Posts Tagged ‘Covenant’

Jesus as High Priest

April 20th, 2017
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Way back we have always as a church emphasised the resurrection withe the life and work of the risen Christ—who ascended to the throne of God where he is now actively at work in our behalf as our High Priest, cleansing us of sin—delivering us completely from its power. We must rely on Him in faith. Our eternal High Priest.

Thus at the centre of understanding this time of the year is the high priesthood of Jesus Christ.

I would like to focus on that today.

The humanity of Jesus Christ is essential for us to have a true knowledge of God. It overcomes our creaturely limitations.

At the same time, the deity of Jesus Christ ensures that his human word is also the divine Word of God. To mediate divine revelation to us, therefore,

Jesus Christ must be both God and human.

Because only God can save, Jesus Christ must be divine; yet, in order for his saving activity to reach us, he must also be human.

If atonement is to be real, it must take place from the side of humanity if we are to be reconciled to God; yet, it must also take place from the side of God if it is to be effecive. Jesus Christ, who is both Son of God and son of Mary, fulfils the covenant, both from the side of God and from the side of humanity.

The New Testament often quotes the Old Testament. One of the most commonly quoted verses is


The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’

The Gospels tell us that Jesus quoted this verse as a scripture about the Messiah.

If we read further in this psalm, we will come to verse 4, which has a thought found nowhere else in the Old Testament.

4 The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
‘You are a priest for ever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.

This Lord is to be a priest—not a Levitical priest, but a different kind of priest.

The book of Hebrews tells us that this verse of the psalm is also about Jesus. It briefly mentions this in chapter 5, and then again at the end of chapter6, telling us that Jesus “has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Chapter 7 explains this in more detail.
Lets see what we can learn about this High Priest.

Hebrews 7:

1 This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, 2 and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means ‘king of righteousness’; then also, ‘king of Salem’ means ‘king of peace’.

The chapter begins with a quick summary of the story.

First, the unusual name is explained. The Hebrew word melek means king, and tsedek means righteousness, so his name is explained as meaning “king of righteousness.” And since shalom means peace, he was also the “king of peace.”

These meanings are significant because Melchizedek points to Jesus Christ.

3 Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest for ever.

From the grammar, it is not clear whether Melchizedek is like the Son in every respect, or just in being a perpetual priest. Jesus had parents, a genealogy, a birth and a death, so he was different in these respects. Scripture does not say that Melchizedek was the Son of God—just that he was “like” the Son.

However, Melchizedek had no parents that are mentioned in Scripture. His position as priest did not depend on his parents or his genealogy (unlike the Levitical priests). His priesthood was a different kind, a different order. Similarly, Scripture says nothing about his birth or death (unlike the patriarchs, who are carefully chronicled).

He did not create a dynasty of priests, each dying and passing the priesthood to a son. Today we might say today that he came out of nowhere, and then disappeared – neither of those expressions meant in a literal way.

This mysterious priest is the prototype of Jesus Christ. Psalm 110 predicted that the Lord would be a priest in the same way: not according to genealogy, but by special appointment.

This order of priests was significant in several ways:

1. It was more important than the Levitical priesthood,
2. It implied that the Levitical priesthood was temporary and
3. The new order was permanent.

4 Just think how great he was: even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! 5 Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people – that is, from their fellow Israelites – even though they also are descended from Abraham.

6 This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater.

Although little is known about Melchizedek, we can discern that he was important. Abraham gave him 10 percent of the spoils of war (verse 4). The old covenant required the Israelites to give 10 percent to the Levites, but Abraham gave 10 percent to Melchizedek even though Melchizedek was not a Levite (verses 5-6). He was getting priestly honours before Levi was even born.

8 In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. 9 One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, 10 because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.

From this, the author constructs a hypothetical argument: Levi didn’t actually pay tithes to Melchizedek, but in a way he did.

The point is that Abraham is greater than Levi, since Abraham is Levi’s ancestor, and Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, since Abraham gave tithes to him, so Melchizedek is greater than Levi.

The Melchizedek priesthood is more important than the Levitical priesthood. The Levitical priests die, but Jesus has been made a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, a priesthood that is more important for our salvation.

11 If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood – and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood – why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also.

Note here that the law was given on the basis of the priesthood. The law was designed with the Levitical priesthood in mind—the law and the priesthood went together. But neither the law nor the priests could bring people to perfection. That is why Psalm 110 spoke of another priesthood.

The descendants of Aaron would be replaced by a better priesthood, a better priest—and that has important consequences: “When the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also” (verse 12).

What law is changed?

The law that said only Levites could be priests.

13 He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

Jesus was not a Levite. He belonged to the tribe of Judah, and no one from that tribe was ever a priest, and Moses did not authorize anyone from Judah to be a priest .

15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.

Jesus was appointed as priest not by a law that focused on genealogy, but because he lives forever at God’s right hand. The resurrection is his authority to be our High Priest.

17 For it is declared:
‘You are a priest for ever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.’
18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect),

The law that restricted the priesthood to Levites was ineffective.

The Old Covenant did not have the power to make anyone perfect. The best that the old covenant could offer was not good enough.

and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.

Now, we are given a better hope. It is through this living High priest we are now able to draw near to God in a way that was not possible under the Old Covenant centred on the Levitical Priesthood.

The author then uses a small detail from Psalm 110 to emphasize the importance of Jesus’ appointment as priest. God himself makes an oath to appoint Jesus as high priest .

20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:
‘The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
    “You are a priest for ever.”’

The old covenant was given by God, but here is a new word from God—not just an oath but also a promise of permanence: When this new priest is appointed, the old priesthood becomes obsolete. The old regulation was set aside.

22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.

It will be picked up again in the next three chapters for more detailed comment, but even here it is implied to be a replacement for the inferior, ineffective covenant given through Moses.

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Message for the Day

Lessons from Passover

February 18th, 2014
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We are all very familiar with the dramatic rescue of Israel described in the book of Exodus. As described in Exodus12 it is an Israelite observance as no uncircumcised person was to participate in it.They had to obey his commands as they were instructed. We hear the concepts of haste and unleavened bread and the passing over of the death angel due to the protection of the passover blood on the door posts.

 Stookey wrote:

 One of the unfortunate realities in the Germany and English speaking Christianity has been the loss of the connection of the Passover with the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the more ancient forms of the faith the word Pasch, from the Greek word we translate Passover, is used. This is also true in all other European languages.

 By using the word Pasch or Passover, we are emphasising the continuity between the Hebraic and Christian traditions. We are recognizing that the death and resurrection of Jesus is intimately connected to the Exodus from Egypt.

 Jesus is described as our Passover by the first century church.

 We see from the gospels:

 Jesus chose to die at Passover time.

 It was during the Passover meal that Jesus introduced the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine as an on-going remembrance of Jesus’ saving death.

 John wants us to know that Jesus died as the Passover victims were being sacrificed in the temple, showing that the death of Jesus is the true Passover sacrifice.

 Paul uses this theme in his instructions to the Gentile church in Roman Corinth.The exodus theme runs through the NT, even in to the book of Revelation. Recent scholars such as NT Wright have emphasised this.

 The literal meaning of exodus is the way out.

 Let’s see what insights we can gain from the Passover events for our understanding of the saving work of Jesus.

 We are aware of the fact that there are ten plagues, the climax being the 10th plague – the death of the Egyptian first born on the night of the Passover. So let’s first build up to that event.

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Message for the Day

Covenant –Old and New

March 31st, 2013
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What is the real purpose of the Passover and the days of ULB in the book of Exodus? In fact when we look a the events at the end of the book of Genesis and the opening chapters of the book of Exodus we could view the deliverance through the Red Sea as the climax.

 We will be hearing form Professor Christine Hayes, Robert F. and Patricia Ross Weis Professor of Religious Studies at Yale.

 Christine Hayes:

 … but the physical redemption of the Israelites is not in fact the end of our story. It’s a dramatic way-station in a story that’s going to reach its climax in the covenant that will be concluded at Sinai, and as many sensitive readers of the Bible have noted, the road from Egypt leads not to the other side of the Reed Sea, but on to Sinai.

 God’s redemption of the Israelites is a redemption for a purpose, a purpose that doesn’t become clear until we get to Sinai, for at Sinai the Israelites will become God’s people, bound by a covenant. And so the story continues. In the third month, after the Exodus, the Israelites arrive at the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamp at the mountain where Moses was first called by God, the text says. The covenant concluded at Sinai is referred to as the Mosaic covenant. So this is now our third covenant that we have encountered; we will have one more coming.

 And the Mosaic covenant differs radically from the Noahide and the Abrahamic or patriarchal covenants that we’ve already seen, because here God makes no promises beyond being the patron or protector of Israel; and also, in this covenant, he sets terms that require obedience to a variety of laws and commandments.

 So the Mosaic covenant is neither unilateral — this is now a bilateral covenant, [involving] mutual, reciprocal obligations — nor is it unconditional like the other two. It is conditional. So this is our first bilateral, conditional covenant. If Israel doesn’t fulfill her obligations by obeying God’s Torah, his instructions, and living in accordance with his will, as expressed in the laws and instructions, then God will not fulfill his obligation of protection and blessing towards Israel.

 The covenant was expressed in a typical form of that period. God works with his people where they are in history and culture.

 This history with his people is expressed in the thought forms and language of that period.

There are Ancient Near Eastern parallels to the Sinai covenant of the Bible — especially Hittite treaties that date 1500 to 1200 BC, or so; also Assyrian treaties in about the eighth century, but they are in many ways continuous with what you find in the Hittite treaties — treaties between a suzerain or overlord and vassal. A King and his subjects.

 Suzerainty treaties are between a suzerain, who has a position obviously of power and authority, and a vassal who is unequal in this relationship.

 There are basically 6 elements. As we go through these see if you can rcognize their place in the Mt Sinai covenant:

 First there is a preamble. That’s found in every one. The suzerain identifies himself.

 Second of all, there’s generally an account of the historical circumstances that are leading to the treaty: so some kind of historical prologue.

 Thirdly we usually have some sort of set of stipulations and requirements, upon the vassal generally.

 Fourth, there’s generally some arrangement, either for the publication of the treaty, or its deposition, its safe-keeping in some sort of shrine.

 Fifthly there is generally a concluding invocation of witnesses, usually the gods are invoked as witnesses to a binding oath, some kind of covenantal oath that brings the treaty into effect, and it’s witnessed by gods.

 Lastly, there will be very often a list of blessings for the party who obeys, and curses for the party that violates the pact. The curses are particularly emphasized in the Assyrian treaties.

 We can identify many of these elements in Yahweh’s very first speech to Moses. Moses and the Israelites arrive at Sinai, in Exodus 19, and God says the following in verses 3b to 8:

 The Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and declare to the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me.

 So verse 4, “You’ve seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings,” is the historical prologue. That’s the reason that we’re in the situation we’re in now, and making this covenant.

 Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples.

 Verse 5 contains God’s stipulations. It’s a very general condition — “If you obey my laws.” Basically, keep my covenant, obey me faithfully, that’s the conditional. That’s going to be filled out and articulated at great length in the subsequent chapters when all the laws they have to obey are spelled out

 Indeed, all the earth is Mine, but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

 The second half of verse 5 and 6 gives the reward: God is conferring on the Israelites this elevated status of royalty, of priesthood; “You’ll be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.”

 These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel. Moses came and summoned the elders of the people and put before them all that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered as one, saying, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do!” And Moses brought back the people’s words to the Lord.

 In verse 8, the people solemnly undertake to fulfill the terms of the covenant, so we have at least three of the steps that we find in the Hittite treaties, as well.

 If we take a broader view of the full biblical account of Israel’s covenant with God, all six elements can be identified in the biblical narrative. They’re scattered throughout the text, however. We have the preamble, and the historical background to the covenant in God’s summary introduction to the people in Exodus 20: “I am Yahweh who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” It sums it all up: introduction, who I am, and why we are historically connected.

 The terms of the treaty are then stipulated at great length in the instructions that are found in Exodus chapter 20 through chapter 23. Moses reads the book of the covenant — it’s called the Scroll of the Covenant — publicly: this is said in Exodus 24:7. In

 Deuteronomy we read that it will be deposited for safekeeping in a special ark.

 The Israelites vow that they’ll obey [in] Exodus 24:3, also 7b.

 The covenant is then sealed by a formal ritual. In this case it’s a sacrifice in Exodus 24:8. In a monotheistic system you can’t really call upon other gods to be witnesses to the sealing of the oath, so we have heaven and earth being invoked as witnesses — Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 30:19; 31:28 — heaven and earth, the idea being perhaps the inhabitants thereof should witness.

 As for blessings and curses, we have a long list of each found in Leviticus 26, and Deuteronomy 28.

 So what’s the meaning of this? Why does it matter that Israel understands its relationship with God, and uses the covenant as a vehicle for expressing its relationship with God, the vehicle of the suzerainty treaty?

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Message for the Day