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People of God - Lesson 4

A Study by Robert F. Turner

Christ — Key to People of God

God’s purpose in creating man demanded free moral agency on man’s part; and knowing all, God knew man would sin. But God had an “eternal purpose” (Ephesians 3:11), “given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9,10), whereby the grace and mercy of God would make remission of sins possible. The Son of God would sacrifice Himself on behalf of mankind: the sinless dying for the sinner. Paul put it this way: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Romans 3:23-25).

Christ, the Key

From the days of Cain and Abel we find a shadow or type of God’s plan, in that “faith” required the sacrifice of animal life (Genesis 4:4; Hebrews 11:4). Later, Noah was told to take extra of the “clean” beasts and birds into the ark (Genesis 7:2,3), of which he offered sacrifice to God following the flood (Genesis 8:20). Abraham built altars and “called on the name of the Lord” (Genesis 12:8), as did other “fathers” of Israel. Then, when Judaism was established as the religion of the Israelites, God gave them many specific commands regarding blood offerings. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11). The ASV says “to make atonement by reason of the life.” It was not the blood per se that foretold God’s plan, but the sacrifice of life. John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Christ would give His life so that sinners might live eternally. The Hebrew writer emphasized that “without shedding of blood there is no remission. Therefore it was necessary that the copies [patterns – ASV] of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:22-24). Further, he says, “now, once, at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26).

Prior to His coming, faithful offerings of the types and shadows of Christ were the ancient Jews’ only hope for becoming one of God’s people in the true moral sense. Sacrifice pertained directly to the atonement for sin, and sin is what separates man from God (Isaiah 59:2). Isaiah clearly prophesied of Christ’s sacrifice (Isaiah 53:1-12), saying, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). Then Hebrews 10 makes it clear that the types of Christ needed His actual sacrifice to give them substance. Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected, is the key — the only means — by which sinful people may become the people of God.

The Priesthood

There were, of course, many other foreshadows of Christ. In Judaism the priesthood stood between God and man, in that they served at the altar and in the Holy Place on behalf of the people. The High Priest alone could enter the Most Holy Place, approach the mercy seat, and offer blood (life) for the sins of the people. But this sacerdotal (pertaining to priests) system was never intended for all time. In Christianity Jesus Christ is our High Priest “after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 7). He has entered into heaven, “to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24). The apostle Paul wrote, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1 Timothy 2:5,6).

The “clergy-laity” distinction which is so common in our day was denied long ago when Christ spoke of religious hierarchy and said, “But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you all are brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:8-10). He was speaking to the multitude “and to His disciples” (who later became apostles) when He said these things. There is only one step in the true “hierarchy” — Christ is at the top, and “you all are brethren” (apostles, prophets, elders, deacons, preachers, members), all on the same level below Christ. These have different functions, but none are like Christ — a sacrifice on our behalf and able to forgive our sins.

Respecting a priesthood, the New Testament people of God are called a holy priesthood, and a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5,9); conforming to their High Priest, Jesus Christ, who is both Priest and King. As priests they are to present their bodies “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1), and “continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of [their] lips, giving thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15). Each individual Christian has direct access through Christ to the throne of God and His mercies, and is urged to “come boldly to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:14-16). Saints should confess sins and pray for one another (James 5:16) — for mutual encouragement. But Peter told Simon, who sinned following His baptism, to “repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22). He could go directly to God (through Jesus Christ) for the remission of his sin. It is rank irreverence for any man on earth to claim to be the “vicar” of (or in the place of) Jesus Christ, putting himself between man and God.

The Error of “Sacerdotalism”

Let us look at some Scriptures used by those who make such claims. Following Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared to His disciples (soon apostles) and said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you. And when He said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21-23). This is coupled with Matthew 16:19 where Jesus told Peter, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”; and to Matthew 18:18 where He told all the disciples (soon apostles) the same thing. Wilber Thomas Dayton’s doctoral dissertation on the Greek perfect tense in the John 20 passages translates the expression “they are forgiven” as “have been forgiven”; and “they are retained” as “have been retained.” Further, the “will be” of the Matthew passages is translated “shall have been” bound or loosed in heaven. Marshall’s translation of the Nestle text says “having been” bound or loosed. (See the NASV, Williams’ translation, and others.) These passages are saying that by the time the apostles proclaim remission of sins through Jesus Christ, God’s plan will have been bound in heaven. They would deliver a message that originated with God.

Look again at the passage in John. “Receive the Holy Spirit” cannot mean the apostles received at that time the measure of the Spirit that would guide them into all truth (John 16:12,13), nor were they then “sent.” The Spirit was to come upon them after Christ’s ascension and they were to “tarry in Jerusalem” until so endued (Luke 24:47-49; Acts 1:8). Both the grammatical construction (Greek tense of language discussed above) and conformity to New Testament teaching as a whole, forbid interpreting either John or Matthew to say that the message and/or its results (the forgiveness of sins) would originate with the apostles; and certainly not with their supposed successors (discussed further in Lesson 11). Inspired men were to set forth the message of salvation in Christ, and later those who came to Christ would further promulgate His glorious gospel. But neither the apostles nor converts to Christ have “power to forgive sins” (as one catechism puts it). This is a power reserved for God, and used by Christ to prove His deity while on earth (Matthew 9:2-6). Gospel truth originated in heaven, and the apostle Paul said, “even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).

Sacerdotalism — authority in the priesthood, or in “the church” — detracts from the sovereign rule of Christ and the importance of His word. We are told that the church, “a visible, hierarchical society” made up of subjects and superiors who rightfully rule the subjects, is the “authority” for the Scriptures — not the child of the Bible, but its mother. But Christ, just before His ascension, said He had all authority (Matthew 28:18). Paul said Christ would reign until the end of time (1 Corinthians 15:24-26). The written records of inspired men, setting forth the King’s will for posterity, were obviously gathered after the Lord’s church came into existence; but those truths originated in heaven, then inspired men proclaimed them to the public as the means of bringing Christ’s church (His “called out” ones) into existence. Christ rules now, through His word; and respect for and obedience to His word is our way of allowing Him to rule in our lives. We now need to make a serious and objective examination of the Scriptures to determine just what was established on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ.

Study Questions

1. What is signified by the “blood” of animal or Christ’s sacrifice?

2. What is meant by Christ, the “key” to people of God?

3. What is the “hierarchy” of Christianity?

4. Who is the High Priest of Christianity? The priests?

5. When did the apostles receive “power” with the Holy Spirit?

6. Was God’s plan “bound in heaven” before or after the apostles announced it?

7. How does sacerdotalism violate the authority of Christ?

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