Christ: High Priest of a New Covenant
by Glen Jackman | Posted December 5th at 12:00pm
Theological Paper: Christ: High Priest of a New Covenant
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. Hebrews 4:14 NASB
This study will bring to light the importance of understanding that the new covenant is not simply an addendum to or a continuum of, the old covenant. We will look at the priesthood of Christ to help us determine the differences, as Yahweh was moving Israel out of a works-based law-keeping, view of life. The previous covenant was strongly bent towards the personal disciplined use of willpower alone. God used the old covenant system, with its sacrificial typology, led by the Mosaic written law, outwardly policed by the managing Levites, as a teaching tool to constrain his people as time progressed towards the first advent of the Messiah. My aim is to help nurture the paradigm shift based on scripture. There are many Christians who do not understand the huge shift in the covenantal progression that occurred at the cross when the law was written on the hearts of believers in Jesus Christ, encouraging Spirit-led motivation unto obedience now be based on love for Him, concomitant to love for others in His church.
Without an awareness of the distinctions of the two uniquely different covenants, many of the important doctrines of the church can be terribly misunderstood, namely: Christ’s Ascension, Christ’s Atonement, Responsible Sanctification, The Call of the Elect, and the Leading of the Teaching Spirit.
The Importance of the Truth of Christ’s High Priesthood
Our enemy, Satan attacks especially the doctrine of the High Priestly ministry of Christ because it is central to Christ’s atoning work on the cross to save mankind by faith, warping it into man-made myths. The Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, emphasized the importance of adhering to Biblical Truth, doctrines in accord with scripture alone:
We need to bind the girdle of truth more and more tightly around our loins. It is a golden girdle, and so will be our richest ornament, and we greatly need it, for a heart that is not well braced up with the truth as it is in Jesus, and with the fidelity which is wrought of the Spirit, will be easily entangled with the things of this life, and tripped up by the snares of temptation. It is in vain that we possess the Scriptures unless we bind them around us like a girdle, surrounding our entire nature, keeping each part of our character in order, and giving compactness to our whole man. If in heaven Jesus unbinds not the girdle, much less may we upon the earth. Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth. (also see Ephesians 6:14, Isaiah 11:5, Revelation 1:13-14)
The Holy Spirit of Christ must give us Spiritual Eyesight to See
Hebrews 8:1–13 defines Christ’s High Priesthood on an entirely different spiritual plane, a new dimension never understood before the Messiah came to Israel. This occurred in the context of a wholly new, altogether different covenant: “in speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb 8:13; 10:1).
As we study this with regard to Christ’s sacrifice which opened up a new and living way, we must seek to allow the Spirit to free our perception if it is bound to mirror the old covenant antitype of the initial priesthood of the earthly tabernacle in continuum right into heaven, moreover if it disallows the contradistinction of a new heavenly reality of the new covenant paradigm (Luke 22:20; Matt 26:28; 1 Cor 11:25).
If we place Christ as carrying on a similar old covenant priesthood in heaven, bear in mind that he could not be a priest according to the old law’s metaphorical methodology as Jesus was not of the Levitical tribe. The divine strategy to move out of the old covenant symbology into the realized actual spiritual sphere of the Holy Spirit working within the hearts of men and women encompassing the church on earth must operate in a non-symbolic new way.
Now, after the sacrifice on Calvary — a singular and final sacrifice once and for all, Jesus must be recognized as the giver of the Holy Spirit whom he breathed on, imparting the gift of the Spirit to the disciples before his ascension (John 20:22); and the church was blessed with the same receipt of the Holy Spirit after Jesus was glorified at the ascension when He sat down with His Father in heaven (John 7:39). Now we view Jesus as our “God, the Judge of all” and as we pray to him we are to know that, we are coming “to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant” (see Hebrews 12:23-24). And the Holy Spirit became the actualizing agent of the church of all the believers. (Gal 3:2, 14; Acts 1:8; 2:38; 9:17; 19:2;10:47; John 14:17)
Hebrews, chapter 8, addresses the relationship between the sanctuary (or sphere of high priestly ministry) and the sacrifice. Since Christ now exercises His superior High Priesthood in the heavenly sanctuary (Hebrews 8:1–2) which the Lord set up. His sacrifice differs from and surpasses Old Testament sacrifices which previously dealt with sin, and which priests offered ongoingly in the earthly sanctuary (Heb 8:3–6).
Hebrews 8:1 introduces this detailed argument of Heb 8:1–10:18. The author’s main point is that we do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven. Psalm 110:1 and Hebrews 4:14-16 support this assertion. Psalm 110:4 assures us that our High Priest replaces the Aaronic high priest. Psalm 110:1 assures us that this superior High Priest has sat down at the right hand of the Father. The rest of Hebrews 8:1 through to Hebrews 10:18 shows the significance of His being at the right hand and the adequacy of the sacrifice which enables Him to be there.1
These chapters demonstrate that, because of His sacrifice and heavenly position, He administers a covenant far superior to the old covenant priesthood which was entirely symbolic. Jesus was not a Levite so he could not enter history classified as one of the Aaronic priesthood who’d carry on the system established by Moses (Heb 8:4) installed as a system of law to lead Yahweh’s people through the use of symbols and recurring constraints, to lead them to Christ (Gal 3:24-25).
Carefully note the words, “Since then we do have” an active Lord Jesus Christ as our High Priest in the Presence of the Father in heaven, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (see Heb 4:14–16). The epistle describes the greatness of the High Priest that Christians have so that we understand that we are free to enter into the privileges of the kingdom. From Heb 8:1 running through Hebrews 10:18, we sharply focus on Christ’s sacrifice. Why dial in on Christ’s sacrifice? Because through it Christ has become the effective High Priest because His past sacrifice enables Him to help us via His advocacy with the Father today.
Heb 8:1–2 emphasizes the “location” or magisterial sphere and the authoritative governance that Christ’s High Priestly ministry holds. Predetermined according to Psalm 110:1, God invited Him to sit at His right hand first alluded to in Hebrews 1:3 describing God’s right hand as “the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”
The description in Heb 8:1 is even stronger: the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven. With these additional words, the author of Hebrews emphasizes even more strongly the significance of this place of Christ’s ministry. He underlines the sovereign authority and glory of God the Father in whose presence Christ ministers! Can there be any doubt that this is the sanctuary, and the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, absolutely not by man?
Most good English translations follow the Greek text conjoining the word sanctuary and the true tabernacle, for example, “a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent”. I particularly like the NASB’s correct use of “and” (Heb 8:2 NIV; Heb 8:2 RSV; Heb 8:2 NASB; Heb 8:2 ESV).
Where some interpreters get lost
An old school of interpreters believed the writer of Hebrews thought that heaven, where Christ entered, has two parts of which the two parts of the earthly Tabernacle are a copy. The analogical use of language proper to the earthly sanctuary might give the impression that the heavenly sanctuary itself is envisaged as a locality, but we need not suppose that our author thought of it absolutely in local terms. 1, 2
The outer section of the earthly Tabernacle which Moses constructed was the Holy Place where the priests customarily ministered daily. A second or inner section of this Tabernacle was the Most Holy Place where in some sense God’s Presence dwelt (see Hebrews 9:1–10).
If the writer of Hebrews believed in a two-part heavenly tabernacle, then the sanctuary of this verse must designate the inner of those two parts, the heavenly most holy place where Yahweh God dwells. And if two-part, then it might be reasonable to hold the view that the true tabernacle could be the outer of those two parts — the heavenly holy place through which one must pass to enter the holiest place to be in the presence of Yahweh. Or perhaps consider that the true tabernacle could be a reference to the entire heavenly tabernacle, encompassing both holy place and most holy place. 3 Regardless of how the various schools of thought had viewed the sanctuary: When Christ sat down at the Father’s right hand He entered “heaven itself” to appear in the presence of God (Heb 9:24). Therefore it is only logical, that we must see the sanctuary, the true tabernacle as one single reality because Christ immediately ascended into the presence of His Father! Heaven in this view does not have two compartments.
The earthly tabernacle had two compartments indicating symbolically that access to God was not open under the old covenant (see Heb 9:6–10). None but the high priest could ever go beyond the first compartment. But now, Christ has opened the way for all to unify with the Father as one (John 17:20-21) through Christ (John 14:6).
Jesus while praying for the unity of his disciples to be one with Him, as He was one with the Father, it was evident that this would soon occur because He stated: “I am coming to you now” (John 17:13) Jesus taught that He ascended to His Father’s presence, “to my Father”… My God…Your God”! (John 20: 17) I cannot imagine Jesus being relegated to an antechamber awaiting entrance to the presence of Yahweh God! Lenski, a theologian with a brilliant mind, excelling in the Greek language, destroys this viewpoint:
We decline to follow them. In Heb 9: 8 the very fact that in the earthly Tabernacle the Holy Place still has its position before the Holy of Holies is pointed out as evidence that the way into the heavenly Holy of Holies has not yet been made manifest. Are we now to believe that such an anteroom still has its position, an eternal position, in front of the Holy of Holies of heaven, and that despite this fact this anteroom is now not the evidence that it is in v. 8 but rather the opposite, evidence that the way into the heavenly Sanctuary has been made manifest? This surely cannot be the case. If there is an anteroom in heaven as there is in Moses’ Tabernacle, the two antechambers cannot have an opposite significance, to say nothing of this division of heaven apart from any significance regarding the way to the heavenly Holy of Holies. 3 (for cited context)
Who goes to His Father at Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or a long-awaited home visit, and doesn’t aim directly to see him face to face in His presence? Similarly, doesn’t every “good father” long to see His son and embrace him? Even David disconnected from his rebellious son Absalom desperately asked “how is it with young Absolom” and soon wept over the decease of his son: O Absalom my son, my son! (2 Samuel 18:33) And did Yahweh-Father not work united as One with Christ, as the Father, with the Son, via His Spirit, evident in the prayer of Christ for his disciples that the same unity would be allowed for them — to abide in the presence of both the Father and Son together via the Holy Spirit as the portrayal of a church family.
There would be no point in an “outer compartment” in heaven before, at or after Christ’s Ascension. This heavenly sanctuary (Hebrews 8:2) is the place where God dwells, the reality pictured by the Most Holy Place of the earthly Tabernacle. The earthly Tabernacle was only a copy which is why the writer never calls it the true tabernacle.
Again, the heavenly sanctuary is the place where God indeed dwells. Its reality clarifies the fact that it was set up by the Lord himself without the agency of man. It is, indeed, equivalent to the God-established permanent city (see Heb 11:9–10) or heavenly homeland (Heb 11:13–16; 12:22–24). There God’s people finally find an eternal “rest” in His presence (Heb 4:1–11). Christ’s sacrifice belongs to a different dimension, to the realm of the eternal not the temporal. 4
The Corruption of the Anteroom Thesis: In Exodus 27:21 in the old testament period, we see the Lamp inside the veil signifying the presence of Yahweh’s Spirit. When Jesus died the rent curtain signified new access in the New Covenant period from a typical, symbolic presence, obtainable via a corrupt High Priesthood, now directly accessible via the living waters aka living Spirit soon to be reckoned at Pentecost. Moreover, the Sovereign Father, in union with Christ ascended, would not allow the continuation of the corrupt High Priesthood that crucified Jesus, work out the continuance of the Atonement for him on earth, once ascended. Thus any idea of an anteroom preceding the Most Holy Place continues the corruption that crucified him, doing despite unto the Spirit of Grace.
Christ and His unique Sacrifice (Heb 8:3–6)
Hebrews 8:3–5 begins to establish the fact of Christ’s High Priestly ministry in this heavenly sanctuary, especially defining His sacrifice.
If a person is a high priest at all, he has been appointed by God to offer both gifts and sacrifices. The phrase gifts and sacrifices is a comprehensive term that includes the various kinds of Old Testament sacrifices. Offering sacrifice describes, by definition, what it means to be a high priest (see Heb 5:1). Christ ministers in the heavenly sanctuary or sphere. If He is a High Priest, and He is, then it is logically necessary for Him, too, to offer something (Heb 8:3; 9:12–15; 10:5–10).
The writer of Hebrews clarified that this “something” Christ offers is not the same kind of sacrifice that the Aaronic priests offered! This truth is implied by Hebrews 8:4: If he were on earth, instead of in heaven, he would not be a priest of the Aaronic order at all, much less a high priest, for there are already those who offer the gifts prescribed by the Mosaic law. Christ’s kind of High Priesthood has a sacrifice, but it is a very different kind of sacrifice from that of the Aaronic high priest in the earthly sanctuary.
The necessary difference between their sacrifice and His becomes clearer when we look at the place where the earthly priests serve and its relationship to the heavenly sanctuary of Christ’s service. (Hebrews 8:5) teaches: They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. The New International Version has added the word sanctuary for clarity, but the Greek text is more accurately rendered by the New American Standard Bible: “who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.” 5
Note carefully this distinction: The writer did not even call their location a “sanctuary” at all but only a “copy and shadow.” The scriptures do not imply that every piece of furniture and every detail of the earthly Tabernacle was a copy of something in heaven. He is not affirming exact correspondence between the two, but the inferiority of the earthly. The earthly Tabernacle Moses established mirrored the true approach to God in heaven but only in a shadowy way. It was only a symbolic copy.
We must be hearers of the gospel, to have eyes to see that Christ’s sacrifice must be something of a vastly different quality than the sacrifices appropriate for this “copy and shadow.” 6
We are called to the sanctity of our conscience
In the earthly sanctuary, sacrifices were indeed offered, but their efficacy was sadly restricted; they could not bring “perfection” to the worshiper because they did not affect his conscience. Now we see what our author wishes to teach his readers. The really effective barrier to a man or woman’s free access to God is an inward and not a material one; it exists in the conscience. It is only when the conscience is purified by Christ’s love and offering of His life for us that one is set free to approach God without reservation and offer him acceptable service and worship (Hebrews 10:19–25). We transit from the useless sacrificial blood of bulls and goats — useless in this regard. Animal sacrifice and other material ordinances which accompanied it could affect at best a ceremonial and symbolical removal of pollution. 7
For our author, as for Paul, these things were but “a shadow of the things to come” (Colossians 2:17). As regards the “various ablutions,” not only had the high priest to “bathe his body in water” after performing the ritual of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:24), similar purifications were prescribed for a great variety of actual or ceremonial defilements. Now, however, we are created anew within our hearts to serve the living God in holiness and righteousness, this righteousness imputed to us when we confess our sins, and accept Jesus as Lord (1 John 1:9; Ephesians 4:24; Romans 4:8,24; 2 Corinthians 5:21) We now have confidence that we have salvation, motivating us to come to the Lord (1 John 5:14; Ephesians 3:12; Heb 10:19). The good news of Christ activates our consciences (Acts 2:37, 23:1, 24:16; Rom 9:1, 14:22). Our conscience is led by the Spirit (Rom 8: 14) and the understanding of what His atoning blood has done on our behalf gives us the confidence to live for Christ with a clear, purified conscience as testified to us via the Holy Spirit (Gal 4:6; Heb 9:14; 10:9-10, 22; 13:18; 2 Cor 1:12; 1 Tim 1:9, 3:9; 1 Peter 3:16, 21; 2 Pet 2:19; 1 John 3:21). This is our ministry to live in a clear conscience before the world (2 Cor 4:2, 5:11).
In 2 Corinthians 5:21, we learn about Christ’s propitiation on our behalf, and imputation of righteousness, when we are accounted as righteous because God the Father looks to Christ who covers us with His atoning work, having died in our stead:
“He [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Here we have a double imputation. God imputed our sins to Christ who knew no sin. And God imputed his righteousness to us who had no righteousness of our own. The key phrases for us are “the righteousness of God” and “in Him.” It’s not our righteousness that we get here. It is God’s righteousness. And we get it not because our faith is righteous, but because we are “in Christ.” Faith unites us to Christ. And in Christ, we have an alien righteousness. It is God’s righteousness in Christ. Or you can say it is Christ’s righteousness. He takes our sin. We take his righteousness. 8
We must see that the Old Covenant as symbols for the times past
These purifications undoubtedly had great hygienic value, but when they were given religious value there was always the danger that those who practised them might be tempted to think of religious duty exclusively, or at least excessively, regarding externalities. But all these things were “outward ordinances” (NEB), “regulations for the body” (RSV), not for the conscience, with a temporary and limited validity until the “time of reformation.” By the rendering “reformation” we might understand “reformation” in the sense of “reconstruction”; the coming of Christ involved a complete reshaping of the structure of Israel’s religion. The old covenant was now to give way to the new, the shadow to the substance, the outward and earthly copy to the inward and heavenly reality. 9
The New Covenant Reality: the Living Way in Christ, our High Priest
“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” (Heb 10:19-22 NASB). Dr. Keil of the renowned Hebrew Commentary Keil–Delitzsch sees the new Holy of Holies of Daniel 9 in the new covenant period after the ascension, to mean the Most Holy Place as the church where Christ is ministering to sanctify His people and make them holy by the indwelling Holy Spirit empowering them to have a clear conscience — to have “hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience”. :
We must refer this sixth statement (to anoint the Most Holy) also to that time of the consummation, and understand it of the establishment of the new Holy of Holies which was shown to the holy seer on Patmos as “the tabernacle of God with men,” in which God will dwell with them, and they shall become His people, and He shall be their God with them (Rev 21:1-3). In this holy city, there is its temple, and the glory of God will lighten it (Rev 21: 22-23). Into it nothing shall enter that defileth or worketh abomination (Rev 21:27), for sin shall then be closed and sealed up; there shall righteousness dwell (2 Pet. 3:13). 10
Our High Priest and our Royal Priesthood
By cooperating responsibly, motivated by grace (2 Peter 3:31), with the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in the church which begins when we first believe (John 15:3; 1 Corinthians 1:2, 30, 6:11; 1 John 3:3), we are purified from the sins of the world by the indwelling Spirit (John 17:19; Ephesians 5:26; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 2 Timothy 2:19; James 4:8; 1 Peter 1:15). Our unity with Christ our High Priest, working within our hearts both individually, and collectively together in the church will be our hope until the Lord returns in glory (John 15:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:23).
As Paul noted, our sanctification will be the work of a lifetime of obedience, as we currently engage in spiritual warfare in our life now and progressively onward in our life- journey, as the Lord leads via His Spirit until we meet Him face to face. (1 John 3: 1-3; Philippians 3:13-15). In this way we also as a church can effectively minister to others the sanctifying Word of our Lord in the new covenant order of Melchizedek 11 (Hebrews 5:9-19, 6:19-20; 1 Peter 2:9).
See: The Old and New Covenant Distinctions
1 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (New International Commentary on the New Testament)
2 Christ’ High Priesthood at His ascension noted in Heb 9:11, arks the symbolism of the curtain which was rent in two upon Christ’s decease (Matt 27.51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45), the curtain symbolizing being his rent body, a way confirmed by the Spirit (Rom 7:6; Heb 10:20)!
3 Lenski, R. C. H. (1938). The interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James (pp. 290–291). Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, notes: They suppose that Christ went into the Holy of Holies in heaven (εἰς τὰ ἅγια, v. 12) by first going through something that corresponds to the Holy of the earthly Tabernacle of Moses. This anteroom they find in “the greater and more complete σκηνή or Tabernacle, not handmade, that is, not of this creation.”
But what can this anteroom be? The idea that it is the body or the human nature of Christ is now commonly rejected and certainly has no support in 10:20. Since this σκηνή is “not of this creation” as the writer himself says, the created heavens cannot be referred to as they are referred to in 4:14: “having passed through the (created) heavens” in his ascension. So these commentators think that heaven itself, the uncreated place where God dwells, is divided into two parts that correspond to the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle of the wilderness. They think that the writer is exalting this heavenly anteroom “through” which Jesus passed in order to reach the heavenly Holy of Holies that was above the anteroom of Moses’ Tabernacle.
We decline to follow them. In Heb 9: 8 the very fact that in the earthly Tabernacle the Holy Place still has its position before the Holy of Holies is pointed out as evidence that the way into the heavenly Holy of Holies has not yet been made manifest. Are we now to believe that such an anteroom still has its position, an eternal position, in front of the Holy of Holies of heaven, and that despite this fact this anteroom is now not the evidence that it is in v. 8 but rather the opposite, evidence that the way into the heavenly Sanctuary has been made manifest? This surely cannot be the case. If there is an anteroom in heaven as there is in Moses’ Tabernacle, the two antechambers cannot have an opposite significance, to say nothing of this division of heaven apart from any significance regarding the way to the heavenly Holy of Holies.
4 Cockerill, G. L. (1998). Hebrews: a Bible commentary in the Wesleyan tradition (p. 167). Indianapolis, IN Wesleyan Publishing House.
7 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (New International Commentary on the New Testament)
8 John Piper, Desiring God
9 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (New International Commentary on the New Testament
10 Commentaries on the Book of Daniel, Vol II, trans. by Thomas Myers (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1948 [reprint]), p 349
11 The order of Melchizedek was symbolic of the new covenant order that Jesus would institute. The mystery of the gospel relates so well to the life of Abraham, a man of faith who trusted God’s Word to lead him (and view Melchizedek as a High Priest who entered into his life in his time of duress).
Article posted by Glen R. Jackman, founder of GraceProclaimed.org
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