An excerpt from The End of Israel: Jesus, Paul & AD70 by Michael Bull
The Hebrew word olah, translated “whole burnt offering” literally means “go up.” The explanatory “translation” is helpful in its description of the offering but unfortunately for English readers it veils the symbolic meaning. As far as we know, the first “ascension” (an offering made by fire) was made by Noah after the Flood. It was offered whole because it represented “all flesh.” The sweet savor of the smoke rising to heaven was a sign that the will of God in heaven had been done on earth.
It is also the first time that the word “covenant” appears in the Bible. Noah planted a vineyard because he himself was the “true vine.” Wine brings rest, and Noah’s name means “bringer of rest.” Noah succeeded where Adam had failed. He had entered into God’s rest and now represented Him on earth as a wise judge, a priest-king who could not only offer sacrifices but also bear the sword against those who shed innocent blood.
This highlights the use of the word “go up” to describe the Israelites’ conquest of the Promised Land. As a people, they “ascended” from Egypt (whose fertility depended upon the Nile, the waters below) to Canaan (whose fertility depended upon rain from heaven, the waters above). This not only explains why the nation was accompanied by a pillar of fiery cloud, but also why the sign in Egypt was a bloodied door closed by God (Genesis 7:15) and the sign in Jericho was a window opened to heaven (Genesis 8:6). These Noahic references call our attention to the fact that Israel now represented the entire world as an “ascension” that restrained another global judgment.
When Israelites made the prescribed pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the primary annual feasts, they sang the “ascension” psalms. “Songs of Ascent” is the title given to fifteen of the Psalms (120-134) whose theme is drawing near to God on His holy hill for a tryst between heaven and earth. In liturgical imagery, the worshipers ascend the steps of the mountain-altar of Eden as blameless “living sacrifices” that their praise might rise from there as a “smoky” tower to heaven, an ascension offering which is acceptable to God. As living sacrifices, they were placing themselves upon the altar, not as sacrifices of blood but as sacrifices of praise. The mountains of the Old Testament recapitulate the Creation Week: after Eden (Day 1), Ararat (Day 2), and Moriah (Day 3), Sinai called down the fiery rulers of heaven as Day 4, and Zion was the fragrant “bride” of Day 5, the clouds of the Altar of Incense. This “sacrifice of praise” is the “bridal” testimony of the people of God (like the songs of Miriam and Deborah) after the victory of Yahweh over their enemies. It prefigured our worship under the New Covenant “inside the tent,” following the ascension of Christ, where the only “blood” now is a “memorial” of that which was shed “outside the tent.”
When Canaan was “submerged” under the “flood” of Babylonian troops at the beginning of the “times of the Gentiles,” all of the Canaanite kingdoms that had troubled Israel were dispossessed forever, losing their integrity as nations (only individuals from those nations appear afterwards). However, Israel rose again as a new kind of land, a more spiritual one, with Zion described as a three-tiered altar within a Jew-Gentile imperial construct (Ezekiel 40-48). This is another allusion to the architecture of the “ascension” of Noah, as represented in the Tabernacle. The bloodshed was the Bronze Altar, the Great Flood was the “fiery sea” of the Bronze Laver, the new land (with the smoke of the first “ascensions” at Noah’s hand) was the Altar of Incense, and the rainbow represented access to God’s throne upon the crystal sea, the waters above.
Since God works in fractals, the events in the first century concerned not a “new Jerusalem” resurrected upon the site of the old one, but an entirely “New Jerusalem” coming down from heaven. The old city was in bondage with her children (Hagar and Egypt) and the new city was free (Sarah and Canaan). This is why the harlot in Revelation is condemned in three acts: firstly, she is judged with plagues as Egypt, then, she is cut off as Egyptian-hearted old Israel in the wilderness (for idolatry and harlotry), and finally, she is exposed as Jezebel, the Canaanite queen who murdered the prophets of God. Since this section of the prophecy recapitulates the journey from Egypt to Canaan, but only describes Israel’s unfaithfulness, it comprises an ironic ascension offering. Because the rulers of Jerusalem had ignored the ascension of Christ and the pouring out of His Spirit at Pentecost, God would pour out judgment from heaven, a “holocaust,” which is a word derived from the Hebrew word olah, the one misleadingly translated as a whole burnt offering. But the translation certainly describes the fate of Jerusalem. The city was utterly consumed.
Interestingly, the pouring out of the Pentecostal Spirit is communicated in “Tabernacle” terms in Revelation 8. The final seal broken on the New Covenant scroll describes the fragrant “incense” of true worship in the heavenly Zion as the reason why the mountain on earth, which had become a “high place” for false worship, was made “holy,” sterilized by a terrifying reprise of the theophany at Sinai.
And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the [land], and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. (Revelation 8:3-5)
Israel had always been a nation “on the altar.” Balaam the false prophet ascended three mountain peaks to curse Israel with an intention of ascending a fourth. This would have completed the “four horns” and brought down fire from heaven to destroy “God’s firstborn.” The Lord intervened, but Balaam succeeded in bringing judgment upon the nation through the adultery of the men with Midianite women. So when Revelation describes the four-cornered Land as being filled with blood up to the horses’ bridles (Revelation 14:20), this is an image of warfare that is the result of the fact that, as it was before the Flood, there was no more sacrifice for sin. A failure to offer substitutionary blood brings conflict between Cains and Abels. The entire Promised Land had become a bloodbath, a gigantic altar upon which the nation itself would be slain and offered.
Although historical records tell us that violence against the Jews spread to various locations across the empire, the focal point of the carnage was, of course, the Temple. Just as the tribes had been arranged around the Tabernacle as a gigantic “cruciform” ziggurat with four “beams,” with each beam prophesying one of the four successive stages of Israel’s history (Priesthood, Kingdom, Prophecy, Christ), so each of the four Gospels ends with the crucifixion of Christ, four bloodied altar horns awaiting the holy fire to fall upon the sacrifice in the early chapters of Acts. The holy head and the gathered body ascended to God as a testimony of fragrant obedience.
But the Jews who had testified that they had no king but Caesar would be given what they desired. After the return of General Vespasian to Rome to become emperor, the campaign against Judea was completed by his son Titus, whose ministry, in a terrifying holy irony, recapitulated that of Jesus. He began as a “fisher of men” by slaying Jews in the Sea of Galilee, worked his way to Jerusalem, and then, instead of being crucified and tearing the Veil as Jesus did, his troops crucified many hundreds of Jews and destroyed the Temple. His anti-pilgrimage would end with Jerusalem “going up” in smoke as an ascension.
After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,
“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”
Once more they cried out,
“Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”
Although its evidences are tangible, at the heart of the kingdom of God is the eternal Spirit, thus it can be ridiculed as imaginary. In contrast, Man’s Babelic project, although undeniably visible to the eye, is the ever-fleeting dream. Like the Levites, the Jew had no ultimate earthly inheritance promised by God. The kingdom has been given to those who bear the fruits of the Spirit—not the sons of men but the Sons of God, those who mediate, on Jesus’ behalf, between heaven and earth, with a fragrant testimony of bold words and good works.
And Noah built a communion-site (altar) to Yahweh. And he took from every clean animal and from every clean bird, And caused ascensions to ascend on the communion-site. And Yahweh smelled the pleasing aroma. And Yahweh said in His heart,
I will never again curse the ground (’adamah) because of the man (’adam)…
Mike Bull is a graphic designer in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney in Australia, and author, most recently, of The End of Israel: Jesus, Paul & AD70.
As translated by James B. Jordan in “A Brief History of ‘Sacrifice’ According to the Bible: Part 5,” Biblical Horizons Nº 253.
To download Theopolis Lectures, please enter your email.