restoration to happen, God’s people need a heart transforming Spirit. God must work inside people and not merely inside the temple. This reality is highlighted in Ezekiel’s vision of the glory leaving the temple in the next verses.

Ezekiel 11:22-25: 22 Then the cherubim lifted up their wings with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them. 23 The glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city and stood over the mountain which is east of the city. 24 And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me in a vision by the Spirit of God to the exiles in Chaldea. So the vision that I had seen left me. 25 Then I told the exiles all the things that the LORD had shown me.

The cherubim are part of the great throne chariot that carries God’s glory. Before his vision ends, Ezekiel sees God’s glory presence depart from the temple and the city.

In verse 16 God is a sanctuary to his people in a far-away land, but in these verses God’s glory presence leaves the sanctuary in Jerusalem. What do these contrasting verses reveal about God? (Suggested answer: God can choose to manifest his presence wherever and however he wants. God is more concerned with faithfulness than ritual, so God can be with Ezekiel in Babylon while departing from the sacred sanctuary in Jerusalem.)

This passage in Ezekiel further demonstrates that Yahweh’s presence is connected to, but not dependent on, the temple. Yahweh’s presence is not confined to his house, especially in the midst of a sinful people. This thought also leads into the future promise that Yahweh would again gather the people and restore the covenant relationship. This promise includes an implicit assurance of the return of the glory and an explicit promise of a new spirit within God’s people. When God’s Spirit of holiness indwells his people, the glory presence of the Lord will return. Ezekiel 43 predicts the return of the glory presence to a future temple.

Rebuilding the Temple

After 70 years the exile ended, but the people were still weak and discouraged when they returned to a ruined capital and temple. The concept that God could be present with his people apart from the temple actually encouraged the people to finish rebuilding. God was not impotent and absent without the temple; he was with them and continuing to work out his sovereign plan.

Haggai 2:1-9 On the twenty-first of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet saying, 2 “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people saying, 3 ‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? 4 ‘But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the LORD of hosts. 5 ‘As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!’ 6 “For thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. 7 ‘I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts. 8 ‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD of hosts. 9 ‘The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and in this place I will give peace,’ declares the LORD of hosts.”

How is Haggai encouraging the people? (Suggested answer: He tells them that God is with them and that although things look bad now, greater things are yet to come.)

Through the prophet Haggai, the Lord encourages the exiles that he is with them. God doesn’t need a fully refurbished house to do his work, so the exiles are not separated from God during this difficult rebuild. Instead God has providentially set the stage for their return and he calls his people to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple knowing that God has a plan for a brilliant future where his glory will be manifested in an unprecedented manner. Notice the association in these verses between God’s presence, his Spirit, and his glory. God can be present with his people by way of his Spirit, and it is by his Spirit (remember Jeremiah and Ezekiel) that the inner heart restoration will take place. God’s glory presence in the temple and his Spirit presence among his people were both manifestations of the one true God. These concepts would develop in the following years and find full flowering in the teachings of Jesus.

Through the Exile, the Jewish people were reminded that God was not confined to a holy place. In fact, even in the midst of a prisoner of war camp or a ruined city, God could be a sanctuary for the exiles. How could this fact help you in a time of trouble? How could this spur you on to live all of life in God’s presence? (Possible answers: God is accessible to his people even in the midst of trouble, not just in sacred places. Because God is not confined to his house, we should not confine him to certain compartments of our lives. God desires a heart faithfulness that affects all of life. His Spirit is meant to permeate all that we do.)

 Epilogue and Christ Connection

Did God’s glory presence return to the second temple? Some later Jewish writings show that many had their doubts.[iv] What is certain is that inasmuch as the temple was the central sacred place of God’s people, God was there. In the centuries following the temple’s rebuilding, the priesthood became entangled in political intrigue and foreign influence. The corruption of the priesthood caused some Jewish sects (like those in Qumran who wrote the Dead Sea scrolls) to withdraw from temple worship. Other Jews never returned from exile. They remained dispersed throughout the world and distance prevented them from worshiping at the temple. Because of prophets like Ezekiel, these groups knew that God’s Spirit would dwell with those who were faithful. They chose, therefore, to follow Torah and seek God’s Spirit to bring the long awaited restoration for their community.

A couple decades before the birth of Jesus Christ, King Herod led a massive rebuilding project that increased the size and splendor of the temple so that it was even greater than the first temple. Nevertheless, the Holy of Holies remained empty and the ruling priests were largely puppets of the ruling Roman authorities. For these reasons many Jews still awaited the restoration of God’s people. Many believed that a Spirit-anointed Messiah would begin this restoration. In the midst of these hopes, Jesus began his ministry proclaiming that the kingdom of God had arrived (Mark 1:15).

End Notes

[i] A more thorough examination of the Spirit in the Old Testament can be found in Hildebrandt, Wilf. An Old Testament Theology of the Spirit of God. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995. An enlightening (even more academic) work on the Spirit in the OT is  Presence, Power and Promise: The Role of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament (Eds. David Firth and Paul Wegner; Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011).

[ii] For an in-depth examination of how God’s presence both in the temple and with his people became associated with the Holy Spirit, see Joseph R. Greene “The Spirit in the Temple: Bridging the Gap between Old Testament Absence and New Testament Assumption,” JETS 55 (2012): 717-742.

[iii] Daniel L Block, The Book of Ezekiel; Chapters 124 (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 350.

[iv] The second temple  literature is divided with some passages suggesting that Yahweh’s presence was no longer in the second temple (1 Macc 2:7–8; Sib. Or. 4:6–31; 2 Bar. 8:2; 64:7;  Josephus J.W. 6:300, Tacitus Hist. 5.13; CD 1:3; b. Yoma 21b) and other passages suggesting that he was present (2 Macc 2:5–8; 14:35–36; Sir 50:1; 3 Macc 2:16; Jub. 1:17). Davies gives further evidence of both in, G. I. Davies, “The Presence of God in the Second Temple and Rabbinic Doctrine” in Templum Amicitiae (ed. William Horbury; JSNTSup 48; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1991): 32–36.

Book Review of Anthony Thiselton’s “The Holy Spirit—In Biblical Teaching, through the Centuries, and Today.”

Expect another post in the “Where Heaven and Earth Meet” series soon. For now, I present the following book review:

Thiselton, Anthony. The Holy Spirit—In Biblical Teaching, through the Centuries, and Today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013. 565 pages. 

thiselton

In The Holy Spirit—In Biblical Teaching, through the Centuries, and Today, Anthony Thiselton aims not only to produce a “thorough biblical and historical study of the Holy Spirit in systematic form,” but also to initiate and develop “a mutual dialogue with Pentecostals and those influenced by the Renewal Movement” (ix). Thiselton, for the most part, achieves these aims in a modest 565 pages (considering the magnitude of the topic).   Continue reading