Christ’s work as a priest is fundamental. Without the salvation secured by His blood, there would be no salvation for Him to reveal as a Prophet or to apply as a King. The priesthood of Christ has God as its primary object. As Prophet and King His work is towards man but, as Priest, satisfaction is rendered to God and, on the ground of His sacrifice, He pleads for sinners and intercedes for them with God. “Every high priest . . . is ordained . . . in things pertaining to God.” The priesthood is essential for the salvation of sinners; only by a sacrifice for sin could everlasting righteousness be brought in and justice be satisfied. God has an inalienable right to the obedience of His subjects. His truth must be respected and upheld: “the soul that sinneth it shall die” (Ezek 18:4), and conscience speaks of this. But only God’s Son can bear this punishment.
Christ’s priestly office took rise in the divine purpose and covenant. It is ascribed to the Father: “I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me” (John 6:38). But, as Their will and nature are one, we have here a covenant. The Father promises a seed to the Son when He will make His soul an offering for sin. The Son engages to take a human nature and put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. The form of this covenant is revealed in the Old Testament. The moral law given at Sinai showed its conditions. His priesthood and duties were foreshadowed in Melchizedec and Aaron, and were to be given reality in His assumed nature, as Paul states in Hebrews 10:5-7. Christ attended minutely to the Scriptures. Knowing that it had been predicted that His enemies would give Him vinegar, He said, “I thirst”. The Old Testament also showed Jesus’ reward: “He shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied”.
The Suretyship of Christ. A surety is one who engages to pay a debt, or suffer a penalty, incurred by another. Thus Paul was surety to Philemon for Onesimus, and Judah to Jacob for Benjamin. We lost our title to life and incurred death in Adam, but Christ, as the surety of the new covenant, engaged by obedience unto death to redeem us from the curse of the law and to recover our inheritance. He was not merely a substitute but stood voluntarily as a surety bound by His own engagement. This doctrine stands or falls with the imputation of our sins to Christ and of His righteousness to us. Adam as a public figure fell, and the guilt of his first sin passed to all his descendants, but his other sins are not chargeable to mankind. To impute does not involve transference of character to another person.
God may attach the promise of life to the obedience of a surety. It was not the inherent criminality of the sins of the elect that was imputed to Christ but their guilt – the legal obligation under which they suffer for their crimes. “Deliver him from going down to the pit” (Job 33:24). Thus Shimei is not speaking of his criminality but the punishment of his sins when he says, “Let not my lord impute iniquity to me” (2 Sam 19:19). In the same sense our guilt was imputed to Christ, not by imparting it to Him, but by judicially charging it to His account by way of punishment. Guilt may arise in three ways: (1) personal, as with Shimei, (2) representative, as with mankind in Adam, (3) surety, that is by voluntary engagement, as with Christ.
Impute is not used in the Word, but equivalent phrases are used: “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Is 53:6). God imputes our guilt to Him and accounts His righteousness to us. “Blessed is the man to whom God will not impute sin” (Rom 4:6-8). From the first revelation, Christ was a surety in type. Thus coats from animals were made for Adam and Eve. This was not according to human reason, as normally it is the soul which has sinned that dies. Under Moses both sacrifice and priest were substitutionary. Both typified Christ. Thus Aaron was consecrated to “bear the iniquity of the holy things”. All sacrifices were substitutes for sin. Thus in the burnt offering the individual was to lay his hands on the head of the animal, while on the day of atonement the High Priest, as the representative of the people, was to lay his hands on the head of the live goat and confess sin. In this way guilt was reckoned to the account of another and the sacrifice was legally subjected to the penalty due to another, blood for blood, life for life, “for it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul”.
The rite of sacrifice always refers to God’s covenant promise and is a symbol of its ratification. This is clear in the case of Noah (Gen 8:20-22) and Abraham (Gen 15:9,10). This was renewed at Horeb when Moses took blood and sprinkled the people. “This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you” (Heb 9:19). God’s people are those who have made a covenant with Him by sacrifice (Ps 50:5). The covenant and sacrifice offered were seen to be of the same extent, so that pardon was not only possible but certain: “and the priest shall make an atonement for them and it shall be forgiven them” (Lev 4:20). Jesus was the surety under the old testament as under the new (Heb 9:15). When offered by faith in the future sacrifice of Christ, they conveyed saving benefits to the offerer; figuratively they were (1) vicarious, (2) gave satisfaction in kind, (3) spoke of a covenant, (4) made pardon certain.
Jesus assumed the suretyship when He took our nature. At that moment, the justice of God demanded the whole criminal debt. He was made under the law in the room of those who were under the law – for their redemption. Hands were laid on the sacrifice and confession made; so it is written: “All we like sheep have gone astray”, and, “the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all”. As the offering was a sin offering and the guilt of the offerer was on it, so it is written, “He hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21). As the animal died “bearing sin”, so it is written: “Who His own self bear our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Pet 2:24). As the sacrifice was a substitute, so Jesus said, “This is My body, which is broken for you”.
Suretyship extended to the precept as well as the penalty of the law, “for if by one man’s offence death reigned by one, much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:17). As surety in the Covenant of Redemption, Christ died for a definite number, and therefore He says of His sheep, “Thine they were and Thou gavest them Me”.
Suretyship is consistent with God’s honour. 1. Formally sin does not injure God directly. “If thou sinnest, what doest thou against Him?” (Job 35:6-8). “Sin is a transgression of the law”. It is not a private offence, and punishment is not private revenge but a vindication of law and government. This end may be gained better by a substitute. 2. Punishment is a means not an end. “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth” (Ezek 33:11). Infliction of punishment is to vindicate the honour of the lawgiver; therefore a surety is allowed. 3. God’s honour was upheld gloriously when Christ magnified God’s law and made it honourable. 4. Though the honour of the law might admit of a surety, he must be appointed by the Lawgiver in a regular way. He must possess qualifications suitable for the work, and be so identified with those he represents as to be one with them at law. To this end Jesus was called of God as was Aaron. He was identified with us in our nature; His sufferings had infinite value as the sufferings of a divine person; He acted freely as one who was Lord of His life, entering into the covenant engagement, taking human nature, laying down His life: “no man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself” (John 10:18). He was under no obligation to do for Himself what He did for others. He did all in the stead of His people, but the work must not bring the surety to ruin. Though brought to the dust of death, it has secured for Him a rich legacy in human nature (Phil 2:8,9). The surety must be one with those for whom he acts and, in God’s purpose and covenant, Jesus was one with them who were chosen in Him in the past eternity and predestinated unto the adoption of sons (Eph 1:4). He became one with them, as He was in nature their kinsman who had the right of redemption. He became one with them by appointment and by His engaging in legal action for them, having the whole of their criminal debt charged to His account.
Christ’s humbled state. As surety for us, “it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren”. 1. He must not only assume our nature but a low condition. A divine person could not die, but the law required that the surety must suffer and die. He must then be bone of our bone. He must become poor, “that ye through His poverty might be rich” (2 Cor 8,9).
2. He must take the form of a servant, a bond servant under law and justice; He was “made of a woman, made under the law”, and He was bound over till His work was done.
3. In assuming our nature the Lord came into a condition of dependence on His Father. He became the elect One of the Father, the One in whom His soul delighted (Is 42:1). In the work of redemption each person of the Godhead has His own part. The Father is the judge exacting punishment of our surety and is sovereign in conferring on Him the grace of the covenant. The Son is the Father’s servant and our surety. The Spirit is given by the Father to the Son without measure to qualify Him in His assumed nature for His work. This accords with scripture as Jesus is the servant “whom I uphold” (Is 11:2,3). The Spirit is promised: “the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him”. This is also implied in Christ’s priestly office where support from the Father is promised (Is 50:7-9) – “the Lord God will help Me”. Thus trust in God and prayer to Him for support were evident in His work – “He offered up prayers . . . unto Him that was able to save Him from death” (Heb 5:7).
This is consistent with the unity of will among the three Persons and the unity of their operations. When the Son assumed human nature, this was not a violation of the unity of the persons. Could God not have upheld a mere man by His Spirit? No, because it is the divinity of Christ that gives the necessary dignity and efficacy to the sacrifice. The merit arose also from One of such high degree assuming voluntarily a dependent position and expressing that dependence in faith, trust and prayer. Thus He “made Himself of no reputation and took upon Him the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7). This dependence refers only to Jesus’ assumed nature as bond-servant to law and justice. Even while He purged our sins and was crucified in weakness, He was the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His person. Hence the rocks rent and the graves opened, and the centurion bore witness: “Truly this was the Son of God”.
4. He took our infirmities of mind – fear, sorrow, grief; and our infirmities of body – hunger, thirst, liability to death. This was necessary as our surety, for without susceptibility to fear and death He could not have feared in the garden nor suffered and died on the cross. In heaven also, where Jesus is beyond suffering, He yet recalls His suffering, and “we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Heb 4:15). Though subject to temptations, “in Him was no sin”; He was like pure gold cast into the furnace. The Holy Spirit formed the body of Jesus in the womb of the Virgin. Nothing tainted came from the Spirit and His human nature thus formed was free from sin. It was the Fall in Adam that brought sin into the world. The angel termed the child that was to be born “that holy thing”, because the substance of the Virgin was sanctified by the Highest (Luke 1:35). He who was holy could not take up residence in a depraved human nature. This purity may be assumed because of the end for which he assumed it, which was “to take away our sins”, “to make an end of sins”. This could not be accomplished in a depraved nature. He bore only a likeness to sinful flesh.
1. The second part of a paper 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 first part, in last month’s issue, dealt with Christ as Prophet.