Shorter Catechism Q. 25
Q. 25. How doth Christ execute the office of a priest?
A. Christ executeth the office of a priest, in his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God, and in making continual intercession for us.
Ps 110:4; Heb 2:17, 5:5–6
For a general introduction to the three offices of Christ see here.
In the Old Testament three kinds of people shepherded God’s people. First were the prophets who proclaimed God’s covenant promises and called back the straying people when they broke their covenant with God. Second were the kings. Every now and then there were just and wise kings who set a pattern of devotion for the whole nation. When the kings of Israel were devoted to God, the nation enjoyed peace and blessing. When the kings worshipped idols, the whole nation followed their kings into idolatry.
And, of course, there were the priests. Priests of the Old Testament belonged to the tribe of Levi. In the promised land they were not given land inheritance. Their portion, their inheritance and blessing, was to serve the Lord. Some ministered in and around the tabernacle. Some were dispersed throughout Israel teaching the things of the Lord. They offered sacrifices and led worship as well.
Once a year, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies, which was the inner sanctum of the tabernacle, and later of the Temple. Once a year, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to make atonement for the sins of God’s people. But the High Priest was himself a sinner. Before he went into the Holy of Holies, he had to offer sacrifices for his own sins. The very fact that the sacrifices had to be offered continually for sins, and the fact that the High Priest was himself a sinner, meant that the Old Testament way of drawing near to God was pointing our attention beyond itself. We needed a High Priest undefiled by sin who can permanently open the way to God once and for all.
Thus the Old Testament prophets longed for a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek received tithe from Abraham (Gen 14). Levi, and all the priests of Israel, obviously descended from Abraham who honored Melchizedek (whose name means “the king of righteousness”). In effect, the Levitical priests (i.e. Old Testament priests) were inferior to Melchizedek, the priest of God Most High, whom their father Abraham honored. This is precisely the teachings of Hebrews 7:1–10. The coming of the priest after the order of Melchizedek therefore means the coming of a priest greater than any Levitical priest, who will overcome the imperfections and the deficiencies of the Old Testament priesthood.
In Psalm 110 David spoke by the Holy Spirit of the one whom he called his “Lord” being addressed by the LORD. The identity of David’s “Lord” is no secret. See Matthew 22:41–46. David’s “Lord” is Jesus Christ, to whom the LORD, the Father, promised an eternal and perfect priesthood. The Pharisees, of course, refused to believe this. But unlike the Pharisees, we believe the Scripture’s testimony.
Jesus, then, is the priest after the order of Melchizedek, undying and sinless. He does not need to be replaced by a successor. Indeed, he cannot be replaced by another, for he alone is the priest who has offered a perfect sacrifice to make atonement for our sins. The Old Testament animal sacrifices had to be repeated constantly. But the sacrifice of Jesus’ own body is of incomparable worth and takes away our sins once and for all. Thus our sins are fully and completely removed from us, and we have boldness before God!
And our High Priest is undying. His ministry will never come to an end because of his weakness or death. Even now his ministry continues as he continues to intercede for us. How comforting this is for struggling believers! In our struggles we are weighed down with guilt and doubt. But there is no more condemnation or guilt when the ministry of Jesus Christ is so perfect! Not a shred of our guilt is remembered before God! And how comforting as we struggle, knowing Jesus prays for us always! He prays for us when we are weak. He prays for us when we doubt. He prays for us when we are discouraged. He prays for us when we have stumbled. Jesus intercedes for us. With such an ally in heaven, what can possibly harm us? Nothing, indeed!