What the Bible says about
Christ as High Priest
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The entire sacrificial system pointed to Jesus Christ in some way; it was a “tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). This certainly includes all the instructions in Leviticus 16. There is a pitfall, however, in trying to make the sequence of the ritual precisely fit the timing of Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection. This is crucial to understand because some identify the azazel as Satan on the assumption that the role of the azazel can only be fulfilled after Jesus was resurrected.
The assumption is this: In Leviticus 16, the Lord's goat is slain to make payment for sin, understood to be a type of Christ's sacrifice. After His resurrection, He ascended to heaven to take on the role of High Priest. This line of reason leads to the conclusion that, since the first goat represented the slain Christ, and the high priest represented the resurrected Christ, then the azazel must represent someone entirely different from Christ.
Yet, even though the entire sacrificial system pointed to Christ, the order in which He fulfilled things did not match the instructions given to Israel. He completely fulfilled the essence of those instructions, but it is impossible—and unnecessary—to fit the timeline of the reality into that of the shadow, the type. We will follow a brief tangent to see this, taking as our example God's instruction concerning the consecration of the Aaronic priesthood.
Exodus 29 provides a specific order in which the various sacrifices for dedicating priests to their office were to be carried out. Performed first, the sin offering acknowledged sin and made symbolic atonement before anything else was done. Next came the whole burnt offering, representing a life given in complete service to God (different from a life sacrificed in payment for sin). Offered with the burnt offering was a grain offering, which similarly represents a life given—lived—in complete devotion to fellow man.
Though this is not a complete expounding of Exodus 29, the order of these elements teaches that we cannot approach God until payment for sin has been made (sin offering), and that our highest priority after our justification is wholehearted devotion to God (burnt offering). Only after that can we truly love our fellow man and be devoted to him (grain offering).
In contrast, Jesus' fulfillment of these sacrifices occurred in a different order. He did not become the sin offering until after He had lived a life of complete devotion to God and man—that is, after He had already fulfilled the burnt and grain offerings. Similarly, He did not qualify to be our High Priest until after He had fulfilled the burnt offering, grain offering, sin offering, and other offerings like the Wavesheaf and the Passover. What we see is that the actual sequence in which Christ fulfilled all these things was not identical to the sequence given to Israel in Exodus 29. However, He fulfilled their spiritual essence, which the Father accepted.
Returning to the Atonement ritual, we observe the same thing. The instructions begin with the high priest entering the Holy Place (Leviticus 16:3-4). If, in interpreting the ritual's symbols, we require this chapter to follow the sequence that took place in Christ's fulfillment, we are immediately faced with an impossibility: He did not qualify to be High Priest until after His earthly work was completely finished—after His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension (see Hebrews 5:9-10). Therefore, trying to match the Leviticus 16 instructions with what actually happened leaves us starting out with Christ's earthly work already complete and after His installation as High Priest.
It is not necessary to match up the order of these things, nor is it required that the azazel's antitype be fulfilled only after Christ's resurrection. Forcing a rigid, sequential fulfillment of Leviticus 16 results only in tying ourselves in symbolic knots.
David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Three)
The wavesheaf offering is an easily overlooked offering. Only those aware of the counting required to observe Pentecost notice it because the count for Pentecost begins with the day of the wave-sheaf offering. Possibly many of us were once unaware of the wavesheaf offering because the church supplied us with a calendar showing the holy day dates for many years in advance. Since the date of Pentecost had already been determined for us, we were unaware that the count began with the day the ancient Israelites made the obscure wavesheaf offering.
Occurring on only one day each year, the day of the wavesheaf offering is not designated a holy day by God. But it is far from minor or obscure in its meaning to salvation. In fact, we could say that, without what it means to our salvation, there would be no salvation!
The wavesheaf consisted of an omer of barley, still on the stalk, cut at the beginning of the spring harvest. Since it came from the very beginning of the harvest of the firstfruits, it can be called the first of the firstfruits (Exodus 23:19). A comparison of Exodus 23:14-19; 34:22-26; Leviticus 23:10-11 and Nehemiah 12:44 confirms that each Israelite possessing a harvest was required to give an offering. A priest then lifted or "waved" each sheaf before God for acceptance. However, while the individual Israelite farmers did bring a firstfruits offering to the priests, the standard, recorded practice during the Second Temple period (the time of Christ) was to perform only one official waving of a sheaf by a priest in Jerusalem. This one sheaf and its waving represented all the others brought by individual farmers.
In its setting in the Old Testament, the wavesheaf offering represents a thankful acknowledgment to God as the Giver of the harvest, while dedicating or consecrating it to Him. Its waving set the stage for the rest of the harvest to proceed. In fact, the work of harvesting could not begin until the wavesheaf offering occurred.
Though Scripture specifies the day the wavesheaf was to be cut, it gives no specific time of day to cut it. Jewish history from the Second Temple period gives an interesting insight. The second-century Mishnah affirms that, when the Sadducees controlled the Temple, the sickle was put to the grain just as the sun was going down on the weekly Sabbath (Menahot 10:1-4, Jacob Neusner translation, pp. 753-754). The book, Biblical Calendars, states, "The Boethusians [Temple priests] reaped [the firstfruits sheaf] at the going out of the Sabbath" (p. 218. Additional information can be found in the section titled "Temple Service," p. 280, as well as in The Temple: Its Ministry and Services by Alfred Edersheim, 1994, pp. 203-205). The New Testament's silence on this Sadducean practice—along with its agreement with the ritual's fulfillment in Christ—must be construed as acceptance of its validity.
The priests began to make the first cutting right at the end of the Sabbath, continuing over into the first day of the week, when the bulk of the work would be done. The ritual, however, was not complete until the sheaf was offered (waved) before God the following morning, or more precisely, between 9:00 a.m. and noon. Some might object to the reaping of the sheaf in the closing minutes of the Sabbath because it is a day of rest when no work is to be done. After one understands the full reason for it, as well as Jesus' direct statement that a priest is blameless in the performance of his required duties (Matthew 12:5), any objections to the practice disappear.
The spiritual reason is supplied in the New Testament, when a major step in God's plan begins to unfold. The Old Testament situates the festivals of God within the agricultural harvests, but in the New Testament, these agricultural harvests become types of God's spiritual harvests of souls into His Kingdom. The New Testament uses this imagery extensively (e.g. John 4:35-36; Matthew 9:36-38).
Another clear reference to a spiritual harvest is the Parable of the Wheat and Tares:
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat. . . . [The owner said,] "Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, 'First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.'" (Matthew 13:24-25, 30)
In His explanation of this parable, Jesus says, "The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. . . . Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" (Matthew 13:39, 43). It is so plain! A harvest symbolizes a resurrection. More specifically and positively, a harvest is a type of a resurrection to eternal life—birth into the Kingdom of God!
The resurrected Jesus Christ fits into this picture as the archetypical Wavesheaf. He was crucified "in the middle of the week" (Daniel 9:27), a Wednesday, and put into the grave near sunset (John 19:31, 38-42). Mark confirms this: "Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath [an annual Sabbath, the first day of Unleavened Bread]" (Mark 15:42). The holy day fell on a Thursday, followed by a second preparation day, then the weekly Sabbath (Luke 23:54-56).
Jesus explains in Matthew 12:39-40 that the length of time He would be in the tomb is the sign of His Messiahship. Counting three days and three nights from Jesus' burial in the tomb on Wednesday evening near sunset brings us to Saturday evening near sunset. As the Sabbath was ending, the Father burst the bonds of Christ's death by the power of His Holy Spirit and resurrected Him as very God.
He was now prepared to be accepted before the Father. But John 20:1 and John 20:17 show that His ascension did not occur until sometime Sunday morning.
The Bible nowhere indicates that the priests understood the ritual they were performing on Saturday evening when Jesus Christ, the archetypical Wavesheaf, was "harvested" from the material world by being resurrected from the dead. On Sunday morning, as the firstborn of many brethren, He was lifted into and through the heavens to God's throne to be accepted by Him as the sacrifice for our sins and as our High Priest.
God's plan had just taken a momentous step toward its completion. The Redeemer of mankind had triumphed and been glorified. "For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Romans 5:10). Now the payment for our sins had been secured and a sinless and dynamic High Priest installed as our Mediator before the Father. Our salvation had now been assured and death conquered, preparing the way for many, many more to follow.
On the surface, the wavesheaf offering may seem an insignificant event lost in the more visible activities of Passover and Unleavened Bread. Though it may be lost on this world's "Christianity," it memorializes the most significant spiritual event that has yet taken place on earth: the resurrection and ascension of our Savior Jesus Christ! Thank God that He has given us understanding of it! We can be even more thankful when we understand that it signifies the real beginning of the spiritual work of harvesting human souls, culminating with us being resurrected and changed to spirit as Jesus' brothers and sisters at His return!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wavesheaf Offering
As early as the seventh century BC, during the lifetime of the prophet Jeremiah, God assured humanity that He had prepared a new covenant, which was ready to be presented and ratified between God and men. The specific time of its institution was not revealed then, only that He would make it with a reunited Israel and Judah. However, the Bible shows that God did not wait for physical Israel and Judah's reunification into one nation, but instead, He introduced the New Covenant into the Christian church as a precursor agreement through and under Jesus Christ as the church began. This was part of God's Plan, and He is continuing to use its standards to prepare a people within the present-day church to fulfill its operations under Jesus Christ when Israel and Judah reunite after His return (Revelation 14:1-5).
The New Testament teaches that the Temple sacrifices and ceremonies commanded under the Old Covenant are indeed set aside. But God's setting aside of the ceremonial focus, as explored and expounded in the epistle to the Hebrews, does not automatically do away with any other laws dealing with public and private behavior relating to loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves.
God's institution of the New Covenant within the church has been a more intimate and effective guide for producing higher-quality relationships with Him and His Family than the Old Covenant. When combined with His appointment of Jesus Christ as our spiritual High Priest, this system features a personal, anytime, all-the-time relationship with Him that enhances the creation of the spiritual characteristics that God desires in His children. These elements allow us access to God that those under the Old Covenant did not have. We can approach Him anytime through Christ!
Much of the book of Hebrews is, according to chapter 8, focused on Jesus Christ's qualifications for fulfilling His responsibilities within the spiritual process that God has instituted under the New Covenant. Jesus Himself teaches us about our vital need of Him in John 15:4-6.
The close intimacy of the relationship with Jesus Christ that the New Covenant provides for us makes it extremely valuable to us. In turn, our spiritual relationship with the Father and Son influences our life's activities. His role is to assist us in making good spiritual use of the gifts God has made available to us when we accepted the New Covenant (Romans 5:1-5). Our goal now is to bring glory to God by yielding to His creative genius and power as we live our lives, being formed into Christ's character image. Jesus Christ never sinned. It is this quality of righteous living that honors the Father. Thus, we are called to walk in the steps of our Savior. Peter writes in I Peter 2:21-22, “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 'Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth.'”
The New Covenant does not abolish the Ten Commandments at all. Jesus' life proves that. We are to follow what He did. God's appointment of Jesus Christ as High Priest to aid us and His institution of a more effective system for preparing us for His Kingdom removed the typical Temple system of animal sacrifices and ceremonies. He replaced them with the far superior personal, individual, and spiritual attentions of Jesus Christ. At the same time, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus raises our behavioral responsibilities, teaching us to keep the commandments in their spirit. This elevated standard makes them more refining and restraining than they are in the mere letter.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Two)
The first chapter of Hebrews lays the foundation for the theme that will run through the entire book. The author begins with the truth that Christ is superior to angels. He wants his readers to focus on the message, which is important, not only because it is thrilling and of weighty content, but also because of its Source. In times past, the message came through agents or intermediaries—either angels or prophets were sent. This message, however, came right from the top—through the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He is greater than or superior to any angel or prophet. All of those who came before Jesus Christ are "inferiors."
Thus, when God sent His message through His Son, it was introduced by the very highest Source that it could possibly come from. The author intends us to understand that this message requires us to give it the highest priority of our lives. Nothing supersedes the message that came through the Son of God. No one can present a message anywhere near as great.
The message that Moses gave was, of course, right and true and powerful, but it cannot even be compared to the message that came through the Son of God. That is the theme! Christ and what He has to give us—be it words, His ministrations as High Priest, His efficacious death, His covenant, etc.—are far superior to everything else. Absolutely nothing in life can compare. He has given us the most awesome gifts that any human being could possibly be given.
This is how the author begins his treatise—as if firing a cannon to get our attention! How dare we be apathetic toward this message! That is what he implies. Do we not realize where the gospel came from? It came from the One for whom all things were created and by whom all things were created. He created Adam and gave him the breath of life—and He right now sustains us with His power! Yet the world and the pressures that it puts on us have a way of turning our attention toward other things, do they not? Unfortunately, we give into them so often, so easily.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Hebrews: A Message for Today
The author directly states that this idea is the primary reason for all he has written so far. Christianity is earth's only religion that is led by a spiritual High Priest sitting at the right hand of the throne of God in heaven. Within the material the author has written are two major points:
First, the qualifications of this towering Figure, who holds such an important office, make Him indispensable to the salvation of all God's sanctified ones. Indispensable? Absolutely! Jesus tells us Himself in John 15:5, “Without Me you can do nothing” in terms of producing fruit that glorifies God. He has much to offer. The epistle to the Hebrews identifies these qualities.
The second major reason is not named here. Some may consider it unimportant in comparison to the first. However, God, who knows precisely where His creation is headed and who sovereignly controls its direction and speed of advancement, never intended the Old Covenant to last forever.
Remember, God Himself publicly introduced the New Covenant six centuries before the writing of the book of Hebrews (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Its introduction within the flow of the history of the church and the world began to force key cultural changes to take place within Judea especially, but also in majority Gentile areas of the Middle East. Many Jews were being converted. Within the church itself, both the leadership and membership were asking many questions about what they needed to do to adjust to this new way of life. Those converts required direction from on high to secure them in living by faith in Jesus Christ.
The transition from Judaism to Christianity following Christ's crucifixion and resurrection and the church's receipt of the Holy Spirit—all in the early AD 30s—needed purposeful instruction from heaven to confirm to the church the direction that Christ wanted the daily, spiritual operations of Christianity to proceed. Just as the book of Leviticus contains detailed instruction for daily functions under the Old Covenant, so similar education was necessary under the New Covenant because of what God was working in the church—and is still working today.
The epistle to the Hebrews contains such instruction, enabling those who have entered the New Covenant with God to make the necessary adjustments to maintain their lives by faith and grow spiritually. In this way, they can glorify God by maintaining their relationship with Christ while preparing for the Kingdom of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part One)
Justification, by grace through faith in Christ's blood, secures for us access into the very presence of God and more of God's grace. The emphasis here is upon the word "access." The Israelites' relationship with the Tabernacle and the Temple pictured this: They were denied access to the Holy of Holies. In fact, the law also forbade them entry into the Holy Place, the first room inside the Tabernacle and the Temple. Only the priests could go into the Holy Place, and they could enter it only in performing their duties. Whenever David organized them into courses, the ordinary priests could only enter it a few times during the year.
So what about ordinary Israelites? They never got in there—not at all. So, no sacrifice (no single sacrifice or multitude of sacrifices)—no quantity of good works of the law or of any kind—gained them entrance into where God lived, into His presence. God completely shut them off from any direct access to Him. Only the high priest—once a year, on the Day of Atonement—was allowed in, but only after he offered a sacrifice for sin, underwent ritual purification through washing, and donned special clothing.
God is illustrating for us that we are not righteous enough to be in His presence. (Nowhere does the Bible say that justification does away with the law. It is not a property of justification to do so.) Justification brings us into alignment with a standard. With God, justification is a gift; on our part, it is unearned. We cannot earn it because our works are flawed and thus unacceptable. We are unacceptable. Justification—by God's grace, through faith in Christ's blood—brings us into alignment with God's standard and therefore into the status of "righteous" in His eyes. Then we have access to God.
In principle, this does not differ from breaking a law of man (committing a crime) and going to jail. Once the penalty has been paid, and we are squared away with the law we have broken, we are released from prison. Once again, we have free access to the public. But the major difference between that scenario and what God does is that we cannot pay the penalty and still have His purpose continue in our lives because we would be dead.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Four)
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