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On Earth as It Is in Heaven: A Biblical Theology of Worship

In sum, this is how the Old Testament “worship service” develops—first with God’s national (typical) son Israel at Mount Sinai, and then with God’s royal (typical) son Solomon at Mount Zion. Notice how the general structure of worship with God’s (first) son Adam on Mount Eden remains: call—response—meal. However, because of sin, new essential elements are incorporated into the worship of God’s redeemed people within the covenant of grace: gathering, cleansing, mediated access, divine communication and cleansing/consecration.

Adam, Israel, Solomon—Idolatrous Sons

The worship that began and failed with Adam is restored with Israel and Solomon, at least partially. Though imperfect, Israel and Solomon’s worship is acceptable to God because it’s their response within a gracious arrangement—the covenant of grace. Yet the worship of God, as originally intended in Eden, and progressively restored by Israel and Solomon, is never perfected or fully realized.

For example, at Sinai, Israel exchanges the worship of God (the Creator-Redeemer) for the worship of the golden calf (a creature-redeemer); and at Peor, Israel is led into idolatry by (foreign) women. Under Solomon, the pure worship of God begins to emerge in the early period of a united Israel. The worship that was revealed in Eden and developed at Sinai begins to be realized on Mount Zion with Solomon’s “dedication service” of the temple. And yet, it’s not long before the worship of God on Zion is corrupted by Solomon himself. Despite God’s gracious gift of wisdom, Solomon is led into the foolishness of idolatry through the influence of his (foreign) wives.

Irreversible Idolatry

Because of Solomon’s idolatry, not only does the kingdom split, but the divided nations of Israel and Judah eventually spiral into an ever-deepening, and irreversible idolatry—one which thrusts them both into exile to the east (2 Kgs. 17:14–18; 24:20). Thus, the history of God’s national (typical) son Israel (united or divided) repeats Adam’s idolatry. As with Adam, Israel hears an alternative call to worship—a word of invitation from the Baals and Asherim—and responds in faith and obedience to creatures, not the Creator. Israel feasts at the altars and high places of other gods and not at the temple of the one true God.

Seventy years later, when Israel is relocated to the land and reaffirmed as God’s son—with a fully functioning temple on Mount Zion—it soon becomes clear that the exile didn’t change Israel’s heart. No sooner is Israel back in the land than they begin to desecrate the Sabbath, pollute the cult with blemished sacrifices, and commit idolatry through intermarriage to foreign women (Neh. 13; Mal. 1:6–14). The heart change that Ezekiel foretold in exile—in which God would give them a new heart, and put a new spirit in them, and cause them to walk in his ways (Ezek. 36:26–27)—has not yet occurred. That change requires God himself to come to his temple, to purify the sons of Levi, and to restore right worship in Zion: “Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years” (Mal. 3:4).

Perfected Worship

By the end of the Old Testament, we’re left hoping for a son of God who will worship God perfectly, and who will then lead his bride in pure worship of the one true God. That expectation is finally met in the coming of God’s final Son, Jesus Christ—the Last Adam, the true Israel, and great David’s greater son. The era of perfected worship begins to dawn when Jesus meets a Samaritan woman—a foreigner, interestingly—and informs her that his Father is seeking a people to worship him in spirit and in truth, not on Mount Gerissim nor on Mount Jerusalem below (John 4:21–24), but in Mount Zion above:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Heb. 12:22–24)

This article is an adapted excerpt from Jonathan Gibson’s opening chapter “Worship: On Earth as It Is in Heaven,” in Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present (live link www.reformationworship.com).

This article originally appeared here.

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Jonathan Gibson (PhD, Cambridge University) is an assistant professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary.