Article 21 - The Satisfaction of Christ Our High Priest
THE SATISFACTION OF CHRIST OUR HIGH PRIEST
We believe that Jesus Christ was confirmed by an oath to be a High Priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek. He presented Himself in our place before His Father, appeasing God's wrath by His full satisfaction, offering Himself on the tree of the cross, where He poured out His precious blood to purge away our sins, as the prophets had foretold. For it is written, Upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole and with His stripes we are healed. Like a lamb He was led to the slaughter. He was numbered with the transgressors (Isaiah 53:5,7,12), and condemned as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, though he had first declared Him innocent. He restored what He had not stolen (Psalm 69:4). He died as the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18). He suffered in body and soul, feeling the horrible punishment caused by our sins, and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground (Luke 22:44). Finally, He exclaimed, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me (Matthew 27:46)? All this He endured for the forgiveness of our sins.
Therefore we justly say, with Paul, that we know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). We count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus our Lord (Philippians 3:8). We find comfort in His wounds and have no need to seek or invent any other means of reconciliation with God than this only sacrifice, once offered, by which the believers are perfected for all times (Hebrews 10:14). This is also the reason why the angel of God called Him Jesus, that is, Saviour, because He would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
CHRIST: HIGH PRIEST ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK
As deBres draws out God’s work of redemption through His only Son, He highlights first Christ’s office as High Priest. A priest in Israel had a place between holy God and sinful man; it was the priest’s function to offer sacrifices from the people to God (Exodus 28:1) and speak God’s word to the people (Leviticus 10:11). This was particularly true of the High Priest.
God is particular in how He is served. Not just anybody, then, could be priest in Israel (let alone High Priest), but only those whom God appointed to that office. In His good pleasure He appointed Aaron and his sons (of the tribe of Levi) to be priests amongst His people (Exodus 28:1). More, God appointed Aaron to the position of High Priest (Leviticus 8:7-12), and ordained that his oldest son would succeed his father as High Priest through the generations (see Numbers 20:22-29).
Jesus of Nazareth was born into the tribe of Judah, not into the tribe of Levi (let alone of the family of Aaron). By the laws God had given to Israel, He could, then, not be a priest. Yet Christ’s task on earth was to present Himself as a sacrifice for sin (see below). So God ordained Him as priest, not after the ‘order of Aaron’, but after the ‘order of Melchizedek’. The concept “order of Melchizedek” comes from Hebrews 7 (and Psalm 110; see also Genesis 14:18-24). The author of Hebrews echoes God’s revelation in Genesis 14 concerning Melchizedek, that he was “king of Salem, priest of the most high God.” This man, both king and priest, was “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually” (Hebrews 7:1-3). Melchizedek, then, did not receive his priesthood through birth. Here is the parallel for Jesus Christ. Jesus could never be priest after the order of Aaron (ie, with genealogical credentials befitting the priesthood), but only after the order of Melchizedek (ie, without genealogical credentials). It is because God ordained Him as priest after the order of Melchizedek that He could function as our Mediator on the cross of Calvary and is our Intercessor in heaven today.
SIN OFFERINGS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
In Leviticus 16 we read of God’s stipulations for the annual Day of Atonement. Aaron had to place both his hands on the head of a live goat, “confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat” (vs 21). By so doing Aaron (as High Priest representing the people) transferred the sins of the people to the goat. The goat, now laden with the sins of the people of Israel, was then sent into the wilderness. In Scripture the wilderness is symbolic of the domain of Satan. The wilderness is a place in total contrast to the Garden of Eden: a Garden of Plenty versus a place of nothing. (Hence it was not without significance that Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit, there to be tempted by the Devil – Matthew 4). Sending the sin-laden goat into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement was a symbolic casting into hell. Sin had to be removed; the goat being sent away was a symbolic removal of sin.
The notion of the transferal of sin from the sinner to another is also evident in the sacrifices the Israelites themselves had to bring on account of sin. When any person in Israel – be it the anointed priests or the whole congregation or the ruler or anyone of the common people – committed a sin unintentionally, or became aware of having sinned, the guilty person had to offer an unblemished young bull or male kid of the goats as a sin offering (Leviticus 4). He had to bring his sin offering to the priest, lay his hands on the head of the animal, and then kill it. God had decreed in Genesis 2 that death was the penalty of sin (vs 17; see also Romans 6:23). By rights, then, the sinner ought to die. But the animal was killed instead because the sin was transferred from the sinner to the animal. Here is pointed up the justice of God: sin must be punished, there must come death, the animal died. Here is pointed up also the mercy of God: God allowed the sinner to transfer his sin to the bull or the goat, and the animal died in the place of the sinner. Since sin was transferred to the animal, that animal became the sinner’s substitute. Through His requirement of the sin offering, God taught His people Israel that they had to take sin seriously; even one’s unintentional sin necessitated that one collect a choice sheep from his flock and make a trip to the priest. At the same time God taught His people that they would not have to die on account of their sins; Another would die in their place. Here the seriousness of sin and redemption from sin were placed side by side.
CHRIST: OUR SUBSTITUTIONARY LAMB
In Isaiah 53:4-6 we read how Christ became the substitutionary sacrificial Lamb for sinners. Here the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophet Isaiah about the Man of sorrows (and from a New Testament perspective we understand this Man of Sorrows to be the Savior Jesus Christ) with these words, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
God told Adam in Paradise (and so told all mankind) that death had to follow on sin. “From every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat the fruit of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16, 17). The Holy Spirit verbalizes the same thought in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death.” But Isaiah 53 speaks of a transferal of sin. Just as the Lord instructed the people of Israel to lay their sins on the goat, God likewise took my sins and laid them on Jesus. The coming Savior is here portrayed as suffering in the place of the sinner, as the Substitute. This is what the angel said to Joseph in Matthew 1:21, “And she (Mary) will bring forth a son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus came to take away my sin by substituting Himself in my place! How remarkable the gospel!
The following texts are further evidence of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice, whereby my sins are transferred to Christ so that I may benefit from what He achieved. Said Jesus concerning Himself, “... the Son of Man (came) to give His life (as) a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). At the institution of the Lord’s Supper Jesus said to His disciples, “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). To the Romans Paul wrote: “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” and “God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6,8). To the Corinthians too, Paul said, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.... For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). In all the above texts, the operative word is the little word ‘for’. That little word ‘for’ brings us to the very heart of the gospel: Christ died in place of sinners.
THE LAMB IS THE PRIEST
The High Priest sacrificed the Old Testament Lamb on the Day of Atonement. Christ Himself became “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). No High Priest of Israel, though, could present this Lamb to God, for each High Priest needed redemption for his own sins. He, then, who was the Lamb of God come to pay for sin had to function also as the High Priest, and so present Himself to God. The author of Hebrews explains Jesus’ work: “But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11,12). “For this reason,” the author continues, “He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9:15).
SINNERS MAY REJOICE
Small wonder Paul could get so excited about this Gospel! “We ... rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:11). A Gospel such as this cannot leave one untouched. I am no longer on the receiving end of God’s terrible anger! Christ bore God’s wrath, and so God’s wrath is there for me no more! True, there are those times when I feel as though God is angry with me on account of my sins, perhaps when I’m confronted with the troubles of this life, or when I find it difficult to forget my sins of the past. Yet God lays before me the wonderful news that His only Son bore His dreadful wrath for me, so that my sins are gone and I need never face the awful wrath of holy God! DeBres confessed it this way: “He presented Himself in our place before His Father, appeasing God’s wrath by His full satisfaction.” Article 20 concluded with these words, “Out of a most perfect love (God) gave His Son to die for us.” Yes, this little word ‘for’ captures the whole Gospel in a nutshell: Christ died in my place! As I focus on that reality, I can only be thankful to God and rejoice day by day on account of such a rich Gospel. What a God, that He should prepare such redemption!
DeBres concluded Article 21 with these words, “Therefore we justly say, with Paul, that we know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus our Lord.” DeBres, in fear of his life, without a bed safe from his persecutors, without a house free of concern about being found out, confesses the one thing that matters most in life: “Christ and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2). To deBres, house and family and peace and security are nothing in light of “the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). He is prepared to give up anything in his life for that which is most important: with his sins removed by Christ he enjoys reconciliation with the Creator. “We find comfort in His wounds and have no need to seek or invent any other means of reconciliation with God than this only sacrifice, once offered, by which the believers are perfected for all times.”
Such a Savior was deBres’ everything. He is ours too, no matter the situation.
Points for Discussion:
- What does it mean that Christ was ‘priest after the order of Melchizedek’? Why did Jesus need to be a Priest?
- What is the significance of Aaron placing his hands on the head of the one goat on the Day of Atonement? What does this say about the legitimacy of contrasting the law and the gospel?
- What does it mean that Christ is our ‘substitute’?
- What response must follow from such a gospel? Why?