The Present Ministry of Christ

His Priesthood.

The priestly ministry of Christ is summed up for us in the words of Holy Scripture, "Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: we have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man" (Hebrews 8:1-2). It is clear from this and other passages in the same epistle that the priesthood of Aaron in relation to the tabernacle which Moses pitched is a type of Christ's priesthood in connection with a divine order of service and worship which is spoken of here as "The true tabernacle." What was foreshadowed in the material building with its worldly sanctuary is now fulfilled in a spiritual system of worship connected with heaven.

Although there were foreshadowings in the old system of the spiritual realities in Christianity, it is necessary to observe the marked contrasts between what was earthly and what is heavenly. Christ's priesthood is not of the Aaronic order, but "After the order of Melchisedec"; "The law made nothing perfect," but "By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." In Christianity we have "A more excellent ministry … a better covenant … better promises"; "a better hope"; better sacrifices"; "A greater and more perfect tabernacle"; "An unchangeable priesthood." with "eternal redemption," "eternal salvation," and "eternal inheritance."

Christ's priesthood belongs to heaven, but it is founded on His great sacrificial work on the cross, and is consequent to His having become Man. These things are spoken of in Hebrews 2, where it is written, "Wherefore in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people; for in that He himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted" (Heb. 2:17-18). The sacrifices of the law, and especially those of the great day of atonement, are spoken of in this epistle in connection with the Aaronic priesthood, and they typified the one great sacrifice of Christ through which He made "propitiation for the sins of the people." There could not have been for us a great high priest had not Christ, by the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot to God.

To be a merciful and faithful high priest, Christ must needs become Man, perfect Man, and enter practically into all the details of human life in this world, learning "obedience by the things which He suffered." As God He had ever commanded; as Man He learns what obedience is. He knew human suffering as no other ever did or could, because of His intrinsic holiness and perfect obedience to the will of God. He was a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, bearing in his own spirit the sufferings that His power removed from men. Hunger, thirst and weariness were His, with no place for His head in this world: He wept over Jerusalem, and with the sorrowing sisters of Bethany. and groaned near the tomb of Lazarus as He felt the awful ravages of sin. Disowned, rejected and despised by Israel, and receiving hatred for His love, and only evil for the grace and goodness constantly manifested, the Son of God passed through this world as Man, perfect in all His feelings, entering into all the sorrows and sufferings that belonged to men, but with a character and intensity of feeling peculiar to Himself.

Having passed through this world a perfect Man, and having entered perfectly into all the conditions of life that were proper to men, the Son of God accomplished redemption, and now "We have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God." The glory of Christ's Person shines out from the place of His exaltation, and we can say with the writer to the Hebrews, "We see Jesus … crowned with glory and honour." His place at God's right hand has not only been given to Jesus; it is His by right, therefore in Hebrews 1 we read, "When He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." In Hebrews 10:12 we see Jesus sitting down in the greatness of accomplished redemption, and in Hebrews 8:1 He sits down in the greatness of His priesthood.

As a merciful and faithful high priest Jesus is able to succour His saints in their trials, and how real to His own is the help of Christ amidst the testings of the present life. Having been through all the way before us, the Son of God has a heart that is touched with the feeling of our weaknesses, and the sense of this in the soul brings immense comfort in sorrow. Of old, the high priest bore the names of the children of Israel on his shoulders, and on his breastplate; Christ sustains His saints with a divine strength, and comforts them with a love beyond all telling. Our great high priest is on the throne of grace, and thither we can repair to "obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."

The throne of grace is for us as needy saints passing through the wilderness. We come there with boldness, knowing that every question regarding our sins has already been met in the death of Christ. We do not come to the throne of grace when we have failed: that has to do with Christ's advocacy, not with His priesthood. God would have us to realise that we are altogether dependent on Christ, and independent of the world. Whether in sorrow or trial we can go boldly to Christ; His ministry is available to us at all times, a ministry of mercy and grace that will sustain, no matter how great the need may be. Therefore it is written. "Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25). Priesthood supplies the mercy and grace that prevent failure, that save us from falling.

What has engaged us thus far has been the aspect of Christ's priestly ministry from the throne of grace to meet the needs of His own in their pathway through the world. At the beginning of Hebrews 8 another feature of Christ's service is indicated where He is spoken of as "Minister of the holy places and of the true tabernacle." In the tabernacle of old, Aaron's service included the arranging of the lamps on the candlestick, the supplying of the table with the showbread, and the burning of incense morning and evening on the golden altar when he attended the lamps. These things have their answer in the true tabernacle, in which the Son of God serves as Minister of the sanctuary.

From Leviticus 24 we learn that Aaron was to arrange the lamps before Jehovah continually, upon the pure candlestick. The light was to shine within the holy place, where it would show up the beautiful features of the candlestick, and also the workmanship and materials of the altar and the table, not to speak of the colours of the curtains and the veils. This shining has not to do with the testimony of God to the world, but speaks to us of how Christ serves in heaven to bring out in the lives of His saints His own beautiful features for the eye and pleasure of God.

Aaron had to dress the lamp from evening to morning, and had also "to arrange the lamps before Jehovah." The dressing of the lamps would involve the work of the snuffers, the removal of that which would hinder the shining of the light. Does not this speak of the care of Christ for His own? Sometimes His ways with us give pain, but every action is directed with perfect wisdom, and in infinite love, to remove from us things which hinder the expression of His own heavenly graces. Our circumstances and conditions of life are also watched over by the Minister of the true tabernacle, and often His arrangement of our place for shining does not suit us, but how blessed when we are content with His ordering, knowing that He knows best where to set us for the Father's glory. It is a great privilege to represent Christ before the world, but how blessed too the thought that the light was to shine "before Jehovah." What joy it must give to the Father to see the features of His own Son coming out in His saints, and to know that this is because of the present ministry of Christ.

Does not the dressing of the lamps "from evening to morning" tell of the constant and unwearied service of Christ in the presence of God during the night of His absence from this world? Men speak of "the dark ages," when there was little in the way of public testimony for God that men could take account of, but there was that which God could take notice of. Saints of God may fail, but there is no failure with the Minister of the sanctuary. Continually, during the long night, He has been serving God and working with the saints of God, so as to bring out the buds, the flowers and the fruit that were on the candlestick. Although the church failed in its collective witness, there have always been, through the care and watchfulness of Christ, individuals among the saints of God who have manifested divine life in its incipient features, as also its fragrance and mature fruits. It may be that the individual lamps can be applied to local assemblies, but where there was little knowledge of the truth of the assembly, and a very imperfect expression of what it is in God's mind, there have been isolated saints, and doubtless, too, small companies of saints, in whom the light shone for the glory of God.

It appears from Leviticus 24 that initially the loaves were set "upon the pure table before the Lord" by Moses, but afterwards the service belonged to the high priest, even as it is recorded, "Every sabbath he shall set it in order before the Lord continually." The twelve loaves surely represent the twelve tribes of Israel, and the fact that they were placed upon the table each sabbath would confirm that God will never forget His ancient people Israel. In His public dealings with Israel

God has called them Lo-ammi," that is "Not my people," but they are "before the Lord continually" as seen in the twelve loaves. Paul's faith beheld the twelve loaves on the pure table before Jehovah when he spoke to king Agrippa of "Our whole twelve tribes serving incessantly day and night." Our great high priest will assuredly appear "To raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel," and until that day He serves in the holy place with the twelve loaves upon the pure table. When He comes forth. Israel will indeed be blessed through Him who gave Himself for them, on the ground of the new covenant in His blood.

Intimately connected with the dressing and the lighting of the lamps was the burning of the sweet incense upon the golden altar morning and evening: it was to be "a perpetual incense before Jehovah throughout your generations" (Exodus 30:7-8). God will not only have the features of Christ shining before Him in His own, but will have Christ presented to Him in worship. These two things though distinct cannot be separated. for God's pleasure is not only found in our lives, but in our approach to Him in worship, and the present service of Christ has both in view. The Scripture that says "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them," is very closely connected with, "For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father" (Ephesians 2:10, 18).

Our place now, through grace, is in the holiest of all. where we have boldness to enter by the blood of Jesus. When Aaron entered the holiest, once a year, on the day of atonement, he was commanded to take the golden censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small. This he was to bring "Within the veil; and he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not" (Leviticus 16:12-13). Man could not be in the presence of God apart from the fragrance of the Person of God's dear Son. It is because Christ is in the presence of God, and because His precious blood has met all the claims of God's throne, that we have boldness to enter the holiest. We are accepted in the Beloved, and we have a "Great Priest over the house of God," so that we can draw near to God.

Israel never had access into the holiest. This place of nearness we owe to the sovereign grace of God, and to the work of Christ. In Hebrews 9:4 there is no mention of the golden altar, but the golden censer is found there along with the ark. The reason for this is that Christ, our great high priest, has entered into the holiest and abides there. Now the function of the altar is for us connected with the golden censer, for our worship is in the holiest. Coming into the immediate presence of God we are engaged with all that speaks of Christ there, and as thus occupied with Him we are enabled to worship, presenting Christ in the perfections that are depicted in the beating of the incense small. As we consider the precious details of all that has come out in Christ, how it bows the heart in worship before God.

This then is something of Christ's present priestly ministry: that which helps us in the day by day exercises and trials of our desert journey, as we pass through the world as pilgrims and strangers. Then there is the service of Christ in relation to all the circumstances and conditions of life, in which He orders all in view of our being like Himself, so as to bring out the beautiful traits that marked Him when He was here, and this for the pleasure of God the Father. Nor is Israel forgotten in His present ministry: for He maintains their place before God in view of the coming day. The worship of God is His concern too; not only does He lead the praises to the Father in the midst of the assembly, but He is the Great Priest through whom we have boldness to enter the holiest.

His Advocacy.

When the Lord Jesus was upon the earth He cared for, and ministered to, His disciples, knowing that they had been given to Him by the Father. In every possible way He had looked after them, for He loved them dearly, and just before leaving the world He handed them over to the tender care of the Father, saying, "Holy Father, keep through Thine own Name those whom Thou hast given me … While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Thy Name" (John 17:11. 12). The Lord had also spoken to His own of the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would be to them "Another Comforter," dwelling with them and in them, teaching them and bringing to their remembrance what He had spoken to them, leading them into all the truth, and bringing before their hearts His glory in the Father's presence, and the coming glory in which He would be displayed before the world. Although so richly provided for in the care of the Father and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Lord's care and ministry would not cease towards His own.

The first half of John 13 brings before us something of the present ministry of Christ for His saints. What was indicated in the feast of the Passover must first be fulfilled before Christ could enter upon His present ministry; "Christ our passover" must be "sacrificed for us" (1 Cor. 5:7). The washing of the disciples' feet was in view of the new place into which the Son of God would bring them in association with Himself and in relationship with the Father. This is indicated in the words, "Jesus knew that His hour was come, that He should depart out of this world unto the Father." In passing through this world, the Son had glorified the Father in every step of His wonderful path of subjection and obedience, accomplishing His will and giving Him constant pleasure. He had spoken to His own the things of heaven, and had bound their thoughts and affections around Himself. In leaving this world, His own would be left behind to represent Him here, but in going into the Father's presence, He would carry their affections with Him, and He would have their thoughts engaged with the Father and with Himself whither He went.

What love to His disciples the Lord had shown; it was a love that nothing could impair, and a love that would carry Him onwards to the cross, through death. so that His loved ones might be associated with Him on the other side of death. This same love was about to be expressed in the washing of the disciples' feet; not only in the act itself, but in what it spoke of — their having part with Him before the Father in the enjoyment of His love. With such love as the background to what follows, how awful is the enmity of Satan and the treachery of Judas! Jesus was thinking only of His Father's glory and the blessing of His own; Satan was using the avarice of the human heart to encompass the death of God's Son in his malicious attempt to defeat the counsels of God. How debased is man's nature that plots to betray One that was the perfection of goodness and love, and who manifested divine grace and kindness to men.

In the consciousness of all with which He was surrounded, and of all that lay before Him, the Son of God acts in the knowledge of the greatness of the trust that the Father committed to Him. Such was the Father's love for and confidence in His Son that He put every-thing into His hands. Jesus would not allow anything to turn Him from the accomplishment of all that the Father had entrusted to Him; every detail would be carried out, no matter what the cost to Himself. No human heart can tell how the blessed Lord felt at this moment the opposition of Satan and the treachery of Judas, but He was sustained and made superior to all by the thought of the Father's confidence in Him, and by His great love for His own. He had come from God to make Him known, and he would return to God with all His work gloriously completed. This holy confidence engaged His thoughts as He sat with His own at the Paschal supper, and as He rose and laid aside His garments.

His actions are not hurried, His every movement is marked with dignity and grace, and every detail is pregnant with spiritual meaning for the instruction and adoration of His saints. The Passover supper is interrupted to teach us that His relations with Israel are broken for the present, and that His present ministry is in relation to another circle of things in which Israel after the flesh has no part. To bring His own into this favoured place, He must lay aside His garments — He must divest Himself first of His heavenly glory, and relinquish too the glory that was His as Son of David, taking upon Himself the form of a servant, and stooping to cleanse and comfort their way-worn feet.

Such is the present service of Christ for His loved ones. It is not a repetition of the cleansing by blood that takes away the guilt of our sins; nor is it a fresh cleansing from the state in which we were as sons of Adam, and from which the work of the Holy Spirit in the new birth separated us and made us clean: it is cleansing from the defilement contracted in our passage through this world where all around is sin. We need this ministry of Christ because of where we are, as also for what we do. Defilement comes from positive acts of sin, but sins of omission also interrupt our communion with God (see 1 John 3:17-20). Where communion has been broken, the Advocacy of Christ comes to our aid, even as we read, "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." Through Christ's advocacy we are made aware of our defiled condition, and this leads to repentance and confession. When confession is made there is restoration to communion, for "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9; 1 John 2:1).

Although the advocacy of Christ is brought out in relation to positive failure, this does not necessarily mean that this service of Christ is confined to our failures. Defilement may come through occupation with the things that are seen and heard all around us in this evil world. The Lord Jesus had to pass through this defiling scene, seeing and hearing the same things, but every defiling influence was repelled by the perfection of holiness in Him, leaving His spirit untainted, but bringing grief and sorrow to His heart. If we do not repel the corrupting influences of the world, our spirits get defiled, and it is needful for us to seek the Lord's presence to feel the separating effect of His word and the comfort of His grace.

So that we might be able to repel the influences of this defiling scene, the Lord Jesus ministers to us from the place into which He has entered. This is brought to our notice in the prayer of the Son to the Father concerning His own, where He said, "As thou hast sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world; and I sanctify myself for them, that they also may be sanctified by truth" (John 17:19). This is surely part of the service of the blessed Lord for us as "Advocate" at the present time. How good then for us to be fortified by truth, through the service of Christ on high, being set apart for God in practical holiness, bringing forth fruit for the Father's pleasure and glory. "Sanctified by truth" is produced by the word of God being applied to us, even as the blessed Lord used the water, not only to cleanse, but to comfort and refresh the feet of His own.

The advocacy of Christ then would seem to refer to His present service of grace towards His saints in relation to their failures, to restore them to communion with the Father, but also to removing every trace of defilement left upon the spirit by the influences around as we pass through this world, which are not exactly positive acts of sin; then to His bringing God's word into our hearts to fortify us against every influence down here so that we might be living for the Father's glory.
Wm. C. Reid.