As we have come to see in our studies in Exodus, and particularly with reference to the tabernacle, the older covenant shadows pointed to the substantive fulfilment in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were pointers to the new covenant. They prepared the way for the administration of God’s gracious covenant under the new covenant. Ritual was always designed to give way to reality.
Perhaps we could put it this way: Everything under the older covenant was, in a very real sense, a “dress rehearsal” for the real event.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians and reminded them that the law of God was a schoolmaster or tutor that leads to Christ (Galatians 3:24ff). He said this in the past tense. That is, the law of God was a schoolmaster that led the church to Christ. What did he mean?
Simply stated, the entire law of God—not merely the Ten Commandments but the entire old covenantal legal system—was a training ground by which the Lord prepared the nation of Israel, the old covenant church, for the eventual arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s final word to man.
The entire Old Testament-prescribed form of worship was designed by God for the purpose of overwhelming sinners with the weightiness of their sin problem, so that they would be able to more clearly appreciate their need for a Saviour. It was designed to enlighten them to see their need for the Saviour, Jesus Christ (whose name means “Jehovah is salvation”).
Many have referred to the plotline of the Bible as “the drama of redemption.” The theme of the Bible is the glory of God in redeeming creation from failure and futility; God’s redemption of a fallen world from sin and sorrow. This theme is seen in various dramas as recorded in the inspired record of the Bible. Story after story testifies in some way to the overriding story of redemption. Through promises, persons and pictures the plot moves toward the one who would perfectly fulfil all of these. The audience of humanity (as well as the angelic hosts) waited in anticipation for the lifting of the final curtain when the full and final act of redemption was really performed on the stage of history. This, of course, occurred in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. All that preceded was essential, bit only as a dress rehearsal for the main event.
The tabernacle, with its priesthood, was part and parcel of this divinely-directed dress rehearsal.
It was therefore essential, when it came to the tabernacle and its worship, that every prescribed element be fully obeyed. In fact, since belief and behaviour are intricately related, the people’s obedience to God’s prescribed means of approaching Him was an act of faith—or at least it was designed to be. That is why it is important to note the eighteenfold reference in Exodus 39—40 to the phrase “as the LORD commanded Moses” (or something similar). Apart from such detailed obedience the tabernacle would fail to be a witness of God’s covenantal faithfulness (38:21). Such attention to inspired and prescribed detail was never more important than when it came to the manufacturing of the garments for the high priest and his associated priests. In fact, failure here could result in death (see 28:35, 43). Perhaps this is why we read the phrase “as the LORD had commanded Moses” seven times in the passage that describes the making of these garments. It was essential for the welfare of the nation that Moses be able to look upon the finished product and give it the divine SABS stamp of approval.
The reason that it was so important for the priests and the high priest be clothed in accordance with God’s requirements was, of course, because they were appointed to intercede for God’s people. If they were not specifically dressed, and if the high priest was not impeccably dressed, then they would not be successful in their function to represent the people of Israel to God. As we learned in an earlier study (27:20—28:43), the priests had to be dressed for success; that is, they had to be dressed in accordance with Scripture’s prescription.
And yet, as we well know, the garments and the ministry of the Levitical priesthood were in many ways merely a “dress rehearsal” for a better day (cf. Hebrews 7:19-8:2). God provided these costumes for those who interceded for His people, and yet they were only stand-ins for the real star, the Lord Jesus Christ.
As we study these verses together, I trust that we will be further grounded in the gospel of God and further equipped to live as His holy priesthood. But this will only occur if we grasp the reality that the Levitical priesthood was a dress rehearsal for the eventual High Priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Exodus 39 we have the second account of the garments of the priesthood (see Exodus 28). Of course, in this passage, we are reading the record of the actual manufacturing of the garments. Therefore some of what I say here will be review of previous material, but we will consider it with a view to how this relates to us under the new covenant. In other words, we will give a review of that dress rehearsal with a view to its perfect performance 1,400 years later.
The Colours were Heavenly
As we briefly review the wardrobe we need to realise that, as with the rest of the tabernacle, there is deep symbolism here. This can be seen, first of all, in the colours of the high priestly garments: “Of the blue, purple, and scarlet thread they made garments of ministry, for ministering in the holy place, and made the holy garments for Aaron, as the Lord had commanded Moses” (v. 1).
The high priest was the people’s representative before God. Therefore, for a Jew living in those days, “there was all manner of symbolism wrapped up in the garment that the priest was wearing, because your attention was to be focused on him for in one sense he was you. The priest was doing what he was doing in your place.”1 In other words, his outfit before God had everything to do with your outcome before the holy God!
As with the colours in the sanctuary, the colours and the material used in the high priest’s garments were heavenly. That is, the high priest’s clothing reflected something of the presence of God (v. 1). These were the same colours used in the door to the courtyard, the door to the Holy Place, the ceiling within the Holy Place as well as the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place.
Further, you will remember that gold was used within the sanctuary proper, while bronze and silver were used for construction of everything else that was not directly connected with the sanctuary. The reason, of course, was that the sanctuary proper was the dwelling place of God. It was heaven on earth. And since the high priest would serve there, his garments were weaved with gold thread.
Others have described the high priest in this colourful garment as a kind of “vertical replica of the tabernacle” and a “mini-tabernacle”—almost “part of the tabernacle structure itself.” “The high priest’s sacred garments showed that he belonged in God’s sanctuary.”2
In other words, the high priest was the means to access to God. He needed to be dressed properly if he would be admitted. There was a heavenly dress code. And there still is.
Again, it should be noted that this was merely a dress rehearsal for a later day—the day in which you and I live, which was inaugurated with the first advent of our Lord and Saviour. “Jesus is the whole high priestly line and, indeed, all of Israel, all the people of God reduced to one.”3
As Christ’s priests, we should daily put on our heavenly garments; namely, Christ Himself (see Romans 13:11-14; Ephesians 4:17-24).
The Clothing was Heavy
Verses 2-26 record the various pieces of the high priest’s garments as they were manufactured.
He made the ephod of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and of fine woven linen. And they beat the gold into thin sheets and cut it into threads, to work it in with the blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and the fine linen, into artistic designs. They made shoulder straps for it to couple it together; it was coupled together at its two edges. And the intricately woven band of his ephod that was on it was of the same workmanship, woven of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and of fine woven linen, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
And they set onyx stones, enclosed in settings of gold; they were engraved, as signets are engraved, with the names of the sons of Israel. He put them on the shoulders of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
And he made the breastplate, artistically woven like the workmanship of the ephod, of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and of fine woven linen. They made the breastplate square by doubling it; a span was its length and a span its width when doubled. And they set in it four rows of stones: a row with a sardius, a topaz, and an emerald was the first row; the second row, a turquoise, a sapphire, and a diamond; the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They were enclosed in settings of gold in their mountings. There were twelve stones according to the names of the sons of Israel: according to their names, engraved like a signet, each one with its own name according to the twelve tribes. And they made chains for the breastplate at the ends, like braided cords of pure gold. They also made two settings of gold and two gold rings, and put the two rings on the two ends of the breastplate. And they put the two braided chains of gold in the two rings on the ends of the breastplate. The two ends of the two braided chains they fastened in the two settings, and put them on the shoulder straps of the ephod in the front. And they made two rings of gold and put them on the two ends of the breastplate, on the edge of it, which was on the inward side of the ephod. They made two other gold rings and put them on the two shoulder straps, underneath the ephod toward its front, right at the seam above the intricately woven band of the ephod. And they bound the breastplate by means of its rings to the rings of the ephod with a blue cord, so that it would be above the intricately woven band of the ephod, and that the breastplate would not come loose from the ephod, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
He made the robe of the ephod of woven work, all of blue. And there was an opening in the middle of the robe, like the opening in a coat of mail, with a woven binding all around the opening, so that it would not tear. They made on the hem of the robe pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet, and of fine woven linen. And they made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates on the hem of the robe all around between the pomegranates: a bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate, all around the hem of the robe to minister in, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
The first piece was the ephod (vv. 2-6). This was a sort of waistcoat, and was the most important part of the high priest’s garb. It was an enigmatic piece of clothing made of blue, scarlet, purple and gold threads, woven into fine linen. On each shoulder was an onyx stone. On each stone was engraved six of the names of the tribes of Israel.
Over the ephod was a “breastplate” (vv. 8-21) or, better, a “vest” or “breastpiece.” On it were fastened twelve precious stones (in four rows of three each), and each stone was engraved the name of one of the tribes of Israel. The breastpiece was then secured to the ephod by gold rings. It was tightly secured to the priest so that whenever he entered the sanctuary, God’s people would be securely represented.
This breastpiece was doubled over to form a pouch, in which the Urim and Thummim were placed. These served as lots by which the high priest would make decisions with regard to God’s people. The reason that they are not mentioned here is doubtless because these two stones were not manufactured.
Underneath the ephod was a robe “of woven work, all of blue” (vv. 22-26). This was a seamless garment whose colour perhaps speaks of glory or deity, and whose wholeness speaks of integrity.
At the bottom of the robe was interspersed cloth pomegranates, which speaks of fruitfulness (such fruit are filled with seeds, and the Promised Land was full of them), and golden bells. The bells were a means of announcing the coming of the high priest into the house of God, as well as to remind him of where he was going and of what he was doing.
Clearly, the high priestly garments were, literally, very heavy. And symbolically they were heavy as well.
The garments would have been heavy for the high priest to wear, but not as heavy as the responsibility he had to bear. You see, the high priest interceded for the people. He represented the people before God. And, as each piece of the wardrobe indicates, he carried the welfare of the nation on his shoulders and close to his heart.
The continuity here is obvious. The Lord Jesus Christ constantly carries the welfare of His people on His heart and on His shoulders. He is sympathetic and supportive (Hebrews 2:17-18). He is constantly shouldering us before the Father (Hebrews 7:25). And the Father is glad for this!
The Costume was Holy
In vv. 27-31 we have the record of the manufacturing of the final pieces of the high priest’s garments.
They made tunics, artistically woven of fine linen, for Aaron and his sons, a turban of fine linen, exquisite hats of fine linen, short trousers of fine woven linen, and a sash of fine woven linen with blue, purple, and scarlet thread, made by a weaver, as the LORD had commanded Moses. Then they made the plate of the holy crown of pure gold, and wrote on it an inscription like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO THE LORD. And they tied to it a blue cord, to fasten it above on the turban, as the LORD had commanded Moses.
The tunic, trousers and turban were of white linen, which speaks of holiness. As we learned earlier, it was important that the high priest’s nakedness was never seen, and the tunic and trousers served this purpose. It should not be overlooked that, before sin entered the world, nakedness was testimony to sinless transparency. But after sin entered the world, nakedness was no longer “safe.” It now testified to the shame of having lost face-to-face communion with God.
The “sash” tied the wardrobe together, but there was a final and vital piece remaining and that was the gold plate (“mitre”), on which was engraved the words, “HOLINESS TO THE LORD.” Everything about the garments had the character of holiness. In other words, these obviously were not normal clothes. They were different. These were not for ordinary use. And the priests did not wear these at all times. In fact, it would appear from Scripture that the high priest would only put on these garments once he entered the door into the courtyard and after he had been ceremonially washed.
These clothes were “costumes” that set apart Aaron and his sons from the rest of the crowd. This was God’s prescribed means to teach the nation of Israel that He is holy. Yes, God desired to dwell with His people but He can only be worshipped in the beauty of holiness. This is a lesson that we would do well to remember.
Now, some may not be comfortable with my use of the word “costume” with reference to these garments, but I use the word deliberately to make a point.
In a very real sense, the sons of Aaron were only dressing up in a costume. In a very real sense, they were only playacting. There is no doubt that many took their God-appointed responsibility seriously, but at the end of the day, while they could dress the part, they could not perfectly perform the part.
Let me put it this way: Though they could dress up as holy, they themselves were not holy. Externally they looked divine, but internally they were depraved; externally they looked sanctified, but internally they were sinful; externally they reflected light, but inwardly their hearts were often filled with darkness. In other words, this was merely a dress rehearsal for the one who would match inwardly what He was outwardly.
Fast forward several hundred years to the days of King David. The high priest was dressed in his prescribed regalia, about to enter the sanctuary proper. As he did so he reflected upon a psalm written by David who asked the all-important question, “LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?” (Psalm 15:1). Who, indeed?
The high priest then contemplated the requirements that David noted, “He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart; he who does not backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbour, nor does he take up a reproach against his friend” (vv. 2-3).
At this point perhaps the son of Aaron was thinking about the juicy bit of gossip that he recently shared, or the time the previous day when he lost his temper, or the lie he told earlier that week. He perhaps was chastened because on the way to the tabernacle he saw an attractive woman and entertained a lustful thought. He may at this point have been thinking that it was time to resign from the ministry. After all, who was he to represent a sinful nation before a holy God? He too was a sinner in need of a Saviour.
As he contemplated the sinfulness of his own heart he shuddered to think of the last line of David’s poem: “He who does these things shall never be moved” (v. 5). He expected to be moved; in fact, he expected to be shaken and destroyed in the presence of God!
And then he thought again. “But wait,” he perhaps cried with hope. “I can still go in to represent the people—and my sinful self—not because of who I am, but rather because of what I am wearing! After all, I am wearing the clothes that God prescribed for me. He was the one who made the rules and who designed these clothes, so they must be fireproofed against the indignation of His wrath!” And so, emboldened by this thought, he put on the wardrobe and entered the sanctuary, where the Lord accepted his intercession.
But now consider the trip home. Don’t you suppose that on the way home his conscience may have bothered him again? He knew that his sins and the sins of the people had been covered, but had they really been cleansed? Perhaps he saw the same attractive woman and his thoughts turned sinful again. Perhaps he was weary of the battle and felt the burden that he needed to sacrifice again—for his own sin.
Was there not a need for a Priest who was actually holy, and who therefore who had no need to offer sacrifices for His own sin?
As he asked the question he perhaps began to meditate on the Word, and was reminded of a gospel promise tucked away in Genesis 3:15 and repeated in the many pictures throughout biblical history. This priest then began to pray: “Even so, come, Messiah!” He perhaps cried out, “Please dear God, I am only pretending, for I know that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins. I know that I am a sinner in as much need of forgiveness as those whom I represent. Lord, I feel like a fraud! Please bring to an end these hundreds of years of dress rehearsals and give us reality in the place of ritual; give us performance in the place of practice; give us perfection in the place of failure. Please raise the curtain for the long awaited perfect High Priestly performance!”
And as I trust we are all well aware, that day did come. The costumes were forever put away because the great and perfect and eternal High Priest arrived on stage. All the dress rehearsals had come to a grinding halt. This was the real deal.
The Christ was their Hope
We live on the other side of the dress rehearsal, having the record of the High Priest who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens (Hebrews 10:1). We are privileged to have seen the everlasting covenant historically performed in space-time events. And, unlike many dress rehearsals, there was no mistake in His “performance.” There could not be, or else we would be of all men most to be pitied.
Our Lord’s perfect obedience showed up the flaws of the Levitical priesthood. The unblemished character of our Lord highlighted the blemishes of the most perfect of all sacrificial animals. In fact, our High Priest came and put all those who previously “acted” in His place to shame, while at the same time removing their shame.
While the dress rehearsals carried on day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, and century after century, they just could never get it right. And how could they since they were sinners representing sinners?
Yes, the divine Director was gracious to overlook many transgressions over centuries of countless dress rehearsals. Nevertheless He could only do so because the day would come when practice would give way to perfection (see Romans 3:21-26; Hebrews 7:19; 9:9-11; 10:1; 11:40). Praise the Lord for our High Priest who is heard because of His holiness (Hebrews 5:7; see Psalm 24:3-10).
The reason that the Lord Jesus Christ perfectly performed was because He was perfect! Think about the perfections of His priesthood. It was perfect in its person. It was perfect in its purity. It was perfect in its performance. It was perfect in its perpetuity. And it was ultimately perfect in its passion—in His sufferings (Hebrews 2:10; 5:9). The Lord Jesus Christ was proven to be perfect and that is why on the cross He could cry out, “It is finished!”
There would never again be the need for another human priest to offer up another sacrificial animal. No longer would the priests need to wear their special garments. No longer would the high priest be required to carry blood on Yom Kippur to the mercy seat. No longer would the women who served at the door of the sanctuary have any need to do so. No longer would the bronze altar be in use. No longer would a regular Jew be excluded from the Holy of Holies, for indeed the proof that all the dress rehearsals were now to be a thing of the past was indicated by God tearing of the veil in two—from top to bottom! God did more than raise a curtain for the final redemptive act; He completely took it out of the way!
Praise God that the dress rehearsals came to an end and that the main event was perfectly performed. In fact it was so perfectly performed that it would never again need to be performed. It was a once for all “performance,” in which a despicably evil audience was openly defeated (Colossians 2:13-15) and in which at the same time a desperately evil audience found hope.
The former audience howled in protest and disapproval and the latter, to this very day, shouts words of affirmation and asks for an encore of grace. And though, thankfully, that performance of sacrificial mercy will never be repeated, the effects of the performance continue to be made known by exposition and experience around the globe.
Truly, and I say this with reverence, the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ was the greatest “show” on earth. It was, and forever will be, the greatest story ever told; the greatest story ever realised in history. Yes, the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, on which our High Priest shed His holy blood, showed the universe (and continues to show the universe) the love, mercy and grace of God, and at the same time the holy wrath of a holy God.
Let me now ask you what I hope will be a searching question: Are you tired of your own dress rehearsals?
Consider that perhaps your frequent church attendance is nothing more than attendance. You are perhaps operating under the assumption that, by attending church, you are becoming a better person, and that with each successive visit you are improving your performance.
Incidentally, I don’t doubt that this might be the case. The fact is that associating with people who are seeking to live more in accordance with God’s law may well rub off on you. You may have found that, by attending church and receiving biblical instruction, you are living a better, more moral life. Perhaps formerly you could deny the existence of God with the best of your fellow atheists/agnostics but now you know that such denials are as futile as they are foolish. Or perhaps you may find that, since you started associating with God-worshippers, you no longer use foul language. Or maybe you no longer get drunk, or steal, or cheat on your spouse, etc. Your behaviour may well have changed.
If that describes you it is to be commended. At the same time, if that is all that you have gotten from these weekly “performances” then you are in no condition for your final showing on the stage of God’s Judgement Day. Your weekly performance may be making you a more moral and a better person—externally—but if you have not come to see your desperate condition before the Lord then you have entirely missed the point. All of your self-willed performance will never avail to empower you to prevail before the searching eyes of a holy God. In other words, yes, you need to keep attending this place of worship; yes, you need to work on better behaviour—that which conforms to God’s law—but you need to do so while at the same time quitting your efforts to playact.
Quit pretending. Confess that, apart from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ as demonstrated on the cross and confirmed by His resurrection, you are hopeless. Stop competing with Him. You are only pretending holiness while He has perfected it. Trust in Christ and in Christ alone!
The tabernacle and its prescribed worship, in many ways, was designed for the purpose of producing desperation in the hearts of the people drawn to its door. It was such an elaborate process (see Leviticus) that one would almost despair of ever being accepted by God. After all, how could one follow all of these prescriptions?
It seems to me that there is a relevant parallel with us today. Until we too come to the point of desperation we too will never come to the end of ourselves and thus cry out for mercy. Matthew Henry puts it so well:
Christ is our great High Priest. When he undertook the work of our redemption, he put on the clothes of service—he arrayed himself with the gifts and graces of the Spirit, which he received not by measure—girded himself with the girdle of resolution to go through with his undertaking—charged himself with all God’s spiritual Israel, bare them on his shoulders, carried them in his bosom, laid them near his heart, engraved them on the palms of his hands, and presented them in the breastplate of judgement unto his Father. And he crowned himself with holiness to the Lord, consecrating his whole undertaking to the honour of his Father’s holiness.4
Hallelujah, what a Saviour!
Believer, perhaps you too need a similar and yet different admonition. It is right to seek to live for the Lord and to pursue Christlikeness. But be careful of the subtle danger of assuming that your religious deeds give you some improved standing with God. The only basis that we have to be accepted by God is the merit of Christ. “Before the throne of God above, I have a strong and perfect plea; a great High Priest whose name is love, who ever lives and pleads for me.”
Only Christ has perfectly fulfilled the law; He alone has performed perfectly. When the best of men has been the best of Christians, he is still only at best a man. In fact, the critique of our performance will be that our deeds were merely filthy rags—unless of course they are performed in and through Christ.
Remember, Jesus was not without His critics. But they judged Him from their own script, not from the holy script of the triune God. The Father confirmed that the Son had perfectly performed the script when He said at His baptism, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). He affirmed this again on the mountain where Jesus was transfigured (Matthew 17:1-5). And finally, by the resurrection from the dead God forever declared Him to be the perfect, sinless, holy Son of God (Romans 1:1-4; 1 Timothy 3:16; Acts 13:30; 17:31; Galatians 1:1; Col 2:12). Jesus perfectly fulfilled everything that the Law demanded and that God’s prescription for the tabernacle required.
It is this perfection which gives the believer confidence before the throne of God above. And it is only this in which the believer finds his rest. In other words, we are not accepted by our performance (the “weakness” of the Levitical priesthood proves this—Hebrews 7:17-19) but rather only and always because of the perfect, sinless performance of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour (Hebrews 9:28).
That, my friend, is good news. That is, in fact, very good news! That, in other words, is the gospel!
Believer, remember and rejoice that the Lord Jesus Christ continues to intercede for you. Calvin says it beautifully,
Out of Christ we are all corrupt, and all our worship is faulty; and however excellent our actions may seem . . . they are still unclean and polluted. Thus, therefore, let all our senses remain fixed on the forehead of our sole and perpetual Priest. . . . Our acts of obedience, when they come into God’s sight, are mingled with iniquity, which exposes us to His judgement, unless Christ should sanctify them.5
And again, “We must remember the reason why our High Priest is said to bear us on His shoulders. . . . We are plunged into the lowest depths of death; how then should we be able to ascend to heaven, unless the Son of God should raise us up with him? . . . We must be borne up by His strength alone. . . . However weak then we may be in ourselves, herein is all our strength, that we are His burden.”5
There is another aspect of the high priest’s “dress rehearsal” under the old covenant that is now fulfilled in the real thing today; namely, the priesthood of all believers. We need to realise afresh the blessing of the priesthood of all believers. Let us have a renewed appreciation of all that this entails.
These prescribed garments set apart the Levitical family from the rest of the tribes. They were a distinctive tribe with distinct responsibilities. They were different. They were different for the simple reason that God had decreed it to be so and He dressed them accordingly.
Under the new covenant there is also only one family declared to be holy. There is only one family that is entitled to be dressed as holy. And, as under the old covenant, it is reserved for those who are related to the High Priest. Of course, I am speaking of all of those who can call God their Father because the High Priest is also their Brother (Hebrews 2:11)!
Since we are the priesthood of God in Christ then certainly our responsibility for holiness has continuity as well.
It is vital that the church returns to an understanding of what it means to be holy; of the biblical demand to be holy. Holiness is not an option but a requirement (Hebrews 12:14). We are to be holy even as He is holy (Leviticus 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15-16). With reference to Christians being holy, Matthew Henry wrote, “Holiness to the Lord must be so written upon their foreheads, that all who converse with them may see that they bear the image of God’s holiness, and are devoted to the praise of it.”7
But we also need to see that, while the old covenant priesthood was a dress rehearsal for the real performance of intercession by Christ, it is also true that how the church lives today is a dress rehearsal for that day when we will be glorified. Then we will perfectly fulfil our calling to be holy, as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16; see Hebrews 12:23; 13:21).
We live in the best of times. It is true that those who have lived from Calvary onward have lived in the light of the more glorious new covenant (see 2 Corinthians 3). The writer to the Hebrews makes this point on several occasions. We live in a better day because the opportunity to exercise saving faith is no longer restricted to a particular piece of real estate. We live in a better day because salvation is not restricted to the intercession of a particular priestly family. We live in a better day because we no longer need to offer up animals as atonement for sin. We live in a better day because we are not seeing merely anticipatory shadows but are instead looking back to substantive fulfilment. And, finally, we live in a better day primarily because the Spirit of God has been sent by the Father and the Son to save a multitude of people that no man can number. We need to pause here to reflect on this truth.
It needs to be emphasised over and over that there is little evidence that the majority of those who lived under the older covenant did not realise what it was to truly live within God’s gated community. If this was the case with reference to those who were of the nation of Israel, how much more was it the case with reference to those who were outside of that chosen and privileged nation?
Among other things, this highlights that salvation is truly of the Lord. It is only by His sovereign grace that anyone was saved under the older covenant and the same must be said of those who live within the light of the new covenant. We tend to think that it is easier to believe in our age than in a previous age. And in some ways, at a certain human and natural level, this may be true. But let us never forget that, apart from the Lord opening otherwise spiritually blind eyes, no one will believe on the Lord and be saved. Apart from the divinely bestowed ability to see Christ as the one whose death substitutes for yours, you could never really believe.
We should be grateful to God that we live in a time in which the Spirit of God is working so lavishly among the nations. We should be so grateful that He continues to move over the face of the waters preparing to bring chaos into cosmos. It is because of the Spirit’s work that the light shines out of darkness, and that the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in face of Jesus Christ pierces otherwise eternally darkened hearts.
Because we live in the best of times we should be the best of stewards. Let us be faithful priests unto our God (Revelation 1:5-6) with a view to pointing a lost world to the glorious High Priest.
One day the entire world will acknowledge that Jesus Christ was the one to whom all the dress rehearsals pointed. May we participate as a means towards God’s end that the audience will increase who will give an eternal ovation to the one who has performed as the High Priest with perfection. Praise God, the dress rehearsals are over!
- J. Ligon Duncan, “Priestly Garments,” http://goo.gl/DDyyN. ↩
- Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005), 1134. ↩
- Duncan, “Priestly Garments,” http://goo.gl/DDyyN. ↩
- Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 3 vols. (Nashville: Royal Publishers, 1979), 1:226. ↩
- John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 22 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 3.1:315. ↩
- John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 22 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 3.1:315. ↩
- Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1:226. ↩