Our Priest Sitting Down (v. 1)
His Sacrifice Sufficient
Officially, the Old Testament priests never sat down. Between various ceremonial washings, continual sacrifices, and maintenance of the tabernacle and then the temple, their work was never finished. God established their ministry to point ahead to the work of Jesus Christ; the Levitical priesthood also bore witness to its own impotence and coming replacement. A great revolution has now taken place. The heavens and the earth still shake, for we now have a seated priest, Jesus Christ. This is the sum of all that the apostle has been saying. We have such a priest. We had to have him, else we should have been forever separated from God because of our sins and then sent to hell for them. We can understand this well enough, and every man knows this to be true, whether or not he will admit it. But God is rich in mercy and never treats us as our sins deserve. He provided us with a priest who was able to make intercession for us, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God. He was able to do this because he is both God and man. He is able to do this because he is “holy, harmless, and undefiled.” By calling this the sum or main point, we are directed to place all our hope of God’s mercy upon Jesus Christ. Believe upon his name. Turn from your sins. Repent and receive forgiveness. We have a priest who is able to bring us to God when we come to him in this way.
We must be more specific. The priest we have is seated because he has carried away sin. He is the scapegoat that bore our sin and shame into the wilderness of judgment. Because of the worthiness of the life he laid down for us on the cross, he has made propitiation, full satisfaction for our sins. He is the propitiation (1 John 4:9-10). He was holy and harmless as God’s lamb, worthy to enter the heavenly HOLY of HOLIES, and therefore his blood and body are accepted for us. He was the offering for sin. He offered himself upon the infinitely worthy altar of his own sinless beauty and obedient life. He is also the priest who offered it: “He offered himself without spot to God.” No unthinking animal could do this; Jesus Christ laid down his life willingly, voluntarily for us. This was essential to his sitting down. He had to make an end of sin by laying down his life for us (John 10:18).
It is impossible for us to take in the significance of Jesus’ sitting down in the heavenly sanctuary. His once-for-all sacrifice secures our free and full forgiveness. The Judge is now revealed as our loving Father; he invites us to come to him in faith and repentance. He promises to blot out our sins and bury them in the ocean of his mercy (Mic. 5:18). Because of Jesus’ endless life and powerful intercession, we have confident access to God in prayer. Heaven is always opened to us because our priest is seated. His atoning work is finished and accepted. It never loses any of its freshness or power to save those who come unto God through him. When we are troubled and tossed by life’s struggles and our sins, we have a priest who has opened heaven for us. We may bring to him all of our cares and sins and fears. We may come boldly to the throne of grace for strength and mercy. No hour is too dark but what heaven’s light will encourage our hearts and illumine our way. Whatever blessing we desire or strength we need, in life and in death, in joy and in sorrow, our priest is seated. His person and his sacrifice are accepted for us. The HOLY, HOLY, HOLY God is satisfied and smiling – with his Son and with us.
His Exaltation Incomparable
There is another reason that Jesus Christ is seated. He is exalted at the right hand of the majesty in the heavens. No curtain keeps him from the HOLY God. He has torn down the curtain. Having suffered, he has entered into his glory, the kingdom promised to him from his Father (Psalm 2:9-11). As much as we look to him as our great High Priest, we must equally reverence and trust him as our great exalted King. His exaltation proves his humiliation sufficient for sinners (Rom. 1:4; 4:25; Phil. 2:9-11). If he is not Lord of all, he cannot forgive anyone or secure our bold access to the throne of grace. But he is the King! This is what mesmerized John on Patmos and throughout the revelations given to him – the mediatorial glory of the Savior that he loved and trusted in the days of his flesh but now saw in the days of his glory. We must endeavor with all that is in us to gain understanding and conviction of the glory of the enthroned Lord, the marching Warrior, and the triumphant King. We must hear the angelic song by faith “WORTHY IS THE LAMB THAT WAS SLAIN.” We must see him seated in glory, as Stephen did. I know, some will say, but heaven is rarely opened so we can see him. How often do you open his book to see him there? Do you trust the revelation that has already been given, improve it through adoring reflection and worship of our glorious Lord? Do you set your affections on things above?
A consecrated Christian life is the fruit of this double truth about our Savior. He is Lord and Christ, King and Savior, seated Priest and seated Prince. His wounds humble our hearts and reveal him to be a tender, sympathetic, and availing priest. His crown raises our hearts and hopes, gives us confidence that his Father will never deny his Son’s prayers, and inspires courage in the world. Forgiveness is secured because our Priest is also our King; we are assured of his help and protection because all rule and authority are in his nail-scarred hands. Worshipping him as Lord, we trust him as our sacrifice. Adoring him as enthroned, we tremble that THIS ONE was struck down for us, became so low for us so that he might raise us up to be God’s sons and daughters, heirs of an eternal kingdom. Then, our hearts are at peace because the holy God is at peace with us, confident because he is our loving Father, joyful because our Head is now exalted, extolled, and very high. Soon, we shall be with him, as he prayed and is praying.
Our Priest the Minister of the Heavenly Sanctuary (vv. 2-3)
He serves in the true Holy of Holies.
Since we have not yet reached heaven or the consummated state, we need the encouragement and real strength that Jesus’ heavenly priesthood gives to us. For us to be joyful and strong in the Lord, we must we assured of his favor and blessing. We must know that he is reconciled to us. We must see the smiling face of our Father. Thus, for the Spirit to tell us that Jesus Christ is now exalted and a minister in the heavenly sanctuary should fill us with hope and wonder. He is able to appear continually in the presence of God for us. The Levitical priests could enter but once a year, never without sacrifices for their own sins, and always with careful attention to their own purification, lest God should strike them down. Our Savior’s one sacrifice gained him continual acceptance as our Mediator. His name is the key that unlocks the heavenly Most Holy so that we may enter by faith and draw near to our God for help. He will give it to us in Jesus’ name. Whatever we ask in his name, the Father will do it. He will not turn us away.
He builds the true tabernacle.
Even so, we shall encounter great difficulty in living for God and walking with God in the world. We are strangers and pilgrims here, with no continuing city. Such long ages and seasons of weakness may seem to pass in the church’s pilgrimage that the glory seems to have departed or so diminished as to be beyond recovery. The Psalms strike the nerve of each generation because we feel our sinfulness, face many enemies, and must learn to trust the Lord. We long to praise him, but find ourselves weak and worldly, so immersed in our earthly lives that little place seems left to worship the Lord and draw near to him with focused faith. Remember that the Lord has pitched the heavenly sanctuary. There were times in which the Levites took down and moved the tabernacle. Twice the Jewish temple was destroyed. The Levitical service and order was intrinsically unstable, subject to decay and alteration.
The temple to which we now come will never be closed, destroyed, or altered. Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead and ministers there as our great Priest-King. He is building his church (Matt. 16:18). Its heavenly structure is more clearly seen now that he is ascended and ministering. The visible church on earth waxes and wanes in vitality and purity, but the heavenly sanctuary remains open, shedding its beam upon earth, encouraging us to set our affections there to be of good cheer, for our King reigns. When you are discouraged by the fortunes of the church on earth, her many failings and fears, look to heaven. When your earthly ministers and leaders fail and disappoint you, look to the Savior who ministers in heaven. Whatever happens to us, if we are being stoned as was Stephen, there he is, the Lamb at God’s right hand, ready to reach down his hand to help us so that we may be faithful unto death. Call upon him with faith and hope. Remember that prayer is like a rope dropped down from heaven; when we pull it, we ring the bell to call down mercy and deliverance.
He offers himself.
Can we be sure that God is favorable to us and is working out all things for his glory and our good? He may be able, but is he willing to “do exceedingly above all that we ask or imagine?” To sign and seal God’s promises to the hearts of his old covenant people, the Levitical priests offered gifts and sacrifices. To sign and seal them to our hearts, our Lord Jesus has ascended and has something far better and more availing to offer. It is not specified until a little later, but it is himself he offers. “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your consciences from dead works to serve the living God” (9:14). He offers himself in the heavenly sanctuary. He does not offer himself continually in the sense of a re-sacrifice; his raised and glorified presence in heaven certifies that his offering that never diminishes in its worth or effect. His blood always cleanses; his intercession always secures; his righteousness always satisfies. This is the reason it is so necessary for us to understand that our priest ministers in the heavenly sanctuary. In God’s presence is our only trust and lasting peace. Because the Lord Jesus is our heavenly priest, we have a sure refuge on the stormy seas of life, an advocate when we sin, and hope when we struggle. If Jesus were still on earth, these blessings would not be as clear to us. Now that he is in heaven, we may all look there, set our affections there, aspire to be there with him, trust his intercession there – and then be faithful on earth with the strength he sends from the temple and the light he shines from the heavenly Zion.
Our Priest Superior to the Earthly Types (vv. 4-5)
The Law and Its Priesthood Typical
Yes, we would like to have Jesus with us on earth, as the Jewish believers had their priests. But their ministry and sacrifice was only typical; those sacrifices could not take away sin. They pointed ahead to One who would dissolve them and make them unnecessary. If Jesus were on earth, would we be assured that God our Father was satisfied and that we could draw near to him at any time? Yes, with Jesus in heaven, we must walk by faith. We cannot live by our eyes, and there is nothing more difficult for us than to shut our eyes tightly against all the offerings of the dead and set our compass toward Jesus Christ and the heavenly city. But there is something about having a heavenly priest that changes everything about earthly living. Some of us fight against this invasion. Earth fights to consume the entire horizon of our thought. Then, when trouble arises, our first thought is to make some earthly change or to find some earthly help – even if means turning away from an open heaven and living Savior.
The Heavenly Priesthood the Present Reality
But notice that the Levitical was but a copy and shadow of the heavenly. The heavenly sanctuary is the true and ectypal reality. It is not simply that heaven is more real than earth, although that is in a sense very true. It is that heaven and its glories are the only thing that gives meaning to life on earth. Without heaven invading, without the incarnation, without the cross and empty tomb and ascended Savior, life on earth is a colossal waste of time. It is a fallen, deadly, yawning chasm to hell. But then, we learn that the very reason Jesus left earth was to save us on earth, to give meaning to our lives on earth, strength to love and obey God, and joy and service to one another and to all men. This is the reason that true heavenly mindedness, true worship in the heavenly sanctuary, a truly Christian discipleship is never body-indifferent or history-indifferent.
Now, we must not allow time to be swallowed by eternity, for in our flesh, this is the constant temptation. Rather, we must allow eternity to invade time – the way we talk with each other, esteem each other, raise our families, speak of and use temporal things (1 Cor. 7:29-31). Eternity, the heavenly worship ongoing this moment, must shape our historical expectations – there, not here, is heaven – but here can be a taste of heaven by faith and obedience, with patience. Let us aim for this, and then our Savior’s heavenly priesthood takes on enormous significance for life on earth, coping with pain, enduring hardship, and forsaking the world and sin. We have one foot in the other realm, for our Savior has gone there for us as our Forerunner within the veil. He sustains our other foot here with the power of his Spirit so that we can serve him faithfully even in our weakness – in his power.
The Worship God Approves
Heaven’s primacy and domination are the reasons for the strict worship guidelines God gave to Moses. Interestingly, this carries over into the new covenant. Its greater liberty does not lie in having no laws for worship but in having freer access to God for grace and strength to worship him according to his word. We must handle heaven’s glories very carefully. This is a huge problem in the church today, and one of the clearest evidences that earth has been allowed to swallow heaven. We must repent and allow the heavenly sanctuary to fill us with thankfulness for what God has done for us and reverence to worship him with obedient hearts. The ascension of Jesus means more careful discipleship, more Spirit indwelling, more earthly power. He did not rise and ascend to make us spiritual slobs, indifferent to everything but our personal comfort. He ministers in heaven to transform us on earth from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18).