The work of the High Priest in the Old Testament included obedience, sacrifice and intercession.
Obedience in General. The gifts offered by the priests, as distinct from the sacrifices, spoke of simple acts of piety towards God and good-will toward men. The meat-offering spoke of the obedience which pervaded the whole of our Lord’s sufferings and made them “a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour”. He yielded perfect obedience to the first table of the law. At 12 years he appeared in the temple and declared God’s word. At the end of His work he said, “I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world” (John 17:6). Zeal in cleansing the temple, submission in fulfilling all righteousness, regularity in attending the appointed means, the spirit of prayer for whole nights, all speak of that conformity.
Christ also yielded perfect conformity to the second table of the law. He was subject to His parents, though infinitely superior to them, and He remembered His mother at the cross. He taught submission to church rulers in so far as they were teaching the Word (Matt 23:2). As a master, He was kind – His disciples lacked nothing. As a teacher, “never man spake like this man”. His benevolence reached to all in healing and feeding. He never did anything morally evil. Zeal for God’s honour and love for souls were not quenched by earthly affliction and floods of God’s wrath. His meat was to do His Father’s will and finish His work.
The fact that we have duties to perform which Jesus did not have – such as repentance, and confession of sin – does not imply any lack on His part but merely highlights the sinfulness of man and the sinlessness of Jesus.
The dignity of His obedience is related to the dignity of the person of Christ. He obeyed the law in His human nature, but His obedience was that of a divine person. He exercised His human will, but His whole service was according to His will as God. This embraced His coming into this world, and every act as man was diffused with the will of God, the righteousness wrought out being therefore the righteousness of God (Rom 3:21,22).
The sacrifice of Christ. The first Adam had simply to obey the law but the second Adam had also to render satisfaction for sin. This was the commandment He had received from the Father (John 14:31). All the sufferings which Christ endured as the Man of sorrows culminated in His offering a sacrifice for sin. He endured all the penal evil contained in the curse – all the evil which those for whom He was surety must have suffered apart from His sacrifice. Absent from Christ’s sufferings were some of the ingredients in the sufferings of wicked men, such as remorse, and the pain arising from pride, envy and malice. The wicked cannot endure infinite punishment for a limited period, so they must bear punishment for ever. Jesus’ sufferings were limited in duration but, due to infinite dignity, were of infinite efficacy.
Notice the great diversity of His sufferings. Among His mean external circumstances were: the poverty of those known as His parents, His birth in a stable, His work as a carpenter, His dependence on others for hospitality. Bodily sufferings attended Him almost throughout: hunger, thirst, ignominious death. He was taunted, scourged and mocked; His “I thirst” was answered with vinegar; He cried, “I am poured out like water”. Though holy, He was called gluttonous; though the destroyer of the devil, He was called the one whose power came from the devil, “All that see Me laugh Me to scorn”. He was reproached in His character as a teacher: “Lord, who hath believed our report?” And as a King He received the crown of thorns and the purple robe and the mocking cry of allegiance: “Hail, king of the Jews”. “Reproach hath broke My heart” (Ps 69:20).
He was grieved by the unbelief of man and therefore wept over Jerusalem. He suffered from every quarter. Though a great benefactor, He received ingratitude from all ranks: “Why do the heathen rage, and the people…? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers.” There were enemies open and concealed. Satan attacked Him, both in the wilderness and in the garden, as he had attacked the first Adam. “The prince of this world cometh”, but it was “to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:27,28). But His most severe sufferings were those of His soul at the hand of God as judge. There were two elements in this: (1) pain from God’s judicial wrath, (2) loss of the sense of His Father’s favour. He was under the curse of the broken law all His days. When He reached years of discretion, He became aware of it and was thus “a man of sorrows”. He had to bear this divine anger for a time, and in the garden He was “exceeding sorrowful unto death”. Here the flame of God’s wrath melted His soul.
Punishment for sin effects a sense of mental and physical pain and a punishment of loss. Christ lost the sense of His Father’s presence, but the love of the Father was not abated. Indeed, the greater the evidence of Jesus’ obedience, the greater was the love of the Father to Him (John 10:17). “Therefore doth My Father love Me because I lay down My life that I might take it again.” The Father still upheld Him as His elect One (Is 42:1), but Christ suffered, for a season, total suspension of the sensible evidences and experience of His Father’s love: “Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” His untainted purity and delight in His Father’s presence must be realised before we can begin to comprehend what He endured. It was necessary that He should die. The curse of sin was evidenced by His death on the cross, and here was public evidence of God’s displeasure (Rom 8:3). The Romans used the cross for the punishment of slaves, but this was the Lord of glory.
Christ’s obedience in offering Himself as a sacrifice for sin. He provided a sin-offering for the people in obedience to His Father’s will. Under the Old Testament ceremonial, the people provided many of the sacrifices. Christ was given a body by His Father and He offered it for our redemption. He “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself”. In the Old Testament a time and a place for sacrifice was settled by God, and the priest had to see that these were observed. So Christ attended as a priest to “his hour”, and to the place and manner of the sacrifice as laid down in the law and the prophets. He departed from the mob at Nazareth because His time was not yet come, and when His time did come, He “steadfastly set His face to go up to Jerusalem”, the place of His death. “That the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do”.
As a priest He devoted Himself to God as a sacrifice for sin. He did so from eternity, but in time His human will was involved. It was at one with His divine will – this was an act of His person. Having taken the form of a servant, He did not seek to escape. He alludes to the Hebrew servant at the jubilee: “Sacrifice and offering Thou didst not desire; Mine ears hast Thou opened”. As a priest He actually offered Himself to God a sacrifice for sin. All the graces of the Spirit were poured out: faith, obedience, meekness – “who in the days of His flesh was heard in that He feared” (Heb 5:7). This rendered His sacrifice an offering to God “for a sweet smelling savour”.
How did Christ glorify God in suffering the desertion of His Father? He maintained His covenant interest in God: “My God . . . “. He derived comfort from the holiness of God: “But Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel”. He encouraged Himself under trial with the covenant faithfulness of God in the past: “Our Fathers hoped in Thee”, and He applies this to Himself: “I was cast upon Thee from the womb; Thou art My God from My mother’s belly”. He comforted Himself with the prospect of the reward: “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross” (Heb 12:2). The first Adam lost paradise by unbelief; the second Adam retained unshaken faith in God throughout: “I was not rebellious . . . ” (Isa 50:5,6).
Christ’s death was voluntary: “No man taketh it from Me” (John 10:18). Obedience characterised this as all else: “This commandment have I received from My Father”. So did faith: “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit”. And hope, that the Father would not suffer Him to see corruption. There was a spiritual majesty and moral grandeur in the external circumstances of His greatest humiliation. God Himself speaks in wonder: “Who is this that engageth His heart to approach unto Me?” (Jer 30:21).
The ends accomplished by the death of Christ. The Father’s design in sending Jesus, and His own design in dying, was to save a specific number of sinners. Jesus was to save His people from their sins (Matt 1:21). He came “to give His life a ransom for many”. He came to accomplish the purpose of the Father concerning the redemption of the Church. He made a true and proper satisfaction for sin to the justice of God. As God is infinitely righteous, His punitive justice must be exercised against moral evil. The primary end of Christ’s coming was to satisfy divine justice and to make satisfaction. He must endure that which our sins deserved.
Reconciliation to God. The root meaning is “change” and it is commonly said that it is the sinner that must change – God cannot. But Christ’s reconciliation as a priest is concerning things pertaining to God. Also in the command, “First be reconciled to thy brother”, there must be a change in the offended party also. In Hebrews 2:17, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people means to turn away anger or to propitiate. Used passively it is translated “to be merciful”. This is not a change in the immutability of God but a change of administration, and indeed it upholds the unchanging nature of God’s law. Reconciliation, as it regards God, views Him as the law-giver. Where sin is committed, God is angry with the sinner every day. But the death of Christ opens up a way whereby the mercy of God flows out towards the sinner. Daniel foretold that Jesus by His death would make reconciliation for iniquity. This was the turning away of God’s displeasure, not of our enmity. Reconciliation on the sinner’s part demands reconciliation on the part of God by way of the covenant: “now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death” (Col 1:20-22).
Thus: 1. On the ground of God’s immutability, an atonement was necessary in order to forgiveness. The law was thus satisfied. 2. This atonement is particular as to its objects; otherwise Christ died in vain or God exacts the same price twice. 3. Christ suffered the punishment which those were exposed to for whom He died. 4. Pardon must follow reconciliation. God’s delight in mercy will secure the salvation of all for whom Christ died. As Christ bore their iniquity, He shall justify many. (Is 53:10,11). If the Old Testament sacrifices always effected their purpose, “how much more shall the blood of Christ” invariably effect salvation?
Christ obtained eternal redemption for His Church by His death. His people are redeemed from the guilt of sin by a free pardon, and from the power and pollution of sin by the sanctifying power of the Spirit. They are redeemed to all the good forfeited at the Fall. The Hebrew kinsman-redeemer was a type of Christ, and His redemption extended to possessions as well as people. Thus Christ has redeemed the lost inheritance of His people, “having obtained eternal inheritance for us”. Christ by His death fulfilled the law of the covenant of works and ratified the covenant of grace.
Obedience was a condition of life from the beginning; it is an unalterable law. The covenant of redemption is grace to sinners, but a covenant of works to the Surety. By His death the law was magnified and made honourable. But His death also ratified the covenant of grace and made the covenant of redemption a testamentary deed conveying all spiritual blessings to sinners. “All the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2 Cor 1:20). Thus the righteousness of Christ is the one condition of the covenant, not our faith.
The death of Christ made effectual provision for the sanctification of the Church. Christ is connected with this sanctification in three ways:
1. Legal and federal. The curse of the law constituted a legal barrier to the flow of grace to sinners, but Christ by His death removed this. In consequence of His marred visage He sprinkles the nations with His blood (Is 52:14,15).
2. Moral. As the conscience is sprinkled from dead works to serve the living God, so the sinner comes under the constraint of the love of Christ: “Ye are not your own; for ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s”.
3. The influence of example. A subordinate end of Christ’s coming was to be an example to His people, a pattern for their new life: love to God, zeal, submission, compassion for the lost. “Walk in love as Christ hath loved us”.
Notice the peculiar glory of Christ’s priesthood: the dignity of His person, His being installed with an oath and with official gifts, the anointing by the Spirit without measure, the entire work of the priesthood being His, the virtue of His sacrifice, the vast extent of the effect of His sacrifice worldwide, and the glorious tabernacle in which He ministers – a body formed by the Holy Ghost, by which He passed into the heavens, accompanied by angels, to be received as the Lord of glory, and welcomed by the Father – and lastly the deity of Jesus giving lustre to His priesthood. “Worthy is the Lamb” (Rev 5:8-13).
1. We now resume publication of this paper, which was given at the 1998 Theological Conference. It summarises the argument of The Offices of Christ by George Stevenson, a Secession minister in Ayr who died in 1841. The second part, in the March issue, began to deal with Christ as Priest.