5. After The Order of Melchisedec. (cont.)
In both these respects, that the priestly office and the kingship were combined in one person, and that he was a priest for ever, Melchisedec is a type of Christ. Christ is the real Melchisedec, the royal priest, the king of righteousness, and the king of peace. He functions in both the royal and the priestly office.
From this viewpoint it may be said, indeed, that there was a figure or image of this priesthood in that of the first Adam in paradise in the state of rectitude. He was an earthly image of the eternal, heavenly priest-king. For Adam was very really priest of the Most High. This we cannot understand as long as we see the essence of the priesthood and: of the priestly function in the offering up of bloody sacrifices. For this there was no room in the original state of righteousness. This was added after the fall, and became necessary because of sin. But bloody sacrifices are not an essential element of the priesthood. Even as the prediction of future events, though belonging to the office of the prophet among Israel, cannot be considered essential to the prophetic office, so the offering up of bloody sacrifices, though for a time necessary on account of sin, is not the essence of the priesthood. The central idea of the priestly office is that of consecration of oneself and all things to the living God. A priest is a servant of God. He loves God. He consecrates himself to the Holy One. He serves in God’s tabernacle, in His house. In this sense, Adam was surely priest of the most high God in the midst of the earthly creation. All things must serve him, that he might serve his God, and be consecrated to Him with all his heart and mind and soul and strength. And as priest he was also king. Dominion was given him over all the earthly creation. The royal and the priestly offices were harmoniously united in his person. And this was but proper. Only the servant of God has the right to have dominion, for only as long as he stands in the right relation to the Creator of all things, that is, in subjection and obedience, can he properly rule over all things in the name of the Lord, and according to His will. Prostrating himself in the dust before the Sovereign of heaven and earth, and consecrating himself and all his power, together with the whole earthly creation, to the living God, Adam in the state of rectitude might have dominion and sway the royal scepter over all creatures. He was priest-king, servant-king, king under God.
Among Israel this was different. Aaron was priest, but he did not sway the scepter. The two offices were strictly separated in Israel’s theocracy. The king might not minister at the altar, the priest could not occupy the throne. Hence, Aaron, though prefiguring a phase of the priestly office of Christ, was not His perfect type. The perfect type is found in the figure of Melchisedec, king of Salem, the priest of the Most High. His priesthood is realized in Christ. For Christ is the perfect Priest, the perfect Servant of Jehovah, Whose meat it is to do the Father’s will, and Who, as the Son of God in human nature is consecrated to Him with His whole being. He is the only High Priest over His brethren, and is set over the whole house of God, to accomplish all things pertaining to God. And having accomplished all, and having become revealed as the perfect Servant of Jehovah, Who became obedient unto death, even unto the death of the cross, He is exalted at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, henceforth expecting till all things shall be put under His feet. Hence, the priesthood of Melchisedec is fulfilled in Him. He entered in the sanctuary above, not made with hands, and constantly consecrates Himself and all things to the Father; and He has all power and authority in heaven and on earth, and sits in His Father’s throne. As the perfect High Priest, He is also King of righteousness, and on the basis of God’s own everlasting righteousness He is King of peace!
And His priesthood is without end. It is everlasting. This was not, and could not be true of the priesthood of Aaron. It represented but a phase of the priestly calling of Christ, that phase which had become necessary on account of sin. And this phase could not be everlasting. It belonged to the way the High Priest must travel to realize His everlasting priesthood; it was part of the work that must be performed to build the House of God. It was accomplished in the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and there it came to an end. Of this phase of the priesthood of Christ that of Aaron was a shadow. Hence, while the eternal priesthood of Christ could be typified in just one figure, that of Melchisedec, the priesthood of Aaron must be spread over a long line of generations. For the blood of bulls and of goats could never blot out sin. It must ever be repeated until the perfect sacrifice of reconciliation had been offered in the blood of the cross. But it could not last forever. Not only must there come an end to the sacrificing of bulls and goats, but also the perfect sacrifice of the High Priest Himself could never be repeated. This phase of the priesthood of Christ was finished when the High Priest laid down His life as a ransom for many. But the priesthood of Christ did not reach its end on Golgotha. It is everlasting. He is a priest after the order of Melchisedec. For ever He consecrates Himself, and His people, and all things, in perfect love to the Father. And presently He will come again to perfect the work the Father gave Him to do, to finish the House of God, and establish it in heavenly beauty in the new Jerusalem. Then the tabernacle of God will be with men. In that tabernacle all things will be sanctified to God. And in that everlasting House of God Christ will forever be the perfect King-Priest, the King of righteousness and the King of peace, after the order of Melchisedec!
6. The One Sacrifice.
The Heidelberg Catechism, as we stated before, does not discuss the priesthood of Christ after the order of Melchisedec, but considers it solely from the viewpoint of the work of redemption He was and is to accomplish for His people. We would almost feel inclined to apologize for having gone off on a tangent as far as we did in our previous discussion, were it not true that for a full understanding of the significance of Christ as the Anointed of God it is quite essential to consider Him in this wider connection. Now, however, we may return to the Catechism, which teaches us that to the work of Christ as Priest belong especially two elements: 1. That “by the one sacrifice of His body He has redeemed us,” and 2. That “He makes continual intercession with the Father for us.”
The way into the sanctuary of God, and into the glory of His priesthood after the order of Melchisedec, lay for Christ over the accursed tree. To His perfect obedience and consecration to the Father belonged “the one sacrifice of His body,” For He was appointed High Priest at the head of a people that were by nature sinful, guilty and damnable before God, “that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works,” Tit. 2:14, “Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.” Heb. 2:17. For it pleased God to make reconciliation through Him. For, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” Hence, this faithful and merciful High Priest is authorized to send out the word of reconciliation: “Be ye reconciled to God. II Cor. 5:19, 20. For “when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” Rom. 5:10. The High Priest according to the order of Melchisedec, standing at the head of a people in sin, estranged from God, and children of wrath, must bring “the one sacrifice of his body” to make reconciliation for the sins of His people.
Reconciliation is a covenant idea. It presupposes a relation existing between the parties that are to be reconciled, whether of friendship or of love or of obligation. Perfect strangers are not reconciled. One can speak of reconciliation between man and wife, between friend and friend, between a subject and his king, between father and son. With respect to divine reconciliation, the relation that is presupposed is the eternal covenant of God with His people. When God, through Christ, reconciled us unto Himself He revealed His eternal covenant love and friendship toward us. Reconciliation presupposes, however, also that the relation between the parties to be reconciled has been violated:, so that it cannot function, and the parties are at variance with each other. With respect to divine reconciliation the cause of this separation and variance lies wholly with man. By his willful disobedience he violated the covenant of God, and became an object of wrath by nature. As such all men come into the world, also God’s own elect. They are enemies of God, and: have forfeited all right and claim to God’s favor. And the act of reconciliation consists in the removal of the cause of the separation and variance. It is that act of God whereby he changes the state of the sinner from one of guilt, in which he is the proper object of God’s wrath, into one of righteousness, in which he is the object of God’s love and favor.
These main elements of divine reconciliation must be clearly understood and born in mind: lest we misrepresent this fundamental truth of salvation. God is the Reconciler. Never may we represent the matter as if God were the One that is reconciled. This error is often committed. According to this presentation of the matter, God and the sinner are at variance, and
Christ steps in between, intervenes with His sacrifice, in order to bring the two parties together. But Scripture never supports this view. It never speaks of God and the sinner being mutually reconciled. Nowhere do we read that God reconciled Himself to us, or that Christ reconciled God to His people. But always it represents God as the reconciler, and His people as those that are reconciled to Him by His gracious act. Christ is not a third party intervening between God and us, but He is the revelation of God the Reconciler. For God was in Christ reconciling, not Himself, but the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. We are in a state of guilt and: under wrath by nature, and God removes the guilt, and translates us into a state of favor and friendship.
The way of this reconciliation is that of satisfaction. Men may be reconciled to one another by merely “forgetting and forgiving” whatever may be the cause of their separation. But this is impossible with God. The cause of our alienation from God must be removed. And: a basis of reconciliation must be established in the righteousness of God. This cause of our separation from God is our sin, the sin that is ours in connection with the whole human race in Adam, and which we can only increase daily. For it is because of the guilt of sin that we lie under the judgment of damnation, and are the objects of the wrath of God. By nature we lie in the midst of death. If, therefore, reconciliation is to be established, the guilt of sin must be removed, blotted out, and righteousness must be established. But how is it possible to remove sin? Only by the satisfaction, the perfect satisfaction of the justice of God against sin. There is no other way. Whatever a supercilious modernism may mockingly object to this truth when it speaks of “blood-theology,” and whatever it may try to offer instead about a God that is all love, and that is so merciful that He is ready to overlook sin, to wink at it, simply to act as if it had never been committed, the truth of satisfaction for sin is emphasized throughout Scripture, and must be strongly maintained as belonging to the fundamentals of the Christian faith. God: cannot deny Himself. And He is righteous and just. Hence, there can be no reconciliation without satisfaction.
But what is satisfaction? How can the justice of God against sin be satisfied? Only by a perfect sacrifice. And what is a perfect sacrifice? It is the offering up of oneself, with an act of perfect obedience and in the love of God, to God’s perfect justice against sin. The punishment of sin is death. One, therefore, who would satisfy the justice of God and make an atonement for sin, must suffer this punishment. He must taste death in all its implications, eternal death. The vials of God’s wrath must be poured out over him, and must be emptied. But in suffering this agony of the wrath of God, these torments of hell, in dying this death, he must not be merely passive, still less dare he be rebellious against the heavy hand of God upon him: he must perform an act in suffering, he must be obedient in dying, he must still love; God when His heavy hand oppresses him. Mere passive suffering is no sacrifice. Even the damned; in hell suffer the wrath of God, without ever atoning for their sin. To satisfy the justice of God one must perform an act that is the perfect antithesis of the act of willful disobedience of man in the first paradise. His act must be the perfect Yes over against the sinner’s No. He must will to die for God’s righteousness. He must offer himself;
And that is the meaning of the cross!
On Golgotha our only High Priest offered the “one sacrifice of his body” to satisfy the justice of God against sin. And this sacrifice was vicarious, substitutional. Voluntarily He entered into death, and suffered the deepest agonies of hell, not for His own sins, but for the sins of those whom the Father had given Him. And thus our only High Priest “by the one sacrifice of His body, has redeemed us,” purchased us free from the bondage of sin in which we were held, obtained eternal and perfect righteousness for us, and merited for us the favor of God. Thus His sacrifice is the offering of reconciliation. God was in Christ reconciling us unto Himself.
He was able and: authorized to make this perfect sacrifice, and to make it instead of all His own. For, as to the first, He is without sin. He had no original sin, for He is the person of the Son of God in human nature, so that the guilt of Adam’s transgression could not be imputed unto Him; and He was conceived of the Holy Spirit, so that His nature was undefiled:. “For such a high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.” Heb. 7:26. He is the Lamb without blemish. He was able to become perfectly obedient, even unto the death of the cross. He could offer to God the perfect Yes over against the terrible and wanton No of sin. And; He could lay down His life, that He might take it again, for voluntarily He had assumed human life, and from the Father He had received commandment and authority to lay it down. And, as to the second, namely, that He was able and authorized to bring that perfect sacrifice for His own, we must remember, first of all, that He represented them all in virtue of His eternal anointing. God had chosen His elect in Him, and He was the head of all His own. Election is the basis of vicarious atonement. Without eternal, sovereign election, substitutional atonement is impossible. Either Christ represented His elect on the cross, and died in their stead, or He represented no one, and His death is in vain. And because He is the person of the Son of God that died, Tie could suffer death for all His own so as to satisfy for them all, and redeem them unto life. All the vials of God’s wrath, under which we all would have had to perish everlastingly, were poured out on Him in the moment of the cross, and in perfect obedience He bore that wrath even unto the end. For “Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” It is finished!
Some of the elements of this doctrine of vicarious atonement by the one sacrifice of Jesus on the cross will have to be discussed more elaborately in connection with other parts of the Heidelberg Catechism. But even here they had to be briefly touched upon, in order to set forth the meaning of this sacrifice of our High Priest in our stead and in our behalf, and to maintain the truth of vicarious atonement over against several false theories that have been developed to explain the death of Christ.
First of all, there is the so-called moral theory of the suffering of Christ. It denies that the death of Christ was a sacrifice for sin in the proper sense of the word, and, of course, also that He died in our stead. Christ’s death was no satisfaction of the justice of God in respect to sin. According to this theory, the true purpose of the death of Christ is to exert a salutary, reformatory influence upon the moral condition of man. Christ left us a worthy example, when He willingly sacrificed His life for the truth. Or, He revealed that God will suffer with us, and that He entered into all our afflictions and death, in order that He might be able to sympathize with us. But in whatever way this theory may try to explain the real character and purpose of the death of Christ, it denies that it is an offering for sin, and that He died in our stead to satisfy the justice of God; and it insists that Christ’s suffering meant to make a moral impression upon us, and to exert an improving influence upon mankind. To consider the suffering Man of sorrows tends to the moral uplift of men.
It is hardly necessary to point out that this theory stands in direct contradiction to the testimony of Scripture.