“We believe that Jesus Christ is ordained with an oath to be an everlasting High Priest, after the order of Melchisedec; and that he hath presented himself in our behalf before the Father, to appease his wrath by his full satisfaction, by offering himself on the tree of the cross, and pouring out his precious blood to purge away our sins; as the prophets had foretold. For it is written: He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed. He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and was numbered with the transgressors, and condemned by Pontius Pilate as a malefactor, though he had first declared him innocent. Therefore: he restored that which he took not away, and suffered, the just for the unjust, as well in his body as in his soul, feeling the terrible punishment which our sins had merited; insomuch that his sweat became like unto drops of blood falling on the ground. He called out, my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me’? and hath suffered all this for the remission of our sins. Wherefore we justly say with the apostle Paul: that we know nothing, but Jesus Christ, and him crucified; we count all things but loss and dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose wounds we find all manner of consolation. Neither is it necessary to seek or invent any other means of being reconciled to God, than this only sacrifice, once offered, by which believers are made perfect forever. This is also the reason why he was called by the angel of God, Jesus, that is to say, Savior, because he should save his people from their sins.”
Article XXI, The Belgic Confession
The main thought of this article is that Christ made satisfaction for the sins of His people as their eternal High Priest. The article calls attention to the fact that Our Lord is a Priest after the order of Melchisedec. This truth is emphasized in Scripture. We read; “The Lord hath swore, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Mechizedek.” (Psalm 110:4) And again we read in Hebrews 6:20: “Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisidec.” (Cf. also Hebrews 5:10)
Several rather striking things are said in Scripture of this Melchisedec. In this epistle to the Hebrews we are told this Melchisedec, who was king of Salemand priest of the Most High God, blessed Abraham as the latter returned from the slaughter of the kings. (Cf. Genesis 14) Abraham recognized his priesthood, as is evident from the fact that he gave Melchisedec “a tenth part of all.” Further, we are told that his name, Melchisedec, means “King of righteousness” and that “King of Salem” means, “King of Peace.” What is more striking, however, is that Scripture says of Melchisedec that he is “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.” (Hebrews 7:1-3) We cannot go into the several interpretations given to Melchisedec as he appears in Genesis. (The reader interested in making further study of this whole subject may consult H. Hoeksema’s Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 373 ff.) Suffice it to say that Genesis 14presents this Melchisedec as a real, flesh and blood man, who lived in the days of Abraham and who was king of Salem and a priest of the Most High God.
Melchisedec, therefore, must have been a real, historical person who lived in the days of Abraham. He was king of Salem, which means that he must have ruled over a real people. And, he functioned as a priest for these people. Even outside of Abraham God preserved a remnant according to the election of grace. Of this remnant Melchisedec was a part.
What does it mean that Christ is a priest after the order of Melchisedec? In Hebrews 7 Scripture makes a distinction between the priesthood of Melchisedec and that of Aaron. This is not to say that the two are mutually exclusive. In certain respects they are alike. And certainly it is true that the priesthood of Aaron (also a type of Christ) foreshadowed that of Christ. The difference lies along these lines. The priesthood of Melchisedec is far greater, much richer, and wider in scope than that of Aaron. The priesthood of Aaron focused primarily in the bloody sacrifices and was fulfilled once and for all in Christ’s perfect sacrifice on the cross. The priesthood of Melchisedec, however, was so realized in Christ that it is perfected and abides forever.
Bearing this in mind we are able to understand the points of difference between the priesthood of Aaron and that of Melchisedec. In the first place, in Israel the priestly and kingly offices were separated, so that one and the same person could not function in both. Aaron was High Priest but could not be king. Melchisedec, however, was a royal priest. He was both priest and king. The second difference is that the priesthood of Aaron was temporal and came to an end when the perfect sacrifice was brought by the Son of God. The priesthood of Melchisedec, on the other hand, is everlasting.
Thus Melchisedec appears in Scripture as the type of Christ as Priest. He is both king of righteousness and king of Salem or peace. He is “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life . . .” (Hebrews 7:1-3). And, all this applies not to the person of Melchisedec but to Melchisedec as he is the type of Christ. As priest and king Melchisedec has neither father nor mother, beginning of days or end of days. Christ is the real Melchisedec. He is the perfect royal priest and of His priesthood there is no beginning nor end. Having brought the perfect sacrifice for the sins of His people Christ now and forever consecrates Himself and all things as priest after the order of Melchisedec to the glory of God.
Thus Article XXI emphasizes that Christ, Who is priest after the order of Melchisedec, “. . . hath presented himself in our behalf before the Father, to appease his wrath by his full satisfaction, by offering himself on the tree of the cross, and pouring out his precious blood to purge away our sins. . .” What the article emphasizes, therefore, is that Christ as our eternal Priest made satisfaction for our sins and those of all the elect.
There are various theories concerning the satisfaction of Christ, two of which, the moral theory and the governmental theory, are worthy of note. According to the moral theory, Christ died on the cross as anexample for others to follow. Christ in His death is an example in that He was willing to die for His principles. In His life, Christ leaves the pattern of morality which others ought to follow. Thus in His life and in His death Jesus has a moral and improving influence upon mankind. If mankind follows the example of Christ, morality and goodness will prevail in the world. This theory is the modernistic, liberal view of the cross of Jesus Christ.
According to the governmental theory God shows us in the cross of Christ what He might have done to all of mankind if He had followed His own justice. God sent Christ into the world to suffer and die on the cross as a revelation of His justice. If we believe that a like punishment is what we deserve, we shall be saved. This theory has its roots historically in Arminianism.
Both of the above theories, and others like them, are alike in that they deny the vicarious character of atonement of Jesus Christ. These theories deny the fact that Christ died in our place and on our behalf. They deny that Christ made satisfaction for the sins of His people. This latter is the emphasis of ourConfession and this is a Biblical emphasis. Scripture teaches that Christ bore our griefs and carried our sorrows and was wounded for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:4, 5); was delivered for our offences (Romans 4:25); died for us (Romans 5:8); as the Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep (John 10:11, 15-18, 28).
These passages, and Scripture in general, present several points concerning the death of the Son of God. Scripture makes plain that Christ died in our place by assuming the guilt of our sins. Thus in His death Christ paid the price which the justice of God demanded. In His suffering Christ brought satisfaction for our sins and took those sins away. They are no more. This means that the atonement is particular. God chose His elect in Christ. God, as it were, gave His people to Christ before the foundations of the world (Cf. Ephesians 1:3 ff.). For these elect and only for these elect Christ died. The Savior in His death saved His people from their sins (Cf. Matthew 1:21). Scripture further teaches that this death of Christ was voluntary on Christ’s part. Christ died willingly. As our eternal High Priest Christ brought the sacrifice of His own life and blood before God. In perfect obedience to the Father, Jesus laid down His life for the sheep given Him of the Father. Having come to do the will of God, Christ died in our place and on our behalf. This is what the Scriptures teach when they say Christ died FOR us. Finally, this means that Christ bore all of the wrath of God against the sins of all God’s elect. He did this by entering as our substitute into the very suffering and agonies of hell. He took the suffering we deserved upon Himself. There remains for the people of God, therefore, no more wrath. The sins of the elect are paid for. He was able to do this, i.e., Christ was able to suffer the hellish agony of the wrath of God and remove that wrath because He is the Person of the Son of God in our flesh.
Thus it is that “. . . he restored that which he took not away, and suffered, the just for the unjust, as well in his body as in his soul, feeling the terrible punishment which our sins had merited.” This is the only comfort for believers who “. . . justly say with the apostle Paul: that we know nothing, but Jesus Christ, and him crucified; we count all things but loss and dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose wounds we find all manner of consolation.” And, this sacrifice is the one and only means of our being reconciled to God. The Confession puts it this way: “Neither is it necessary to seek or invent any other means of being reconciled to God, than this only sacrifice, once offered, by which believers are made perfect forever.”
The cross of Jesus Christ is, therefore, the revelation of the sovereign grace and eternal love of God Who accomplished all of our salvation for us. In His death Christ merited all the blessings of salvation for us. His death accomplished our redemption. This we must maintain over against Arminianism which insists that the death of Christ only made possible salvation for all mankind. According to the Arminians it remains for man to accept that salvation. That is not the cross of Christ! Christ accomplished our salvation, all of it. This means that we have nothing in which to boast in ourselves. With the Apostle we say: God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of Christ! All glory belongs to God; of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things.