The triple cure – part 2
Jesus Christ is our prophet, priest and king. The priestly office of Christ occupies a major place in the New Testament and this subject includes not only a discussion of the office itself, but also of Christ’s sacrificial death to redeem sinners from their sin.
The key passage in the New Testament, Hebrews 5, lays out the characteristics of a true priest. First, ‘every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God’ (v.1).
Second, such a priest is appointed by God (v.4). Third, the high priest ‘offers gifts and sacrifices for sins’ (v.1). In addition, the priest makes intercession for the people (Hebrews 7:25), blessing them in the name of God (Leviticus 9:22).
Clearly, Jesus Christ is the high priest par excellence. The Old Testament predicted a coming Redeemer. The psalmist records God saying about his chosen one, ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: you are a priest for ever in the order of Melchizedek’ (Psalm 110:4).
Zechariah tells us that the coming Redeemer ‘will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne’ (Zechariah 6:13). There is no doubt, as Berkhof notes (Systematic theology), that ‘the Old Testament priesthood, and particularly the high priest, clearly prefigured a priestly Messiah’.
The author of the book of Hebrews is clearly cognisant of this. Though he is the only New Testament writer who applies the term to our Lord, he repeatedly speaks of Jesus as a priest. We are told ‘to fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess’ (Hebrews 3:1).
We are informed that we ‘have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God’ (Hebrews 4:14). Christ has not taken upon himself ‘the glory of becoming a high priest’ (Hebrews 5:5), for the author applies the words of Psalm 110:4 to him: ‘he has become a high priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek’ (Hebrews 6:20).
Jesus is the kind of high priest ‘who meets our needs, one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people’, for this high priest ‘sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself’ (Hebrews 7:26-27).
Thus Christians are able to take heart, for our high priest, when he had completed his work, ‘sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven’ (Hebrews 8:1).
A great deal of biblical data is devoted to Christ’s work as high priest, but we can only briefly survey it here. The Scriptures point us in several directions.
One aspect of this, which we may easily overlook but is extremely important to notice, is that not only does Christ the high priest offer an all-sufficient sacrifice for sin, but also is himself the all-sufficient sacrifice for sin!
We get a strong hint of this in the Mosaic epoch of biblical revelation, through the nature of the sacrifices that were instituted, and which themselves were mere types and shadows, pointing us to the Messiah yet to come.
The sacrifices offered during this time temporarily expiated the guilt of the sins of the people through the sacrifice of the substitute – in this case, an animal who was offered up to God. But the psalmist, who records for us the prophetic words of the Messiah himself, takes this further: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire … burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, Here I am, I have come; it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart’ (Psalm 40:6-8).
The Messiah indicates that his own coming sacrificial death will supersede the Old Testament sacrificial system. The New Testament quite frequently and powerfully makes this very point – Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death is the fulfilment of the types and shadows of the Mosaic system.
The author of Hebrews, as but one example, makes it very clear that Jesus Christ, through his one sacrifice, has done something that the blood of bulls and goats could never accomplish. While the blood of animals could not take away sin, the blood of the Messiah, on the other hand, is that through which ‘we have been made holy’ (Hebrews 10:10).
This is a major theme throughout the New Testament. Just as Christ’s prophetic work did not cease when he completed his earthly ministry, so neither has his priestly work. Though Christ took his place at the right hand of his Father because his redemptive work was finished (Hebrews 10:12), Jesus Christ presently intercedes for us when we sin (1 John 2:1-2).
While we are correct to focus on what Christ has done for us as our high priest, we must not forget those things he is doing for us even now. He prays for our sanctification (John 17:17). He is now our ‘great high priest who has gone through the heavens’; so too we can now ‘approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need’ (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Even now, our great high priest is building us ‘into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 2:5). What comfort we can take, knowing that our Lord is in heaven, preparing for us to see his glory (John 17:24).
For the great high priest who intercedes for us never sleeps nor wearies, he never prays without full effect, and he is ever mindful of our continuing struggles with the world, the flesh, and the devil (Hebrews 2:18).
Jesus Christ is both the author and the finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). He is our great high priest and the good shepherd, who even now guards his flock. No one shall ever snatch us from his hand (John 10:28-29), and nothing will ever separate us from his love (Romans 8:37-39).
(To be concluded)
© Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals; used with permission