Cities of refuge
God told Moses to designate six cities in the promised land as cities of refuge where someone who killed another accidentally could flee to avoid punishment.
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there. The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment. And the cities that you give shall be your six cities of refuge.”
When someone asked for refuge there would be an inquiry to find out if he was entitled to it.
But if he pushed him suddenly without enmity, or hurled anything on him without lying in wait or used a stone that could cause death, and without seeing him dropped it on him, so that he died, though he was not his enemy and did not seek his harm, then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood, in accordance with these rules. And the congregation shall rescue the manslayer from the hand of the avenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to his city of refuge to which he had fled, and he shall live in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.
But if the manslayer shall at any time go beyond the boundaries of his city of refuge to which he fled, and the avenger of blood finds him outside the boundaries of his city of refuge, and the avenger of blood kills the manslayer, he shall not be guilty of blood.
The manslayer was not entirely free. He had to stay in the city where he sought refuge until the high priest died. It was the high priest’s death that gave him full liberty.
He must remain in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest, but after the death of the high priest the manslayer may return to the land of his possession.
We Christians have a high priest, Jesus Christ. His death freed us from our sins and gave us access to God.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
His death freed us from our sins and gave us access to God. But what happened to those who lived before his death and yet believed in him?
The Old Testament speaks of all who die, good and bad alike, going to a place called Sheol. In the New Testament this place is called Hades. Jesus described what Hades was like:
There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.
The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.”
But Abraham said, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.”
And he said, “Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.”
But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”
And he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”
He said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
(Some people think this is a parable. If you are one of them I suggest you read this:
Lazarus and Abraham were in Hades just as the rich man was but were in a different part where they didn’t have to endure suffering. The first indication of the change made by the death of Jesus was in his promise to the thief who repented.
He said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The death of our high priest freed the souls of the righteous dead from their confinement in Hades and allowed them to enter Paradise to be in the presence of God. When Christians die we go directly to Paradise to be with Jesus and wait for the resurrection of our bodies.