The Role of the Old Testament – The Priesthood and the Sacrifice

Another lesson from the Old Testament for believers today is the pattern of the priesthood and the sacrifices as a foreshadowing of the coming Christ.  The book of Hebrews compares and contrasts the priesthood and sacrifice pattern of the Old Testament with the priesthood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Seeing the connection between Christ’s work and the Old Testament pattern strengthens our faith to believe that Jesus’ death on the cross really was the final and sufficient sacrifice for sin.

In Jesus we have a better hope because we have a better priest.  “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 6:19-20).  Our better hope is based on Jesus being a better priest after the order of Melchizedek – the eternal priest – rather than after the order of Levi – priests of the old covenant.

“But He with an oath through the One who said to Him, ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever.” ‘  So much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (Heb 7:21-22).  As a priest forever, Jesus is the guarantee of a better covenant than the one associated with the former priesthood.

“For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” (Heb 7:26-27).  Jesus, the better priest, became Jesus, the better sacrifice when “He once for all offered up Himself.”

Christ’s death was a better sacrifice.  “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?  And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:13-15).

Christ’s better sacrifice – and the new covenant it initiated – has an eternal and a present component.  On the eternal front, our transgressions are paid in full by Christ’s blood and we have obtained an “eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:15).  On the present-day front, Christ’s blood “cleanses our conscience to serve the living God” (Heb 9:14); to live godly lives.  When Christ died, our old sin nature died with Him and we have been raised with Christ to walk in a new life, to walk in a new resurrection power (Rom 6:4).

“For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own…so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him” (Heb 9:24-25,28).  Christ’s first coming secured our initial salvation and our eternal destiny.  He saved us when He bore our sins on the cross.  Christ’s second coming will secure our final salvation; our ultimate rescue from this world to live forever with Him.  Even so, come Lord Jesus!

The Role of the Old Testament – Fulfilled Prophesies

The Christian life is a beautiful balance of faith and intellect; faith and fact.  God has given us plenty of facts that confirm the events of Scripture, most notably surrounding the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But there also remains a large faith element.  I personally think that is why Jesus appeared to so few people – and most of them in secret – after His resurrection.  He left a little mystery so that we would need to exercise our faith to believe who Jesus is and that He is risen and seated at God’s right hand.  I also think this faith requirement helps quench our pride, knowing that we can’t figure everything out just on our smarts alone.

One of the things that bolsters our faith with facts are the fulfilled prophesies of the Old Testament.  Regarding the coming Messiah, there are many, many specific predictions in the Old Testament that came true in Jesus.  Prophesies addressing His lineage (Gen 49:10), His birth (Mic 5:2, Hos 11:1), His titles (Is 7:14, Is 9:6-7), His ministry (Is 61:1-2), His death (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53), and His resurrection (Ps 16:10, Ps 49:15) all point to Jesus of Nazareth as the Anointed One; the Messiah.

One of the specific threads of Old Testament prophesy is God’s promise of a new covenant (Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36); a new arrangement between God and man.  This new covenant was brought by Jesus and purchased with His blood.  At the last supper, Jesus told His disciples, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood” (Lk 22:20).  Seeing Jesus fulfill the historical prophesies gives us great confidence that He is indeed the bearer of the new covenant.  And all the promises of a new life, a new heart, a new nature, and a new power are coming true just like the historical predictions have done.

Finally, seeing the prophesies fulfilled in Jesus strengthens our faith to believe the promises yet to come.  The future events of Christ’s return, His rule over a new heaven and a new earth, His final and complete defeat of Satan, and our abiding in His physical presence forever all stand on the foundation of seeing God keep His promises in the past.  Seeing God’s prophesies being woven throughout the entire Old Testament and then seeing them come true in Jesus is a great faith-builder for new covenant saints today.

The Role of the Old Testament

Because my focus in this blog is on the new covenant, the provisions of the new covenant, and the power for living found in the new covenant, it would be easy to dismiss the contribution of the Old Testament.  But let’s not be too hasty.  Instead, let’s investigate the role of the Old Testament in the lives of God’s children today.

I can think of at least five major categories of lessons in the Old Testament that inform our spirituality today.  1) The prophesies in the Old Testament about the coming Messiah are real faith builders today as we consider the incredible fulfillment of them in Christ Jesus.  2) The pattern in the Old Testament of the priesthood and the sacrifices are a foreshadowing of what Christ would be coming to do for us.  It provides a foundation for understanding that Christ is a priest forever and that His sacrifice was final and sufficient.  3) The numerous warnings concerning sin are a schoolmaster to us – a kind of “what not to do” – particularly through the example of the children of Israel.  4) The wisdom literature of the Proverbs etc. gives valuable instruction on how to live wisely in this world that God has created.  And finally 5) the patriarch’s example of faith in the Old Testament is to be emulated by New Testament believers.  The Christian life – energized with a new freedom and power wrought by Christ’s death on a cross – is still lived by faith.

What became “old and obsolete” (Heb 8:13) about the Old Testament is the arrangement between God and man concerning our sin.  What has “faded away” (II Cor 3:11) is the works-based righteousness found in the Law.  And what became “new” was a righteousness based on faith in Christ and the promise of transformation in us when we believe His gospel message.

The details of the change in covenants between the old and the new regarding our arrangement with God are left here for another day.  For now, let’ s explore the five categories of lessons that await us in the Old Testament today.  We will start with the prophesies of the coming Messiah next time.