Seven Stars In His Hand


Seven Stars in His Hand

Posted by Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg9

19 Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven assemblies, and the seven lampstands are the seven assemblies.

In verse 19 John is told to write three things: 1) the things he saw, 2) the things which are, and 3) the things which will take place after these things. This is the very first clue that we as readers of the Letter of Revelation get about the possible structure of John’s composition. There will be others too and we will address those as we come upon them in the text.

In verse 20 the Son of Man explains to John and by extension to his readers that the symbolism of seven stars in his hand and seven lamp stands among which he was seen walking earlier (Rev.1:12-13) is intricately connected with the seven Jesus-believing assemblies in Asia Minor and their angels/messengers.

There is often a confusion about the word “angel” in biblical texts and Revelation is not an exception. Angels are always seen as heavenly beings. Thus every time the word angel comes up in biblical context the presence of supernatural heavenly beings is assumed (usually looking the way we’ve been thought they look). But in Hebrew the word MALACH also means a human messenger. The same is the case in Koine Judeo-Greek’s meaning of ANGELOS.

Can one make a case for human messengers/angels delivering and reading letters to their congregations? Yes. On the other hand apocalyptic literature is rich with heavenly messengers delivering messages to humans. This is a common feature of this type of Jewish literature. John writes within this apocalyptic genre.

Just like verses in John’s Revelation in the book of Jubilees Jacob receives seven tablets from an angel. He reads them and discovers in these seven tablets information about the future of his family and things to come in general. We read in Jubilees 32:20-21:

“And He finished speaking with him, and He went up from him, and Jacob looked till He had ascended into heaven. And he saw in a vision of the night, and behold an angel descended from heaven with seven tablets in his hands, and he gave them to Jacob, and he read them and knew all that was written therein which would befall him and his sons throughout all the ages.

As other apocalyptic Jewish books John’s letter of Revelation includes prediction of the future events that are meant to be a comfort in the time of discouragement and persecution especially. At the time of brutal persecution of followers of Jesus by the Roman government the true King of Israel Jesus, the Son of Man and the high priest of heavenly tabernacle affirms that all those who trust in him can be confident in their future. Christ holds them in his right hand of strength and authority. They have nothing to be afraid of. Their future is secure.

(The image used in this post is part of Jerusalem Wall of Life mural –

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Sowing and Reaping

By Betty Miller • February 12, 2015 • No comments

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Galatians 6:7-8).

Our choices each day determine our growth in the Lord. We can sow or plant things in our lives that will later bring us blessings; or just the opposite, we can sow seeds of selfishness and rebellion and we will reap things that are corrupt. We will either become more like Jesus by walking and obeying the Spirit of God, or we will become carnal Christians, displeasing to God, when we give in to carnal desires. Sowing to our flesh brings the death principle to our lives for Romans 8:6 says, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” From this we can see why so many Christians are not enjoying their inheritance in God. They are refusing to “walk in the Spirit” and are reaping the things they are sowing in the flesh.

What does this mean and how do we “walk in the spirit?” This is working out our salvation and allowing the Holy Spirit to sanctify us.  Let us look at Galatians 5:16-25:

“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”

From these scriptures we can clearly see if we are walking in the spirit or walking in the flesh, because Paul lists the manifestations of the flesh and compares them to the fruit of the Spirit.  These scriptures tell us that there is no law against love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. These scriptures tell us that we have to battle against the dictates of our flesh and choose to walk in the spirit instead.  If we ask God to empower us to do the right things and overcome evil things, He will help us to overcome the temptations of the flesh and walk in the Spirit.

Many do not desire the Lord to cleanse them, and subsequently refuse His work of sanctification and holiness. Therefore, they reap those things that are sown to the flesh. At one time in my life, I was very concerned about reaping all that I had sown when I was young and was in sin, since I seemed to be continually failing God. I felt I would be forever reaping and never make any spiritual progress. I did not mean to fail God, but my flesh was weak. The Lord was so gracious to minister to me with His love. He first led me to the Scripture in Matthew 26:41, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He then gently explained to me that the kind of sin that reaped corruption was premeditated sin. (“…for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).) The Lord did this by asking me how one sowed a seed. I replied, “By digging a hole in the ground.” He then asked, “What do you do next?” I said, “You put the seed in and cover it up.” He said, “That is the way you commit a premeditated sin. You deliberately dig a hole, plant the seed and then cover it up so that others will not see it. The results of those sins will eventually be reaped.” He then said, “The other kind of sin, which is the weakness of our flesh, was like the seed that was thrown on top of the ground, and the sun beat down on it, and it never took root.” This is where we really do not mean to sin, but suddenly in a weak moment we fail the Lord, and immediately we are sorry and seek His forgiveness. This kind of sin will not be reaped, for the Lord’s grace covers it even as the sun beat down on the seed on top of the ground.

Each time we give these weak areas back to Jesus and determine that we want to be overcomers in that area, we find ourselves growing stronger. In time, we will become totally victorious. Should we become rebellious and commit willful sin, the moment we seek God for forgiveness we can enter back into the walk of the Spirit. However, we must deal with the results of those premeditated sins.

An example of this would be a young girl who deliberately sinned through fornication with the result of having an illegitimate baby. The Lord would forgive her the moment she sought Him for forgiveness; however, she would still have the child as a result of her sin. Nothing could change the fact that the child was illegitimate. However, God’s grace and mercy could cover this sin so that mother and child could grow in His love and goodness, if the mother chose God’s way for her life. God can always take our mistakes and turn them into good when we ask to be forgiven of any sin.

God will forgive and cleanse us and always show us the way to overcome as we continue to follow Him. When we sin or fail God, He always stands ready to receive us back into His fellowship and love. He does not just want us merely to “live in the Spirit,” but also to “walk in the Spirit”, that is, what it means to live the crucified life. Praise God for His mercy and forgiveness. He will reward His own in due time as we walk in obedience to His ways.

“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit”(Galatians 5:24‑25).

“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9).

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Silence, Stillness and Listening to God

From the website Wellspring:Reflections in Orthodox Christian Theology

There is an obvious and deep irony in any attempt to talk about silence.  It’s like trying to describe the ineffable or depict the invisible.  The task itself is inherently impossible.  Silence can only speak for itself: not through words, but through experience.  The best way to begin, therefore, is not by any definition or analysis, but by a story.

There is a very familiar little story in the alphabetical collection of traditions that have come down to us from the desert fathers of the early Christian centuries.  It is said that one day Abba Theophilus, who was an archbishop, came to Scetis, a desert wasteland and spiritual paradise, where great numbers of monks carried on their unseen spiritual warfare.  Archbishop Theophilus made his way to the cell of Abba Pambo, a man recognized and acclaimed for his humility and wisdom.  The brethren who accompanied Theophilus said to Abba Pambo, “Say something to the archbishop, so that he may be edified.”  Abba Pambo replied: “If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edified by my speech.”

There is really little more that can or should be said.  If people are not edified by our silence, then they will not be edified by our words.

In these few minutes, nevertheless, I will try to speak of silence and stillness in the language of Scripture and the desert tradition, and to elaborate very simply with some personal experiences.

In the beginning there was absolute silence.  Through His Word, God spoke into this silence, to create the heavens and the earth.  Then, on the cosmic sabbath known as “the seventh day,” God rested.  His Word, however, has continued its creative activity throughout human history.  As God declares through the prophet Isaiah, “My Word that goes forth from my mouth will not return to me empty; it shall accomplish that which I purpose and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa 55:11).  To affirm that God creates ex nihilo  is to say that He speaks out of silence, to bring all things into existence by the power of His creative Word.  Word and silence, then, complement each other.  Silence, in the most positive sense, is the environment and atmosphere, the sacred space, into which God speaks His Word, both to create the world and to save it from death and corruption.

Further on in Old Testament tradition, silence becomes the medium for divine revelation.  In a terrifying epiphany recounted in the first Book of Kings, God appeared on a mountain to the prophet Elijah.  As the Lord passed by, there came a mighty wind, so strong it split the mountain and shattered the rocks in pieces.  But, the narrative tells us, “the Lord was not in the wind.”  After the wind there came an earthquake, then a fire; but the Lord was in neither.  Then, the passage concludes, “after the fire a still, small voice” (1 Ki 19:12).  The New Revised Standard Version renders this more forcefully: “after the fire the sound of sheer silence.”  Through this paradoxical image — “the sound of sheer silence” — God reveals both His presence and His purpose.

From the time of Elijah through the period of classical prophecy, God continued to reveal Himself through His Word of blessing and judgment.  At the same time, silence was increasingly perceived as something negative: the absence of God’s voice and thus of His presence.  “The land of silence” became synonymous with Sheol, the place of the dead where, by definition, the life-giving God is not to be found (Ps 94:17).  God’s judgment pronounced against the nations includes the withering command: “Sit in silence, and go into darkness, daughter Chaldea!” (Isa 47:5).  Silence is darkness, and that darkness is death.

Finally, Israel itself experiences such a judgment, when the tongues of prophets fall silent as God withdraws His prophetic Word from the people’s midst.  (The post-Exilic Psalm 74:9 laments, “We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet…”; cf. 1 Macc 14:41, 2 Baruch 85:3, for whom “the prophets are sleeping.”)

Yet even in the Old Testament silence is recognized to have a profoundly spiritual value.  “Be angry but do not sin,” the psalmist admonishes, “commune with your own hearts on your bed, and be silent” (Ps 4:4).  The Septuagint or Greek version of the Hebrew Bible expresses the deeper meaning of this verse by slightly modifying the translation: “Be angry, and do not sin; for what you say in your hearts feel compunction on your beds.”  Genuine compunction arises out of the silence and solitude of one’s own bed, where, as St Augustine declares, the heart opens to the outpouring of divine love through the Holy Spirit.

The final word on silence, as it was experienced in ancient Israel, is that of the prophet Zephaniah: “Be silent before the Lord God!  For the day of the Lord is at hand” (Zeph 1:7).  Silence possesses an eschatological quality insofar as it prepares both heart and mind to receive God in His final coming.  The day of the Lord is a day of judgment, symbolized by thunder and fury.  But it is also a day of vindication, blessing and the bestowal of everlasting peace.  These are qualities both given and received in silence.

Israel perceived the silence of the prophets to be a sign of God’s judgment upon the people’s rebellion and faithlessness.  For early Christians, on the other hand, the falling silent of Israel’s prophets presaged a new creation and a new revelation.  As St Ignatius of Antioch expressed it some eighty years after our Lord’s death and resurrection, “There is one God who manifested Himself through Jesus Christ His Son, who is His Word, proceeding from silence…” (Mag 8:2).  God speaks out of silence at the original creation; He does the same with the new creation in Jesus Christ.  The Word of God, whose creative power brought all things from non-existence into being, brings about the new creation of the Church, the universal Body of Christ.  From this point on, the Church will be the primary locus of God’s creative activity and self-revelation.  It is there that the heart can acquire the gift of silence.  And it is there that silence resolves into the stillness that allows us to listen to the voice of God.

In the New Testament little is said of silence as such.  The people are themselves reduced to awe-filled silence as they witness Christ’s ability to silence his adversaries (Lk 20:26).  And Jesus, in the presence of His disciples, displays  the authority to still the waters and silence the thundering of the waves as a great storm threatens to swamp their boat.  He rebukes the wind and the sea: “Peace!  Be still!”  And, St Mark continues, “the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mk 4:39).  Whether on the open sea or in the human heart, peace requires stillness.  In the midst of our own storms and turmoil, Jesus speaks these same words, “Peace, be still!”  For those who have ears to hear, who can listen to this commandment which is also an invitation, the wind of noise, confusion and tumult ceases, and there comes a great calm.

As in the Old Testament, silence in the New Testament possesses an eschatological quality.  It describes the response of those in heaven to the promise of Christ’s final judgment and vindication of the righteous, together with creation’s ultimate and eternal glorification of God: “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal,” the Book of Revelation declares, “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (Rev 8:1).  That brief moment of silence recalls the silence to which Israel is called with the coming of the day of the Lord, a day which promises both judgment and salvation: “Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord,” exclaims the prophet Zechariah, “for He has roused Himself from His holy dwelling!” (Zech 2:13; cf. Isa 41:1; Zeph 1:7).  This admonition is repeated on Holy Saturday, when its meaning, nevertheless, is completely transformed.  Then the Church sings, “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and in fear and trembling stand; for the King of kings and Lord of lords comes forth, to be slain, to give Himself as food to the faithful.”  In that profound silence the eschatological warnings of judgment are transformed into a ringing promise of salvation, as the Lord offers Himself as eucharist “for the life of the world.”

God speaks out of the depths of His own silence, first to create the world, then to renew the world through the incarnation of His Son.  Through the voice of the prophets, including the prophet John of the Book of Revelation, God calls us to silence as well.  He invites us to go into our room, our chosen sacred space, and there to shut the door and pray to our Father who is in secret, assured that our Father who is in secret will answer our prayer (Mt 6:6).  In that silence we contemplate the mystery of God’s creative and saving work, together with the promise of our eternal salvation.   It is in that silence that we can listen to God, hear His voice, discern His will and purpose for our life, and, finally, come to know the truth of a precious insight offered by St Isaac of Nineveh: “Silence is the sacrament of the world to come” (Letter 3).

A catena of sayings, drawn at random from the desert ascetics of the early Christian centuries, well expresses the value and necessity of authentic silence, silence of the heart.

“A brother asked Abba Pambo if it is good to praise one’s neighbor, and the old man said to him, ‘It is better to be silent.’”

“A brother asked Abba Poemen, ‘Is it better to speak or to be silent?’  The old man said to him, ‘The man who speaks for God’s sake does well; but he who is silent for God’s sake also does well.”

“It was said of Abba Agatho that for three years he carried a stone in his mouth until he learned to be silent.”

St Diodochos of Photiki, a fifth century anti-monophysite bishop well versed in the desert monastic tradition, explained the purpose and fruit of silence in these words.  “Spiritual knowledge comes through prayer, deep stillness and complete detachment….”  And he adds,  “when the soul’s incensive power is aroused against the passions, we should know that it is time for silence, since the hour of battle is at hand.”

Silence and stillness are essential to attain spiritual knowledge, to engage in spiritual warfare against the passions and against demonic powers, and to allow the voice of God to be heard.  Silence and stillness nevertheless require a certain solitude, a temporary withdrawing from the noise and busyness of the world that cause endless distractions and hinder us in our quest for God.  “A brother came to Scetis to visit Abba Moses and asked him for a word.  The old man said to him, ‘Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.’”  Perhaps the greatest challenge in Orthodox Christian life is to transform the heart and mind, our inner being, into a place of silence and solitude, an interior monastic cell in which the Spirit of Truth dwells, to teach us everything we need for our journey toward the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. John 16:13-15).

Although they are often used interchangeably, the terms “silence” and “stillness” are not synonymous.  Silence implies in part an absence of ambient noise, together with an inner state or attitude which enables us to focus, to “center” on the presence of God and to hear His “still, small voice.”  To silence, the virtue of stillness adds both tranquility and concentration.  Stillness implies a state of bodily rest coupled with the creative tension that enables a person to commune with God in the midst of a crowd.  It means openness to the divine presence and to prayer, prayer understood as a divine work accomplished by God Himself.  As the apostle Paul insists, it is not we who pray, but the Spirit who prays within us (Rom 8:26).

This kind and quality of stillness is termed in Greek hesychia.  It underlies the practice of Prayer of the Heart which focuses on the Name of Jesus: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Most of us are familiar with the 19th century account entitled “The Way of a Pilgrim,” and “The Pilgrim Continues His Way.”  Here an anonymous Russian pilgrim, physically handicapped and with only the most rudimentary education, undertakes a voyage of the heart that will lead him step by step toward the heavenly Jerusalem.  His journey is marked by numerous encounters with all sorts of people, several of whom initiate him into the practice of the Jesus Prayer.  In the Church’s ascetic tradition, that prayer is progressively purified, becoming, in rare and privileged cases, “pure prayer” (kathera proseuchê) or “prayer of the heart.”  As many within that tradition have described it, repetition of the name of Jesus begins with the lips, gradually passes to the mind in a spontaneous outpouring, and finally descends with the mind into the heart, the spiritual center of our being.  The hesychast tradition therefore invites us to “stand before God with the mind in the heart,” to offer Him intercession, thanksgiving, praise and glorification day and night, without ceasing.

The terms used in this context need to be carefully defined.  The word “mind” refers not only to our rational capacity, discursive reasoning and analysis, that is, to the activity of the brain as it is usually understood.  “Mind” or “intellect” translates the Greek term nous, a notion well-defined by Bishop Kallistos Ware as “the power of apprehending religious truth through direct insight and contemplative vision.”  The “heart” he goes on to define as “the deep self; it is the seat of wisdom and understanding, the place where our moral decisions are made, the inner shrine in which we experience divine grace and the indwelling of the Holy Trinity.”  The heart, he adds, “indicates the human person as a ‘spiritual subject,’ created in God’s image and likeness.”

Silence fosters stillness; it is indispensable for stillness.  Stillness, however, goes beyond silence insofar as its aim is to purify the heart and issue in pure prayer.  That purification involves the body as well, because body and soul, like mind and heart, are ultimately inseparable.  In the words of St Mark the Ascetic, “The intellect cannot be still unless the body is still also; and the wall between them cannot be demolished without stillness and prayer.”

Most of traditional hesychast teaching was formulated by ascetic elders and transmitted to younger monks.  It is a tradition developed in the monastery and aimed principally at monastic life.  Its roots, however, go back to the New Testament and to Jesus’ own teaching and experience.  Frequently the Gospels show Jesus separating Himself for a while in order to pray to His Father in secret.  Then to His prayer there is joined that of others, persons who supplicate either Him or God the Father for mercy and forgiveness.  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” cries the blind beggar Bartimaeus (Mk 10:47).  In Jesus’ parable of the Publican and the Pharisee (Lk 18:9ff), the publican or tax-collector cries from the depths of his misery, “O God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”  Gradually, appeals such as these gave rise to the familiar formula of the Jesus Prayer.  Throughout history, and perhaps especially in our own day, this prayer or some variant of it has served as the cornerstone of the prayer and worship of lay persons as well as monastics.  Hesychasm, in other words, is not the product of a medieval controversy between Athonite monks and Latin theologians, as some have argued.  It is an ancient yet living tradition that anyone, with proper spiritual guidance, can seek to interiorize and experience as a primary means for creating and maintaining a deep, personal and unbroken communion with God.

“Let the remembrance of Jesus [that is, the Jesus Prayer] be present with each breath,” St John of Sinai urges his monks, “and then you will know the value of solitude.”  St Hesychios the Priest, recalling these words of St John, adds, “Lash the enemy with the name of Jesus and, as a certain wise man has said, let the name of Jesus adhere to your breath, and then you will know the blessings of stillness.”

Those blessings have been admirably described by Nikitas Stithatos in his treatise entitled “On the Inner Nature of Things.”

Stillness is an undisturbed state of the intellect, the calm of a free and joyful

soul, the tranquil unwavering stability of the heart in God, the contemplation

of light, the knowledge of the mysteries of God, consciousness of wisdom by

virtue of a pure mind, the abyss of divine intellections, the rapture of the intellect,

intercourse with God, and unsleeping watchfulness, spiritual prayer, untroubled

repose in the midst of great hardship and, finally, solidarity and union with God.

To this we can add the sublime words of St Gregory of Sinai, who died in the year 1346.  St Gregory traces the hesychast way by which silence and stillness achieve their ultimate end: “Stillness gives birth to contemplation, contemplation to spiritual knowledge, and knowledge to apprehension of the mysteries.  The consummation of the mysteries is theology, the fruit of theology is perfect love….”

If theology in our day can ever rediscover its true and proper end, it can do so only by recovering the virtues of silence and stillness as essential prerequisites for “listening to God” and dwelling in His perfect love.

Where do these glimpses into the hesychast tradition lead us?  Is it really possible for us today, as monastics, clergy or lay people, to acquire the gift of ceaseless prayer, to sound the depths and scale the heights of “pure prayer,” the prayer of the heart that unites a person with God in the most intimate communion of all?

If we consider the lives of holy people such as St Silouan of Mount Athos, or Father Arseny (Streltzov) of the Soviet gulag, or countless lay men and women who make at least occasional use of the Jesus Prayer, the answer can only be “Yes, such prayer is indeed possible,” at least to those who seek it fervently and with a profound longing.  In its purest form it is certainly not accessible to everyone.   We know very well that many saints labored and prayed for years without ever being granted the gift of prayer that roots itself in the depths of the heart.  And only a very few have ever known the grace and the ineffable joy of “pure prayer,” in which the nous itself is transcended and the soul dwells with joyous ecstasy in perfect communion with God.  “He who has not transcended himself,” St Maximos the Confessor holds, “and has not transcended all that is in any way subject to intellection, and has not come to abide in the silence beyond intellection, cannot be entirely free from change,” that is, cannot enjoy perfect and unending stillness in blissful union with God.   Intellection, the faculty of the nous that allows it to apprehend spiritual realities directly, must itself be surpassed.  Where this occurs, there a person comes to experience “the sound of sheer silence,” the “silence beyond intellection” that enables one’s entire being to be flooded with that perfect divine love which is the very being and life of the triune God.

For those of us who will never attain to such heights, there is still abundant hope and an abundant promise.  Any one of us, if we truly desire it, can acquire the gifts, the divine virtues, of silence and stillness.  And with those gifts we acquire ears to hear the voice of God that speaks to us in the silence of our heart.

Orthodoxy has always been loathe to prescribe techniques for acquiring certain spiritual benefits.  Other traditions often stress the role of breathing and posture in attaining inner tranquility and the stillness required for contemplative prayer.  They may introduce into their teaching elements from Oriental religions: yoga, for example, or some similar practice that aims to bring body and soul into harmony.  To Orthodox spiritual elders, however, practices such as these all too easily become ends in themselves, rather like using the fasting period as an opportunity to lose weight.  We can make idols of virtually anything, even those things that seem at first glance to advance our spiritual quest.

Rather than offer concrete suggestions as to how we might attain a greater degree of inner silence and stillness, I would prefer to share with you a few very simple and modest experiences I have been blessed with over the past few decades.  They are intended merely as verbal icons or images conveyed to me by persons and events through whom I and others have heard the voice of God and sensed the awesome power of His presence.

– In the early 1970s a community of French Roman Catholic contemplative sisters invited our family to live among them as we made our entry into the Orthodox Church.  These sisters were deeply imbued with Orthodox liturgical and ascetic tradition — to the point that many longed to become Orthodox themselves.  My fondest memory of the three years we spent in their midst is of the evening Vespers services.  A half hour or more before the office began, sisters and their guests began to enter the chapel.  They venerated icons, then knelt on the rug and sat back on their heels to pray in the evening stillness.  After the service, those who could, remained.  Again they knelt on the rough hemp rug, settled back on their heels, bowed their heads and prayed.  The silence in that place was palpable.  I often wondered why it is that silence is so much deeper when it is shared with others.  Why is our prayer so much more focused, so much more intense yet totally simple, when we join together in silent worship before the God of infinite love and compassion?  How is it that in that silence our prayer encompasses one another in a unique way, so that, in unspoken harmony, we intercede for each other, give thanks for each other, and make offering of each other to the God whose presence and love we sense almost physically, God who is ever Emmanuel, God with us?

This kind of experience is a blessed gift, realized through the presence of the Spirit, who unites us before our Lord in thanksgiving, in supplication and in love.  These sisters, and the group of brothers who later joined with them, blessed our lives beyond measure.  Yet as I look back, I realize we hardly ever spoke to one another.  We passed each other in that wilderness area where the community was located; we nodded and smiled; but we kept quiet, unless there was some specific need to speak.  In the silence of the pathway, or of the refectory, or of the chapel, we heard the voice of God, as it were, through the silence of the other person.  In that silence we exchanged the unspoken assurance that we were praying for one another.  And in that silence I came to realize that holiness exists everywhere, that the “ecumenical problem” can be fully resolved there where people, who love Christ and offer Him their unceasing adoration, gather in stillness, to worship together and to listen together for the voice of God.

We have had similar experiences in Orthodox monasteries.  Whether in this country or in Western Europe, in Greece or in Romania, the same values of silence and stillness leaven prayer and our communion with others.

– In the village of Taizé in south-central France there is an ecumenical community of monks who receive thousands of pilgrims each year.  More significant for me on our visits there has been the small village church, a Romanesque structure that dates in part to the eleven hundreds.  The stone walls are permeated with centuries of prayer.  The hard wood benches oblige concentration, and one can spend hours in that place, listening to the silence, hearing the muted voices of the thousands of villagers who, over the ages, have gathered there to pray.

– A small monastery on the island of Crete was home to a community of monks until they were slaughtered by invading Axis forces during the Second World War.  Now a group of sisters lives and prays there.  The grounds are filled with fruit trees and the natural beauty provides an ideal setting for shared words and shared silence.  The tragic history of this community somehow enhances the sense of God’s presence, of His merciful providence that has created in this place of violence and death a haven of stillness and contemplative prayer.  “Agathos ho Theos!” a sister tells me, “God is good!”

– In a hospital room a close friend lay dying.  For years he had rebelled against God and against his Orthodox faith, expressing that rebellion by indifference to everything connected with the Church.  In the last years of his life he had come home.  With the simplicity and openness of a child he now turned his face to God and prayed.  You could see in his eyes that God replied.  One day, shortly before he died, we spoke about the need for total surrender in the Christian life.  Surrender of our being, our values, our hopes and ambitions, all into the loving hands of our merciful Lord.  He was quiet for a while.  Then he took a scrap of paper and slowly wrote on it the word “surrender.”  We stayed together a while longer, saying nothing.  There, too, was silence — a silence filled with mutual longing for “the one thing needful.”  In that silence, our friendship, our love for one another, enabled both of us, for a moment, to know stillness, and in that stillness, to know the presence of God and the unfathomable depths of His love.

– Near the center of Paris there is a medieval Roman Catholic church that bears the name of St. Eustache.  One afternoon I left a friend at the metro station and crossed the River Seine to the church, then entered by a large, ornately carved wooden door toward the rear.  The massive stone walls almost totally closed out the noise of the city.  With only a handful of people scattered about, lighting tapers or sitting in prayer, I took a seat next to one of the immense pillars that rose toward heaven to support the great domed roof.  As the setting sun reached the horizon, shafts of brilliant light flooded through the stained glass windows to my right, illumining the entire nave and turning the pillars from gray to gold.  Candle flames flickered all around the altar and in the side chapels, and a little girl, maybe eight years old, walked backwards down the center corridor, to photograph the ancient organ above and behind me.  Her shoes scuffling along the stone floor made the only sound audible in that stillness.  Once again, here in the midst of a bustling metropolis, one could experience the sound of “sheer silence.”  And in that silence, complemented by the radiant light of evening, one could pray with tears.

All of this is not to say that silence and stillness are simply given.  They can be enhanced by environment, circumstances and communion with others.  But they need nevertheless to be cultivated.  They require ascetic discipline, including fasting and ongoing repentance.  Some demons can only be driven out by prayer and fasting, Christ tells His disciples.  The same is required in order to learn to pray.  Paradoxically, we can only learn to pray by praying, by opening ourselves to the movement of the Spirit in the temple of the heart.  Yet we can, at the same time, ask for the gift of prayer.  In those moments when prayer seems farthest from us, when we walk in a desert wasteland with no sense of God’s presence or concern, then we must ask for the gift of prayer.

Silence is the prerequisite for inner stillness, and only inner stillness enables us truly to listen to God, to hear His voice, and to commune with Him in the depths of our being.   Yet silence and stillness are, like prayer itself, gifts that God can and wants to bestow upon us.  The greatest truth about us is that God has created us with a profound longing, a burning thirst for communion with Himself.  We can easily pervert that longing into an idolatrous quest for something other than God.  Yet God remains faithful even in our times of apostasy.  Like the father of the Prodigal Son, he always awaits our return.  Once we begin that journey homeward, through repentance and an ongoing struggle against our worst inclinations, God reaches out to embrace, to forgive and to heal all that is broken, wounded and wasted.  He reaches out to restore within us the sublime image in which we were made.

Repentance of this kind, coupled with inner warfare against the passions, is essential if we are to acquire the gifts of silence and stillness, and from there learn to listen to the voice of God.  One weapon that proves especially effective in that warfare is the Prayer of Jesus: frequent, quiet repetition of the Name of the Son of God.  That Name, which “upholds the universe,” has the power to lift us from spiritual death to a new life of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” which the apostle Paul identifies with the Kingdom of God (Rom 14:17).  It is a Name that possesses such power and grace that it can sustain a person even in the face of physical death.  Let me close with another incident that illustrates what I mean.

A sister of the Catholic contemplative community I mentioned a moment ago was involved in a near-fatal automobile accident.  She was transported to the hospital, and for days she hovered between life and death, comatose and maintained on life-support.  Her sisters were by her side day and night, gradually losing hope as she failed to regain consciousness.  As the medical team was deciding whether to continue life-sustaining treatment, she stirred and made a sound.  The sisters gathered close to her and watched as her lips began to move.  While she was still in a state of semi-consciousness, they recognized the words she was forming.  Out of the depths of her darkness she was speaking the words that, as she later recounted it, sustained her and virtually saved her life: “Seigneur Jésus-Christ, Fils de Dieu, aie pitié de moi!”  “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me!”

Out of a seemingly impenetrable silence and stillness, she found in the Name of Jesus a strength that sustained her in her struggle from near death to recovery.  Her experience is a spiritual metaphor for the struggle each of us is called to assume: to speak out of inner stillness the sacred Name of Jesus, and to find there the only true healing of soul and body.

But as we speak out of that stillness, we also listen.  We listen for ineffable words of love and compassion, of healing and life.  These are words God addresses to each of us, without exception.  And He does so in the silence of the heart.  There He makes known the infinite depths of His love for us, His passionate concern to lead us from brokenness to wholeness and from death to life.

This is the experience of the saints, and it can be our experience as well.  All that is required is that we make our own the confession of the Psalmist: “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation.”





Mark S. Kinzer Ann Arbor, Michigan © Mark S. Kinzer

The Gospel of John is without question the most Temple-centered of the canonical Gospels. Much of the action in the first half of the book occurs in or around the Temple, and the discourses liberally employ imagery drawn from the feasts of Israel and their associated Temple rites. John depicts Jesus as the one in whom Israel’s worship reaches its appointed goal. John’s cultic concern has as its focal point a portrayal of Jesus as the Temple of God. This is not one among many cultic images in John, but instead serves as the integrating center of his cultic Christology. When given its rightful prominence, John’s Temple Christology sheds light on other Johannine themes, such as the depiction of Jesus as incarnate Wisdom, who bears the divine Name and Glory, and offers those who come to him a vision of the invisible God. This Christology also may help locate the Johannine tradition within the wider Jewish world of the first-century.

Key Texts in Johannine Temple Christology

The prologue of the Gospel announces the theme of Temple Christology (or, in this case, Tabernacle Christology) from the book’s outset. The enfleshment of the Logos is his way of “dwelling” or “tabernacling” in this world, so as to make visible the divine “Glory” (1:14). This “Glory,” the Kavod/Doxa of the Priestly tradition (and the Shekhinah of Rabbinic tradition), may also be echoed by the “true light” of verses 4-5, 7- 9.3

The theme is picked up again at the end of chapter 1, as Jesus promises Nathaniel that he will see heaven opened and angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

1 This paper is found in the 1998 Seminar Papers (Part One) of the Society of Biblical Literature (447-64)

2 Many of the texts that follow are assembled and analyzed in J. McCaffrey, The House With Many Rooms: The Temple Theme of Jn. 14,2-

3 (Analecta Biblica 114; Rome: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1988) 222-45. 3 On John 1:14 and the Tabernacle, see E. C. Hoskyns, The Fourth Gospel (London, Faber and Faber, 1947) 147-48, and R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, Vols. 1 and 2 (New York: Doubleday, 1966, 1970) 1.32-34. C. R. Koester (The Dwelling of God [Washington: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1989] 105-6) argues against seeing an allusion to the Shekhinah in John 1:14, but his case is unconvincing. It is likely that John 1:14 draws upon a targumic tradition reflected in the targum on Isaiah 6, which renders verse 5 as “my eyes have seen the glory of the Shekhinah of the eternal king, the LORD of hosts.” See C. A. Evans, Word and Glory (JSNT Supplement Series 89; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993) 133-4.


The Son of Man is here presented as the new Beth-El of Jacob’s dream, who links earth and heaven. This text likely presumes the tradition preserved in Rabbinic circles which identifies Beth-El with the Temple mount in Jerusalem.4

Chapter 2 tells of Jesus‟ visit to the Temple at Passover and of his ejection of the merchants and money changers from its courts. In this scene Jesus refers to the Temple as “my Father‟s house” (τὸち οἶκοち τοῦ πατとόな たοに). The evangelist then cites Psalm 69:19, altering the tense of the verb in order to make clear that Jesus‟ zeal for the Temple will be the proximate cause of his death.5 Asked by the authorities for a sign to justify his action, Jesus speaks in a veiled manner of his death and resurrection by referring to his body as “this Temple” (2μ20). The ironic connection between the death of Jesus and the destruction of the Temple will appear again at the end of the first half of the Gospel (11:48-50).

On his return trip to Galilee, Jesus offers a Samaritan woman “living water” (4:10, 14), a Johannine symbol for the Holy Spirit (7:37-39). He then contrasts worship in this Spirit with the Temple worship of Jerusalem and Gerizim (4:20-24), implying that a new and different kind of Temple is being established.6 In these five verses the word “worship” appears ten times, leaving no doubt as to the primary theme of the unit.

Chapters 7-10 provide John’s most sustained reflection on Jesus as the new Temple. Chapters 7-8 tell of disputes between Jesus and his critics in Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles, and portray Jesus as fulfilling key themes of that feast — he gives “living water” (7:37-39) and is himself “the light of the world” (8:12). The story of the healing of the blind man in Chapter 9, which apparently also has Tabernacles as its setting, is a dramatic enactment of Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world (9:5). It also continues the living water symbolism, for the healing occurs as the man washes in the pool of Siloam (the starting point for the procession of the water-drawing ceremony during the Feast of Tabernacles).

These images of light and water are closely tied, not only to the Feast of Tabernacles, but also to the Temple itself. The Temple was illuminated through the nights of the Feast, recalling the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud which led Israel in the wilderness

4 On the various interpretations of this verse, see Brown, 1.90-91. The view that Jesus is here seen as a new Beth-El is argued by I. Fritsch, “‟. . . videbitis . . . angelos Dei ascendentes et descendentes super Filium hominis‟ (Io. 1, 51),” Verbum Domini 37 (1959), 3-11. Koester thinks that the connection is weak (105-6). However, it is strengthened substantially when the traditional identification of Beth-El and the Jerusalem Temple mount is taken into account. On this identification, see Pesiq. R. 39.2, and M. Aberbach and B. Grossfeld, Targum Onkelos to Genesis (Denver: Ktav, 1982) 171, note 14. O. Cullmann points out that the Samaritans made a similar interpretive move, identifying Beth-El with their own holy site, Gerizim (The Johannine Circle [London: SCM, 1976] 111, note 14).

5 Brown, 1.124.

6 Hoskyns sees a link between John 4:20-24 and 1:51 (245). C. H. Dodd (The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953] 317) and Brown (1.180) note the connection to John 2:13-22.3


and which also was identified with the Kavod/Doxa/Shekhinah that rested upon the Tabernacle and the Temple. The water of the Spirit which flows from Jesus’ heart is presented as a fulfillment of scripture (7:38), and the biblical background for this assertion is probably to be found in the water that flows from the Temple in the Messianic age (Ezek 47:1-12; Joel 3:18; Zech 14:8).7

In the following chapter Jesus’ discourse on the sheepfold concludes with words from the crowd (10:21) which allude back to the healing of the blind man. The scene then shifts suddenly to the Feast of Dedication — a Feast which in its origins was closely associated with Tabernacles (2 Macc 1:9, 10:6).8 Jesus is on the Temple mount during the feast which commemorates that Temple’s rededication following its contamination by idolatrous worship, and, after words that hearken back to the previous discourse on the sheepfold, he speaks of himself as the one “consecrated and sent into the world” (10:36). He is thus the new and true Temple, consecrated by God himself.9 His claims to unity with God (10:30) are not to be equated with the blasphemous megalomania of Antiochus, which defiled the house of God, but with the authentic expression of the Divine Presence in the consecrated Temple.10

The key texts for Temple Christology in John are found primarily in the prologue and “The Book of Signs” (Jn 1-12). The second half of John does contain one text that some scholars have interpreted as expressing this Christologyμ “In my Father‟s house (ἐち τῇ οἰκίᾳ τοῦ πατとόな たοに) are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for youς” (14μ2).11  The phrase ἐち τῇ οἰκίᾳ τοῦ πατとόな たοに is almost

7“Zech xiv 8 had predicted that living waters would flow out of Jerusalem, and Ezek xlvii 1 had seen a river flow from the rock underneath the Temple. But now Jesus says that these rivers of living water will flow from his own body, that body which is the new Temple (ii 21)… (Brown, 1.327). See also Dodd, 349ν R. Bultmann, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Oxford: Blackwell, 1971) 303; F. J. Maloney, Signs and Shadows (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) 87; G. R. Beasley-Murray, Word Biblical Commentary 36: John (Waco: Word, 1987) 41. In discussing the miraculous catch of fish described in John 21:1-11, J. H. Charlesworth cites the work of J. A. Emerton and P. Ackroyd that “suggests that the number 153 is a gematriya for En-gedi and En-eglaim which bring to memory…Ezekiel‟s vision of waters pouring out of the Temple (The Beloved Disciple [Valley Forge: Trinity, 1995] 36, note 31).

8 The close relationship between the feasts of Tabernacles and Dedication, and the way this relationship allows John to shift from scenes occurring at one to a scene occurring at the other, is recognized by Hoskyns, 385, and Brown, 1.388-9.

9 See Moloney, 148-50, 206-7; Hoskyns, 385; Brown, 1.411; Beasley-Murray, 177.

10 “Jesus, who stands before „the Jews‟ in the portico of Solomon in the Temple, points to himself and claims that he is the visible presence of God among them…The claims of the prologue are being acted out in the story of Jesusμ „The Word became flesh and dwelled among us…‟…The setting of these words of Jesus within the feast of Dedication determines the reader‟s understanding that the union between God and the Temple which was seen as God‟s presence to his people, is perfected in Jesus because of his oneness with the Father…‟The Jews‟ take up stones against Jesus (v. 31), repeating the profanations of Antiochus and his representatives. They are attempting to rid Israel of the visible presence of God in their midst” (Moloney, 147-8).

11 That this verse should be understood in terms of Temple Christology is the central thesis of McCaffrey.


identical to that used by Jesus in referring to the Temple in John 2:16 (τὸち οἶκοち τοῦ πατとόな たοに). Brown draws the following conclusion:

Thus there would be some precedent for reinterpreting “many dwelling places in my Father‟s house” parabolically as possibilities for permanent union with the Father in and through Jesus…without any stress that the union is in heaven – his body is his Father‟s houseν and wherever the glorified Jesus is, there is the Father.12

  Therefore John 14:2 may be understood as a refracting of the type of Temple imagery found in Revelation 3μ12 or 7μ15 through the lens of the evangelist‟s Christocentric realized eschatology.

Relationship to Other Johannine Themes

  John’s Temple Christology serves as a primary vehicle for integrating the book‟s affirmations about Jesus and Israel’s worship. How does this cultic Christology relate to other major Johannine themes?

First, it is closely linked to Wisdom Christology. As is generally acknowledged, the figure of personified Wisdom as portrayed in such works as Proverbs, Sirach, and the Wisdom of Solomon is a major component in the formation of John’s high Christology. In Sirach 24 Wisdom states that her throne was “in a pillar of cloud” (24:4; see Wis 10:17), and that she sought “a resting place” in all the earth (24:7; see Ps 132:8, 14).

わόわむ ἐよむわむίゆぼわό ょりや ὁ ゅわίゎわもろ ἁるάよわωよ, ゅぼὶ ὁ ゅわίゎぼろ ょむ ゅぼわέるぼゐゎむ わὴよ ゎゅもよήよ ょりゐ ゅぼὶ むἶるむよ· ἐよ ᾿0ぼゅὼぽ ゅぼわぼゎゅήよωゎりよ ゅぼὶ ἐよ ᾿0ゎれぼὴゆ ゅぼわぼゅゆもれりよりょήゃもわや. るれὸ わりῦ ぼἰῶよりろ ἀる᾿ ἀれχミろ ἔゅわやゎέ ょむ, ゅぼὶ ἕωろ ぼἰῶよりろ りὐ ょὴ ἐゅゆίるω. ἐよ ゎゅもよム ἁまίᾳ ἐよώるやりよ ぼὐわりῦ ἐゆむやわりύれまもゎぼ ゅぼὶ りὕわωろ ἐよ Σやὼよ ἐゎわもれίχゃもよ· ἐよ るόゆむや ἠまぼるもょέよῃ ὁょりίωろ ょむ ゅぼわέるぼゐゎむ, ゅぼὶ ἐよ ῾0むれりゐゎぼゆὴょ ἡ ἐらりゐゎίぼ ょりゐ· ゅぼὶ ἐれれίめωゎぼ ἐよ ゆぼῷ みむみりらぼゎょέよῳ, ἐよ ょむれίみや 1ゐれίりゐ ゅゆもれりよりょίぼろ ぼὐわりῦ.


Then the Creator of all things gave me a command, and my Creator chose the place for my tent. He said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance.’ Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me, and for all the ages I shall not cease to be. In the holy tent I ministered before him, and so I was established in Zion. Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting place, and in Jerusalem was my domain. I took root in an honored people, in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.13

  In later verses Sirach will depict Wisdom as having her earthly embodiment in the Torah. However, in these verses she is clearly portrayed as the Kavod or the Shem, the divine presence in the Jerusalem temple (see Ps 132, 14 which is echoed in Sir 24:8-12).15 This provides the background for John 1:14, which presents the humanity of Jesus as the fleshly tent of the Logos.

A second Johannine theme that relates both to Temple Christology and Wisdom Christology is John’s view of Jesus as the bearer of the divine Name and Glory. That Jesus is the recipient of the Name is implicit in the “I Am” sayings which characterize the Johannine discourses, and is made explicit in the intercessory prayer of John 17 (verses 6, 11, 26).16 Jesus is also the custodian of the divine Glory, which in John 17 is identified

12 2.627.

13 Sirach 24:8-12 (RSV).

14 LXX Psalm 131.13-14: ὅわや ἐらむゆέらぼわり 1ύれやりろ わὴよ Σやώよ, ᾑれむわίゎぼわり ぼὐわὴよ むἰろ ゅぼわりやゅίぼよ ἑぼゐわῷ· ぼὕわも ἡ ゅぼわάるぼゐゎίろ ょりゐ むἰろ ぼἰῶよぼ ぼἰῶよりろ, ᾧみむ ゅぼわりやゅήゎω, ὅわや ᾑれむわやゎάょもよ ぼὐわήよ·

15In Sirach 24:2 and 4 Wisdom is also described in language usually reserved for angels (“In the assembly of the Most High she will open her mouth, and in the presence of his host she will glory…‟I dwelt in high places, and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.‟”). Philo speaks of the Logos in a similar way. Both Sirach and Philo may be drawing upon traditions that equated the Angel of the Lord with the Kavod/Shem/Shekhinah which resided in the Temple and possessed a human form. If such views were extant, it is likely that John 12:41 also draws upon them. On the existence of such traditions during the Second Temple period, see J. Fossum, “The Maghariansμ A Pre-Christian Jewish Sect and its Significance for the Study of Gnosticism and Christianity,” Henoch IX:3 (1987) 303-44.

16 See Brown, 1.533-38.


with the Name (note the parallelism of verses 22 and 11). As seen above, Shem and Kavod are cultic terms for the Divine Presence that rested on the Tabernacle/Temple.17

A third theme in John connected to Temple Christology concerns the vision of God. According to John, Jesus is the only one who has seen God directly (1:18; 6:46). However, Jesus bears within himself the Divine Glory, and those who see and acknowledge him are seeing the invisible Father (1:18; 12:45; 14:7-9). His ultimate aim for his disciples, as expressed in his intercessory prayer, is “that they may be with me where I am, to behold my Glory which you have given me in your love for me before the foundation of the world” (17:24). This is the vision of “the Glory of God” which is given to those who believe in Jesus (11:40).

In the Hebrew Bible “seeing God” is cultic terminology referring to Temple worship (e.g., Pss 27:4, 63:2, 84:7).18 That such cultic connections are also implicit in John is supported by John 12:41, which states that “Isaiah said this because he saw his Glory and spoke of him.” This is an allusion to Isaiah’s Temple vision (Isa 6) in which the prophet is transported from the earthly to the heavenly Temple and beholds YHWH seated on his exalted throne.19 According to John, the “YHWH” of Isaiah’s vision was none other than the pre-incarnate Logos.20 Thus, before “the Word became flesh and tabernacled” in this world and allowed those who believed to “see his Glory” (1:14), he was enthroned in the heavenly Temple and imparted a vision of God to a chosen prophet who sought him in his earthly Temple. John may be implying here that the Logos was enthroned both in the heavenly Temple and in the Jerusalem Temple, which constituted a point of intersection between earth and heaven. After the incarnation, the humanity of Jesus serves as the earthly Temple, and mediates the vision of God to human beings.

A fourth element in John related to Temple Christology is its way of speaking about “heaven.” “Heaven” in John is primarily the place of Jesus’ origin and destination (of the twenty times the word appears, fourteen times it is preceded by e)k, “from”). It is the place which is “above,” as contrasted with “the earth” (3:12, 31) or “the world” (8:23),

17 “For John, Jesus replaces the Tabernacle and the Temple, and so is now the place where God has put His name” (Brown, 2.754). 18 See J. D. Levenson, “The Jerusalem Temple in Devotional and Visionary Experience,” Jewish Spirituality From the Bible Through the Middle Ages (ed. A. Green; New York: Crossroad, 1996) 43-46. 19 The importance of “seeing God” in John, and its association with Isaiah 6, are often produced as evidence that John‟s Gospel reflects apocalyptic visionary trends in Judaism (C. Rowland, “John 1.51, Jewish Apocalyptic and Targumic Tradition,” NTS 30 [1984] 498-507) or early Merkavah mysticism (P. Borgen, “God‟s Agent in the Fourth Gospel,” The Interpretation of John [ed. J. Ashton; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986] 67-78 [article originally published in 1968]). I am not disputing this view, but instead claiming that visionary apocalypticism and merkavah mysticism themselves originate in a priestly milieu, and that the Gospel of John, like the Qumran literature, supports such a thesis. See S. L. Cook, Prophecy and Apocalypticism (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995). 20 Bultmann, 452-3, note 4; Moloney, 196-7; Brown, 1.486-7; Beasley-Murray, 217; Evans, 133.


which is “below.” In earlier scholarship this spatial dualism was seen as a sign of John’s Hellenistic background. Recent scholarship has recognized that a similar dualism existed in first century Judaism in the land of Israel. However, it should be noted that this Jewish dualism was mainly cultic in nature: the heavenly priesthood, worship, and temple were seen as archetypes corresponding to their earthly counterparts in Jerusalem (or in a sectarian community).21

In one Johannine text Jesus tells his disciples that they will “see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (1:51). As already noted, this verse should be seen as an example of Temple Christology. It also indicates the function of John’s Temple Christology: as the Temple linked earth and heaven, so Jesus is now the true and perfect link between earth and heaven. As the Temple offered a vision of God, so now Jesus offers the true and perfect vision of God.

Because he comes from heaven, Jesus is able to reveal heavenly things. However, his mission in John is not to tell about the glorious furnishings, customs, and personages of the heavenly court, but to impart a spiritual vision and mystical knowledge of his Father, who is the substance of all heavenly reality. Such vision and knowledge comes through being “born from above” (3:3). Just as Jesus knows about heavenly things because he comes form heaven and possesses a heavenly nature, so his disciples come to know heavenly things through receiving a new heavenly birth. It is noteworthy that the chapter which probes these matters is the center of a chiastic structure, bordered on one side by the cleansing of the Temple and on the other by the dialogue with the Samaritan woman – – both of which portray Jesus as the new and true Temple.22 It may also be significant that this chapter includes the well-known textual variant which locates the Son of Man as “in heaven” (3:13). As the cosmic link between earth and heaven, the Temple is located

21 See J. Maier, Vom Kultus zur Gnosis (Salzburg: Otto Muller, 1964) 95-148, and J. D. Levenson, Sinai and Zion (San Francisco: Harper, 1985) 111-42. “Dualism” may not be the best term to describe this conjunction and correlation of heavenly and earthly spheres, for it implies a radical distancing of the two spheres which was not characteristic of the period except perhaps in certain apocalyptic or philosophical circles. 22 Brown offers an insightful outline of 2:1 – 4:54, which is largely embodied in what follows, but he does not highlight the chiastic structure of the unit: A1 First sign at Cana (2:1-12) B1 Cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem (2:13-25) C Discourse with Nicodemusν the Baptist‟s Final Witness (3:1-36) B2 Discourse with the Samaritan Woman at Jacob‟s Well (4μ1-45) A2 Second Sign at Cana (4:46-54)


simultaneously in both spheres.23 If one accepts the variant reading, then John asserts the same of Jesus.

John 3μ13 also speaks of Jesus‟ ascent to heavenμ “No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” John claims for Jesus a unique position among the prophets, seers, and mystics of Israel.24 Apocalyptic, hekhalot, and midrashic texts describe the heavenly ascent of hallowed figures of the past such as Enoch and Moses. This ascent usually entails a journey through the halls of the heavenly Temple. In denying the reality of any heavenly ascent other than that of Jesus, John also implicitly transfers the imagery of the traditional ascent to Jesus‟ resurrection and ascension (viewed in John as essentially one event). The entry of Jesus into the heavenly Temple is not described by John‟s Gospel, but we have no reason to doubt that the book presumes something similar to what is found in the Johannine Apocalypse, the Letter to the Hebrews, and the Ascension of Isaiah. As John 3:13 and 17:5 both affirm, this is but a return to a former position of “Glory” that he had with God “before the world was made.”

The ascent of Jesus is therefore placed within the context of his descent, a theme that is significant in John, especially in chapter 6 (6:33, 38, 41, 42, 50, 51, 58). While the primary focus of John 3:13 is a contrast between Jesus and other heavenly travelers, it is possible that the verse also draws upon ideas reflected in later Rabbinic texts concerning the descent and ascent of the Shekhinah (Gen. Rab. 19:7; Abot. R. Nat. 34) The Shekhinah first descends to dwell in the Garden of Eden, but then is driven back to heaven by human sin. It returns again to dwell in the Tabernacle and Temple, only to be driven away once again by Israel‟s sin. As already noted, in the Gospel of John the death of Jesus is presented as the destruction of “the Temple of his body,” resulting from his zeal for his “Father‟s house” and the enmity of Israel‟s leaders (2μ16-21), and leading ultimately to that which those leaders sought at all costs to avoid – the desolation of the Jerusalem Temple (11:47-53). Thus, the true Shekhinah returns to the heavenly Temple,

23 Commenting on Isaiah 6, Levenson states that “The earthly Temple is thus the vehicle that conveys the prophet into the supernal Temple, the real Temple, the Temple of YHWH and his retinue, and not merely the artifacts that suggest them. This Temple is an institution common to the heavenly and the terrestrial realmsν they share it…In short, what we see on earth in Jerusalem is simply the earthly manifestation of the heavenly Temple, which is beyond localization” (Sinai and Zion, 123, 140). If the main point of this article is valid, we should be able to use the Temple theologies existing in the first-century Jewish world in interpreting the meaning of John‟s Christology. Jesus‟ position as the one “from/of heaven” yet “on earth” would be a case in point. 24 Brown observes that “This verse is another way of stating what is found elsewhere in John, namely, that only Jesus has seen God” (1.145). If we look at this verse in light of John 12μ41, which describes Isaiah‟s heavenly ascent as a vision of the pre-incarnate Logos, we can concur with Brown, and go further still. Not only is Jesus uniquely capable of seeing God; it is also true that others who had apparently ascended to heaven and received such a vision had in fact gazed upon him.


but though this return is occasioned by Israel‟s sin its purpose is not withdrawal but a second descent – that of the Spirit — which will bring the first descent to fruition.

This brings us to the fifth theme that should be viewed in relationship to John’s Temple Christology — namely, its Pneumatology. Being “born of water and the Spirit” is equivalent in John to being “born from above” (3:3, 5). The connection here between water and Spirit is noteworthy. The focus in the immediate context is on the Spirit (3:6, 8). However, the verses directly following this monologue have as their concern baptism and purification (3:22-26). Water and spirit are linked elsewhere in John (4:7-15, 23-24; 7:38-39). John the Baptist describes Jesus as “He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (1:33). It is also possible that the wine of 2:1-11, which began as water in stone containers used for rites of purification, is intended to be a symbol for the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:13; Eph 5:18). These texts suggest that John sees the Spirit as having a purifying function (Ps 51:10, Ezek 36:25-26; 1QS 3:6-9, 4:20-22). Since the book demonstrates a clear understanding of the relationship between Temple worship and rites of purification (11:55; 18:28), it is likely that John sees the gift of the Spirit as that which brings true purification and allows one to worship in the true Temple. This could explain further why John 3 serves as the center of the chiasm formed by John 2:1 – 4:54, and why the sign at Cana introduces the entire unit.

Thus, for John the Spirit is associated with baptism, and both are further associated with purification. Just as John has greater concern for the Temple and its rites than do the Synoptics, so it also highlights in a unique fashion the priestly concerns of purification (13:8-11; 15:3) and sanctification (10:36; 17:17, 19). Only John among the Gospels informs us that the first disciples of Jesus were formerly part of the baptist movement (1:35-42); only John tells us that Jesus and his disciples themselves baptized (3:22; 4:1- 2); only John describes baptism as kaqarismo/j, “purification” (3μ25-6). John seems to share the view of the Qumranites that purification by the Spirit is mediated by bodily purification with water.25

  Relationship to Other Contemporary Temple Traditions

  Like other Temple traditions of the time, John‟s Gospel promotes a visionary and mystical brand of Judaism, and roots the visionary and mystical knowledge it promotes in a type of Temple worship which is only indirectly tied to the Temple in Jerusalem.

25 Charlesworth suggests that the reluctance of the Beloved Disciple to enter Jesus‟ tomb in John 20μ5 derives from his fear of contracting corpse impurity. “The…Beloved Disciple…follows the Jewish regulations for purification, and thus serves as the ideal disciple for those Johannine Christians who wish to continue observing Jewish rules and customs” (283ν see also 70-71).


However, whereas John focuses on the person of Jesus as the new Temple, other related traditions are oriented to the heavenly Temple, the eschatological Temple, and/or a particular community as earthly Temple.

Unlike Jubilees, the Testament of Levi, the Qumran Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, the Apocalypse of John, and the later hekhalot literature, the Gospel of John shows little explicit interest in the heavenly Temple or the angelic liturgy. This is an important difference between the Gospel and the Apocalypse, which are (with the Letter to the Hebrews) the most Temple-centered documents in the New Testament. This can be attributed at least in part to the Christological and incarnational emphasis of the book. The point of its message is that God made himself known in this world in the person of Jesus, and can now be encountered and worshipped through him. Jesus is not merely a mediator, but is himself the personal embodiment of the One he represents; he is not merely a revealer, but is himself the substance of revelation.26 Rather than offering a method of ascending to heaven, John instead proclaims that heaven has descended to earth.27 On this point, though, the message of the Apocalypse has affinities with the Gospel, for its story ends where the Gospel beginsμ with the New Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven (katabai¿nousan e)k tou= ou)ranou=) from God” (Revelation 21:2). In the Gospel the final eschatology of the Apocalypse becomes Christocentric realized eschatology.

However, it is at least possible that the Jesus-centered mysticism of the Gospel of John was intended to function as a doorway to the kind of visionary and corporate experience of heavenly worship presumed by the Apocalypse of John. John 1:51 is one of the few clues which might point in such a direction. Another is John 12:39-41, which speaks of the pre-incarnate Logos as the object of Isaiah‟s heavenly Temple vision (Isa 6μ1-8). That vision includes mention of the Seraphim and their three-fold sanctification of YHWH, which occupies a privileged position in Jewish liturgical and mystical traditions.28 If many Catholic (and some Protestant) exegetes are correct in finding ecclesial and sacramental teaching in John, transmitted in symbolic form in order to portray the person, words, and deeds of Jesus as the origin and model of the corporate life of his future followers, then it might also be the case that Jesus as the one who sees heavenly things is intended by John to serve as a similar model. If it is allowable to read something of the Johannine letters into the background of the Gospel, might it be possible to perform a similar operation with the Apocalypse?

26 See Bultmann, 63-72, 83. 27 See Rowland, 505-6. 28 If John 1:14 draws upon a targum of Isaiah 6, then we have further support for the importance of this text in Johannine thought. At the beginning of the book John 1μ14 enunciates the Gospel‟s central theme, and then John 12:39-41 concludes the first half of the book by returning to that theme. See McCaffrey, 239.


Like the Gospel of John, other contemporary documents (4Q Florilegium, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, 1 Peter) are oriented to an earthly and human substitute for the Jerusalem Temple. However, these texts speak not of the community’s founder, but of the community itself as the Temple. Nowhere in John is such a claim made.29 However, there is much in the Gospel that implies such a view. As the Father sent the Son, so the Son sends his disciples (17:18; 20:21). As the Father worked in and through the Son, so the Son (by means of the Spirit-Paraclete) will work in and through his disciples (5:19; 16:12-15). As the Father gave his Name and Glory to the Son, so the Son has entrusted his Name and Glory to his disciples (17:11-12; 22-23). The glorified Son of Man leaves this world to return to his Father, but he leaves his disciples in this world to represent him. This seems to imply that the earthly Temple is now the company of the followers of Jesus, who are united to him as branches to the vine. The focus of the Gospel is Christology; however, part of its purpose is ecclesiology — to root the communal life of the later followers of Jesus in the person, words, and deeds of their Master.30

The Johannine Witness and the Temple

  What does John’s Temple Christology tell us about the disciple whose witness ultimately stands behind the book, and perhaps about his closest associates and followers who transmitted and developed his teaching? It certainly reveals a mind filled with priestly concerns and images. The founding witness of the Johannine tradition was probably a priest, and the temple, its feasts and rites, and its city were central to his thinking.

In stark contrast to the synoptic Gospels, the vast majority of John occurs in Jerusalem or its environs.31 Only 118 verses are set in Galilee, and 71 of those are found in John 6. Much of Jesus’ teaching, especially in chapters 7-10, takes place in the temple (7:14, 28; 8:20, 59; 10:23) and during a feast. The “other disciple” of John 18:15-16, who is probably to be identified with the “beloved disciple” whose witness stands behind the Gospel, was “known to the high priest” and is able to gain access to his court.32 The book

29 Beasley-Murray, 42. 30 Cullmann sees a relationship between John‟s symbolic emphasis of the sacraments and the book‟s Temple Christologyμ “The interest…in baptism and the eucharist may be connected with the same idea of the abolition of the temple through Christ. Christian worship now concentrates on these as the place where Christ is present” (44-45). 31 Dodd, 453; Cullmann, 67; Hengel, 124-25. 32 Charlesworth argues vigorously that the “other disciple” of John 18μ15-16 is not the Beloved Disciple (336-59). He attempts to revive the theory propounded by J. A. Abbott early in the twentieth century that the “other disciple” is Judas. However, as Brown notes (2.822), there is nothing in the text which would lead one to conclude that the evangelist is speaking of Judas. The alleged problem with seeing the Beloved Disciple in John 18:15-16 is the fact that he would have been in danger of arrest, as was Peter. This


also demonstrates an awareness and knowledge of purification procedures which were of special importance as preparation for temple worship, in particular during a feast (2:1-12; 11:55; 18:28). These facts support the view that the primary Johannine witness either lived in Jerusalem or spent a great deal of time there, and was himself a priest.33

At the same time, there is much in John that leads one to presume a non-Sadducean priestly background for its primary witness. Parallels with the ideology of the sectarian writings from the Dead Sea Scrolls and with the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs point decisively in this direction. So does the fact that only John informs us that some of the first disciples of Jesus — one of whom is provocatively unnamed (1:35-40) — were originally disciples of John the Baptist. According to Luke, the Baptist was a priest. According to the Gospel of John, the baptism of John is to be understood as a kind of purification (3:25) — in other words, as an act having some connection to Levitical rites. This makes John the Baptist a representative of priestly, sectarian Judaism, whose ideology must have had much in common with the priestly sectarians we know from the scrolls.

However, there is one important difference between the priestly perspective of the Gospel of John and that of the Dead Sea Scrolls: John does not call into question the fundamental legitimacy of the Jerusalem Temple and its priesthood.34 With the coming of Jesus, his death and resurrection, and the sending of the Spirit, the Jerusalem Temple

objection carries less weight if one holds that the Beloved Disciple is not one of the twelve. As a person of social stature, he may also have believed that he would enjoy immunity. It is certainly significant that the Beloved Disciple is the only male follower of Jesus who risks being with him at the cross (19:26-27, 35). 33 Hengel offers further arguments for the view that the Beloved Disciple was a priest and an aristocrat: (1) The name “John,” associated with the Gospel from the second century, was especially common in priestly circles (109-10); (2) Polycrates, born about 125, describes the evangelist as a priest (125-26)ν (3) “Whereas the stress on „scribes (and Pharisees)‟ in Matthew is presumably connected with the fact that, like Paul, the author had had a Pharisaic, scribal education, in John the formula „high priests and Pharisees‟ may refer to a priestly view of the leading forces in Judaism…” (118)ν (4) “The relatively few people who have dealings with Jesus…belong to the upper class…” (124-25). Since Hengel thinks that the same figure lies behind both the Gospel and the Apocalypse, he is able to add a fifth considerationμ (5) “Insignificant provincials were not banished to islands; even among Roman citizens that was reserved for members of the upper class…For John to be banished to Patmos indicates that he had a high social status…” (126). 34 This point is usually missed by scholars, who by and large have accepted a position similar to that enunciated by Cullmannμ “Whereas in Qumran, opposition to the temple is not in principle directed against the temple as such but only against the temple worship as carried out at that time in Jerusalem by a godless priesthood…Stephen‟s speech rejects any particular localization of the divine presence apart from the portable sanctuary of the tabernacle. This is even more the case with the Gospel of John, which argues for neither Gerizim nor the temple in Jerusalem, but for worship in spirit and in truth” (53ν emphasis mine). Cullmann misinterprets John 4:23, which should be seen as a proclamation of eschatological fulfillment (“The hour is coming, and now is…”) in the Spirit rather than as a rejection of externals in favor of worship “in spirit.” Beasley-Murray has recognized the weakness of the view that John is “anti-Temple” in an unqualified senseμ “That the action in the temple can be characterized as „zeal for your house‟ suggests a positive attitude to the temple, and not one of total rejection (contrary to a frequently held opinion)” (39). A positive attitude is likewise signaled by the phrase “my Father‟s house” (2:16).


and its priesthood are in their essential functions superseded. But this is not attributed to the failure of the priesthood (as in the scrolls). It is instead a further act of divine grace, bringing to fulfillment that which the Temple and priesthood represent. This does not negate the evidence for a sectarian, priestly background to the Gospel, but does imply that this background is not to be found in the radical schismatic sect revealed in the scrolls.

If the witness behind the Gospel of John had such a priestly, non-Sadducean background, and also had personal experience of Temple worship as one of its functionaries, it is also possible that his Temple Christology reflects an attempt to understand the person, words, and deeds of Jesus within the framework of an existing priestly mysticism. Johannine realized eschatology may have its roots in the priestly experience of Temple (or community) worship as the restoration of Paradise, communion with the powers of heaven, and foretaste of the world to come. Johannine high Christology may have its roots in a longed-for vision of the human form of the Kavod, perhaps conceived of as an angelic mediator of the Divine Presence. Given present data, one cannot draw definitive conclusions; however, the evidence is suggestive.

Students of John sometimes treat the book‟s priestly categories as convenient metaphors employed to illustrate ideas that were conceived independent of those categories. I am proposing a different model for looking at this aspect of Johannine thought – that its priestly mysticism provided its author(s) with a framework for developing new perspectives on the person, words, and work of Jesus, and for deepening the spiritual experience of their Messianic community. Looked at in this light, the Gospel of John may tell us as much about first-century Jewish Temple mysticism as it does about the first-century Jesus movement.

by Mark S. Kinzer


COME, Let Us Go Up

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Come, Let Us Go Up

24 June, 2014 · by Derek Leman · in Bible, Commentaries on Bible, Derek’s Writings, Hebrew Bible, Isaiah

I have been working on a commentary on Isaiah for almost three years now. The first two years were just for a close reading of the whole book and of commentaries on the book of Isaiah. 2014 and 2015 are about writing actual commentary on Isaiah 1-12 for an early 2016 volume I plan to release. For each sub-section of text I give my translation, reference notes, an essence of the passage, and detailed commentary.

I am posting the first three parts for Isaiah 2:1-5 (still writing my detailed commentary on the passage). I spent far more time on these five verses than on others due to tricky questions about the origin of this passage.

There are four possibilities as to the origin of the prophecy in vss. 2-4: Isaiah, Micah (see Micah 4:1-3), someone else in Isaiah’s time or earlier, or someone else after Isaiah’s time. In spite of numerous and clever attempts to precisely determine the origin of these verses, there is nothing approaching conclusive evidence.

The dating of Isaiah 2:2-4 and its possible origin must remain a mystery. A question for which we have more solid ground is what function the passage plays in the outline of Isaiah 1-12. As Brevard Childs says in his commentary, First Isaiah (Isaiah 1-39) juxtaposes promises of salvation with warnings of judgment. Strongly optimistic and inspiring promises (2:1-4; 4:2-6; 8:23-9:5 [9:1-6 in Christian Bibles]; 10:20-27; 11:1-16; 12:1-6) are set alongside terrible warnings of disaster (2:6-22; 3:1-4:1; 5:1-7; 5:8-30; 9:8-10:19).

Childs calls the final form of Isaiah a theological movement, a word from God to the post-disaster people of Jerusalem. The warnings showed that prophets had communicated the dangers beforehand. The promises offer hope to the ultimate readers, the ones after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile. We can certainly speculate about how promises such as 2:2-4 would have been perceived in Isaiah’s time. But what matters most to the reader now is the final meaning of the book and what function the great promise of 2:2-4 fills in its location.

ISAIAH 2:1-5

1 The word which Isaiah ben Amoz saw
concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
2 It will happen in future days that
the mountain of the house of Hashem
will be established as the chief of mountains,
and will be lifted up over the hills,
and all the Nations will stream unto it.
3 And many peoples will make pilgrimage and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of Hashem,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us from his ways.
Let us walk in his paths.”
For from Zion will go forth instruction,
the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.
4 And he will judge between nations,
settling disputes for many peoples.
They will beat out their swords into plowshares,
their spears into pruning hooks,
and nation will not lift up unto nation a sword,
and they will no longer learn war.
5 O house of Jacob,
Come, let us walk in the light of Hashem.


It will happen in future days. Micah 4:1-3 is nearly identical to Isaiah 2:2-4. Discussions about which came first, whether both borrowed from an earlier text, or whether this passage is a late addition to both prophetic books have failed to reach a firm conclusion.
In future days. The Hebrew phrase (b’achareet hayyamim) is found in other texts such as Jacob’s deathbed blessings (Gen 49:1), Balaam’s oracle (Numb 24:14), some passages describing coming events in history (Jer 23:20; 30:24), and other passages describing a future age (Jer 48:47; 49:39; Ezek 38:16; Hos 3:5; Micah 3:12; 4:1). It’s meaning can only be guessed from the context.
Mountain of the house of Hashem. Exod 15:17, “the mountain of your possession, the place you made for your dwelling.” Psa 68:17(16), “the mountain God desired as his dwelling” (JPS). See also Psa 74:2; 76:3(2); 132:13. Psa 48:2-3(1-2), “his holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion.” In older Canaanite myths, as well as in other cultures, mountains were poetically associated with the abode of gods (cf. Williamson on Ugaritic examples).
Established. Nearly identical in wording to 2 Sam 7:16, “your throne will be established forever.” The verb denotes a change that will occur in the hills of Jerusalem.
As the chief of mountains. The Hebrew rosh can mean top, the head of something, its beginning, or the highest in rank. The preposition (bet) here does not mean “in,” but identifies the predicate (“the chief of mountains”).
Will be lifted up over the hills. Present Jerusalem is by no means the tallest in elevation. Williamson connects the theme of height in Isaiah with 6:1, “I saw Hashem high and lifted up.” Physical height is a poetic figure for supremacy and the unique majesty of God.
Nations. Gentiles. The coming of nations to the light of God radiating from Jerusalem is a theme throughout Isaiah and the Hebrew Bible. Chief examples include the Gentiles coming to Sukkot in Zech 14:16-17, coming to bow to Israel and bring gifts and to profess faith in God (Isa 45:14-23; 60:1-18), bringing the remnant of Israel back to Jerusalem (Isa 49:22; 60:8-9; 66:20), dwelling in the midst of Israel as God’s people (Zech 2:14-16(10-12)), etc.
Stream unto it. The verb doubles as an image for pilgrimage, like Israel at the festivals, and as a reference to the poetic stream of divine life which flows out from the Temple, as per Psa 46:5(4); 65:10(9); Ezek 47; Zech 14:8; Joel 4:18, and the idea of renewal like a stream, as per Isa 32:2; 33:21; Joel 4:18; and especially Isa 44:3-4.
Make pilgrimage. Literally “will go,” but the intent is pilgrimage as Israel would make at the festivals. Psa 122:1, “Let us go to the house of Hashem.”
Let us go up. Psa 122:4, pilgrimage to Jerusalem is up the mountain.
He will teach us. Gentiles come looking for divine arbitration in disputes and for rulings about ways of social justice. Of the Israelites in the future: “The Land will be full of the knowledge of Hashem,” (Isa 11:9) and “They will all be taught of Hashem,” (Isa 54:13). Of Gentiles seeking divine wisdom from Israel: “Ten men from the nations of every language will take the corner of the cloak of a Jew and say, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard God is with you’” (Zech 8:23).
Instruction. Though the Hebrew word is torah, the meaning here is not likely “the books of Moses,” but God’s instruction about matters of justice and righteousness. The word torah is used many times in the Bible as a general word for teaching. Isa 51:4, “Instruction will go out from me and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.” Deut 17:8-13, esp. vs. 11, “According to the instruction [lit. torah] that they give to you” (as in “the instruction about matters of justice” and not “Torah” in the sense of a code or book).
He will judge. The one adjudicating here is God, yet in Isa 11 it is the ideal King (the messianic ruler). The two ideas are parallel, not contradictory. When people come seeking God’s answers for their disputes and needs, 2:4 does not specify how the divine words will be communicated (through prophets? priests? king?).
Swords into plowshares. The usual technique is the opposite, making plowshares into swords, 1 Sam 13:20-21. Joel 4:10(3:10) is the opposite of this promise (“Beat your plowshares into swords, And your pruning hooks into spears” (JPS)). The Joel passage could be a sarcastic reversal of Isaiah 2:4 (though it is possible Isaiah 2:4 is later and is itself an allusion to Joel).
House of Jacob. God is frequently called the “God of Jacob” in Zion Psalms. It may be that calling the people of Judah “the house of Jacob” was a way of emphasizing the long, personal relation between the people and God. God protected Jacob in his wanderings.
Walk in the light. Light is an image of divine teaching (Psa 119:105; 97:11; Prov 6:23).
The words of vss. 2-4 are like the light of dawn giving hope before a long and sometimes painful book of divine teaching for Israel. The days to come will arrive some day and will be an era of change in the world. Nations will make peace instead of war, seeking out God and his ways. The center of this will be Jerusalem, the place of God’s Presence on earth. Pilgrims will come up the mountain to the House of Hashem, and they will be from the Gentile nations, whereas formerly only Israelites made such a pilgrimage. Other Isaiah passages speak about the nations inquiring of God (11:10) and receiving justice from God (42:1). What they seek here is to learn from God so that they may live according to his ways of social justice. The “torah” which goes out from Jerusalem does not mean“the book of Torah” here. For in the book of Torah rulings about civil justice are also called torah, as in “the torah that [priests and judges] give to you” (Deut 17:11). Jerusalem is the source of a stream of divine life (Psa 46:5(4); 65:10(9); Ezek 47; Zech 14:8; Joel 4:18), but the image is artfully reversed here with Gentiles streaming to the mountain of the House. The one who settles disputes and judges cases is said here to be God. In Isaiah 11, similar things are said about the Davidic King (Messiah) as settler of disputes and judge. Vs. 5 brings the reader back from the hopeful vision of days to come into the reality of Judah in the eighth century. Vss. 6-22 will be condemnation and warning, but vs. 5 bridges the two parts of the prophet’s message. The promise of future salvation should inform Judah in the present, as it faces judgment. The faithful can live in light of the coming kingdom of God now.

Genesis 1:1-2 In the Beginning

Genesis 1:1-2 In the Beginning.