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OUR HIGH PRIEST    by Edward Heppenstall


An Essential Bible Truth — 1

The Christian faith is a religion of redemption, a supernatural rescue, a saving operation. This means that man cannot save himself. Sin has alienated man from God. Therefore the rescue must come from beyond us. "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).

The rise of sin is the most tragic event that ever struck our universe. Of all the inhabited worlds, ours is unique—there is sin and death here. No one has escaped.

Mark what follows. It was through one man that sin entered the world, and through sin death, and thus death pervaded the whole human race, inasmuch as all men have sinned (chap. 5:12, N.E.B.).

The Bible explains the problem this way: Originally, man was created perfect and in close fellowship with his Creator, in a state of belonging to the one God who alone is the source of life. But man fell away from God. He gave allegiance to Satan, who had rebelled against God. As a result, man became alienated from the source of life. Death followed. From then on, sin and death reigned on the earth. It has involved every man and woman born into this world.

However, God seeks to maintain His position as our Father. He still claims all men as His children. He determined to restore the relationship at any cost to Himself. So He sent His beloved Son to reveal the love of God, to provide an answer to the sin-and-death problem, and to win men back to fellowship with Him.

Here are words you may trust, words that merit full acceptance: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15, N.E.B.).

At that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: but now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace (Eph. 2:12-14).

From first to last this has been the work of God. He has reconciled us men to himself through Christ, and he has enlisted us in this service of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18, N.E.B.).

Thus God set into operation a divine scheme of redemption, foreordained and formulated in the secret counsels of the Most High from before the foundation of the world. The key figure in this universal drama is God's Son, Jesus Christ, the most unique and revolutionary figure the world has ever known.

Through him God chose to reconcile the whole universe to himself, making peace through the shedding of his blood upon the cross—to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, through him alone. . . . This is the gospel which has been proclaimed in the whole creation under heaven (Col. 1:20-23, N.E.B.).

The divine plan as revealed in the Bible has three important aspects—the promise, with which the Old Testament is largely concerned; the act of redemption at the cross and its subsequent proclamation; and finally, the work of judgment.

First, the program began with an announcement of redemption that promised ultimate recovery and restoration of all that had been lost by sin and the final defeat of all those who warred against the God of heaven:

I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel (Gen. 3:15).

Second, the promise was more fully set forth to Israel when God came down on Mount Sinai in a display of unprecedented glory, and revealed to them both law and gospel. In order to instruct Israel and proclaim the divine program of redemption to the world, a pattern of God's center of operation in heaven was given to Moses. In the typical and sacrificial system of the earthly sanctuary God brought within reach of the sinner the divine method for the redemption of the race and the eradication of sin from the universe.

Never in the history of this world has God granted such a magnificent revelation, spelling out in particular the whole of salvation history to come.

They are Israelites: they were made God's sons; theirs is the splendour of the divine presence, theirs the covenants, the law, the temple worship, and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them, in natural descent, sprang the Messiah (Rom. 9:4, 5, N.E.B.).

God not only spoke from Sinai but continued to speak from the inner shrine of the Levitical sanctuary. It was far more than Israel's meeting place for worship. Its very structure and services symbolized the heavenly sanctuary in which God dwells. "Let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them" (Ex. 25:8). By means of sacrifices and priestly ministrations God promised and revealed the divine method of redemption that was to come in and through Jesus Christ. In this way Israel was to be a light to the nations, that the gospel might go to the ends of the earth. Israel had been elected to prepare the world for the coming of Christ.

Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles through faith, declared the Gospel to Abraham beforehand: "In you all nations shall find blessing" (Gal. 3:8, N.E.B.).

It was God's purpose that by the revelation of His character through Israel men should be drawn unto Him. To all the world the gospel invitation was to be given. Through the teaching of the sacrificial service, Christ was to be uplifted before the nations, and all who would look unto Him should live.—Prophets and Kings, p. 19.

The revelation of the sanctuary centered in Jesus Christ. It foretold His atoning death and His high-priestly ministry in heaven and the final judgment. All the typical services in the earthly sanctuary pointed to this. The sanctuary revealed the scope of redemption and judgment, the love of God for sinners, and the determined opposition of God to the satanic forces.

Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die (John 12:31-33).

The redemption wrought out by Christ must always be seen within the context of salvation history, from the time sin entered to its final eradication. With the resurrection and ascension of Christ, the center of the drama shifted to the sanctuary in heaven. The key to the divine program for the destiny of our world and the salvation of men still resides in the sanctuary—not in the ancient Levitical sanctuary, for that is no more, but in the heavenly sanctuary, where Christ, our High Priest, sits on the right hand of the Father.

Now this is my main point: just such a high priest we have, and he has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of Majesty in the heavens, a ministrant in the real sanctuary, the tent pitched by the Lord and not by man (Heb. 8:1, N.E.B.).

The Vital Nature of Christ's Priestly Ministry

Christ did not ascend to the heavenly sanctuary and sit at the right hand of the Father to do nothing. Throughout the history of the great controversy the steadfast purpose and plan of God has come to man through the ministry of the Son of God. It was the Son of God who descended on Mount Sinai to communicate the law and the gospel to Moses and to the children of Israel. It was the Son of God who came to earth and died on the cross to redeem a lost race. Ever since His ascension the Son of God has been actively engaged in directing the work of redemption and the progress of His church. It is the Son of God who will come again as King of kings and Lord of lords.

The apostle John saw Christ, in His priestly garments, walking among the "seven lamps [which] are the seven churches" symbolizing the church of God throughout the Christian era (see Rev. 1:12, 13, 20, N.E.B.).

Paul speaks of Christ's work as the "one mediator between god and men" (1 Tim. 2:5, N.E.B.). Christ is our "advocate" (1 John 2:1), our intercessor (Heb. 7:25), "who is at God's right hand, and indeed pleads our cause" (Rom. 8:34, N.E.B.). It is as Lord and Saviour that "God has exalted [Him] with his own right hand . . . , to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:32, N.E.B.). The Father has also "committed all judgment unto the Son" (John 5:22).

Because the New Testament writers refer clearly and repeatedly to Christ's high-priestly work, we can be certain that the ministration in and from the heavenly sanctuary has deep significance so long as the great controversy between Christ and Satan continues. The revelation from the sanctuary declares that God continually communicates His purpose and His activities with clarity and with certainty. In every age He urges His people to see truth here, trusting in God and "looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith" (Heb. 12:2).

The Christian hope in these last days rests firmly on the revelation of His sublime purpose in promise, in redemption, and in judgment. The Christian faith steadfastly affirms belief in that sacred shrine of the sanctuary where God reigns and rules. Here the past, present, and future are tied together by the purpose of God, which spans both time and eternity.

That hope we hold. It is like an anchor for our lives, an anchor safe and sure. It enters in through the veil, where Jesus has entered on our behalf as forerunner, having become a high priest for ever in the succession of Melchizedek (Heb. 6:19, 20, N.E.B.).

Furthermore, there are principalities and powers in high places at war with God (Eph. 6:12). That war began in heaven at the divine headquarters of the sanctuary (Rev. 12:7-9). Satan, or Lucifer, was originally one of the covering cherubs in the sanctuary. The war began there. The issues will terminate there when God's throne will be forever secure. It is for this reason that God's battle plan and movements from the sanctuary should be thoroughly studied and understood.

It is significant that both Daniel the prophet and John the apostle declare Satan's opposition to be directed against the sanctuary of God. Satan, through his agents, "magnified himself even to the prince of the host, and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of his sanctuary was cast down" (Dan. 8:11). In the book of Revelation it is the beast who "opened his mouth in blasphemy against god, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven" (Rev. 13:6).

It becomes apparent at once that Satan's warfare against God focuses upon God's sanctuary and God's throne, and thereby upon His sovereignty. But in spite of the attacks of Satan and the hosts who have gone over to his side, God has never abdicated His throne. God's sovereign rule extends from eternity past to eternity future. The message from the divine sanctuary is good news. God is constantly active in the realization of His eternal purpose. The truth from the sanctuary explains the final end of sin, the final rescue from death and destruction, the judgments of God upon men and nations, and the establishment of God's everlasting kingdom. That is the goal toward which the whole creation moves. To understand this, one must take seriously the Bible truths that issue from the sanctuary.

As Israel of old looked for guidance from the sanctuary and from the Temple in Jerusalem, so the church today must look to the heavenly sanctuary.

Christ has entered, not that sanctuary made by men's hands which is only a symbol of the reality, but heaven itself, to appear now before God on our behalf (Heb. 9:24, N.E.B.).

In the heavenly sanctuary all is vital, dynamic, genuine, and concerned with eternal issues. The sanctuary truth treats Satan as the real enemy, the forces of evil as real, in conflict with Christ in a war that affects every creature in the universe. Here alone the destinies of men are decided for weal or for woe. Here the realities of God's truth and purpose can be clearly seen.

The law contains but a shadow, and no true image, of the good things which were to come; it provides for the same sacrifices year after year, and with these it can never bring the worshippers to perfection for all time. If it could, these sacrifices would surely have ceased to be offered. . . . But instead, in these sacrifices year after year sins are brought to mind, because sins can never be removed by the blood of bulls and goats. . . . Every priest stands performing his service daily and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never remove sins. But Christ offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat at the right hand of God, where he waits henceforth until his enemies are made his footstool (Heb. 10:1-13, N.E.B.).

Thus the sacrifices of animals in the earthly sanctuary never took away sin. The lighting of lamps never lighted men's souls and minds. The loaves of bread never fed men's spirits. The blood of bulls and goats never redeemed a soul. They never did and were never intended to. Men are often inclined to substitute the form for the substance, to go through the motions and never arrive at the real truth, to pay lip service and never really experience redemption. Men easily lose sight of the divine perspective.

Men need to lift their eyes to the One who sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, infallibly directing all things "according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph. 3:11).

The nature and meaning of the heavenly sanctuary cannot be established by scientific data. No amount of detailed knowledge of the materials and measurements of the earthly sanctuary can adequately represent heavenly things or reproduce God's work upon His throne. We see in the earthly sanctuary no full and decisive revelation of our great High Priest in heaven. Christ is not engaged in lighting lamps, turning over loaves of bread, or swinging incense burners. The realities do not reside in places, materials, or architectural design, but in the divine activity brought to bear upon the living situations of the great controversy itself.

Christ has invited us to—

enter boldly into the sanctuary by the new, living way which he has opened for us through the curtain, the way of his flesh. We have, moreover, a great priest set over the household of God; so let us make our approach in sincerity of heart and full assurance of faith, our guilty hearts sprinkled clean, our bodies washed with pure water. Let us be firm and unswerving in the confession of our hope, for the Giver of the promise may be trusted (Heb. 10:19-23, N.E.B.).

This truth is truth indeed. It is a sacred privilege for all Christians; it is as genuine as the historic atonement of Christ on the cross, upon which His priestly ministry is grounded. Here we have access to the Lamb of God on the throne, vitally linked with the redemption wrought out on the cross.

As we look to our High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary, the world of eternal realities stands over against this fleeting world of temporal things. Here we see the heavenly order over against this present worldly confusion. Here we see eternal security and eternal life over against the fear and anxiety and death of this existence. These eternal realities cast their shadows back over the old sanctuary on earth. We thus commit ourselves to building our lives upon genuine and eternal foundations. This is man's greatest need in a materialistic, perishing world.

We serve a living Christ who has an eternal, unchangeable priesthood. Christ crucified is central. To fail to follow Christ into the sanctuary in heaven is to impoverish Christ's work on the cross. Let men once lose sight of God upon His throne, His continued work of redemption and judgment, and there is little left but what men can do by themselves. God requires that we live by faith—faith in Him, in His sovereignty over the whole of our lives. As we commit ourselves to the living God upon His throne, we can know the power of God to save to the uttermost. Communication with God is a living, dynamic reality.

The nerve center of the Christian faith is not in the human heart and mind. It lies elsewhere, in the divine sanctuary in heaven. It is here that one must endure as "seeing him who is invisible." It is important to distinguish between the action and direction of God in and from the divine sanctuary above and their effects upon human understanding and experience.

The redemption and judgment of all men is based upon the fact that all men exist in a responsible relationship to the God of heaven. They choose sides, either for Christ or against Him. Ultimate redemption means a judgment of God in the believer's favor, a final deliverance from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.

The believer triumphs because Christ conquers. If God fails in His sovereign rule from the sanctuary, then it must fail everywhere. The throne of God is eternally secure because Christ defeated Satan at Calvary. This is the central issue in the divine work in the heavenly sanctuary—the triumph of the Godhead over Satan and all his host, and the reconciliation of "the whole universe to himself" (Col. 1:20, N.E.B.).

The divine administration from the throne is not a subjective experience in the heart. It is perilous to withdraw attention from our Lord in heaven and become more occupied with ourselves than with God. Knowledge of the final movements in this world's history are mediated to us, not by self-examination but in the work now going on in the heavenly sanctuary. This is not to deny the importance of one's personal commitment to Christ. But the testing truths of the church are not merely personal. Inward spiritual growth and certainty depend on One outside of us.

An essential part of the mission of the church is to proclaim a clear message concerning the final mediatorial work of Christ. This truth does not inhere in human experience. Faith in Christ's priestly ministry is not faith in any measure of human perfection but in the sovereign rule of God from the throne. The Christian does not find ultimate truth in himself. He finds it in the living Christ.

Today men need to look to God's way in the sanctuary, daily to turn the mind away from self, persistently to hold oneself before the mercy seat and the judgment seat of God in full and complete dependence upon Him. In this age-long controversy between Christ and Satan, the revelation from God's throne is the basis for security in a world that is fast coming to its close.

No church on earth can assert man's destiny. No church can decide the cases of men. No life is safe that is not built on the living Christ. Back of all the affairs of men and time, Jesus Christ alone is the way, the truth, and the life. The Christian must live in terms of two perspectives—what Christ did for man on the cross and the continued ministry of redemption and judgment from the heavenly sanctuary.

From the sanctuary God directs the battle to final victory. Here the truths for the last days are laid bare. Here all divine power is ministered, all prayers are heard, all decisions made, all judgments executed.

The destiny of all nations, languages, and peoples—past, present, and future—is bound up with God's triumphant consummation of all things. The full account God makes of His character and administration of the universe is independent of man's vacillation. Always there is a transcendent factor about the work of the Godhead in the heavenly sanctuary that must never be reduced to Christian experience, however important that may be. The successful accomplishment of the purpose of God from the throne room makes possible the eradication of sin and Satan and the establishment of the kingdom of God. Nothing else will.

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