Reading: Hebrews 3:1; 4:14-16; 5:1-6; 7:11-17; 8:1-6; 9:11.
Before we proceed with a consideration of Jesus as Priest, there is an added word to be said in relation to the Prophet.
I am hoping that as we go on we are getting away from Jesus as Prophet, Priest and King, to Jesus, my Prophet, Priest, and King. That is, that it is not something contemplated as a great, wonderful, blessed truth, but something apprehended, something entered into, not a mind matter but a heart matter. We should quietly, alone with the Lord, enter into the blessedness of the truth by personal appropriation, kneeling and saying, "Jesus, my Prophet! Jesus, my Priest!" The Lord grant that it may be so.
There is a sense in which with the Prophet there is no coming down; that is, He remains apart and above. That applies, of course, both to His nature, His person, and His office. He may be among men, but He is apart from men. He may be in a sense on the level of men, sitting where they sit, and yet He is above men. With the Prophet in this sense there can be no coming down, because He takes things up at the point where God's full thought is first introduced, and He never comes down from that point, but stays there all the way through. Whatever may happen among men in the loss of that thought, the Prophet never accommodates Himself, He never compromises, He never lets go one iota of that Divine intention. He keeps the exactness of God's thought held firmly and fully and uncompromisingly throughout. A prophet is the most uncompromising being that you could ever meet. He may weep, he may plead, he may be suffering, but he cannot compromise, he cannot let go a little bit. He stands in the place, if need be, of isolation in relation to God's full thought.
All that that means we cannot stay with now. It carries us a very long way. If we followed it out we should see how all those who are going to stand for God's full thought will know a great deal of isolation and will find it impossible to compromise and to accept a lower level, and they will have to pay a very great price, because they are the prophet of the Lord. We are thinking of the Lord Jesus particularly, and therefore as Prophet He takes things up, before ever there was a lapse, before ever there was a failure or a breakdown, before all the tragedy of human history entered. We find Him at the end with that full thought secured through His having maintained that position, and not having for one instant or in one iota descended to any lower level.
When you come to the priest you have another position. The priest is entirely connected with man's failure. The priest has to recognize it. The priest, without being involved in it; that is, without becoming a part of it and accepting it, without being compromised by it, nevertheless has to come down to it. Priesthood means that something has happened, and you have to get down and meet with something and deal with it. It is something which is not in the original plan of God.
Now we must guard that. Of course God foresaw everything, and arranged the whole plan of redemption, but God did not predetermine that man should sin and be redeemed. He determined that man should be redeemed if he sinned. Here is something which is not ordained of God, but which has come in, and therefore a special provision has to be made for a new situation. That provision is the priest.
The function of the priest, then, is to deal with that which has come in to make the realisation of God's thought impossible. That is where the priest is related to the prophet. The prophet stands for the full thought, but now it has been violated and lost, and the priest must work with the prophet to deal with that which has come in to hinder and render impossible of realisation.
God's purpose governs everything. We have said that God's purpose, the purpose issuing out of those counsels of the Godhead, was the manifestation of God and that through man - "Let Us make man...". You ask, What for? Why? The answer is in the rest of the statement, "in Our image, and after Our likeness". Why that? "To express Ourselves, to reveal Ourselves, to manifest Ourselves." Man was made to reveal God, to express God. Man has failed in the purpose of God. The image and likeness have been at least marred, if not entirely lost, but, more than that, and worse than that, another image and likeness has been struck. The deeper you go into human nature the more you are aware of something which is not only the absence of God, but the positive expression of something not God. It is all very well to talk about noble humanity, but there is something there which, when it really is drawn out, is not only the lack of God, but the presence of something altogether the opposite of God, something evil.
That is what has happened, and when you come to look at the state of man in his failure, you find that sin (for that is the root thing) has put man in a place altogether the opposite of what God intended. First of all sin has put man in the place of alienation. Then sin has put man in the place of variance with God. Then sin has put man in the place of dispossession of his inheritance in God. Further, sin has put man in the place of bondage, so that he is no longer free. Again, sin has put man in the place of guilt before God. Yet again, sin has put man in the place of judgement. Finally, sin has put man in the place of death. Here are seven things. This is where you find man and it is in relation to all of those that the priest is brought in. The prophet stands where none of those things obtain. He looks down on them, he recognises them, he denounces them, but his function is to declare that God does not and cannot accept this state of things. This is God's thought, and the prophet keeps the vision of God and His thoughts before men. He is a seer. He sees and keeps in view what he knows as to the mind of God. But the priest not only recognises all that, he comes down to deal with it. The function of the priest begins at the point of man's alienation from God, and he functions with the result that from this point man is made nigh to God.
The Lord Jesus takes things up there, and the very first thing that His priestly work says to us is this, that we are made nigh by the blood of His cross. He goes on, and He deals with the variance of man to God. The next thing which the priestly work produces, and Christ declares for us as Priest, is that we are reconciled by His death. From being at variance, there is reconciliation. He deals with the matter of our being dispossessed of our inheritance by sin, and His great ministry effects our redemption and the redemption of the purchased possession.
Further, His priestly work touches the state of human bondage. From that ministry there issues the glorious declaration that we have been delivered out of the bondage and kingdom of Satan. As to guilt, the Priest declares to us remission of sins. As to judgement, He secures a basis for our being justified, freed from judgement. As to death, that state into which man is finally brought by sin, He declares that we are in Him and by His blood made alive again unto God.
You see, the sevenfold work of the priest has to do with man's condition, as contrary to God's thought, and as impossible of realising that thought; and as made nigh, reconciled, redeemed, delivered, forgiven, justified and made alive. Those are all the elementary things of the Gospel of our faith. Every one of them is a great matter in itself. That is where you begin when you contemplate the Priest.
Now we want to take up what we have just said and recognise one or two other factors as to Christ's priesthood.
Firstly, the priesthood of the Lord Jesus is related supremely to God's full purpose. (We come to the second point in the following message.) Perhaps one of the most important things to recognise in a statement like that is that the Gospel of our salvation, whether considered in any one, or in all of those terms just used - made nigh, reconciled, redeemed, forgiven, made alive - is not something in itself. We may preach the wonderful and blessed truth that in Jesus Christ we who were far off are now made nigh by the blood of His cross, and we may preach reconciliation, redemption, justification; but let us remember that none of these, nor yet all of them put together, are an end in themselves. Salvation, which compasses them all, is not something in itself. It is all related to God's full purpose, and has to come up to that for which Jesus as Prophet stands. It is to bring back to a place, to take things up again where they broke down, so that there can be a going straight on to that purpose which was fixed originally.
So the full work of the Lord Jesus as Priest brings us only to the beginning of things. We mean by that, that it just brings us back to where God can get on with what He intended at the beginning: a new creation.
Christ's priestly work relates to that full purpose of God. We take note of the fact that the letter to the Hebrews bears that out. You have in chapter 3:1 these words: "Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling..." A heavenly calling! That takes you right back to the beginning, right into those Divine counsels, the thoughts and intents of God concerning man. What is the heavenly calling? It is to be in fellowship with God for the manifestation of Himself. So the apostle starts there. In the first two chapters he has given us a wonderful introduction in relation to the person of the Lord Jesus, who He is, and what He is. Now the apostle goes on with the work, the office, the function of the Lord Jesus, and at this point he says, "Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of (or partners in) a heavenly calling". In the letter to the Ephesians Paul uses another phrase in exactly the same connection when he prays that we may "know what is the hope of His calling". You know quite well that you are in the heavenlies in Ephesians. To believers, the Lord's people, the apostle has said some amazing things. He has taken you right back into those counsels of the Godhead. He has spoken about "His eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ", and our being "chosen in Christ", and being "foreordained unto the adoption of sons". Then, as though he realised how hopeless it was for him to speak of such immeasurable things, he drops on his knees and prays that we might be given "a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of (y)our heart being enlightened" that we might "know what is the hope of His calling" (Eph. 1:17,18). If you read through the Ephesian letter you will have the explanation of this heavenly calling, and you will discover in that revelation of the church being the fulness of Him that fills all, that His manifold wisdom is manifested unto principalities and powers. "Wherefore, holy brethren, partners in a heavenly calling". There you are back with the supreme thought of God concerning man.
In the second part of this first verse you have to come down to things as you find them, "...consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession". How can you come to the heavenly calling? Consider your High Priest; take account of your High Priest. What do we mean when we refer to "the High Priest of our confession"? It is related to what we have already said. These Hebrew Christians confessed Jesus as their Apostle and High Priest, and now, says the writer of this letter, they are to consider Him whom they have confessed as Apostle and High Priest. In other words he says, "You have made a confession, you have recognised Him, you have acknowledged Him, you have seen something as to what He is, but it is quite evident that you have nothing like the full content of the meaning of that. You have confessed Him as High Priest; now you need to see what that means." All the rest of the letter is an unfolding of Jesus as High Priest.
God wants to show us what a Christ we have and to bring us into the knowledge and enjoyment of Him whom we know as Prophet, Priest and King. This letter makes it perfectly clear that that inner and fuller knowledge of Him is of very great importance. What warnings and pleadings there are in this letter in view of the consequences of not knowing Him as Lord! In Hebrews chapter three the apostle goes on to show how Israel fell in the wilderness, and that these Christians may do the same. That is the point. The reason is not because they did not know the Lord, not because they had not acknowledged the Lord, but because they did not know the meaning of the Lord as they should. They had not come to see God's full thought for them as expressed in Christ, and therefore they fell short. At the end of chapter 5 he speaks to them as those who, when by reason of time they ought to be teachers, have need of someone to teach them the first principles. The Lord wants us to go on to full understanding.
In chapter 3:1 we read of the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, and yet this needs to be contemplated in order to enter into its full meaning. Now you pass immediately into chapter 4 and you read: "Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should be deemed to have come short." What, then, is the first thing about the inner knowledge of Christ as our High Priest? It is coming into rest.
Here is a very precious and blessed thing. Do you notice in the Word of God that when Israel entered into the land, it is put in this way, that they entered into rest, and then they began to take possession? The rest does not lie at the end of all the campaigns, when all the fighting has been done and they settle down in their inheritance. The two things go together, and here in this letter to the Hebrews, rest is mentioned first. It is the work of the High Priest. If you look back to the book of Joshua you will see that it was through the function of the priest that they entered into the land. The priests' feet stood in the bed of the river and they stood fast until all the people had passed over. It was the priestly function to bring the people into the land. They came into rest on the ground of priestly ministry, and then they started the campaign. If ever there was a campaign characterized by sheer rest it was the campaign against Jericho. It is almost like going out for a daily stroll and going home again. You see what the Lord wants to teach us. He is saying quite clearly, "Now look here, all this work that is to be done is not going to be on the ground of your striving, effort, or anxiety; it is going to be on the ground of what I have done, and your resting in it. Now go and walk round quietly on that ground, and do it again, and again, and recognise that all that follows throughout the whole of the campaign is on that ground. If ever you depart from that ground disaster will overtake you." And at the very next step it did, for whatever Achan may have done, it resulted in the reverse of Jericho at Ai.
When they said, "Let a few of the people go up - there is no need for all the people to go up against Ai" - they met with a reverse. They said, "Let a few go up and the rest stay at home." You notice when Achan's sin was dealt with and was put out of the way, then the Lord said to Joshua, "Let all the people go up against Ai." What was the sin there that brought disaster? It is true that it was Achan's sin, but it was this attitude: "We are able to do this, and even a few of us can do it." It was coming onto the ground of human confidence, self-sufficiency, and the great lesson that the Lord had taught at Jericho was this: here is the massive city, which had disconcerted a whole generation and caused them to perish in the wilderness; a mighty, walled-up city, which was narrowly shut up, you might call it the very citadel of the land. You might say, 'If we could get over Jericho we could get over anything.' That is just where they failed. The Lord was saying, "The whole campaign is represented by Jericho; it is the key to the situation. The lesson you learn there is the lesson which is to govern all the rest. The lesson is that I have done it all, and you go in and possess by simply resting upon what I have done." And that is where the priestly element came in. Enter into rest on the ground of His priestly work, and then you go on from victory to victory.
If there is not rest in us the enemy will score every time; we shall be turned back in the fight, disconcerted and disintegrated. It is essential that you and I first of all enter into rest; and when we have entered into rest what does that mean? It means that the door is open for all the fulness of God's thought. We are in the land when we are in rest, for that is what it means. Now go up and possess all. The land is simply a type of the fulness that is in Christ for us all. The priestly work brings us to the gate of God's full thought, to the place where we begin in relation to all that God ever intended. Oh, that we might consider our High Priest, with the result that we first of all enter into rest, because of all that He has done. He has by His blood made us nigh. Then why stand far off, stand back wondering if perhaps we dare? That is dishonouring to God. That is saying, in effect, 'God has not done what He says He has done.' So that everything else - reconciled, redeemed, delivered, forgiven, justified, made alive - is in Christ our High Priest. Faith brings us into that position, and when you and I have really by faith grasped Him and what He means as our High Priest, that in Him we are made nigh, and can never be made nearer, then the fellowship between the Father and the Son, and the Son and the Father, is our fellowship. John says, "We have fellowship"; "Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son" (1 John 1:3,6).
The variance, the enmity is done away in Christ; we are redeemed in Christ, everything that was lost is recovered in Christ. We are delivered in Him. So we could go through all that He stands for in His priestly work. When we grasp it by faith, the first thing is to come to rest of heart, and then the whole land is open before us. There will be battles, conflict, resistance, pressure, and the enemy will try and give us a very bad time, but it is only to try and get us off our ground of confidence, to rob us of our rest; "consider the apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus".
May He write that word in our hearts: "Oh, rest in the Lord."