The Blood of Jesus and Towards a Recovery of the High Priestly Ministry of Jesus

Posted by on Jan 6, 2012 in Hebrews, The Gospel and the Christian Life, What We Write About

Explanation of Hebrews 9:24-26

             The cleaning of heaven by the blood of Jesus is the turning point of human history. This is what Hebrews 9:26 means when it says that Christ “appeared once for all at the end of the ages.” That expression marks this as the decisive point of history, when God’s redemptive plan comes into full focus as the climax of all history. Before Christ went into the heavens, having died on the cross and been raised from the dead, there was no way for sinners to have fellowship with the holy God. It had promised and symbolized, that is true. That is what the Old Testament Israel was all about, but when the great High Priest entered into heaven with his own saving blood, everything changed forever for those who come to God through Him. His appearing there for His people is the definitive act of history so far as the salvation of sinners is concerned.

A right view of history is important to the writer of Hebrews, and to make things perfectly clear, he relates the history of God’s redemptive work on the person history of every person born on earth: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Heb. 9:27-28). There is a relationship between the personal history of every individual and God’s redemptive history that centers on the death of Christ. Indeed, the latter is fitted to the needs of the former and therefore they are similarly arranged.

The point in verse 27 makes is an important one. People want to know—or at least they should want to know what happens after they die. The general view of the ancient Greeks was that they are disintegrate into nothing or absorbed into a great impersonal cosmic sea. At best their hope was a vague “if”. As the Roman historian Tacitus wrote in eulogy of a man he admired, “If there be any habitation for the spirits of just men, if great souls perish not with the body mayest though rest in peace.” Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-empower of Rome, could think of only a spark from man’s soul returning to be lost forever in God.[1] People who look to the Eastern tradition of reincarnation have a hope that is hardly better. They think of souls returning to the earth for ear-endless toil in one life after another, until finally they merit the reward of oblivion.

The Christian answer to this question could not be more different. The answer to this question is in Hebrews 9:27, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” There is this life and death, and no others, after which comes judgment before God’s holy throne. There is a resurrection for both the just and the unjust. All will die, and after death come to stand before God to be measured according to the perfect standard of God’s holy law.

This rules out the many “second-chance” theories that are occasionally popular in Christian circles. People like to think that even if they deny Christ in this life and then die in their sins, they can have another change when they die to see him after death. Hebrews 9:27 flies in the face of this teaching, and teaches that after death is judgment. Jesus warned in John 8:24, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” Indeed, the great gospel verses in John 3 make it plain that those who refuse Jesus Christ will perish. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18).

Jesus made the provision for the forgiveness His people need. He has died in the place of sinners on the cross, taking up their sins, and then appeared before God in heaven with the marks still on his hands and feet, his blood bearing testimony to his redeeming work for all who look and come to him in faith.

The shedding of Christ’s blood and his appearance in heaven as Redeemer of His own– is a once-for-all event that changes everything. Since Christ died to remove His people’s sin, this need happened only once. His blood is sufficient to the task, so there is no need for a repetition. Not only does this need to happen only once, but it can only happen once. This has profound impact on every Christian’s life. It is sadly, a very common experience today for Christians to supposedly experience conversion over and over– some Christians are even baptized repeatedly. The reason this happens is because they feel an ongoing need to deal with the guilt of their sin. They come to Christ, perhaps at a revival meeting which emphasized the importance of a personal decision, answering a call to come to the altar. There they gave their hearts to Jesus, pledging faith to him and enmity to sin. The emphasis was on their action, their decision. In the evening, as they lay their heads down to sleep, there were a joy and a peace they had never known before, the joy of the redeemed and the peace of the forgiven. In the morning, however, they awoke in the world and not in heaven. How much easier it would be were that not so! They awoke still as sinners, perhaps to their great alarm. Though truly saved, and though God had given them the new birth, they found they still sinned. Yes, often the Lord gives grace for an immediate deliverance from particular sins, ad this is a great encouragement to the new believer. But total deliverance from all of sin’s power, total escape from our sinful nature, comes only after death, and not at conversion. This is why Hebrews so strongly warns believers to avoid the snares of sin (3:13; 12:1)– were sin no longer a problem, such warnings would not have been needed.

The weak believer discovers the continuing reality of sin, to his alarm. With clawing fear he contemplates a judgment he now is more keenly aware of than ever before. Over and over again he seeks forgiveness out of resources of his own capacity to believe and repent, a capacity that is limited and insufficient to the task. Whole lives are present like this, seeking a conversion that will finally stick, seeking an experience that will do the job, seeking a passion that will cleanse them once-for all.

If Christians are saved by their faith, then it would not be “once-for-all” because faith is not reliable or permanent. Christians are often prone to wonder, sometimes being weak and sometimes strong. “Once-for-all” is not an expression used in reference to their faith and repentance because Christians have not sinned for the last time, or experienced their last doubt or shed their last tear for sin or failure.

The good news of the Gospel is that Christians are not saved by their faith, but by Christ Himself. This means that His death saves His people, and this was “once-for-all”. His entry into heaven to minister for His people saves His own, upholds those with weak and wavering faith, once-for-all. This proves the point that what is not once-for-all for Christians is once-for-all for Him. The peace of Christ is not in believers it is in Christ. Christians must receive Christ by faith, but the point is that the faith they exercise is not the foundation upon which salvation relies, since salvation relies upon Jesus, of whom it can be said, “once-for-all.”

Believers’ works will never give them peace, hope, or joy. The Scripture says that God has “no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17), but this is not a reference to Christians. “Once-for-all” the Lord Jesus Christ appeared before God, and there he remains, bearing the marks of his once for all sacrifice. Understanding this point makes it clear that forgiveness Christ procured on the Cross is once for all, which means God’s love towards His people is sure forever. Christ does not have to die over and over—does not have to bring His blood back and forth to God, because “he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26). Therefore, Christians need not seek forgiveness over and over, but may rest their hearts in Christ and then get busy serving his cause in the world.

In the death of Christ and in his ascension into Heaven something definitive happened. It is a definitive work with a definite result: “to bear the sins of many” (Heb. 9:28).

Hebrews 9:28 contains a statement of means and ends for all of history. The means is the appearance of Jesus Christ as the decisive intervention that changes all things. This was the import of his first coming: Christ was sacrificed to appear for His people in God’s presence. That two fold work—Christ’s death for our forgiveness and Christ’s life for our salvation is the focus of redemptive history. Paul write sin Romans 6:10, “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.”  Christ died definitively and He lives definitively, securing the salvation by His eternal testimony to His once-for all work of redemption. Together, His death and His eternal life in heaven are the means of the salvation of the people of God. “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” (Heb. 9:24).

Verse 26 then expresses the end toward which all is directed: “for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”  Verse 28 says it again: “to bear the sins of many.” Christ has taken away sins of His people– His work was directed to that end, and it is done once-for-all. This was the designed intention of the saving work of Christ, all of which is now declared in the tense. He was sacrificed he entered heaven to appear for His people. It is a definitive work, accomplished, secured, and finished. Yes, Christians still have to contend with sin– it is defeated but not removed. Therefore Christian’s await Christ’s return to save them from this struggle. But while Christians wait, they are secure forever in Him. This is why Christians can sing about this struggle with such confidence and hope:

When darkness veils his lovely face,

I rest on his unchanging grace;

In every high and stormy gale,

My anchor holds within the devil.

On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;

all other ground is sinking sand.[2]

That leads to the second point, namely, that although Christ’s death and appearance in heaven for His people is the turning point of history, it is not the end of history. “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”  (Heb. 9:28).

History had a beginning in the creation of all things. History has a problem, namely man’s fall into sin and condemnation. It also has a focal turning point that answers every need: the first coming of Christ, with his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven as Savior of sinners. History has its culmination: the return of Christ not in weakness but in glory, “not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Heb. 9:28). What a great hope this provides to all who believe, but struggle in this world.

The great Puritan, John Owen, writes:

Faith in the second of Christ is sufficient to support the souls of believers, and to give them satisfactory consolation in all difficulties, trials, and distresses. All true believers live in a waiting, longing expectation of the coming of Christ. It is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of believers so to do. At the second appearance of Christ there will be an end of the business about sin, both on his part and ours.[3]

Judgment is inevitable, but sin is not. Believers will not have to put up with sin forever. It is not simply the way things are or always will be. It has been dealt with, and even as Christians war against it still, they know the victor’s crown lies not far ahead. Christians are waiting for Him, and while they wait, they are to serve Him, and worship Him with all their lives, bearing witness to a lost and guilty world. This is the worship of those who have joy and hope, awaiting the great day when salvation comes in the return of Christ.


The High Priestly ministry of Jesus is one of the deepest and most neglected truths in the Bible. Christians serve an exalted Lord and Savior who is their King and Priest. Jesus mediates the new covenant and empowers believers to know and serve Him. Jesus is the Intercessor who prays for His people that their faith will not fail, but remain steadfast. The truth of the ministry of High Priest is needed today as many believers struggle with assurance and perservance. The truth of Jesus mediating His covenant is of great assurance not only to those who struggle with doubt, sin and more, but is a great confidence to those who proclaim the Gospel. The ministry of Jesus as High priest confronts the pride of man by revealing an exalted Savior who remains supreme. Ultimately the ministry of Jesus as High Priest demonstrates His superiority by revealing how Jesus is the only way, the truth and the life. Jesus is superior in every way and He alone reigns supreme over His creation and His people.

[1] Cited in William Barclay, The Letter To The Hebrews (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976), 111.

[2] Edward Mote, “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less,” 1834.

[3] John Owen, An Exposition Of The Epistle To The Hebrews, 7 vols. (Edinburg: Banner of Truth, 1991), 6:417.

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The Sufficiency and Superiority of Christ’s High Priestly Ministry

Posted by on Jan 5, 2012 in Hebrews, The Gospel and the Christian Life, What We Write About

Explanation of Hebrews 8:1-2

            The writer of Hebrews focuses not on any earthly ministry— not on believers and not on an earthly priest, but on Jesus Christ in heaven. It is His person and work that the author of Hebrews has been expounding on since the beginning of chapter 7. It was Christ who draws the attention of the reader to verse 1, “The point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest.”

The final section of Hebrews 7 served as the climax of a crescendo that had been building throughout the chapter. Now, at the beginning of chapter 8, the author regroups and prepares the reader for the next climb up to a high level still. The chief point the author wants the reader to grasp before moving onward is the superiority of Christ’s priestly ministry in heaven.

Chapter seven concludes by saying that Christ “has been made perfect” (v.28). Now Hebrews 8 beings by saying, “We have such a high priest,” that is a perfect one. Whereas the earthly priests of Israel were imperfect Christ is perfect. This speaks both to His sinless person and to His work on earth that accomplished all that was needed for him to be a high priest forever. Jesus was perfect in His person from the start to the finish in his earthly life, but in His work He became perfect.

Jesus is both Priest and King. Believers have such a high priest, we read, “who is seated at the right hand of the throne of Majesty in heaven” (Heb. 8:1). In other words, Jesus has taken his royal place at heaven’s throne. This is never true in Israel; the men who ruled as king were not the men who served before the Lord as priests. Christians have One who ascends to the throne over His people, the One who comes to play such a pivotal role on their behalf, the King who single-handedly determines God’s attitude toward all his king, is none other than the great High Priest, Jesus Christ. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and he will reign forever and ever. This is good news for Christians, because they need not fear a change in regime since He is an everlasting King ruling an everlasting Kingdom.

The superiority of Christ also draws attention to the “one who is seated” (Hebrews. 8:1). Jesus sitting emphasizes that His work is accomplished once for all, a superior ministry that offers, final eternal peace to weary sinners now forgiven and accepted by God in heaven. There is nothing more for him to do win His people to salvation, nothing more for them to do than to rest with joy in Him. The salvation He accomplished is truly “finished.”

The superiority of Christ’s priestly ministry is the power with which He presently reigns. Hebrews 8:1 says He sits at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven, that is, of God the Father himself. Matthew Henry explains, “The authority he exercises for the glory of his Father, for his own honour, and for the happiness of all who belong to him; and he will by his almighty power bring every one of them in their own order to the right hand of God in heaven, as members of his mystical body, that where he is they may be also.”[1]

The assurance of the believer is grounded in the fact that Christ is seated in heaven. Jesus is the forerunner of His people, for they are seated in heaven, and guarantees their place. This is what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 2:6 when he says of Jesus, “and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Paul could say this in the past tense— that believers have already been raised and seated with Christ, because Jesus is there for them; in Him shall they be there too and even are represented there now. Thus Christians learn that they find full assurance of salvation in Christ, who is seated in heaven. Because of his authority in heaven, Jesus is confident of our salvation, saying in John’s Gospel: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” (John 6:39).

Believers can be confident of their salvation because they are in Christ, who is seated in heaven, and also because Christ is in His people, working with power the Christ who is at work in His people is the One who has been crucified; dead to sins’ influence, He is victorious over sin. Jesus is alive with resurrection power and is reigning with authority and power. The Westminster Shorter Catechism explains that Jesus fulfills his office as King “in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies”[2] He has power to win His people’s hearts, to rule them, to govern them, to shape and change them, and to protect them in their pilgrim quest through a dark and dangerous world. Therefore Christians ought to not be afraid, since Christ’s superior ministry wins their salvations and guarantees it from the throne at God’s right hand.

The final feature of Christ’s superiority is laid out in verse 2, which says that the high priest Jesus is “a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.” This theme is picked up in Hebrews 8:4-5, “Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”

This statement fends off criticism that was leveled against Christians by the Jewish community, namely that Christians had no priest. The writer of the Hebrews insists that this is not a sign of weakness, but rather of Christianity’s superiority. Christians have a priest but not one on the earth. Indeed, the earthly priesthood is nothing more than a “copy and shadow” of the true priestly ministry in heaven, which is the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is not just a pilgrim on his way. The cross is no longer before Him. He has no more trials, no more foes, no more work to be done. He has arrived at His appointed destination, and there He ministers for His people until He comes again to bring history to a close. Jesus is there in heaven, the true tabernacle where God himself dwells, and it is the goal of His superior ministry to bring His people to where he is, near to God in heaven. It is His work to do all these things for those He saved and He will do it. He is Himself as he said in John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” When God’s people come to Jesus, he brings them to God, to heaven and to eternal life. He brings His people home because He knows the way and has opened it for them.

Hebrews 8:6 wraps up the discussion on the superiority of Jesus ministry by stating that His covenant is superior, having better promises. The covenant Jesus offers is a better covenant—a better way of salvation– better than anything ever offered to mankind before. It is superior because Jesus is superior because His work actually saves His people. He doesn’t give His people the chance to be saved, to save themselves, or to be saved by others— He saves them. He wins His people’s salvation by His perfect and finished work, a work so finished that He sat down. He applies that salvation to His people with His power and authority, ruling over them and in them and for them so that His kingdom will be established. He awaits His people in haven not passively, seeing if they will make it. He draws His people to Himself by His divine power. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you,” (John 14:18). All of this point’s to the fact that the salvation Christ accomplished is complete and sure. His ministry is superior in every way because He saves His people to the uttermost.

The recovery of this gospel—which speaks of the sufficiency of Jesus Christ—has always brought joy to the church. Christians will never have the joy of salvation if they are relying on their own works. But when they rely completely on Christ— both his perfect offering for them and his present ministry on their behalf—they have a joy that nothing can take away.

[1] Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, 6 vols. (New York: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), 6:742

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The Lamb of God, Worship and the High Priestly Ministry of Jesus

Posted by on Jan 2, 2012 in Hebrews, The Gospel and the Christian Life, What We Write About

The question and theme, “Where is the Lamb?” connects the entire Old Testament. Abraham offered his Son Isaac as a sacrifice atop Mount Moriah. Second Chronicles 3:1 teaches that it was there that Solomon later built the temple. Upon the very rock where Abraham made his altar and raised his knife above the breast of his son, the offering of Israel were made, century after century, pointing forward to the true sacrifice that would be made on nearby Mount Calvary. It was God’s Son then, unlike when Abraham sought to offer his only son, his beloved son Isaac, there was no angel to stay the hand of God when the hammers drove the nails into Jesus’ hand and feet.

The question, “Where is the Lamb?” is answered by the whole anxious anticipation of the Old Testament in Jesus Christ. He is, as John the Baptist announced, ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29). Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Psalm Sunday, but it was also the day the Passover lambs were driven in for slaughter, a vivid scene associating Jesus with these sacrificial lambs. Then in the midst of the Passover Feast, as the thousands of lambs were being actually slaughtered, the soldiers’ hammers nailed our Lord Jesus to the Cross– there to die for His people. The symbolism is obvious as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5:7, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” Jesus is the true Lamb.

Not only must Christians ask, “where is the Lamb?”, but “where is the priest?” Just as God’s people (before the time of Christ) must have realized the inability of sheep and goats to atone for human sin, so they must also have realized that the mortal priests– sinners like themselves– were not qualified for the work of offering the true sacrifice before God.

Exodus 28 teaches about the special garments made for the high priest. There were a breastplate and an ephod, a robe with a tunic, a turban, and a sash. These were made of gold, and the finest linen, corresponding to the decorations of the tabernacle and thus showing that the high priest belonged in the presence of God. In other words the high priest was fitted to worship God in a way that would glorify God. All of this is important because it points to how Jesus is perfectly fitted to deliver His people from their sin and weakness. He is fitting in His person and fitting in His work. Jesus Christ is also fit for the worship of His people.

The things taught in Hebrews 7:26-28 are essential to true worship. True worship begins with an awareness of our need. This passage teaches that Jesus meets the need of sinners by confronting them with the need to admit that need—the need forgiveness, the need for reconciliation with God and the need for eternal life.

The other thing sinners need for true worship is the awareness that in Jesus Christ God has met their need. The word worship comes from the older word “worth-ship.” To worship someone or something is to acclaim its worth. When one realizes that Jesus Christ is not just some fine moral teacher or some guru among a crowd of religious figures, but the very Savior they need, the only solution to their predicament– the only lamb able to bear their sin before God and the only priest able to offer that sacrifice to God— when sinners realize this they will worship Him. Indeed to not worship Jesus Christ is to demonstrate that one does not understand one’s need or the sufficiency of His saving work. Only Jesus Christ is able to meet the need for sinners, because only He is fitted to deal with the predicament of sin.

That is what the redeemed do in heaven: they worship the true Lamb, the Lamb who was slain. The apostle John opens a window to this in the Book of Revelation, where he saw a Lamb that was slain upon the throne of heaven. And then he heard this song in heavenly joy: “And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Rev. 5:9-10).

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Perseverance and the High Priestly Ministry of Jesus

Posted by on Dec 30, 2011 in Hebrews, The Gospel and the Christian Life, The Gospel and the Ministry, What We Write About

Explanation of Hebrews 6:20

            Jesus has entered the heavenly sanctuary on our behalf. He has gone there as forerunner, a designation found only here in the New Testament but which appears in a variety of athletic and military contexts of the Hellenistic world. In Hebrews, where the term is employed figuratively, the notion of precedence prevails over that of speed. As forerunner Jesus did not simply ‘run on ahead’. Rather he is the ‘precursor’ of believers, the first in a series that follows after him. He has opened up the way behind the curtain (10:19-22) which had been in place until the present time (9:9). He entered the heavenly sanctuary to obtain cleansing for His people (9:12) to represent them in the presence of God (9:24), and to enable them to enter into heaven (10:19-22). Like the earlier title ‘pioneer’, forerunner evokes the image of the movement on the path to heavenly glory (2:10) that believers are called upon to tread following in Christ’s footsteps. Accordingly, this statement in 6:20 explains why hope is able to enter the heavenly sanctuary.

Further, Jesus’ entry into the heavenly sanctuary is as His people’s eternal high priest in the order of Melchizedek, an expression that provides a further basis for the assurance of hope mentioned in v.19. Accordingly, Christians can approach God with confidence since Jesus the heavenly high priest has offered the perfect sacrifice and sits at the right hand of God (4:14-16; 10:19-22) Thus, Christians can go where Jesus has gone, to the world to come, the Sabbath rest and the heavenly country, the ultimate hope of God’s people throughout the ages.

Apart from the passing reference ‘to the world of Christ’ in 6:1, this is the first explicit mention of Jesus since 5:10. It was at this point that the author of Hebrews broke off his exposition of the high priesthood ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ so as to turn again to exhortation, and thus to warn and encourage his listeners (5:11-6:20) In a striking but carefully crafted parallel this paraphrase of Psalm 110:4 signals that the so called ‘digression’ of 5:11-6:20 is ending. The author has addressed his hearers by reproof, warning, and encouragement so that they will give their full attention to what he is about to say in chapter 7 regarding the Son as a superior high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

            Jesus came into the world to become His people’s Savior, to blaze a trial through the barrier of sin by His perfect life and atoning death. He then went up into heaven to reign as the high priest— not a temporary priest like the Levites in Israel, but a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. The point is that Christ will never be replaced in His heavenly mission for His people. He will never fail and never die.

Jesus came to earth to live and die for His people, and when He returned to heaven, it also was for the sake of His people, to affix the anchor of their hope “sure and steadfast” in the inner sanctum of Heaven itself. In the great promises of God, secured in Christ, Christians have a cable of salvation that nothing can break or destroy, so that they can be certain of arriving safe in the harbor of Heaven.

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Assurance, Perseverance and the High Priestly Ministry of Jesus

Posted by on Dec 26, 2011 in Hebrews, The Gospel and the Christian Life, The Gospel and the Ministry, What We Write About

Jesus Christ meets the qualifications to be mediator and high priest to His people. Someone may be qualified for a position without actually having the authority to hold it. Qualification is a prerequisite, but there must be an appointment to the office if the work is to be acceptable and binding. Hebrews 5:4-6 teaches that Jesus is not only qualified to be high priest but that God has also appointed Him to this office.

This matter of appointment is important for two reasons: the first is that it determines the way the office is carried out. Verses 4 and 5 make this point, “And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” A true priest is not one who has acted to elevate himself in the eyes of men or God. A true priest is motivated solely by a desire to honor God and serve men, without concern for personal advancement.

Jesus did not come to earth seeking glory for himself but to do the will of his Father in heaven. “If I glorify myself,” he said, “my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me” (John 8:54). Philip Hughes observes. “In assuming the office of savior and high priest, so far was the Son from exalting and glorifying himself that he accepted it knowing full well that it meant for him the experience of the darkest depth of humiliation, rejection, agony and death.”[1]

The writer of Hebrews has long been discussing the matter of believers’ perseverance. He compares his reader’s situation to Israel’s in the desert, when many fell away through disobedience, unbelief and rebellion. This ought to cause God’s people to ask, “How will I fare in the years ahead? Will I persevere through my own struggles and temptations?”

The answer to these questions, and to need of assurance for Christians, is the appointment of Jesus Christ as high priest. He has already completed the work of dying for sin. He has gone into heaven to offer his sacrificial blood for His people’s sake. There He now sits enthroned as priest who ministers on behalf of His people, praying for them, interceding with the Father, and sending the heavenly manna needed to feed and tend to the faith of God’s people. What good news this is! James Boice sums up the point for us: “The reason the saints will persevere is that Jesus has done everything necessary for their salvation. Since he has made a perfect atonement for their sin and since God has sworn to accept Jesus’ work, the believer can be as certain that he or she will be in heaven as that Jesus himself is there.”[2]

[1] Philip E. Hughes, A Commentary On The Epistle of Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 180.

[2] James Montgomery Boice, Psalms, v.3 vol. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 3:902.

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Confidence, Perseverance, and the High Priestly Ministry of Jesus

Posted by on Dec 24, 2011 in Hebrews, The Gospel and the Christian Life, The Gospel and the Ministry, What We Write About

In Hebrews 2:14 the writer says it is “our confession” that Christians must hold fast to. The early church employed theological formulas to express the faithful’s confession, like the Apostle’s Creed. These confessions remind believers that there is true content to their profession of faith. Some people say they are against creeds, but creeds are simply summaries of biblical teaching. The Latin word credo means, “I believe.” It matters what Christians believe– there is content they cannot let go of without letting go of salvation in Christ: things like who Jesus is and what He has done to save His people from their sins.

J.C. Ryle explains:  A Religion without doctrine or dogma is a thing which many are fond of talking of in the present day. It sounds very fine at first. It looks very pretty at a distance. But the moment we sit down to examine and consider it, we shall find it a simple impossibility. We might as well talk of a body without bones and sinews. No man will ever be anything or do anything in religion, unless he believes something. No one ever fights earnestly against the world, the flesh and the devil, unless he has engraven on his heart certain great principles which he believes.[1]

The writer of Hebrews goes on to give God’s people a doctrinal reason why they are to persevere. The motivation for God’s people to enter into a life of struggle and strife, holding fast to the confession of the faith is given in Hebrews 4:15, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” The reason behind the believers’ perseverance is the person and work of Jesus Christ, who as the Son of God and the Great High Priest over His people has secured their salvation. Jesus and His saving work are set forth here as the antidote mainly to fear: fear of failure, fear of falling away, and even the fear of drawing near to God that paralyzes so many Christians.

Many Christians struggle in their relationship with God, especially when it comes to prayer. This reason is felt by the writer of Hebrews, and is expressed in what he said in the preceding verse: “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Heb. 4:13).

Anyone with any spiritual awareness is made very uneasy by the thought of God’s searching gaze. Remember the scene in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve first sinned. In their original state, before they fell into sin, they were “naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25). With no sin to condemn them, they delighted in the gaze of their loving Creator. After the fall, they hid their shame even from one another, pathetically sewing on fig leaves for garments. Even more they dreaded the presence of God, fleeing and hiding from him as he approached.

This is how many Christians feel in their relationship with God. The thought of His gaze chills their bones. They are willing to do anything but deal with God himself, skulking around the edges of His light rather than drawing near to him. They struggle to pray and seldom do unless forced by circumstances. It is this paralyzing fear that the writer of Hebrews now addresses. Sinners are no longer commanded to keep their distance in fear and trembling, but on the contrary are now invited to draw near, and to do so with confidence.[2]

The reason for this change is the saving work of Jesus Christ who reconciles sinners to God. In particular, two aspects of that work come into view here: He has made propitiation for His people in the heavenly tabernacle, and He now ministers on high with sympathy for His people weaknesses.

When God discovered Adam and Eve’s sin, He punished them by barring them from the garden and cursing them. God then took the initiative in restoring them to fellowship with himself. Genesis 3:21 tells us, “The Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin and clothed them.” God sacrificed an animal in their place and clothed them with the garment of the innocent substitute He had provided. This is a wonderful picture of what Jesus Christ has done for His people, the Lamb of God who takes away His people’s sin and whose perfect righteousness is imputed to His people.

When the writer of Hebrews speaks of Jesus as the High Priest over His people—and with this passage His priesthood becomes the dominate theme in this letter— what he emphasizes is Christ’s atoning work by dying upon the cross.  He sets up a comparison between, on one hand, what Jesus did by dying and rising from the dead and then ascending into Heaven and, on the other, the ceremonial office performed by Israel’s high priest.

Once a year, the high priest entered the inner sanctum of the tabernacle of the tabernacle to make atonement for the sins of the people. First, offering a sacrifice for his own sins and then cleansing himself with water, the high priest—and he alone- one day a year and that day only—entered into the very presence of God. There in the holy of holies he saw the Ark of the Covenant, with the golden angels on top with their upswept wings, gazing down upon the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, God’s law, which the people had broken by their sins. To avoid punishment, the high priest brought blood from the animal sacrifice, which he sprinkled upon the mercy seat; the tray for the blood which interposed between God’s piercing gaze and the tablets of the law. When the blood was offered, God’s wrath was turned away from the people’s sin.

Israel’s priests pointed forward to Jesus, the great high priest. He is great because of his divine nature. He is the Son of God, and his shed blood is sufficient to satisfy God’s wrath forever. He is great because his sacrifice achieved a finished atonement, unlike the ones offered by Aaron, which had to be repeated daily. He is great because he is not a sinful man going into the holy of holies only once a year, and needing to come back again the next. Instead He has gone through the heavens into the true tabernacle, the heavenly throne room of God, and offered his shed blood once-for-all. This is the contrast implicit in verse 14: unlike Aaron, who was denied entry into the Promised Land because of his sin, and unlike the high priests who followed Aaron who were themselves sinners and could not offer the true sacrifice, Jesus has entered the land of rest, heaven itself, and has finished redemption of His people.

Because Jesus is His people’s high priest, God’s people are reconciled to God. This means that Christians can approach Him freely. Christians do not have to hide from Him– they do not have to flee like Adam in the garden, the veil barring them from God’s presence is torn because of the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross. Christians may now as the writer of Hebrews so greatly wants God’s people to see, approach boldly into the presence of God that once was barred by man’s sin.

The mercy seat was the place where sinners might approach the holy God in safety and with confidence. This is what God said to Moses in the wilderness: “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.” (Ex. 25:22). This is where believers meet safely and peacefully with the Lord our God, at the place made safe by the blood offered by Jesus the High Priest.

The second aspect of Christ’s priestly ministry is the sympathy he bears for His people in heaven. Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” This is a point the author has made before, and it’s an important one. The Lord that Christians serve, the Savior to whom they look, is not aloof from the trials they experience, but feels them with intimate acquaintance. He is not disinterested or cold to what Christians are going through; He came to earth and took upon man’s human nature precisely so that He might now be able to have fellowship with His people. Therefore, He is eminently able to represent God’s people before the Throne of His heavenly Father, pleading their case, securing their place, and procuring the spiritual resources they need.

That is the reason why Christians must not give up, because Christ is there in heaven bearing human flesh, having endured what His people are going through now– and more- yet without Himself falling into sin. His righteousness represents God’s people before God’s throne and grants them access to the Father; His prayers plead for their sustenance and intercede on behalf of all His people’s needs. “Here am I, and the children God has given me,” Jesus declared upon his arrival in heaven (Heb. 2:13). He has opened the way for all His people, established their place where He is, and now He prays for their spiritual provision and protection to the Father who is certain to receive his every petition.

Jesus explained all this to his disciples in the upper room on the night before of his arrest. They did not fully understand as he spoke of what was to come but they picked up enough to know that he was leaving. Jesus comforted them saying, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God;believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-3).

Although, there will be hardships and troubles, the writer of Hebrews has assured God’s people of this by comparing their earthly pilgrimage to Israel’s journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Jesus assured his disciples: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:18-19). What a great reason this is for hope, and what strength it gives to persevere to God’s people.

The reason why Christians are to persevere is the high-priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. His ministry reconciles God’s people to God and opens Heaven’s chest of grace. This makes possible the great resource of prayer, to which the writer now turns: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:16)

To approach the throne of God in prayer on the basis of Christ’s high-priestly ministry is to come to His propitiating sacrifice and present intercession. The language used here in Hebrews 4:16 is striking and clear. By telling God’s people to come before His throne, the author reminds God’s people that it is the place where blood has been offered for His people, the mercy seat where God calls sinners to meet with Him. God’s people are also reminded that it is to a King that they are to come.

In a great sermon on this text, Charles Haddon Spurgeon worked out some of the implications on how Christians are to approach God in prayer. The first is that Christians must come in lowly reverence. If Christians show great respect in the courts of earthly majesty—in the White House, for example or Buckingham Palace– then surely God’s people will come with even greater reverence before the throne of heaven. There is no place for pride or vanity here, and if God’s people could see what really is before them spiritually they would tremble at its awesome majesty. Spurgeon writes, “His throne is a great white throne, unspotted, and clear as crystal. Familiarity there may be, but let it not be unhallowed. Boldness there should be, but let it not be impertinent.”[3]

Secondly, Christians should come to God in prayer with great joy. The reason Christians should come with great joy is because of the favor that has been extended to them is so high a privilege. Instead of judgment, Christians find themselves in a position as favored children– invited to bring their entire request to the King of Heaven.

Finally, Christians should come to God with confidence. Christians come knowing that they will be favorably received, knowing that they can speak freely, and knowing that this is a throne of grace. This is only possibly because of the High Priest who has gone ahead, securing access for His people by his blood and interceding prayers. Many Christians struggle with prayer. They tremble as if the light from God’s throne exposed them in a naked shame, when in fact it reveals the radiant robes that have been draped around them, the righteousness of Christ given to all who trust in him. The key to prayer—to praying often, to praying openly, to praying boldly and freely and with gladness of heart—to know that one is  clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, invited to His own saving ministry, purchased by His precious blood, and anticipated by His sympathetic intercession. This is the secret to lively and happy prayer.

It is to the throne of God which people come—it is a throne of grace. This means that when God’s people come, their sins are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, along with any faults are looked upon with compassion. Stumbling prayers are not criticized, but are received with kindness. Moreover, Jesus’ priestly ministry secures the Holy Spirit’s help. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” God’s Spirit helps God’s people to pray, and He graciously interprets His people’s prayers in the heart of the Father.

Furthermore, because it is a throne of grace to which God’s people come, God is ready to grant the requests of His people. He is glad to provide for needs, to give strength to persevere through trials to His people. He says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The writer continues saying, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor. 12:9).  One commentator explains, “Man needs mercy for past failure, and grace for present and future work. Mercy is to be ‘taken’ as it is extended to man in his weakness; grace is to be ‘sought’ by man according to his necessity.[4]

God requires His people to persevere in faith through the trials of the Christian life. He gives His people a great reason to press on the saving work of the great High Priest Jesus Christ, who is able to save His people to the uttermost. He has gone ahead of His people to open the doors and unlock the treasures of God’s mercy and grace. Prayer is a great resource God gives His people, one that must not be neglected if one is to grow strong in the faith and persevere through difficulties. Prayer brings one to a throne of power and authority but also a throne of grace to all who are in Christ. Therefore, let God’s people draw near to God with reverence, with joy, with great expectation, and especially with confidence that belongs to sons and daughters of the King of heaven and earth.

Spurgeon provides us a fitting conclusion about the difference God’s grace makes for God’s people:

I could not say to you, “Pray,” not even to you saints, unless it were a throne of grace, much less I could talk of prayer to you sinners; but now I will say this to every sinner here, though he should think himself to be the worst sinner that every lived, cry unto the lord and seek him while he may be found. A throne of grace is a place fitted for you: go to your knees, by simple faith go to your Savior, for he, he it is who is the throne of grace.[5]

[1] J.C. Ryle, Holiness (Darlington, U.K: Evangelical Press, 1979), 56.

[2] Philip E. Hughes, A Commentary On The Epistle of Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 173-174.

[3] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Throne of Grace,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 63 vols. (Pasadena, Tex.: Pilgrim Publications, 1975), 17:855.

[4] B.F. Westcott, The Epistle To The Hebrews (London: Macmillan, 1903), 109.

[5] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Throne of Grace,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 63 vols. (Pasadena, Tex.: Pilgrim Publications, 1975), 860).

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