If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you have full access to the Creator and can approach Him without fear of being destroyed. Today, Barry Cooper expresses how Jesus, our Great High Priest, has atoned for our sin and intercedes on our behalf.
There’s a famous picture of President Kennedy sitting in the Oval Office—the most powerful man in the world, ordinarily inaccessible to the average person on the street. And yet, there they are: two small children, a boy and a girl, right in front of his desk. And the president isn’t shooing them away. He’s smiling at them, clapping as they happily dance on the carpet in front of him—because, of course, these are his children.
What people wouldn’t give for that kind of access to the world’s most powerful person. What if we had that kind of access to God?
The word priest is used throughout the Old Testament to describe a person who enters God’s presence on behalf of the people of God. They were mediators, go-betweens. Priests essentially performed two roles on behalf of God’s people. They interceded for them, meaning they spoke to God on behalf of God’s people. And they made sacrifices for them to deal with their sin.
As we saw in another episode of Simply Put, the one about the offices of Christ, Jesus Christ is also a Priest. But He’s described in the New Testament as the “Great High Priest.” That’s because He, too, combines those two priestly roles of interceding and sacrificing, but in an infinitely greater way than any Old Testament priest ever did. Romans chapter 8 says that Christ now sits at God’s right hand interceding for God’s people, which is something that could never be said of any previous priest, and He can do this because He has offered the ultimate sacrifice.
In fact, it’s not merely that He offers a sacrifice on behalf of His people; He Himself is the sacrifice for the sins of His people. He’s both the offering and the offerer. And unlike the sacrifices that had to be made year after year by the Old Testament priests precisely because they could not actually atone for sin, Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself was made once and for all time, because it really does—fully and finally—atone for the sin of His people.
As a result of Jesus’ work as our Great High Priest, all believers are now priests. First Peter 2:9 says that every believer is now part of “a royal priesthood.” This doesn’t mean that we offer atoning sacrifices as the Old Testament priests did. Christ has made the only sacrifice necessary for our atonement. But it does mean that we now have the kind of access those priests had.
And this was always the plan. When God first called His people out of slavery in Egypt, He promised that they would all serve Him as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” But of course, at that stage, God’s people couldn’t freely enter into God’s presence, because if they did, they would be immediately destroyed because of the sin that separated them from the perfectly good and holy God. So, before there could be a kingdom of priests in its fullest sense, sin had to be dealt with. In the Old Testament, because sin had not yet been fully and finally dealt with, God chose a very select band of people who were called specifically from the tribe of Levi to be priests, and they alone represented the people before God. But we’re told that the sacrifices they offered could not atone for sin. They were a symbolic gesture, anticipating the time when the ultimate Priest would come and offer the ultimate sacrifice to deal fully and finally with the sin of God’s people.
Once that was accomplished, all of God’s people could now enter His presence freely. Believers could finally be a kingdom of priests as God had promised they would be. In his book The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Martin Luther says, “All we who are Christians are priests.” Just think about that for a second. If you’re a believer in Christ, you have full access to the Creator and can approach Him without fear of destruction.
We are all priests, thanks to Jesus. But in what sense are we priests? After all, none of us need any longer to offer up sacrifices to atone for sin.
Well, it’s worth noting that not all of the priestly sacrifices in the Old Testament were atoning in nature. In a similar way, according to the New Testament, we as priests have “spiritual sacrifices” that we are to offer up to God. One of those is the “sacrifice” of praise. Hebrews chapter 13 says:
Through [Christ] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
As it says elsewhere, we are to “proclaim the excellencies” of the One who has saved us.
We’re also to offer up the “sacrifice” of living holy lives. As Paul puts it in Romans chapter 12:
Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
What a privilege, if we’re in Christ the Great High Priest, that you and I can rightly call ourselves priests:
You are a chosen race [says the writer of Hebrews], a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
As priests, we can enter God’s presence because of Christ’s priestly work.
And we can do it freely. We have the kind of access that a dearly beloved child has to a smiling, doting father.