The Priesthood of Christ
C. H. Darch, Taunton, England
The Priesthood of Christ is of such vital importance that it should be constantly before our minds, occupying our attention as one of the great themes of Scripture. This short study is designed to highlight this subject and encourage worship and increase knowledge of this heavenly work of the Lord on behalf of His people. The necessity of His priesthood lies in the fact of sin, which is a rebellion against God. Sin has placed man in such a helpless condition and position that he must have a sacrificing Priest to stand between himself and God. Therefore men the world over have made to themselves priests in the hope thereby of approaching God. It is only by God's appointed Priest that man is met in all his needs, represented before God's face and led to enjoy access into God's presence.
The source of this priesthood is grace and grace alone. God in His great mercy appointed His own Son to be our sacrifice and High Priest. It is in grace from start to finish that God has condescended to come to where we were in the Person of His Son. Men would never have found such a Priest, yet God has provided Him for us.
The function of this priesthood is mediatorial between God and men. Mediation includes far more than Priesthood. As Mediator He is Prophet, Priest and King. As Prophet He came from God with a wonderful message for His people, as Priest He makes them fit for God's presence and as King He will reign over the nations for ever. Indeed the time is coming when the ends of the earth will put their trust in Him and the nations will bow down before Him, Ps. 22. 27, when He will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh, Joel 2. 28, "for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea", Hab. 2. 14. But it is with the priestly work of Christ that we are now concerned. He, as Melchisedec was, will be both King and Priest upon His throne.
The Lord Jesus has every qualification for priesthood, for such a high priest became us, that is, is perfectly suited to us. As man's representative He has been received by God; He has met all the just demands of God upon Him and fulfilled all the will of God. He is at the same time approachable by His own people.
Several Statements concerning His qualification for the Priesthood occur in Hebrews 5. 1-5.
1. The High Priest must be taken from among men. This is necessary because He must be approachable by men in their needs. So Christ, who became man and lived with men, perfectly understands their needs, and "can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them who are out of the way". In chapter 4 we are led to something even richer than this. Jesus, the Son of God is sympathetic. He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, because He has been tempted in all points like as we are, sin apart.
2. He must be ordained by God. No man can take this honour unto himself, only those who are called of God, as was Aaron. "So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest" but was God-appointed, because God said to Him, "Thou art a priest for ever", Ps. 110. 4.
3. A Priest must have something to offer. The Lord Jesus offered Himself, and, as the servant in Exodus 21. 1-6, offered Himself on the perfect ground of love and could say, "I love my master, my wife, and my children", so Christ loved God as to offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice for His people whom He loved to the end.
The Design of the Priesthood is, first of all, that God might be honoured, in a way that no human heart or mind can conceive. His law is upheld. His justice is satisfied. His righteousness is manifested. His holiness is unsullied; His grace is magnified; His mercy extended, and His sphere of love enlarged. What worship this should bring from our hearts!
Secondly, it is purposed that Christ should thereby be magnified. Who among the sons of the mighty is like unto Him? Who has done so wondrously? Who deserves more praise and glory? The answer is none, for He has excelled them all. He is higher than the heavens, in heaven itself sharing God's throne. What worship it brings to the hearts of His people when this is contemplated!
Thirdly, it is that man may be redeemed, pardoned, justified, sanctified, succoured, Heb. 2. 18; saved to the uttermost, Heb. 7. 25, and ultimately glorified, and made into the likeness of Christ. Truly none but God could have found such a Man or devised such a scheme. How worthless other priesthoods are in the light of all this! How empty are their labours! How foolish their enterprise! If God be for us, who can be against us?
Four God-given Illustrations of the Priesthood are found in the Old Testament; these are the first-born, Moses, Aaron and Melchisedec.
The firstborn was set aside by God, Num. 3. 11-13, but we can rejoice that the Lord who is the Firstborn of many brethren has not been set aside, but as such takes up the work and carries it through to completion.
The work of Moses as priest, Ps. 99. 6, was great and many-sided, but his intercessory work is the one which seems to stand out, for without it the people might have perished, Exod. 17; 32. This of course illustrates the intercession of Christ on behalf of His people, but the end comes, Moses dies, and his intercession ceases. The time may come when the Lord's people will not need His intercession because they will be safe to sin no more, but even when that ends and the work is done, He does not die as Moses did. Thank God, He lives in the power of an indissoluble life, Heb. 7. 16 r.v. marg.
Aaron made propitiation, and he, too, died; but our Lord made propitiation for His people and did it once for all. He is not as Aaron whose work was imperfect, needing constant repetition. Christ perfected and finished the work of reconciliation.
The work of the Priest is to make propitiation for sin and to maintain His people in favour with God. Propitiation carries with it the thought of not only pleasing God, but removing obstacles which hinder fellowship and blessing. Never will the Lord let His people perish, none shall pluck them from His hand, for He saves His people from their sins (not in their sins, because that would not be grace but disgrace). Therefore being saved from sin, His sheep follow Him. If we do not follow Him, we have no right to suppose ourselves to be His sheep for of them He said, "they follow me", John 10. 27. Some, like Peter, may do so afar off, but they follow Him nevertheless.
Melchisedec's death is not recorded, because the work of Christ, after the order of Melchisedec, has no end. When Abraham returned from the battle, Melchisedec fed him with bread and wine, and he also received tithes from Abraham. He was not a priest because his parents were such, nor does his priesthood pass to his children, nor is there a record of it ending. This also is true of the Lord. He will care for His people for ever and receive their worship. No death here! It is mentioned concerning Melchisedec that he was "without father, without mother . . . having neither beginning of days, nor end of life", Heb. 7. 3. He was not a priest because of his birth or family, neither was his priesthood transmitted to another, and in all this he was "made like unto the Son of God".
The character of this priesthood is unchanging, and He is therefore able to meet and deal with all changes. It is holy and cannot be defiled by sin. This Priest is merciful and faithful, merciful to His people and faithful to His God, Heb. 2. 17.
The position of the High Priest now is at the right hand of God in heaven. God has accepted Him, and this makes the salvation of His people absolute and secure. Separated from sinners in resurrection, He is now higher than the heavens in ascension glory.
Finally we rejoice in the climax of the priesthood which will ultimately bring His people into His presence in His likeness. This should fill our hearts with worship, joy and gratitude as we contemplate our great High Priest. Through His unceasing ministries we shall be saved to the uttermost and be among that countless throng of children whom God has given Him. We gladly and expectantly await His return the second time unto salvation.