Jesus Christ as Priest
Copyright 2010 by Raul E. Lopez, MD, MDiv
If sin is the transgression of the law, righteousness is the doing of genuine good works. Righteousness is not just lack of sin, it is the accumulation of favor. The result of sin is the accumulation of a debt. A person who refrains from sinning is not accumulating favor, he simply refrains from accumulating debt. However, all of man's actions leave him more and more indebted to God. Paul, quoting Psalm 14:1-3 says "there is none righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:10). In a way, righteousness is like spiritual energy. The second law of thermodynamics states that every action causes a degradation in the amount of available energy. Every metabolic process in our bodies is subject to this degradation of energy. We must constantly feed on other living creatures to replenish this lost energy. As consumers of spiritual energy we must likewise tap into an external source of righteousness in order to make spiritual life possible. Jesus Christ provides righteousness through His suffering and death on the cross. Since He was perfect He had no sin debt of His own to pay and He did not deserve to die. Consequently this undeserved punishment produces a positive treasury of merit which is available to be applied against the sin debt of anyone who asks in faith. Paul says "for by grace [(as a gift)] are ye saved, through faith" (Ephesians 2:8 term in parenthesis added). Jesus uses the physical task of food intake to illustrate this transaction of salvation. He says "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." (John 6:48-51). The proof that God accepted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is His entrance into the presence of God. He is both the sacrifice and the priest. The writer of Hebrews says "But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:12).
The Old Testament sacrificial system used the biological food chain and the human need for metabolic energy to teach mankind his need for spiritual food. The result of participating in the sacrificial system was access to the vicinity of the presence of God in the temple. Once a year the high priest, the representative of the people, could enter into the direct presence of the indwelling glory of God in the temple after offering the appropriate sacrifices. This indwelling glory took the form of a cloud which resided over the ark of the covenant. "And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy [place] within the vail before the mercy seat, which [is] upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat". (Leviticus 16:2). In its expanded form it became the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night which led the children of Israel during their wanderings in the wilderness. It was externally visible during the dedication of the tabernacle: "Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:34-35).
It also filled the temple when that structure was dedicated by Solomon: "And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy [place], that the cloud filled the house of the LORD, So that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD. Then spake Solomon, The LORD said that he would dwell in the thick darkness. I have surely built thee an house to dwell in, a settled place for thee to abide in for ever. And the king turned his face about, and blessed all the congregation of Israel: (and all the congregation of Israel stood;) (I Kings:10-14).
The glory of the Lord was removed from the temple shortly before its destruction by the Babylonians. Ezekiel described its departure in a series of astonishing visions (Ezekiel 1, 3, 8, 10). This cloud is the same as the smoke which filled the heavenly temple in the vision where Isaiah saw the Lord (Isaiah 6:4). It is also the same as the cloud which received Jesus out of the sight of the apostles at the ascension (Acts 1:9) and which returns with Him at His second coming (Matthew 24:30, Revelation 14:14).
The laws regulating this sacrificial system made up the core of what is called the ceremonial law. It is in the ceremonial law where the distinction between Israel and the church exists. The author of Hebrews states that the Old Testament system was "the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, 'See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain'" (Hebrews. 8:5 nkjv) and "It was symbolic for the present time" (v. 9). and "For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things" (10:1). The Old Testament or old covenant, is, therefore, a copy, a shadow, and a symbol of the new covenant which would follow. This symbolism lies in the physical nature of the ritual of the Old Testament religion. Again the author of Hebrew states "For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us" (Hebrews 9:24 nkjv). Therefore, the rituals of the Old Testament religion is a religion based on physical symbols which are copies, and shadows of spiritual truth and uses them to teach us about such heavenly truth.
Even the Old Testament made a distinction between the symbolic ceremonial law and the more important moral law. Solomon says that God does not accept the sacrifice (ceremony) of the wicked (morality). "The sacrifice of the wicked [is] abomination: how much more, [when] he bringeth it with a wicked mind?" (Proverbs 21:27). God told Saul that to obey (morality) is better than sacrifice (ceremony), "And Samuel said, Hath the LORD [as great] delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey [is] better than sacrifice, [and] to hearken than the fat of rams." (I Samuel 15:22) He also told Israel that he hated their sacrifices because of their disobedience "I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept [them]: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream." (Amos 5:21-24). In contrast God desires right behavior more than ceremonial worship. "For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:6).
I propose that the correct view of the relationship between Israel and the Church, and of the Old and the New Testaments is that God has one unified plan for mankind with two different aspects, a physical and a spiritual aspect. This is consistent with the nature of man himself. Man is both a physical and a spiritual being. Both are essential to his nature. A purely physical being is an animal. A purely spiritual being is an angel or a demon. We are neither animals nor angels. If we were angels God would not resurrect our bodies and create for us a new heaven and a new Earth. This ability of God's creation to teach spiritual truth is not confined to the symbols of the Old Testament worship but is an intrinsic property of all of God's physical creation.
God has revealed himself through three channels. These three channels are the natural creation, the image of God in man, and the person of Jesus Christ. Each channel is a part of God's kingdom and can be seen in the 24th Psalm.
1 [A Psalm of David.] The earth [is] the LORD'S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
2 For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.
3 Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place?
4 He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.
5 He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
6 This [is] the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah.
7 Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.
8 Who [is] this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift [them] up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.
10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he [is] the King of glory. Selah.
The first two verses talk about God's natural creation, the resources of His kingdom. The next four verses speak of the people of the kingdom, and the last four verses climax with the King, Jesus Christ. The fact that man and the natural creation have been designed in a way which reveals God can be seen in the Lord's frequent use of parables from the natural and social creation. David said "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge." (Psalm 19:1-2). Isaiah heard the Seraphim say "Holy holy holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!" (Isaiah 6:3). Paul states that "that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed [it] unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:" (Romans 1:19-20). Of man, God says, "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness:" (Genesis 1:26).
The Bible uses many terms from nature or society, terms such as life, light, the word, the Son, the bride of Christ, kingdom of God, spirit (wind), soul (breath), the heart, the flesh, heaven (the sky), the lake of fire. It does so because God's creation contains an indirect revelation of God which can point us to His most perfect revelation, His Son, Jesus Christ. This indirect revelation is often found as principles for Christian living. Therefore, for example, the earthly father to son relationship shares some essential characteristics with the Father to Son relationship in the trinity, and with the God to man relationship. In this example we see that when the Bible speaks about parenting, which is one aspect of our earthly Christian life, it is teaching us, indirectly, about our relationship with God. Therefore, the purpose of God's physical creation, including man's own physical nature and his society, is to serve as a vehicle to teach spiritual principles.
We cannot understand spiritual truth without first developing a concept of reality based on our interaction with the created world. Jesus Christ told Nicodemus, "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you [of] heavenly things?" (John 3:12). That conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus is full of physical imagery: birth, water, spirit (wind), the serpent in the wilderness, life, light, darkness. In fact, it seems that our physical nature allows us to understand God to a degree that is impossible for the angels. Unlike the angels, who are called God's "ministering spirits" we are called the "children of God". A child understands his father better than a servant does his master. We have the ability to reproduce and to exert dominion over the work of God's hands, which is something the angels cannot do. The Old Testament worship is designed to enhance and focus these natural teachings. The tabernacle had ten items of furniture which served as the heart of this symbolism.
These two aspects of God's plan, the physical and the spiritual are not mutually exclusive, but, rather, complementary. There is no contradiction between the Old and the New Testament religion. A person could easily be a Christian and a practicing Jew at the same time. It seems that many of the early Christians practiced both. Notice that Paul circumcised Timothy who was part Jew, and Paul followed Jewish practices when he took a Jewish Nazarite vow which required offering a sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem. While there, Paul accepted the observation made by James that Paul kept all the points of the ceremonial law even though he taught that gentiles did not have to follow it. In Acts 21 it says:
20 And when they heard [it], they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:
21 And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise [their] children, neither to walk after the customs.
22 What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come.
23 Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them;
24 Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave [their] heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but [that] thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.
25 As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written [and] concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from [things] offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.
26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.
However, the heart of Mosaic Judaism is temple worship and the sacrificial system. This was open only to natural Jews, the descendants of Jacob, just like the priesthood was open only to the descendants of Aaron. Gentiles believers were not to become Jews. Paul says "But God has distribute to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be uncircumcised. . . . Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called" (I Corinthians 7:17-18, 19).
Christian Jews gradually stopped practicing Judaism because after the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans it became impossible to practice true Mosaic Judaism. Even the dietary law and the festivals are all associated with temple sacrifices. What arose instead was a man made religion which has a relationship to the Old Testament similar to that which Roman Catholicism has to the New Testament. This religion is modern Rabbinical Judaism which is the continuation and further development of old Pharisaic Judaism. Pharisaic Judaism was already in itself a reaction to the destruction of the first temple by the Babylonians. It replaces the temple sacrifices with good works. It substitutes a works salvation for the original religion based on salvation by faith in the substitutionary sacrifice symbolized by those performed in the temple and provided by God. Consequently, true temple based Mosaic Judaism was no longer an option for any Jews because of the destruction of the temple and Christian Jews did not practice Rabbinical Judaism because this is a false religion. Even the Synagogue is a creation of Rabbinical Judaism so that was also abandoned by Christian Jews.
This destruction of the temple was prophesied by Jesus Christ. "His disciples came to Him to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (Matthew 24:2 nkjv). The writer of Hebrew says "For the priesthood being changed [(by Christ)], of necessity there is also a change of the law" (Hebrews 7:12 nkjv, words in parentheses added) and "For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness" (Hebrews 7:18). The law being spoken of here is the ceremonial law, particularly that associated with the temple worship, "Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary" (Hebrews 9:1 nkjv) and "It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation" (Hebrews 9:9-10 nkjv).
If any part of the law has become obsolete, it would be this part of the Old Testament service. Even so, even though Paul seems to strongly discourages gentiles from observing the ceremonial law, the New Testament does not seem to prohibit racial Jews (biological descendants of Abraham through Jacob) from continuing to observe those parts of the ceremonial law which can be observed without temple worship. Furthermore, it seems that during the millennium the temple worship with its sacrifices is to be restored, although with somewhat different laws. This will reflect the return of the glory of the Lord to the temple in the form of Jesus Christ. Ezekiel says "And the glory of the Lord came into the temple by way of the gate which faces toward the east" (Ezekiel 43:4). The glory of the Lord returns in a way which is "like the appearance of the vision which I saw [previously]" (Ezekiel 43:3). In the earlier visions the glory of the Lord was removed from the temple and transported to a vehicle composed of "a throne in appearance like a sapphire stone: on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it" (Ezekiel 1:26) which was carried by four living creatures or cherubs whose appearance is similar to the four living creatures of the book of revelation (Revelation 4:6-8). The man is described in a way reminiscent of the description of Jesus Christ by John at the opening of the Apocalypse. Eventually the Man and the four Cherubim depart from the mount of Olives. Jesus also ascended from the Mount of Olives many years later. Therefore, it seems that the pre-incarnate Son of God came to remove the indwelling glory of the Lord from the temple, and He will return to bring the glory back.
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