The Tabernacle Man
The second literary “cycle” of the Revelation continues the stream of subtle hints concerning what is to come. The cog wheel precision of the typological rhythm not only builds our anticipation of what will be revealed, it reads like a ticking clock, slowly building to the sound of a beating drum. This was a countdown to an evening and a morning which would change the world forever.
The Lord commanded rest on the seventh day, yet the Sabbath is the first of the seven feasts stipulated in Leviticus 23. This is because the seven day week was a microcosm of the harvest year. The weekly cycle was the yearly cycle in miniature. In the same way, the first cycle in Revelation summarised the structure and purpose of the entire book.
The second cycle moves us from Initiation to Delegation, from transcendent authority to God’s representative. In some sense, it takes the second stanza of cycle one and expands it into a complete cycle. However, this is now expressed in architecture, and the imagery moves from Genesis to Exodus. Jesus is described as a metal man — the final form of the High Priest in the final form of the Tabernacle.
More subtly, there is also imagery from Day 2 of the Creation week. John begins on the waters below but is lifted up to the heavenly sea, turning to see one whose voice sounds like a torrent.
If we summarise this entire cycle before we analyse each stanza, it becomes apparent that the “lower” half concerns John as the voice which speaks on earth (the bronze altar), the “upper half” concerns Jesus as the voice which speaks from heaven (the golden altar), and the seven churches in Asia are the ruling lights between heaven and earth.
Creation – Initiation (Ark of the Testimony)
- The book of Revelation serves the same purpose as the book of Ezekiel, which is why it mimics its structure and content to a great degree. Like Ezekiel, John is in exile, and he will be lifted up to see the sins of Jerusalem — exposed in symbolic terms — that he might serve as a legal witness against her. Indeed, John himself, a son of thunder, becomes the last trumpet before her destruction. 1James and John had desired to call down fire from heaven upon Samaria (Luke 9:54), but it was Jerusalem, not Samaria, which was the heart of the problem. Pentecost had to come before holocaust. (The word holocaust is derived from the Greek holókaustos, an offering burnt whole on the altar.)
- The structure of the stanza is fairly basic: John as the author and delegate; his brothers as firstfruits; the fellowship of the Spirit (sugkoinonos) at the center; tribulation representing legal witness/martyrdom; kingdom as priestly conquest; and endurance/perseverance as the coming Succession of the Church, replacing old Israel as the people of God.
- This stanza is basically a ziggurat, working from John (Garden-Sanctuary) to the saints (New Land), then via testimony and suffering to the entire oikoumene (World).
Division – Delegation (Veil)
- In this stanza, Jesus is the beginning and the end. At Division, the reference to an “island of the sea” alludes to the waters of Day 2 and the Red Sea, but also to the nations.
- The meaning of Patmos is uncertain, but according to J. B. Jackson’s A Dictionary of Scripture Proper Names, it means “my killing.” The islet is sterile, a barren rock, which explains its position in this stanza at Ascension. In the next stanza, this man, whom we might call the last Levite, would see the world from the Sanctuary in heaven.
- In Genesis 1, the dry land rose from the sea on Day 3 and brought forth fruit plants. In Genesis 2, Adam was lifted up and placed in the Garden upon the mountain of God. Here, John is (architecturally-speaking) the legal representative of the firstfruits church, and this island will serve as an ironic Sinai for the Herodian Zion. Like John the baptist, John is a Levite in the wilderness, but this is a Gentile one. The testimony of Jesus has moved from the Land to the Sea.
Ascension – Elevation (Bronze Altar)
- This is the “Sinai” stanza, if you will, and recapitulates the process of Israel’s preparation for faithful testimony to the nations. The same process can be seen in the entire Revelation, which ends with the faithful Old Testament saints finally enthroned with Jesus as a human government in heaven.
- The Spirit hovers above the deep, then the Sabbath is honoured, then John “hears” as Israel did at Sinai. “Behind me” refers to Israel’s turning back to Egypt in Numbers, as Lot’s wife turned back to Sodom (Genesis 19:26). In Numbers, the four horns of the altar were “measured out” as the four mountain peaks from which Balaam attempted to curse Israel. Instead of turning back, John turns instead to face the voice. The loud voice is Moses’s recitation of the Law to a new Israel, in this case the seven churches, the trumpet will bring down the walls of Jerusalem as the “firstfruits” of the world, and the “saying” is the faithful word of an all-seeing judge, a human elohim. The image is terrifying enough without having all of this Mosaic import folded, or compressed, into it. Hearing these words is a lot like standing between two mirrors which face each other, the eternal beginning and the eternal end, which leads us from the Bronze Altar (the Land) to the Golden Table (the firstfruits), another structural prefiguring of the opening of the New Covenant in heaven at the ascension of Christ.
Ascension – Presentation (Table & Scroll)
and the last; and, (Ascension – Womb/Abel)
- Any number of the various biblical matrixes could be overlaid here, but the position of the Alpha and Omega once again ties it to the Circumcision as a symbolic “cutting off.” Jesus is the seed of Adam, Abraham and David, born from the womb of a virgin, but now He has also been born from the earth as Adam was. He is a new kind of offspring, the firstborn from the dead.
- Just as the Land was raised up and fruit bearers were created, the “Altar” step alludes to Cain as the firstborn who seized kingdom without priestly submission to God, just as his father did. In this case the stolen fruit was his brother, devoured by the first human dragon. The Old Testament is a history of kingly firstborns usurped by younger priestly brothers, the elder serving the younger, and the “Table” step here is the flesh and blood of Abel as a witness.
- The point here is that Jesus, as a Man lifted up to heaven, would not only bring an end to animal sacrifice (Priesthood), but also bring vengeance upon all the false kings who had slaughtered the prophets of God, from Abel onwards.
- This Old Testament history ends at the “Pentecost” step, the judgment of the true heir, a Priest-King like Melchizedek. This testimony would bring about the end of the “Social” creation established in Abraham. The word “send” carries the idea of transmission of delegation, but at line 6 it describes not movement from Garden to Land, but from Land to World, thus it is followed by the Gentile “Booths” in the final line.
Testing – Purification (Lampstand)
- At the liturgical centre of this cycle, we have the churches — or at least their “Levitical” representatives, the pastors — as the seven lights of the Lampstand. Since, in the sacrificial pattern, this step corresponds to Purification (by fire), Jesus’ assessment of the churches in chapters 2 and 3 is hinted at in the structure. If their fire was not indwelling (the internal law of the Spirit), then the fires of judgment would consume them in the coming tribulation (the external law of the letter).
- As James Jordan has observed, the characteristics of the seven churches, and the typological allusions, are a summary of the history of the Old Testament. The purpose is not to represent stages in church history (although in hindsight they well might), but to identify them as a New Israel, one which will face the same trials as Israel according to the flesh but without the same failures. Even the meanings of the names of the cities is significant, corresponding to the seven steps from Creation to Glorification.2See Living Menora.
Maturity – Transformation (Incense Altar)
- Working back out from the centre, we return to John and the voice. What he sees is a humaniform Feast of Trumpets, not only a faithful Adam who has been tested, purified, and made perfect, but a Captain surrounded by the bridal army of a new Israel. Jesus is Gideon surrounded by flaming torches. Unlike Gideon, Jesus will not allow priestly vestments to become a cause of stumbling or idolatry.
- The theme at Maturity is “hosts” as clothing. The swarms, flock and schools of Day 5 find the human referent in the attempt of Adam and Eve to hide their nakedness with a false fruitfulness, the fig leaves. The Lampstand was a stylised almond tree (or, in Hebrew, a “watcher” tree, since almonds are eye-shaped), so these fruitful trees which “clothe” Jesus are also His eyes, His legal witnesses, His royal court. The same meaning is found in the Maturity stanza of Psalm 1, which speaks of the “fruit” and “leaves” of the faithful Adam. 3See The Blessed Man. Jesus’ faithfulness with the two trees of Eden (Priesthood and Kingdom), the pillars of the Temple (Jachin and Boaz), has transformed him into a third tree (Prophecy), a fiery pillar set on conquest. (The same imagery is observed in the three crosses upon Golgotha.)
- “Adam” appears in line 6, Day 6, Atonement, but His clothing is described in terms of “clean feet,” a reference to the Laver which washed priests and sacrifices. The line is split into two, describing the clean Covenant Head and His blameless (washed) Covenant Body.
- The golden sash indicates that the work of the priesthood is complete. The Aaronic sash was made of linen, indigo and purple and scarlet yarns, an accoutrement which represented a gush of blood from the body of the sacrifice.4I suspect that these three colours refer to the three “Ethical” steps of the sacrifice: indigo blood in the flesh, purple blood coming from the flesh, and red blood spilled on the ground as a testimony. In official terms, this is the ministry of Priest, King and Prophet. Jesus’ sash is kingly, that is, golden, possibly the same sash given to the Davidic gatekeeper in Isaiah 22:21. The gilding of the sash reveals that the earthly work is done. Like Jesus, the sacrifice ascended “clothed” in a fiery cloud of glory.
Conquest – Vindication (Mediators: Laver, Sacrifices, High Priest)
- Moving into the “Atonement” stanza, the focus shifts from Jesus’ clothing to His head and feet, the upper and lower extremities. He is the mediator between heaven and earth, a white cloud of glory descending upon the mountain of God to tabernacle with men.
- Once again, the image is sacrificial. The description is structured to correspond to the choosing, inspection, offering, burning and consumption of the penal substitute.
- Jesus is “chosen,” a “son of the herd,” in line 1. The Head of the sacrifice was clean and did not require washing before being offered. The Head is the source, related visually if not linguistically to the Hebrew rosh/reshith.
- The hairs are a “delegation” of glory, but here they are inspected for spots and blemishes. This may also be related to the whiteness of the harvest, and the glory of white hair in men, both of which are signs of maturity.
- At the Firstfruits step, Jesus is the firstfruits lamb on the altar, the offering of Abel in place of his firstborn brother.
- Jesus’ eyes are the holy fire (later seen as seven eyes, the light of the “Lampstand” law). Instead of smoke at Maturity, the fire is a multiplied glory, a fiery host.
- Jesus’ feet are upon the Bronze Altar, although not the Altar itself. They are the bronze Laver, a “lake of fire.”5This subject is covered in more detail in the chapter “Bowing the Heavens” in Michael Bull, Inquiétude. Sitting is kingly, and walking is prophetic, but standing is priestly. Jesus is the “standing” sacrifice whose clean feet make the mountain smoke, and eventually split the altar in two once it has been deconsecrated (1 Kings 13:5; Zechariah 14:4).6The lamb “standing” in Revelation 5:6 may be a rough Greek translation of the Hebrew Tamid, which refers to the “standing” or “continual” sacrifice. See David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance, 172. He is not consumed by fire but purified by it. He is not an Adam of dust, nor the flawed metal man of the oikoumene, whose feet of Herodian (Edomite) clay and Roman iron could not be mixed (intermarried).
- Line 6 of stanza 6 is also related to the razing of Jericho, the city exposed by an earthquake (or land-quake) and then offered by fire, entirely devoted to God as a tithe. This description of the conquering Christ hints at what was in store for Jerusalem. Since they had crucified Christ once again in the murder of the saints, the Land would quake, the rocks would split, and Israel would be crucified once again, this time on the walls of the city.
- The coals of the altar, used to light up cities under the ban, turn up in line 7, where Jesus is “the fourth man” in Nebuchadnezzar’s rage against God.
- What must be noticed here is that Jesus is the true lamb, as opposed to a dragon disguised as one, like the “Babylonian” kings of the Herodian Jerusalem.
Glorification – Representation (Shekinah)
- The final stanza concerns Jesus as the authorised representative, the image, of the Father. Adam was supposed to leave the Garden with a flaming sword in his mouth, rather than being exiled from it by the servants of God. The two cherubim, as two witnesses, plus the singular flaming sword, formed Yahweh’s eyes and mouth, vision and prophecy, against Adam. The fruit of the Land and the womb were only opened to him via bloodshed. Jesus possesses the springs of Eden, has the Land under His feet, and His “offspring” in His right hand.
- Instead of the seven stars at the centre, we have the mouth of Jesus as the lawgiver on Sinai. Later in the book, the seven bowls of judgment also appear at the centre of a stanza, which indicates that these bowls are the fiery — and detachable — bowls which sat atop the branches of the golden tree of kingdom, the burning bush upon the mountain.
- The two-edged sword is the testimony of Jesus, the apostolic witness which divided Israel like a sacrifice (Matthew 10:34; Hebrews 4:12).
- Fulfilling the Priesthood, He is qualified to reign as a “mighty man,” like Samson (“sunrise”), the bridegroom ready to knock down and dismantle the two bronze pillars, priesthood and kingdom, of old Israel. Jesus is a better Nebuchadnezzar, a king of kings coming to destroy Jerusalem. He is the Tabernacle filled with Shekinah. The pillar of fire stands on the threshold once again, but this time it is a Man.
And the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the Lord. And the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard as far as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks. (Ezekiel 10:4)
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References [ + ]
|1.||↑||James and John had desired to call down fire from heaven upon Samaria (Luke 9:54), but it was Jerusalem, not Samaria, which was the heart of the problem. Pentecost had to come before holocaust. (The word holocaust is derived from the Greek holókaustos, an offering burnt whole on the altar.)|
|2.||↑||See Living Menora.|
|3.||↑||See The Blessed Man.|
|4.||↑||I suspect that these three colours refer to the three “Ethical” steps of the sacrifice: indigo blood in the flesh, purple blood coming from the flesh, and red blood spilled on the ground as a testimony. In official terms, this is the ministry of Priest, King and Prophet.|
|5.||↑||This subject is covered in more detail in the chapter “Bowing the Heavens” in Michael Bull, Inquiétude.|
|6.||↑||The lamb “standing” in Revelation 5:6 may be a rough Greek translation of the Hebrew Tamid, which refers to the “standing” or “continual” sacrifice. See David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance, 172.|