Israel in Hebrews – [Priesthood of Christ]

All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

As we’ve seen, the book of Hebrews reveals that the Kingship of Christ is both now, and continues into the everlasting kingdom of  the new heaven and new earth. We’ve seen that this book doesn’t allow or make room for a millennial earthly kingdom, as Premillennialism teaches. As we’ll see in this study, the Priesthood of Christ doesn’t allow for such a kingdom either.


This will not be an extensive study of the Priesthood of Christ, as that’s not  the purpose of this series. The purpose here is to provide a basic understanding of this priesthood, and then show why it’s totally out of harmony with the idea of Christ leaving His throne in Glory to reign upon a throne of an earthly kingdom.


Hebrews 2:16-17 – 3:1
2:16 For verily not to angels doth he give help, but he giveth help to the seed of Abraham.
2:17 Wherefore it behooved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
3:1 Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, even Jesus;


The central focus of the book of Hebrews is on the Priesthood of Christ. Apparently, the Jewish Christians whom the writer of this book was addressing, were beginning to drift back to the Old Covenant. They weren’t there yet, but they were vacillating in what they believed.


Thus the writer of Hebrews saw a need to provide an understanding regarding the Priesthood of Christ and its significance. He compares the priesthood of Aaron with the Priesthood of Christ. He reveals the weakness of the priesthood of Aaron, and the completeness of the Priesthood of Christ.


The writer of Hebrews reveals that while the priesthood of Aaron was a foreshadowing of the Priesthood of Christ to come, His priesthood was actually according to the order of Melchizedek, a perpetual priesthood:


Hebrews 5:1-10
1 For every high priest, being taken from among men, is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins:
2 who can bear gently with the ignorant and erring, for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity;
3 and by reason thereof is bound, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.
4 And no man taketh the honor unto himself, but when he is called of God, even as was Aaron.
5 So Christ also glorified not himself to be made a high priest, but he that spake unto him, Thou art my Son, This day have I begotten thee:
6 as he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest forever After the order of Melchizedek.
7 Who in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and having been heard for his godly fear,
8 though he was a Son, yet learned
obedience by the things which he suffered;
9 and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation;
10 named of God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.


Hebrews 6:17-7:28
6:17 Wherein God, being minded to show more abundantly unto the heirs of the promise the immutability of his counsel, interposed with an oath;
18 that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have a strong encouragement, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us:
19 which we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and stedfast and entering into that which is within the veil;
20 whither as a forerunner Jesus entered for us, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
7:1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of God Most High, who met
Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him,
2 to whom also Abraham divided a tenth part of all (being first, by interpretation, King of righteousness, and then also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;
3 without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like unto the Son of God), abideth a priest continually.
4 Now consider how great this man was, unto whom Abraham, the patriarch,
gave a tenth out of the chief spoils.
5 And they indeed of the sons of Levi that receive the priest’s office have commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though these have come out of the loins of Abraham:
6 but he whose genealogy is not counted from them hath taken tithes of Abraham, and hath blessed him that hath the promises.
7 But without any dispute the less is blessed of the better.
8 And here men that die receive tithes; but there one, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.
9 And, so to say, through Abraham even Levi, who receiveth tithes, hath paid tithes;
10 for he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchizedek met him.
11 Now if there was perfection through the Levitical priesthood (for under it hath the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should arise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be reckoned after the order of Aaron?
12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.
13 For he of whom these things are said belongeth to another tribe, from which no man hath given attendance at the altar.
14 For it is evident that our Lord hath sprung out of Judah; as to which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priests.
15 And what we say is yet more abundantly evident, if after the likeness of Melchizedek there ariseth another priest,
16 who hath been made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life:
17 for it is witnessed of him, Thou art a priest forever After the order of Melchizedek.
18 For there is a disannulling of a foregoing commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness
19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a bringing in thereupon of a better hope, through which we draw nigh unto God.
20 And inasmuch as it is not without the taking of an oath
21 (for they indeed have been made priests without an oath; but he with an oath by him that saith of him, The Lord sware and will not repent himself, Thou art a priest for ever);
22 by so much also hath Jesus become the surety of a better covenant.
23 And they indeed have been made priests many in number, because that by death they are hindered from continuing:
24 but he, because he abideth for ever, hath his priesthood unchangeable.
25 Wherefore also he is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
26 For such a high priest became us, holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;
27 who needeth not daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people: for this he did once for all, when he offered up himself.
28 For the law appointeth men high priests, having infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was after the law, appointeth a Son, perfected for evermore.


If you didn’t read the whole text above, please do so. Take special note of all the bold print, as these are key to the discussion.


The Levitical priesthood couldn’t perfect anyone. If it could, then there wouldn’t have been a need for a Priest to come through the order of Melchizedek, speaking of Christ. Melchizedek was both a King and Priest, and is a type of Christ. Thus we see Jesus here as both King and Priest. We already covered the Kingship of Christ, so there’s no need to say much more about that. However, it’s important to know that Jesus sat down at the right hand of His Father as both King and Priest. That’s significant to our discussion.


The Levitical priests couldn’t continue their priesthood because of death. But Jesus is not limited by death, but continues forever as our High Priest.


The Levitical priesthood was a “copy and shadow of the heavenly things” to come:


Hebrews 8:1-5
1 Now in the things which we are saying the chief point is this: We have such a high priest, who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,
2 a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.
3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is necessary that this high priest also have somewhat to offer.
4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, seeing there are those who offer the gifts according to the law;
5 who serve that which is a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, even as Moses is warned of God when he is about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern that was showed thee in the mount.


Jesus ascended into Heaven and sat down at the right hand of His Father, as both King and Priest. The Levitical high priest entered the “veil” of “the Holies of holies,” which was a type of the heavenly veil that Jesus would enter for us:


Hebrews 9:1-3
1 Now even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service, and its sanctuary, a sanctuary of this world.
2 For there was a tabernacle prepared, the first, wherein were the candlestick, and the table, and the showbread; which is called the Holy place.
3 And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holy of holies;
4 having a golden altar of incense, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was a golden pot holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant;
5 and above it cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy-seat; of which things we cannot now speak severally.


It was in the “Holy of holies” of the tabernacle that the high priest made sacrifices for the sins of the people before God, including his own.


Barnes Notes:


“It was called “the Most Holy place;” “the Holy of Holies;” or “the Holiest of all.” It was so called because the symbol of the divine presencethe “Shekinah” – dwelt there between the Cherubim.”


What the high priests did was a foreshadowing of Christ and the true tabernacle (or temple), which was Heaven:


Hebrews 9:11-15, 23-24
11 But Christ having come a high priest of the good things to come, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation,
12 nor yet through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption.
13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling them that have been defiled, sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh:
14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit
offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
15 And for this cause he is the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
23 It was necessary therefore that the copies of the things in the heavens should be cleansed with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.
24 For Christ entered not into a holy place made with hands, like in pattern to the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us:


The earthly ministry of the Levitical priesthood was “the copies of the things in the heavens.” The high priests entered into the “Holy of holies,” of the earthly tabernacle, which was a “pattern” of the true Holy of holies, which was Heaven itself in the presence of God.


The bloody animal sacrifices for sins that they made on behalf of the people, was symbolic of the one sacrifice of Christ – whose own blood was shed – who would then ascend into Heaven and sit down at the right hand of His Father as our High Priest. Christ’s priestly ministry is continuous and forever, unlike the priestly ministry of the Levites:


Point of Whole Discussion


The point of this whole discussion is this: The Levitical priesthood was both earthly and temporary, which was a mere foreshadowing of the the Priesthood of Christ, which was heavenly and permanent. The sacrifices of the high priests had to be done over and over, each and every year. They had to go in and out of the presence of God over and over. But Jesus made one sacrifice for the sins of mankind, and then sat down at the right hand of God once….and continues as our High Priest forever and ever. Where? In the presence of God:


Hebrews 10:8-14
8 Saying above, Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein (the which are offered according to the law),
9 then hath he said, Lo, I am come to do thy will. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.
10 By which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11 And every priest indeed standeth day by day ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, the which can never take away sins:
12 but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;
13 henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet.
14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.


Note carefully what’s said about Christ in verse 12 and 13 (in the ESV):


12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.
13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.


This is where we begin to get the idea that there’s no way that Jesus will leave His place of intercession as High Priest as long as there are people who need salvation and as long as His Church is incomplete. Jesus made His one sacrifice for sins, and then “sat down on the right hand of God.” For how long? Verse 13 tells us:


“waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.”


What the writer of Hebrews is telling us, is that Jesus will remain as High Priest in the presence of His Father until “his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.” We covered this verse thoroughly in our study of 1 Corinthians 15.


Jesus will remain in the presence of God the Father as both King in His Kingdom, and as High Priest in the heavenly tabernacle until it’s time for all His enemies to be destroyed, which includes death. As we learned before, that happens when He returns to defeat His enemies, which is immediately followed by the Great White Throne Judgement and the Eternal Kingdom.


Now let’s return to chapter 9, and we’ll see this confirmed:


27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,
28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.


When Jesus returns, it will not be to “deal with sin” as it was during His first coming at the cross. It will be to judge the world and to lead His people into the everlasting kingdom of the new heaven and new earth (“to save those who are eagerly waiting for him”) — which of course, is a continuation of Heaven (Rev 21:1-5). By the time Jesus returns, God’s plan of salvation for mankind will be finished, and His Church complete. Then and only then will Jesus leave His throne in Glory as High Priest. But to be clear, His priestly service for His redeemed continues throughout eternity, which ensures our eternal salvation (He 5:6; 6:20; 7:17,21,24). The emphasis of the book of Hebrews, and on the whole New Testament, is on the spiritual and heavenly, not the earthly.


For those who may want to make the argument that Jesus sits as High Priest only on behalf of believers, and not on behalf of those who still need to be saved, listen again to what the writer of Hebrews says:


7:24 but he, because he abideth for ever, hath his priesthood unchangeable.
7:25 Wherefore also he is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.


Theses verses make it clear that the priesthood of Christ includes those who still need forgiveness of sins. Christ functions as High Priest both for those who still need to be saved, and to continuously ensure the salvation of believers now. It’s clear that Jesus will not leave His throne in Glory until His Church is complete, which means there’s still people who need to be saved.


The high priests of the Old Covenant didn’t leave the presence of God in the Holy of holies until they had finished their priestly service. Likewise, as long as there’s people who still need forgiveness of sins, Jesus, as High Priest, will not leave the presence of God until He has finished His priestly service in the heavenly tabernacle.


It’s true that the death of Christ provided the one sacrifice needed for the forgiveness of our sins. However, the Bible reveals that the message of Christ involves His resurrection and ascension into Heaven. His death, resurrection, and ascension, is the complete picture of the gospel message that we see in the Word of God.  Together, they form the one plan of God for mankind. Thus on the basis of His death and resurrection, He’s able to intercede on behalf of sinners as High Priest.


Therefore, for Jesus to leave the presence of God as High Priest to reign as King in an earthly kingdom, is completely out of harmony with what the writer of Hebrews reveals about the Priesthood of Christ. Premillennialism teaches that Christ will return and set up a 1000 year earthly kingdom, where He rules as King. But how can that be when in that kingdom there will be people who will still need forgiveness of their sins? It doesn’t make any sense. The Priesthood of Christ clearly does not allow for that, because the Priesthood of Christ takes place in Heaven in the presence of God.


The True Temple of God Says No


Premillennialists teach that during the “millennial kingdom of Christ,” animal sacrifices will be reinstituted, and in a temple yet to be rebuilt. After reading and studying the book of Hebrews, it’s extremely difficult for me to comprehend that any Christian can believe and teach such a contradictory position.


The whole book of Hebrews repudiates such an idea! To begin with, the Bible is clear that the Church is the true temple of God. Together, as believers, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. The temple of the Old Testament was symbolic of the temple of the New Testament, which we are in Christ. The spiritual temple of the NT is the fulfillment of the earthly OT temple. The earthly of the OT always had the spiritual of the NT in view. Dispensationalists lose sight of that fact.


As I’ve been saying throughout, the focus of the NT is always on the spiritual, as well as the heavenly…..not the earthly. As we discussed in previous studies, the Bible talks about believers as already being partakers of the heavenly, that our citizenship is already in Heaven (Eph 1:3; Phil 3;20). That is our true Home. Thus, the temple of Christ, whom we are, extends to Heaven where Jesus reigns as King and serves as High Priest. God inhabits the Church as He inhabits Heaven:


16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  (2 Cor 6:16)


God dwells with His people, the Church, just as He dwells in Heaven. Thus the Church and Heaven are united. As we’ve been learning throughout this preliminary study of Revelation, the Church is the fulfillment and continuation of Israel. Which makes sense, since the OT sacrifices and high priestly ministry was type of Christ and His one sacrifice, and of His High Priestly ministry. To be consistent, just as the sacrifices and service of the Levitical priesthood was a foreshadowing of Christ, it follows that the nation of Israel be a foreshadowing of Christ and His Church. We’ve discussed at length the relationship between Israel and the Church, and we’ll continue and end this Hebrews series about that subject in our next study.


Premillennialists teach that Jesus isn’t ruling as king in the Church, but is ruling as King in Heaven. But here is where they’re missing it! The Church is united with Heaven. The Church is the Kingdom of Christ, because it’s all about the spiritual and the heavenly, not the earthly. The Church and Heaven are united in Christ. The idea of an earthly kingdom is completely foreign to NT teaching.


Return to Animal Sacrifices?


Premillennialists respond to the objection of a return of animal sacrifices by saying that it’s only memorial in nature. Where does the Bible say that?! That idea has to be assumed, because the Bible doesn’t teach it. Doesn’t the empty cross fulfill that role? Isn’t that what the Lord’s Supper (communion) is for? The idea that we need to return to animal sacrifices as a memorial to what Christ did for us, is way out of harmony with New Covenant teaching. Listen again to the writer of Hebrews:


10:8 Saying above, Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein (the which are offered according to the law),
10:9 then hath he said, Lo, I am come to do thy will. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.


Whether it’s merely memorial or not, God has “taken away” the Old Covenant sacrifices. He’s removed them. He “has no pleasure in them.” They’re gone!


Why would God revert back to the old ways of His dealings with us? God’s plan is always progressive, NOT regressive. Reverting back to the old ways of the Old Covenant – even as a memorial – is completely inconsistent.


Premillennialism has us looking ahead to a Jewish, earthly kingdom where there’s Old Covenant sacrifices being performed in an earthly temple. It presents a kingdom of two temples, where two temples of God co-exist. There’s the physical, earthly temple of the Jews, then there’s the Temple of the Holy Spirit who dwells within the Church in Christ. Where’s the sense in that? Is there not only one temple of God — no matter what “dispensation” we’re in? Of course. Yet, Dispensational Premillennialism teaches that when Christ returns, He brings the Church with them….and I quote (Scofield Study Bible):


(3) the return from heaven to earth of our Lord Jesus Christ in power and glory, bringing with Him His Church, to set up His millennial kingdom of righteousness and peace…”  (Scofield, Acts 2:1)


Furthermore, not only does the premillennialism present two temples, but of necessity, to be consistent, there would also have to be two high priests! Namely, the Jewish high priests, and Christ the eternal High Priest. Even if the service of the Jewish high priests would be merely “memorial,” this is all very senseless.


Think about this. The temple of God implies the presence of God. If the physical temple is rebuilt, then doesn’t that require a return of the Shekinah Glory, the visible manifestation of God’s presence? I believe it does. However, in the New Covenant, the Shekinah Glory dwells within the Church, for Jesus Himself is the Shekinah Glory. Are we to believe that Jesus will then enter this Jewish temple during those times of animal sacrifices? Or is His presence in this earthly kingdom enough? How exactly does this work? The Bible sure doesn’t explain it.


So then, according to the teaching of Premillennialism, we have an earthly Jewish Kingdom, with a return of the Jewish temple, which implies the return of the Shekinah Glory. Furthermore, the veil of the Holy of holies that was torn in two from top to bottom (when Christ died upon the cross – Matt 27:51)), is sewn back together again. Listen to what William MacDonald says in his commentary, who is himself a Dispensational Premillennialist:


Quote:
At the time He expired, the heavy, woven curtain separating the two main rooms of the temple was torn by an Unseen Hand from top to bottom. Up to then  that veil had kept everyone except the high priest from the Holiest Place where God dwelt. Only one man could enter the inner sanctuary, and he could enter on only one day of the year.


In the book of Hebrews we learn that the veil represented the body of Jesus. Its rending pictured the giving of His body in death. Through His death, we have “boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh” (Heb 10:19, 20). Now the humblest believer can enter God’s presence in prayer and praise at any time. But let us never forget that the privilege was purchased for us at tremendous cost – the blood of Jesus.
Unquote


The tearing of the veil and the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem, as prophesied by Jesus Himself (Lu 19:41-44; Matt 23:34-24:2), is all symbolic of the finality of Old Covenant practices associated with the temple sacrifices of the nation of Israel. The Shekinah Glory that once dwelt between the Cherubim in the Holy of holies, has departed, and now dwells within the Church because of the presence of Christ within. A return of the animal sacrifices suggests a return of the Shekinah Glory, because if sacrifices will be reinstituted within the temple, then it must be performed before God, or there’s no meaning to it.


Again, whether it’s memorial in nature or not, the idea of a rebuilt temple where animal sacrifices will be reinstituted, is absolutely out of harmony with the New Covenant and the New Testament Scriptures (particularly the book of Hebrews) and the tearing of the veil and the destruction of the temple in AD 70.


Where then do premillennialists get the idea of a millennial kingdom that has a Jewish temple where animal sacrifices are performed? There’s only one place in the NT that gives any idea of a 1000 year kingdom (which would include a Jewish temple and animal sacrifices), and that’s in Revelation 20:1-10. This is in a book that’s characterized by symbolism. Proper hermeneutics doesn’t allow us to build a doctrine on one passage of the NT, when the rest of the NT doesn’t support it. Thus they begin with a faulty foundation.


Premillennialists interpret and confirm their view of Revelation 20 through the prophecies of the OT. They believe there are OT scriptures that point to a coming rebuilt temple and animal sacrifices in an earthly, Jewish kingdom where the Messiah rules.  In other words, they interpret the NT according to an OT understanding — and I might add, one that is in harmony with the understanding of unbelieving Jews. It’s a system of interpretation that allows the lessor light of the OT to rule over the brighter light of the NT — which of course, in the physical realm of light, that’s not even possible. Yet, that’s the system of interpretation premillennialists employ. As I’ve stated over and over, we must interpret the OT according to our understanding of the NT, because the NT is the fulfillment of the OT. It’s the NT that sheds light on the OT, not the other way around. Jesus fulfills all things relating to Israel. Thus Israel and its temple and its kingdom must be understood through the eyes of the NT. That’s the foundation we’re to build from.


Dispensational Premillennialism is based on dispensations. That is, they begin with a foundation of dispensations, and build their position from there. When you begin with particular dispensations already in place, it forces you to interpret all things according to one’s viewpoint of those dispensations, rather than simply following the natural flow and harmony of the texts of Scripture. Careful and responsible exegesis of Scripture – without positional bias – must be employed if we’re to interpret it correctly.


I sincerely believe that when one views prophecy through the lens of a particular dispensation, it blinds one to the ordinary sense of Scripture. Personally, I don’t believe in labeling how God deals with mankind, except with the labels the Bible itself uses: Old Covenant – New Covenant. Under the New Covenant, if we don’t allow the brighter light of the NT Scriptures to lead the way, we put ourselves on a dark path of misinterpretation.