By Horatius Bonar, 1867
"Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon's porch." John 10:23
The places which Jesus chiefly resorted to, during his life on earth, are unknown in Old Testament history. Bethany, and Nazareth, and Capernaum, and Nain, and Emmaus, are not mentioned in the lives of the saints before his coming. Their names rise up newly to the reader, and they have no sacred memories of any kind attached to them. They were not consecrated spots in any sense. Yet to these the Lord betook himself.
The chief places known, in the story of Israel's ancient saints, are passed by, in New Testament history. Hebron, the city of Abraham; Beersheba, the dwelling of Isaac; Bethel, the sanctuary of Jacob; Gilgal and Shiloh, old seats of worship, seem as if avoided; and even Bethlehem itself appears not to have been visited by the Lord during his ministry. The places that Israel counted holy he turned aside from; and even Jerusalem he only visited during the day, retiring from it at night to Bethany, like one cast out, and not allowed the shelter of its roofs.
For this there might be many reasons. It was the Father's will. He chose, in his sovereign wisdom, the places for his Son to visit and to dwell in. And it was according to this will that the Son of God ever acted. "Not my will– but yours be done." In choosing these unknown places for his Son, He showed that it was not former privileges, nor ancient sanctity, nor a venerable name, that could avail anything with him, or attract his favor. Christ was not born in Jerusalem; he was not sent to Bethel, because there Jacob had been, and there the heavens had been opened above him; nor to Shiloh, because for ages God himself had dwelt there. But he was sent to new places, where, so far as we know, the foot of patriarch, judge, prophet, king, had never been; showing that no city was to be so favored as to exclude others, and that all cities, as well as all souls, had a share in his divine regards. Nor were they the better and more reputable cities that were chosen for his abode; for Nazareth was one of the worst. Thus was it seen that he came not to call the righteous– but sinners, to repentance.
But specially do we see in this avoidance of what might be called the "holy cities," the actings of One who was "despised and rejected of men," treated by man as an outcast, and by God as one who was bearing our sin, and therefore, like the leper, kept apart from what was either ritually or traditionally holy. Our reproach was on Him, in life as well as in death. He was not to be allowed to die within Jerusalem– but must suffer outside the gate; so He was kept apart from all these places which had special sanctity connected with their names.
He visited Jerusalem indeed– but he did not dwell there. He frequented the temple; but never entered either the holy place or the most holy. It is only in the outer court, or in some of the great porches connected with it, that we find him. Beyond these he went not at any time.
In the verse before us, we find him in Solomon's porch. This porch was at the eastern side of the temple, erected by Solomon, and fortunate in escaping the ruin which had once and again overtaken the other parts of the building. It was "winter" at this time. It was just the very middle of December; for the feast of the Dedication was celebrated on the 15th of that month. The inclemency of mid-winter– its rains, and perhaps its snows– had led the Lord to seek the shelter of this porch; for, as a true man, he felt earth's heat and cold, needing a shadow from the former and a covering from the latter, just as we do. Under this spacious porch he was walking to and fro– perhaps to increase the vital heat– when the Jews gathered around him, and began the conversation which our passage records.
That part of the scene which alone I ask you to notice, is his keeping outside the holy place and the most holy, as though he might not enter there– but remain, like one of the multitude, in the outer court, which even "publicans and sinners" might enter. For this there were several reasons.
1. Personal. He belonged to the tribe of Judah, not to that of Levi. It could not be personal uncleanness that kept him outside the veil; but only Levi's family had access to the holy place, and only Aaron's family could enter the holiest of all. He could not, then, enter the chamber which was the emblem of God's immediate presence without a breach of law; and he "came not to destroy– but to fulfill the law." It "became him to fulfill all righteousness."
2. Ceremonial. The holy of holies could only be entered with blood; and he had none to present. The lamb, the goat, the bullock, all belonged to others. The time had not yet come for his having to do with blood. Things that differ must not be confounded; the shadow must not be mixed up with the substance; the sacrifice must still be left in Levitical hands, and the altar must not be served by a son of Judah.
3. Typical. He was himself the true sacrifice, the bearer of sin. As such he lived and died. In all that he did, and in all that he refrained from doing; in the places that he visited, and in the places that he abstained from visiting, he kept this in view. He was loaded with our sin, our curse, our condemnation, our leprosy; and, as such, he must keep at a distance from the holy and the clean. Not merely was he the rejected of men– thrust outside their dwellings, their cities, their synagogues, having no place to lay his head, treated as a madman, a Samaritan, a devil; but he was the outcast, the condemned One; with the law's brand upon him; "made sin for us;" made "a curse for us." As such, his true place was outside the city of God; outside the dwelling of the Holy One. If permitted to resort to Jerusalem, he can only do so as a stranger or wayfaring man, who comes in with the crowd during the day– but retires at night. If allowed to frequent the temple, he can only come as far as the outer court, on the common footing of a sinner, just as the tax-collector might do. He might stand and see the daily sacrifice offered; he might watch the shedding of the blood and the consuming of the victim; but only as one of the crowd. He might stand, on the day of atonement, and see the two goats chosen by the high priest; he might listen to the confession of sin over the head of the one, and mark the pouring out of the other's blood; he might see the high priest take the basin, and carry the blood into the holiest, himself standing on the outside, and, though the Blessed One, waiting amid the crowd to receive the priestly blessing of another. More than this he might not do. Were he to go beyond the circle thus marking off the limits within which he was to walk, he would not have been acting as the Sin-bearer, nor submitting to be dealt with as an outcast and a curse for us.
Sin had banished us from God, casting us out of his paradise, and hindering us from appearing in his presence. The Son of God came to take our place of banishment, that, by so doing, he might effect our restoration. He became, in all respects, a banished man. His birth in the stable of Bethlehem showed us this. His flight into Egypt showed it still more; as if, when he did come to earth, he was not to have a safe abode anywhere–except in a land of strangers. His abode at Nazareth, that ungodly city, showed it again. His having to resort to the far mountain for prayer, instead of to his Father's house, which was the house of prayer, showed this also. His never entering the holy parts of the temple– but always remaining outside, showed this again. And, lastly, his death, "outside the gate," finished the manifestation of his humbled, outcast condition here. He is so completely identified with the sinner, the outcast, the banished one, that he is not only deemed unworthy to live within Jerusalem– but even to die within its walls.
As the great sin-offering, he goes outside the camp, there to complete his sin-bearing work, and to sum up the testimony which his whole life had given, that is, that he was standing in the sinner's place, enduring the banishment of the banished one, bearing the curse of the cursed one, submitting to the condemnation of the condemned one; and never for one moment contradicting or modifying the testimony, intended to be given by his life, to his sin-bearing character and work; never in anything, great or small, stepping beyond the limits that marked out his mysterious path on earth as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
Christ's exclusion from the holy of holies would not have been a thing so noticeable, were it not that he had, of all others, a right to enter it– no, and to abide there. That inner shrine was his lawful and patrimonial dwelling, his true and proper home. No one, not even Aaron himself, could claim the right of entrance as he could. Not, indeed, as David's Son– but as David's Lord; not as the Son of Judah– but as the Son of God, not as possessed of ritual or legal warrant; but as "the Holy One and the Just."
For that solemn chamber, where were the ark, and the mercy-seat, and the cherubim, and the glory, was the special emblem of Jehovah's highest habitation; the type of the presence-chamber in the very heaven of heavens; no, may we not say, the symbol of that very "bosom of the Father" out of which the only-begotten Son came forth? That holy habitation above had been his abode from eternity; and what, then, more natural than that when he came to earth he should take up his dwelling in that lower sanctuary, which was the shadow and representation of his glorious palace above? Here we should have expected him to have been born and lived while here. And, just as worldly, carnal men would have supposed that the Son of the Highest, when coming to earth, would chose a noble metropolis and a splendid palace for his abode, so spiritual men would have assigned to him the holiest of all, in Jehovah's temple, as his birthplace and his habitation here.
It would have been most suitable; and surely he had a right to it. The temple itself was his Father's house, and the best room in that house would be at his service. Others might be shut out; he would not. The veil that was drawn against others would open to admit him. Who could resist his claim, if he had asked admission? His right was indisputable, as the very Son of God. Judea was his, for it was Immanuel's land. Jerusalem was his, for it was the city of the great King. The temple was his, for it was his Father's house. The holy of holies was his, for it was the express representative on earth of that very heaven which he had left, when coming to do the Father's will.
Yet He entered not that inner sanctuary, nor ever went beyond the altar and the laver without– the court in which the tax-collector stood and cried, "God be merciful to me, a sinner." He saw daily the priests entering the second court, the holy place, yet went he not in. He saw the high priest, once a year, take the blood of the goat, and enter into the holiest of all, yet went he not in. Though conscious of an innate and inalienable right to enter, He yet remained outside, as one who, from some mysterious cause, was excluded from his lawful and patrimonial abode.
The one hindrance to His exercise of this his divine right of entrance into the holiest of all, was our iniquity, which was lying on him. That kept him out. Until that was fully borne, he could not enter either the sanctuary below or the presence-chamber above. In taking our sin upon him, as he did from the moment of his incarnation, he had consented to forego for a time his right of entrance into the Father's presence, and into that place where the glorious symbol of that presence dwelt. He had consented to be an outcast, to stand only in the place where sin is borne, not in the place where iniquity is remembered no more. It was as the banished One that he passed through earth, having no place to lay his head. It was as the outcast that he never went beyond the outer court of the temple. It was as such that we find him walking in Solomon's porch, thus proclaiming to all who truly understood his character and work, that he was acting as the sinner's substitute– taking the sinner's place of exile, not merely outside the blessed heaven, where he had dwelt from everlasting– but outside even his Father's house below.
Some speak much of his not having been born in a palace, and dwell on the humiliation of his being without any vestige of human royalty. But these were, after all– but common, and, we may say, carnal things. It was a light thing to be kept out of David's house or Herod's palace; but it was no light thing to be excluded from his Father's house, his own proper home. More than ever David did, would he desire the tabernacles of Jehovah; his flesh and heart would cry out for God; and how peculiar must have been his feelings, in being thus made to stand outside the sanctuary, the very place to which he had so undoubted a right, and in which it would have been his delight to dwell! Instead of communing with his Father in his own holy dwelling-place, he had to resort to the Mount of Olives, and such unsheltered solitudes, as if he had not only no place to lay his head– but no sanctuary to betake himself to, no closet into which he might enter. So strangely shut out was he from all places to which, either as Son of Man, or as Son of God, he would desire to visit or to dwell in!
When he died on the cross, the veil was rent in twain, and he might then have entered. The reasons for his exclusion were at an end; and his banished life was over. Judaic ritualism was exhausted and cancelled. Blood had been shed, to enable any one to enter in, priest or no priest, whether belonging to Judah or to Levi; whether on the day of atonement or not. And, in testimony of all this, he might have entered the holiest of all, at his resurrection. But this would have been a small thing, and one which might have raised misconceptions as to the meaning and importance of the very rites that were now to be done away. Instead, then, of entering the earthly sanctuary, he passed upward into the heavenly; instead of claiming his right to enter the typical holy of holies, he did that which was of far deeper signification and higher moment, he entered in and took possession of the true holy of holies above, in token of his having fulfilled his time of banishment, finished his work, and removed every hindrance which stood in the way of those, for whom he was the substitute below, and of whom he was to be the representative above.
See him, then, in these two different conditions–
(1.) walking in Solomon's porch;
(2.) seated at the right hand of God.
1. Walking in Solomon's porch. He walks there as the Substitute; our Substitute as truly as when he groaned in Gethsemane or died on Golgotha. As one consenting for a season to be shut out from the presence of God, that we might enter and dwell in that presence forever, he stands, or sits, or walks outside the sanctuary. Thus it is that he bears our banishment– he takes upon him not merely the penalty of suffering and death– but that of exclusion from the house and home of God. That penalty he has endured– that exile he has under gone– that distance he has experienced– and all this as the Substitute, bearing what we should have borne, in order that we might inherit all to which he could lay claim. Through means of this substitution of the Son of God in the room of the exiled sinner, that sinner finds free access to the innermost shrine of heaven, the very presence of the Father. And the Father's message to each banished one is– enter in! Stand no longer afar off; despair no more, as if the gate were closed. Behold, it is open– wide open! Go in at once, and end your banishment. Go in, and find peace, love, friendship, acceptance, through him, to whose finished work of glorious substitution the Father is bearing such blessed testimony! Why should we depart from the living God, seeing the Son of God has removed all reason for our departure? Why remain in alienation, seeing here is that which has taken away all the hindrances in the way of friendship? Why remain afar off, seeing God asks you to come near? Why stand outside, seeing God says, COME IN?
Nor is it bare liberty of entrance that has been secured; as if the door had been reluctantly thrown open, and the way grudgingly cleared for us. Such is the efficacy of our Substitute's life and death, that "we have BOLDNESS to enter into the holiest" (Heb. 10:19). We need not hide ourselves in the thicket; we need not run away from God; we need not, in terror and uncertainty, steal slowly and sadly back to our Father's house; we need not wait, nor doubt, nor suspect, nor distrust; we may go at once, and go boldly, to God, on the simple security given to the sinner by the work of the divine Sin-bearer. That work has not simply made it possible for God to receive us– but secured our reception. It has not simply unbarred the gate– but flung it open, as widely open as God himself could fling it, or as any sinner needs that it should be flung. No, it has sent out messengers of peace and messages of love, assuring us not only of a welcome when we return– but of God's sincere desire that we should do so. It has not merely removed the restraints on grace which law imposed, and set it free to pour itself out freely; but it has made grace a righteous thing; so that now love is righteousness, and righteousness is love.
It is not possible to imagine greater freeness for the sinner, in his going to God, than has been provided by the vicarious life and death of Him who is "the end of the law for righteousness, to every one who believes." Nothing can be freer, safer, surer, than "the new and living way."
Yet, who goes in; who cares for it; "who has believed our report?" The tread of returning feet makes no noise in our world; for the home-goers are so few, and so far between each other. But the sound of wandering feet is like the tread of millions. The noise of home-leavers, hastening from their Father's house, they know not where, fills the wide air of earth; and, while men hear, in that sound, only mirth– faith hears in it sadness, and unrest, and the cravings of empty hearts, and the self-tolled knell of overhanging judgment, to which, though they will not believe it, they are hastening on.
O men, and friends, and fellow-exiles, we beseech you to turn back on your way of peril and sin. Turn back, lest you perish! By the death of Him who died the sinner's death, by the life of Him who lived on earth the sinner's life of banishment, we entreat you to bethink yourselves, and turn your footsteps towards your Father's still-open home.
2. Look at Him within the veil, at the Father's right hand. He remained on the outside while here; he has entered in at last, and that, not into the earthly sanctuary, the mere figure of the true– but into heaven itself, there to appear in the presence of God for us. When outside here on earth, he was our substitute; now when within, in heaven, he is our representative. He has gone up and gone in for us. He carries us in along with him, and gives those, who accept his substitution and representation, the same privilege of nearness and fellowship as he has himself. As our High Priest, he communicates between us and God. As Intercessor, he pleads our case. As Representative, he has so identified himself with our persons, that we are lost sight of under his shadow. The Father sees him in us, and us in him. All our imperfection is lost in his glorious perfection; and we, in being presented to the Father, are presented as part of his glorious self; all our unloveliness forever merged in the infinite loveliness of the beloved Son.
From the moment that faith linked us to his cross, and identified us with his person, we became inseparable. In no aspect could God view us– except as part of his Son– no, wholly one with him. And this connection, though now one of faith, is before long to be one of sight. "When he who is our life shall appear, we shall appear with him in glory." His second coming will be the visible completion of the wondrous identification, which faith at first accomplished. Resurrection will bring out, more fully than either life or death, the mysterious oneness between the body and the Head. One cross, one death, one grave, was ours; for his cross was ours, his death ours, his grave ours. So, one glory, one crown, one kingdom, one city, one inheritance, shall be ours hereafter– for all that he has is ours! He, one with us, took our place of exile outside the veil, and bore our shame, our suffering, our death. We, one with him, get his place of nearness to the Father, within the veil, and entrance to the many mansions of the eternal house; receiving the life, the love, the blessing, the eternal gladness, which he has purchased for us, and which he so freely, so lovingly, presents to each one who is now afar off, each banished child of Adam, each prodigal of earth, wandering in the far country, without a home or a Father, without a sanctuary, and without a God.
It is to this innermost place in the heaven of heavens, this innermost glory above, that the Lord invites the outermost of the sons of men, the farthest off of all earth's far-off wanderers. In love he took the lowest place, that he might invite us to the highest. In love he went to the farthest circle of banishment that this earth knows, in order that, by bearing that banishment, he might bring us into the very center of divine fellowship, and nearness, and heavenly gladness– to the very bosom of the Father, out of which he himself had come, seeking the lost, and devising means whereby his banished should be restored. Ah, surely there is not anything in our banishment that should lead us, for one moment, to prefer it to our Father's presence, nor anything in the distant land of exile, to make us refuse for it the paradise of God!