Summary: written and published @ Sept. ’14: This article is an in-depth study of the topic of biblical priesthood, especially as it relates to Jesus Christ, and everything associated with Him. This study includes the distinctions between Judaism and Christianity, and in what manner and different ways the Lord’s priesthood can be associated with each. This involves understanding the differences between the “order” and “function” of priesthood. We also discover that our Lord’s present ministry at the right hand of God is for true Christians alone, and is exclusive to the Christian dispensation. When the church is caught up to meet the Lord in the air and to be taken to the Father’s house in the heavens, it will be by resurrection and change – we will be glorified, conformed into His image. Our walk of faith in this world will have ended, and His continuous intercession for us will no longer be needed. This article is comprehensive, and is one of the longest I’ve written. It will require your patience and commitment to get through it.
All biblical priesthood has two general characteristics. The first is that a priest stands in between another person and God. Priesthood, particularly under the law and in Judaism, supposes that the one represented cannot get to God himself, but needs a priest to stand in his place. A priest represents others. There is a qualifying thought that must be kept in order for this first definition to remain clear and proper – those others represented by the priest will themselves have an existing relationship with God. This is always true. The Levitical priesthood represented Israel, the physical descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob, and the chosen nation by God. The Gentiles had no path of representation.
The second character is the broad and general thought that all priests are near or close to God. Here the definition does not involve representing others, but rather refers to the simple idea of proximity in comparison. After Israel was delivered out of Egypt, at Mt. Sinai God declared, “…you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex. 19:6) The idea is that Israel would be the nation closest to God and most privileged of all nations on the face of the earth. The thought wasn’t that the nation of Israel would stand before God representing the Gentile nations, interceding for them. And if we can distinguish between these two thoughts defining priesthood, we may realize a similar situation for all Christian believers – we have been made priests to His God and Father, for the church will be that which is closest to God in our Father’s kingdom (Rev. 1:6, Matt. 13:43). In this general, broad way the Jews were a nation of priests near to Jehovah; in a similar way this is true for all true Christians, only, I doubt not, on a much higher plain and reality because of a different and distinct relationship and calling.
Turning back to the first character mentioned above – the specific representation by priesthood of those in relationship with God – we will concentrate on the two specific biblical orders found in scripture. This article will contrast the differences between the Melchizedek and Aaronic-Levitical priesthoods. This will involve both their order and function, as it is particularly applied to the two great corporate objects of God’s attention and dealings in Scripture – the nation of Israel and the body of Christ (the church).
All believers should know that God declares concerning His Son, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Ps. 110:4, Heb. 5:6, 10) This is an eternal priesthood: without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually and without interruption (Heb. 7:3). This is our Lord’s order of priesthood.
Aaron and his sons, and those that would come after them, were priests according to the law. This was the Aaronic-Levitical order of priesthood. It was a priesthood of constant turnover, for men were prevented from continuing by reason of age and death (Heb. 7:23-24). Jesus, in His Melchizedek order, is a priest eternally, constantly continuing and without end, while all those in the Aaronic priesthood do come to an end, always. This alone, as referring to the character of the order, is a profound difference.
If we would speak of the quality of the different orders we would say that the Aaronic order is one of weakness. Why? It is not just because of the limited length of life, but all the priests of this order, being human, have their own sins that continually need to be dealt with (Heb. 5:1-4). This is the reason why the service of the day of Atonement was repeated every year, as well as daily sacrifices for sins. Also, because the Aaronic order performed its services on the earth, there was the continual defilement of the world being dealt with in different ways by various carnal rituals – daily washings with water and yearly sprinklings or applications with blood.
Now why is Jesus different and better than this? He is the sinless Son of God, declared a priest forever by an oath from God (Heb. 5:5-6, 7:15-21). But this is not all. As God, the Son lowered Himself and took on the form of a man. In the title of the Son of Man, the Son of God shows obedience to God in completing His will – all the work of redemption, being obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:5-8, Heb. 10:5-10). Further, being made like His brethren, He learned mercy and compassion for them by all the things He suffered and all the temptations He was tempted with – yet always still without sin or sins (Heb. 2:14-18, 4:14-15, 5:7-10). It is what He learned “in the days of His flesh” that is one reason why He is such a great High Priest for the church, ever living to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25). “For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens.” (Heb.7:26) These are the qualities of Jesus, the Son of Man, now made our High Priest. As the Son of Man He is holy and separate from sinners – that is, without sin or sins in His human state. This was never true concerning Aaron. As resurrected and glorified, Jesus is undefiled – free from the contamination of this world and creation. Again, this is not true concerning Aaron. Jesus, the Son of Man glorified, has become higher than the heavens. This was impossible for Aaron. Every point in the above quoted verse are characteristics perfectly true about the High Priest that has “become us”, and all in direct contrast to the priesthood in Judaism.
Jesus has this character as the Son of Man glorified. We so often fail to consider the importance of this last point – there is a Man who has gone up into the glory of God and is sitting at God’s right hand, now to appear in the presence of God for us (Heb. 9:24). Jesus is the Man who has completed redemption for us and therefore has sat down (Heb. 10:12). He sits there in perpetual continuity (forever) as to His finished work of redemption. His ministry as the believer’s High Priest flows out of this foundational work.
Let us be clear about the nature of His ministry as our High Priest. It is His current work on behalf of the believer/church. It is not God’s work in saving and justifying the lost sinner, nor is it the Holy Spirit’s work in baptizing all believers into the one body of Christ (I Cor. 12:13). Jesus can only start His priestly ministry after completing the redemptive work and sitting down. Now having sat down – symbolic of an eternally efficatious sacrifice, never to be repeated and of infinite value – He begins His priestly work. And we might ask exactly what is this current work?
First: “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He ever lives to make intercession for them, for such a High Priest was fitting for us…” (Heb. 7:25-26) That is, our eternal life given to us by Him is eternally secure, and no one can snatch us from His hand (John 10:28, 17:2, 6:37-39). He is our security and His intercession saves us to the end, to the uttermost – of this we may be sure.
Second: He makes the believer fit so we always have bold access to God’s grace in any time of need (Heb. 4:15-16). How? He constantly washes the defilement from our feet that we accumulate from walking around in this wilderness (John 13:4-5, 10). It is not a full bath – this was done by His blood in our redemption, and that is never repeated. This is washing defilement away with water, and only necessary for our feet. In our walk on this earth we get the dirt of this world on our feet – defilement that makes us unfit for God’s presence. Therefore we should know that as our High Priest, Jesus girds Himself always, and continuously washes the believers feet. He constantly maintains our fellowship and communion with God, as we walk as the sons of God in the wilderness of this world. Also then, we should understand that when the priesthood of Christ is referred to, the believer is regarded individually in respect to his needs and weaknesses. He gives aid to us when we are tempted (Heb. 2:18) and provides access to God’s throne of grace, so we may obtain mercy and find grace in any time of need (Heb. 4:16). This is not any means of dealing with the believer’s failure in committing a sin. Rather it is maintaining the individual fit to receive aid concerning temptations, weaknesses, infirmities, and needs. And this is not referring to the corporate body of Christ, but to believers individually. This is His ongoing priestly service for us.
What is the function and character of the Melchizedek order of priesthood? To answer this we go back to Melchizedek’s meeting with Abram (before his name was changed by God to Abraham):
Gen. 14:18-20 (NKJV)
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he (Abram) gave him a tithe of all.
There is an explanation found in Heb. 7:1-17 of this encounter, to which we will refer in more detail later. But what is obvious from Hebrews is that the order of Christ’s priesthood is the Melchizedek order (Heb. 5:6, 10, 6:20, 7:17, 21) and that Melchizedek himself serves as a type and shadow, prefiguring the real substance that would come later (Heb. 7:15-17, Col. 2:17). The real substance is always Christ.
A second thing we should take notice of, involving the character of its service, is the fact that there is no sacrifice involved. This priesthood, in its function, does not offer sacrifices to God. The Melchizedek priesthood is not for that purpose. It is a priesthood for blessing. There is no thought of a sacrifice needed to be made to secure approach or God’s favor. Abram walked by faith in God, living a life of faith toward God. After the Most High delivers victory to Abram by defeating all his enemies, it is nothing but blessing. Melchizedek blesses the Most High God on behalf of Abram, and blesses Abram on the part of God. The function of this priesthood is for blessing, after the defeat of all enemies, and so, it takes on the character of joy and gladness – the priest of the Most High brings out bread and wine.
Another obvious character of the Melchizedek order is that it is a royal priesthood (Heb. 7:1-3). He was both priest and king upon his throne, representing the Most High God. By translation he is “king of righteousness,” and then also “king of peace.” Melchizedek, in type, has neither beginning of days nor end of life, therefore he was both an eternal priest and king. As regards the character of its function, there is no sacrifice, it is for blessings only, and important to note, blessings coming down from the Most High God to Abraham on the earth. They are physical blessings given by the Most High, through His royal priest on his throne in Salem (Jerusalem). The Most High is in the heavens and his royal priest is on the earth for the blessing of Abram. All these points are important characteristics for the interpretation of the type.
How are these specific types of Melchizedek fulfilled by Jesus Christ? Let us ask – when will Jesus Christ be a royal priest on His own throne in Jerusalem? When will He represent and mediate on behalf of the Most High God for the blessing of what Abraham respresents on the earth? When will be the time that is described as “after the defeat of all the enemies” of those Abraham prefigures? In this scene from Genesis, Abraham symbolizes the sealed Jewish remnant that is preserved through the future tribulation period, and after the defeat of all their enemies they will be restored and physically blessed as a nation in the promised land. It will be at the time of the return of Jesus Christ to this earth. He is Israel’s Melchizedek priest, a royal priest on his own throne in Jerusalem – throne of David, throne of the Son of Man. He will represent the Most High God in blessing, prospering, and multiplying the Jewish remnant, so that according to the prophecies, Israel will become the greatest and most blessed nation on the face of the earth during the coming age (Is. 60, 61, 62, Ez. 36:23-38). The bread and the wine represents Israel coming into the fullness of blessing in the millennium (Deut. 28:1-13).
At that time Jesus, as the Melchizedek priest, will be the one mediator between God and man on the earth. He will rule the earth in righteousness as the prophecies declare, “A king shall reign in righteousness,” and also, “righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” (Ps. 85:10, 72:1, Is. 32:1, Jer.23:5) His reign will bring peace for Israel in their land, and for the entire earth as well. Jesus will be “king of righteousness” and “king of peace.”
So far we see what made Christ a priest. He was declared so in the eternal order of Melchizedek. He is not, nor will He ever be a priest according to the Aaronic order (Heb. 7:13-17). We also see how the Melchizedek order functions. It is for the blessing of Israel on the earth during the age to come. One more point needs to be made concerning the story from Genesis. Melchizedek represents or mediates on behalf of the Most High God. This was a new name for God introduced into His revelation. It is the name for God thatalways points to the millennium – to the future age in which God will be proven as the possessor of heaven and earth (Gen. 14:19). During the “times of the Gentiles”, when the principle of government was taken from Israel and given to the Gentiles, God is only known as the God of heaven (Luke 21:24, Dan. 2:37). The “times of the Gentiles” go on from Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon to the final Roman beast and the antichrist. When these two last beasts are thrown into the lake of fire, their armies destroyed, and Satan bound in the bottomless pit for 1000 years (Rev. 19:16 – 20:3), then the Gentiles will have fully learned the lesson that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses (Dan. 4:25).
In the book of Daniel, where we have detailed prophecy concerning the “complete” times of the Gentiles, we have the Most High God shown only as the God of heaven. He is never described as the possessor of the earth. Why? During all the “times of the Gentiles” the prophetic type we see in the book of Genesis of the Most High and the Melchizedek priest on the earth representing Him, will not be fulfilled (Gen 14:18-20). It will only be after Israel’s enemies are defeated, and Israel is restored and exalted in their land, that the God of heaven will set up a kingdom on the earth that will grow and fill the earth, and be a kingdom that will never end (Dan. 2:44-45, 7:14).
So then, it is obvious that “the service” or function of the Melchizedek priest is for the age to come. And it is a service distinctive to Israel restored. But what is Jesus doing now in this present age? The service He performs is for the believer, and His present service was typlified by the service of the Aaronic priesthood. The Aaronic priesthood was a service or function for intercession, and this is what Jesus does now on behalf of the believer (Heb. 7:25). The function of His priesthood now maintains the believer in communion and fellowship while he is on the earth. It will continue until the believer is glorified and physically brought into the presence of God behind the veil (Heb. 6:19-20). Jesus is our High Priest “continually” and this brings out the security and constancy of the believer’s place and life in Christ. As our High Priest He continuously maintains our position before God. The meaning of this is not just “forever,” but “without any interuption”. His intercession in priesthood is always an active intervention – He ever lives to do this. The value of His blood goes on forever, and the force of our being maintained by Him in our position is perpetual and continuous (Rom. 8:34).
Yet what do we find as the general condition of Christian souls today? Is there continuous peace based upon our Lord’s service as High Priest for us? Do we speak or act as if our consciences have been perfected forever by our redemption in Christ? (Heb. 9:9-14, 10:1-2, 10-14) What we find in general, when there is failure, is that Christians are looking for some way to be sprinkled by blood again. They are often found mistakenly looking for the full bath that Jesus corrected Peter about (John 13:10). The Jew, in Judaism, wanted a sacrifice for every sin. His religion taught him this (Heb. 9:25, 10:17-18). This is the Jewish position. It is not the Christian position (Heb. 7:27). Yet most believers, when there is failure, will revert back to the Jewish position and Jewish principles. They want the constant repeating of more sacrifices and the continual consciousness of sins (Heb. 10:1-2). They will have in their mind a certain distance they are from God and that they cannot enter in or draw near. They never have complete confidence and full assurance of faith with God (Heb. 10:18-22).
This reveals to us another way in which the Christian faith is easily Judaized and corrupted. For example the largest portion of Christendom, Roman Catholicism, holds this exact same corruption of the Christian faith – the repeating of many sacrifices for sin, day after day. With the repeating of sacrifices you will always have the constant remembering of sins (Heb. 10:3-4). The same inherent error is the basis of repeating baptism when gross failure comes in, as many of the Reformers taught. Because all the Reformers believed that regeneration and eternal life was given in the ordinance of water baptism, not being able to entirely pull away from Romanist doctrine, many condoned the repeating of baptism whenever they thought it necessary. This is the repeating of the “bath” and the repeating of the sacrifice, because baptism points to the death of Christ (Rom. 6:3-5). This is the opposite results from having a perfected conscience. Christ’s sacrifice of Himself for us was a one time sacrifice, never to be repeated (Heb. 10:9-12). It was an eternal sacrifice of infinite value – perfectly efficacious. It bore all the believer’s sins away and they will never be found again. Therefore, being justified by such a great redemption, we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1). All our sins are forever gone, and this defines the perfected conscience of the believer (Heb. 10:2, 14).
By the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, by His death and blood, eternal redemption has been freely given in grace to the believer (Rom. 3:24). This redemption has gained for us our Christian position before God. As our High Priest He perfectly and continuously maintains that position for us. He is girded about the waist and is constantly washing the believer’s feet, removing all defilement from us as we walk around in this evil world. This maintains communion and fellowship with God.
There is an important point we should discuss that may be difficult to see. As man we have to do with God and as believers we have to do with the Father. These are two different relationships in Scripture and in the mind of God. All mankind has the first relationship as man in Adam and in the flesh. Only believers in the second Adam have a relationship with God as “Father”. God does not give up His claims as God simply because He is our Father. He continues to deal with us as our God in the things that relate to His claims as such.
As an example, Jesus walked in the perfection of a man with and before God. But He also clearly walked as the Son with the Father. These two examples are seen differently in Scripture. In the first, He came in the title of the Son of Man, as representing man before “God”. He glorified God by His obedience to suffer and die on the cross, bearing man’s sins and being made sin by God. As a Man He bore God’s judgment and wrath against man’s sin and sins. By this Man’s work God was able to condemn sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3), as well as allowing the believer’s sins to be borne away out of His sight forever. This is what is referred to in John 13:31-32. In these verses you see the use of the Son of Man title in its relationship with “God’, and in respect to God’s claims concerning man. The Son of Man glorified God by His death. Therefore God glorified the Son of Man by raising Him from among the dead and exalting Him to His right hand in glory (Eph. 1:20-21). We should be able to see that Jesus was raised from the dead as the Son of Man, and not as God, although we know Him always as the Son. And I ask you to contemplate how important this is – there is a Man who has gone up into the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). The only possible way that other men will go there is because He has already entered in.
In the second relationship, Jesus came as the Son of God, the Word made flesh and dwelling among men. He was Emmanuel, God with us. As the Son His purpose in the world was to reveal the “Father”. It takes God to reveal God. The Son of God showed perfect obedience in His relationship as the Son to the Father in order to perfectly reveal the Father (John 10:36-38, 14:6-11). Now this revelation and work was only directed to those who would be believers, the sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26, Matt. 11:27). The Son reveals the Father to whomever He will. The Son gives life to whomever He will (John 5:21). It is as if these two are one and the same. “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son…as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:1-3)
By redemption all believers are brought into the same relationships that Jesus has with His God and Father (John 20:17), both as the Son of God and the Son of Man. The reason we went in this direction is to see that the High Priesthood of Jesus on behalf of the believer is related to the Son of Man title. Priesthood is always between God and man. “For indeed He does not give aid to angels…”,but in contrast to this statement He gives aid to man as the seed of Abraham (Heb. 2:16). “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God…” (Heb. 2:17) He had to take on human flesh, but also He had to learn obedience by suffering and being tempted (Heb. 2:18, 4:15, 5:8). It is His humanity in focus, and the perfecting of it by the things He had to learn. The perfection involves the experiences He has as a man that He could not have as God. It doesn’t involve any personal sins of His own or any union with the fallen Adam nature before His time on the cross. So we see that Jesus represents certain men (believers) as the perfect Man in the presence of God.
It is also clear from the quoted verse that the character of priesthood is ministry on behalf of man in things pertaining to God; it does not say things pertaining to His or our “Father”. As made priests we never have to do with the Father. The near place of priesthood is to God. As our High Priest, Jesus is inbetween the believer and God – for our infirmities and needs in our walk in the wilderness.
However, if the believer commits any sin, we have an Advocate with the Father who automatically removes the blemish – I John 2:1. This Advocate is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, because the relationship of the believer in view here is that of the Father with His sons. Notice this verse does not say if you confess. Christ’s advocacy for His brethren is continually ongoing, and does not need to be asked for by the believer. His advocacy maintains every true believer as sinless in our relationship as sons before our Father in heaven. If we were required to ask for His advocacy, it would then be a matter of human responsibility. All human responsibility that predates the believer’s glorification is subject to failure, and in fact would fail at some point. That is why maintaining of our sonship can never depend on the principle of human responsibility. The relationships we have in Christ are all the workmanship of God – work that cannot fail and is eternal. Human responsibility cannot be a factor in establishing the relationship, or maintaining it. Both are the work of God, or at the least, the work of the Son as the glorified Son of Man. Let us review our understandings that help us distinguish these things.
Christ’s priesthood for us is to aid with our infirmities and needs. This is in our walk in this world. His priesthood automatically maintains us as fit in our Christian position before God in order for us to be able to receive His aid. In the maintainance of our position there is no responsibility on our part; He constantly washes our feet. But there is human responsibility in the fact that we come to God through Him (Heb. 4:15-16, 7:25). If we don’t come to God in our time of need, we receive no aid. However His advocacy with the Father is for our failure and the committing of sin. This is automatic in its service on our behalf as well, and it maintains without sin our relationship as sons with our Father in heaven. There is no human responsibility involved in His advocacy. So then, His priesthood deals with worldly defilements from our walking in this world, while His advocacy deals with our sins as a believer in view of our heavenly relationship with our Father.
This shows from Scripture that there are two characters which Christ’s intercession takes: first – priesthood with God; second – advocacy with the Father. These are the two different forms of His intercession for us. In both He appears before God or the Father for us that we may receive the needed blessing. Yet priesthood, in a way, is more general. In it He appears before God as the Son of Man, in order that we may draw near to God – He makes intercession for our needs, infirmities, and temptations. Priesthood is so we behave right. As Advocate with the Father it is more restoration of communion. It is for when we do not behave right. It is for when we sin as a believer. It is so that sin is not imputed to us. Christ’s advocacy results in the perfected conscience we have through our redemption in Christ, being maintained. We continue to be free from guilt; we continue to have unbroken peace with God. Why? Because His advocacy prevents any imputation of sins (I John 2:1).
But there is one more area of relationship that every believer needs to be aware of – the government of God on the earth over His own house. This involves God as our Father and our walk before Him as sons. This does not involve Christ’s High Priesthood or Advocacy. It does involve our responsibility, our failure and sins. How we walk is always human responsibility. The believer should walk by total dependence on Christ for His grace (II Cor. 12:9-10) and complete obedience to the will of God (Luke 22:42). But we know there is no perfection in our time in the wilderness, although we always should be pressing toward perfection in Christ (Phil. 3:7-16). When failure comes in and we sin, on the earth we are subject to the government of God over His own house. This is our Father and how He deals with us as His sons at this present time (I John 1:9, Heb. 12:7-8). While committing sins is failure in human responsibility, our confessing our sins to our Father is also human responsibility. In this we may fail as well.
Confession of any sin committed as a believer involves the Father’s government over His house on the earth. This is an entirely different matter from our High Priest helping our infirmities or our Advocate maintaining communion with the Father in the heavens. When we commit any sin we should confess to our Father, and He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). As true believers, if we do not do this as our responsibility, if we do not judge ourselves, on the earth and in the Father’s house we eventually will become subject to the Father’s chastening (Heb. 12:5-11). The issue may become serious if we continue to refuse to judge ourselves – “For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.” (I Cor. 11:30-32)
It is important to see the differences. We are perfectly maintained in our position in Christ before God in the heavens by either the priesthood of Christ or advocacy of Christ, and this in sovereign grace. Our redemption and all its results, as well as the maintenance of the results are freely given to us. This does not involve human responsibility. Now this is very different from God’s government of His house on the earth. Government always involves human responsibility, and God judging that responsibility. For His own sons, the Father will correct and chasten them, for He loves them.
The Lord’s continual intercession for us does not touch or affect the perfection of His redemptive work. Rather His priesthood and advocasy are founded on His redemptive work and flow from it. The believer’s eternal state of redemption provides for us this spiritual truth – God remembers our sins no more. God has no rememberance of our sins in the way that Scripture speaks of rememberance. This means that God imputes no sins to the believer in Christ. In God’s mind we do not bear sins because Jesus bore all the believer’s sins on the tree. But this does not stop our Father from taking notice of sin in His own sons while we walk on this earth. This is His government of His house of sons on the earth, and if He chastens every son He loves, it supposes he notices our sins and our failure to judge ourselves. Thank God this does not involve the imputation or bearing of sins.
The question that must be asked now is how may Jesus function in the Aaronic priesthood, seeing that He is not of that order? The simple answer from God’s word is that He can because He is not on the earth; He is not under the law and Judaism (Heb. 8:4). If He was on the earth He could not be a priest for Israel in their religion (Heb. 7:11-14). Yes, He was born under the law and His life in the flesh was under the law (Gal. 4:4), but He has died, and this means He is no longer under the law having died to it (Rom. 7:1). Death is the only way anyone can get out from under the law (Rom. 7:2-4, Gal. 2:19-20). And further, He is not on the earth at this present time is He? He is such a High Priest perfectly suited for us, the church, partly because He has become higher than the heavens (Heb. 7:26). There is a two-fold reason why “the heavens,” being the place where He is, becomes so important. It is in the heavens where the real and true sanctuary exists. Jesus has become High Priest and Minister of the sanctuary and true tabernacle (Heb. 8:1-2, 9:11, 9:23-24). Judaism, its tabernacle, priesthood, and sacrifices of the law, were always just copies and shadows. The blood of bulls and goats could only serve to purify the flesh, and this only until it became defiled again (Heb. 9:11-13, 25). Christ’s blood has obtained eternal redemption for the believer. And further, His blood was not used to purify the copies on the earth, those things made with hands, but rather the true heavenly things. Jesus has entered into heaven itself, to actually appear in the very presence of God for us, the believer/church.
A second reason it is important for Jesus to be “higher than the heavens” is because the believer has a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1). We have a heavenly citizenship, and we sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:20, Eph. 2:6). We are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3). We patiently wait for our Lord from heaven to come for us and take us to our Father’s house in the heavens (Phil.3:20-21, John 14:1-3). Our calling is upward and is apart and separated from this world and earth (Phil. 3:14). Of course our position in Christ before God is also not of this world, because Jesus Himself is not of this world (John 17:14-16). Jesus is the second Adam and the heavenly Man (I Cor. 15:47). The church does not exist until Jesus, as the resurrected and glorified Man, ascended into the heavens and sat down at the right hand of God. When redemption was finalized, then the Holy Spirit was sent down to gather in the body (John 7:39, I Cor. 12:12-13). We have a High Priest, not on the earth, but one who has gone into the heavens, for this is our proper place. He is the forerunner who has gone there ahead of us, behind the veil and into the glory of God (Heb. 6:19-20). We have such a High Priest that was fitting for us!
All the believer’s relationships and associations are in Christ and not of this earth or this creation (Heb. 9:11). Jesus is the firstborn from the dead among many brethren (Rom. 8:29, 6:9-10). He is the firstborn of the new creation of God (II Cor. 5:17, Rev. 3:14). The first Adam is of the earth and first creation, and all the relationships that God established as part of the first creation are defiled by him (Rom. 8:20-22). Creation will be reconciled on the earth at the beginning of the millennium, along with all its relationships and associations. This will be done by God through His judgment of this world and earth, and His restoration of all things (Acts 3:21, Heb. 9:10). However, none of these relationships ever exist in the heavenly Man. In Christ there are no nations, no families, no male and female, no mariages, no slave or free – it is all Christ (Gal. 3:26-28, Col. 3:10-11). The church and its position before God, all its privilege and blessings, and its calling, glorification, and final destination, are the result of the Son of Man being raised from among the dead, ascending up into the heavens, and sitting down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, Eph. 1:19-23). All our associations and relationships are because of this heavenly Man. We have been united together with Him, as His body, by the baptism of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12:13). The crux of the matter is that our union is with a Man in the heavens, a Man in glory.
It remains to be understood that all the relationships and principles God established in His first creation – nations, family, marriage, male and female, being fruitful and multiplying by having children, and His government of the earth – He will restore on the earth in the coming millennium. This will be done through Jesus Christ, the second Adam, and through a restored Israel in the Promised Land (Ps. 67, 69:34-36, 72, 126:1-3, 132:13-18, 148). The remaining Gentile nations will serve Israel and will be gathered to the Jews for blessing (Is. 60, Ps. 100, 102:21-22). All nations will worship Jesus, the Son of Man, the King of glory, the King and Prince of Israel, and the King of kings and Lord of lords (Ps. 102:15, 145). But the relationships spoken of all belong to the earth and world. They all have their connection to the first creation. They are associated with Israel and their earthly calling. They were all defiled by the sin of the first Adam; they will all be made right and restored by the reign of the second Adam. But the main point is that the church, as a heavenly body with a heavenly calling, has no part with the world and earth, and its relationships and principles, even though they were established by God.
The types and shadows of the day of Atonement figure heavily in many passages in the book of Hebrews (Lev. 16). An important point to keep in mind before we discuss some of these is that this sabbath day was less about Aaron, the High Priest of Israel, and always more about the sacrifices (Lev. 16:29-34). Although the priest did the service of the day of Atonement, it was not properly priestly service. This may be seen by the fact that Aaron killed sacrifices and took blood inside the sanctuary for himself, for his own sins (Heb. 5:3, Lev. 16:6, 11). In other words the high priest himself was in need of a priest, and yet, because there was no other, he had to do the service himself on this day, even though he was as guilty as the people (Heb. 9:7-9). The life given by the sacrifices and their blood is the essence of atonement – without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins (Heb. 9:22, 10:17-18). Therefore it was the day of Atonement and the sacrifices on this day, which provided the foundation for Aaron’s service in intercession for Israel throughout the remainder of the year. On the day of Atonement Aaron becomes the substitute and representative of the people, not a priest apart from the people interceding for them.
As believers we know that Jesus is the sacrifice. He gave His life. He submitted to death. He shed His blood. He was the innocent who died for the guilty (Rom. 5:8, I Pet. 3:18). He offered up Himself as the sacrifice for us (Heb. 9:26, Eph. 5:2). He is the substance that fulfills any of the typical sacrifices found in the law. He is the reality of the sacrifices offered on the day of Atonement. So instead of entering the holy place with the blood of another, as Aaron always did, Jesus enters the heavens and the true tabernacle with His own blood, to obtain eternal redemption for us (Heb. 9:11-14, Eph. 1:7). And I remind the reader that our redemption could not be based on the blood of animals, nor on sacrifices repeated often, nor on a priest continually standing. Rather it is the understanding that after Jesus had offered Himself, He entered the heavens and the Most Holy Place with His own blood, and sat down in the presence of God. This He did once – one time – at the end of the world (Heb. 9:23-26, 10:10-12).
Christ’s work of redemption has provided the believer/church something that Israel never had – access to the presence and glory of God (Heb. 10:19-22). By our redemption we “draw near” to God (Heb. 7:19). Aaron, as high priest, is a figure of Christ. Aaron’s sons and house, as priests, are a figure of the believer/church. The tent of the tabernacle is symbolic of the heavens. Israel is waiting outside the courtyard, on the earth. They wait for their king and priest to appear at the door of the tent to bless them. This was symbolized by Moses as king and Aaron as priest (Lev. 9:23). Israel is still waiting for their Melchizedek priest, the royal priest of the Most High, to appear to them from out of the heavens, out of the door of the tabernacle, and bless them.
But what is the proper place of the church? Is it on the earth waiting to see if the sacrifice was accepted by God? Are we waiting for His appearing to receive a blessing? Aaron’s sons abide inside the tent of the tabernacle – symbolically in the heavens. And for us there is no veil keeping the High Priest (Jesus) or priests (the church) away from the presence of God. Through Jesus Christ we have been made priests unto His God and Father (Rev. 1:6). We are the ones who draw near to God. Our Father’s house is in the heavens, and is the everlasting abode of all God’s sons. The church has access now to God’s presence (Heb. 4:16, 10:19), but soon the rapture of the church will physically take us there to live and abide forever. We will not be found on the earth waiting with Israel. Aaron and his sons are inside the tabernacle (Heb. 9:6).
There is one more type symbolized by the tabernacle we should explore. It is said in Hebrews (Heb. 10:19-20), “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh.” In this figure the tabernacle of God is Christ. In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (as a Man – Col. 2:9). And we are not only in Him, in the tabernacle and presence of God, but we are complete and perfect in Him (Col. 2:10). By His blood and through His flesh we have access to God. Christ is the tabernacle of God, and we are found to be “in Him”.
Both of the examples of the symbolic meaning of the tabernacle itself discussed above portrays the believer as having free access to God. Either the veil has been removed or we have full privilege to go through the veil that is His flesh. Under the law and in Judaism the veil was always there. In their religion the meaning of the viel was to continually remind them that they could not come to God. The Jews, as representing all mankind in Adam, never had access to God. They never had a way in (Heb. 9:2-8). This is no longer the condition in Christianity (Heb. 10:19). Actually the conditions in the two religions are opposite from each other. In one the veil is always present and man is kept out. In the other the veil is gone and believers go in as they please. Better yet, “having drawn near”, the believer lives and abides in the Presence (Heb. 6:19-20, 7:19, 10:19-22). The Christian position is that we are in the presence of God always. If Christ is the tabernacle and He is now in the presence of God, and we are in Him (John 14:20), then we are always in God’s presence.
This is what the book of Hebrews teaches: Israel had a place on the earth and in the world, and they had a priest on the earth and by the law. Believers (Christians) have a place in heaven, and a priest in heaven. And the presence of God long ago left the temple, left Jerusalem, and left the earth. The presence of God has left Judaism and set aside that covenant, that religion (Heb. 8:13). The presence of God has gone back to heaven. This is the Christian’s place. This is where Jesus went away to prepare a place for us (John 14:3). He will come again and recieve us to Himself, and physically take us there. But until then, in a complete spiritual truth and reality, we abide continually in the presence of God. This is why I teach that Christianity is the religion of the heavens. It is the religion of the heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1). It is the religion of man’s entrance into the presence of God.
The believer’s place is in heaven, and his path on this earth is that which belongs to heaven. Our walk is to be consistent with heavenly character and is to show forth Christ, the heavenly Man (I Cor. 15:47). The believer’s path is to be the expression of heaven, and here we mimic the heavenly Man – the Son of Man who is in heaven, though at the time He was clearly walking on the earth (John 3:13).
In summary we have seen that the order of the Lord’s priesthood is the eternal order of Melchizedek. This is what makes Him a priest. But how He “functions” in priesthood can be a different matter. In the millennium and for the nation of Israel He will function as the Melchizedek priest for restoration and blessing of the Jews on behalf of the Most High God (Gen. 14:18-20). But at this present time, even though He is of a different order, His priesthood functions according to the Aaronic service, and this for the church in intercession (Heb. 7:24-26). It maintains the believer’s position before God while we walk on this earth in this wilderness (Heb. 4:15-16). His priesthood continues on uninterrupted. This teaches us His ongoing love, tenderness, sympathy, and faithfulness for our present earthly condition. This leads us to dependence and confidence in Him, our counting on His faithfulness in intercession. He has an interest in us every moment of every day.
When we are glorified, conformed into the image of the Son and taken to the heavens, His intercession for the church will stop. It will no longer be necessary, the weaknesses will all have been removed. Finally, the work Christ did in order to provide for us our eternal redemption is typified by the sacrifices and service on the day of Atonement (Heb. 9:1-14). Jesus is “called of God as High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek, of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain…” (Heb. 5:10-11)