Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
Besides the prophetic aspect of Christ’s office as God’s Anointed, there is the priestly aspect to which we turn our attention now. We do so especially in the light of the epistle to the Hebrews. In Hebrews, chapters 7-10, there is much development concerning the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. That truth is summarized in our Heidelberg Catechism (Q & A 31) when it says that Jesus is called Christ because He is ordained by God the Father, and anointed with the Holy Spirit, “to be our only High Priest, who by the one sacrifice of his body, has redeemed us, and makes continual intercession with the Father for us.”
Jesus, the Christ of God, is anointed to serve as our only High Priest.
That means, in the first place, that He is One who is consecrated to God in all things. He is so for our sakes.
A priest is not, first of all, one who offers bloody sacrifices. In the Old Testament a priest was one who offered the bloody sacrifices unto God. But that was only one part and the outward appearance of the priest’s office in the Old Testament. That priesthood, however, is forever finished. It was only for a time.
But a priest is one who is consecrated to God with his entire being, with all his heart and soul and mind. In other words, the priest is one who asks God, “What shall I do? What is Thy will? My wholehearted desire is to do Thy will in love for Thee, O my God.” That is the priest.
That was Adam too. Not only was Adam created a prophet, as we considered previously, but he was also created priest.
Man was created after the image of God. With respect to the subject at hand, that means that Adam was created a reflection of God, to do the will of God as God’s servant. And as that reflection of God, Adam was a priest. He was consecrated to God in all his being. He loved to do God’s will.
But sin destroyed that relationship in which Adam stood as priest of God.
In Adam we became rebellious priests. Instead of serving God in full dedication to His glory, we now consecrate ourselves and all things to the glory of the devil! We ourselves live and use all things in the service of sin and Satan!
That is our very nature as it is corrupted by sin. Our bodies are consecrated to doing Satan’s will. We devote our eyes to that which pleases that great deceiver, the prince of this world as it is under the power of sin. We open our ears to his call and temptations. We use our hands to offer up sacrifices to the devil by touching those things he would have us touch and doing those things he would have us do to antagonize God.
We are rebellious priests. That is how we stand in Adam.
That is why we must have Christ. You must have Christ.
He came. He came, sent from heaven, as the only High Priest, God’s Christ. He came totally dedicated to the service of His heavenly Father. “I come to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.”
And God’s will was that His Christ would serve as our only High Priest, redeeming us by the one sacrifice of His body.
The priestly function of Christ’s office comes to focus in the one sacrifice He offered.
How magnificent is the priesthood of Christ! That is the whole emphasis in Hebrews, chapter 10. Jesus Christ came to do the will of God: “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:10-12).
In all the sacrifices from Adam to the coming of Christ, it was preached that there was a fearful separation between God and man wrought by man’s sin. God will not let sin pass. The very nature of God as the Holy One obliges Him to punish sin. We read In Hebrews 1:13, “He is of purer eyes than to look upon iniquity.”
But besides that, the word has gone out of His mouth that the soul that sinneth, it shall die. And the fire flaming on the altar, which completely consumed the sacrifice, was a lively symbol of that fiery indignation that should devour the adversaries of God. “The wages of sin is death.”
The truth of that was seen in the offering of sacrifices year after year after year. Never could the priests in Aaron’s line effect salvation for those who brought them the lambs and bulls and goats. Never with those sacrifices could they make the worshipers perfect. For, as we read in verse 2, “Then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” The priesthood of the Old Testament showed that the case of us sinners is helpless!
But although those sacrifices and sin offerings were not effective for the forgiveness of sins nor the redemption of those who brought the offerings to God, God had revealed a promise to His own. God had given an unchangeable promise to Adam and Eve, the promise of redemption. But that redemption would not come without great price. It would come only in the way of a bloody sacrifice. So God signified that promise of redemption by the institution of all the Old Testament sacrifices and ceremonies. They all pointed to the Messiah, who was to come.
Only in the light of the promise and God’s clothing of Adam and Eve with animal skins by the shedding of blood could there be the expectation of a sacrifice.
All the priests of the Old Testament could be anointed only because of the promise of Christ’s coming.
The sacrifices themselves were appointed by God to serve as the types, the pictures, of the one sacrifice that He Himself would provide for the salvation of His people.
The whole Old Testament cries out for Christ as our Priest, who would fulfill the entire priesthood by offering up the sacrifice of Himself once for all. The law, we read in the first verse of Hebrews 10, was a shadow of good things to come.
In the fullness of time God sent forth His Son, ordained and anointed the Messiah, to fulfill that Old Testament priesthood. That is the gospel of our salvation.
You and I need this Priest.
Even the holiest among men have polluted natures, poisoned in the womb with sin. Those natures have need of the bloody sacrifice of Christ to redeem them unto God.
Our actual sins show our need of this only High Priest and His one sacrifice. If He does not take those sins and our guilt by the blood of His cross, they can never be taken away. If not for Christ’s sacrifice, our sins will go with us to the grave and will follow us to the judgment seat, crying, “We are your works!” All our apologies, all our tears, can never take away our sin. Even our best works are polluted, which means that even our apologies and tears before God are as filthy rags except they be cleansed by the sacrifice of Jesus’ body once offered on the cross.
But Jesus Christ appeared, ordained by God the Father and anointed with the Holy Spirit, to serve as our only High Priest and to make that one sacrifice of His body for our sin. As Priest He stood in our place, the only Priest who truly could stand in our place. For He is God become flesh. He paid the price for our guilt and sin, redeeming us unto God with a redemption that shall never be removed or obliterated by our continued sinfulness.
This sacrifice reached backward and forward throughout all ages, fully cleansing all the elect before the face of God. God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself. “By one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.”
Jesus Christ is our only High Priest.
When I contemplate the beauty of this priesthood of Christ, as God has revealed it to us, I cannot help but think, How blessed we are! How blessed we are as Reformed Christians who find by God’s grace our salvation in Christ alone!
Think about the millions of people involved in all the religions found around the world. While other religions seek peace and a sure conscience, only the Christian can find it. Because only we have the foundation for harmony with God which is true peace. And only we have that gospel which can settle a conscience which otherwise condemns us. The Jews seek it in vain in the law. The follower of Islam seeks it in his outward, legalistic observances which are no more than a corruption of Old Testament law. The Romish seek salvation in a repeated idolatrous sacrifice and in meritorious works.
But how terrible is the state of that man or woman who feels that intolerable wrath of God burning within, and the voice of condemnation echoing through the conscience, and there is no relief.
How terrible the shame and fear and despair which are the effects of a condemning conscience! No wonder men will do anything to cover up that testimony of God’s wrath within their own souls!
But how beautiful is the testimony of this precious sacrifice of Jesus Christ to all you who believe!
The believer finds that nothing less than the great sacrifice of Jesus’ body once offered for sin can give peace to a distressed conscience and free him from the guilt which brings death. Scripture speaks plainly, and so we stand condemned in our own conscience, “By the deeds of law, there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.” Man can never satisfy God’s justice by doing, or by suffering. He needs a High Priest ordained by God the Father and anointed by the Holy Spirit, to offer up the sacrifice required by God Himself. Our salvation is in Christ. Blessed be God for Jesus Christ our High Priest!