Farewell, Shekinah

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Around Holy Week, we reflect on the passion of Christ and read the historical record of His death and resurrection. And every year I am struck by this verse:

And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
—Mark 15:38

While many note that the rending of the curtain signifies that we could now approach God wholly on our own through Jesus, I also see in that singular act a devastating indictment and warning. For with the curtain’s tearing came the departing of God’s shekinah glory from the temple.

What staggers me in that departing is that for nearly forty years afterward, until the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, Elsewhere, the light is shining...the Jews continued to perform their religious duties in the temple as if nothing had changed!

Didn’t anyone notice that the glory of God no longer dwelt there? No one? Didn’t the high priest say to himself, “You know, something’s different”?

If a history book exists that details the angst the Jewish priesthood felt in the aftermath of the curtain’s tearing, I haven’t read it.

No, the shekinah glory of God departed and no one seemed to notice.

Read that again. Seriously.

We need to ask ourselves this: If the Jews of that day, who were a stringently devout people in practice, didn’t sense that the glory of God had departed, what does that imply of people who are barely spiritually aware?

Though God no longer dwells in temples made by human hands, abiding instead within each believer, a symbol of the shekinah light exists in the New Testament:

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
—Revelation 2:5

Might the Lord remove His lampstand from among the unrepentant today? (Would anyone care to test Him? I certainly don’t.)

But the greater question here is, If God so removed His lampstand, would we even notice? I mean, are we that much more spiritually aware than those post-torn-curtain religious leaders of the Jewish nation circa A.D. 33?

As for me, I wouldn’t gloat by saying yes. As it is, our churches and our people today don’t seem much like the vibrant, miracle-filled, God-aware believers found in the Book of Acts.

Which leads me to wonder where that puts the American Church circa A.D. 2009. Declining attendance figures, worldliness, no love for the lost, unrepentant and divided hearts—has the lampstand already been removed? And if so, would we even know it?

Or might we simply continue performing our little religious rituals week after week, never realizing that the shekinah glory of God has moved on to a better place.

25 thoughts on “Farewell, Shekinah

  1. Jono

    This is a hard-hitting post Dan!

    I’d love to hear more about what you think about this. As I understand it God decided to do a new thing through Christ and instead of being present on Earth with a nation (Israel) chose to be present through the Church (His body on Earth).

    I do believe that God is sovereign and can do what He wants. If the continual rebellion of Israel forfeited the Jews the presence of God with them, then I don’t see why continual rebellion of the Church could not do the same to us Christians.

    So what do you think? Do you think He has taken His Glory somewhere else nowadays? If you think He has- where do you think we can find His glory now?

    • Jono,

      It’s a tough question akin to the red and blue pill dilemma of the movie The Matrix. How do you know any better if you have been immersed in something all your life? To the man who has never been out of the desert, all the world is a desert.

      I am one who believes that we lightly dismissed the implications of 9/11. I believe that it was a wake-up call for repentance, and not solely a call for military and political response. The fact that Christians in China are praying that persecution will come to the American Church so it will wake up is a pretty damning commentary. Has the lampstand been removed already? In many ways, I think it would be hard to argue that it remains in this country. We were a beacon for a long time because we believed the truths of God, but now it seems that we embody the reality of “and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” I have a hard time believing that God will forever suffer our upraised fist.

  2. Chris E

    Dan – It seems to me (from Nehemiah/Ezra ) that God’s Glory was ever in the Second Temple to start with.

    Is this not one of the reasons why everyone was so dismayed after the temple was rebuilt?

    • Chris,

      I think you mean “never” in that first sentence.

      It’s a legitimate question and one I considered when I wrote the post. One could argue against from Luke 1 that Zechariah’s experience of the Lord was outside the Holy of Holies, but then Zechariah was not high priest. However, he was also called “a priest before God,” which would imply that he was still serving before the presence.

      Commentaries aren’t universally agreed on this, from what I have seen.

      However, I believe that some aspect of God’s presence had to be in the Holy of Holies or else the meaning of the curtain being torn is diminished. If God is not there, what is the point of the curtain being torn? The tearing of the curtain signifies that men can now approach God without the need of a distinct priesthood. As it stands, if God is not in the temple being served by the priesthood, doesn’t the torn curtain carry less power?

      Regardless of the answer of whether the glory had departed long before the temple curtain being torn or at that moment, the Jews engaged in a practice that had lost meaning. Christ offered the new meaning. That people kept up the ritual when something infinitely better had replaced it is the sad reality.

      • Lily33

        no such thing as something better.I love Jews indefinately for continuing the rituals.
        and they did and do notice.it is you who doesnt.
        you dont notice that they do notice because you have no compassion.its what you tell yourself to justify stealing. plain and simple.

  3. Jonathan

    I would agree with Chris. Ezekiel 10 indicates that the glory departed from Solomon’s temple, and there is no indication that it ever returned. On the contrary, as Chris says, the indication is that it did not return.

    To extend Jono’s point, the glory of the Lord is manifest in the NT in the face of Jesus (e.g., at the transfiguration). This is Jesus as the replacement of the temple. He is “where” the glory of the Lord dwells, he is “where” the people of God have access to him, he is “where” sins get forgiven.

    • See my response to Chris, Jonathan.

      I would say that the glory of the Lord is manifest in each believer. We are the ambassadors; we carry His glory wherever we go because He lives in us.

      • TruthBeTold

        So true Dan….to Father be praised!

        You stated above, “If God is not there, what is the point of the curtain being torn? “….

        I would like to suggest to you that the reason was to REVEAL the truth to the Jews that the Presence had been gone for a long time.

        God first placed His name at the location of Shiloh but abandoned that location due to its corrupt priests. (Psalm 78:58-50: Jer. 7:12-16).

        He then put His name at a new location …Jerusalem… and once again due to corruption he left that place too. God told Jeremiah to instruct the people of Judah and Jerusalem that b/c of continually violating the divine law that He would forsake Solomon’s temple and destroy it (Jer.7:12-16)

        This sentence was repeated in Jer. 26:4-6

        “And you will say to them, Thus says the LORD, If you will not listen to Me, to walk in My law, which I have set before you, to listen to the words of My servants the prophets, whom I have been sending to you again and again, but you have not listened; then I will make this house like Shiloh, and this city I will make a curse to all the nations of the earth. ”

        The people did not repent. Jeremiah did not see the Glory depart from Jerusalem but Ezekiel did…in a vision….(Ez. 10:4,18-19).

        The final mention of the departure of the Glory of God is in Ezk. 11:23…” And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, which stood over the mountain which is east of the city. ”

        This mountain that it is referring to is the Mount of Olives…and this was the final place that we see Jesus ascending ( For Jesus is The Glory of God) as the disciples watched. Jesus’ ascension from the Mount of Olives completed the final departure mentioned in Ezk. 11:23. Ten days later 120 people were FILLED with His glory at Pentecost…these were LIVING TEMPLES….and the glory was seen as tongues of fire resting on the heads. Father had found a NEW LOCATION to place His name…His glory! (ICor.6:19; Rev.22:4)

        All praise to His most excellent name Jesus THE CHRIST!

        Be blessed!
        TruthBeTold

        • Lily33

          Deuteronomy, and if a prophet comes saying any other word than this word, even if he has signs and wonders that come to pass, you shall not listen to him/them.

  4. I was born and raised a Southern Baptist. I have always maintained that Baptists, who run on committees, are so well organized they could continue on for another 50 years after the Holy Spirit was removed and not know the difference. Do we who claim to be Christians in America really understand what that means? We know theology, but do we know the Theos?

    jas
    http://www.ironacresnow.blogspot.com

    • Jonathan

      There’s a story (I don’t know if it’s apocryphal or not) of a Chinese house church pastor having come on a visit to the United States, during which he visited a number of American churches. At the conclusion of the trip, his hosts asked him what he thought of the church in America, and he responded, “It’s amazing what you’ve been able to accomplish without the Holy Spirit.”

      Ouch.

      • Jonathan,

        In my post of a couple weeks ago about church planting, I noted that I thought that the average contestant on The Apprentice could plant a church and get a hundred people attending within six months. And all without the Holy Spirit.

        Apocryphal or not, that story you related really hits home.

        • Lily33

          that is because it is christians who didnt notice Shekhinah gone, who looked at the crossroads and didnt pity Jacob and she is in exile ever since. and you still didnt know. you think jesus only supplies this Shekhinah,or a spirit when it was him who caused the exile?
          sitting in the midst of the ark and accusing? making himself as a ‘god’? every year you recognize death and resurrection just like tammuz.
          a true Mother cannot handle or allow even one death.
          read Isaiah 53 again, it is translated as he or it…when it is SHE. just like many other verses.

      • Peter P

        I have heard that same story but in the version I have heard, the pastor responded “I’m afraid that we have dealt with our persecution better than you have dealt with your prosperity.”

        Either way it’s an indictment on the church in the west.

    • jas,

      Yep. Looking at the destruction of the majority Anglican representation in this country will show to anyone what happens when believers exchange the truth of God for a lie. They fall into hollow ritual and pat each other on the back for all their enlightenment.

  5. I think we need to know what the lampstand is.

    “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105 KJV).

    “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: and they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it. In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst” (Amos 8:11-13 KJV).

      • “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Corinthians 10:11 KJV).

        In context, Paul refers here to the wilderness days of Israel. But the principle applies to all Old Testament Scripture. All of it is an example for our admonition. God could send a famine of the hearing of the Word of God to any region, anywhere, at any point in time. If a church refuses to hear and obey (as James admonished us) the Word of God, then would our lampstand, the hearing of the Word of God, not be removed?

  6. Diane R

    Soren Kirkegaard had an interesting comment about the [dead] Lutheran churches of his day (early 19th century Denmark). He said that if Jesus Christ had never lived, those churches in his country would just go on as usual.

  7. We know from history that there was no ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jesus’ day. God’s glory was gone already and with the tearing of the veil the emptiness of man was exposed.

    (See Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XIV, iv, 4.)

    Jack

  8. David Higginbotham

    Dan,

    The Jews of the first century were simply continuing a long tradition of acting like God was there…even though He had long since departed.

    You will remember that the first time this happened was when Samuel was a boy and Eli died. The amazing thing is that the ark never returned to the Tabernacle after that point but the Priests continues to carry on their priestly activities every day in its absence.

    Your point is well taken and sorely in need of repeating.

    I believe our greatest need is not a newly structured church or one which is more culturally relevant nor to rediscover a New Testament strategy that has been lost…our greatest need is for His Presence in our lives and churches. Not in a theological or doctrinal sense but in reality.

    Godspeed…

  9. Don Costello

    Hey Dan, God Bless you Brother,

    I don’t believe for a minute that God departed from the Temple before the death and resurrection of Christ. There is nothing in the gospels that says it. I think your point about the significance of the veil being torn is enough to show the glory departed at that time. There is no word for it and the word is the final authority.

    Don

    • Yeah, Don, the absence of verses that explicitly say yes or no on this issue makes it hard to say. I believe that some element of the presence of God had to be there, but I can understand the other side on this too. Still, the fact that the curtain was torn seems diminished in power unless some aspect of God’s presence still resided in the temple.

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