When you think of ‚ÄúThe Gospel,‚Äù what comes to your mind? What is the ‚ÄúGood News‚Äù proclaimed by the Scriptures for the salvation of mankind? Because I am a pastor‚Äôs son I grew up hearing stories about Jesus. We attended Bible study and worship every time the doors were open. In those formative years I was taught that the Gospel consisted of the following:
Jesus died on the cross and on the third day rose again. In doing this, He paid the price for our sins and if we believe in Him, when we die, we will be raised like Jesus to live in heaven forever.
Does that match what you were taught? While those are indeed vital components of the Gospel, there is another component to the Gospel message that is not so readily taught. This concept was central to the Hebrew understanding of sacrifice and it is spelled out for us in the pages of the New Testament. But somehow this important aspect of the Gospel has been minimized as the centuries have passed. In this article we will revisit this concept and I pray that it will bring God‚Äôs great plan of salvation history into clearer focus.
In order to present this most meaningfully we really need to look back at the Old Covenant concept of sacrifice. Of all the sacrifices offered by the Hebrew people, none held more significance than the one offered on the Day of Atonement. On that day, the High Priest would take part in the ceremonial killing of a bull to atone for his own sins and then sacrifice a goat for Israel‚Äôs sins. Thomas Nash writes, ‚ÄúHe would apply the blood of the bull and one goat as sin offerings to Yahweh‚Äôs mercy seat in the Holy of Holies.‚Äù The Day of Atonement was the only day that the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place ‚Äì a room deep in the temple curtained off from everyone but the High Priest and closely guarded by the Levitical Priests. Note here that the sacrifice consisted of two parts and was not complete until both actions had been taken. First the sacrifice was made ‚Äì the animal was killed and his blood collected. Second, the High Priest would take the animal's blood into the Holy of Holies and apply the blood to God‚Äôs mercy seat. Both aspects are vital for the sacrificial mandate of God to be fulfilled.
The fact that this Old Covenant sacrifice had to be repeated every year demonstrates its inability to atone satisfactorily for Israel‚Äôs sins. But, the final sacrifice was coming as the Old Covenant was fulfilled in Jesus and His ushering in of the New and everlasting Covenant. Consider how Jesus‚Äô sacrifice follows in the pattern shown to us in the Old Testament, particularly Leviticus 16. We will see that Jesus did become the atoning sacrifice and His blood was spilled. But, remember, the blood must be applied within the Temple ‚Äì in the most Holy Place. Let‚Äôs turn to Hebrews 9:11-12 to see if this is what happens.
11When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. 12He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.
Jesus enters the Heavenly Temple and the Heavenly Holy of Holies and applies His blood to God‚Äôs mercy seat. He is there even now, mediating the new covenant. This helps explain John‚Äôs vision in Revelation 5:6. Jesus appears, ‚Äúlike a lamb as if slain.‚Äù Jesus was the sacrificial victim ‚Äì the Lamb of God ‚Äì but He is also the High Priest ‚Äì whose ministry is that of mediating the New Covenant in the heavenly sanctuary ‚Äì the ultimate Holy of Holies.
As a young Christian I was never taught the second part of Jesus‚Äô sacrifice. We do a great job of teaching the cross and Jesus‚Äô earthly task of dying for us was finished there. But, without the heavenly application of the blood, the sacrifice is not complete. Therefore, the resurrection and the ascension are absolutely vital. Without the ongoing priesthood of Jesus, mediating the New Covenant, the atoning sacrifice of the cross would not be available to us. The blood must be applied ‚Äì to the mercy seat of God, and to our hearts. Hebrews 10:19-23 brings it all into focus:
19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.