My great grandmother, Elizabeth Jones (1883 -- 1967), was keenly interested in prophecy and often encouraged family members to "keep your eyes on Israel." She lived to see the rebirth of the Jewish state and believed its formation was a sure sign that Jesus, her Savior and Israel's Messiah, would soon return.
I can only imagine what she would be thinking if today, she was to flip through the pages of the Wall Street Journal. I happen to have a copy of the March 24, 2015 issue on my desk. Section A is twelve pages long and the vast majority of the stories in this section deal with subjects that are of great interest to those who study prophecy:
- Militants in Iraq Siphon State Pay
- Israel Spied on Iran Talks
- Yemen Strife Foils U.S. Counterterror Plan
- Tunisia Fires Police Over Security Gaps
- Turkey Tightens Controls on Border with Syria
- Netanyahu Apology Leaves U.S. Seeking More
- The Orwellian Obama Presidency
- The Menace from Disintegrating Yemen
- To Stop Obama's Power Grabs, Kill the Senate Filibuster
- Berlin and Athens Seek to Defuse Tensions
- After Battling Rebels, Ukraine Tycoon Fights Kiev
- Okinawa Suspends Building of U.S. Ban
While we must not let headlines unduly influence our understanding of prophecy, the headlines should certainly cause us to keep our eyes glued to Scripture.
A recent headline in religious and secular publications alike has grabbed the attention of many, and has to do with a red heifer found on a small New Jersey farm.
Now what, you may ask, is the significance of a red heifer (cow)? Before I answer the question, let me describe an ancient Jewish ritual that involves this unique animal.
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron,
- "Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke." -- Numbers 19: 2
After the parah adumah (red heifer) was killed, its body was to be burned. The priest was instructed to throw some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool into the burning heifer. The ashes of the animal were to be gathered up and placed in a ceremonially clean place, for later use in the ritual purification process that made it possible for the priests to perform their duties in the Jewish Temple. By the way, this ceremony is vividly portrayed in The god-man: seed of Satan, the first installment of my two part end-times fiction thriller (part two is The God-Man: Rapture, Wrath and Reign).
Now I know this ritual sounds a bit strange. According to the Talmud, King Solomon claimed that this was the only one of God's commands he did not understand. So you're in good company if you haven't figured out the symbolism-- but it makes a challenging assignment for your personal Bible study time.
The Jewish prophet named Daniel alludes to the red heifer when he writes that in the last days, "many will be purified, made spotless and refined." (Daniel 12:10). When a person was sprinkled with the water of cleansing (or purification), he was made clean (i.e. purified, made spotless and refined). So Daniel is writing eschatologically, that is, in the context of the days leading up to the appearance of the Messiah.
The halakha (the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from the Written and Oral Torah) contains a rigid set of requirements to which a red heifer suitable for sacrifice must conform. It's not the purpose of this article to list all the conditions that must be met, but besides the usual requirements for an animal to be considered unblemished, it must be entirely of one color; the presence of only two black hairs disqualifies the candidate. The hair of the cow must be absolutely straight (proving the animal has never been yoked--i.e., has never worked). The heifer must be at least two years old and its red-brown eye color will be one sign of the cow's authenticity (i.e., has not been created via artificial means or genetic manipulation). Even the hooves must be reddish!
While not among the Wall Street Journal headlines I listed above, a future headline will announce that a significant construction project is about to begin on the Temple Mount. However, before construction can begin, a twenty-first century Levitical priesthood must undergo the purification process so they, in turn, can "purify" the Temple Mount in preparation for the building of the Third Temple.
Because the state of ritual purity can only be obtained through the ashes of the red heifer, Orthodox Jews are anxiously awaiting the birth of a red heifer that conforms to the requirements of the halakha.
Interestingly, the numerous requirements are so strict that according to Jewish tradition, only nine red heifers have actually been sacrificed from the time of Moses to the Second Temple! In recent years (1997 and 2002), it was thought that a red heifer had been found but both candidates were subsequently disqualified. However, one must be found before construction of the temple can begin.
The majority of Jews who live in Israel today are not anxiously awaiting the construction of a Third Temple; in fact, I believe that most of them wish the whole idea would go away. But Orthodox Jews and most evangelical Christians do believe that one will be built, and many believe it will be built soon.
So when Herbert Celler, the owner of a small farm outside of Lakewood, New Jersey, announced that a red heifer was born during Passover, specifically, on April 2, 2013, many took notice. According to Celler, "some rabbis from Israel are supposed to come check her out sometime soon. This is a gift to the Jewish people."
While the birth of a red heifer will not fulfill an explicit Bible prophecy, we know that Orthodox Jews insist that the sacrifice of the parah adumah is a prerequisite for the purification rites that must occur before construction of the Third Temple can begin--and that construction, of course, is specifically prophesied in Scripture.
Now we know what Orthodox Jews are anxiously looking for, but is there a New Covenant fulfillment of the Jewish purification ritual? Yes, there is.
The writer of Hebrews describes how the ceremony involving the red heifer pointed to Jesus himself.
"When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.
"The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God!
"For this reason Christ is he mediator of a New Covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant." -- Hebrews 9: 11 -- 15
Jesus became our parah adumah, without defect or blemish, the perfect sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world. By placing our faith in Jesus alone for our salvation, his substitutionary death grants pardon from the penalty of sin and opens the door for everlasting fellowship with God. I thank God each day for this wonderful gift.
If you want to leave a comment about this blog or have questions concerning God's incredible gift of salvation, please post them on my website (www.brucebiller.com) or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author of "The god-man: seed of Satan"
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by Bruce Biller
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