There are these events I read about in scripture and I think to myself; I wish I was there! Can you imagine seeing the Red Sea split open, or beholding Lazarus walk out of the tomb. Just imagine the atmosphere when thousands are fed by 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish or think about the incredible experience it must have been to actually be in the upper room on the day of Pentecost! I kind of have my own top 10 and you might have yours.
I want to take you to an event in scripture that we can easily read through quickly without letting the significance of the moment sink in. It’s found in the very end of the book Exodus. It’s definitely one of these “I wish I was there” moments. The first half of Exodus records the story of the Hebrews being delivered out of Egyptian slavery. They are brought into the wilderness and asked to build a sanctuary. The purpose of this tent structure is for God to show them that He is dwelling in their midst. All the objects in the sanctuary had a spiritual significance and the service itself pointed forward to the coming Messiah who would save us from our sins. The second half of the book of Exodus describes the building of the sanctuary. At times it can perhaps be a bit tedious to read, however when you get to the end there is a grand climax to it all. As the people are gathered together to inaugurate the newly erected sanctuary something amazing takes place. God shows up! I mean, He literally shows up!
“Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” Exodus 40:34
Can you imagine being among the crowd of people gathered that day, and actually seeing this glorious cloud descend? What a sight that must have been! The people were assured in a very real way that God keeps His promise and would dwell among them.
Now, fast forward the story…
God’s chosen people have entered the promised land of Canaan. King Solomon now builds a permanent house for the Lord. Not a tent structure like in the wilderness, but a temple building in Jerusalem. It looked splendid as Solomon had gone to great lengths to obtain the best and finest material. All the people are gathered as the temple is going to be dedicated. They knew what their forefathers had experienced in the wilderness. What do you think is going through their mind? Will God reveal Himself again? Will we also see a cloud of glory? And then…it happens!
“And it came to pass, when the priests came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord…for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.” 1 Kings 8:10-11
What an amazing moment that must have been! The sky is lightened up by the glory of none other than God Himself. This was one of those moments that was imprinted in their minds the rest of their lives. This would have been one of the stories they told their grandchildren about: I was there! I saw it! It really happened!
Let’s fast forward the story again…
The story of God’s chosen people was not always a bright one. Sadly, many of the kings led the nation away from the living God to the worship and pursuit of idols. After many years of God calling His people back through numerous prophets the people continued to harden their hearts. God’s divine protection over this little nation was slowly removed and a dark future was looming ahead. Mighty Babylon approached from the north and ultimately destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the beautiful temple. The people were taken into Babylonian captivity for 70 years. Once the Persians had overthrown the Babylonians, one of the Persian kings permitted the Jews to return and rebuild their city and temple. They placed stone upon stone and saw their city and temple come to life again, though it certainly did not look as impressive as it once had. But despite of this, I can imagine the hope that burnt in their hearts: Will we see the cloud of glory again? Will God honor us with His presence? The day to dedicate the second temple arrived. The people are gathered in anticipation. They are looking up into the skies, but no cloud appears! Disappointment sets in and some even weep. Then the Lord gives a message to His people through the prophet Haggai, assuring them that He is still with them.
“Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel, says the Lord; and be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land, says the Lord, and work; for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts. According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remains among you; do not fear!” Haggai 2:4-5
Though they didn’t see a cloud of glory they were to trust and hold on to the Word of God that came to them through the prophet. Sometimes we go through times in life where we perhaps wished we could just see a tangible evidence of God’s presence. However, like God’s people of old we need to learn to cling to the Word when that is all we have. Though the people saw no cloud of glory that day, the prophet Haggai did give the people an amazing prophecy of the coming Messiah.
“For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they will fill this temple with glory, says the Lord of hosts…The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, says the Lord of hosts.” Haggai 2:6-7, 9
How can the glory of this second temple be greater than the glory of the first? The first temple was built during the pinnacle of Israel’s prosperity. It looked far more splendid than the temple they were beholding now. But remember the whole purpose of the temple. God would dwell with His people. This time He would dwell closer than He ever had. He would become one of us! The glory of God would be wrapped in a human body! The desire of all ages would come. Jesus would one day enter this temple.
We fast forward the story once again and that day eventually arrived…
This time no one noticed the glory that entered the temple. It seemed to be a day like any other. Jesus, as a 12-year-old boy, joined His parents for the first time to Jerusalem. As He stepped into the temple, the prophecy of Haggai found its fulfillment, but no one recognized Him as the promised Messiah. Israel was waiting for a cloud of glory, while God’s glory was right in their midst!
Years later there is a fascinating encounter between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees. They ask Him to show them a sign. Jesus responds by referring to two instances in Jewish history, Jonah and Solomon. A prophet that turned around a city and a king that reigned at the height of Jewish prosperity. But then Jesus adds these two astonishing claims.
“and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.” Matthew 12:41
“and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.” Matthew 12:42
Earlier in the same chapter Jesus made the claim that He was greater than the temple.
“Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple.” Matthew 12:6
Jesus claims to be greater than the temple, greater than the prophet Jonah, and greater than king Solomon. If the people of Israel could glory in anything, it was certainly in their incredible temple, successful prophet, and rich king! Yet, they failed to see that all three were merely types pointing to someone greater! Jesus is our ultimate Priest, Prophet, and King! He is none other than God’s glory in the flesh!
Israel failed to recognize Him. The sad history is summed up in the words of John.
“He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” John 1:11
They expected the Messiah to set them free from the Roman yoke of bondage. Jesus simply did not meet the expectations of those around Him. As many saw the miracles He performed their hopes were awakened. Perhaps He is the promised one, however they interpreted His actions in the light of their own false expectations. This led to a bitter disappointment when Jesus was ultimately put to death on a cross. The sweet anticipation of deliverance transformed into a bitter experience of disappointment, when all their hopes and dreams were dashed into pieces. But this was not the end of the story. Jesus rose and so did a new movement! As the disciples again received instruction about the ministry and mission of Jesus the puzzle pieces were coming together. They now understood why Jesus had to die and what had been accomplished through His life, death, and resurrection. Jesus Himself sent them into the world to proclaim all that they had received from Him. Their experience went from sweet to bitter, but ended sweet, as they had the gospel to proclaim to the world.
The story of Israel, as a prophetic movement, would in some ways repeat itself in another prophetic movement that would rise to prepare the world for the second coming of Jesus. Already in the first century this movement was prophesied. John received a vision on the Island of Patmos that he recorded in what we know today as Revelation chapter 10. Here John experienced something that the Advent moment would go through many centuries later.
“Then the voice which I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, “Go, take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the earth.” So I went to the angel and said to him, “Give me the little book.” And he said to me, “Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.” Then I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter. And he said to me, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.” Revelation 10:8-11
A sweet, bitter experience that ultimately results in a sweet experience of the final message of salvation going to all the world. Sounds familiar? So, what’s described here?
The little book that is opened in the hand of the angel is the prophetic book of Daniel, found in the Old Testament. As the prophet Daniel comes to the end of his prophetic book, he is told to seal the book until the time of the end (Daniel 12:4). The time has now come for the prophecies of Daniel to be investigated and preached. Revelation chapter 10 portrays the experience of the movement that started studying and proclaiming the prophecies found in this book. There is no doubt that Revelation 10 and the book of Daniel are connected. The first portion of Revelation 10 has very similar language to Daniel chapter 12 (Revelation 10:1-7 – Daniel 12:4-9). But what prophecy was preached that led to a bitter disappointment? It was the prophecy found in Daniel chapter 8.
“And he said to me, “For two thousand three hundred days; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed.” Daniel 8:14
The beginning date is not given in this chapter, but in Daniel 9 the prophet is instructed that this prophecy commences with the command to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. This happened in 457 BC. In Bible prophecy we have the Biblical principle that a prophetic day equals a literal year (Numbers 14:34, Ezekiel 4:6). So 2300 years from 457 BC leads us to 1844. What happened?
A number of years prior to 1844 there was a great excitement about the prophecies of Daniel. Many believed that the cleansing of the sanctuary, spoken of in Daniel chapter 8, was the cleansing of this earth by fire when Jesus returns the second time. Through their prophetic understanding and calculations, they came to believe that in 1844 Jesus would return to take them home. It was a sweet message that was like honey in the mouth. But Jesus did not return in 1844 and the result was a bitter experience. However, some keen students of the scriptures went back to their Bibles to find answers to their disappointment. Just like the early disciples had to go back to the scriptures to fully understand the ministry and mission of Jesus, now history was repeating itself.
The sincere believer will always find Jesus, as He longs to be found. This time Jesus was found in the sanctuary. Not the earthly, but the heavenly sanctuary. The cleansing of the sanctuary described in Daniel 8 was pointing to the final work of Jesus as our high priest in the heavenly sanctuary. The New Testament book of Hebrews reveals Jesus in this very role, as He intercedes for us.
“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16
The advent moment had waited for the glory of God to be revealed. Just like ancient Israel had waited for the cloud of glory. The glory they had expected they did not witness. But God led them to a revelation of Himself in the heavenly Sanctuary, and this precious message is now being preached in all the world, just as Revelation chapter 10 predicted would happen.
The invitation comes to each of us to be part of this prophetic movement. The world needs more than ever the gospel of a risen Savior, who is right now accessible as our High Priest, and who is soon returning as our King. This is a message that will ultimately result in a glorious revelation as we behold our Savior in the clouds, coming to take us home. What we do between today and that great day makes all the difference. As we wait for the cloud of glory to condescend, may we be found pointing people to Jesus.
“Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25
We have seen that God is an expert in turning disappointment into beauty. Whatever trial or sin we are struggling with, nothing is too difficult for Him. He is the great physician who has never lost a case. May we find healing in His embrace. He is waiting for you to come!