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In Luke 13, many will expect to get into the kingdom of God yet be excluded while “people will come from east and west, and from north and south”—from outside—“and recline at table in the kingdom of God” (13:25–29, 34–35). In Luke 14, the insiders who are initially invited to the great banquet end up rejected, replaced by “the poor and crippled and blind and lame” (14:15–24). The younger son in Luke 15, who wishes his father dead and wastes his inheritance, is in, while the older son, working hard all his life, appears to be out (15:11–32).
In chapter 16, it is poor, wretched Lazarus who enters heaven while his rich neighbor is tormented in hell (16:19–31). In Luke 17, it is only the despised Samaritan who returns to express gratitude to Jesus among the ten lepers who are healed by Jesus (17:11–19), and in chapter 18, it is the hated tax collector who goes home justified, not the ethically scrupulous and socially exalted Pharisee (18:9–14). In chapter 19, Jesus eats with and saves the oppressor, Zacchaeus the tax collector (19:1–10). Luke 20 describes the transfer of a “vineyard,” an Old Testament symbol for the people of God, to “other” (Gentile) tenants (20:9–18), and Luke 21 praises the offering of a poverty-stricken woman instead of the gifts of the rich (21:1–4).
Throughout Luke, the insiders and the outsiders are reversed—threatening to the privileged, liberating to the marginalized.
What’s the point? Hell is filled with people who believe they deserve to be outside hell and inside heaven. Heaven is filled with people who believe they deserve to be outside heaven and inside hell.6 Such grace defies our sense of fair play. But it is the logic of the gospel.
The scandal of incarnation is the surprise that lies at the heart of the fourth Gospel. Here we are not asking, as in Matthew, what obedience looks like; nor, as in Mark, what Jesus came to do; nor, as in Luke, who comprises His community. We are asking who He is.
In John 1, we read that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14). The term used here is the verb form of the Greek noun skene, meaning “tent” or “tabernacle.” Readers of John’s Gospel familiar with the Old Testament would immediately think of the portable temple, the tabernacle that was transported throughout the wilderness in Israel’s wanderings between Egypt and the Promised Land.
What was the tabernacle? What was the point of this temple?
Unlike some other elements of Jewish faith, such as monotheism, temple worship was not unique to Judaism. Virtually every ancient religion had a temple of some kind. The temple, for Judaism as well as for other religions, was a physical location, a building, where the immortal met the mortal. Here the supernatural and natural collided. The eternal and temporal intersected. The temple was where the divine and the fleshly could temporarily meet—never to mix (lest the profane contaminate the sacred!) but rather to come into brief contact with one another.
But at the center of human history, the divine and the fleshly, the supernatural and the natural, did mix. “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.”
Rumbling through the Old Testament was the development of the theme of the presence of God among His people, a presence restricted to the most sacred of Jewish places, the tabernacle and then the temple. It was here that God dwelt among His people (Exod. 25:8). It was here that glory rested. Fellowship with God, if only for a few moments, was restored. In fact, the tabernacle was a miniature, representative Garden of Eden—complete with sky-blue ceiling and a lampstand decorated like a flourishing tree. The Hebrew word that corresponds to the Greek word skene was shekan, from which we get our language of Shekinah, the “glory” of God that became so terrifyingly palpable in the temple.
This helps make sense of what John then says in the rest of verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt [tabernacled] among us, and we have seen his glory.”
In 1 Kings 8:27, Solomon offered a prayer of dedication to the newly built temple, wondering aloud at the absurd notion that an earthly building could contain the God of the heavens: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!”
“Will God indeed dwell on the earth?”