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.

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.

More Next Time