Last week I stated that at times it is difficult to make black and white lines between the offices of Christ because all three are united in the One Person of Christ. They are distinct but separate. For example, last week we learned that as Prophet Jesus reveals, by His Word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation. His Prophetic role is a revelatory role, a role that teaches us what we need to know in order to be saved. As we look into His Priestly role this week we’ll see how it’s different in its scope yet does is not still teach us and reveal the will of God to us? Indeed it does. This is just a brief example how these offices are distinct but not separate.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism question 25 asks this question: “How does Christ execute the office of a priest? Answer: Christ executes the office of priest, in His once offering up of Himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God, and in making continual intercession for us.” This reveals that there are two primary functions of the Priesthood of Christ: mediation and intercession. We’ll take them one at a time.
Think of the Old Testament priest. God has ordained and commanded that His people Israel be active in the sacrificial system. This meant that on varying holy days, Sabbaths, festivals, and celebrations the people would be engaged in ritual sacrifice where God’s wrath would be satisfied through the offering up of an animal functioning as a substitute for the people and their sin. These sacrifices were meant to be moments of worship for Israel. Who was it that God called to lead the sacrificial system and tend and keep the tabernacle and temple? It was the priests. As Adam was to tend and keep the garden within Eden, so too Aaron (the first priest) and his descendants were charge with tending and keeping the worship of God for God’s people. By leading these moments the priests were literally ‘standing in the gap’ between God and His people. The people brought animals or wheat or grain for an offering, and it was the priest who actually made the offering.
Year after year, these offerings would have to be repeated, and in particular once a year the high priest would make an offering inside the holy of holies. The priest would get dressed up in holy garb for this occasion and included in his garb was various gems and jewels that signified the people themselves, meaning that the priest entered the holy of holies as the representative or in behalf of the people of God. Contrast the role of prophet with that of a priest. The prophet was to be God’s representative to the people, while the priest was to be man’s representative to God.
This is of course where we see the glory of Jesus Christ being our Priest. Listen again to the first part of the Shorter Catechism’s answer, ‘Christ executes the office of priest, in His once offering up of Himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God…’ Held within this answer are three important truths about Jesus functioning as our priest: substitution, satisfaction, and reconciliation.
In His Priestly work of substitution we see that Jesus as Priest not only made an offering as our representative before God, He was the offering itself. He was the ‘sacrificial animal’ or the ‘unblemished Lamb’ that bore our sins. No other Priest ever did such a thing. There was always an animal or something other than the priest himself that he would offer to God. Not so with Jesus, for Jesus was the offering. In our place, as our substitute He bore the wrath of God that we deserved.
In His Priestly work of satisfaction we the first result of Jesus’ substitution, that just as the unblemished animals offered up to God in bloody fire would satisfy God’s wrath and justice on the people’s behalf, so too, when Jesus offered Himself up as our substitute He satisfied God’s wrath and justice on our behalf. That His bloody sacrifice satisfied God’s wrath means His sacrifice is sufficient for all, and efficient for the elect. Nothing else need be added to the work of redemption, Christ’s work alone is able to save all those He intends to. I said sufficient for all, but only efficient for the elect because we must speak briefly of the extent of this atonement. The atonement in the Old Covenant sacrifices extended only to the Israelites. No Canaanites, or Jebusites, or Moabites were covered by these sacrifices at all. In the same manner, but largely greater, the New Covenant sacrifice of Christ on the cross, extends today only to the elect from every nation. Many people say Jesus died for the whole world, but this is simply not true. Anytime Scripture says Jesus died for all, or for the cosmos, it refers to all of the elect throughout all of time, not every single person who ever lived, else we’d have to embrace universalism or a deficient view of the atonement which believes the work of Christ on the cross doesn’t actually save us, it only makes salvation possible. We reject both universalism and this low view of the atonement. That Christ’s substitutionary atoning sacrifice satisfied God’s wrath means it actually saves us!
In His Priestly work of reconciliation we see yet another result of Jesus’ substitution, that because Jesus bore God’s wrath in our place as our substitute God was not only satisfied but was also reconciled with His elect. Due to sin all men are not merely separated from God, we’re alienated from God. Because of the blood of Jesus, the elect who were once alienated and far off have been brought near and have been reconciled.
That we’re reconciled to God through Jesus’ Priestly mediation means that all believers now have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5), spreading this message to the ends of the earth through any and every means we can.
(Image courtesy of Gilbert Lennox photography)