Welcome to the Mountjoy Ministries Blog

This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Death of the Messiah (Continued)

Sacrifices and Offerings (Continued)

The Red Heifer Offering

The Red Heifer being led out of the Shushan Gate

The other offering which shares some common features with the expiatory offerings of Leviticus is found in the book of Numbers (chapter 19). The red heifer offering recognizes both the root and result of our problem with the Adamic nature. It provides purification at the beginning and end of life. The Numbers passage deals with the second of these, corpse defilement. For the Hebrew nation corpse defilement was a serious matter. The Mishnah declares that one who has contracted corpse uncleanness becomes a ‘father of uncleanness’, because everything he touches then becomes unclean. Death, of course, points its icy finger to the second death and if unremoved would exercise eternal sway. The connection between death and sin is given in several Scriptural passages, the first of which would be the judgment pronounced in the Garden of Eden. “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16,17). Adam’s sin brought the predicted result: “in Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22).

Defilement by death, a corpse, a grave, a bone, rendered a person ceremonially unclean for seven days. Priests and Nazarites were forbidden to touch a dead body, except for their nearest kin. The High Priest was not allowed to approach the dead at all, not even his own parents. Therefore the law of the red heifer made exceptional provision for purification in these circumstances. “And for an unclean person they shall take of the ashes of the burnt heifer of purification for sin” (Num.19.17).

The offering was made on a special site ‘outside the camp’. The Levitical offerings stipulate, ‘in a clean place’ (Lev.4.12) for any sacrifice which was burned ‘outside the camp’. This was applied to the red heifer offering as well. The fourth verse requires the blood to be sprinkled directly before the Tabernacle, which the Rabbis interpreted as before the open entrance of the Tent. If, for any reason the flap or curtain of the tent was closed, then the sacrifice would be invalid.

But the red heifer differed from the other sin offerings in several ways. It was of pure red color, a female (signifying life in all its fruitfulness); upon which never came yoke (speaking of strength unimpaired) and it was wholly burnt, along with cedar wood (symbol of imperishable existence); hyssop (symbol of purification from corruption); and scarlet (the color being the emblem of life). It implied the sacrifice of highest life, and as far as possible, once for all.

During Second Temple times, the High Priest performed the ceremony on the Mount of Olives, at a place which afforded a direct view through the gate of the Golden Vine, that is, the entrance to the Temple building itself. To obtain the site on the Mount of Olives they needed to line up the three Eastern gates, that is, the Gate of the Pure and the Just which led into the court of Prayer, the Nicanor Gate which led to the Priests’ court and the Gate of the Golden Vine which was the entrance into the Holy Place.

The ashes of the heifer were taken and mixed with living water, to produce the waters of purification. This mixture was to be sprinkled on the unclean on the third and seventh days, both sprinklings speak of life, the seventh speaking of eternal life. Without the sprinkling an Israelite was to be ‘cut off’. This punishment could mean (i) to be denied the benefits of Temple and sacrifice; or (ii) to be put out of society (like a leper); or (iii) in severe cases, the loss of life. The red heifer sacrifice which was burnt ‘outside the camp’ is also analogous with the scapegoat, taken by a fit man, and let loose in the wilderness - which was to remove the personal guilt of the Israelites. Each suggests that the sanctuary did not have the answer for this level of sin.

The problem of sin was not only at the end of life but also at its beginning—it is then the Adamic nature is inherited. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me" (Ps. 51:5). The rite of purification was designed to make the unclean clean, so it was used to provide purification for sin at birth as well as death. After the birth of a boy, a woman was considered unclean for forty day, after which she had to bring a sin offering to the Lord and go through the rite of purification (Lev. 12.2-6). The forty day period was extended to eighty days in the case of the birth of a girl. A very significant example in Scripture is given in the gospels when it is recorded that Mary went through the ritual after the birth of Jesus (Luke 2.22 ff). Since He was her first-born they had to go through the rite of redemption also.

Mary and Joseph attended at the Temple together for the two rituals. The sin offering stipulated for the purification ceremony was a lamb plus a bird but in cases of poverty it could be two birds (either doves or pigeons) - Mary made the offering of the poor. She had no lamb to bring, but the child she held was the Lamb of God. The identity of the baby boy was not unknown to those who walked close to the Lord. While waiting for the ceremony which would have taken place at the time of the afternoon sacrifice, a godly man, Simeon identified Jesus as the Messiah, the ‘light to lighten the Gentiles’ (Luke 2.26-32), and then Anna, a prophetess confirmed the witness.

The death of Jesus on Golgotha fulfilled the typology of the sacrifice of the Red Heifer. “Jesus ... that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate” (Heb 13:12). Moreover, as with all the sacrifices, the offering of Jesus for sin brought about a purification that could not have been obtained by the sacrifice of an animal: “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb 9:13,14). The phrasing of these verses clearly includes the red heifer offering along with the other sin offerings, that is, “the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh”. But the glory of Calvary is seen in the “how much more” of verse 14.

The blood of the Red Heifer had to be sprinkled before the open entrance of the Tabernacle. During Temple times the sacrifice took place on the Mount of Olives on the sight line to the open door of the Holy Place through which the veil of the Temple could be seen. I would suggest that the site of Calvary had to be on that sight line for when Jesus died, the veil of the Temple was torn from top to bottom.

While the idea of the Red Heifer offering was a once and for all sacrifice, it was never possible because the numbers of people who needed purification were so great, and the ashes/water mixture ran out. So the sacrifice had to be repeated, although it was always many years between each offering. But Christ was a once and for all sacrifice as the inspired writer declared. He “... once ... appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb.9:26) and, He “was offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb 9:28). Furthermore, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10). Jesus is our guilt, sin and red heifer offerings providing expiation, propitiation and purification.

Next Time - Sweet Savor Offerings

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Death of the Messiah (Continued)

Sacrifices and Offerings (Continued)

The Guilt Offering (Continued)
The death of Jesus encompassed both elements of the ‘guilt offering’. He did not just take the penalty for our sins but also compensated those parties who had suffered loss because of transgression. First, the claims of the Father - Christ as the last Adam and our new federal head, acknowledged, honored and offered complete and perfect obedience to the will of His Father. And since He was of infinite worth and His obedience included the ultimate sacrifice, that is, He laid down His life in accordance with the pre-determined plan of God - in this way He compensated God for the rebellion and disobedience of Adam and his posterity. In fact, the value of the sacrifice of Christ means that Jesus restored more than Adam lost. Jesus, dying on Calvary, is a trespass offering that secured forgiveness for sins and provided compensation to God for all the honor, obedience and worship that had been withheld from Him by a fallen humanity. A righteous God demanded compensation and Jesus paid it!

This also applies to those who claim the value of the death of Christ for themselves. For them, the life received through the sacrifice of the Savior is greater, better, and more suitable to their eternal nature, than ever Adam possessed. The best way of comparing the value of these two offerings, and the light they shed on the death of the Savior, is to consider the first two sections of the book of Romans.

In the first chapters Paul deals with our many sins. He catalogues a number of them. “sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; ... whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful” (Rom. 1:29-31). And like the good theologian he is, he summarizes the situation with quotes from the T’nach. He wrote, “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.” “Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:10-18; cf. Ps.14.1-3; Ps.53.1-3; Ps.5.9; Ps.14.3; Ps.10.7; Isa.59.7,8; Ps.36.1). To capture the thrust of all this sinfulness in one sentence would be a great accomplishment and this he does with the words, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

The essence of the ‘guilt offering’ is that our many sinful actions can be forgiven, whether they be sins of word, sins of thought, sins of deed, secret sins, open sins, sins against man or sins against God. And in Paul’s Christology, the first requirement placed on penitent sinners is to come to the cross for forgiveness of sins. We may not understand it fully at the time, but we receive forgiveness because Christ is our trespass offering. The trespass offering required a blood sacrifice and Paul declares that we have forgiveness only if we have faith in the blood sacrifice of Jesus (Rom.3.25), a thought repeated by the Apostle John also (1 John 1.7). A hymn poem captures this thought:

See here an endless ocean flows, of never failing grace.
Behold a dying Savior’s veins, the sacred flood increase.
It rises high and drowns the hills, has neither shore nor bound.
Now if we search to find our sins, our sins can ne’er be found.

Whereas, in the trespass offering, it was the sins that we committed that were central; that is the sins, transgressions and iniquities we had performed; in the sin offering the searchlight of God is on the on the individual, on the one that committed the unlawful and wicked deeds. The truth of the sin offering is that not simply that am I a sinner because I sin, but rather I sin because I am a sinner. In other words, I find inside me a wickedness that I inherited from my natural parents. I am a child of Adam and have a fallen nature.

Similarly, in Romans—while the first four chapters present the blood of Christ as the answer to the problem of our sins, Paul goes on to describe the continuing problem that arises out of our fallen nature. That there is a battle raging within us between (i) the desire to please God in our lives with good deeds and godly actions, and (ii) the desire to follow the lusts of the flesh. Our conduct in Scripture is often described as our walk. We want to walk in the Spirit, but too often we walk in the flesh. Paul’s own testimony describes the inner conflict. “... the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Rom. 7:19). No wonder he calls himself a wretched man (v.24).

But the answer is Christ, our sin offering. Not only did He die to deliver us from the penalty due to us because of the sins we committed but His death also provides the power to live the new life. In the trespass offering, the truth could be summed up in the word ‘substitution’ - Jesus died instead of us. However, in the sin offering ‘identification’ would be a more appropriate word - we died with Jesus. Paul explains that when Jesus was executed, the problem of our old nature, our Adamic nature, was also in view. The sacrifice of the Lord not only dealt with what we do but also who we are. He wrote: “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:6). Those that tap into the full benefit of Calvary recognize that they need not be dominated by the old Adamic nature, because they have a new nature; they have the life of God now, and they are new creations in Christ. As Christ identified Himself with us by becoming man and living the life we live (without sin, of course), so we must identify ourselves fully with Him and seek to live the life He lived. It is called ‘walking in the Spirit’. Paul puts it this way: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:1-2).

Ultimately, Paul was able to testify: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). This identification with Christ is the equivalent of recognizing Him as our new federal head in place of Adam. We must be fully committed to Him and swear allegiance to His cause.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Death of the Messiah (Continued)

Sacrifices and Offerings (Continued)

The Offerings

The rituals regarding the five major offerings are described in the first seven chapters of the book, although further details are added in other places in the Pentateuch. There is also another major offering commanded in the book of Numbers. These are all listed below. There was no exact timetable prescribed for when the rituals should be performed, except for those that took place at the great Festivals (like the Day of Atonement), although some were adopted for daily morning and evening sacrifices.

The Primary Offerings were:

1. The whole burnt offering (Leviticus 1) also called the ‘ascending offering’ i.e. ‘that which goes up’.

2. The meat offering (Leviticus 2) also called the ‘cereal offering’ or ‘gift offering’.

3. The peace offering (Leviticus 3), a sacrifice for alliance or friendship.

4. The sin offering (Leviticus 4), a sacrifice for sins of ignorance.

5. The trespass offering (Leviticus 5) also called the ‘guilt offering’.

6. The red heifer (Numbers 19) for purification.

The five Levitical offerings were divided into two classes, sin offerings and sweet savor offerings. The first three, the ‘burnt’, ‘meat’ and ‘peace’ offerings were sweet savor offerings, while the last two were expiatory offerings. This second group of offerings was generally offered before the sweet savor offerings, because it was necessary to deal with sin before the penitent could stand before God and make an acceptable offering to bring pleasure to Him. The Red Heifer offering, because of its purpose and its effectiveness, was only performed as the need arose, and there were always several years between the sacrifices.

The expiatory offerings, also described as sin offerings, were designed to secure atonement and forgiveness from God. The phrase, ‘to make atonement’ occurs 29 times in the book of Leviticus, almost invariably relating to the sin and trespass offerings. They were efficacious only when offenses were inadvertent or unwitting. They did not apply to defiant acts or premeditated crimes. Whenever an individual Israelite, a tribal leader, a priest, the Chief Priest, or the Israelite community at large was guilty of an inadvertent offense or of failing to do what the law required, expiation through sacrifice was demanded. In substance, chapters 4–5 prescribe two principal sacrifices: the object of the ‘sin offering’ was to remove the culpability borne by the offender, that is, to purify the offender of his guilt. The ‘guilt offering’ or ‘trespass offering’ was actually a penalty paid in the form of a sacrificial offering to God. It applied when one had unintentionally misappropriated property that belonged to the sanctuary (or been contributed to it). In certain cases it was also required when one had sworn falsely concerning his responsibility toward the property of others for a false oath involved God in the transgression. The sacrifice did not relieve the offender of his duty to make full restitution for the loss he had caused another. In fact, the offender was fined 20 percent of the lost value, which is a double tithe. The ‘guilt offering’ merely squared the offender with his God, whose name he had taken in vain.

It is clear that the ‘trespass offering’ or ‘guilt offering’ was designed to make atonement for sinful actions, whereas the ‘sin offering’ was designed to restore the offender to fellowship. The ritual not only demanded a life but in some cases the complete burning of the carcass ‘outside the camp’. The sacrifices of the Day of Atonement were sin offerings. The sin-offering speaks of Christ; ‘who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree’ (1 Pet. 2:24) and who “was made sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Depending on the circumstances of the transgression the sacrifice could either be a ram, a lamb, a kid or the offering of the poor, that is, two doves or two pigeons. The transgressors brought the offering in evidence of their penitence and remorse, the priest made atonement, and God assured the forgiveness.

The expiatory offerings, along with all the other offerings, have something to say in respect of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Firstly, the trespass offering required a substitutionary death - an animal took the punishment for the sins of the offender. This prefigured the work of Christ where He was “wounded for our transgressions” (Isa.53.4). The Bible declares that Christ was judged for the sins we committed. He “was delivered (up to death) for our offences (trespasses)” (Rom. 4:25); (compare also. Eph. 1:7 and Col 2:13). The Scriptures uses three words to indicate the different kinds of wrongdoing of which we are guilty – ‘sins’, ‘iniquities’, ‘transgressions’. The death of Christ provides the answer for them all. Daniel prophesied it - the coming Prince was to: “... finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity” (Dan. 9:24).

Secondly, a debt has to be paid. In the trespass offering, besides the life laid down, the value of the trespass, in the priest’s estimation of it, was paid in shekels of the sanctuary to the injured party; together with a fifth part more. If the trespass offering had simply called for the sacrifice of an animal or bird then the injured victim would still have suffered loss. But a compensatory payment was demanded by the Law. It had to be made in shekels of the sanctuary; “and all your valuations shall be according to the shekel of the sanctuary” (Lev. 27.25).

More next time

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Death of the Messiah (Continued)

Sacrifices and Offerings (Continued)

The Day of Atonement (Continued)

The High Priest’s work on the Day of Atonement included intercession for the people he represented when he was in the presence of God. This theme is also developed in Hebrews in respect of the work of Christ. The present intercessory ministry in heaven (the antitype to the most Holy Place) was drawn from a reflection on Psalm 110, in which “the Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool’” (v.1). The Messiah has been exalted to God’s right hand, as a priest of an eternal order. But this is after He has experienced an earthly life. Because of His incarnation, temptation and suffering He is able to help those who are weak and in need. “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God” (Heb 2:17).

The salient points of the intercessory ministry of this High Priest are as follows:

(1) Christ incarnate shared our humanity, therefore He knows our frame and He remembers that we are dust.

(2) Christ crucified was the perfect sacrifice for sin. This demonstrates God’s love for humankind. Believers can be sure then that God will freely provide for their need.

(3) Christ resurrected means He lives forever.

(4) Christ exalted means He is in the presence of God on our behalf. None can accuse them, since Christ is at God’s right hand and appeals to Him on their behalf. Therefore, they can be sure that no trial can separate them from God’s love in Christ.

Before the throne of God above I have a strong, a perfect plea,
A great High Priest, whose name is Love, who ever lives and pleads for me.
When Satan tempts me to despair, Telling of evil yet within,
Upward I look, and see Him there, Who made an end of all my sin. (Char.L.Bancroft)

The Offerings

Of all the passages included in the T’nach that present a prophetic picture of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on Calvary, there is none that gives more detail or is more complete than that which is presented in the sacrificial offerings described in the first seven chapters of Leviticus. There are five major offerings described there, and all are needed to present the work of the Savior of the World. These five are supplemented by other offerings, especially that of the Red Heifer in the book of Numbers.

As an introduction to the subject we must again refer to the escape of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Because they had been oppressed for such a long time, they were ill-prepared for nationhood. They needed leadership, plus a moral and ethical code by which to live, and government that would produce discipline and order. The nation was to be ordered as a theocracy so the code by which they were to be molded would need to come from the God Himself. The regulations imposed from above would not be an end in themselves – they would be preparatory for a further outworking of the purposes of their divine Author. Israel was to be God’s ‘special treasure’, a ‘holy nation’ and a ‘kingdom of priests’, separated unto the Lord. They were to discern between holy and unholy, between clean and unclean. The offer of the Lord to take Israel as His special treasure was conditional. He said, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod. 19:3-6). To this offer they unanimously replied, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do” (Exod. 19:8).

Alas, as God had anticipated, they would be unable to give complete obedience to the requirements of the Law, and would need some vehicle which would allow them to demonstrate contrition and repentance, thus enabling them to return to communion with Him. To this end, He gave them a group of sacrifices that would serve as substitutes to bear the penalty of their disobedience and in some circumstances would represent an offering of thanksgiving for the protection, benefits and blessings He provided.

As previously remarked God took the tribe of Levi and inducted them into His service. Aaron, brother of Moses, was called to the office of High Priest and from his family thereafter would be drawn the priestly caste of the nation. The rest of the offspring of Levi, comprising the family groups of Gershon, Kohath and Merrari, were to be employed in the service of the Tabernacle, and later the Temple. The tribe of Levi then, would be the key to the service of the Sanctuary, the priesthood acting as intermediaries and intercessors, offering the sacrifices on behalf of the people. The third book of the Torah, ‘Leviticus’ (pertaining to Levi), contains the primary regulations governing the priesthood and sacrifices.

This book is one of the least read of all the books of the Bible containing as it does a great deal of detail regarding rituals that are no longer in use. The reason that they are no longer practiced is not simply because there is no more Temple, but rather because the Lord Jesus has died and fulfilled all that these offerings pre-figured. Therefore, if we examine what these sacrifices typify we will be more able to appreciate the magnitude of the work of the Saviour on Calvary.

The book of Leviticus differs in character to the first two books of the Pentateuch. The book of Genesis was a book of beginnings and in respect of the types has a dispensational flavor. The general character of the book of Exodus was that of redemption—a people redeemed from slavery. The general character of the book of Leviticus is that of communion and worship. It describes the rituals required of a people that have access to God. The types in Leviticus therefore display the work of the Lord Jesus in its bearing on worship and communion. In Leviticus we do not get the sprinkled blood to redeem from Egypt but rather it is used to meet the needs of a saved people in their approach to God through priest and offering.

More regarding the offerings next time:

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Death of the Messiah (Continued)

The Messiah and the Day of Atonement

Historically the Messiah fulfilled the symbolism of the Day of Atonement when He offered Himself a sacrifice for sin on Golgotha. Because of that, the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement are at the heart of the letter to the Hebrews. There, the writer presents the Messiah as a High Priest. Writing of Jesus, the author declares, “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Heb. 2:17)

The service of this High Priest, while based on the Aaronic priesthood, is different, is higher, and is better. He is a Melchizedekian High Priest, that is, a King/Priest. Since the king had to come from Judah and the High Priest from the tribe of Levi, the priests of the family of Aaron could not hold both anointed offices. But Jesus, of the tribe of Judah and appointed High Priest by God, holds both offices simultaneously. He is a King/Priest like Melchizedek, and because He is eternal, His priesthood is forever. The writer to the Hebrews made the point that since the priesthood of the Messiah is greater/higher/better, it replaced the Aaronic priesthood. And because it is an eternal priesthood, it will never itself, be replaced.

Even so, he used the activity of the Aaronic High Priest on the Day of Atonement to demonstrate the greatness of the work of Christ. The sacrifice of the Messiah on Golgotha was likened to the blood sacrifice in the outer court, the priests’ court, but declared to be superior because it obtained eternal redemption; whereas the Levitical sacrifice had to be repeated annually because it only had a limited value. The Levitical atoning sacrifice is stated in Hebrews 9:7, “But into the second part (the Holiest of All) the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood” (Heb. 9:7) while the superior sacrifice of Christ is identified in verse 12 of the same chapter: “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12).

In explaining the ministry Christ has taken up, the writer to the Hebrews focuses on the distinction between the true sanctuary, in which Christ is now active, and the earthly sanctuary, which was a mere shadow of the heavenly. The priests’ daily service in the outer chamber and the yearly entrance into the Holy Place by the High Priest, indicated that this earthly service was ineffectual – it was only shadow. But the Messiah, the High Priest of our profession, entered the heavenly sanctuary, once, for all, not repeatedly, and not by the blood of animals. The Messiah’s ministry purifies the conscience, giving full forgiveness for sins as the fulfillment of the New Covenant promise.

The writer gives four contrasts to indicate the full significance of Christ’s priestly work.

(1) Christ, as High Priest, has entered not into a sanctuary of this creation, but into heaven itself, into the very presence of God. This means that the approach to God has been perfected, not in shadow but in reality. Christ has opened up full access into God’s presence. The author of Hebrews calls Him the forerunner into the Holiest of all; “… behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 6:19,20). The word ‘forerunner’ suggests there will be others to follow. The High Priest of the order of Aaron could never be a forerunner. None dared follow him into the Inner Sanctum. But Jesus bids us enter, to “come boldly to the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16).

(2) His sacrifice needed no repetition. It was once, for all. The Greek words ἅπαξ (hapax) (translated ‘once’) and ἐφάπαξ (ephapax) (also translated ‘once’) are used 6 times (7.27; 9.12; 9.26; 9.28; 10.2; 10.10) as also μίαν (mian) (translated ‘one’) (10.12) and μιᾷ (miai) (also translated ‘one’) (10.14) to emphasize His single sacrifice. The priests repeated their work because it was ineffective, but Christ does not need to repeat His, because it is effective. The ‘once and for all’ nature of Christ’s sacrifice is seen in the fact that the Aaronic priest stood while serving, while Christ sat down at God’s right hand because His offering was finished. It had been fully accepted and no further offering was required. His atoning work was done, as declared: ‘Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin’. (Heb 10.18) “Done is the work that saves, once and forever done; Finished the righteousness that clothes the unrighteous one.” (Horatius Bonar)

(3) The third contrast focuses on the nature of Christ’s sacrifice. He entered the sanctuary, not by means of the blood of sacrificed animals but by means of His own blood, since He offered Himself on the cross by the will of God. The ceremonies of the Mosaic Covenant established the principle that blood sacrifice was required,

(i) to inaugurate a covenant,

(ii) to purify the tabernacle and its vessels and

(iii) for the forgiveness of sins, for, “almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:22).

Similarly the blood of the Messiah,

(i) inaugurated the New Covenant,

(ii) brought about purification, and

(iii) achieved forgiveness of sins.

(4) The fourth contrast concerned the effect of the Messiah’s High Priestly work. It sanctifies, not in some external, ceremonial way, but in reality. It cleanses the conscience, and provides full and eternal forgiveness. This is described in many ways, such as eternal redemption; or the cleansing of the conscience; or the removal of sin; or the perfecting of the worshipper; or sanctification; or the forgiveness of sins and lawless acts, etc.

More next time

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Death of the Messiah (Continued)

Sacrifices and Offerings (Continued)

The Day of Atonement

The Tabernacle ceremonies came to a peak in the annual festival of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the tenth of Tishri. It was, (and still is) the most important day in the religious calendar of the Jewish nation. During Tabernacle and Temple times all these pieces of furniture that have been described come into their own, especially the ark with its mercy seat. It has long been considered that the first Yom Kippur took place after Moses had received the second set of stone tablets on which were the Ten Commandments. After the sin of the golden calf, the nation fasted and waited in repentance while Moses ascended the mountain to intercede for them. He returned on the 10th Tishri to announce that God had forgiven the nation, in honor of which the 10th Tishri would remain a day of atonement for all generations.

After the Babylonian captivity, the Day of Atonement took on much greater importance in the culture of Israel. Since the exile was considered a judgment of God because the nation had failed to keep the Mosaic Law, then fulfilling the Law, especially as it applied to this key Temple service in which atonement was made for the sins of the people, became vital. Because the daily sacrifices were unable to cleanse all sins, particularly secret sins, the sacrifice of atonement on the Day of Atonement became the major offering of the religious year. For ten days preceding this solemn festival, the people of Israel were expected to prepare their hearts. These ten days are called ‘The Days of Awe’ and begin at Rosh Hashanah. Therefore, with the background of a nation in an attitude of penance and humility, it was necessary for the priesthood, not only to perform the duties of the Day, but also to perform them in the right order.

The High Priest was cosseted for the week before the day of his duties, and every precaution was taken to ensure he would not be defiled. He prepared himself thoroughly for the elaborate Temple ceremony, memorizing those parts of the T’nach that he had to recite by heart. On the 10th Tishri, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to atone for the sins of the people. The basic idea was a ‘covering’ for sin, the purpose of which was to accomplish reconciliation between God and man. To prosecute the duties of the day, the High Priest removed his official garments, made for beauty and glory, bathed himself and then dressed in white linen as a symbol of repentance. First, he needed to offer a bull calf as a sin offering for himself, his family and the family of priests. Approaching the bullock the High Priest laid hands on the animal and made confession for himself and his household. “O Lord, I have committed iniquity, transgressed, and sinned before you, I and my house. O Lord, forgive the iniquities, transgressions, and sins, which I have done by committing iniquity, transgression, and sin before you, I and my house.” As it is written in the Torah of Moses, your servant, For on this day shall atonement be made for you to clean you. From all your sins shall you be clean before the Lord (Lev. 16:30)”

Early in the ceremony, the selection of the goat for ‘azazel’ was performed. Two goats, previously selected, were brought before the High Priest; one was taken for sacrifice and one used as the ‘scapegoat’. The High Priest then proceeded to the bullock to pronounce the second confession. This second confession had the same wording as the first except it was for, “I, my house and the children of Aaron”. The bullock was slaughtered and its blood caught in a basin. This blood was to be taken into the Holy of Holies, but not before the High Priest had armed himself with incense. When the room was filled with the smoke of the incense, he returned to collect the vessel with the blood of the sin offering. Retracing his steps to the ark of the covenant, he sprinkled the blood of the bullock on the mercy seat and on the floor before the ark. In those days when the ark was no longer there, the blood was sprinkled on the stone on which the ark had rested.

His first duty done, the sin offering for himself, his family and the priestly caste, he then needed to make a sin offering for the nation. They brought the goat ‘for the Lord’, that is, the one designated as a sin offering. The High Priest cut its throat and collected its blood in a basin. Returning to the ark in the Inner Sanctum he sprinkled the mercy seat once more. On His return to the Holy Place where he had left the vessel containing the blood of the bullock, he completed a ceremony in which he used the blood of both animals, first separately, and then mixed, to purify the veil and the holy furniture.

The ritual continued with the dispatch of the scapegoat. He took the goat, laid his two hands upon it, and made a third confession. “O Lord, your people, the house of Israel, has committed iniquity, transgressed, and sinned before you. Forgive, O Lord, I pray, the iniquities, transgressions, and sins, which your people, the house of Israel, have committed, transgressed, and sinned before you, as it is written in the Torah of Moses, your servant, For on this day shall atonement be made for you to clean you. From all your sins shall you be clean before the Lord (Lev. 16:30).”

The scapegoat was given over to the one who was to lead it out. It was taken out through the exit gate on the eastern wall. From there it was led to a place some distance from Jerusalem, where it was thrown down a ravine.

After further duties, (readings from the Torah, and the sacrifice of more burnt offerings), the High Priest concluded the ceremony by donning his robes made for beauty and glory to pronounce a benediction on the people.

Next time: The Messiah and the Day of Atonement

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Death of the Messiah (Continued)

Sacrifices and Offerings (Continued)

The Sanctuary (Where the priesthood operated)

It is in the book of Exodus that we are introduced to the concept of a Sanctuary for Israel—a specific, purpose built house, designed to act as a meeting-place with God. Previously, where it was an individual seeking an audience with God, an altar was sufficient. But when Israel, newly delivered from Egypt and daily recipients of fresh revelations at Sinai, numbered more than two million souls there was a clear need for a tent of meeting. They required a place where they could bring their offerings, and know the presence among them of the God that had taken them as His “special treasure” (Exod.19:5). However, it was not Moses, nor the elders of the nation that proposed the Tabernacle to meet this requirement. It was the LORD Himself. He is the one that said, “let them make Me a sanctuary” (Exod.25:8). And this was no blind edict that had to be obeyed without knowing why - the reason for it was provided - “that I may dwell among them”. Oh the grace of God, that He had a desire to dwell among them. In some aspect of His existence He became a tent dweller to dwell amongst tent dwellers: He became a pilgrim to dwell among pilgrims.

Since the Tabernacle was to be ‘a shadow of good things to come’, then it had to be constructed exactly according to God’s instructions. However, the instructions first set out details of the materials, dimensions and descriptions of its furniture, beginning with the most important piece, “And they shall make an ark of acacia wood; two and a half cubits shall be its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and shall make on it a molding of gold all around” (Ex 25:10,11). Without the ark, the Tabernacle could not fulfill its purpose, because the lid of the ark, the ‘mercy seat’ was to be, for Israel, the place of the localized presence of God. He promised, “there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel” (Ex 25:22).

The ark was to be the only piece of furniture in the second chamber of the Tabernacle, the Inner Sanctum. The ark was made of wood overlaid with gold. The lid of the ark, the mercy seat was wholly made of gold, the cherubim also; gold typifying the glory of God. It was, in fact, a box, and under divine guidance was to be the home of (i) the Ten Commandments; (ii) Aaron’s rod; and (iii) a pot of manna.

The ‘mercy seat’, sometimes referred to as the ‘throne of God’ by the Hebrew people, was the focal point of the Day of Atonement service. Twice it received the blood of sacrifice during the ceremony.

In the first room of the tent dwelling, the Holy Place, there was a further three pieces of golden furniture. There was a table which was always to be furnished with twelve loaves of bread set, as it were, ‘before the Lord’. Then there was the gold lamp-stand (Exod.25:31ff). While the table and the ark were to be made of wood overlaid with gold, the lamp-stand was to be made of pure gold. It had a central shaft with three branches coming out of each side. The gold was to be worked in such a way as it would depict the fruit bearing cycle of the almond tree. The lamps were to be constantly supplied with oil.

Then there was an altar, again made of wood and overlaid with gold; this was the altar of incense, which was located closest to the veil which separated the two rooms. It was at this altar that the priest would pray; thus the Psalmist could say, “Let my prayer be set before You as incense” (Ps. 141:2). While it was the High Priest alone who entered the Holiest of all, and that only on one day a year, his brother priests were required to enter the Holy place daily to replace the showbread, maintain the illumination from the seven branch Menorah, and burn incense while interceding for the people of Israel.

There were two pieces of furniture in the outer court, the laver and the altar. The altar was made of wood overlaid with metal. The metal (described as bronze) was to take the fire. Jesus endured the fire of God when sin was judged at Calvary. The altar was about seven and a half foot wide by seven and a half foot broad, by four and a half foot high. Being four-square it was accessible from all sides, suggesting that all blessings can be traced back to Calvary. It had four horns at the corners—horns in Scripture speak of power and authority. The horns were stained with blood. Jesus said, “I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:17,18). This is real power.

The grate was twenty seven inches from the ground, significantly the same height as the mercy seat. It was necessary for the sacrifice to be lifted up from the ground, reminding us of the saying of the Saviour, “If I be lifted up …” (John 12.32).

Its situation (it was the altar at the door) meant it had the premier position in the outer court. There could be no access to God without sacrifice—for there was no remission of sin without the shedding of blood, “for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11). Praise God, we “were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:18,19).

The second piece of furniture in the outer court was the laver, an all metal container for water. It held the water for the ablutions of the priests—they were required to wash both hands and feet before handling the sacrifices. Those that failed to observe this requirement and fully respect the offerings of the Lord not only lost the opportunity to fulfill their duties as priest but could possibly lose their lives. Under the Law it was a capital crime. This surely is significant when we consider that the Messiah added foot washing to hand washing at the last Passover before He said, “This is my body which is given for you” (Luke 22.19). It also intimates that Judas was excluded from the foot washing, because Jesus said, referring to the betrayer, “you are not all clean” (John 13.11).

Since there are two altars in the Tabernacle, the bronze ‘altar at the door’ and the golden altar in the Holy Place, it seems appropriate to compare their functions and meaning. The blood shed outside at the brazen altar represents what Christ did; while incense offered inside at the golden altar represents what Christ is. The brazen altar sacrifice reminds us that Christ offered Himself for sin, and that only once; while the golden altar points us to the fact that “He always lives to make intercession” (Heb.7:25).

More next time

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Death of the Messiah (Continued)

Sacrifices and Offerings

As we continue our study of the T'nach and the way it points to the ultimate sacrifice provided by God at Golgotha, we examine the operation of the sanctuary. Currently, we are contemplating the robes of the High Priest.

The Garments (Continued)

High Preist
Underneath the ephod was the main robe, a garment all of blue, to harmonize with the color of the ephod, but not to rival it in beauty and glory. The word translated ‘robe’, in other places of the T’nach, refers to the attire of kings and princes, although it is also used of other dignitaries, for example, Samuel and Ezra. Clearly the robe was designed to reflect the dignity of the office and was the work of either Bezaleel or Aholiab, men whom God had gifted to weave, sew and embroider as well as to work with gold.

There was yet more – for on the hem of the robe were golden bells and pomegranates. Pomegranates are mentioned as particular fruits of Canaan, the land of promise, as well as being associated with idea of love for they are the pleasant fruits which delight the beloved. Interspersed with the fruit were the golden bells. There has been much speculation regarding the meaning of the fruit and the bells, and I will not add to it here other than to say, that in other contexts the fringe of the robe was to remind the wearer of the commandments of God, that they were to practice holiness and that they were entering the presence of a Holy God. Moses was instructed: “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the LORD your God.” (Numbers 15:38–41) If this is the advertised purpose of fringes sown on to the taliths of the Jewish people, then it is possible that it was also the emphasis for the fringe of the High Priest’s robe.

The High Priest was also required to wear a head covering, a mitre of fine linen. This linen bonnet was to be decorated with a diadem, a band of gold, on which was engraved the words ‘HOLINESS TO THE LORD’. Because of this diadem the headpiece is later called “the holy crown of pure gold” (Exod.39:30). For Aaron, the first High Priest, it signified that he was sanctified of the Lord, and that by a faithful performance of his duties the offerings he brought on behalf of the people were also sanctified. Aaron as High Priest was suited to the office he held, although his holiness was imputed and not inherent. Jesus, on the other hand, is described as a High Priest with inherent holiness. “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26).

For Aaron in particular, but also for his sons, a key aspect of the priesthood is given in the phrase, “that he may minister to me”. They were the servants of YHWH, and the sacrificial system in which they were involved they were considered those that waited upon the Lord and upon his guests (the worshippers). The tabernacle and the Temple later, was to be considered the house of the Lord, and the festivals, especially the pilgrim feasts were times when God invited his people to His house for fellowship and a meal. The Passover especially was the festival when food played a major part in the fellowship; and almost all sacrifices that were offered to the Lord also allowed some to serve as food for the offerer and food for the priest. While the worshippers brought the food, it was as guests desiring to contribute to the meal, and also an acknowledgement that it first belonged to YHWH. In this meal-based sacrificial system, the priests were the servants of God, ministering both to the Lord and to the Lord’s guests.

It seems that one of the main purposes of the activities of the Priesthood was to act as an interface between deity and humanity. It was a place where man could feel comfortable (as much as man could ever feel comfortable) in the presence of God; and where God could be confident that His holiness would not overwhelm the people He loved. That the Lord Jesus fulfilled this purpose perfectly must be acknowledged. In the humility of the incarnation it was abundantly clear that people were comfortable in His presence. Mothers brought their children to Him, recognized ‘sinners’ washed His feet, disciples lay on His breast. And He was comfortable in their presence – no possibility of them being consumed by the fire of God, as some were in the presence of Elijah. This sweet relationship between God and humanity has been continued by the present High Priestly office of Jesus. We are encouraged to come into God’s presence because our Great High Priest has made us presentable to the Father. Moreover, God is happy that we should come because we are acceptable in the Beloved, in Christ.

Next Time: We meditate on the Sanctuary (where the priesthood served)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Death of the Messiah (Continued)

Sacrifices and Offerings (Continued)

We continue our study of the subject as we consider the way it was incorporated into the life of the nation of Israel.

The Priesthood

The subject of the priesthood revolves around the personnel, their garments, their consecration and their service. As with the Tabernacle, everything about the priesthood was proscribed by the Lord. The writer of the Hebrew letter confirms this: “… there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, 'See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain' (Heb. 8:4–5).

The Personnel

The first High Priest was Aaron – his name means ‘very high’. Some explain the name to mean ‘mountaineer’ or a ‘mountain of strength’. As High Priest he was elevated above others of his family and his tribe. Jesus, also as High Priest (but of the order of Melchizedek) was also elevated to the highest place that heaven affords. He was exalted and is now ‘very high’ and in His office is called a great High Priest: “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” (Heb. 4:14). The names of the sons of Aaron also contribute to our understanding of the New Testament regime under the High Priesthood of Christ. Nadab means ‘liberal or generous’, adjectives that can certainly be applied the Jesus, as also Abihu which means ‘My Father is He’ (that is God). Eleazar directs us to the throne of grace where Jesus operates as our great High Priest, meaning as it does ‘God helps’. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). Ithamar (land of palm) directs us to the palm tree. The palm tree is used as a picture of those who stand to serve in the Temple of the Lord. “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of the LORD Shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing ” (Psalm 92:12–14).

The Garments

“And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. So you shall speak to all who are gifted artisans, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments, to consecrate him, that he may minister to Me as priest. And these are the garments which they shall make: a breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a skillfully woven tunic, a turban, and a sash. So they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister to Me as priest ” (Exod. 28:2–4). The Priests’ garments were also proscribed, especially those of the High Priest. His garments were designed to reflect his high office, an office to which he had been called, and which he occupied by the gift and grace of God. There was a dignity to his office that commanded respect from those he represented. Paul acknowledged this when rebuked for speaking ill of the occupant of the office when brought before the members of the Sanhedrin.

While the High Priest’s robes gave added beauty and glory to the person that occupied that high office, it stands in contrast to the High Priesthood of Christ inasmuch as His is an inherent beauty and glory. The High Priest’s garments added an outer glory whereas the humanity of Christ covered His inner glory. Three of His closest disciples were allowed to see that inner glory when He was in fellowship and communion with His Father on the Mount of Transfiguration, but generally His identification with humanity was so complete that most simply saw a good man. But His resurrection initiated a change when He took up His appointment as the High Priest of our profession. Since then the outshining of His glory has been constant. Stephen witnessed the glory of God when he saw Jesus standing by the throne of God, and Paul was blinded by it on the road to Damascus: “… I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus ” (Acts 22:11) and John bowed before it: “… His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength” (Rev. 1:16). This was only to be expected since Jesus, because of His mighty victory on Golgotha was crowned with glory and honor.

The robe of the High Priest was made of the same fabric with the same colors as the entrance and inner curtains in the Holy Place, no doubt to indicate that the priest’s main place of service was in the room that held the golden altar, the menorah and the table which held the ‘bread of the presence’.

The ephod was an outer garment in something of the fashion of an apron; most likely made of two pieces, front and back, and fastened together at the shoulders. It also had a belt made of the same material, to hold it in place. While it was somewhat of an apron it was fashioned of exquisite materials and embroidered by skillful hands using threads of scarlet, blue and purple. Although it was made of linen, it was far more glorious for it had fine gold thread woven through it. The thread was not just gold in color, it was the precious metal gold, so not only did it look beautiful but also reflected the light of the menorah when the priest entered the Holy Place. It was another small prophetic indication that Jesus, the High Priest of the order of Melchizedek would have an outshining like the rays of the golden sun.

On the shoulders of the ephod were two receptacles, one on each shoulder; each to hold an onyx stone on which the names of six of the tribes of Israel were engraved. In this way the High Priest symbolically carried the nation of Israel (the twelve tribes whom he represented), on his shoulders when he went into the presence of God. The listing of the tribes was in the birth order of the sons of Israel, so for this purpose it is likely that on the right shoulder were the names Reuben (Gen 29:32), Simeon (Gen 29:33), Levi (Gen 29:34), Judah (Gen 29:35), Dan (Gen 30:5) and Naphtali (Gen 30:8). The left shoulder stone would have been inscribed with the names of Gad (Gen 30:11), Asher (Gen 30:13), Issachar (Gen 30:18), Zebulun (Gen 30:20), Joseph (Gen 30:24), and Benjamin (Gen 35:18). To carry Israel into the presence of God in this way was particularly important when the ministry was one of intercession.

The ephod also had a breastplate that was soon considered to be part of the ephod since the two were not used separately. The breastplate’s full title was “the breastplate of judgment” (Exod. 28:15). It was made of the same material as the ephod but was like a large pouch, some eighteen inches square. It had twelve semi-precious stones set in it, four rows of three, each stone engraved with the name of one of the tribes of Israel. Since the twelve tribes were also placed in a particular order around the Tabernacle, it is likely that they would be similarly ordered on the High Priest’s breastplate. From right to left (as per the Hebrew script) Judah, Issachar, Zebulun; Reuben, Simeon, Gad; Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin; Dan, Asher, Naphtali.

The pouch itself held two stones, the Urim and Thummim, which were used to find out the mind of God for important national decisions. Urim means ‘Lights’: it is the plural of the word commonly used for light. Thummim means ‘Perfections’. In the Septuagint they are translated by the words ‘delosis’ and ‘aletheia’, that is, ‘Manifestation’ and ‘Truth’. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). John said Jesus “… was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1:9). Jesus is not only ‘Light’ but also ‘Truth’. That Jesus told the truth has always been accepted, especially those sayings of His that were identified as particular verities. Luke reports Jesus prefacing some statements with the phrase, “But I tell you truly” (Luke 4:25; 9:27; cf. 12:44; 21:3); whereas the more familiar identifier was ‘Truly’ or ‘Verily’. But the impact of Jesus was greater than just a man who told the truth. John declared He was full of truth; He brought the truth; and He is the truth.

An example of the use of the Urim and Thummim is given to us in the life of David when he fled from Saul. Abiathar, the only surviving priest of the line of Eli went to David with the ephod in his hand, having escaped the slaughter at Nob. David enquired of God as to whether the inhabitants of Keilah would alliance themselves with Saul against him. By the use of the two stones he was able to discern that it was not safe for him to stay and he left the area with his men. There are further examples from David’s biography at 1 Samuel 30:7,8 and 2 Samuel 2:1, although in this last instance the priest and ephod are not mentioned.

By use of the Urim and Thummim the High Priest of the Aaronic priesthood was able, in a limited way, to ascertain the will of God; whereas our great High Priest of the order of Melchizedek is fully aware of the will of God. During His earthly sojourn He was always confident that He was doing the will of God (see John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 6:40; cf. Matt.12:50; 18:14; Mark 3:35). Moreover, he can communicate the full counsel of the throne because He is also the Word of God.

More about the garments next time.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Death of the Messiah (Continued)

Sacrifices and Offerings


In order to fully appreciate the Biblical concept of priesthood, we need to return to the principle of representational righteousness. Although humanity is organized in several different groups, in some respects we are all related and therefore can be considered one entity (the human race). At this level, the sin of Adam was not only imparted to those he fathered but also imputed. This is summarized in the phrase “in Adam”. As our federal head his fall was our fall. If we wish to enjoy the benefit of being “in Christ” and take the Son of God as our new federal head and appropriate His victory as our victory, then first we must accept that Adam’s failure was our failure.

Nevertheless, within this widest of groupings ‘humanity’, there are different ethnic and national groups, identified separately, and some, in the wisdom of God, treated differently. For example, there are those that are “in Isaac” (Gen. 21:12; Rom. 9:7; Heb. 11:18). In these smaller groupings also, the righteousness of a few may stave off judgment for the many. This is at the heart of the doctrine of the remnant. The godliness of the few saves the many. Thus, Abraham could plead for God to deliver the entire city of Sodom on the basis of finding there a small number of good men. High Holy Day prayers in the synagogue plead for mercy based on the sacrifice of Isaac or for the sake of the righteousness of Israel’s spiritual fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is the stand that Paul takes, “… they are beloved for the sake of the fathers” (Rom. 11:28). The height of representational righteousness is accomplished in Jesus, whose individual sacrifice atones for the whole human race. Thus we can rejoice in the phrase ‘in Christ’. The issue, prior to Calvary, was that the process of salvation was gifted to the Jewish nation, and they were the conduit through which it could reach the world.

A Kingdom of Priests

The key text for the Mosaic Covenant is Exodus 19:6: “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests”. This implies more than a priestly caste, and indeed later Jewish tradition understood it as such, converting it from a promise to a responsibility (noblesse oblige), to requiring the whole population to live by the same code of holiness that the priests lived by. The whole nation participated in various ways. The principle that they all, that is, the whole nation, were subject to the priestly code was evident. They were all called to pray; to study the law of God; to obey the law of God; to witness to God; to sacrifice to God (although it was the priestly caste that physically performed the rite); and to attend on God according to the calendar provided by the Lord. This ‘kingdom of priests’ is the pre-curser of the doctrine of the universal priesthood of all believers. They were not only a kingdom of priests but also “a holy nation”; a nation that could discern between holy and unholy, between clean and unclean. Under the arrangement that Israel should be God’s ‘special treasure’ Moses was established as the main Mediator between God and Israel, and Aaron and his sons were inducted as priests, Aaron receiving the honor of being the first High Priest of Israel under the new dispensation.

The detail of the covenant, the commissioning of its officers, the requirements laid on the nation – all pointed to one thing - that the Mosaic Covenant is mainly a priestly code; even to the degree that it was consecrated by a formal sacerdotal ceremony, in which many young men of Israel acted as priests, to offer burnt and peace offerings to God. Half the blood from the animal sacrifices was used to consecrate the altar, the book of the covenant and the people. After having been consecrated by the blood of the covenant, the elders together with Aaron and his sons were taken up into the mountain to celebrate the arrangement with a sacramental meal. This event was graced by a theophany, no doubt with a view to signify the satisfaction of the Lord. The mechanics of the vision are not divulged. The plain statement of Scripture is, “they saw the God of Israel, And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity” (Exod. 24:10).

The function of a priest is to represent others. For example, the family of Aaron represented Israel. But the Exodus 19:6 text speaks of the nation being priestly, which must of necessity mean that it represents the nations. Not elected by them but elected by God. As Noah stood as priest at the head of humanity, and Abraham stood as priest at the head of the Jewish nation, Israel stands as priest at the head of the nations of the world. This is the truth at the back of so many Scriptural utterances, not least the New Testament exhortations, “to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Gentile)” (Rom.1:16; 2:10). I would contend that when God declared that Israel was to be a nation of priests, they were called to live as intercessory representatives before God for the sake of the nations of the world. Israel was to act as a conduit to channel forgiveness and blessing to corporate humanity.

As a priest is the same and yet different to the people he represents, so Israel is the same and different to the nations. While Israel as a whole is a kingdom of priests; the nation itself was organized to fulfill the priestly functions through specific tribal and family vocations. The tribe of Levi was set apart for the service of the Temple while the descendants of Aaron were called to be Cohanim (Priests) standing before God to represent Israel.

The establishing of the priestly system for Israel and commissioning them as a ‘kingdom of priests’ would be in four main areas.

1. The Priesthood (those ordained for the service of God, which included the special office of ‘High Priest’).

2. The Sanctuary (where the priesthood would operate).

3. Sacrifices (permitted offerings were proscribed).

4. Festivals (a religious calendar was ordered).

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Death of the Messiah (Continued)

Sacrifices and Offerings


This principle of substitution becomes much clearer in the second book of the Pentateuch. The family of Jacob, the patriarch renamed Israel, became a nation in Egypt. There they prospered and flourished until they numbered in excess of two million souls. But a new dynasty of Pharaohs changed their fortunes, and they were enslaved and abused. For their deliverance, God raised up Moses—mediator, leader, historian, and orator—to deliver Israel from bondage. The extraction of Israel from Egypt turned on a single event. It was the destruction of the strength of Egypt, represented by the firstborn sons of all families; and the preservation of the strength of Israel, also represented by the firstborn sons of all families. God could have delivered Israel without instituting the Passover feast which incorporated a blood sacrifice, but His higher reasoning decreed that the deliverance from Egypt, which will later be used to illustrate the salvation of souls, should be based on the shedding of blood, for Jesus was already pre-ordained to be a Passover lamb of nobler blood. The male firstborn of each Israelite family was spared, because an animal was sacrificed in his place. Lambs of a year old were mostly chosen and killed, although a kid from the goats could be used. The blood of the animal was applied to the doorframes of each Israelite home. “Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Ex. 12:13). The meat of the animal was roasted to supply a last meal in Egypt giving them strength for the journey. So, on the night of the exodus, the nation of Israel was taught the principle of substitution. So important was the event that it was incorporated into the legislation of the nation, and used as an educator for all future generations (Exod.12.24).

The repeating of the history of Israel, from Abraham to the Exodus, was assimilated into the annual Passover festival, thus maintaining the nation’s awareness of their substitutionary roots and also the need for a continuing sacrifice. It was not until Jesus died on the cross of Golgotha during the Passover festival, that the need for the death of countless Paschal lambs was quenched. From then on, no further lambs needed to die because Jesus, the Lamb of God, had died and taken away the sin of the world.

The escape from Egypt was only the first step in Israel becoming nationally aware of the interest of YHWH. They were directed to the mountain where Moses had his call to be their deliverer, there to receive the moral, ethical and sacerdotal laws that would distinguish them as a kingdom of priests in the service of their God. It was there they entered into a conditional covenant, and committed themselves to the service of the LORD.

The Mosaic Covenant

As the Abrahamic Covenant is foundational for the salvation of the world, the Mosaic Covenant is foundational for the coming of Messiah and the B’rit Hadashah (the New Covenant). The New Covenant, the priesthood of Christ, and the sacrifice of Christ are all illuminated if we understand the necessity of the priestly system that operated in Israel, for the New Covenant permanently applies and fulfills the principles of both the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants.

All sacrifices, from Abel to Christ, must of necessity have a connection as to their essential meaning. I would suggest that all Israel’s sacrifices looked back to Abraham’s offering of Isaac for foundational meaning and forward to Jesus for ultimate fulfillment. They all pre-suppose penitence, faith and a plea for mercy. In the chain of offerings from Abel’s lamb to the Lamb of God there are perhaps three major punctuation marks. They are:

1. the binding of Isaac on Moriah and

2. the commissioning of the Tabernacle and Priesthood at the birth of the nation of Israel.

3. the later establishment of the Temple on the site where Isaac had been offered.

Israel’s Call

The call of Israel was to function for humanity in the essential priestly role before God for the sake of the redemption of the world. How successful they were in their commission is not under scrutiny at this juncture, but their calling as a ‘kingdom of priests’ seems clear. This priestly role operated through the sacrificial system. There intercession was made for the sins of Israel as well as for the whole human race, that all might be reconciled to God. Its firm foundation was the powerful covenant relationship between God and Abraham.

Any that wished to worship YHWH were required, not only to relate to Israel, but to be adopted by Israel. Personal access to YHWH was through the Aaronic priesthood, and only those that had embraced the Abrahamic covenant and converted to Judaism could present an offering through the sons of Aaron. During the Temple period this exclusivity was demonstrated by the wall of separation. Only those who had embraced fully the Mosaic covenant and become obedient to the Law were permitted to draw near to the court of priests where the offerings were made. The wall of separation guarded by Temple officials prevented Gentiles from entering the court of Israel. Israel was the vine brought out of Egypt and planted in Canaan. The dispensation that began with the exodus required any and all who wished to worship the Lord God to be a part of that vine. When the second Temple was built, that truth was stated visually, for the doorway to the holy place in the Temple had an entwining golden vine surrounding it. There could be no entry into the presence of God but through the ‘Gate of the Golden Vine’. This principle was called for and established by God (not by Moses), and was fundamental to the survival and salvation of any and all who wished it. Israel was chosen, not because the nation was better or greater than any other, but simply because God is sovereign. Because of their calling, Israel’s ministry and intercession is at the heart of all blessing. As the meaning of their call, as it was developed in the Mosaic Covenant, is further comprehended, it will be understood that the concept of priesthood is central to the recovery of humanity and the resumption of the original purpose of God when He first said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).

The most significant role for Israel’s priesthood was to educate Israel, and through them bear testimony to the nations, that the grace of God was only obtained by approaching Him through the principle of blood sacrifice. They were required to demonstrate that the mercy of God could balance the righteousness of God only when God’s clear instructions were followed. Moreover, the sacrifices had to be offered in faith. Lack of faith negated any benefit that was available from the sacerdotal system. While the priestly function operated at all times of the year, there were listed ‘appointed times’ that were designated ‘feasts of the Lord’. At three of these the strength of Israel, its manpower, was called to wait upon the Lord at the location where He placed His Name. This, for a great part of the Mosaic dispensation, was the Temple at Jerusalem.

Furthermore, the nation, secure under the blanket of permanent priestly activity, was intended to act as a testimony to the nations by exhibiting Israel’s quality of life which resulted from its submission to the Torah, the instruction of God. This was designed to foreshadow the Kingdom of God. It was to be in stark contrast to Adam’s fall which was directly connected to the desire for knowledge, that is, he ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil despite the LORD’s prohibition. If he had resisted the temptation, the instruction of God (Torah) would have supplied all that he desired. For the nation of Israel, their obedience to Torah would witness to the power of God in their midst and His ultimate place as Lord over all the earth. Because of the invincibility of God, the nation that was chosen, called and gifted, would also be invincible if they remained faithful to their call.

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