Articles: The Day

"A New Approach to Revelation" by Tricia Tillin (Part Two)

how the day of atonement Temple service sheds light on the book of revelation: Why a Temple Service?

We next need to consider the evidence for Revelation having the format and framework of a worship ceremony in Herod's Temple. Fortunately, the evidence is abundant and very plain to see. There is no 'esoteric' wisdom here; there is no obscure prophetic insight only available to the enlightened. We can read what we need to know within the text itself.

John helps us out immediately by describing what he sees in terms of a Heavenly Temple, with a sanctuary, altar, candlestick, angelic priests, incense, Temple garments, worship, rites and offerings. (Chapter Four and onwards). Are these things a reality or visionary? Was John physically in Heaven or seeing these things "in the spirit" in a vision? We cannot know for sure. However we do know that the earthly tabernacle and Temple were based on a design seen in Heaven (Heb 8:5) and each account throughout the bible is consistent about what Heaven contains, so there is every likelihood that what John saw was a reality.

Nonetheless, whichever interpretation we take, it does not alter the fact that the events of Revelation take place in the context of a Temple, and as a worship service.

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Many of the elements described by John can only fit into the context of the Temple, as known to Jesus and the disciples and the early Church. [This was the Temple as rebuilt by King Herod, and it will be further described in Part Five.]

Having studied the Book of Revelation extensively over the years, I have never found anything so revealing and helpful as fitting it into its proper framework, as a Temple Ceremony. Indeed, I will now find it impossible to see it any other way. For me, it is like looking through a window previously steamed up by the heat in the kitchen that suddenly becomes clear and allows me to see a view of the garden beyond. I can never UN-see Revelation, having glimpsed the Heavenly Temple and what happened there, as described by John.

It is now obvious to me that what John sees in Heaven is the genuine Temple of God, a model or pattern of which was given to Moses. It is now plain that John is entering through the great gates of that Temple when he ascends to Heaven, and all that he sees comes to life as parts of that Temple and its angelic services.

All of these aspects are to be explored as I proceed through the study. However, just for the moment, I will just list some passages in Revelation that relate to the Temple and its ceremonies. They are numerous:

  1. The appearance of Jesus as High Priest 1:13
  2. The seven golden candlesticks 1:12
  3. The Book of Life 3:5
  4. The 24 elders in white garments 4:4
  5. The harps and golden bowls of incense 5:8
  6. The white robes 6:11
  7. The great multitude worshipping with palm branches 7:9
  8. The trumpets Chapter 8
  9. The golden censer of incense upon the altar 8:3-4
  10. The 'new song' sung by the 144000 Chapter 14
  11. The sea of glass 15:2
  12. The tabernacle 15:5
  13. The seven bowls 15:7
  14. The final feast Chapter 19

How is it NOT like the Earthly Temple?

The differences between the heavenly and the earthly Temple are perhaps just as important as the similarities. They demonstrate the truth of the gospel. At the feast of Atonement in Israel, it was the High Priest (symbolic of Jesus) who performed every one of the many rituals himself. Yet in Revelation we see angels carrying out the tasks such as offering incense and pouring out the bowls of wine.

That is because Jesus our High Priest has FINISHED the work of salvation. During the time of the Law, the High Priest symbolised the Messiah who had not yet come to earth. Thus, his carrying out all the sacrifices and other tasks on the Day of Atonement was a message to Israel: it spoke of the Son of God who would win the victory over sin and death all by himself.

And I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; and my fury, it upheld me. Is 63:5

However, when John wrote down the heavenly vision, redemption had been won. The Law was fulfilled. Jesus had become the one perfect sacrifice for sin. The work of salvation had been accomplished and Jesus "sat down" which denotes that his Priestly work has now finished.

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet..." Hebrews 10:11-12

Thus in the heavenly Temple Jesus is seen only as the Slain Lamb and the Almighty Lord. He does not perform any of the rituals himself. His servants do what is necessary at his command. He takes part only in the final denouement, as mentioned in Hebrews 10, when his enemies are made a footstool for his feet at his coming. (For the Father has made him Judge of all John 5:22).

Although the work of salvation is finished, Jesus still ministers on our behalf in Heaven. Please see this page. He is an Intercessor, Advocate and active Head of the Church. We should not have a mental image of the Lord sitting idly on His Throne merely waiting the End of the Age.

Likewise, there are no blood sacrifices made in the heavenly Temple.

Jesus is seen as the "slain lamb" (Rev 5:6) because his sacrifice on the cross has already been made. And that is the ONLY sacrifice now needed, opening the way to the Father. Therefore, when John arrives in the heavenly Temple there is no veil or door that blocks the throne of the Almighty (which in the earthly tabernacle was the Shekinah presence of God in the Holy of Holies). But John sees it all (Rev 4).

Nonetheless, twice during the Revelation narrative we see the Holy of Holies or at least the inner sanctuary itself. In Revelation 11:19 "God's Temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his Temple". and in Revelation 15:5 "behold, the Temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened:...And the Temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and no man was able to enter into the Temple". If this appears odd, I can only say that it confirms John's determination to set the visions in the context of Yom Kippur and the Temple of Jerusalem; otherwise these references would be unnecessary.

We also see that parts of the Temple are excluded such as the outer court which is "given over to the Gentiles" [Rev 11:2] and these passages remind us we are witnessing a vision of future events and not merely a descriptive of heaven.

Not All Are Chosen

There is an intriguing similarity between the choosing of the righteous who are to escape the last days judgement, and the choosing of the priestly lots. In the first-century Temple worship, lots were made for choosing which of the priests would take part in the actual ceremony. Although a number of priests were ordained to serve, not all would be READY, and not all would be CHOSEN. [See "Choosing the Lots"]

This reminds me of the oft-repeated biblical phrase "Many are called, but few are chosen". It was a rigorous and exact procedure for a man to become a priest. See this page for example:

Now however, instead of needing to be totally free of any crime, sin or disablement, while belonging to the family of Levi or specifically descended from Aaron, we can ALL be accepted into the family and lineage of God. We can be - because of Jesus - declared righteous and clean, become part of His family, and take the Name of Jesus! We are adopted, and we are cleansed from all sin and defilement, when we accept the offer of salvation in Jesus Christ. This means that we are ALL in that sense priests before the Lord:

"You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ". 1 Peter 2:5

"You, however, are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own to proclaim the glorious works of the One who called you from darkness into his marvelous light" (I Peter 2:9)

You would think that this election and calling itself would be enough to grant us all an equal and automatic right to service before the Throne, yet there are degrees of reward, differences in service, many types of crown awarded, and not all are equally fitted to the task. Furthermore, Jesus repeatedly warned us that awareness, discernment and readiness would be needed to avoid "falling asleep" and losing sight of His Coming. [Matthew 25:13 and 1 Thess 5:6]

In warning of the coming persecution and disaster, Jesus suggested there were those who would experience them as a snare, catching them unawares, because their hearts were "weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the cares of this life" and instead he commanded prayer and watchfulness:

"Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will soon come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:36)

Indeed, the parable that Jesus told in Luke 12, verses 35 onwards, to warn us of the perils of unreadiness, is remarkably similar to the instructions to priests at night in the Temple - another direct link between the endtimes prophecies and the Temple ceremonies. The priests also had to be awake, bathed, dressed, with their lamps lit and listening for the knock at their door, for the Overseer - we are told by rabbinical literature - could come unexpectedly and at any hour.

This same warning is given several times in Revelation, for example:

Rev 3: 2-3 "Be watchful and strengthen the things that remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you."

Rev 3:10 "Because you have kept my command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown."

Therefore it is possible to lose your Christian reward. (See 1 Cor 3:11-15 where the DAY will test and disclose our work) Even more disturbing, we can see from many passages of scripture that some will not qualify at ALL, having despised their inheritance and "trampled on Christ". They have chosen to return to their old ways, despite a profession of faith. They give lip-service to God but their hearts are far from him and they are dedicated to self, not the service of the Messiah.

Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? [Hebrews 10:28-29]

In Temple terminology, they have not bathed, nor put on the white garments that befit them for heavenly service, and in some cases do not even HAVE a white garment at all - resulting in a prompt dismissal from the Throne on that Day. [Matt 22:11] They are returned home "where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth".

In my studies of scripture, I have concluded that this fate is NOT absolute (ie going straight to hell), but refers to the horror of being returned to earth just at the time of the Antichrist reign, instead of escaping that fate in the Rapture. However, this act of mercy will no doubt shake some into repentance and even through martyrdom they will eventually attain to a place beside the saved.

We are commanded not just to obtain the garments of righteousness (Rev 3:18) but to PUT THEM ON - that is, to put on Christ: …Ephesians 5:23 "and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth." and Romans 13:14 "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts."

Therefore, there is a danger of being a mere spectator at the Cross, and giving mental assent only to the redemption in Jesus Christ.

Be Ready

The priests who have qualified for service, in the Temple or anywhere else, are clearly a privileged group - just as we are. Yet being of the right family and having attained to priesthood was not enough.

To be chosen to serve required dedication to the task. For feast days the preparation would begin long before dawn, and in some cases require staying awake all night. There was a ritual bath to take, and white garments to put on, and a readiness to serve that would result in answering the knock at the door which could come unexpectedly, at any hour.

"But then the preparations for the service of the morning required each to be early astir. The priest whose duty it was to superintend the arrangements might any moment knock at the door and demand entrance. He came suddenly and unexpectedly, no one knew when. The Rabbis use almost the very words in which Scripture describes the unexpected coming of the Master, when they say, 'Sometimes he came at the cock-crowing, sometimes a little earlier, sometimes a little later. He came and knocked, and they opened to him. Then said he unto them, All ye who have washed, come and cast lots.' For the customary bath was required to have been taken before the superintending priest came round, since it was a principle that none might go into the court to serve, although he were clean, unless he had bathed. A subterranean passage, lit on both sides, led to the well appointed bathrooms where the priests immersed themselves. After that they needed not all that day to wash again, save their hands and feet, which they had to do each time, however often, they came for service into the Temple. It was, no doubt, to this that our Lord referred in His reply to Peter: 'He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit'." [Edersheim Page 149]

"Thereupon... the priests passed into the Hall of Polished Stones to cast lots for the services of the day". [Ibid p150] Thus, qualified priests who were already within the Temple complex not only needed - firstly - to be ready, bathed and dressed but ALSO in addition had to be specifically CHOSEN through a process of lots, for every kind of activity that day. [See Word Document here]

As we shall see, throughout the first part of the Book of Revelation there are four opportunities to be chosen, but when all lots are allocated there are NO MORE opportunities to take part in the activities of the DAY. This process of filtering out first the unqualified, then the unprepared, then the unchosen should perhaps make the Church more serious about the commands of Jesus to be AWAKE and READY for his unexpected knock.

The Unqualified Removed

At the conclusion of the allocation by lot, all who had not been chosen were required to remove their white priestly garments, and return them to the Official in charge of their storage. They had then to put on their ordinary clothes. They were still priests, and still living and working within the Temple, but they were not required to serve.

Furthermore, at a special signal - one that relates to SEAL SIX in Revelation - the Overseer separated all the priests who had become defiled and stood them all together at the Eastern Gate. This was done to display to everyone their impurity and unfitness to serve, so that no question could be made about why they had not attained to service. Do we see a hint of this when Jesus warned those who claimed to be believers and had done "many mighty works in your name" that they would be sent away. [Matthew 7:21] There is also a striking similarity in Matthew 22:12 to the excluded priests who no longer have their special garments of service.

The need of white garments is mentioned several times in Revelation. (web page here) They clearly refer to righteousness and fitness to be in Heaven. The lax Laodiceans are urged to obtain white robes, the martyrs and overcomers are given white robes and in Revelation 19:8 "to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints".

Not only did the priests have to possess special garments but they had to "keep them". This refers to the punishment for those who fall asleep on duty!

"..., in the midst of some dry account of what went on in the Temple, we suddenly come upon the very words which St. John had employed to describe heavenly realities. Perhaps one of the most striking instances of this kind is afforded by the words quoted at the head of this chapter - 'Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments.' [Rev 16:15]. They literally describe, as we learn from the Rabbis, the punishment awarded to the Temple-guards if found asleep at their posts; and the Rabbinical account of it is curiously confirmed by the somewhat naive confession of one of their number, that on a certain occasion his own maternal uncle had actually undergone the punishment of having his clothes set on fire by the captain of the Temple as he went his rounds at night." [Edersheim Page 143]

The White Stone

Another direct reference to the Temple services - and specifically those of the Day of Atonement - is found in Revelation 2:17 where the victorious were given a white stone: "To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it".

Various interpretations have been given for this white stone, but realising the framework of the Day of Atonement in the Temple gives us the clue:

No one explanation seems to be able to satisfy everyone as to exactly what the lots were made of or what they looked like. However, if we combine the information given by 'Yoma' [The Day] in the Babylonian Talmud  and the  Mishnah, it seems that the lots were two  stones: one white and one black. According to the Talmud and the Mishnah, the white stone displayed the word "For the Lord", and the black stone displayed the words "For Azazel". [Source]

Thus the name upon the white stone, as well as being "For the Lord" as a chosen and forgiven servant of God, was also a name chosen by lot that could never be given to another, nor revealed to another - perhaps the name of God, or the new name of the believer in Heaven?

On the Day of Atonement, it was considered to be a good sign if the lot "for the Lord" was drawn first with the white stone, and held up in the right hand, since the goat that was to be killed brought forgiveness of sins for the Israeli people. "the choice of which goat was to be God's goat was in the casting of lots with two stones - black and white. It was always considered good if the white stone showed up in the right hand - but from 30 AD, it always ended up with the black stone in the right hand." [Source]

"...a random choosing of the "lot" was cast on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). The lot chosen determined which of two goats would be "for the Lord" and which goat would be "for Azazel" or what we know as the "Scapegoat." During the two hundred years before 30 AD, when the High Priest picked one of two stones, again this selection was governed by chance, and each year the priest would select a black stone as often as a white stone. But for forty years in a row, beginning in 30 AD, the High Priest always picked the black stone! The odds against this happening are astronomical (2 to the 40th power). In other words, the chances of this occurring are 1 in approximately 5,479,548,800 or about 5.5 billion to one! By comparison, your chances of winning your local state or municipal-run cash Lottery would be much more favorable! The lot for Azazel, the black stone, contrary to all the laws of chance, came up 40 times in a row from 30 to 70 AD! This was considered a dire event and signified something had fundamentally changed in this Yom Kippur ritual." [Source]

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© 2014 Tricia Tillin-Booth. All rights reserved. Birthpangs Website:  This document is the property of its author and is not to be displayed on other websites, redistributed, sold, reprinted, or reproduced in printed in any other format without permission. Websites may link to this article, if they provide proper title and author information.   One copy may be downloaded, stored and/or printed for personal research. All spelling and phraseology is UK English.