A Better Priest: Part 4

Now that we’ve taken a brief look at some of the parallels between Christ’s work as mediator and the OT Levitical priesthood, we’ll move on to the contrasts.

Hebrews, in an impassioned exhortation to believers to stand firm in their Christian confession, presents us with the greatest degree of contrast between the Old and New Covenants. It would be impossible to plumb the depths of the high Christology in the pages of this challenging epistle. While we don’t know with certainty the identity of the author, we do know two things primarily dominate the his mind, the Old Testament and Christ. The Lord Jesus is seen as the interpretive lens through which all of the Old Testament coheres and ultimately points. Here we’ll briefly highlight 2 of the most notable differences between the mediatorial services of the Old Covenant and the sacrifice and high priesthood of Christ Jesus, the Son (Heb. 1:1).

Sinless Christ vs. sinful priests. One stark contrast between the Levitical priesthood and Christ’s priesthood is the very nature of those who served their respective people in each age. Entrance into God’s holy presence is not accessible to Aaron and those who followed him simply because they were priests, “[e]laborate preparations were needed before the high priest could be considered fit to appear before God at the mercy seat.”[1] In Lev. 16:6 we find “Aaron … offer[ing] the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house.” Aaron, and all other priests after him, needed to offer sacrifices for themselves because they too were in need of reconciliation and atonement. They too bore the blemish of sin.

Every provision was made available to the priests in order that they would not violate God’s holiness boundary and die. When the high priest entered into the Most Holy Place in order to present his sacrifices he was to follow very careful instructions.

To protect himself from the wrath of God, the high priest has to prepare a censer full of hot charcoal taken from the altar of burnt offerings in the outer court and put in it fine incense. The smoke was to cover the mercy seat, so that the high priest would not be killed.[2]

The message was quite straightforward: No one can see God and live. Provisions have been made…do not violate them!

In contrast with these imperfect priests, Christ “has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (Heb 7:27). The epistle to the Hebrews several times draws a hard distinction on this issue; Christ can effectively make atonement for His people because He doesn’t draw from a polluted stream, so to speak. Christ is the only one in this position, thus only He is suited for this lofty work (cf. Heb. 4:15, 7:26).

Aaron vs. Melchizedek. Also, Christ’s Priesthood is seen as a superior Priesthood to the one that is based upon Aaronic lineage. In the Mosaic covenant all priests were selected from Aarons family, no one could simply assert their influence thus appointing themselves to the priesthood. This is stated in Ex. 28:1, “Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.” The author of Hebrews then jumps to Psalm 110 where God speaks of another Priesthood, one after the order of Melchizedek. The author’s argument for the superior nature of Christ’s Priesthood is this: Upon encountering Melchizedek Abraham pays to this King-priest a tenth of all that he had. In response Melchizedek blesses Abraham. Obviously Levi (the tribe through which the old covenant priests were chosen) is subject to his father Abraham, yet Abraham acknowledged the authority and superiority of Melchizedek. A further link in the author’s chain of an argument is said in this manner, “It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.”

Now a crucial question is raised: “Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron?” (7:11). Christ is presented as a priest after this order, a Priesthood which God has established with an oath, something He never did for the Aaronic Priesthood (an argument fully developed in Hebrews chapter 7).


[1] R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1980), 169.

[2] Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 231.

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Posted on May 21, 2012, in Jesus Christ, Old Testament. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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