Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | April 7, 2008

How is Christ a Priest? (Lesson 6: Question 6 Answer)

6. How is Christ a Priest?

As we continue our examination of the munus triplex we move from Jesus’ office of Prophet to Priest in seeking to elaborate in more detail the depths of our Savior’s role as the mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  Since we have established the convergence of these offices is integrated in this passage, we will remain focused on the following verses:

18So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

In considering this office, it is imperative that we remain mindful of the how Jesus is Anointed with the Holy Spirit beyond measure.   As this anointing was the source of ensuring the comprehensive execution of the office of Prophet by our Lord, it also enables His perfect execution of the Priestly office.  When we reflect upon Jesus’ office as Priest it is helpful for us to cite the Westminster Larger Catechism question and answer 44 (WLC Q&A 44).  The catechism instructs that Jesus’ office of Priest is manifested in two different ways.  First, this office is manifested in and through Christ’s redeeming work through His life and death on behalf of His people once and for all.  Second, this office is also carried out through Christ’s continually intercession on our behalf before the Father in heaven.  These two aspects will characterize the focus that will be made in our assessment of this indispensable mediatorial office of our Savior.

The sufficiency of Christ’s fulfillment of this office is analogous to the sufficiency of His office as Prophet, which precludes the continuation of special revelation as to not diminish the extent of the disclosure He accomplished.  Likewise, the comprehensive execution of Jesus’ office as Priest precludes the continuation of any further conditions necessary to secure our salvation whether propitiatory or meritorious in nature.  Thus, it is lamentable when, allegedly well-meaning yet ill-informed, individuals purport that redemption is not secured by Christ alone.  Since there unbiblical aspirations of self-salvation do extreme injury to the sufficiency of Christ’s saving work, by egregiously diminishing its value (Galatians 2:20-21).  Consequently, we will endeavor to carefully refute this Pelagianizing tendency that unfortunately has a stronghold in a majority of “Christian” views of salvation.        

Ever since the Fall (Genesis 3), the relationship between God and man has been characterized by alienation.  This alienation has created the need for a mediator to exist between God (the offended party) and man (the offender or covenant breaker).  For centuries this mediation was performed within the covenant community identified as those who “called upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 4:26).  However, as redemptive history progressed and God promised the formation of a nation (Genesis 12:1-3) that would preserve the messianic Seed (Galatians 3:16, 29) and serve as a typological prototype of the age to come, this mediator became more fully defined. Upon God’s deliverance of Israel and subsequently entering into covenant with them, the priestly office (specifically the High Priest) served as this primary mediator between God and His people (Exodus 28:1, 29:9).         

The priesthood was to function as the stewards of the Law of God with authority to adjudicate on legal (Deuteronomy 10:8; 18:5, 7; Deuteronomy 17:9-13) and spiritual matters (Malachi 2:7; Haggai 2:11) within Israel.  Although, the priesthood served the function of mediation between God and His covenant people, it was invariably occupied by many who failed to perform it adequately (Leviticus 10; 1 Samuel 2:12-36).  The office was abused and neglected, because it continued to be occupied by imperfect individuals whose fallen natures made it impossible to function effectively.  In some instances rather than perform the duties of mediation their actions were extremely offensive to God incurring increasing alienation (Ezekiel 8:16-18).  These incessant failures only demonstrated the essential need for the promise of the faithful priest to be fulfilled (1 Samuel 2:35).

When the fullness of time dawned (Galatians 4:4) and the advent of the Savior (Matthew 1:21) was realized in history, that faithful priest once foretold was incarnated (Hebrews 2:17).   As is articulated by the authors of the Belgic Confession in Article 21 not only was Christ a priest in the sense that he brought an offering, He is the offering unlike the priests of the old covenant.  He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world so completely that the shadows of the ceremonies in the old covenant, even collectively, never adequately conveyed the comprehensive propitiatory work that He would achieve.  We find allusions of Christ in the scapegoat ceremony (Leviticus 16:21-22) in having our sin laid upon Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).  However, unlike the goat who was a helpless victim in that shadowy ceremony, Christ was a willing agent (John 17:4).  The animal was unable to acquire the active obedience necessary to make up for the unfathomable deficient characteristics of the individuals it was substituting for.  On the other hand, the whole life of Christ was an intentional and perfect acquiescence towards the fulfillment of all righteousness on behalf of His substitutes (1 Peter 2:22; Matthew 3:15-17).  Moreover, there are allusions of Christ in the Day of Atonement ritual, in which the high priest was the only authorized individual allowed to enter behind the curtain (Leviticus 16:15-19).  However, the differences of Christ’s work are pointed out in the following quote by RC Sproul:   

Jesus did not offer his sacrifice in the temple.  His blood was not sprinkled on the earthly mercy seat.  He did not enter the Holy of Holies inside Jerusalem.  On the contrary, he was executed outside the city, beyond the confines of the Herodian temple.  Yet he gave his offering coram Deo, “before the face of God,” and was received in the heavenly sanctuary.  He sprinkled his blood on the cross, yet this blood sacrifice was received in the heavenly Holy of Holies and was accepted there as the perfect atonement for sin. 127


These attributes that were possessed by Jesus in His faithful execution of the priestly office allowed it to be comprehensive, thorough and all sufficient.  It was complete to such an extent that, unlike the sacrifices of the old order, it would only be required once for all (Hebrews 9:14, 28).  The repetition of daily sacrifices and special annual sacrifices would no longer be necessary after the perfect atonement achieved in the one act of Jesus (1 Peter 3:18).  On the cross the wrath of God that was stored for sinful people was propitiated (Romans 3:21-25; Galatians 3:13-14) by Christ, such that the wrath that stood against us has been turned away forever.  We now have peace with God (Romans 5) through His sacrifice that fully satisfied the demands of God’s justice.  In order to be complete it is necessary that the scope of this satisfaction encompasses all the sins of His chosen people, including past, present and future relative to actual timing of their regeneration.


Furthermore, the active obedience demonstrable through the perfect fulfillment of God’s Law during His life fully satisfied the demands of God’s righteousness for those who were to be saved.  This righteousness is now credited or applied to His people who were unable to fulfill it themselves (Romans 8:1-9).  Thus, all the requirements that one would ever need to be achieved to acquire access into the presence of God were earned by Christ.  His merit being applied to His people is complete to the extent that, we cannot add anything to it.  Even if it were possible (which it is not) then it would diminish the value of Christ’s accomplishment, such that it would not even have been necessary (Galatians 2:15-21).  Thus, there is no addendum, amendment, or improvement that we can add to the redemption that has been procured by our great High Priest.  Christ alone descended from heaven in order to accomplish the Father’s will (John 6:38) illustrative of the curtain being torn (Luke 23:44-45) no longer preventing access to those adorned with Christ’s righteousness.  This mission was accomplished and entitled Him solely the ability and authority to ascend into heaven (Romans 10:4-10).  All attempts by men to ascend up the ladder into the heavens by works apart from Christ will fail.  Moreover, those who seek to ascend up the ladder into the heavens by works in addition to Christ do not understand the Gospel and deny the sufficiency of His work.


No other High Priest could declare a comparable qualification that would be equivalent with the work Jesus Christ the great High Priest has performed.  His preeminence (Colossians 1:18-23) over His predecessors in the effectiveness of His mediation is indicative of its ability to truly sanctify His substitutes (Hebrews 10:5-15).  This preeminence is also manifested in an illustrative fashion in the apostle’s vision of this great High Priest in Revelation 1:12-16.  This vision of the glorified and risen Christ depicts Him garbed in priestly vestments after His ascension to the heavenly Holy of Holies.  However, He no longer enters into the heavenly sanctuary to offer additional sacrifices for salvation, but to abide in the presence of the Father to intercede on behalf of His people (Hebrews 7:25).


Another role that the priesthood was to assume in the old covenant was the task of interceding on behalf of the people.  This provides another component of the work of mediation that Jesus the great High Priest assumes.  The condition inherent of being within the unmediated presence of the covenant Lord was fearful and extremely terrifying.  This is indicative of the Israelites reaction to the voice of the Lord on Mt. Sinai when they begged for God no longer to speak to them directly, but through Moses (Hebrews 12:18-19).  In response to their request, God appointed Moses to mediate the will of the Lord to Israel.  This role as mediator required Moses to intercede on behalf of the people of God when they disregarded the covenant and offended Him through their idolatry (Exodus 33:12-23).  Although, we certainly are under a better covenant with a superior mediator (Hebrews 8:6), we like Israel in our own wanderings in the wilderness until we reach the New Jerusalem still sin.  Nonetheless, when we sin we can be assured that we too, like Israel, have an advocate interceding for us before the Father (1 John 2:1-2).   


It is an uncanny phenomenon that presents itself when many in our day seek unmediated access or revelation directly from God the Father.  Apart from Christ this would result in the unmitigated wrath we deserve (hell), which Jesus endured on Golgotha for us.  However, when we are hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3) in union with Him (Romans 6:3-4) we are granted the privilege of access to the Thrice Holy Lord (Hebrews 4:14-16).  This privilege assures us that our prayers are received by God, which is articulated by Calvin in his assessment of this office:


For, as has been said, we or our prayers have no access to God unless Christ, as our High Priest, having washed away our sins, sanctifies us and obtains for us that grace from which the uncleanness of our transgressions and vices debars us. 128



When we consider it this way we realize that the prayers of those who are outside of Christ are performed in vain, not reaching there intended destination.  The prayers that are made by those who are in Christ only attain there destination when they are also made through His name.  Consequently, those who solicit other mediators to address their prayers to or through are neglecting the only efficient and sufficient name under heaven (Acts 4:12).


As New Covenant believers we are privileged in knowing that we have a great High Priest who sufficiently and efficiently saves us.  Our salvation was procured in an inglorious, humiliating and excruciating manner by the God-man Jesus Christ, which ended in death.  Nonetheless, death was unable to hold Him down and He was raised for our justification and ascended into heaven.  Through His resurrection our salvation was completed and guaranteed once and for all, no matter how vile a sinner we are.  Our sins have been forgiven past, present and future by our Savior who is our advocate with the Father continually interceding on our behalf.  By this gracious act we are no longer alienated, but have been adopted as sons and daughters.  We are privileged to call our covenant Lord, Father, and also have the benefit of praying to Him for our needs.  These prayers are only heard because of the work of our great High Priest and are only heard when they are made through His holy name.  These benefits are granted to us solely by Christ, alone, who is our only Savior, Redeemer and Mediator.  Therefore, we conclude that the Pelagianizing tendencies of those who seek to diminish the value of Christ role of Priest are subscribing to another religion distinct from biblical Christianity.

127 RC Sproul, Grace Unknown: The Heart of Reformed Theology (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Books 1997) 94-95


128 John Calvin (1559), The Institutes of the Christian Religion Volume I (Louisville, KY WJK Press) 502














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