Bibliotheca Sacra 131 (Jan.-Mar. 1974) 26-33.

          Copyright © 1974 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.

 

 

                      The Blood of Jesus and His

                  Heavenly Priesthood in Hebrews

 

                        Part IV: The Present Work of Christ in Heaven

 

                                             Philip Edgcumbe Hughes

 

                                                 REPRESENTATION

 

            "Christ," says the author of Hebrews, "has entered . . . into

heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf"

(9:24). There in that sublime sanctuary which is the presence-

chamber of God Himself the risen and glorified Savior presents

Himself, not to claim benefits for Himself, for He is crowned with

glory and honor (2:9), but as our representative and mediator to

receive for us the eternal blessings which His atoning death has

procured. Yet these blessings are not, so to speak, external to or

apart from Himself, for in presenting Himself at the throne of

grace He presents also those who through divine grace have been

made one with Him. It is the union of believers with Christ that

ensures their acceptance before God. The royal favor with which

he is received embraces at the same time those who are one with

and in Him. As Paul says, God "raised us up with him, and made

us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:6).

The Christian's whole and only status before God is in Christ. True

and wonderful though this is, however, the sphere of the Christian's

existence is still here on earth. He is still beset by temptations;

he is hampered by weakness and frustrated by failings; he falls

 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of articles entitled "The Blood

of Jesus and His Heavenly Priesthood in the Epistle to the Hebrews," which

were the W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectures given by Dr. Philip

Edgcumbe Hughes at Dallas Theological Seminary, November 14-17, 1972.

 

                                                            26



                  The Present Work of Christ in Heaven   /   27

 

short of "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph.

4:13); the perfection for which he longs is not yet. He needs a

holiness not his own, made available to him by the Lamb of God

who has made atonement for his sins and who now interposes Him-

self as his representative in the heavenly sanctuary. And this is

the representation which Christ fulfills as He appears in the presence

of God for us.

            In the earthly sanctuary the levitical high priest entered into

the holy of holies taking with him the blood of the victim that had

been slain at the altar of sacrifice. In himself, this high priest had

no more right of entry than did the people for whom he was acting,

for he, like them, was a sinful man for whose sins, no less than for

those of the people, atonement had to be made. Accordingly, the

blood he carried into the holy of holies was not his own but the

blood of the victim which had been offered up in his stead. Our

great High Priest, however, being entirely without sin, had no need

to take the blood of another into the sanctuary; nor did He need

to present His own blood, for since the blood was the token of

the life that had been offered up in sacrifice, and since He was

both offerer and offering, He, the sinless and glorified incarnate

Son, presents not His blood but Himself in the heavenly sanctuary,

into which He has the full and inalienable right of entry. This

unique victim, unlike the victims of old, is not left outside, but in

the power of His risen life He Himself, and none other, has passed

into the glorious presence of God, where He "has gone as a fore-

runner on our behalf" (Heb. 6:20). It is He Himself, in all the

perfection of His, and our, exalted manhood, who now represents

us there.

 

                                    BENEDICTION

            An important function of the royal high priest is to bestow

the divine blessing upon the people of God. Thus we read in

Leviticus 9:22-23: "Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the

people and blessed them; and he came down from offering the

sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. And

Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting; and when they

came out they blessed the people, and the glory of the LORD ap-

peared to all the people." And the form of the high priestly blessing,

which is simply the declaration of the blessing which comes from

God, is given in Numbers 6:22-27: "The LORD said to Moses, ‘Say



28   /   Bibliotheca Sacra — January 1974

 

to Aaron and his sons, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel:

you shall say to them, The LORD bless you and keep you: the

LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you:

The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will

bless them'." So also we are told that Melchizedek, priest of God

Most High, blessed Abraham (Gen. 14:19), and in doing so he

prefigured the blessing which was to flow from Him who is our

Melchizedek to all who through faith are the children of Abraham

(cf. Gal. 3:29). Indeed, the blessing promised to the world through

the seed of Abraham is, as Paul teaches, concentrated and fulfilled

in the single person of Christ (Gal. 3:8, 16-17).

            The blessing which our heavenly High Priest bestows from the

true sanctuary above is made effective through the outpouring of

His Holy Spirit upon all flesh. Hence the affirmation of Peter on

the day of Pentecost: "Being therefore exalted at the right hand

of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the

Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear" (Acts

2:33). Through the blessing which the outpouring of the Holy Spirit

guarantees to us, our Redeemer exercises in our midst His threefold

office of prophet, priest, and king. As prophet, He who is the Truth

continues to teach us through the apostles whom He Himself had

taught, and to whom He had specifically promised that the Holy

Spirit, whom the Father would send in His name, would teach them

all things and bring to their remembrance all that He had said to

them (John 14:26). Accordingly, in the apostolic doctrine of the

New Testament we have the authentic doctrine of Christ Himself,

and through these writings He does not cease to lead us, as our

Prophet, into everlasting truth. The New Testament Scriptures

belong to the benediction of our exalted High Priest.

            The central truth with which we are blessed, thanks to the

enlightening action of the Holy Spirit, is the knowledge of the

gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But the Spirit of Christ

does not only bring us face to face with evangelical truth, He also

applies the saving work of Christ to our hearts and lives. Through

the blessing of the Holy Spirit which Christ has poured out from

heaven we are enabled to experience the regenerating power of

God. The benefits of the Savior's atoning death are made a vital

and transforming reality, so that we who, like the prodigal in the

parable, are alienated from God by the rebellion of our sin are



 

                                    The Present Work of Christ in Heaven   /   29

 

blessed by restoration to the family relationship, calling penitently

and joyfully on God as our Father, as "the Spirit bears witness with

our spirit that we are the children of God" (Rom. 8:14-16).

            So we experience the reconciling priestly work of Christ in

our lives; and so also, by the operation of the same blessed Holy

Spirit, we surrender ourselves to His service as our King. It is the

Holy Spirit who enables us to "sanctify Christ as Lord in our

hearts" (1 Peter 3:15), so that we know daily the benediction of

His sovereign rule in our lives. Our heavenly High Priest, "is seated

at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven" (Heb. 8:1);

but the same crucified Jesus, whom God raised up and made both

Lord and Christ, is at the same time, through the blessing of the

outpoured Holy Spirit, enthroned in every believing heart (Acts

2:36 ff.) Thus the blessing of the prophetic, priestly, and kingly

work of Christ is made a dynamic reality in our experience.

 

                                    INTERCESSION

 

            In consequence of the fact that His priesthood is everlasting,

Christ, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us, "is able for

all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he

always lives to make intercession for them" (7:24-25). Our Lord's

heavenly intercession is His continuing high priestly work whereby

He achieves the divine purpose of "bringing many sons to glory"

(2:10). It is, as we shall see, a most important and necessary work.

"So great and glorious is the work of saving believers unto the

utmost," John Owen comments, "that it is necessary that the Lord

Christ should lead a mediatory life in heaven, for the perfecting

and accomplishment of it: . . . It is generally acknowledged that

sinners could not be saved without the death of Christ; but that

believers could not be saved without the life of Christ following it,

is not so much considered."1

            The most eloquent symbols of the intercessory function of

the high priest are found in the prescriptions for the sacerdotal gar-

ments which Aaron was to wear. In the shoulder-pieces of the

ephod two onyx stones were set on which the names of the sons

of Israel were engraved. These stones are designated "stones of

remembrance," because Aaron bore "their names before the LORD

upon his two shoulders for remembrance." And attached in front

 

1 John Owen, An Exposition to the Epistle to the Hebrews (Philadelphia,

1869), V, 542.



30   /   Bibliotheca Sacra -- January 1974

 

to the two shoulder-pieces of the ephod was the breastpiece in which

were set twelve precious stones, in four rows of three, also engraved

with the names of the twelve sons of Israel; so that Aaron bore "the

names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment upon his

heart" when he went into the sanctuary, "to bring them to con-

tinual remembrance before the LORD (Exod. 28:6-12; 39:1-14).

Thus the people of God were carried by name into the divine

presence, supported, as it were, in their weakness ,on the strong

shoulders of their high priest,. and bound closely to his loving and

compassionate heart. Their high priest was their remembrancer.

            He who is the Good Shepherd knows His own sheep by name

(John 10:3, 13). It is by name that as High Priest He intercedes

for them in the heavenly sanctuary, supporting them with His

victorious strength and ceaselessly surrounding them with His love.

In the hour of testing His help is always at hand (Heb. 2:18).

Precisely because "we have not a high priest who is unable to

sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has

been tempted as we are, yet without sinning," we are encouraged

to "with confidence, draw near to the throne of grace, that we

may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (4:15-16).

In his hour of trial Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, sees the

heavens opened and Jesus standing at God's right hand to support

him in martyrdom and to welcome him into His glorious presence

(Acts 7:55).

            Our Lord's intercession on our behalf is always infallible in

its effectiveness. This we see even during His earthly ministry, for

He assures Simon Peter as the time of his testing approaches:

"I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you

have turned again [as the Master's intercession ensures that He

will], strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:31-32). What confidence

it should give us, not only that our High Priest always intercedes

for us, but also that the Father always hears the Son (John 11:42)!

And above all, in the "High priestly prayer" of John 17 we have

a sacred glimpse of our Redeemer engaging in offering interces-

sion to the Father for those who are His: "I am praying for them;

I am not praying for the world but for those whom thou hast

given me, for they are thine. . . . Holy Father, keep them in thy

name which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as

we are one. . . . I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out

of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil



              The Present Work of Christ in Heaven   /   31

 

one. . . . Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth.... I do not

pray for these only, but also for those who are to believe in me

through their word, that they all may be one. . . . Father, I desire

that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where

I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for

me before the foundation of the world.... " (John 17:9, 11, 15,

17, 20, 24).

            His intercession is our security. "Who will be the accuser of

God's chosen ones?" asks St. Paul. "Will it be God himself? No, He

it is who pronounces acquittal. Who will be the judge to condemn?

Will it be Christ — he who died, and, more than that, was raised

from the dead--who is at God's right hand? No, he it is who

pleads our cause" (Rom. 8:33-34, NEB margin; cf. Phillips: "Who

would dare to accuse us, whom God has chosen? The judge himself

has declared us free from sin. Who is in a position to condemn?

Only Christ, and Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ

reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us," i.e. "intercedes for

us," RSV). Obviously, then, nothing can possibly separate us from

the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, nothing in the whole of

creation — not tribulation, distress, persecution, hunger, nakedness,

peril, sword, not even death (Rom. 8:35-39). When the Christian

falls into sin, Jesus Christ is still his righteousness, for it is still

in Him, and not to the smallest degree in ourselves, that we are

justified before God. There in the heavenly sanctuary He intercedes

as our advocate (paraclete): "If a man should sin," says St. John,

"remember that our advocate before the Father is Jesus Christ the

righteous, the one who made personal atonement for our sins"

(1 John 2:1-2, Phillips).

            Moreover, our Lord's advocacy in heaven is reinforced, so to

speak, by the advocacy of the Holy Spirit within us here on earth,

in accordance with His promise that when He was glorified He

would pray the Father, who would then send another advocate

(paraclete) to be with us forever, even the Spirit of truth (John

14:16-18; cf. 7:39; 16:7). The sending of the Holy Spirit is a

comprehensive blessing for which we are indebted to the intercession

of Christ! And the Holy Spirit, who "bears witness with our

spirit that we are children of God," inwardly "helps us in our

weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the

Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words,"

and he does so in harmony with the will of God (Rom. 8:16, 26-27).



32   /   Bibliotheca Sacra — January 1974

 

Hence the apostolic injunction to "pray at all times in the Spirit"

(Eph. 6:18). The intercession of the Holy Spirit in the temple of

our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19) is united with the intercession of the Son

in the sanctuary of heaven and brings the joy of heaven into the

heart of the believer.

            It follows that, since Christ is the sole mediator between God

and men (1 Tim. 2:5) and our perpetual intercessor in the presence

of God, there is no place for any other intercessor or mediator.

To imagine that saints or angels can be influenced to intercede for

us is not only a delusion, but also casts doubt on the perfect

adequacy of the intercession of Christ on our behalf and thus is to

deprive oneself of the fulness of the security which is available to

us only in Christ. Our Lord clearly taught that no man can come

to the Father except by Him (John 14:6) and that our requests to

God are to be made in His name (John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23,

24, 26), precisely because there is no other name which avails and

prevails with God (cf. Acts 4:12).

            In considering the intercessory work of our heavenly High

Priest, there is of course no place for any kind of "dualistic" notion,

as though a well-disposed Son were attempting to persuade a

hostile Father to regard us with favor. God is not divided, and there

is always perfect harmony between Father and Son. The oneness

in purpose and performance in the relationship between the Father

and the Son was plainly and constantly taught by our Lord, as the

following quotations show: "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can

do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father

doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise;.... I have

come down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of him

who sent me. . . . My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me... .

And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I

always do what is pleasing to him. . . . I and the Father are one:.. .

He who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.

And he who sees me sees him who sent me. . . . Believe me that I

am in the Father and the Father in me" (John 5:19; 6:38; 7:16;

8:29; 10:30; 12:44; 14:11). So also Paul asserts that the whole of

our redemption, from beginning to end, is from God, since "God

was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor. 5:18-21).

And the author of Hebrews places the words of Psalm 40. "Lo, I

have come to do thy will, 0 God," on the lips of Christ, explaining

that "by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of



                 The Present Work of Christ in Heaven   /   33

 

the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (10:7-10). The grace of God

precedes and is the sole cause of our restoration: thus "God shows

his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for

us" (Rom. 5:8). Christ Himself is the supreme manifestation of

God's love (1 John 4:9-10).

            The intercession of the Son, then, is in no sense a pleading

with the Father to change His attitude toward us. Nor does the

Father have to be reminded of the full redemption that He Him-

self has provided for us in His Son. The presence of the Lamb

bearing the marks of His passion in heaven is itself the perpetual

guarantee of our acceptance with God, who gave His Son to be the

propitiation for our sins. In ourselves, however, though we have

the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ and

though we are united to Him in love and trust, we are unworthy

because Christ has not yet been fully formed within us and we still

sinfully fall short of the glory of God. This consideration explains

our continuing need of the advocacy and intercession of Him who

alone is accounted worthy before God (cf. Rev. 5:1-10). It is in

His worthiness that we too rejoice in the blessings of the divine

favor; and it is He who, by virtue of His atoning death on the

cross, has entered as our forerunner into the heavenly sanctuary

(Heb. 6:19-20), thus opening the way for us, unworthy though we

are, into the glorious presence of God Himself. By the grace of

God His merit has been reckoned to us as our merit; His heaven

has become our heaven and His eternal glory our eternal glory.

What, then, could be more appropriate than for me to conclude

these articles, with the great exhortation of Hebrews 10:19-25 — an

exhortation which stands logically on the firm basis of the wonderful

doctrine of divine grace which has been engaging our attention?

            Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary

            by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened

            for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since 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; and let us consider how to stir

            up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet

            together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and

            all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:     x

Dallas Theological Seminary

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