Semiotics For Mere Mortals (Hapax Legomenon part 1)

Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols. What they mean to us (as well as how) as conscious, cognizant human beings. This is the first in a series that seeks to illustrate the primacy and…uniqueness of Jesus as Savior. By the way, the phrase hapax legomenon refers to a word that only ever appeared one time in history.

I’ve always been interested in symbolism. Allegories, parallels. Parables (from the Greek parabola: essentially, “something thrown alongside”). How can you be talking about one thing and have it mean something deeper? Sometimes, something else entirely? It extends into logos and logo design. Flags, too. How can an entire country be represented by a flag? Did you ever think of that? The study of flags, by the way is called vexillology. Pretty cool stuff, I’d say. I think it is. Forgive me, as you read on, if I wax a little obscure. Follow me here.

The root word of vexillology—the study of flags—is veil. A covering. Keep this in mind.

Consider this quote from Andrew Murray’s excellent book The Power of the Blood of Jesus:

“All that was symbolical has passed away, and the deep spiritual truths expressed by symbol are unveiled.”

Mr. Murray (late 19th, early 20th century South African author and theologian) is talking about what happened after Jesus’ death. The children of Israel were commanded by God to sacrifice a lamb at the Passover meal (see Exodus 12:21-28), the first of which took place in Egypt, mere hours from their Exodus–the deliverance from their slavery to the Egyptians. With reference to that, as a Christian I will say this: Jesus is that “lamb” (Revelation 5:12 7:9, 12:11, etc.). See that? There you have it: symbolism. Is Jesus literally a lamb? A sheep with wool and a sweet little face? “Baa, Baa” and all that? No. He’s a human who also happens to be God Himself. Yet the lamb is symbolic of His gentleness and willingness to be led “as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7). These broad and deep theological topics might seem obscure and dim and rife with double meaning but that’s normal. We are mortal, He’s not. God’s “ways are higher than [our] ways and His] thoughts higher than [our] thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9). After the lamb was killed for the Passover, the families who partook of the meat were then to wipe the blood of the lamb over the doorframe of the house and remain inside while the Lord passed through (12:22-23) so as to be safe from His wrath. The act of Jesus’ sacrificial death was foretold, presaged by the Exodus story. The story of the Israelites’ escape from bondage (they were enslaved for 400 years), while true, is also an allegory, a parallel of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Delivering us from a lifetime (read:” eternity) of indentured servitude.

Now, consider again the quote from Andrew Murray: “All that was symbolical has passed away, and the deep spiritual truths expressed by symbol are unveiled.”

All that was symbolical has passed away.

All of the symbolism from the Old Testament required to contain such a seismic event as Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were rendered superfluous, or unneeded, by those very events: Jesus’ life. His death. And His resurrection. All of which are part of Him. He’s wonderful.

When Jesus died, “the sun was darkened” (Luke 23:45). That’s what it says and as interesting as that may be, I’m more interested in the rest of that verse. Which says, “and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst (torn in half down the middle).” It just happened (I’m guessing an angel did it, maybe the Holy Spirit). The veil of the temple was an ornate, thickly (four inches—the width of a man’s hand) woven cloth extending from ceiling to floor (sixty feet high!), separating the two chambers of the temple. The inner chamber where God dwelt–where no one but the high priest was allowed under threat of death–was now open to the outer chamber. See that? The veil was torn. It wasn’t necessary anymore. The symbolism has turned into actuality. When Jesus died, He made it possible for us to go in unto God and know Him as no one in history ever had. Or was even able, for that matter. To truly know Him, not just know about Him. This isn’t to say that those in the Old Testament didn’t know God. Just not like we can. Paul says that our “body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you” (1 Corinthians 6:19). While in Athens, Paul makes this declaration: “God…is Lord of Heaven and earth [and He] dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24). Jesus, because of His sacrifice and resurrection, makes it possible for us to become sons and daughters of God and vessels into which He can put His very Spirit. This one-of-a-kind relationship has been made possible by our one-of-a-kind Savior.

And now, very simply, a verse from Song of Solomon (2:4), “He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner (i.e., flag) over me was love” (emphasis mine). This is how it is. Jesus loves us with “an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). When we believe on and in Jesus, He brings us in and wraps us in His love. It’s reality. No symbols or signs or allegorical stories can compare. It’s just you. And Him. Find it out for yourself. “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 8:10)

“To see Thy power and Thy glory, so as I have seen Thee in the sanctuary.” (Psalm 63:2)

What do you think? Lemme know! I'd love to talk.

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