Christ Our High Priest

Pardon and Power

Herbert E. Douglass, Ph.D., is currently on leave of absence, having served most recently as associate editor of the Review and Herald, official church paper of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination.


FOR EVERYONE on Planet Earth, nothing is more important than knowing who Jesus Christ is and knowing how men and women ought to relate to what He is now doing.

The Biblical doctrine of the sanctuary helps to explain such truths about Jesus and about humanity. This explanation unfolds the several purposes of our Lord's incarnation and how men and women become truly human. By picturing the plan of salvation, first in graphic symbols and ceremonies and later in theological explanation, God taught all who would listen how far He would go to save mankind and what response He expected from mankind as He worked out their salvation.

Unfortunately, the sanctuary doctrine has become obscured and largely ignored over the centuries; hence, its role as a unifying, integrating element in the understanding of the plan of salvation has been sorely missed in the history of the Christian church. A recovery of the Biblical doctrine of the sanctuary will aid us today in rediscovering what God has done for us and wants to do in and through us. Under standing who Jesus is and how He can "save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21)* are the chief concerns of the Biblical doctrine of the sanctuary.

For most conservative Christians, there seems to be little question about our Lord's Deity and His unborrowed, underived existence as an eternal member of the Godhead. Most Christians set Him forth as the perfect expression of the Divine character; such attributes as love, justice, mercy, and holiness, they believe, were never better manifested on earth. For the believer, His death on the cross became the riveting focus of song and sermon for 2,000 years. For millions, His resurrection from the garden tomb has broken the clutch of fear that would strangle the breath of hope from anyone who stands on the edge of an open grave.

Jesus was last seen on earth as His friends gathered on Mount Olivet forty days after His resurrection, shortly be fore He ascended into the sky and beyond their sight (Acts 1:9). He left as they had known Him for 33 years a human being such as themselves.

Questions, however, were immediate and crucial to faith: Where did He go? Was He gone forever?

And answers came quickly with the angel's comforting statement: "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" (verse 11).

Stephen recognized Him, "this Jesus," when God graciously parted the veil be tween heaven and earth moments be fore his life was crushed out under the stones hurled by men who couldn't stand the truth: "But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, 'Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God'" (Acts 7:55, 56).

Paul heard His voice as he approached Damascus. In the midst of his spiritual banditry, the resurrected Jesus stepped into his life with the breathtaking question: "'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' And he said 'Who are you, Lord?' And he said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting'" (Acts 9:4, 5).

While exiled on rocky Patmos, John was given an awesome glimpse of his beloved Master, now in heaven. Wasn't that just like Jesus to give His old friend, who had suffered much and witnessed gloriously to His cause, the final assurance that all was not in vain! "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, 'Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for ever more, and I have the keys of Death and Hades'" (Rev. 1:17, 18).

But as time went by something very curious and sad happened to the Christian church. They lost sight of where Jesus now is. Not only did an extraordinary silence develop regarding what He has been doing since His resurrection, ominous confusion arose regarding who He truly was and why He came to earth, even in the Christian church. This silence and confusion have fragmented and weakened the Christian witness even to our day.

To fix attention on Jesus dying on the cross is profoundly moving. To exalt Him for untainted integrity in full blossom, to revere Him for the moral impulse He injected into human history, to be moved by the utter abandonment to His ideals that drove Him to the cross rather than flinch or concede to evil all this is the vision glorious.

Only a Partial Picture

But to see Him only as a worker of miracles and a bleeding Lord is seeing Him only in part; glorious and moving, but only in part. In fact, to see Him only as the resurrected Lord, as if all His saving work for mankind was completed on the cross, is also seeing Him in part. Appealing and winsome is this beautiful picture of love unlimited, a dual demonstration of love and power—God paying the price for a fallen race, and rising triumphantly from the grave. But there is more that He wants us to know.

To lose Him in the vagueness of light-years between heaven and earth, and in the theological jungle that has grown up in Christian thought, cluttering the meaning of His life and death, is to draw a strange veil between the real Jesus and what men and women have fabricated. A partial picture of Jesus has led Christians into such gross errors as widely divergent as predestination and universalism; it has misled millions by the false security of "once saved, always saved," or the "cheap grace" that inevitably follows, sooner or later, when justification is emphasized disproportionately over sanctification.

A major, and perennial problem of Christianity is that men and women tend to focus on either what Jesus has done for us as our earthly sacrifice or what He wants to do in and through us as our heavenly Mediator. Rarely are these two concepts held in proper balance; when not in balance, each concept becomes distorted.

The New Testament writers con tended that there was more to our Lord's role in the plan of salvation than His death on the cross, wonderful and indispensable as His death was.

Take the book of Hebrews, for example. Here we are admonished to "consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession" (chap. 3:1). Further, we are told that this focus on Jesus as mankind's High Priest would have much to do with the Christian's endurance and quality of commitment: "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession" (chap. 4:14).

A clear understanding of our Lord's role as our High Priest will produce for His followers the impetus and strength to become the overcomers that the New Testament writers set forth as the goal of Christian commitment. As Paul put it, "To mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).

The sanctuary doctrine features Jesus as the adequate and inspiring reason for mankind's trust, devotion, and determination to live as Jesus did, victorious over sin.

Something very significant to the plan of salvation is going on in heaven today because Jesus is there as our High Priest. Something significant and special should be happening in the lives of His followers on earth because of what Jesus is now doing as our High Priest.'

Following Jesus into the heavenly sanctuary ("consider Jesus, the . . . high priest of our confession," Heb. 3:1) does not depreciate the cross. God forbid! Without the cross no High Priest would be in the heavenly sanctuary today. But the awesome implications of our Lord's work as mankind's Saviour (especially in these days that are considered by many to be the end-time) rest on His heavenly work as High Priest as well as on His earthly work as mankind's Ex ample and Sacrifice. His role as man kind's Saviour requires two phases, both as important as the two sides of the same sheet of paper—His earthly, substitutionary sacrifice and His heavenly, all-powerful mediation.

An understanding of the basic truths of the sanctuary doctrine will rescue earnest seekers of the truth from the twin errors of overconfident intellectual security on the one hand, and overconfident emotionalism on the other. The doctrine of the sanctuary saves us from being caught in the futile battle of slogans, which, in themselves, express only half-truths when improperly stressed. When truth is fragmented, those who cry, "not of works, lest any man should boast," must also be prepared for the counterthrust, "not of creed, lest any man should boast of that." Both errors bypass the real intent of the plan of salvation—the eradication of sinful practices in the Christian's life, here and now, by the grace of God.

The post-resurrection function of Jesus as man's all-powerful High Priest and Mediator is as essential to the plan of salvation as was His death upon the cross. As Mediator, Jesus fulfills two specific functions: (1) He silences the accusations of Satan by His unsullied life, lived amid every conceivable temptation common to humanity, and He settles the question of God's regard for even rebels by a death that wrung the heart of the universe. His life and death thus exposed the truth about God's character and the awful consequences of sin, and established the basis of reconciliation and atonement between God and man.

(2) In terms of the cosmic controversy between Christ and Satan, Jesus fulfilled the demands of justice and fair play, and thus is now free to provide the power of grace to all those who choose to follow Him and live overcoming lives: "For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted" (chap. 2:18). "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. . . . Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (chap. 4:14, 16).

Jesus, as mankind's Sacrifice and High Priest, provides just what men and women need—mercy and grace. All who appropriate the benefits of His atonement will receive forgiveness for sins past, power to overcome sins present, and hope for a world without evil in the future.

Christ's powerful arm through the ministry of the Holy Spirit reaches out to all people who have committed the keeping of their souls to Him. He has won the right to intercede in the lives of His followers. He breaks through the power with which Satan has held them captive, developing within His faithful followers a strengthened will to resist sinful tendencies. It is the same defense by which He Himself conquered sin. "Wherever we go we carry death with us in our body, the death that Jesus died, that in this body also life may reveal itself, the life that Jesus lives. For continually, while still alive, we are being surrendered into the hands of death, for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be revealed in this mortal body of ours" (2 Cor. 4:10, 11, N.E.B.). "I can do all things in him who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13).

This kind of intercession men and women need now, daily, and until Jesus returns. It is as necessary that Jesus should keep His followers by His all-powerful intercessions as that He should provide for their redemption by His atoning sacrifice.

Need Christ's Intercession

Now In the joint roles of Jesus as our Sacrifice and Mediator (that of earning the right to forgive our sins and that of providing sustaining grace to keep us from sinning) rests the hope of every Christian. Through what He has done for us, Jesus will do His part in silencing the accusations of the accuser and in satisfying the broadest demands of God's broken law. But He cannot fully silence all the accusations directed at us if we do not permit Him to do His work in us. John's words are simple and emphatic: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

His double role as Sacrifice and Mediator silences Satan's charges, clarifies the fairness of God's government, and opens the door for the benefits of His atonement to be given to men and women, guaranteeing pardon for the past and sufficient power for the present "to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing" (Jude 24).

When men and women see in Jesus what they may become by the grace of God, a door of hope and exhilaration is surely opened—truly He has opened a "new and living way" for us through His ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. Since, then, "we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful" (Heb. 10:20, 21-23).

The primary purpose of the plan of salvation is to destroy sin in the uni verse; to each sinner the promise is given that sin need no longer "reign in your mortal bodies" (Rom. 6:12), that God is able, willing, and waiting to work with anyone, anywhere, who flees to Him for salvation, full and complete. This magnificent, wonderful plan is both etched and emphasized in the sanctuary service, type and anti-type.

Wherever we turn in studying the sanctuary doctrine the emphasis is on the individual and on ultimately separating him from his sins by means of a new, Spirit-empowered life, that Jesus in His High Priestly ministry can "purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God" (Heb. 9:14). The heavenly sanctuary is truly cleansed when God's people are finally truly purified, cleansed, and clean.

God cannot overlook sham. Nothing is settled if Christians claim the name of Christ, but not His power; or claim His power, but not His character. Only the sinner who confesses his sins and for sakes them "will obtain mercy" (Prov. 28:13). The New Testament's concern for righteousness means more than the forgiveness of sin and a positional, declarative holiness: Biblical writers are concerned with reclaiming from sin, restoration to a victorious, sin-free life under the grace of God, a result of an experiential development of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and not a mere suppression of the old, or former, nature. "You did not so learn Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus. Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:20-24).

The intercessory work of Jesus as our all-powerful Mediator not only applies the forgiveness made possible by Christ's atoning sacrifice to supplicating sinners, it also supplies the power through the Holy Spirit by which those sins can be truly eradicated from the experience of trusting, willing Christians.

When understood by sincere Christians, a new dynamic, a fresh hope, an invigorating freedom, sweeps every nerve and muscle. Truth is like that. Faith then becomes in the life of such Christians what it was to Jesus—a vigorous principle of life, a confiding trust, by which the person experiences a conquering power over all evil.

This confidence in Jesus as Example, Sacrifice, and all-powerful Mediator is the reason for the Christian's power and hope: "We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a fore runner on our behalf > having become a high priest for ever" (Heb. 6:19, 20). When men and women see in Jesus what they may be, by the grace of God, a door of hope is surely opened.

The sanctuary doctrine clarifies the Christian's gift and his responsibility. Such a clarification also presents in fresh focus how the gospel commission will be truly and authentically pro claimed "as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come" (Matt. 24:14).

Our Lord's role as Mediator will not last forever. Some day soon He will declare that justice has been satisfied and that mercy has been accepted or rejected by all then living on this earth; some day soon the pre-Advent judgment will be finished and the word will go out from the heavenly sanctuary through out the universe: "Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. Behold, I am coining soon, bringing my recompense, to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega" (Rev. 22:11, 12).

Now is the time to let Christ do His mediatorial, high-priestly work on our hearts, He "who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:14).

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Herbert E. Douglass, Ph.D., is currently on leave of absence, having served most recently as associate editor of the Review and Herald, official church paper of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination.

March 1977

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