(A Series of Lessons in the 37 Articles of The Confession of Faith, A Reformed Creed usually called The Belgic Confession.)
Lesson 18—Article 21 THE SATISFACTION OF CHRIST, OUR ONLY HIGH PRIEST
We believe that Jesus Christ is ordained with an oath to be an everlasting High Priest, after the order of Melchizedek; and that he has presented himself in our behalf before the Father to appease his wrath by his full satisfaction, by offering himself on the tree of the cross, and pouring out his precious blood to purge away our sins, as the prophets had foretold. For it is written: He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and numbered with the transgressors; and condemned by Pontius Pilate as a malefactor, though he had first declared him innocent. Therefore, he restored that which he took not away and suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous, as well in his body as in his soul, feeling the terrible punishment which our sins had merited; in so much that his sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground. He called out: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? and has suffered all this for the remission of our sins.
Wherefore we justly say with the apostle Paul that we know nothing save Jesus Christ, and him crucified; we count all things but loss and refuse for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose wounds we find all manner or consolation. Neither is it necessary to seek or invent any other means of being reconciled to God than this only sacrifice, once offered, by which he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.
This is also the reason why he was called by the angel of God, JESUS, that is to say, SAVIOR, because he would save his people from their sins.
Scripture References :
Hebrews 5:6 (Christ an everlasting High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.)
Isaiah 53:4–12 (The prophet’s prediction of the atoning work of Jesus Christ.)
Isaiah 69:4 (The hatred of his enemies is the occasion for the sacrifice of Christ.)
Luke 22:14; Matthew 27:16 (The terrible suffering of our Savior.)
Philippians 3:8; 1 Corinthians 2:2 (The central and exclusive significance of the crucified Christ for his redeemed children.)
Hebrews 9:14 (Christ executes the office of priest in offering himself as a sacrifice to God.)
Hebrews 9:28 (Christ offered once for the sins of many.)
Matthew 1:21 (Joseph commanded to name Mary’s child “Jesus” and the reason for the propriety of that name.)
1. Why does the Christian church pay so much attention to the doctrine of the work of Christ as High Priest?
The work of Christ in his priestly office is or central importance to the believer. Surely the work of Christ as prophet, priest and king is a unity and we should realize that no part of it is non-essential, yet at the very heart and center of his work as our Redeemer lies his priestly sacrifice in our behalf. This all-important priestly work is the work of Christ as our atonement, in which he presents himself as a sacrifice to gain full satisfaction from God for the sins of his people.
2. What is the nature of Christ’s office as High Priest according to the 21st article of the Belgic Confession?
a. Christ “is ordained with an oath to be an everlasting High Priest.” Already in eternity, so to speak, God had designated the Son to be the great office-bearer or God. He is therefore in truth an “everlasting High Priest.” Christ is “our only High Priest, who by the one sacrifice of his body has redeemed us, and makes continual intercession for us with the Father” (Heidelberg Catechism , q. 31). Christ deserves all our praise as the everlasting, pre-eminent High Priest. Secured with an oath, this assignment was undertaken in obedience to the Father.
b. As an everlasting High Priest Christ functioned immediately after the Fall in Paradise. So the Lord speaks in very plain terms to Adam and Eve of a redemption to be wrought by Christ, “the seed of the woman.” Satan was not for one moment able to claim real triumph over God and his people, for the Son had been ordained as the one who should bear continuously the redemptive office. Christ was thus ordained of God, which means that our salvation is in God’s hands altogether. His sovereign grace is its origin and cause.
3. Why does our Confession add: “after the order of Melchizedek?”
a. This indicates that our Savior is not a priest after the inferior, derived Aaronic order, but of the superior, original order of Melchizedek. In Genesis 14 we read of the meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, in which Abraham gave him “tithes of all” and Melchizedek blessed Abraham. Psalm 110, Hebrews 5:6, 10; 6:20 and Hebrews 7 speaks of Melchizedek. Melchizedek was priest-king of Salem; his name means “king of righteousness” and Salem means “peace.” It is usually explained that Melchizedek held an office which reflected the original office held by Adam before the Fall. Christ was a priest, therefore, not because of his relationship to Aaron, but by God’s own appointment. He is our High Priest as the second Adam.
b. Christ is also after the order of Melchizedek in that he is a perfect, complete High Priest. The order of Aaron was imperfect, something temporary which foreshadowed the coming of a priest whose person and work would be altogether perfect. The Confession here rightly emphasizes that Christ’s people have a full and complete satisfaction as result of their Redeemer’s work, so that they need not add or devise any other reconciliation than that which he has accomplished. “If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron? (Heb. 7:11).
c. The order of Melchizedek is Christ’s in that his is an everlasting, imperishable priesthood. The Adamic priesthood was perishable. Adam lost his right to the office by his fall into sin. Aaron’s office was also perishable. “For there is verily a disannuling of the commandment going before for the weakness and the unprofitableness thereof” (Heb. 7:18). “But this man, because he continueth ever, hath all unchangeable priesthood” (Heb. 7:24). This is based upon the oath of God, “for the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore” (Heb. 7:28). The Old Testament priests, no matter how long they lived, died eventually and had to be succeeded by another. Only Christ is indeed “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life…” and “abideth a priest continually.”
Such a High Priest “has presented himself in our behalf before the Father, to appease his wrath by his full satisfaction…”
4. How is it possible for Christ to suffer in our place as our substitute?
We cannot understand the substitutionary atonement unless we proceed from the biblical idea of the covenant. Adam broke the covenant of works. Thereupon Christ appeared as the second Adam. He took upon himself that covenant and its requirements. That covenant is and remains for Christ a covenant of works, while for us it has become a covenant of grace. Christ has come to stand in the place of Adam, and therefore his work is substitutionary in character. Christ is thus said to be the mediator of the covenant of grace. The relationship between the mediator of the covenant and those with whom that covenant has been established is a very intimate relationship. We are one plant with him in the likeness of his death, and shall be one plant with him in the likeness of his resurrection (Rom. 6:5). Christ therefore acts as our representative in all things pertaining to God. For his sake in the way of the covenant we obtain forgiveness of sins.
5. Why does the Confession confidently affirm that we need not “seek or invent any other means of being reconciled to God than his only sacrifice?”
Because Christ as the surety of a better covenant has secured every blessing of redemption by his sacrificial, priestly work. He is our surety with God, through whom we are assured that everything required by the justice of God has been done for us and in our place.
6. Was it necessary for Christ to suffer so terribly?
Yes, the Old Testament prophets had consistently predicted thaI the sacrifice for sin would be no token performance of obedience to God, but would rather be an awful and profound suffering of the wrath or God. Isaiah’s 53rd chapter is aptly quoted by our Confession here, a chapter which might have been written by an eye-witness at Calvary. Christ properly chides the travelers to Emmaus by saying, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not the Christ. to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?”
7. Why was it necessary for him to suffer “as well in his body as in his soul?”
Because he would pay the full price of our sin. “Body and soul” indicates the completeness of his sacrifice in our behalf. We as men were created body and soul and have become totally depraved, and require a Redeemer who can save us as “men,” that is, body and soul. To save us, Christ our surety, suffered horrible bodily pain, and his soul became exceeding sorrowful even unto death.
8. Could Christ possibly pay for our sins in such a short space of time?
We must understand that his suffering was most intensive in character. In hell the unbeliever will suffer extensively and everlastingly for his sins and never come to final payment. Christ, however is represented here as completing the work of satisfaction in a comparatively short space of time. Being very God and real righteous man, he is able to take upon his powerful shoulders the burden of God’s wrath against the sin of his people and deliver them from it. He can utter in truth the cry of triumph: “It is finished!” This is another reason why the believer delights to magnify his wonderful Redeemer!
9. But is it actually true that Christ’s sacrifice is a perfect sacrifice for all the sins of all his people?
Some have affirmed that we cannot believe in literal payment for every sin by Christ with God for his people. They teach that the atonement is something like the generous cancellation of a huge debt by a kind doctor upon presentation of a small part of her bill by an earnest but poverty-stricken widow. So Christ demonstrates the good intentions of his people, and God accepts the partial payment his work represents as if it were full satisfaction. This is not the teaching of the Scriptures or the Reformed Faith. Actually God does demand full and real payment for every last sin! And Christ in his perfect work as our High Priest does indeed offer just such payment in our behalf. Our sins are not merely offenses of a type which good intentions or sincere remorse can wipe out. They are offenses which atonement alone can erase, and Christ’s great sacrifice is the sacrifice which is justly acceptable to God as a complete payment. By the “pouring out of his precious blood” he has “purged away our sins.”
10. Is it true that Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that Christ has wrought a super-adundance of good works, upon which believers may draw?
Yes, based upon its distinction between the eternal and temporal punishment for sin, Rome teaches that although Christ has fully secured eternal benefit for his people, by way of penitence, prayer, good works, and purgatory they must strive to escape temporal punishment. Christ has placed in the safe of the Church, so to speak, the over-flow of the benefits he has gained by way of his suffering and death. The Church holds the combination to this safe, and can use these extra blessings to help its children in their desire to be relieved of as much o[ purgatory as possible. But, truth is that Christ has borne both eternal and temporal punishment. He is a perfect Savior. Christ has borne the full punishment.
11. But isn’t the suffering of Christ of infinite value?
Yes, for it is true as is expressed in the Canons or Dort II, 3: “The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.” The atonement of Christ is limited. It is intended only for the elect, although it is of sufficient value to pay for the sins of all men and more. Really the idea of extra or of a super-abundance of Christ’s benefits is quite impossible. It is linked with the idea that sins are so many individual instances which can be summed up, evaluated and paid for, either by the person himself or by Christ. Christ’s work is not to be cut up into little pieces; it is a unity, and as such of endless value. It is like the sun, which must shine in all its glory even though there are but two people on the earth or millions, for the benefit of a single blade of grass or the growth of an immense forest.
The atonement is intended only and secured for the elect, every one of them, but it is more than adequate in value for all men. That so many perish is not because of the limitatous of Christ’s satisfactory work but due to the unbelief in which so many reject him.
12. What error concerning Christ’s work is to be seen in modern “liberalism?”
“Modernism” or “liberalism” has no use for the idea of a substitutionary atonement from sin. It would crown Christ as king and hear him as prophet without the Cross, without the blood. We must not be deceived by its impressive talk or a Kingdom of Christ which is not based upon the necessary reconciliation of God with sinners through Jesus Christ. The only real Christ is the Christ of the Scriptures, the Christ of the Cross and the atonement.
13. What is our obligation in service over against this wonderful Redeemer?
It is ours to know our Savior as the one who is the only Redeemer. Therefore we must deliberately know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified; he must be the perennial subject of our study and witness. We must evaluate everything we might lose in his service, no matter how attractive, how precious, as dispensable, as refuse compared to the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, our Lord. For he suffered so much for us! He was adjudged a malefactor, although he was innocent, in our behalf, so that we might be innocent. He loved us unto the end. It would be of great blessing for the church of today if it would gain a fresh appreciation of the exclusive character of Christ as our mediator. Surely this would be a real antidote to the poisonous Spirit of indifference and worldly-mindedness!