The Gospel Age
“Your fathers … proved me, and saw my works forty years” (Hebrews 3:9).
by David Rice
The forty years Israel wandered in the wilderness represents the Gospel Age wandering of Spiritual Israel as we approach the Kingdom. This period is covered by four books in the Old Testament — Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Exodus records the events of the first year, climaxing with the construction of the Tabernacle on the first day of the year following the Exodus. Leviticus begins on that same day, and narrates
the experience of a single month. Numbers begins on the first day of the second month (year two in the wilderness), and continues until year 40. Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell to Israel on the last month of the 40th year, in which Moses reviews the experiences of Israel and encourages them onward to the future.
Thus, the Exodus narrative (from the Exodus forward) covers one year, Leviticus one month, Numbers 39 years, and Deuteronomy is a review. These books are replete with pictures, of the Gospel Age. This article outlines two of these books, and some of these pictures.
The departures of the Israelites from Egypt, together with a mixed multitude, begins at Exodus 12:37. The Israelite men numbered about 600,000. In addition, there were women, children, and a “mixed multitude,” and flocks and herds. They left on the 15th of Nisan, “the morrow after thevpassover” (Numbers 33:3).
There were seven stopping points listed up to Mount Sinai — Succoth, Etham, Pihahiroth (at the Red Sea), Marah, Elim, the wilderness of Sin, and Mount Sinai. At Mount Sinai Moses ascended the mount seven times.
Using the NIV subdivisions, the Law recorded in Exodus is in seven parts (Idols and Altars, Hebrew Servants, Personal Injuries, Protection of Property, Social Responsibility, Justice and Mercy, Annual Festivals). This breakdown could be subjective. But we at least observe that here are three series of sevens opening the 40 years — and Revelation’s depiction of the
Gospel Age likewise uses three series of sevens (Churches, Seals, Trumpets).
At Elim the Israelites found 12 wells and 70 palms, perhaps representing the 12 Apostles and 70 Disciples, a nucleus of the early Church. In Exodus 16 the manna began that sustained Israel for 40 years. This manna represents our Lord Jesus (John 6:51). The taste of it is described as “wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31). The wafers offered at the consecration of the priesthood represent our hope of glory, and honey, never to be offered on
the altar (Leviticus 2:11), represents the sweetness of our heavenly calling. Thus, this manna represents the blessings we have in Christ that pertain to spiritual Israel in particular. It is uniquely a Gospel Age picture.
Mount Sinai was reached at the third month, an appropriate number, as it is the number of redemption. If Exodus 19:1 means that the Israelites arrived at the opening of this month, then counting the days in the narrative after that leads many to observe that the 10 Commandments were given on the sixth day of the third month. That day later became the day for
the feast of weeks, that we call Pentecost, on which day the holy Spirit was given to the waiting disciples in Acts chapter two.
In Exodus 19:5,6, God offered Israel to become a “peculiar” people, a “kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” This offer applies to spiritual Israel in the Gospel Age, “a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” as Peter terms the Church class (1 Peter 2:9). In Exodus 24:5-8 Israel’s commitment was sealed with burnt offerings and peace offerings, representing the sacrifice of Jesus (burnt offerings), and the devotion of saints (peace offerings).
There are broader pictures as well. Moses was in the mount twice for 40 days, representing the Jewish and Gospel Ages. After the first 40 days Israel was in rebellion and the tablets of the Law were broken, representing the breaking of the Law Covenant with Israel after their rejection of Jesus. After the second 40 days Moses descended with a face beaming with glory, representing Christ and the Church descending at the outset of the Kingdom to bless mankind in the Millennium. Paul, however, takes this second experience differently, applying it to the opening of the Gospel Age and
the glory of the Gospel message (2 Corinthians 3:7-18). This shows that sometimes the same experience can carry more than one meaning.
Chapters 25, 26, and 27 detail the construction plans for the Tabernacle, Court, and their furnishings, except for the golden altar and the laver, which are deferred until chapter 30. Chapter 28 describes the apparel of the priests, and chapter 29 the induction ceremony of the priests. (The actual record of this induction ceremony is later in Leviticus 8, so comparing
Exodus 29 with Leviticus 8 is helpful.) Perhaps the golden altar and laver are described after this, rather than earlier because they are items that pertained to priestly activity — offering incense at the golden altar, and washing at the laver. (Deferring the description of the golden altar in Exodus may be why Paul bypasses this item in his summary in Hebrews 9:1-6.)
Chapter 31 speaks of Bezaleel of Judah as “filled with the spirit of God” for constructing the Tabernacle, assisted by Aholiab of Dan. In Bezaleel probably is a picture of Jesus, and Aholiab perhaps of the Church, assisting Jesus.
Chapter 32 records the golden calf experience, chapter 33 its aftermath, and chapters 34 Moses’ second ascent into Sinai for 40 days. At the end of this, in chapter 35 and forward, is an account of constructing the Tabernacle, court, and furnishings, by Bezaleel, Aholiab, and “every wise hearted man” (Exodus 36:1). Exodus 39:32 then sums it up, “Thus was all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of the congregation finished.” All things were examined by Moses, who approved it as faithfully done according to God’s instructions (verse 43).
In Exodus 40 God instructed Moses to wait until the first day of the next new year for assembling the structure. The first day of the new year here represents a new age beginning in God’s Plan of the Ages, in this case, the Gospel Age. (The first day of a new year is used in Genesis 8:13, when the destructive waters were abated, to picture the beginning of the Kingdom, when the curse is lifted from mankind.)
The new year’s day arrived in Exodus 40:17, “It came to pass in the first month, in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was reared up.” The description proceeds as far as the edifice and furnishings, but the account in chapter 40 does not include the inauguration of the priests, even though the instructions in verses 12-15 included this. What happened?
The process was interrupted at Exodus 40:34,35, “Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of Jehovah filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter. We do not get to the attiring and consecrating of the priests, Aaron, and his four sons, until Leviticus chapter eight. Notice, therefore, that Exodus 40:31, 32, speaking of the priests washing at the laver, describes something that would be customary later, after the priests were inducted, and did their regular service. But as of the end of the Book of Exodus itself, no priests had yet been inaugurated into office.
Leviticus chapters 1 through 7 recount the words of Jehovah to Moses on that same day, while the cloud filled the Tabernacle and Moses’ activities were interrupted. “And Jehovah called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying …” What follows are instructions necessary before Moses, later that same day, consecrates
Aaron and his sons.
These instructions are the procedures for making the various sacrifices (animals) and offerings (bloodless offerings) required for burnt offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and their accoutrements. The instructions given in these seven chapters include some things that clarify later procedures. For example, Leviticus chapter 16 gives instructions for the Day of Atonement offerings. On that day it is widely understood that of the sin
offerings, some organs and fat were burned on the altar in the court. However, Leviticus 16 itself does not speak of this. We know of this
from the instructions in Leviticus 4 about how sin offerings were to be handled.
The instructions of Leviticus chapters 1 through 7 are in two parts, Leviticus 1-6:7, and Leviticus 6:8-38. The first proceeds through the various offerings, the second takes another pass through them with details that pertain especially to the priests.
Later will come instructions about a daily burnt offering, a lamb in the morning and one in the afternoon. These lambs represent the ever-efficacious atonement by the Lamb of God, Jesus, in his ransom sacrifice, for both Jews and Gentiles. This helps us identify the burnt offering with the ransom Jesus gave. Peace offerings represent the devotion and commitment of the worshippers. Sin offerings refer to the cleansing from the results of sin and the propensity for sin. The sequence of these is meaningful. First
in order, we need the ransom of Jesus applied for us, then we can yield ourselves in consecration to God, and thereafter in our Christian life
we have a cleansing process from the results of sin and from our propensity for sin.
However, when these offerings are implemented on the special days of Leviticus chapters 8, 9, and 16, the sequence differs. Now it reflects the sequence in which these things actually proceed. Before Jesus died as our ransom on Calvary’s cross, he served a ministry of 3½ years from Jordan to Calvary as a sin offering sacrifice, in order to qualify him to be our high priest, to actively purge us from our sinful ways during our Christian life. Thus the first things offered on these days was a sin offering. Then followed burnt offerings, just as Jesus closed out his ministry as our sacrifice at Calvary. Then, if a peace offering was involved, it followed next. For Pentecost, when the Church began their consecrated walk as new creatures,
followed after Calvary.
Leviticus chapter eight resumes the narrative where Exodus 40 left off, on the very same calendar day, with the consecration of the priesthood. This would continue for seven days (Leviticus 8:33), representing the Gospel
Age, depicted in Revelation as seven stages, or periods of time.
Leviticus chapter nine then moves to an immediate atonement for the Israelites. There would be an annual day of atonement later in the year, and the instructions for that are given in chapter 16. But it was urgent for the Israelites to receive atonement then, rather than waiting half a year further, and this was the functional purpose of the offerings in Leviticus chapter nine.
Leviticus 10 expressed some liabilities of the present Gospel Age, explaining a notable transgression of two of the four sons of Aaron, namely Nadab and Abihu. They offered “strange fire” before Jehovah, and “there went out fire
from Jehovah, and devoured them” (Leviticus 10:1, 2). Verse 9 follows with warnings about no drinking “wine nor strong drink” while serving, suggesting that this had a bearing on the improper service of the two sons. Our suggestion is that these two sons represent two classes who fail to become overcoming members of the Church class, called to be priests — the Great Company who are not careful, and those who draw back altogether — sometimes represented in the tribes of Benjamin and Dan, respectively.
The two remaining sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, perhaps represent the two branches of the overcoming Church class, Jews and Gentiles (compare Ephesians 2:15, Romans 4:16).
Skipping chapters 11 to 15 for the moment, we come to the Day of Atonement chapter, Leviticus 16. This chapter gives instructions from God to Moses about what would be done when the Day of Atonement arrived on the 10th day of the seventh month. It is not a narrative of what was done, but what would be done later when the time arrived. Leviticus begins at day one of the second year, and Numbers begins at day one of the next month — so the narrative of Leviticus covers but a single month. Yet
the Day of Atonement was six months after the opening of the book. Thus, the observation that Leviticus 16 is not a narrative account of what was done, but a set of instructions about what would be done later, when the occasion arrived.
Leviticus 16 refers to the Gospel Age sacrifices that allow mankind to be reconciled to God. In this chapter atonement is made “for the priests, and for all the people of the congregation.” As the priests are here contrasted with the congregation, apparently the priests represent the Church during the Gospel Age, and the congregation represents the world of mankind
who receive their atonement in the Kingdom.
Thus, the sacrifices of this day represent the sacrifices of the Gospel Age, preparing for the blessing of mankind in the Kingdom. On this day the high priest went into the most holy twice, once to apply atoning blood for the priests (the Church), and a second time to apply atoning blood for the congregation (the world of mankind). The first was a necessary precursor for the other — as the development of the Church during the Gospel Age is a necessary precursor for the blessing of mankind in the Kingdom. Consistent with this is a veiled reference to the close of the Day of Atonement at the end of the harvest (Acts 27:9), and Ezekiel’s vision of the Establishment
of the Kingdom, for blessing the world, on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29, Ezekiel 40:1).
Now we return to Leviticus chapter nine. It is widely considered that this chapter symbolizes something similar to Leviticus chapter 16 — but rather than an annual event, it was an immediate atonement to serve for the intervening six months before the first annual atonement arrived.
There are meaningful differences between the two. At the end of the day
in chapter nine, Aaron raised his hands and blessed the people, having completed his offerings. Then Moses and Aaron went into the tabernacle, came out, blessed the people again, and God consumed the items on the altar with miraculous fire, a demonstration to the people who fell on their faces in reverent awe.
A common view applies this to the end of the Gospel Age when mankind comes to worship God. Our suggestion, a little different, appeals to something from the Luke and Acts. After Jesus had completed his sacrifices and was raised from the dead, he led the disciples “as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them … And … he was … carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50, 51). We suggest this is the fulfillment of Leviticus 9:22. When the priest went into the Tabernacle, this would be fulfilled by Jesus going “into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us”
(Hebrews 9:24). The priest coming out of the tabernacle again, to bless the people further, would be what Peter refers to in Acts 3:26, “Unto you first God, having raised up his son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away
every one of you from his iniquities.”1
(1) An editor says, “Suggest that this comes after the sacrificing: Aaron
blesses the people in the Millennium, Moses and Aaron disappear in Satan’s Little Season (short time) and Moses and Aaron bless the people in the Kingdom of Eternity.”
Paul comments on this in Hebrews 9:28. “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him [as the Israelites looked for Aaron] shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” Appearing the “second time” in this context refers not to the second advent, but to Jesus appearing again after entering into glory. Those who waited for the blessing of Christ received this from Pentecost onward.
In this case, a distinction between Leviticus 9 (in the spring) and Leviticus
16 (in the autumn) is a distinction between two ages, the present Gospel Age and the approaching Kingdom. There are two other items in the chapter that may accord with this.
(1) There is no separate atonement for the priests and the people in Leviticus 9. The Gospel Age “people” are the saints (compare Hebrews 2:17). (2) In Leviticus 9 there are peace offerings, in Leviticus 16 there are none. Perhaps to contrast that the redeemed of the Gospel Age are consecrated unto death — whereas the redeemed in the Kingdom, though committed to God, are not consecrated to a life of sacrifice.
Between Leviticus 10 and 16
Leviticus 11 is about clean and unclean animals. Chapter 12 is about the birth of male and female children. Chapters 13 and 14 are about cleansing lepers. Chapter 15 is about reproductive uncleanness. These chapters have lessons applicable both to the present Gospel Age cleansing of the saints, as well as to the Millennial Age cleansing of the world. For example, a distinction of clean and unclean animals in Acts 10 is symbolic of accepting the formerly unclean Gentiles into fellowship with God. It will apply in the Kingdom as well.
The birth of male children, compared to female children, may distinguish the Gospel Age redeemed from the Millennial Age redeemed. The period of cleansing in the second case was double the first case, just as the 14 lambs daily during the feast of Tabernacles (Kingdom) were double the seven lambs daily during the feast of Unleavened Bread (Gospel Age).
Leprosy could be in one’s person (our human nature), or one’s clothing (our covering of righteousness, if our faith slips). This can apply to the present for us, and to the Kingdom for the world. But leprosy in one’s home is not
an issue for the Gospel Age church, our homes are in glory and once received will be beyond the reach of sin.
But the world in the kingdom will need to take care lest sin then mar their earthly inheritance. Thus, this concern is specified to be relevant only “when he be come into the land of Canaan” (Leviticus 14:35), a picture of mankind in the Kingdom.
The reproductive uncleanness in chapter 15 may refer to the development of the Church now, and the world in the Kingdom. Both are ages of development in which bringing wholesome, redeemed persons to fruition involves an admixture of uncleanness from the effects of sin.
After Leviticus 16
Leviticus 16 is primarily about Atonement for the world. Perhaps, then, the chapters following, through Leviticus 27, also pertain mainly to the world. Chapter 17 speaks of the sacredness of blood representing shed life: “It
is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:10). This speaks of the foundation for the redemption of mankind. Chapter 18 advises Purity, chapter 19 Mercy and Righteousness, and chapter 20 avoiding Immorality. All of these will be standards for the world in the Kingdom.
Chapters 21 and 22 refer to the sanctity of priests, perhaps looking forward to the service of the Church for the world in the Kingdom (Revelation 20:6). Chapter 23 reviews the feast days of Israel. The feasts in this review apply to the Gospel Age and the Millennial Age, just as the book of Leviticus applies to both ages. Chapter 24 refers to the obligation of all Israelites in three ways: (a) For support of the Tabernacle, (b) respect for authority, and
(c) the value of life.
Chapter 25 is about the Jubilees, mostly a picture of the Kingdom. Chapter 26 warns Israel of “seven times” punishment for neglecting the Law, and chapter 27 gives regulations about things devoted to God.