Saviour of the World|
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
The fact that Jesus assumed human nature primarily in order to be our complete Saviour argues that the human nature He assumed was our sinful human nature that needed redeeming. Only when we fully identify Christ’s humanity with the humanity of those He came to redeem can we truly present the full gospel and Adventism’s unique doctrine of Christ’s priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary.
One of the Bible’s major insights about Christ, especially in the book of Hebrews, is that He is our great High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. In Hebrews chapter 4, the writer (who I believe was the apostle Paul), urges his readers to enter God’s “rest,” a term he uses to define righteousness by faith, and of which, he says, the Sabbath is a sign. This is the context in which the apostle introduces Christ as our great High Priest:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Our faith in Christ as our righteousness, as well as our assurance of salvation, must not be limited only to what He did during His earthly mission some 2,000 years ago. Our faith must also encompass Him as our great High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. His earthly mission — His birth, life, death, and resurrection — obtained for all humanity a righteousness that fully qualifies us for heaven, now and in the judgment, a salvation that is full and complete:
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.
But, in His heavenly ministry as our great High Priest, Christ intercedes and defends that righteousness for all those who by faith have received His righteousness, who have entered into God’s rest and are standing under the umbrella of justification by faith alone:
Romans 4:25, 8:34
He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. ...Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
1 John 2:1
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
Based on these two facts — Christ as our perfect Saviour and Christ as our great High Priest — we can have full confidence in our salvation.
Now, the word priest means one who represents the congregation before God. And the first thing we need to know about our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, is that He is able to represent us before the Father because He knows our human condition. It is not something He has heard about; it is something He knows by personal experience as a man. He was tempted just as we are:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin. [KEY PTS.]
Tempted not as God, but in the humanity He assumed at the incarnation, a humanity which was identical to our humanity:
For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
He was tempted in all things as we are, but, of course, He never sinned.
The main point the apostle is making is that Christ, as our great High Priest, can sympathize with our weakness and, therefore, we must not be afraid to approach Him as our representative. In other words, there is no barrier between us sinners and our sinless High Priest, because He fully understands our struggles with sinful flesh. He “became flesh” in the incarnation:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
and He “has been tempted in every way, just as we are” (Hebrews 4:15). But, more than that, He is also able to help us in our need, since “in the likeness of sinful flesh,” He “condemned sin in the flesh”:
For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh....
We sinners need mercy because we have failed God so often. We also need strength because, without it, we cannot live the Christian life. As our great High Priest, Christ is able to supply both these needs. This is what is so wonderful about Jesus: not only is He our perfect Saviour, but He is also our faithful, sympathetic, and merciful High Priest!
Having established this truth in Hebrews 4:14-16, Paul goes on, in chapter 5:1-4, to point out four requirements that the Torah, the Book of the Law, stipulates for one who would be considered for the office of high priest:
Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.
Then, in verses 5-10, he shows how Christ fully meets each of these four qualifications (although he does not do so in the same order as he presents them in verses 1-4):
In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. [KEY PTS.]
He also shows that, although Christ meets all four requirements, there is a contrast between the Levitical priests who served in the earthly sanctuary and Christ who serves as our great High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. His point is that Christ’s priestly ministry in heaven is vastly superior to the earthly priesthood.
Let’s look at these four qualifications for those who would be high priest, and see how the apostle presents Jesus as fully meeting each one.
Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. [KEY PTS.]
In the Old Testament priesthood, the high priest could not be an outsider; he had to belong to and be one with those he represented. This was also true of Christ as our great High Priest:
Hebrews 2:17 [Emphasis Added]
For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. [KEY PTS.]
If, in any way, Christ did not identify Himself with our humanity — that is, with our sinful nature as we know it — if in any way Christ did not have to battle with indwelling sin and be an over-comer, then He is immediately disqualified to be our great High Priest.
If we insist that Christ was like us only in the physical sense of being prone to fatigue, hunger, aging, etc., but that He was unlike us in His spiritual nature, we really are disqualifying Him to be our “merciful and faithful High Priest” (Hebrews 2:17, above) who can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). The only difference the apostle makes in the book of Hebrews between Christ’s human nature and our own is that Christ never sinned. It is in this sense that He is “holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners”:
Such a high priest truly meets our need — one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.
In His human nature, He was one with us. But because of His total victory over our sinful flesh, He is not only our Saviour, but also our perfect representative or High Priest.
He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. [KEY PTS.]
In the Old Testament, the high priest shared the same human weaknesses of those he represented. Thus, he was not indifferent to moral lapses, yet neither was he harsh with the people. And by weakness the writer of Hebrews meant more than just physical weaknesses, as some insist. The word weakness in Greek denotes both physical and moral frailty.
Hebrews 5:7 brings out the reality of Christ’s identification with the weaknesses of our struggling, sinful humanity:
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. [KEY PTS.]
It’s true this is primarily a description of Gethsemane, something none of us humans has experienced. But the apostle is also referring to Jesus’ whole life on earth as shown by the phrase, “during the days [plural] of Jesus’ life on earth.”
Verses 8 and 9 also clearly refer to Jesus’ entire experience as a human on this earth. Christ was the Son of God, but, as a man who became one with us, “He learned obedience from what He suffered”:
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.... [KEY PTS.]
What did Paul mean by this, and in what sense did Christ suffer?
Since Christ never yielded to a single temptation, His human nature was deprived of the sinful desires it wanted to experience.
1 Peter 4:1
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.
His victory over the flesh meant that His flesh suffered as a result — something that He would not have experienced if His spiritual human nature had been like that of Adam before the Fall.
This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.
In the case of the earthly high priests, they had to offer sacrifices for their own sins as well as for the sins of the people. Since Christ never sinned (see Hebrews 4:15), He had no sacrifices to offer for Himself, but He did bear our sins on the cross, because He bore us there:
1 Peter 2:24
“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” [KEY PTS.]
Paul points out in Hebrews 9 and 10 that the animal sacrifices, which the earthly priests offered repeatedly, had no power to forgive sins or provide salvation. Salvation came in reality only when Christ offered the one sacrifice of Himself for all time, ascended into the heavenly sanctuary, and sat down at the right hand of God to intercede for us as our great High Priest. He will continue to do this until His enemies (and ours) are completely defeated.
For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.
The office of high priest in the Old Testament was only by divine appointment; it was not a self-appointed position. Paul quotes Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4 to prove that Christ “did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest,” but was called and appointed to this position by the Father.
I will proclaim the Lord’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.”
The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”
What a wonderful Redeemer we have in Christ! Not only is He our perfect and complete Saviour, but He is also our sympathetic and merciful High Priest. Because He fully identified Himself with our sinful humanity, apart from sinning, there is no area of our battle against the sin problem He does not understand from His own personal experience. He can, therefore, fully sympathize with our struggles against the flesh.
But even more than that, there is no area of our sin problem He has not combatted, overcome, and redeemed us from. Speaking of our slavery to sin, Jesus said:
John 8:32, 36
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. ...So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
No wonder the apostle Paul could say:
I can do all this through him [Christ] who gives me strength.
As our High Priest, Jesus is not only able to “empathize with our weaknesses,” but He is also “able to help those who are being tempted”:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin.
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Thank God for that!
As Christians who have put our whole trust in Christ and His righteousness, we can come boldly to the throne of grace with full assurance, knowing full well that God is able to save us to the uttermost because in His gift, Jesus Christ — our Elder Brother, Redeemer, and High Priest — we have everything necessary for our salvation. No longer do we need to have the law of sin reign over us. Yes, the law of sin may remain in our natures until Christ comes, but we need no longer be slaves to it, for He who stepped into our shoes has set us free:
2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
It is, therefore, my sincere prayer that the material presented in the rest of this book will help to clarify the issue of the human nature of Christ in the light of the full gospel. I believe God has raised up the advent movement with a global mission to proclaim the everlasting gospel, a message that will one day lighten this earth with His glory.