Let the King Come In – Psalm 24

Whatever happened to the Ark of the Covenant?

Hollywood has made a lot of money off of the Ark of the Covenant (Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) and this single item has been the object of a lot of speculation. Where is it? What happened to it?

Special Study – A Brief History of the Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of the Covenant (AKA the ark of the Lord/God & the ark of the testimony) was the sacred portable chest which represented the presence of God. It was a rectangular box made of acacia wood and measured 2.5 X 1.5 X 1.5 cubits (or approx. 45 X 27 X 27 inches). It was overlaid with gold, had four gold rings (two on each side) through which two poles could be passed through to carry it, and was built by a man named Bezalel (see Exodus 25.10-22; 37.1-9).

God was very specific concerning its dimensions, how it was to be carried, and who could carry it. Levites were to cover it with the veil between the holy place & the Most Holy Place (Numbers 4.5) before they could carry it using the acacia wood poles. For 40 years they transported the Ark whenever the Israelites broke camp in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 10.8). Each time they departed and each time they rested, Moses sang a song or gave a brief benediction (Numbers 10.35-36).

The Ark contained a copy of the Ten Commandments written on stone, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s staff (Hebrews 9.4). The Ark served as the meeting place for the people of Israel where God would reveal His will for His people to His servants Moses (Exodus 25.22), Aaron (Leviticus 16.2), and Joshua (Joshua 7.6).

When Israel went in to conquer the Promised Land the Ark played significant roles. When the Israelites crossed the River Jordan, the priests who were carrying the Ark went in first to stop the waters from flowing so that all Israel passed through on dry ground (Joshua 3.13); it was as though YHWH Himself was passing through the river (v.11). At Jericho, seven priests blowing trumpets led the march around the city walls with the Ark following behind them and the rest of the army behind them (Joshua 6.8-9). When Israel renewed covenant at Mount Ebal & Mount Gerazim, there was the Ark between the two mounts in the midst of the Israel and surrounded by elders, officers, judges, and the priest who carried it (Joshua 8.33).

Following the conquest of the land the people set up the tent of meeting at Shiloh and this becomes the place where the Ark resides for some time (Judges 18.1). At some point during the time of the judges the Ark was moved to Bethel (Judges 20.24-27) before being moved back to Shiloh during the time of Samuel (1 Samuel 3.3) and remaining there until Israel went to war with the Philistines (1 Samuel 4). After suffering a loss in battle to the Philistines the Israelites concoct a superstitious idea that the Ark of God will save them rather than the God of the Ark (v.3). So the Ark is brought from Shiloh to Ebenezer where the Israelites were encamped and in the ensuing battle the Ark is captured by the Philistines (v.11). For seven months the Ark remains in Philistine hands but is quickly returned due to plagues among the people (1 Samuel 6). The two milk cows which pulled the cart upon which the Philstines had placed the Ark went straight to Beth-shemesh (v.12). The men of Beth-shemesh send messengers to Kiriath-Jearim to come get the Ark because 70 of the men have died because they looked upon the uncovered Ark (v.19-21). So the men of Kiriath-Jearim take the Ark to the house of Abinadab whose son Eleazar has charge of the Ark.

The Ark remains in his house for 20 years, except for a short field trip to Saul’s camp near Beth-aven (1 Samuel 14.18) though David says the people did not seek God during Saul’s days (1 Chronicles 13.3). After several decades (some say upwards to 70 years), David decides to move the Ark from the house of Abinadab at Kiriath-Jearim (AKA Baale-Judah, see 2 Samuel 6.2) to Jerusalem (about an 8 mile trek) where he has set up the tent of meeting (2 Samuel 6; 1 Chronicles 13). However, during the transportation of the Ark, Uzzah reaches out to steady the Ark and is struck dead. Angry & afraid, David reroutes the Ark to Obed-Edom’s house. He appears to be a Levite since he is a Gittite, that is, a resident of the Levitical town Gath Rimmon.

For three months the Ark remains in Obed-Edom’s house and his household is blessed because of this. When David learns of this he decides the time is right to move the Ark again. This time, though, they are going to do it right with only Levites carrying it as YHWH had specified (1 Chronicles 15.2, 15). Further, every six steps a sacrifice is offered (2 Samuel 6.13). All of Israel shows up and celebrates as the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH is brought into Jerusalem.

During the reign of Solomon is when the first temple is built. This glorious & splendid temple becomes the permanent dwelling of the Ark. A great ceremony is held when they bring the Ark into the new temple (1 Kings 8). At some point it was moved out of the temple and had to be returned during the reign of Josiah (2 Chronicles 35.3).

Now this special study concerning the Ark of the Covenant is important to the study of Psalm 24. Psalm 24 is about the glorious entrance of the King into the temple, i.e. God, symbolically represented by the Ark, entering His temple. What must it have been like to see the Ark enter the temple? Psalm 24 transports us there when the Ark would have entered the designated place, first the tabernacle and later the temple.

 

Bringing the Ark to the Gate (1-6)

1The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, 2for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.

Total Rule (1-2): God is sovereign over everything – world & people. The Bible tells us He created the world (Gen 1.4).

3Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.

Total Religion (3-4): 1) Question (3): For the Israelite, this would no doubt have conjured up Mt. Sinai – Ex 19.12-13, 23. Only Moses was allowed to ascend the mountain. 2) Quest (4): Asking the question leads to a quest, the quest for practical morality leading to holiness for the purpose of ascending the holy mountain of God. Four (4) aspects of practical morality: 1) Clean hands – pure actions. 2) Pure heart – pure motives. 3) Humble Soul – right relationship with God. 4) True Lips (right relationship with others.

5He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah

Total Reward (5-6): Blessing & righteousness from God. This is the reward for seeking the face of God (cf. 27.8; 105.4). Selah is the pause button in Psalms – time to meditate & contemplate the things just sung.

Enter the King of Glory (7-10)

The follow closing section of the Psalm was intended to be sung antiphonally with three different parts: the crowd as they drew near the temple, the voice within the temple, & the spokesman for the King. It breaks down as follows:

Approaching Crowd

7Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.

Voice Inside

8Who is this King of glory?

Spokesman for the King

The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!

Approaching Crowd

9Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.

Voice Inside

10Who is this King of glory?

Everyone

The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory! Selah

In this moment of pause, this is an “ah-ha” moment! They would have done this when David brought the ark into the tabernacle and then again when Solomon completed the temple.

The Ark of the Covenant & the Christian

Disappearance & Tradition: It is uncertain when & how the Ark was lost; the Bible is silent on the matter. After the deportations under Nebuchadnezzar and the destruction of the temple in 586 BC nothing is known concerning what became of the Ark. In fact, it is not listed as the spoils of Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25.13-17; Jeremiah 52.17-23) leading some to think it may have already been lost. Indeed, Jeremiah had prophesied of the day when the Ark would no longer be visited, remembered, or talked about (Jeremiah 3.16). They wouldn’t even miss it.

Various traditions exist about what happened to the Ark of the Covenant: some Jewish traditions say Jeremiah took the Ark & hid it, some even specifying he hid it in the mountain where Moses is buried; another source says Josiah hid the Ark under a rock “in its place,” that is, under the temple; one legend says an angel came and removed the Ark before the destruction of Jerusalem. But all traditions point to the exile as the time for the disappearance of the Ark.

The Ark of the Covenant was conspicuously absent from the 2nd & 3rd temples. In fact, Josephus explains that in the Most Holy Place “there was nothing at all…and not to be seen by any” (War of the Jews 5.219). They didn’t even rebuild it just as Jeremiah said. Ezekiel’s vision (40-48) does not include the Ark. According to the rabbinic writings, where the Ark would have been was a “stone of foundation” three fingers high. The last sighting of the Ark of the Covenant was by the apostle John in the Revelation (11.19), but given the symbolic nature of the prophecy, it is doubtful this was the literal Ark of the Covenant.

Why God Would Allow the Ark to be Lost? Partly, because He knows men will worship anything & everything except Him. If we had the Ark of the Covenant, people would worship the relic rather than the Righteous One. But also, God paves the way for something greater by allowing the Ark to be lost to history. No longer would He dwell above the mercy seat, above the Ark of the Covenant, between the cherubim, in the Most Holy Place, behind the veil, in the temple in Jerusalem. No, now His Spirit resides in Christians who are the temple of God (1 Cor 3.16-17; 6.19-20; 2 Cor 6.16). When we became a Christian, we let the King come in, opening the door of your heart at which Jesus stood and knocked – “be lifted up, you doors!” And He continues to reside within us each day as we confess “YHWH Almighty is the King of glory” & therefore the King of my life.

What is very interesting about this Psalm is that it was always sung on the 1st day of the week in Jewish worship [Psalm 48 the 2nd day; 82 the 3rd; 94 the 4th; 81 the 5th; 93 the 6th; 92 the 7th, i.e. the Sabbath]. Every Lord’s Day, tho we may not sing this Psalm, we unite with the spirit of this, renewing our devotion to our King & calling on Him to enter our lives & live in, with, & thru us. The Lord wishes to enter your life so that He might save you and change you.

Won’t you let the King come in?

The Ascension

You may or may not be familar with the illusionist Criss Angel. He has a television program on A&E (Mindfreak) on which he is regular putting his illusionist skills on display for millions to see. Should you watch his show, you will see him perform illusions using cards, coins, and cans. He is famous, though, for his illusions where he walks on water, vanishes in plain day light, and levitations. While interesting and intriguing (one is left asking, “How’d he do that?”), with all due respect, Criss Angel “ain’t got nothing” on Jesus. The ascension of Jesus is not slight of hand or an illusion – He didn’t levitate and then float back down to earth. When He “was carried up to heaven” there were no special tricks; it was the final demonstration of the power of God in the life of Jesus. Luke records the ascension not only at the of his gospel account (24.50-53), but also in his second volume, Acts. He is the New Testament writer who gives the most attention and detail to this final event in the life of Jesus. In fact, Mark and John give only brief mention of it and Matthew does not devote any of his gospel narrative to the ascension. Conversely, Luke is also the writer who gives none of the meetings between Jesus and His disciples “in Galilee” which Matthew, Mark, and John give. Nevertheless,  here, at the close Luke’s gospel, is a very precious offering of sacred history concerning our Lord’s ascension back to the Father.

The Eulogy

It has been forty days since the resurrection (Acts 1.3). This is not Easter Sunday! This is forty days after that first Sunday when the tomb was found empty. First, Jesus takes His disciples to Bethany. “Bethany was on the eastern declivity of the Mount of Olives” (Barnes) and therefore, once the Lord was taken up, the disciples would return to Jerusalem “from the mount called Olivet” (Acts 1.12). Bethany means “house of sorrow” or “affliction.” This is a key villiage in the life of Jesus; He often frequented there since this was the hometown of his friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. One writer says it was probably from “the remoter uplands which lie above the city” from which Jesus, in full view of His disciples, made His depature.

Before the actual ascension, though, Jesus has one final thing He desires to do with and for His disciples: bless them. Like Jacob (and the other patriarchs) of old (Gen 48.8-20; 49), Jesus lifted up his hands to bless them. Like Aaron the high priest (Lev 9.22), Jesus, the High Priest of the new covenant, lifts His hands and blesses His people. Some commentators think that also inherent in the act of lifting the hands was the intent to lay them on their heads. Perhaps, but the text is silent concerning this. This blessing is the assurance of favor, even the favor of God. When Jesus blesses His disciples, that is what He is communicating to them.

The Embarkment

As He expressing the divine favor upon them, “he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” That is, He intentionally separated Himself from them and stood apart from them. Then he was taken up, lifted. The language is very passive, as if this were something being done to Him rather than by Him. In Acts, Luke further records that a cloud comes and acts as a chariot escorting the King into the throne room of God and out of the sight of men’s eyes.

One wonders what it was like once Jesus was gone. “And just like that he was gone.” That’s it? Now what? In Acts, Luke records the angelic testimony that one day, just He left, Jesus is coming back. And so the disciples will wait do what Jesus said to do (Luke 24.49; Acts 1.8) and wait in the city for the promise to be fulfilled.

The Exultation

In the meantime, life must go on. The first thing the disciples do is worship Jesus. Do not overlook this too quickly for its theological significance is huge. The only Being worthy of worship is God – this is the testimony of Scripture (Ex 20.3-4; Deut 5.8-10; 6.13-15), Jesus (Matt 4.10; Luke 4.8), and angels (Rev 19.10; 22.9). Only God is to be worshipped and yet Jesus is worshipped and it is acceptable. Why? Jesus Christ is God. Those who rob of Him of this do not serve the same Jesus the apostles knew. Everything they had experienced with the crucifixion, resurrection, and, now, the ascension testified to them that Jesus is God. And so they worship Him as God.

Once worship is over, they go back into Jerusalem to wait for the promised Holy Spirit to come. But the attitude and atmosphere is different. They are now joyous, full of joy because of what had just happened. This has been a common theme in Luke (1.4; 2.10; 8.13; 10.17; 15.7, 10; 24.41). There is no grief, though it might have been present inasmuch as Jesus, their friend and Teacher is gone. But whatever grief could have been is swallowed up in joy.

While in Jerusalem, they frequent the temple to engage in “blessing God.” Regularly, perhaps even daily, these disciples made trips to the temple to praise God. Fittingly, Luke concludes his narrative where it all began: in the temple. From Zechariah’s fearful encounter with an angel to the disciples faithful exulations to the Almighty, Luke brings us full circle concerning the “narrative” compiled from “eyewitnesses and ministers” of “the things [we] have been taught” concerning the man named Jesus.

Jesus at World’s End, pt.1

There is so much talk right now about the end of the world. Have you noticed? Have you noticed the Discovery Channel and History Channel running specials on 2012 and the Mayan calendar and the apocalypse? Have you noticed doing their best to play off this interest for profit with the blockbuster “2012” and before that “Knowing”? Even the SyFy channel got in on this with a special about 2012 and the Mayan calendar. It seems like it is everywhere. 

With all the hype and hoopla surrounding 2012 and the Mayan calendar, it is good to see what Jesus about His coming. Notice, I did not say second coming. We need to understand that God (and Christ according to this passage [Luke 21.25-27] and Matthew 24) has come in the past. We, in the religious realm, often speak of the “coming of the Lord” as though it is a one time event. On the contrary, Scriptures often speak of the coming of the Lord and you can read about the many times God has come in judgment (Psa 22.19, on enemies; Psa 50.3; Isa 13.9, on Babylon; Isa 19.1, against Egypt; Isa 26.21, inhabitants of the earth (not final judgment); Jer. 4.13, against his people Judah and specifically Jerusalem; et al.). It should not surprise us that what Jesus is talking about in Luke 21.5-36 is all about his coming in judgment on the Jews and espcially Jerusalem (see v.20). The question we need to concern ourselves with is not “What will we do” but “How should we prepare” for when God/Christ come in judgment (be it in history on a particular nation or in the final judgment).

The Background

In paralell accounts (Matthew 24, Mark 13), Jesus and his disciples are leaving the temple. No doubt this is the same setting for Luke. According to historians, this temple, which Herod had built, was made of exceedingly white stones. In fact, Josephus said it resembled a mountain covered with snow. So brilliant was this display, that should the sun reflect off of it at just the right angle, the onlooker would have to turn away for its brilliance. There were costly gifts and the spoils of war in it. It was a very rich setting.

The disciples are all alive with conversation about this beautiful building and its “noble stones and offerings” and how it was adorned. In Mark, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful things!” (Mark 13.1) They are impressed. Jesus is not and let’s them know as much in his answer (v.6).

The Bombshell

Jesus explains that there is coming a day when not one stone will be left upon another, indeed all the stones, and therefore the building itself, will be thrown down. Can you imagine the shock on these disciples? Jews, all of them. And here is Jesus (a Jew himself) saying the center for Jewish religion and worship would be utter destroyed. It was all they had known and, in their thinking, the only system they would ever know. It was, not in the least, their whole world. Yet here is Jesus saying all that is going to pass away. Their shocked disbelief prompts a question: When? So human, their reply. When will our world end? We want a time frame. Perhaps that is why the Mayan calendar is so intrigue to some; it gives a time frame for “the end”  corresponding to our year 2012. What signs will there be so that we can see and know the time is near? All of these typical questions humans ask. We want a time frame and indeed we need a time frame so that we can schedule our lives around it or (more like) it around our lives.

The Behest

Jesus has a personal charge for his band of believers, a warning about what’s on the horizon for them. Here is a key to understanding this entire passage: Jesus was not talking to you, he was talking to “you.” In this context, “you” are his twelve disciples (sustained by the use of the plural throughout), not you (singular) two thousand years later. It is his twelve who will see many come in His name, who hear of wars, who will be persecuted (v.12) and bearing witness (v.13). It is the twleve who will be hated (v.14) and who will see Jerusalem surrounded by armies (v.20). This was spoken in a very specific context to a specific group of men about a specific coming event, namely the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Romans.

To his twelve he warns that many will come, even in Jesus’ name, and claim to be him or will be setting dates for “the time.” Jesus warns his disciples “do not go after them.” Many people concerned about the coming end will be afraid and that is a perfect opportunity for racketeers to come in and take advantage (like Hollywood). In the disciples time, they would come and play on people’s fears and lead them astray. That is the first admonition: be on guard for false Christs or anti-Christs. Second, do not be afraid. In other words, fear not. Wars and tumult may come but it must be so. These happen first. But “the end” is different. This can be understood as stuff must happen first, then comes the end. This should not be interpretted to mean that His coming is postponed 2000 years. It simply means that some things “must take place first” and then “the end” will come. But the disciple need not fear. Why? God is in control.

That’s why these date setters and propaganda artists ought to be ashamed of themselves. Whether Hollywood or the History Channel or Family Radio in Oakland, CA (which says the end of the world is not 2012, but actually Oct 21, 2011), to you, devoted reader, I say what Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not go after them.” Don’t you believe it/them for a moment! Jesus does not give a precise time for when Jerusalem would be destroyed and God has not given a precise time for when this world will end. The message has aways been “You don’t know and won’t know the exact time, but you can be ready and should prepare yourself spiritually for it.”

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

Since we are 2000 yrs. removed from the time, we have difficulty (I believe) understanding the concept of temple worship and the strong connection between Judaism and the temple. I mean, in our society we have do have the Mormons with their temples which they build nationwide; in that sense we might gain some appreciation of temple worship…if of course we are Mormon. If not, the notion is still somewhat vague and perhaps mysterious.

But to Jesus it is clear that he has very strong feelings about the temple of God – and as well he should! This was the place of worship of Jehovah God, the Almighty Sovereign of the universe. It was a place of consecration, dedication, sanctification. It was holy ground. So when Jesus comes on the scene and sees this place of consecration turned into a place of desecration, it should not surpirse to see he goes berserk.

The Purification by Jesus

We last left Jesus near Jerusalem. In v.45 he enters the temple, thereby putting him Jerusalem since the temple is in Jerusalem. The first thing he does is starts whipping tail and taking names. Here is righteous indignation Jesus, furious at the way man is treating the sanctuary of God. Its become a common thing, not a holy thing. Its just business as usual…until Jesus shows up. Now’s the time of reckoning. He starts driving out “those who sold” – that is those who exchanged currency (for the temple had its own currrency, sort of like amusement parks or arcades only take certain coinage/money) and those selling sacrificial animals (those which are brought from outside were usually found with blemish). Jesus explains his actions in v.46: “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers” (ESV). He quotes Scriputre as to why he is doing what he is doing. The people have not learned anything and are repeating the same grave error that their forefathers committed (Jer 7.11). This was the dwelling place of God and they have defiled it. Hence, it is needful for Jesus to purify it and correct these errors.

Indeed, we are in need of a cleansing of the temple ourselves. Though we do not have a temple building, we are the temple of God (1 Cor 3.16-17). And that temple is to be holy. It should be a “house of prayer.” Yet how often do we rob it of its dignity, integrity, and glory by engaging in secret and public sin. If you are a Christian, Jesus has entered the temple (your body, see Eph 3.17). What has he found in you?

The Plot against Jesus

Here is the dillema for the religious leaders: they are furious against Jesus and want to “destroy him” (that is, rub out his life) but even though he is “daily in the temple” teaching the people, they are powerless to do anything for the people love him. But these men are active in their search to kill Jesus and they will continue to work to find an opportune time to catch him (more on this in the coming chs.). In the meantime, Jesus is enjoying a time of popularity as the people “were hanging on his words” (lit. hanging on his lips). Despite the depth of his doctrine, the height of his purpose, the strength and straightforwardness of his charge, the people love him and are themselves daily in the temple.

We see the earnestness of these people as they clamor for the Word of God. What a striking contrast we make when we compare our own appetite for the Word. Many of us are starving to death spiritually because we do not hang on the lips of Jesus. We do not hunger and thirst after righteousness and therefore we are never filled, though ever starving!