The Priesthood of Christ and its Covenantal Implications

For when the priesthood is changed. Of necessity there takes place a change of law also.

Hebrews 7:12


          After preaching this past Sunday on the priesthood of Christ, I wanted to dig deeper and answer some questions that we all may have in trying to figure out what happened to the Old Testament and its forms of worship after Christ came? That is why I entitled this post, The Priesthood of Christ and its Covenantal Implications.


          When a covenant or a “testament” is to be established, it is established by the blood of the testator. So we see in Hebrews 9:17-22 this explained,


For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.” And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”


And when Moses had inaugurated this covenant/testament with this blood, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, he in turn established the Aaronic priesthood. Accompanying this earthly priesthood were regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. Included in these regulations of divine worship were the sacrifices to God by the priests on behalf of the people, or in other words a mediator of reconciliation. But what we must ask ourselves is was this supposed to be an everlasting priesthood if done properly or was is to give way to something else?


          In answering this we need to understand the language of “types” or “shadows.” Types and shadows in Scripture are things that foreshadow or point to a later or higher fulfillment. In speaking of the Old Testament as a whole Hebrews 10:1 describes it as, “For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.” and also Colossians 2:17, “…things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” Now, no one was ever saved by or under this shadowy priesthood, it was insufficient to even do so…

Hebrews 10:11, “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”

Hebrews 7:11, “Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron?”

Nor was the Old Testament itself sufficient for redemption in and of itself…

Hebrews 8:7, “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.”


What was the point?


          If the Aaronic priesthood and even the Old Testament itself was not able to save someone from their sins, the logical question would be what was the point of it?


          The point of a type or shadow is to direct or point the person to its Substance, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” (Gal. 3:24) The point of the priesthood, sacrifices, feasts, etc, is they directed the eyes and faith of the person to its substance, the coming Messiah! These things were never to be eternal or salvific but as a tutor to show them their sin and direct them to a coming savior. John Owen says of these things,


“This was the design of God in all the ordinances of worship belonging unto that covenant, namely, to typify, shadow, and represent the heavenly, substantial things of the new covenant, or the Lord Christ and the work of his mediation. This the tabernacle, ark, altar, priests, and sacrifices did do; and it was their glory that so they did. However, compared with the substance in the new covenant, they have no glory.”


And what he means of “substance in the New Covenant” is its “ends.” The end of the Old Testament was never salvation or redemption for the believer, “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” And also, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” But the “end” or “substance” of the New Covenant is described by God Himself, “This is the covenant that I will make with them After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, And on their mind I will write them,” He then says, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” (Heb. 10:16-17) I wrote of these better promises that the New Covenant is founded upon in my previous post, “The Old Covenant was broken by their disobedience but one of the promises of the New is that God has secured our obedience forever because provision is made in the covenant itself against any such event; negatively, because Christ has atoned for our sins and positively, because he has earned and imputed to us His righteousness.”


          Now, the testator that brings about this blessed New Covenant/Testament is Christ, “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant…” (Heb. 9:14-15) The Covenant of Grace that was first promised in Genesis 3:15 and multiple times throughout the Old Testament was the covenant that brought salvation and redemption with it. It was promised to the patriarchs and throughout Old Testament history but never inaugurated, because the testator Himself had not yet come to establish it by the sacrifice of His blood (Heb. 9:16). But the Old Testament itself and its laws and ceremonies were given, not to annul this promise of redemption, but to show the person their sin and need of a Savior, “What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.” (Gal. 3:17)


          Christ came as priest Himself under a new priesthood, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. This was an eternal priesthood, one in which we need only “one” priest because He is eternal by nature. And when He entered flesh and offered Himself up for the sins of the elect He was risen and entered not a temple made with hands or a copy, but the heavenly sanctuary itself to offer Himself and His blood as His sacrifice and as priest to the Father, in doing so He obtained eternal redemption for those which He died for. By His death He enacted this covenant of Grace in which we call the New Covenant, the covenant by which all saints are saved, New and Old, “For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” The only difference between us on this side of the cross and those before is they looked ahead to Christ and we look back.  The Old Testament itself and all of its complexities found their telos or fulfillment in Christ. That is why it says, “For when the priesthood is changed. Of necessity there takes place a change of law also.” There are no more sacrifices in this new priesthood because ours is “once and for all” and now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.


And to that we can understand more fully Jesus’ words about Abraham, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”


Soli Deo Gloria!