“Among those who approach me, I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people, I will be honored.”
– Leviticus 10:3
Why is communion so dangerous? Paul says the following:
So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.
– 1 Corinthians 11:27
Communion is an extensively practiced tradition in Christianity, and is a constant in almost every denomination. It holds great importance to many, and the apostles viewed it as a very special event. I’ve written about Communion in the Old Testament, and believe there is a lot of eternal meaning behind it besides simply eating some bread and drinking some wine. But why is it dangerous?
Paul’s verse merely points out the fact that it’s dangerous, but it doesn’t give us the why. What does unworthiness look like for us, if we’re all sinners anyway, and therefore are unworthy by nature? What is the consequence for sinning against the body and blood of the Lord? Why do some pastors ask that unbelievers not partake in communion? What does Moses have to do with communion and fire?
The Series of Fire
This is Part 2 of my Series of Fire that focuses on three of the most important uses of fire in the Bible: Baptism, Communion, and the image of God & Man. This post is all about communion, and how it relates to fire. If you’ve missed Part 1, you can read it here. In this post, I’m going to break down Moses’ experience with communion, and how he uniquely experienced the dangers and death surrounding God’s sacred fire, so that we can have an excellent example of what Paul means by unworthiness.
Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command.
So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.
– Leviticus 10:1-2
This is a fatal and stunning start to a chapter in Leviticus. God quickly establishes the danger of unworthiness. Moses has an immediate response:
Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said:
‘Among those who approach me, I will be proved holy; in the sight of all the people, I will be honored.'”
Aaron remained silent.
– Leviticus 10:3
When Moses says “this is what the Lord spoke of,” take note that he’s not quoting any previous scripture. He’s quoting from experience and divine revelation, which seem obvious to us today in hindsight, considering all of the rules and regulations God laid out for the Israelites to follow. This revelation from God is the center-point of Paul’s warning about communion. God will be proved holy when approached in an unworthy manner. This is the power of God’s fire, and the consequence of unfamiliar fire.
I said that Moses was speaking from experience and divine revelation. When we encounter biblical quotations that don’t come from anywhere directly, it can often be found in many ways through earlier experiences. In this case, Moses has prior experience with the dangers of communing with God’s fire. We’re going to spend most of our time looking at Moses’ communion. This will show how Moses knew that Aaron’s sons were experiencing the same thing, but unworthily as Paul would put it.
Moses & Communion
In my post, Communion in the Old Testament (which I encourage you to read if you’d like a more in-depth look), I defined communion as an event that involves three things:
- Being present with a mediator
- Remembering that we live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God
- Remembering a covenant with God
In my Old Testament post, I identified Abraham as having communion through Melchizedek, and fulfilling these three requirements. How does Moses fit into this? When does Moses possibly fulfill these requirements? Let’s go through each of the three points.
Being present with a mediator
The Israelites were afraid of God, and rightly so. Moses is the mediator between God and man for this reason. Read what they say to him after the ten commandments are given:
“The Lord our God has shown us his glory and his majesty, and we have heard his voice from the fire. Today we have seen that a person can live even if God speaks with them. But now, why should we die? This great fire will consume us, and we will die if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer. For what mortal has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived? Go near and listen to all that the Lord our God says. Then tell us whatever the Lord our God tells you. We will listen and obey.”
– Deuteronomy 5:24-27
This was the easy one. Let’s take a look at the next tenants of communion:
Remembering that we live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God
Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.
– Exodus 24:9-11
This has always been such an astounding passage to me. Moses and the elders saw God. They ate and drank in the presence of God himself. This fulfills #2, remembering that we live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. How does it fulfill this requirement? Let’s answer another question first.
Why were they allowed to see God? Isn’t this a clear contradiction of scripture? Not so far away in another passage does God say to Moses:
“You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
– Exodus 33:20
And this is very true. No one can see God the Father and live. In fact, no one can even come to the Father except through the Son. So how does Moses’ experience work? Jesus explains:
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
– John 14:6-7
The Pre-Incarnate Christ, something that I’ve covered a little in another post, is evidenced by Moses and the Elders being able to see God in a very special way. To eat with Jesus is to eat with the Father. To know Jesus is to know the Father. To see Jesus is to see the Father.
We live and breathe by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. It is Jesus himself that keeps Moses and the Elders alive. It is not our carefulness, not our righteousness, not our ability to avert our eyes when God’s mere presence could kill us. Jacob acknowledges this when he see’s the Father through the Pre-Incarnate Jesus:
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
– Genesis 32:30
Remembering a covenant with God
Then Moses took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.”
Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
– Exodus 24:5-7
In this passage, Moses has the blood of the covenant prepared from sacrifices, and everyone agrees to this covenant. Sound familiar? Moses is almost directly quoting Jesus during the Last Supper. This blood, poured out through sacrifice, represents the covenant. And with this, we’ve completed all three of the requirements for Moses’ communion: Moses as the mediator, the elders seeing God and living, and the blood of the covenant used in remembrance of the event.
Communion & Fire
Moses’ experience communing with God exemplifies such an astounding act of faith. If anyone was sitting at that table in Exodus 24:9 in an unworthy manner, God would be proved holy. But the message for us isn’t about being afraid of practicing the Judaic law in the correct manner. The message is about our attempts in life to supplant our precious time with God. Nadab and Abihu had such a unique responsibility, and they gave up the regulations to make it easier. They wanted their own fire to be used. They wanted to do it their way.
Communing with God is something we as Christians can uniquely partake in. When Paul talks about the danger, we’re not going to get burned up in the literal sense. Imagine the Old Testament showing the reality of what our soul is going through every time we sin. Every time we disobey God, he must be proved holy.
Though this seems grim, the blessing and grace we have is that the same consequences Nadab and Abihu faced, we will not face if we follow Christ. You see, it was Jesus who was burned by this fire of communion. It was Jesus who appeared before God in an unworthy manner by becoming sin itself:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
– Matthew 27:46
He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
– Isaiah 53:5
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”
– Galatians 3:13
God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
– 2 Corinthians 5:21
Jesus suffered and died because we approach God in an unworthy manner with our sin, and God will be proved holy. But he was raised from the dead so that we could live as well. The next time you commune with God through prayer, traditional communion, or another way, do not forget what Jesus has suffered because of your own fire, or your unworthiness. Stop bringing your own fire in idolatry to God like Nadab and Abihu, and start looking to God’s fire like the Thessalonians, look to the Messiah:
They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
– 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10