Feast of the Holy Martyr Agathonicus
CHRIST IS priest and oblation in one. Atonement is Christ’s self-offering (Heb. 7.27, 9.14, cf. 9.28). That unity of person and work, of priest and sacrifice in Him, means the final end of all ritual sacrificing (Heb. 9.12, 25-26, 10.12-14). This self-offering of Christ is through the eternal Spirit (Heb. 9.14) and is therefore eternal. It is once and for all (hapax and ephapax; Heb. 7.27, 9.24-28, 10.10; cf. 10.12, 14) – that is, once for all both in the historical sense and in the eternal sense, but it is in the combination of the two senses that the finality of atonement is really consummated.
Christ then becomes ‘priest of the resurrection’, as W. Manson expressed it. He who has opened up a way into the very presence of God in heaven itself, is He who by ‘the power of an endless life’ ever lives as our intercessor, and in Him our hope is anchored within the veil (Cf. Heb. 7.16, 25, 9.24, 6.19). By ascending to the throne of God, Christ as high priest is also our king, and as such in the oneness of His priestly and kingly functions, He is minister or leitourgos of the true tabernacle (Heb. 8.2) and its heavenly intercession and liturgy. That is regarded as eschatologically, not Platonically, related to the worship of God’s children on earth (cf. T. F. Torrance, Royal Priesthood, 19-21).
Now in order to gather up this discussion of the priesthood of Jesus the incarnate Son of God let us look at the analogical way in which the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews expounds it. He has in his mind the work of the high priest in Israel on the day of atonement, when as the representative both of his own house and of all Israel, he entered into the holy of holies to sprinkle the atoning blood of the covenant upon the mercy seat and make intercession for Israel and then to return with the divine peace and reconciliation.
In the Old Testament rite, the high priest did that twice, first for himself and for the sons of his own house, and then for Israel (Lev. 16). He acted as priest in virtue of his family relation, and as their representative entered into the holy place, not first for Israel, but first for himself and the priesthood. Then on the ground of their renewal in the covenant, their consecration through atonement and their reconciliation with God, the high priest entered the second time into the holy of holies. This time he went as the consecrated representative of all Israel and went with the names of all the tribes of Israel inscribed upon his breastplate and shoulders (Ex. 28.6-30). In their name and bearing their iniquity he entered into the presence of God, so that when he went in all Israel went in with the blood of atoning sacrifice on him. Therefore in that act God renewed the covenant not only with the high priest but with all Israel, and God accepted not only the person of the priest, but of the whole of Israel represented by him.
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Now on that basis and on that analogy, the epistle expounds the act of Christ the high priest who not only has our names inscribed on His heart, but was actually made like us in all things (Heb. 2.14-18), so that He became our very brother, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, as Paul put it (Cf. Eph. 5.29-32; Gn. 2.21-24). Then on the ground of that complete solidarity with us in our humanity, and also in involvement with us in our estrangement from God and bearing our sin and all its contradiction, He entered into the holy presence of God, offering Himself as the atoning sacrifice for us and consecrating Himself on our behalf. Here the author of the Hebrews runs the two acts of the high priest in entering into the holy place into one, for we are all of the kindred and family of Jesus in virtue of His incarnation into our flesh, and hence when He entered into the holy place and offered Himself in sacrifice to God, we entered with Him and we are accepted by God in the person of Christ as having suffered and died with Him, as if we had offered to God atonement for our own sin. Now under the Old Testament rites the sins of Israel were transferred to the victim by a symbolical rite and it was slain in symbolical substitution for Israel so that it suffered the judgment of God upon sin in Israel’s place (Lev. 16.15). Here, however, in the New Testament it is no more with symbolical actions that we are concerned, and that applies not only to cultic symbolism but to legal symbolism – it is not just a cultic or forensic translation that has taken place, in which Jesus has symbolically taken our place, so that cultically and by legal transaction only our sins are taken away and laid on Christ and judged.
The whole teaching of Hebrews pivots upon the profound fact that Jesus Christ actually entered into our existence and actually shouldered our sin. As such in the fullest solidarity with us He so acted in our humanity that we acted in Him, He so acted for us in His own person, that God regards us and accepts us in the person of Christ. Thus when Christ offered Himself in sacrifice and consecrated Himself, He so did that for us that we were offered to God and we were consecrated in Him, for in His act He who consecrated and we who were consecrated are for ever bound up in one consummated act – that is the emphatic teaching at the end of the second chapter of Hebrews which the whole epistle then proceeds to unfold and elucidate.
Now note one more thing at this point, again from the second half of the second chapter, how the writer has woven together the notions of the priesthood of Christ with the concept of the goel-redeemer [kinsman-redeemer] and with the concept of padah-redemption [emphasis upon cost of redemption and nature of redeeming act]. It is on the ground of His kinship with us, as our goel, that Christ is both our real representative and our true priest, but as such He not only makes priestly atonement before God but slays the man-slayer, death itself and the devil who has the power of death, and so delivers us who through fear of death are all our lives subject to bondage (Heb. 2.14-15). Here all three concepts of redemption [padah = kingly office of Christ – active obedience; kipper = priestly office of Christ – passive obedience; goel – prophetic office of Christ – incarnational assumption] are definitely and inseparably woven together, and it is in that unity that Christ exercises in our name and in our humanity and person, His priestly functions, so that He actually and really is our advocate and our surety before God.
~T. F. Torrance, Atonement
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