We Would See Jesus: The High Priest of God
by Darrell Music
What is it that most stirs our thoughts when we come to this time of the year where we celebrate Easter? The singular answer is Jesus, of course. We conjure images (perhaps even sounds) to mind: of the cross, the empty tomb, the Christ riding on a donkey to shouts of “Hosanna!”- shouts that mere days later turned to “Crucify Him!”
Alas, and did my Savior bleed and did my Sovereign die...
I wonder if we might, for a moment, turn our attention to what is often treated as a tangential part of the narrative of what occurred between the blackest darkness of Good Friday and that luminous morning of the Resurrection. We read this depiction of the culminating moments of Jesus’ crucifixion:
“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” [ESV]
This is Matthew’s gospel account; chapter 27 from verse 50 through the first half of 51. The rest of verse 51 talks of the earth shaking and of rocks splitting apart. The narrative as told by Matthew describes the Chosen One coming to the point of yielding up, voluntarily, his spirit; where, in the utter violence of that few moments he gives a horrendous cry and as the life passes from him, the earth shudders in a quake with such brutality that the rocks are shorn apart- and the veil of the temple is torn asunder from the top to the bottom.
Lifted up was He to die: “It is finished”, was His cry...
We know that this crucifixion was particular- not a common execution- not like those that were part of the culture of the day; not at all like those crucifixions taking place even there- to our blessed Savior’s left and to his right. And Matthew’s recounting of the surrounding events- the darkening skies, the quaking earth and the rupturing of stone, serves to impress even more emphatically upon us the peculiarity of this happening.
But the veil...
The veil is not merely torn. The veil is torn apart.
This is not tangential- a mere observed detail recorded so that all of posterity may weigh the penetrating depth of such an event. No. That the veil is torn apart is central.
A scant few days before these things take place, Matthew describes one of the encounters Jesus has with the religious leaders who- since he rode into Jerusalem to the exuberant shouts of the throngs- have sought to challenge his authority. At one point he returns the challenge, making reference to David’s prophetic words in Psalm 110, verse 1:
“The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at My right hand
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” [NASB]
The sentence is brief, the theological, and indeed spiritual implications are anything but. Jesus makes reference to it expressly because it is he to whom the prophet refers. And what do we read a few verses later?
The LORD has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.” [NASB]
Both of these truths bear the significance that they point to the Messiah. David's Lord sits at the right hand of Jehovah and he is in the priestly line of Melchizedek. So what about Melchizedek? Who is he?
Melchizedek appears in the pages of Genesis where he meets with Abraham (Abram at that point) after the latter has returned from battle. Abram and his men were victorious and brought back those who had been captured and their possessions. The King of Sodom went out to meet Abram after the victory; and we read that the King of Salem went to meet him as well.
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. Genesis 14:18-20 [ESV]
Melchizedek was not only a king, but also a priest of the Most High- of Jehovah, God Almighty. We learn from Hebrews that Melchizedek means ‘king of righteousness’.
He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever. Hebrews 7:2-3 [ESV]
Much like the tearing of the veil of the temple, this King of Salem coming to bless Abram can seem but a fleeting, even inconsequential bit of the historical narrative surrounding the Father of the Nation of Israel- a nation that arose though the covenant the Almighty made with Abraham.
The covenant God established with Abraham is unique among the peoples of the earth.
We know that the Canaanites, and the Amorites, the Hittites, etc. all had their gods in the form of idols- often beautiful statuesque representations their deities- with hands and feet, arms, and faces.
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them. Psalm 115:4-8 [ESV]
But Jehovah is not represented by a figure- blind, deaf, and dumb.
Jehovah is not “represented” at all. The One True and Living God has purposed to dwell physically in the midst of his chosen:
“I will be their God, and they will be my people...” God commanded:
‘Make an ark. Put the stone tablets upon which the law is written into that ark. Make a mercy seat and set it on top of the ark. Enclose this space with walls and a curtain. That place will be the holy of holies, and I the LORD GOD will meet with you there.’ [Slightly abridged version]
But the relationship was imperfect- marred from the time of Adam by sin. Thus, approach to the altar of the Almighty where he would meet his people, was only possible by way of a mediator- and never beyond the veil. Because of sin. What was to be done?
All have sinned. We have sinned. Sin is what separated- what separates.
We are told over and over in scripture that God did not forget his covenant. And in remembering his covenant God established the priesthood so that there would be a mediator. So, the children of the promise came dutifully with their substitutionary sacrifices to the altar to atone for their sins.
Still, this was not sufficient. How was the wrath of the Almighty against the sin of mankind ever to be appeased?
Every sin on Him was laid...
God promised a perfect mediator- by way of a new covenant.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,... I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Jeremiah 31:31, 33b. [ESV]
A perfect sacrifice was required. The perfect shedding of blood for the remission of sin. A perfect mediator. A priest forever. A king forever.
This brings us back to Melchizedek. We have this glorious moment in history where a King appears seemingly out of nowhere who is also a Priest of the Most High to greet the father of the nation of Israel to point us to Messiah- Savior of the world.
It is not peripheral. It is indeed central- A mark of the Christ.
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. Hebrews 8:1-2 [ESV]
And this bring us back to the veil, and to Jesus; there on that horrible, cruel cross- there-- lifted up so that all men might be drawn to Him. There hangs the fulfillment of the prophetic words of Jeremiah, and Isaiah, and David.
There hangs the appeasement of the wrath of Almighty God.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34b
[He] took the wrath reserved for me...
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished”... John 19: 30
And as it is finished- accomplished by the Christ- God in terrible wrath, and anger, and grief, and power tears the curtain apart. IT IS FINISHED. The way into the holy of holies is no longer closed. And we see Jesus: The perfect High Priest of God by his own blood, for Jew and for Gentile, making possible the new covenant.
He is our God. We are his people.
When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of Glory died, My richest gain I count but loss And pour contempt on all my pride.
Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small Love, so amazing, so divine
Demands my life, my soul, my all.