Thursday, October 21, 2010

Jesus is Priest

The Priestly Work of Christ

While a prophet speaks God's words to the people, a priest represents the people before God and represents God before the people. He is a man who stands in the presence of God as a mediator (Heb. 5:1). The priestly work of Christ involves both atonement and intercession.

The Atonement of Christ

The atonement is central to God's work in the history of salvation (1 Cor. 15:4). Atonement is the making of enemies into friends by averting the punishment that their sin would otherwise incur. Sinners in rebellion against God need a representative to offer sacrifice on their behalf if they are to be reconciled to God. Jesus' righteous life and atoning death on behalf of sinners is the only way for fallen man to be restored into right relationship with a holy God.

Even with the extensive requirements for the priesthood in the OT, there was nevertheless a realization that these human priests were unable to make lasting atonement (Ps. 110:1, 4; cf. Heb. 10:1–4). Jesus alone was able to make an offering sufficient for the eternal forgiveness of sins. Because Jesus was without sin, he was uniquely able to offer sacrifice without needing atonement for himself. In offering himself as the perfect, spotless Lamb of God, he could actually pay for sins in a way that OT sacrifices could not. Jesus' atoning offering was thus eternal, complete, and once-for-all. No other sacrifice will ever be needed to pay the price for human sin.

The Necessity of the Atonement

Jesus died because of human sin, but also in accordance with God's plan. The reality of human sin is vividly seen in the envy of the Jewish leaders (Matt. 27:18), Judas's greed (Matt. 26:14–16), and Pilate's cowardice (Matt. 27:26). However, Jesus gave his life of his own initiative and courageous love: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. … For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:11, 17–18; cf. Gal. 2:20).

The Father's divine initiative also led to Jesus' atoning work: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32; cf. Isa. 53:6, 10; John 3:16). As in all events of human history, God's sovereign determination works in a way compatible with human decisions and actions. Even human sin is woven into God's divine purposes, as is seen in verses that say Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), and that “Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” were gathered together to do “whatever [God's] hand and [God's] plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27–28).

Christ came to save sinners in order to accomplish God's will. Christ died in accordance with God's sovereign, free, gracious choice—not because he was in any way compelled to offer salvation to mankind because of something inherent in us. God did not save fallen angels (2 Pet. 2:4), and he would have been entirely justified in condemning all of fallen humanity to hell; only by reason of his amazing mercy and grace can anyone be saved.

Atonement in the Bible is explained with numerous metaphors and images. The chart shows the varied images the Bible uses to describe the achievement that is at the heart of the gospel.

Biblical Descriptions of the Atonement

Type of Language Biblical Words Human Need The Result
Language of OT sacrifices Blood, lamb, sacrifice We are guilty We are forgiven
Language of personal relationships Reconciliation We are alienated from God We are brought back into intimate fellowship with God
Language of righteous anger at wrongdoing Propitiation We are under God's holy wrath God's wrath is satisfied/quenched
Language of the marketplace Redemption, ransom We are enslaved We are set free
Language of the law court Justification We are condemned We are pardoned and counted as righteous
Language of the battlefield Victory, deliverance, rescue We are facing dreadful enemies We are delivered and are triumphant in Christ

Throughout church history, various aspects of the atonement have garnered particular attention. For instance, at different times theologians have stressed the ransom imagery, the selfless example of Christ, and the victory of Christ over evil. These aspects of the atonement, rightly understand, contain true and important insights, but the crux of the atonement is Christ taking the place of sinners and enduring the wrath of God as their substitute sacrifice. This is evident in passages like 2 Corinthians 5:21 (“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”) and Isaiah 53:4–5 (“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 crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed”; cf. Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). The fundamental problem of human sin has been solved in Christ's dying for sinners who deserved eternal judgment. Any attempt to diminish the importance of the penal substitution of Christ for us (i.e., the truth that Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins) will diminish God's holiness and wrath, as well as the heinous depth of human sin.

Christ's physical suffering on the cross was outweighed by the emotional, psychological, and spiritual anguish of bearing the sin of mankind and having the wrath of the Father poured out on him. The abandonment and bearing of God's wrath that Jesus experienced on the cross is beyond our comprehension. On account of this merciful, substitutionary sacrifice he will be worshiped for all eternity by those who are his (Rev. 5:11–12). While Jesus' death for sinners was the basis of his atoning work, his life of perfect righteousness in their place was also necessary to win their forgiveness. He not only died for rebels, he also lived for them (Rom. 5:19; Phil. 3:9).

The Intercession of Christ

Jesus' priestly work on the cross atoned for sin once for all. Grounded in that atoning work, his priestly work of intercession continues now and forevermore on behalf of his people: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34); Christ “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). Jesus is alive and always at work representing and bringing requests for believers before the throne of God, intervening in heaven for them. He is the God-man who mediates and represents fallen people based on his fully sufficient work on the cross, and his intervention never fails. Jesus, the sinner's divine lawyer, never loses a case: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

As the people who constitute the church are intended to have a prophetic voice as Christ's ambassadors, God also intends to use the church in a priestly role to usher people into his presence. Because of Christ's work, all of God's people are viewed as priests with priestly access into his presence and with the privilege of representing people before God (1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 5:9–10). Prayer, preaching, gospel proclamation, and taking initiative in personal, spiritual ministry are all ways in which God's people can encourage others to seek and know God and can thereby fulfill their call to represent Christ as a kingdom of priests.
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Taken from the ESV Study Bible, found online here.