Introduction (Updated: 9/5/11)
Do the four Gospels demonstrate any symbolic or metaphorical relationships with the four ensigns (a flag, banner, or standard that a company rallies behind) mustering the Camp of Israel around the Tabernacle?
Yes they do, with amazing consistency within each metaphorical type.
But Why – to Display the Preeminence of Jesus Christ
But this baits the question, why these symbols of metaphors. God, in displaying his Majesty, as well as communicating on many different levels, displaying his complexity, yet intricacy of design, in how He has mapped out all of history in advance, in anticipation of man’s free will, and the designs of Satan, is still all powerful.
These object lessons, which we refer to as types and shadows (in that when you see a shadow of something coming before the substance, you can recognize the substance when it arrives), are tools that God uses, to declare Himself, His will, and His ways. All of which leads to the preeminence that Jesus Christ hold’s within humanity. This is the answer to the question why, the answer is Jesus Christ, and His glory as the only begotten Son of the Father.
To understand the connection between the four Gospels and the four ensigns concerning the camp of Israel, you need to first understand why the four ensigns hold any value to us today.
It is because of their relationship to the tabernacle, and how that the tabernacle is a representation of Jesus Christ, and that every detail of the tabernacle holds importance in this representation.
This subject of the tabernacle is quite intense and beyond the scope of this post. At a later date I will address the details of the tabernacle, and provide specific Scripture references, but for now allow me to lay out a very brief overview.
The Tabernacle was a temporary dwelling where God met with man (which is what and who Jesus is). John 1:14, says “And the Word became flesh and dwelt [“did tabernacle”] among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” When Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, he also received detailed specifications and instructions for the building of a portable sanctuary, the Tabernacle, also referred to as the tent of Meeting.1 And concerning the tabernacle; every part, piece, and type of material used represents Jesus Christ, as well as the seven pieces of furniture within the tabernacle and its courtyard.
And even the structure of how the camp was to move across the land, was a symbolic representation of what the relationship was to be between Israel and its Messiah.
The tabernacle, representing Christ was situated in the center of the 12 tribes, displaying His preeminence among his creation, with the tribe of Judah stationed in front of the only doorway to the tabernacle courtyard, representing that through Judah, the Messiah would enter. And always to the east of the tabernacle entryway, which faced east, implying that Judah was between the opening to the tabernacle and eastward, towards Jerusalem (God’s city, representative of heaven and God’s throne room).
The Layout of the Tribes
The 12 tribes of Judah were stationed around the tabernacle, in four directions. The Levites encompass the tabernacle on all four sides, as a display of man’s need for a priest between him and God, due to man’s sin, which in time Christ would be fulfill, as our High Priest. The 12 tribes were lined up with three tribes on each of one of the four sides of the tabernacle. The way that they organized themselves as they marched and camped; is that one of the three tribes on each side, was a rallying point, with another tribe falling behind them, and the final tribe behind them. This way they can stay organized, holding the same configuration as they crossed the desert.
Due to necessity (as well as God’s design), it could not be one giant block moving across the desert, but needed separation between the tribes, therefore the corners were vacant, otherwise everybody would just mixed together and it would be one giant melting pot of confusion. Therefore, God gave Moses this design to keep uniformity, but also to play out a multiplicity of representations. Each tribe had its own ensign, which was a standard, and was a rallying point. These standards were giant flags on polls that when held up could be seen for quite some distance and a tribe knew at what point to organize themselves. The four tribes closest to the tabernacle, were the vanguard rallying points. This way there were points that each tribe could affix itself to.
The Vanguard Ensigns
The four vanguard ensigns mirrored the four perspectives presented in the four different Gospels of Jesus Christ. The book of Matthew (the largest book), which highlights the Jewishness of Christ as the Messiah of Israel, compares to the ensign of the tribe of Judah (the largest tribe, from where the Messiah would come) which is the lion. The book of Mark (the smallest book), which highlights the servant-hood of Jesus, in that he would be the suffering servant for the sins of the world, compares to the ensign of the tribe of Ephraim (the smallest tribe) which is an ox. The book of Luke, which highlights the humanity of Christ, as the perfect man, compares to the ensign of the tribe of Reuben, which is the figure of a man. And the book of John, which highlights Christ divinity, as God of the universe, compares to the ensign the tribe of Dan, which is an Eagle(When used figuratively speaking in the Bible, represents heaven, due to its ability to fly higher than any other bird, in the same way that blue represents heaven is symbolized by the sky above. God also utilizes that Eagle in referring to himself enigmatically. A cautionary note: many times the word translated into the English word “Eagle,” is not what is in the original language for Eagle.).
The answer will be self-evident. This is one of the many areas that Chuck has uncovered a jewel out of God’s Word. We know that the Levites centered around the four sides of the tabernacle, and were the Kohathites, which were 8600; the Gershonites, which were 7500; the Merarites, which were 6200. Without having to get into the cense concerning all 12 of the tribes, which can be found in the book of Numbers, chapter two, if we total of each of the three tribes on all four sides, it displays a very interesting feature concerning their movement across the desert.
We know that the largest section, of these three tribe sections, organized under the ensign of Judah consisted of 186,100 people. And that completely opposite to them, on the other side of the tabernacle, was the smallest section, of these three tribes sections, organized under the ensign of Ephraim, which consisted of 108,100 people. To the South and North of Judah, these two sections were very similar in size. To the South of Judah, this section of three tribes was organized under the ensign of Rubin, and consisted of 151,450 people. And to the North of Judah, this section consisting of three tribes that was organized under the ensign of Dan, consisted of 157,600 people. Now keeping in remembrance, that the four corners of this group of people was vacant, so that on each side of their elongated sections there was open space, as you would look down upon this group of people (as Balaam did in Numbers 24:2), you would notice a striking representation. What Balaam saw was the form of a giant cross moving across the desert (The following slides were taken from Chuck Missler’s DVD “Learn the Bible in 24 hours,” session 5 – click on them to enlarge).
The Throne Room of God
Each time we encounter the “super-angels” (variously called cherubim or seraphim) that surround the Throne of God, we note that there are four “faces” involved: a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle2 (do you see a consistency here)
Why would God, manufacture that the ensigns of the vanguard tribes that surround the tabernacle look the same, and therefore represent the cherubs which surround the throne room of heaven, and all so, appear to represent the perspectives presented in the four Gospels of the Redeemer of mankind, Jesus Christ. One of the possible answers, could be that as Israel was moving from Egypt, a type of the world or fallen man; to the promise land, a type of God’s will or redeemed man, that this conveyance was made possible because of the Messiah, the Redeemer of mankind, represented by the tabernacle, which was in the midst, and therefore indwelling God’s chosen people, while representing God’s throne room in heaven, where Jesus and God now sit, until the day in which God’s will is completed concerning mankind. Maybe?
One of My Own Insights – May or May Not Hold up to Scrutiny
What’s interesting that along with the comparisons within this typology, there is a specific contrast which displays intricate design as well. Where the tribe of Judah (Matthew), with the ensign of the lion, represents Jesus Messiahship; on the complete opposite side of the tabernacle, was the tribe of Ephraim (Mark), whose ensign was the ox, and represented Christ servitude, which displays polar opposites. On Judas left side, which would be South, the tribe of Reuben (Luke), with the ensign of the man, which represented Christ humanity; which is directly opposite of the tribe of Dan, with the ensign of the Eagle (John), indicating Christ’s divinity.
So these four perspectives, are not only representative of the four aspects of the Messiah, but in that they cover the complete spectrum of who Christ was to represent; in that on one side he represents a King (represented by the largest book of the gospel and the largest tribe) and on the other side, in complete contrast he represents the slave (represented by the smallest book of the gospel and the smallest tribe); and therefore anybody in between as well. On another side He represents the man, and yet on the other side in complete contrast, he represents God (and therefore anybody in between, morally speaking).
What a perfect representation of every man by using the polar opposites. Where truly the example of; from slave to King, and therefore anybody in between would seem to represent all of humanity. Yet beyond our titles and stations in life, which these two symbols represent; God uses the polar opposites of humanity and deity, so as to address the essence of our own creation. That Christ also died for the worst of sinners (morally speaking), yet the greatest of Saints (morally speaking), and anyone between. Within the human realm, Christ can represent every man, yet at the same time represent God, showing that Christ was all in all. What an enigma.
Thanks to Chuck Missler for the above insight and slides.
1. Exodus 25:9, 40; 36:1 (Chapters 25-27; 36-38; and 40).
2. Ezekiel 1:10; 10:14; Revelation 4:7
Consider Jesus’ words as found in John 5:39:
“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”