Jesus the Priest

Only those of the tribe of Levi and descendants of Aaron are allowed to be priests in Israel.  Jesus is from the tribe of Judah, the kingship tribe.  But a prophecy in Psalm 110 indicates that David’s son will be a priest after the order of Melchizedek (v.4).

Melchizedek was the king of Salem (original name for Jerusalem) and a “priest of God Most High” (Genesis 14:18).  After Abram’s rescue of his nephew Lot through a hard fought battle, Abram met Melchizedek (whose name means “king of righteousness”) and paid a tithe or tenth of the spoils of the battle to him. 

The author of Hebrews notes that no account is given of the birth or death of Melchizedek, which symbolizes his “eternal” priesthood, and notes that God would not have instituted a new priesthood order if the Aaronic priesthood had been sufficient to bring about eternal forgiveness.  Jesus is an eternal priest by the resurrection from the dead and he has presented his offering, himself, in the heavenly tabernacle, after which the earthly one was modeled (see Hebrews 7-10).

Jesus is, therefore, the ultimate priest of Israel, and now for the whole world.  He has the freedom now to sit down (Aaron and his offspring were not allowed to sit in the tabernacle) because his sacrifice, unlike the animal sacrifices, has perfected those cleansed by it forever.  No more sacrifice is needed.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess” (Hebrews 4:14).  Jesus was tempted in every way like us but did not sin.  Therefore he is the perfect priest and the spotless sacrifice, who can both identify with our weaknesses and be our substitute.  Because he died, we don’t have to.  He has so thoroughly satisfied the righteous demands of God that we can come boldly to the throne of God and receive His grace and help whenever we need it (Hebrews 4:16).

Jesus, as priest, has ended the need for animal sacrifices forever, and the need for the Day of Atonement as a festival in Israel, and has cleansed us from a guilty conscience once and for all by his sacrifice.  He remains in heaven as our advocate (1 John 2:1) and constantly intercedes for us with the Father when Satan accuses us of sin (Revelation 12:10; Hebrews 7:25).

Jesus, the Lamb of God

I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song:

   “You are worthy to take the scroll  and to open its seals, because you were slain,  and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:6-9) 

This rather bizarre picture focuses on one of the most important aspects of who Jesus is.  From the beginning of history God has been receiving animal sacrifices as a means to forgiveness.  Why such a gory method?  Well, imagine that you are the sinner who has brought your unblemished lamb to God’s priest and you must reach a knife under its throat and slit it and allow the lamb to bleed out.  You have just laid your hands on the animal to transfer your guilt to it.  But how can this innocent animal take your guilt?  Why must such a gruesome and deadly act be done to acquire forgiveness?  What if you don’t transfer your guilt to the lamb?

By this means God has shown for millennia that the penalty for sin is an awful penalty – death.  The possibility of a sacrifice in one’s place is a divine reality.  I don’t have to pay the penalty for my sin myself if there is a suitable substitute for me.

And God has spoken through His prophets about one who will be our substitute.  Isaiah declares of the Servant of Yahweh (Isaiah 53:4-6),

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.   But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.   We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Then the day comes when another prophet of God, John the Baptist, declares when he passes Jesus (John 1:29),

Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Jesus is worthy to open the sealed document containing God’s judgment on the world (Revelation 5) because he has paid the ultimate price for our disobedience.  He has become the sacrificial lamb for all who will accept his sacrifice.  For those who will not there is no one more able to say, “I gave you every chance and offered you a way out of this judgment by my own death.”  If we will but “lay our hands” on Jesus and transfer our guilt to him, he will take it.  It is our sin that has slain him.  God sees it and is satisfied with the perfect, spotless sacrifice of His Son, the Lamb without blemish.  You are forever forgiven (Hebrews 10:11-14),

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Lessons From the Old Testament: The Feasts of Israel (The Day of Atonement)

Leviticus 16

Nine days after the feast of Trumpets, on the 10th day of the 7th month, Israel was to observe the Day of Atonement, or literally, the day of covering.  This was because on this day the top of the ark of the covenant, which represented the throne of God, was to be covered with the blood of sacrifice in order to satisfy the just demands of the Holy God, Yahweh, so that He could forgive the sins of His people.  Even though they were bringing sin offerings throughout the year, this ceremony represented the need for one over-arching sacrifice to truly cover their guilt.

The day consisted of fasting, sabbath rest and a holy convocation or coming together before the sanctuary.  God wanted the people to focus on their sin and the awful requirements for atonement.  The process was even different for Aaron or whoever the high priest was that year.  He did not wear his usual priestly garments during the ceremony (except for the turban), but rather a unique set of white linen garments put on only after an entire bath in the Holy Place (the section of the tent in front of the Most Holy Place where the ark of the covenant was located).

As the people watched, the high priest brought a bull and a ram for a burnt and sin offering.  This was for his own atonement.  He would also bring two goats as sin offerings for the people and cast lots to see which would be offered to Yahweh as a sin offering and which would be sent out in the wilderness as a scapegoat.  Then he alone entered the sanctuary, removed his normal garments and bathed, then put on the linen garments.  He then came out and slew his sin offerings and brought blood from these offerings as well as hot coals from the altar outside and some incense in with him to the Most Holy Place.  He put the incense in the coals to create smoke that would conceal to some extent the cover on the ark of the covenant so that he wouldn’t die.  This seems to be a representation of the fact that a clear, unobstructed view of God’s holiness would be dangerous to us.  Then he sprinkled blood from his sin offering on the cover or lid of the ark and some before or in front of it.

The people could see none of this, but at this point the high priest would come out of the sanctuary and offer in sacrifice the goat chosen as a sin offering for the people of Israel.  He would re-enter the sanctuary with blood from this goat and sprinkle it on the cover or lid of the ark and in front of the ark in the Most Holy Place.  This was also meant to cleanse the sanctuary.

Then the high priest would come out to the Holy Place, still unseen by the people, and put some of the blood from this sacrifice on the altar of incense to cleanse it (though some believe he came all the way out of the sanctuary and cleansed the altar outside). 

Then he would come outside and get the goat chosen to be abandoned in the wilderness, lay his hands on it and confess Israel’s sins over it.  The man chosen to take this goat would then escort it to the wilderness as a symbol of the people’s sins being taken far away.  God’s forgiveness was thus represented by the death of one goat and the removal of another, signaling how completely Israel had been forgiven.

The high priest would then re-enter the sanctuary, remove his linen garments and bath and redress in his normal garments, come out and offer the burnt offering for himself and the one for all the people and make sure it was entirely burnt up (no one would eat any portion of this sacrifice).

What kind of sense do you think you would have watching this about how seriously God deals with sin?  How comfortable would you feel that this had to be done every year?  This makes all the more wonderful the complete answer God had coming in the Messiah, Jesus.  Jesus entered the heavenly sanctuary with his own blood, not needing a sacrifice for his own sin because he was sinless, and cleansed forever the sin of those who trust in him (Hebrews 9).

Our day of atonement has been observed once and for all!

Lessons From the Old Testament: The Feasts of Israel (Passover)

One of the ways God ordered Israel’s life so that it would point to Him as their true God and away from foreign gods (who are not gods at all), was to arrange their weeks and months around spiritually significant events.  So the sabbath (Saturday) was a remembrance of creation and the setting aside of a day of rest to reflect God’s ceasing from creating.  It would remind Israelites that they can depend on God to take care of them even if they cease from work one day a week.

The festivals or feasts of Israel accomplished the same thing.  They commemorated spiritually significant events and meanings in Israel’s history to remind them of God’s great salvation.  Passover is the first of these feasts and reminds them of the deliverance from bondage in Egypt.  Exodus 12 is the key passage for this festival, but it is also discussed in Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28.

This feast was established while Israel was still in Egypt.  After God had sent nine plagues on Egypt and Pharaoh had still refused to let the people go into the wilderness to worship Yahweh, Yahweh told the Israelites to consider the seventh month they were in, Nisan, to be the first month of their spiritual calendar year.  He told them to take an unblemished lamb or goat on the 10th of the month and hold it for four days (presumably to make sure it is healthy and without blemish) and then slaughter it on the 14th of Nisan at twilight, spread its blood on their doorposts, and then eat the entire animal that night in preparation to leave Egypt the next day.

The feast is called Passover because on this night Yahweh was going to visit death upon the firstborn of every household except those with the sacrificed animal’s blood on them.  These He would “pass over” and spare.  The 14th-21st of Nisan were to be sabbath days, the only work allowed being preparing and cooking the sacrifice.  They were to be observed by the elimination of leaven or yeast from the bread dough.  Hence it was called the Feast of Unleavened Bread and immediately followed the Passover feast.

This perpetual celebration was an opportunity annually to instruct each other, especially one’s children, concerning Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel from slavery and the power and justice of God in bringing punishment on Israel’s enemy.  Special instructions were given to observe this feast and all who were able were to come to the place Yahweh picked to observe the feast each year.  The place He eventually picked was Jerusalem.

John the Baptist later shows part of the anticipation this feast was expected to generate when he identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), and Paul does the same when he calls him “Christ, our Passover lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7).  The animal whose blood had to be shed to deliver the Israelites from Yahweh’s wrath on their firstborn foreshadowed the only sacrifice that could take away our guilt and satisfy God’s wrath, Jesus the eternal God who added a human nature.  He too was spotless and His blood has kept us from death as we trusted in His sacrifice to cover our guilt.

Many Jews have used Passover as a time of prayer for the coming of the Messiah.  We believe that He has indeed already come and is coming again.  It is the passover meal which Jesus celebrated with his disciples the night he was arrested.  He told them he would not eat it with them again until he returned in his kingdom.  Passover represents our initial redemption from the bondage of our sin and of Satan.  We are in a perpetual experience of the benefits of this salvation purchased in Christ and are in a spiritual sense now observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread as we live in the world but don’t become influenced by its mindset of self-redemption.  We celebrate now not the freedom from Egypt but the freedom purchased at the cross by the resurrected Jesus.

[See this article on the history of Passover observance]