It was a cool summer afternoon as my brother, Johnny, and I ran around the block imaging forth great adventures of saving the world, conquering empires, and defeating evil. I, 7 years old at the time, was leading the commands and commissioning what in my mind seemed to be thousands of troops into the fiercest battle the world had ever seen. My right hand man, Johnny, was 5 years old and following my every endeavor. Conquest was the aim of our sacrificial battle and we were willing to give our lives for the cause of bringing peace, harmony, and justice to the broken world. Our weapons consisted of sticks made into grenade launchers, machine guns, and lethal energized battle swords. As commander and chief I managed the strongest and most powerful weapon known to man. Our adventures were epic in proportion, but was cut short by the tantalizing intrusion of the neighborhood bully.
Scottie infiltrated our imaginary world and broke the rhythm and rhyme that surrounded the existence of our conquest. He came into our glared perspective and shattered our hopes and dreams bottled up in our pursuit toward saving humanity. No longer did our weapons yield power or fear, but rather became mere sticks and branches from the surrounding trees. The invasion into our world not only broke our power to conquer but introduced anxiety, uneasiness, and trepidation. Scottie cornered us while outweighing us by 80 pounds and more than doubling our age. Hope was lost and my only concern was to protect my younger brother. How could I absorb majority of the force to save him from such destruction, calamity, and harm. The sun seemed to darken as the reality of defeat crept closer with every step Scottie took toward my brother and I.
Just prior to bracing myself for impact I heard the greatest sound that I have heard up to that point in my life — my oldest brother’s voice. Though my brother, Robert, was a few years younger than the neighborhood bully he was sculpted and rooted like a tree in the Evergreens. To this day I am not sure if it was my “little brother” perspective or the reality to the situation. Scottie took the first jab at my brother but it was down hill from there from him. My brother mauled him like a lion hunting a zebra. Scottie ate everything from the gravel to the fence post. It was rewarding and horrendous to see my brother man handle a kid two years his age. Afterwards the confidence, certainty, and assurance I had in my brother to protect me was unmeasurable.
Jesus as Priest:
Within redemptive history the apex of restoration found its fulfillment in the work accomplished upon the cross and the power of the resurrection through the God-man Jesus Christ. Therefore there is “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 ESV). The anointed one is the “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5 – 6 ESV). The person and work of Jesus has fulfilled the penalty of sin and has satisfied the wrath of God. Jesus understood that “his death was not incidental to his mission [but rather] . . . central to both His identity and His purpose on earth.”1 This reality is the pinnacle to the faith behind Christianity and the driving force behind Christian living.
How does Jesus accomplish this? What role does He play in fulfilling the requirement of righteousness?
In order to understand Jesus’ seat of office as priest we must be able to understand the levitical procedure in obtaining righteousness. The priest played a role as mediator between Israel and God. In this role “they ‘sanctified’ the people or made them acceptable to come into God’s presence, albeit in a limited way during the Old Testament period.”2 Jesus enters into this office and becomes the perfect high priest, or mediator, to which He offered up a sacrifice for the sins of the world and intercedes on their behalf to the Creator God. Hebrews 7:26 – 28 ESV marks this reality by saying:
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted about the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up Himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
The priest’s duty was to maintain, control, and uphold the standard of sacrificial offering devoted to the Creator God. Offerings were necessary during the Old Testament due to the sinfulness and depravity of man. The standard of sacrifice “were to be valuable in themselves and costly to the one giving them. The sacrifice was a loss of goods but also a destruction of life.”3 The sacrificial system was to teach Israel, as well as Christians today, “that sin brings death, and that only shed blood brings atonement.”4 The priestly duties, amongst others, were to offer sacrifices for God’s people as well as intercede on the peoples behalf to God the Father. In the person of Christ Jesus we see those things exercised and fulfilled.
The high priest’s duty was to oversee the holiness of Israel in accordance to the standard and regulation of God’s decrees. God understood that Israel, and essentially mankind, was bent toward sinfulness and that the sacrificial offering for the atonement of sin would continue. “No immediate end would come to this bloody procession of sin and sacrifice, . . [therefore] God tells the priest the fire on the altar must never go out.”5 The irony of this reality is that the law exposes mankind’s innate bent toward sinfulness, yet the “commands to offer sacrifices of atonement prepare the way for the solution to our sin — Christ!”6
In the institution of the Levitical system God foreknew and foresaw that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ESV). These systems were merely “shadows of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near” Hebrews 10:1 ESV). These things were symbolic to the reality of what Christ would and has accomplished on the cross. Ultimately, Jesus’s sacrifice “demonstrates not only the bankruptcy of the world, but it also reveals the character of God and of His Kingdom. Jesus’s death was not a failure. By submitting to deat as penalty, He broke its hold on Him and on us.”7 In the person of Christ He has become “both the sacrifice and the priest who offered the sacrifice.”8 Now in what the blood of bulls and goats were not able to accomplish He has fulfilled in Himself by the atoning work of the cross.
In Christ’s atoning work, which refers “to reconciliation, bringing people to oneness, at-one-ment,”9 there is a large array of accomplishments. The first key component is expiation. Expiation is the reality that Christ “bore our sins, took them on Himself, and therefore did away with them.”10 John the Baptist connects the Issainic implications by referencing Christ as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 ESV). The author of the book of Hebrews connects Christ as “having been offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28 ESV). The Apostle Peter continues with that same concept by insinuating that Jesus “Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV). Expiation is the understanding that Christ “took the full penalty that we owed God, the penalty of death . . . [and] wiped our slate clean.”11 As our high priest Christ accomplishes what we were not and could not accomplish on our own.
The second fundamental principle accomplished by the atoning work of Christ is propitiation. Propitiation is the “sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath toward us into favor.”12 Prior to the priestly sacrifice of Christ having any effect on humanity’s “subjective consciousness, it first had an effect on God and His relation to the sinners He planned to redeem.”13 The cross changed the trajectory of God’s wrath aimed toward humanity and unleashed it’s vengeance upon Christ; the sacrificial Lamb.
The third essential component to the atoning work of Christ as Priest is reconciliation. Expiation explains that Christ becomes “sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). Propitiation is Christ taking on God’s wrath on our behalf that we may walk in favor with Him. Reconciliation is the reality that humanity and the Creator are “no longer enemies.”14 The work of the cross “reconciled us to [God] and [He] gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18 ESV). In light of this reconciled life God no longer calls us “servants, for the servant does not know what His master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:16 ESV).
The final principle within the outworking of the atonement is redemption. Redemption is the buying back of something lost. The work of the cross “was an act of great value, and it purchased for Him a people of His own possession.”15 The purpose of Christ’s journey into creation was “to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 ESV). As Priest Jesus’ sacrificial service bought back a chosen race to which He has made His own.
Hebrews 7:25 ESV, “25 Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”
Another role as Priest is that Christ continuously makes intercessory prayers for the saints. As the Savior of the world “He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25 ESV). His place after the ascension “is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34 ESV). As our High Priest “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1 ESV). The person of Christ remains human and in that nature, dwelling with the Creator God, He is able “to sympathize or empathize, to feel our feelings, to actually suffer our sufferings. He has also undergone all our temptations. So among all the members of the Trinity, He is able to be a Priest: to make sacrifice, and also to intercede.”16 As He intercedes on our behalf “He always prays for us according to the Father’s will, so we can know that His requests will be granted.”17 These intercessory prayers are for our good so that we may be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29 ESV).
Just as my brother came to take the shots I should have taken and obtain the victory that I could have never been able to achieve, Jesus — being our High Priest — gave us Himself as the ultimate sacrifice and achieved salvation for the world. The Son of God did not “have to die despite God’s love; He had to die because of God’s love. And it had to be this way because all life-changing love is substitutionary sacrifice.”18 To be able to embrace the fullness of what Christ has accomplished on the cross and to understand the intimate relationship with now have with God the Father we must realize that it “is beyond the power of any one of us. And one must see and bow to this before one can share the biblical faith in God’s grace.”19
In the midst of our society’s brokenness, “there simply can be no good news if God does not break in with kingly authority. If God does not come with sovereign rights as King of the universe, there will be only hopelessness in this world.”20 Praise be to God whom in His infinite mercy gave His Son as a sacrificial offering to atone for the sins of the world. The High Priest, Jesus Christ, not only restores our relationship with the Creator God by His blood, but He stands at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf. The purpose to which the Gospel brings forth “eternal life to light is that it makes crystal-clear why eternal life is possible (the death and resurrection of Jesus) and what eternal life will be (life with the risen Christ).”21
1 Timothy Keller. Jesus the King: Understanding The Life and Death of The Son of God (New York: Riverhead Books, 2011), 153.
2 Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 626.
3 Mark Dever. The Message of the Old Testament (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 122.
5 Ibid., 124.
6 Ibid., 127.
7 Keller, 112.
8 Grudem, 626.
9 John M. Frame. Systematic Theology: And Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2013), 901.
10 Ibid., 902.
12 Grudem, 575.
14 Frame, 903.
16 Ibid., 907.
17 Grudem, 628.
18 Keller, 154.
19 J. I. Packer. Knowing God (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 1993), 131.
20 John Piper. God is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 27.
21 Ibid., 33.