The concept of holiness can seem difficult to grasp. Outside of the Bible, we don’t talk about things being “holy” very often. Let’s take a moment to discover what the Bible really says about holiness. The concept appears from Genesis to Revelation, so it must be important. This illustrated video by The Bible Project explains the theme of holiness in the Bible.
Jon: You’ve probably heard the word “holy” before
or at least sang it in a church song once or twice.
And for most people, this idea is really just connected to being a morally good person…
So… God is ‘holy’ because he’s morally perfect.
Tim: Yeah, that is part of it…
but in the Bible the idea of ‘holiness’ is even bigger and more rich.
What it’s really describing is how God is the creative force behind the whole universe.
He’s the one and only being with the power to make a world full of such beauty and life.
And so all these abilities they may God utterly unique, which is the meaning of the word ‘holy’.
A helpful way to think about God’s holiness is by using the sun as a metaphor.
The sun is unique, at least within our solar system,
And its really powerful. Its the source of all this beautiful life on our planet.
And so you could say that the sun is ‘holy’.
And you can actually take this metaphor even further
in that the whole area around the sun is also ‘holy’.
Jon: Yeah because the closer you get to the sun the more intense it gets.
Tim: yeah, exactly. So that very power and goodness that generates all this life is also dangerous.
I mean the sun, if you get too close, will annihilate you.
And in the same way there’s this paradox at the heart of God’s own holiness
because if you’re impure his presence is dangerous to you
and not because it’s bad, but because its so good.
And so the first time we see this paradox of God’s holiness, it’s in the story of Moses and the burning bush.
Jon: So God tells Moses to take off his sandals because he’s standing on holy ground.
And Moses covers his face in fear and God says
“hey don’t come any closer”. Its intense. likely that intensity of God’s holiness
Tim: It’s actually that intensity of God’s holiness that’s explored even more in the stories of Israel’s temple
which was the main place where God’s holy presence was located
and at the center the temple was this room called the Most Holy Place
it’s the hotspot of God’s presence.
and whether you’re an Israelite living in the land around the temple
or a priest working right in the temple, you are in proximity to God’s holy presence.
which is dangerous.
Jon: Yeah, this is a problem. So how is it supposed to work?
Tim: Well in the Bible the solution is that you need to become “pure”.
Jon: So like being Morally Pure?
Tim: Yeah, and that’s easy enough to understand…
…but the Bible spends a lot of time talking about another kind of purity
being Ritually Pure
which is a state where you separate yourself from anything related to death
like touching things like diseased skin, or dead bodies, or even certain bodily fluids.
all these make you impure.
And becoming ritually impure isn’t necessarily sinful.
What’s wrong is waltzing into God’s presence when you’re in an impure state.
And so that’s why God gave the Israelites very clear instructions for knowing when they were impure…
steps to become pure, so that they could go into the temple again.
Jon: So that’s what the book of Leviticus is about.
Tim: Right. But it doesn’t stop there. This idea keeps developing
So later in the scriptures we find this really interesting story by a prophet named Isaiah.
And he has this crazy vision where he’s in the temple
and he’s right in God’s presence. He’s totally terrified.
Jon: Yeah. He knows the rules. He shouldn’t even be in there.
And he’s worried about being destroyed.
Tim: And then this crazy creature called a Seraphim.
Jon: Yeah, that is a crazy creature.
Tim: Totally. So it flies over with a hot coal.
And then it sears Isaiah’s lips with the coal and says something really weird…
“Your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for.”
Jon: So this burning coal somehow makes Isaiah pure.
Tim: Yeah, its remarkable
because normally if you touch something impure it transfers its impurity to you.
But now here’s this new idea where you have this coal,
this very holy and pure object, and it touches Isaiah
and it transfers its purity to him.
Isaiah is not destroyed by God’s holiness, he’s transformed by it.
I mean the implications of this are just huge.
But there’s one more development, this time from another prophet, Ezekiel.
And he has this vision where he’s standing at the temple
and he sees water trickling out from it.
And then that water turns into a stream
and then a grows into a deep river that starts flowing through the desert
leaving this trail of green trees behind it.
And then it flows into the Dead Sea making everything fresh and alive.
Jon: So, instead of becoming pure first and then going into the temple…
…here God’s holiness comes out from the temple making things pure bringing them to life.
What does it all mean?
Tim: So, we don’t know. Until we meet this man Jesus.
And he claims that he’s fulfilling all of these ancient visions but in surprising new ways.
So Jesus, he went around touching people who are impure…
… people with skin diseases, a woman with chronic bleeding, or dead people…
and when he touches them, their impurity should transfer over to Jesus …
… but instead, Jesus’ purity transfers to them and actually heals their bodies.
Jon: Jesus is like that holy coal in Isaiah’s vision.
Tim: Right. And Jesus claimed that he was the human embodiment of God’s own holiness.
and that he and his followers were now God’s temple
so that through them God’s holy presence would go out into the world
and bring life and healing and hope.
And so this is why Jesus described his followers as having streams of living water flowing out of them.
Jon: So this is our part of the story where we find ourselves now, but where is it all heading?
Tim: so the last pages of the Bible end with a final vision about God’s holiness…
This time it’s by a guy named John.
And in his vision we see the whole world made completely new.
The entire earth has become God’s temple.
And Ezekiel’s river is there flowing out of God’s presence,
immersing all of creation,
removing all impurity and bringing everything back to life.