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. 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.
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.”
a. The term in Luke 3:23 is nomizo in Greek: meaning: “reckoned as by law.” Joseph was adopted by Heli, Mary’s father in accordance with the Torah for inheritance through brother-less sisters given to Zelophehad (Numbers 27:1-11; Joshua 17:3-6; Ezra 2:61; cf. Nehemiah 7:63; Numbers 32:41; I Chronicles 2:21-23, 34-35).
b. “Salvation comes through the Jew,” John 4:22; Romans 1:16. Redemption comes from Jesus the Messiah of Israel, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah; it is through Him alone that man now has (full) access to God,
c. Holman Bible Dictionary, Holman Bible Publishers,Nashville,Tennessee, 1991, Page 900, 920.
The Following is presented in written form with a few other insights.
The Gospels ~ Four Perspectives of Christ
Have you ever wondered why the Bible contains four accounts of the life of Christ? Each of the four Gospels presents Jesus Christ from a different point of view, with variations which sometimes seem to contradict each other. Atheist and unbelievers attempt to make the point that the Bible is man-made by pointing out these apparent discrepancies. However, the Gospels don’t really contradict each other; they merely present distinct emphasis, or different aspects, or even diverse perspectives of the personage and Mission of Jesus Christ.
Matthew presented “the Messiah the King, “symbolized by the lion of the tribe of Judah (the King of Israel, the Lord God of mankind).
Matthew, being a Levite, emphasizes Jesus as the Messiah, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Each of the subtleties of his design supports this primary theme. His genealogy begins with the “first Jew,” Abraham, and continues through David and the royal line to the legal father of Jesus, Joseph (according to Hebrews Law, in the same way that a step father was a legal guardian and father). Matthew’s emphasis is on the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Tanakh, the Old Testament.
As a customs official, Matthew was skilled in shorthand, an essential asset in a culture that did not have the advantages of printing, copiers, and the like. Matthew focuses on what Jesus said, and includes the extensive discourses, which he probably was able to take down verbatim. Matthew’s first miracle is the cleansing of a leper, a Jewish metaphor for sin itself. Matthew concludes with the resurrection, also a distinctive Jewish preoccupation.
Mark presented the “Suffering Servant,” symbolized by the ox (oxen were examples of extreme servitude, which exemplifies Jesus complete humility and servitude of the father as well as Him serving man by dying for him, though He was King. Thus fulfilling Isaiah 52 & 53 as the servant of God, who laid down His life, and became poor that we would become rich).
Each one of these for symbols (lion, ox [sometimes mistranslated “calf” ~ Revelation 4:7], man, and eagle) were the ensigns that the twelve tribes of Israel stationed themselves around the temple during the time of the Exodus. This same symbolization is seen concerning the “Living Creatures,” the Cherubim, and the Seraphim (Isaiah 6 [some believe that the Seraphim are the same thing as the cherubim]; Ezekiel 1; Revelation 4:7), of God which oversee God’s throne room.
Each one of these symbols represents the mission and personage of Jesus Christ (we must remember that the central point of the Bible is the person and mission of Jesus Christ; the central theme of the Bible is not Man or his salvation, but the glory of God [Isaiah 43:7]), His preeminence in creation (see John 5:39, Hebrews 10:7 [Psalms 40:7]; Colossians 1:16; Matthew 5:18; Luke 24:27; Luke 24:44-47; John 1:45; John 12:16; John 15:25; Acts 1:16; Acts 8:35 [Isaiah 53:7]; Acts 10:43; John 1:1; John 1:14; John 1:29; John 5:46-47; John 14:6; John 17:7; Acts 2:16-36; Acts 3:18; Acts 13:27-37; Acts 26:22-23; Acts 28:23; Romans 1:1-3; Hebrews 1:1-8; Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 10:7, for but a few references), and has been hailed as pictorials of Jesus since His time until now, as is seen in many Orthodox churches (Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc.), though not as widely taught as previously before.
Mark was the amanuensis (secretary) for Peter, and he emphasizes Jesus as the obedient Servant of YHWH. His is the only Gospel with no pedigree or genealogy; because slaves don’t have genealogies. Genealogies are meant to display pedigree concerning a royal line in order to continue the lineage of a King by establishing a record of his children and descendents. Slaves never had genealogies. Mark focuses on what Jesus did; it deals in graphic images, almost like a movie or video shooting script. Mark concludes with the final visual appearance, the Ascension.
Luke presented the “Son of Man,” the perfect man (a sinless man, the same as Adam, man as he was meant to be).
Luke was a Gentile and a doctor, and his Gospel reflects a very distinctive point of view, emphasizing Jesus as the Son of Man. His genealogy begins with Adam, the first man. From Abraham to David, his list is identical to that of Matthew. However, when he gets to David, he doesn’t track through Solomon (the first surviving son of Bathsheba) but through a different son, Nathan (the second surviving son of Bathsheba). He continues through to Heli, the father of Mary (Joseph is the son-in-law of Heli).
The term used in Luke 3:23 concerning Jesus is: “being (“as was supposed” in the Greek) the son of Joseph,” which is nomizo in the Greek, which is literally translated: “reckoned as by law.” this indicates a legal adoption of Jesus by Joseph which is part of the rule of inheritance concerning the Hebrews. In the Hebrew society the intended heir of the household received the household inheritance by the legal act of adoption which separated him from his siblings.
The heir received the whole estate with his siblings receiving only what he might decide to hand down to them. This is what is being referred to here; Joseph legally adopted Jesus as his heir; which validated Jesus legal claim in this bloodline.
But what is glossed over is that this genealogy is not the genealogy of Joseph, but is the genealogy of Mary through her father, Heli to Jesus (Matthew is the genealogy of Joseph who had legally adopted Jesus concerning the royal bloodline of Judah through David), establishing Jesus’ genealogy back to Adam the first man, which is what this book emphasizes. Luke 3:38 states that Adam was the “son of God” (God established the pattern of using the expression, “son of…” in referring to anything that flows out of the original source, or that was created by the source, therefore the angels are referred to as “sons of God” [Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7] as God created them in the same way that Adam is referred to as a “son of God,” because God created him as well [Luke 3:38], and as Jesus had called the scribes and Pharisees “sons of the devil” [John 8:44], because they flowed from their father Satan and their actions betrayed this. Yet, this is different from Sonship according to essence, which is what Jesus Christ is, a literal “Son of God,” not figurative.) and in this genealogy concerning the humanity of Christ it confirms Jesus as the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45), the true son of God in every sense in Luke 3:23, in the original language, the definite article (tou) is in the genitive form and appears before every name in the genealogy except one, that one name is Joseph. This singular exception strongly suggests that Joseph was included only because of his marriage to Mary.
The Greek word for “son,” is uihos, [G5207] and was used primarily to signify the relationship of offspring to the parents in a literal sense, yet it was also used in a figurative sense concerning a full range of relationships or descriptions.
Heli, Mary’s father, having no sons, only daughters, would normally have his lineage stopped at his death. However, in preparation for this very event, that of the birth of God’s Son, incarnate, the Logos (“the Word” ~ John 1:1) of God (Jesus) becoming a Man, in which the necessity to establish not only His bloodline of Kingship (Matthew’s genealogy), but also His bloodline concerning his humanity (Luke’s genealogy), God instituted a situation back during the Exodus that would validate Jesus concerning both issues, in the situation concerning the daughters of Zelophehad. Where Moses went to God, and God declared that the blessing of the bloodline could flow through the adoption of son-in-law’s in order to maintain the blessing of blood through genealogy when there were no sons to do so.
Therefore, we understand that Joseph was adopted by Heli in accordance to this exception created in the Torah for inheritance (Numbers 27:1-11; Joshua 17:3-6; Ezra 2:61; cf. Nehemiah 7:63; Numbers 32:41; 1 Chronicles 2:21-23, 34-35).
As a Gentile, Luke’s emphasis is different. His emphasis is Christ’s humanity; he focuses on what Jesus felt. His first miracle is the expulsion of a demon, a very human concern. Luke concludes with the promise of the giving of the Holy Spirit, which is a natural bridge to Luke’s subsequent volume, The Book of Acts.
John presented the “Son of God,” God incarnate, God indwelling flesh, Divine; in symbolized by the Eagle (the Eternal Son of God, the Logos, God’s Communication of Himself through His Son).
John had a very distinctive view, emphasizing Jesus as the Son of God. It focuses on who Jesus is. His “genealogy” is that of the Preexistent One, constituting John’s opening verses: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This is a genealogy of the Divine Son of God, who has no beginning and no ending, who was never created yet created all things. John’s Gospel is organized around seven miracles, seven discourses, and seven “I AM” statements.
John’s first miracle involves the use of the water of purification being changed to wine at Cana (a pictorial of the church), a private demonstration to the disciples that Jesus was preeminent even over the Levitical priesthood. John concludes with the promise of Jesus’ return, and becomes the appropriate prequel to John’s final writing, The Revelation.
In Summation Matthew wrote to the Jew, God’s chosen people; Mark wrote to the Romans; representing the power of world government (from Rome), Luke wrote to the Greeks; representing the cultural masses, And John wrote to the church, those adopted into God’s kingdom.
Matthew was written by a Jewish tax collector, Mark was written by a Jewish companion of Peter, Luke was written by a Gentile physician, a companion of Paul, and John was written by a Jewish fisherman.
Matthew concentrated on what Jesus said, His teachings (“said” ~ 151 times), Mark concentrated on what Jesus did (with Jesus’ actions most prominent), Luke concentrated on what Jesus’ felt (88 times), and John concentrated on who Jesus was (247 times).
A key word in the book of Matthew is “fulfilled” (38 times ~ concerning the Messiah of Israel), a keyword in the book of Mark is “immediately” (42 times ~ concerning the actions of Jesus), a keyword word in the book of Luke is a “came to pass” (42 times ~ concerning the transition of God becoming man), and the key phrase in the book of John is “verily, verily” meaning: “truly,” (25 times ~ concerning how God is Truth), nothing more encapsulates the identity of God than His inability to be false or a lie, God is either righteous, just and therefore Divine; or false, sinful, and a lie which mandates that he would be a concept of man.
(SIDE NOTE: An interesting fact is that Jesus gave us clues in His terminology concerning the weight that He placed on that which he stated in the form of the preceding comment he made concerning any subject. When Jesus wanted His hearers to take note of what He was about to say, He would say: “I say unto you,” which is recorded over a 122 times in the Gospels. When He wished to add weight to His comment He would say: “verily,” this is recorded over 53 times in the Gospels. And when He wanted to place the greatest significance on His statement He would say: “verily, verily,” which is recorded 25 times,and only in the book of John, which again is the book that establishes Jesus as God, He who cannot lie ~ “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” ~ Numbers 23:19)
Even the styles of each book are diverse, with Matthew utilizing elegant groupings, Mark providing simple snapshots, Luke presenting a logical narrative and John writing in a very mystical style (representing God’s mysterious Majesty).
It must be kept in mind that when dealing with the subject of the diversity between the Gospels, 3 of the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke) seem to present the last three years of Jesus life, chronologically, and in a similar order (yet not precise, with differing timelines and events) and are therefore referred to as the Synoptic (Greek syn: meaning “together” ~ or technically: displaying conditions as they exist simultaneously over a broad area) Gospels.
Many writers attempt to produce a “Harmony of the Gospels,” by fitting the three Gospels together into one chronological timeline. However, doing so introduces more problems than can be answered, in that it is obvious that this was not the intent of the Holy Spirit. Because there may be two very similar events in two or more of the Gospels that vary in the details for a very good reason, they were totally different events that just appeared very similar (i.e. the feeding of the multitudes).
Also, concerning the diversity between John and the other three Gospels, there is the issue of multiple events as seen in Jesus clearing of the Temple which is referred to as taking place at the first of His ministry on one account , and then at the end of this ministry at another (Matthew 21:12).
Each gospel needs to stand on its own, with us understanding that the Holy Spirit might choose sometimes to omit certain details in order that other aspects of an event are made clearer in order to create a certain emphasis. Yet, in other situations the Holy Spirit might bring out other details in order to create yet another emphasis in a separate account; or they may be completely different accounts.
The point is God engineered four different accounts of the last three years of Jesus life because He wanted us to have four different perspectives, diverse from each other and never to be mixed, and to twist the text so as to fit together a puzzle never met to be arranged this way is unwise at best, and un-Biblical at worst (yet there is a benefit from fitting together timelines in a loose manner in order to cross reference situations and to glean different aspects of the same event, yet this must be done very carefully and loosely; never forcing any issues or changing any events in order to have them fit together in a particular chronological order).
One last consideration that needs to be addressed is that of the diversity of acceptable writing styles of the Hebrews (the Hebrews and Jews of two thousand years ago or more) as compared to modern English today. To us in America, we are very linear in the way that we think and process information. When we present events in someone’s life we start with a timeline from the left to the right, which is chronological concerning the events as they occur one after the other.
According to Western train of thought this makes complete sense to you and I, yet, it is not the same concerning the Hebrews of thousands of years ago. To the Hebrew, the most important thing was the priority of what was being communicated, rather than the sequence of events. What they focused in on was the important issues first, with the chronology of the timeline a servant to what was more important.
This doesn’t become a problem as most of time the Old Testament follows a linear chronological order which does not do violence to the priority of what is being communicated. However, whenever we read John’s Gospel, the mysterious Gospel which presents “The Son of God,” Deity (perhaps the greatest mystery to man [“a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”] and far beyond his ability to comprehend is, God; and even within this yet further more unfathomable conception is God in man in the person of Jesus Christ); we need to understand it’s presented according to the mindset of the Hebrew.
The Gospel of John presents groupings of situations according to the importance of what is trying to be communicated, as opposed to any chronological logical presentation. The outline of the book of John is not chronological, but is organized around seven miracles, which lead to seven discourses, and then seven “I AM” statements; all in order to establish the profound insight that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Divine, beyond human compare, Preeminent among all of creation.
Thank you Chuck Missler for so much of this information; much noted by wise men of the last few centuries commented to God and His Word.