As a kid I always loved looking at the pictures that you often could find in the back of bibles. There would be the maps, but there would also often be representations of things like the Ancient Temple. Encoded into space (architecture) would be a certain meaning. The entire place was to be holy, a place for prayer, so when the Jews made the court of the gentiles into a marketplace, Jesus gets properly mad. Because right in that architecture was the idea that the gentiles were not to be excluded, even if they were not priests. All Israel was a nation of priests. That nation itself would have divisions. There would be the court of the women which also contained the place the Levites – the priestly tribe – sang as the gateway into the court of the Israelites which included the Altar. The sacrifices were a public thing. Then you had the temple proper with a court of priests – Levites and Aaronic. The Holy Place – only Aaronic priesthood – with the table for the showbread, the lampstands and the altar of incense. And finally the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest would go containing the Ark of the Covenant. The encoded meaning wasn’t that each group was holier than the rest. The encoded meaning was that we all need a mediator with the Holy God. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. And upon the cross, when the veil of the temple was torn, we found our mediator in Jesus Christ. “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? (Ps. 24:3 ESV)” The incarnate son.
Most churches still keep some of that old architecture. Even modernist sanctuaries like ours have their nods. The pulpit, lectern, and table are all a step up. The nave or ark of the church is separated from the narthex or the courtyards by doors. The reason I’m thinking about these things is two-fold. The first is they help me make some distinctions. There are things I would write in this corner that I would probably not bring into a Bible Study. And there are things that I’d bring into a bible study to ponder that I would not bring into the pulpit. There are appropriate places for business and rank speculation. The second is a bit of speculation from personal mediation that feels impossibly old.
We often say that our enemies are the devil, the world and our sinful nature. And we have plenty of problem with these. But if you read the Old Testament or study the BC world it feels like something else is different. I’d posit that the “something else” is what Jesus says in Mark 3:27 where the strong-man is bound, or in Luke 10:18 where Satan falls like lightning. Apocalyptic Revelation talks about Satan bound with his only power being deception (Rev 12:13ff). Paul would say our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the powers and principalities (Eph 6:12), but those dark forces have been hampered for a long time. The history of Israel and the ancient world shows us what happens when those forces are unbound. Paul reminds us in Romans 1 that the wrath of God revealed is when “God gave them up.” When we exchange the truth about God for a lie and worship the creature instead of the creator.
The three “gods” – the unholy trinity if you will – were Baal, Molech and Asherah. The ancient world was syncretistic, so those names would morph, but the symbols and offerings would often remain. Baal being the worship of pure power. Molech being the worship of destruction and death. And Asherah being better know as Venus or Aphrodite, the worship of eros. When you see things like the statue recently installed over the Appellate Court building in NYC (I’m not putting that image here) something has changed. When alongside Moses, Maimonides and other law givers is installed a golden image with horns and tentacles, something new-old is being worshipped. Architecture and public art tell you how those in charge of a society would organize it. For a long time we were organized on Christian principles. What comes in when we turn our backs on those is not John Lennon’s Imagine. What comes back are the spirits once cast out (Matthew 12:45).
But such things are the very purpose of books like Revelation or Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 24. “See, I have told you beforehand.” Christ is already victorious. Your life is already hidden away with Christ. Whatever comes we have no reason to fear. Those old powers can do nothing but flail impotently against that. They are judged, the deed is done. We only await the final word that sends them away forever.