Saturday, December 25, 2010

The "Immanuel" Principle

A central promise of God is the "Immanuel" principle, the promise of God living with us: "I will make my dwelling among you.... And I will walk among you and will be your  God, and you shall be my people" (Lev 26:11-12, also Exod 29:45). Under the Old Covenant, the most prominent manifestation of the Immanuel principle was the tabernacle in the wilderness or the temple in the land.

Eden was the first dwelling place that God provided for his people to live in fellowship with him. So it's no surprise that the dwelling place of God shares paradise symbolism, from the tabernacle through to the paradise of New Jerusalem. One of the most helpful things to keep in mind when speaking of tabernacle typology is to remember that the point of the tabernacle was this: It was a place for God to dwell among his people, in fulfillment of his  repeated covenant promise to do so.[1] It never was about a tent or building of stone; these only symbolized the Immanuel principle.

So God commanded Moses to build a tabernacle that followed the heavenly pattern, toward which it aimed (Exod 25:8-9). When Moses finished the tabernacle, God's glorious presence move in and filled the it (Exod 40:34-38), and the same thing occurred  when Solomon finished the temple (1 Kgs 8:10-11; 2 Chr 7:1-2). Of course, even during the  time of Solomon's  temple, Israel knew that it was merely a symbol of God's dwelling; they knew that even the whole earth couldn't contain the Lord.[2]

So the exilic and postexilic  prophets looked forward to amore glorious  temple (Isa 2; zech 4), even as they exhorted the people to get the limited Old Testament manifestation of the Immanuel principle rebuilt (Hag 2:7-9). Even Ezekiel could look forward not onlly to the rebuilt postexilic temple of stone, but also to the eschatological temple built in believers' hearts, as God promised, "I will put my  Spirit within you" (Ezek 36:27).

When the Virgin Mary was promised her child, she was told, "They shall call his name Immanuel (which means,  God with us)" (Matt 1:23). The baby Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of  the  typical sign-child that Isaiah had promised to Ahaz (Isa 7:14). Indeed, the incarnation could be described as  God "tabernacling" among us: "The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us" (John 1:14).[3] Paul spoke of the same reality when described Jesus as the one in whom "the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (Col 1:19), or the one in whom "the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col 2:9). These are the vary same terms under which Jesus promised a new temple: "'Destroy this temple, and in three days, I will raise it up.' The Jews then said, 'It has taken forty-six years to build this  temple, and will you  raise it up in three days?' But he was speaking about the temple of his body" (John 2:19-21).

The veil was torn at Jesus' death (Luke 23:45), promising a new way into the holiest place of God's presence. So the apostolic community looked back at the tabernacle and temple as Old Testament foreshadowings of the reality that came in Jesus (Acts 7:49-50; Heb 9). The truer temple was now being manifest among the people of God individually (John 14:23; 1 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21-22) and corporately through the church (1 Cor 3:16-17), which was being built up not of stone and mortar but of living stones (1 Pet 2:5). This is the  real temple, which the tent and stone could only foreshadow.

In John's final vision, we see echoes of the glory-filled Mosaic tabernacle and Solomonic temple dedications (Rev 11:19; 15:8). But the ultimate fulfillment of  the Immanuel principle is God himself, who dwells among his people without need of a building. John said, "I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,  'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their  God'" (Rev 21:21-22). That's the final  answer to Solomon's rhetorical question, "Who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even the highest heaven, cannot contain him. Who am I to build a house  for him, except as a place to make offerings  before him" (2 Chr 2:6, cf. 1 Kgs 8:27). Isaiah recorded God asking the same kind of rhetorical questions, which relativized any man-made temple: "Thus says the LORD: 'Heaven is my  throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house  that you have  built for me, and what is the place of my  rest?" (Isa 66:1).

Today, we celebrate Jesus first Advent, when the promise that God would be a "God with us" found fulfillment by Incarnation. And we look ahead to his second advent, when the shout goes up, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (Rev 21:3). Then there will  be no need for "a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (Rev 21:22).

1. Gen 3:8; Exod 25:8; 29:45–46; Lev 26:11–12; Ezek 37:26; 2 Cor 6:16.

2. 1 Kgs 8:27; Ps 11:4, cf. Acts 7:49–50.

3.  English idiom general reads "dwelled among us," but  the Greek verb eskenosen could be translated very literally as "tabernacled."

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