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    Images of the Savior (27 -- The Institution of the Aaronic Priesthood)

    And you shall bring before you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from the midst of the children of Israel, to serve as priests to me: Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's sons. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. And you shall speak unto all who are wise of heart, whom I have filled with a spirit of wisdom, and they shall make Aaron's garments, to sanctify him to serve as a priest to me. – Exodus 28:1-3

    Although the priestly office of Jesus Christ our Savior is most properly to be thought of in the order of Melchizedek (see Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 6:20), who stands as the pre-eminent Old Testament type of Jesus our High Priest, yet the Aaronic priesthood, as well, although not precisely in continuity with Jesus' priestly ministry, is nevertheless full of images and symbols that speak of the later work of the Messiah, and foreshadow his mediatorial, intercessory, and reconciliatory roles. We may obtain an overview of the diverse and numerous ways in which this is so from a cursory examination of the instructions given to Moses on Mount Sinai, pertaining to Aaron his brother, in which regulations concerning the persons, the vestments, and the ministries of the priestly class are enjoined upon him in some detail; and of which we may read in Exodus chapters twenty-eight through thirty.

    When we first look into these chapters, containing the foundational instructions for that class of priests who should be so indispensable in the ministration of the Old Covenant worship cultus, which found its complete fulfillment in Christ alone, we immediately find it very certainly expressed that the office of priest was not something that anyone could take upon himself, of his own free volition, but belonged only and unchangeably to those men whom God had sovereignly called out: even as he said to Moses, in specific terms, “bring Aaron your brother, and his sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar...”, which is as much as to say, “do not take men of your own accord, but only those whom I have chosen by name”. Now, this truth is most fully realized in our great and final High Priest, Jesus Christ, who “did not glorify himself to become High Priest, but the One who said unto him, 'You are my Son: today have I begotten you'” (Hebrews 5:4-5).

    Then, we know from a later passage that the High Priest had to be perfect in every regard, having a physical body sound and unblemished in all respects, an unspotted moral history, etc., in order to serve at the tabernacle, and later the temple (see Leviticus 21); which is also a foreshadow of Christ, who was fitted to be High Priest by virtue of his unspotted character; who “learned obedience from the things he suffered, and having been made perfect became to all who obey him the cause of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:8-9); and who was indeed “tempted in every manner, in the same fashion as we, but without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

    And furthermore, even after having been called by God, and proven blameless, the High Priest still had to undergo a ceremony in which he was anointed with oil, sanctified, and consecrated (which last word signifies, literally, that he was to “have his hand filled”) for his ministry (Exodus 28:41). Now, in this respect, as well, Christ Jesus most perfectly fulfills all the types: for he too was sanctified by the Father for his task (John 17:18-19); he was anointed with the Spirit in pursuance of its successful completion (Isaiah 61:1; Matthew 3:16-17); and he was consecrated for the ministry in the literal sense of having his hand filled with good things to provide for all those whom he represented, in his ascension from the dead (Ephesians 4:8). So then, in respect to the persons of the Aaronic priesthood, it is indisputably evident that our Savior was the most perfect fulfillment and anti-type.

    But beyond just their persons, the high priests were also given certain vestments, described in great detail, which signified the nature of their ministry: and in all the instructional nature of those ceremonial vestments, we see realities that were perfectly fulfilled only in the coming of Christ. In the first place, we notice the variegated nature of the high priestly robes, being of different symbolic colors and materials, viz., gold, blue, purple, scarlet, and linen, which was white and lustrous. Now, these all represented different things, the gold very naturally indicating wealth and splendor; the blue suggestive of heaven, being the color of the firmament; the purple indicating royalty, as all the ancients acknowledged; the scarlet characteristic of blood, and indicating the bloody nature of the priest's sacrificial work; and finally, the white, shining linen symbolic of righteousness, as may be discovered from the usage of shining linen in this capacity in the revelation of the Apostle John (Revelation 3:4-5; 7:14; 19:8, 14); and also the nature of white as denoting spotless righteousness in certain places (e.g. Psalm 51:7; Isaiah 1:18). Now, in all these characteristics, no one shines more gloriously than Jesus our high priest, who came down from the highest heaven, where he dwelt in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18; 17:5, 24), left all his wealth and riches, so that he might win wealth for those he came to save (2 Corinthians 8:9), left his royal throne that he might gain a crown and a Kingdom even greater yet (Romans 14:9; 1 Corinthians 15:22-28), shed his own crimson blood to effect his priestly work (Hebrews 9:11-14), and won a pure and spotless righteousness for all his people (2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9). We must make further mention of this, that the high priest's robe was to be of one solid and unsewn piece, even as was Jesus' garment, which was divided by sinners in accordance with the prophecy (Psalm 22:18; John 19:23-24); which signified the perfection and unity of Christ's one great High Priestly sacrifice of himself, and the rewards that it would gain, which many sinners alike should profit by, all of whom should come to be clothed with the one great garment of Christ's righteousness and redemptive work. And one more point, before we move on, is that the linen robes in particular were said to be for the covering of nakedness (Exodus 28:42); which is certainly true of Christ's righteousness, which truly covered us in the shame and guilt of our nakedness before God, even as the animal skins had covered the nakedness of our first parents, and so taught the gospel in a figure (Genesis 3:21).

    In the matter of the breastplate, as well, we see a type of our great High Priest: for by this means, the High Priest was able to carry about the name of those whom he represented upon his very breast, and to display them before his God in beauty and manifold splendor, as the splendor of many precious gems. In the same way, Jesus has graven our names upon his palms (Isaiah 49:16), and written them upon his heart (Song of Solomon 8:6), and ever bears them before his God, and shows them to be exceedingly precious and beautiful to him, so that the Father is pleased to rejoice in them as in a great treasure. This breastplate is likewise reminiscent of the twelve-layered foundation of precious stones in John's vision of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:19-20); which also teaches of the beautiful and precious nature of those saints whom Jesus has sanctified and fitted to be a part of the very habitation of the holy God.

    Then, with the Urim and the Thummim, we see that the priest was charged with bringing the will and words of God to the people; which Jesus did most fully and finally, and was in fact called the very Word of God (John 17:6-9, 14; John 1:1-3; Hebrews 1:1-4): and inasmuch as these Hebrew names signify “Lights” and “Perfections,” we may draw out the truth that the office by which Christ brought to us the truth of God should qualify him to be called the perfect and final Light of the World, who brought the revelation of God to mankind in so complete a fashion that there should never be any need for, or indeed any possibility of another light or a further revelation. This truth is signified too in John's revelation, where he teaches us that the New Jerusalem has no need of any light whatsoever, for the Lamb of God is its sole and perfect Light (Revelation 22:5).

    The bells and pomegranates which bordered the hem of the High Priest's robe underscored the seriousness of his task: for not only did they provide a way, through their tinkling, by which the other priests might know if, having been insufficiently prepared, he had been struck dead in the course of his mediatorial service to God; but they also would have reminded him of how his ministrations and services must constantly be heard before the Holy God who, if ever he did not hear the priest making an effectual plea, would immediately bring down upon him the just sentence of death. And then, the pomegranates, being a sweet and luscious fruit, underscored the sweetness of the effective ministry of the priest, and how his offerings were most pleasing to God. This too, of course, was perfectly realized in Christ, who, just as the bells ever tinkled, “ever lives to intercede for us” (Hebrews 7:25); and whose sacrifice is of a sweet-smelling savor to God. And perhaps, there is also an intimation of how the sweet and nourishing news of the gospel must be heard around the world, which Jesus has also commanded (Matthew 28:18-20) and is now causing to take place through his Spirit (Acts 1:8).

    The last vestment we will consider is perhaps the most poignant and inclusive symbol of the priestly ministry as a whole; and that is, the golden mitre upon the High Priest's forehead, bearing the inscription “Holiness to the Lord”. From this, we learn that the priest's primary task was to take an unholy and impure people, and in his own person both bear their iniquities and offer them as a most holy people to the holy God. So it is, that when instructions are given for the mitre, God said that Aaron would thereby bear the iniquity of the holy offerings of the people of Israel; which teaches us that, by bearing their iniquities and making an acceptable sacrifice, he would change their flawed natures and worthless gifts into that which is perfectly holy, well-pleasing, and acceptable to God. So Christ bore our sins, the just for the unjust (1 Peter 3:18), that he might make us holy to God, and that we might then be able to offer up sacrifices and gifts that are pleasing and acceptable to him (Romans 12:1; Ephesians 2:8-10; Hebrews 13:15-16).

    Finally, we must mention the function and ministrations of the High Priest, and see how well they teach us of Christ. For first, they were primarily to offer up the sin offerings of the people perpetually, as we read in Exodus 29:38-42. Now, this perpetual standing to offer countless sacrifices signifies the insufficiency of the Aaronic priests, who could never make final atonement for sin; but how much greater is our last High Priest, Jesus Christ, who offered up one sacrifice, and perpetually sat down at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 10:11-12)! Second, the High Priest was to offer up incense perpetually (Exodus 30:7-8), which signified the sweet savor that his sacrifices should have with the Father, and were a symbol of the earnest prayers with which he offered them up, that he might be heard of God, whose wrath against the people would thereby be averted. This, too, was fulfilled most perfectly by Christ, who when he offered up himself as a spotless sacrifice, did so with fervent cries and intercessory pleas, as the incense symbolized, and was heard for his righteous and spotless character (Hebrews 5:7); and now, he offers up perpetual intercession, and is always heard of his Father, and so he ever provides inexhaustible confidence for all his people to come into God's holy presence for grace and mercy (Hebrews 7:25). And finally, we see it explicitly declared that all this was for the express purpose that God, in all his untainted holiness, might dwell among his people (Exodus 29:42-46); which is precisely the end for which Jesus Christ our great High Priest finally accomplished his great redemption, so that he might manifest the name of God to his people (John 17:6), and bring them to their eternal home in the New Jerusalem, which is full of joy and life and every good thing for only this reason, that God there dwells among men, and is their God, and they continually see his face and rejoice in his presence (Revelation 21:1-4; John 17:24).

    Posted by Nathan on October 10, 2008 11:17 AM

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