Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why Did Jesus Die? (08) To be our High Priest

In the Old Testament, priests had to be the descendants of Levi. There was only one exception, a mysterious figure named Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18) who brought bread and wine to Abraham, or Abram as he was still known then. Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God...” (Hebrews 7:3) “Melchizedek” translates to, “King of Righteousness.” Besides being a priest, he was the king of Salem, which means “Peace”. He was therefore the “King of Righteousness” and the “King of Peace.” For all these reasons (and more), he is a type of the Christ. Hence, David, in prophecy, calls Messiah a priest forever according to the order Melchizedek (that is, a non-levitical priest). The Epistle to the Hebrews quotes the verse.

The Lord has sworn
And will not relent,
"You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek."
(Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 5:6, 7:17,21))

Christ is a better high priest than those of the Old Testament, Hebrews argues. He is a better priest because he is a better person, in fact, a perfect man. (5:9) He does not need to offer any sacrifices for sins of his own. (7:27) God himself ordains him. (7:21) He brings a better sacrifice: himself. He comes not offering "the blood of goats and calves, but ... his own blood." (9:12) He only needs to make the sacrifice once for all, and does not have to repeat it over and over. (9:25, 10:12) He offers it not in a man-made temple, but in heaven. (4:14, 8:2, 9:11) He “ever lives to make intercession” for us. (7:25) He is the guarantor of a better covenant. (7:22)

Christ died to become our High Priest forever in a new order of worship, spiritual worship, of a higher order than that prescribed in the Law of Moses. “God [is] a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship [him] in spirit and in truth”. (John 4:24)

Christ Died to Fulfill His Office as Mediator Between God and Man.

Christ is the Mediator between God and Man in more than one sense. He is the Mediator first of all by His incarnation, because in His one Person He united human and divine natures. Next, He is the Mediator because He brings to us the gift from God, the divine, immortal body and blood, and He brings to God the gift from us, perfect obedience, faith, and love. At His crucifixion, He is the Mediator because His death fulfills all the obligations of the Old Covenant, closes the book on it, and ushers in the new covenant. “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.” (Hebrews 8:6) The Old Covenant was not to be ended until it had first been fulfilled (Matthew 5:18); else God would have instituted it for nothing.

A covenant, in Hebrew history, is sealed with blood. The covenant with Abraham was sealed with the blood of circumcision; the covenant given through Moses was sealed with the blood of animals. The covenant in Christ is sealed in His own blood. “This is My blood of the new covenant,” He says. (Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24) In this sense, too, He is the Mediator of the new covenant.

We note in passing the vast difference between making intercession for others and being the Mediator. There is, and can only ever be, one Mediator, but there are as many intercessors as Christians. When we, with and in Christ, converse with "dead" saints, (Matthew 17:3, Mark 9:4, Luke 9:30), we are not mistaking them for The Mediator.

(Neither are we, in asking them to pray for us, engaging in necromancy, which is a form of fortune-telling, conjuring of the spirits of the dead to reveal the future – a practice very strictly forbidden among us as being the equivalent of apostasy, forsaking trust in Christ.)

The saints are intercessors. Christ is the “one Mediator between God and Man” (I Timothy 2:5-6), because of the mighty, fearsome, mysterious, cosmic deeds He alone has worked for our salvation.