Further Study: The Holiness of God

As Christ stands before the trafficking crowd in the temple, “the confusion is hushed. The sound of traffic and bargaining has ceased. The silence becomes painful. A sense of awe overpowers the assembly. It is as if they were arraigned before the tribunal of God to answer for their deeds. Looking upon Christ, they behold divinity flash through the garb of humanity. The Majesty of heaven stands as the Judge will stand at the last day . . . with the same power to read the soul. His eye sweeps over the multitude, taking in every individual. His form seems to rise above them in commanding dignity, and a divine light illuminates His countenance. He speaks, and His clear, ringing voice—the same that upon Mount Sinai proclaimed the law that priests and rulers are transgressing—is heard echoing through the arches of the temple: ‘Take these things hence; make not My Father’s house an house of merchandise.’

“Slowly descending the steps, and raising the scourge of cords gathered up on entering the enclosure, He bids the bargaining company depart from the precincts of the temple. With a zeal and severity He has never before manifested, He overthrows the tables of the money-changers. . . . None presume to question His authority. . . . Jesus does not smite them with the whip of cords, but in His hand that simple scourge seems terrible as a flaming sword. Officers of the temple, speculating priests, brokers and cattle traders, with their sheep and oxen, rush from the place, with the one thought of escaping from the condemnation of His presence.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 158.

Discussion Questions:

   In class, go over your answer to Monday’s last question. What are the major differences between us and a holy God? What are ways in which some of those differences can be eradicated, if any?  

 Given what we have looked at this week, why is it so much easier to see why self-righteousness and self-satisfaction, especially about one’s own spiritual state, is a very dangerous deception? 

3 Think about someone you know who is “holy,” that is, who seems to be upright, honest, pure, and so forth; someone quite “set apart” from most people. How do you respond to the person? Does he or she make you feel good or bad, and why?  


It might be much nicer to focus only on God’s love instead of His holiness, but that would be to distort the truth. We need to encounter God’s searing holiness until we tremble before Him. Understanding God’s holiness, and our sinfulness in contrast, is crucial to helping us to understand what the atonement is all about, why it is so desperately needed, and why it had to cost so much.



Further Study: The Holiness of God — 11 Comments

  1. Oh yes, and then there is the cleansing of the temple. It seems to be one of those themes that Christians return to time and time again. Certainly it is true Jesus did cleanse the temple and overturned tables and was swinging a whip of cords but all too often our focus is on His anger and we look at that as an example of what God is like. We also take up songs in our worship like “Awesome God” that tend to support that view of God which is basically the same view that paganism has of their gods.

    This lesson seems to home in on that aspect of the cleansing, for He is a holy God who won’t put up with such unholy traffic but will strike with “a rod of iron” (Rev 19:15). It is such a curious thing that we would focus on a few paragraphs that support our notions of what God is like and ignore what follows.

    In the cleansing of the temple, Jesus was announcing His mission as the Messiah, and entering upon His work. That temple, erected for the abode of the divine Presence, was designed to be an object lesson for Israel and for the world. From eternal ages it was God's purpose that every created being, from the bright and holy seraph to man, should be a temple for the indwelling of the Creator. Because of sin, humanity ceased to be a temple for God. Darkened and defiled by evil, the heart of man no longer revealed the glory of the Divine One. But by the incarnation of the Son of God, the purpose of Heaven is fulfilled. God dwells in humanity, and through saving grace the heart of man becomes again His temple. God designed that the temple at Jerusalem should be a continual witness to the high destiny open to every soul. But the Jews had not understood the significance of the building they regarded with so much pride. They did not yield themselves as holy temples for the Divine Spirit. The courts of the temple at Jerusalem, filled with the tumult of unholy traffic, represented all too truly the temple of the heart, defiled by the presence of sensual passion and unholy thoughts. In cleansing the temple from the world's buyers and sellers, Jesus announced His mission to cleanse the heart from the defilement of sin,--from the earthly desires, the selfish lusts, the evil habits, that corrupt the soul. "The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth? for He is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: and He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver." Malachi 3:1-3. {DA 161.1, there are no pages 159 – 160 in Desire of Ages (on disk)}

    And then Ellen White goes on to explain what she meant by that, “No man can of himself cast out the evil throng that have taken possession of the heart. Only Christ can cleanse the soul temple” (DA 161.2).

    The sanctuary was an object lesson and in my opinion Jesus was performing an enacted parable. It wasn’t as though He didn’t know what was going on in the temple before He arrived in Jerusalem. He didn’t have a flash of anger and went ballistic. It was a well thought out premeditated act designed to teach a lesson. Neither was He naive as to what was going to happen after He left the temple, He knew the traffic would start up again the minute He left. Hopefully, His disciples would get the message and understand why He came to be “God with us” (Mat 1:23).

    • Hello Stephen, it’s nice to hear from you on the blog and as usual you can ask some of the stickiest questions. As you well know I am not a scholar and I don’t know any of the ancient languages so my answer is going to be rather elementary.

      When I looked at “zeal” in Jn 2:17 in my BibleWorks program it gave this Strong’s definition:

      2205 ζῆλος zelos {dzay'-los}
      Meaning: 1) excitement of mind, ardour, fervour of spirit 1a) zeal, ardour in embracing, pursuing, defending anything 1a1) zeal in behalf of, for a person or thing 1a2) the fierceness of indignation, punitive zeal 1b) an envious and contentious rivalry, jealousy
      Origin: from 2204; TDNT - 2:877,297; n m/n
      Usage: AV - zeal 6, envying 5, indignation 2, envy 1, fervent mind 1, jealousy 1, emulation 1; 17

      As one can see this word can have a variety of meanings. In fact Paul uses it in speaking of the Corinthian church, “for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1Co 3:3 NKJV) where “envy” is translated from the Greek “zelos.” He also uses it in his listings of sins in 2 Cor 12:20 and Gal 5:20 where it is translated into the English “jealousies.” Because of this my feeling is that we should treat it with some caution and perhaps simply to consider it as an elevated agitation without regard to spiritual significance outside of the context. Besides, there are other Greek words that seem to specifically mean anger yet are not used in Jn 2:17 probably because the Hebrew word “qin'ah” in Ps 69:9 seems to be defined the same as the Greek “zelos”.

      What I find interesting is the context of Jn 2:17, especially what immediately follows.

      So the Jews answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" But He was speaking of the temple of His body (John 2:18-21 NKJV).

      I don’t think the question took Jesus by surprise any more than what Pharaoh did took Moses by surprise for the same reasons. What Jesus did was to turn the question into a short discourse on the symbolism of the sanctuary with respect to the body of Christ (See 1 Cor 12; 1 Pet 2:4-6) which seems to reinforce my idea that Jesus was enacting a parable about Jesus’ mission rather than getting mad.

      • Great work, Tyler. While some simply refer to Jesus as being "angry," there is so much more to be gleaned from the incident. The Bible tells us that God chose to create man "in our image" and created us male and female. In that relationship is something of the image of God. Perhaps the feelings Jesus had could in some ways be compared to how a husband would feel if his wife was mistreated. He would be jealous for his wife's honor. Perhaps we could say that Jesus was jealous for the Father's honor.

  2. did adam see God face to face before sinning? does it mean that Adam's holiness was the same or lower than that of God the father? are there different levels of holiness?

    • Please read

      (11Pet 1:14 [KJV])
      As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance:

      (1Pet 1:15 [KJV])
      But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;

      (1Pet 1:16 [KJV])
      Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.

      (1John 2:6 [KJV])
      He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.

      (1John 3:7 [KJV])
      Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.

      (1John 3:8 [KJV])
      He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.

      (1John 3:9 [KJV])
      Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

      [Matt 5:48]
      Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

      [Ephesians 4 :10,11]
      And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.

      Here we see that God wants us to be holy and perfect just as He is, and walk as Jesus walked without committing even one sin with the help of the holy spirit and Gods power

      See also

      [1 Thess 3:11]
      Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.2 12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all [men], even as we [do] toward you: 13 To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.

      [ 1 Thess 5:23]
      And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and [I pray God] your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful [is] he that calleth you, who also will do [it].

    • This is a question frequently asked -- are there different kinds/levels of "holiness"? The short answer is, Yes. The source of the problem is that there are two different Hebrew words, with substantially different meanings, which are generally translated into English as "holy."

      The Hebrew root, _qdsh_, is subject to various meanings, depending on the vowels applied.

      For example, in Psalm 99:9 (KJV) reference is made to the "holy hills" _qodesh_ and "God is holy" _qadosh_. This kind of vowel change can indicate a drastic shift in meaning. For example, _qadesh_ is translated in the KJV as "sodomite," traditionally considered to be a male temple prostitute in the service of Astarte. The feminine form _qadeshah_ is a female prostitute, with or without explicit dedication to the service of Astarte. So we must not assume that the holiness of _qodesh_ is on the same level or of the same type as the holiness of _qadosh_.

      In Lev. 19:2 we read: " Ye shall be holy _qadosh_: for I the LORD your God am holy _qadosh_." This is the type or level of holiness represented by the nature of God. In Lev. 16:33 we read: " ...make an atonement for the holy _qodesh_ sanctuary..." This is the kind of holiness represented by dedication to a holy purpose, such as an article of clothing worn by the priest in the worship service or a person dedicated to the sanctuary service, such as Samuel, etc.

      This distinction is blurred in the Greek, both in the Septuagint and the New Testament, where _hagios_ is used for both meanings. The distinction should be kept in mind when reading the Greek (and English), reading into the text by context the meaning made explicit in the Hebrew.

    • No one is holy exactly like God is holy, because God is above all and the Creator of all that is. And His character of self-renouncing love is far above ours.

      But, As Joshua Pennerman has pointed out, God does call us to be holy, like Him. We clearly cannot have His power or nature, but, by the grace of God we can become like Him in character. This is a continually growing process, as we become more and more like Him -- not just here but through eternity -- and it is all by the working of the Spirit of the Lord in our lives.

      Holiness essentially means to be "set apart," and God wants us to be set apart or consecrated to His service. This can only happen if we allow Jesus to be Lord of our lives.

      Adam was innocent, but that doesn't mean that he was exactly like God. I'm wondering why you ask about Adam being holy, when there's no mention of Adam being holy in the Bible. Could you explain?

      • Words mean things, and it is important to make sure we use them correctly lest we give a false meaning.
        Holiness may mean to be "set apart" or it may mean something else. The danger in saying that "Holiness essentially means to be 'set apart'" is in the impression it could give that G-d himself is somehow also set apart--since he is called "holy." The question then arises, set apart by whom for what? We need to understand that he is not "set apart"; He IS. I tried to point out that there are two distinctly different Hebrew words generally translated as "holy" in our English Bibles.
        The root _qdsh_ in Hebrew, as in all cognate Semitic languages, points to purity and goodness. (cf. Gesenius) The "set apart" meaning, while common in the Bible, is a derivation. We must not infer that meaning as applicable to _Melekh ha 'olam_, the King of the Universe.

  3. In pointing out the cleansing and particularly the reaction of those driven from the temple, I think the lesson author is trying to make the case that we should all react similarly to the flash of divinity through humanity. However, read on to page 162 to see who else was there and remained. Their reaction is much different. It may be instructive to ponder the why of that difference.

    • Dana, that’s an interesting observation. It reminds me of the difference between the lost and the saved at the end of time during the Second Advent. Some will say, "Behold, this is our God; We have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the LORD; We have waited for Him; We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation" (Isa 25:9 NKJV). While others will say to the mountains, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev 6:16-17 NKJV).

      It also seems to be the same between the devil and his host and the disciples of Jesus. The disciples considered Jesus their friend and savior while the devils asked the question, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us?” (Mk 1:24 NKJV).

      The thing to me seems to be a matter of how one looks at God, He is either a friend or an enemy and that depends on what we think God is like and how He relates to us.


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