Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
The upside-down nature of the kingdom of God didn’t start with Jesus. It’s always been a core element of the people of God. In Israel’s story, we see this in the inauguration of their nation at Sinai.
Imagine you are an Israelite after the Exodus and Red Sea miracle. You have witnessed your God display His power on the gods of Egypt and the human empire of Egypt. Then in the early days of the wilderness, you see how He can provide life (bread and water) in a desolate place. Following this, a leadership structure was established. Putting it all together, you have power, resources, and leadership; the key components to starting an empire. You come to Sinai to get commissioned, expecting to hear how you’re going to use these things to be the new Egypt, the new transcendent power with God as King. Instead you hear something completely different.
You are to be a kingdom of priests. Not a kingdom of power, or a kingdom of resources, or a kingdom of kings, but a kingdom of priests. In essence, a kingdom of servants. Priests by design represent the people to God, and God to the people. They are the embodiment of who God is while mediating who the people are to God to keep everyone in relationship together through a sacrificial system. This is the nature of who Israel was to be. They were meant to be an ‘on-display people’ of what it was like to be in relationship with God, thus drawing the nations to God.
This dynamic becomes the initial seeds of the kingdom of God that Jesus came proclaiming. It was never about power, resources, or leadership, but of being priests, now not bound by ethnicity or land borders, but going everywhere through the Spirit so that those filled with the Spirit would go to the nations and draw people to the living God.
If you ever travel to Israel, you will encounter a strange dynamic with your tour guide. They will take you to places and tell you things like, “Well, this event in the Bible took place on one of these two mountains, but we don’t know for sure which one,” or, “We’re like 70% sure this took place here.” You end up never feeling completely certain about different things, including if you are standing where Jesus did. Even when you’re in Jerusalem, where you can actually be somewhere with a little more certainty, you aren’t in the same place as Jesus because you’re standing on top of the rebuilt city, where the walkways of Jesus are fifty feet below you.
You get pretty close to walking where Jesus walked, but not quite there everywhere you go, except for one place: the temple. In the temple, you can actually share the ground where Jesus was with 100% certainty. In fact, you can take the same steps He took up to the top of the temple to worship.
We’ll come back to those steps in a second, but let’s remember what the temple was supposed to be. The temple was the focal point of the Jewish religious system. All the central worship of Yahweh took place there. When it was built, Solomon promised the people that no matter what was going on in Israel they could seek God at the temple and find answers and restoration. God honored this promise by showing His presence in the temple. Unfortunately, Israel was not faithful to God and the presence of the Lord left the temple and it was eventually destroyed.
The rebuilt temple of Ezra and Nehemiah was a shadow of Solomon’s temple and there is no indication that God’s presence came to dwell in it. That is until Jesus walked into it. As a culmination of His ministry, Jesus enters the temple. The building built to honor Yahweh and worship Him finally had Him there.
In Solomon’s time, God manifested in the temple in a cloud, full of majesty and glory. It was a spectacle to remind people of the transcendence and power of God. When Jesus entered the temple, all of that was lacking. Instead, Jesus took the stairs. Not just any stairs either. The temple has special entrances for the priests and the city elites. Jesus took the stairs that were for the common folk to the building built to worship Him; steps that you too can take and walk with 100% certainty that you are walking where Jesus walked.
All of this is to say two things about Jesus. One is that He set aside His rights and what He deserved to receive humiliation instead. Second, He walked where we would walk so as to identify with us. All of this ultimately foreshadows the cross, where He would hang where should have hung, being humiliated on our behalf.
How to respond:
What does Christ’s humility in the temple mean for your heart? Think about the fact that Jesus, God in the flesh, walked up the stairs to the temple. What does that say to you about Jesus? What does it say about your pride? What does it say about Jesus’ love for you?