Christians are one Church, One Covenant, one Temple,...

Chapter 2: The Royal Priesthood

W. J. Phythian-Adams: In the preceding chapter we have been trying to recover a sense of that Providential unity of the Bible which is discovered in the New Testament. If we have been right in our conclusions (above all about the overruling constraint of what we have called homology) we have made a great step forward. For now we have an objective principle which we can apply to every important Biblical conception: and we can apply it with real impartiality, whatever our personal predilections, or the tradition or school of thought in which we happen to have been bred.

Obviously one of the foremost of such conceptions is that of the Royal Priesthood (Ex. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:6; 5:10), and to this we now turn.

I. Old Testament

There are two points to be specially noted when we study the "Priestly" (Exilic or Post-Exilic) descriptions of the Tabernacle, its priesthood, and its sacrificial system. The first is that the writers took the Presence within the Veil in deadly earnest; the second, that they wrote in expectation of the day predicted by the prophets when Jehovah would have cleansed his People before "tabernacling" again its midst. If we bear these two points in mind, the Old Testament evidence is easy to follow.

First, then, for the Priestly writers, as for the ancient Israelites, the Presence of Jehovah meant the presence in their midst of a power so awful and so death-dealing that the slightest inadvertent contact with its hallowed things must at all costs be avoided (cf. 2 Sam. 6:6-9) and the smallest unintentional act of profanation must be instantly neutralized. The simile which springs to the mind is that of insulation. It is not a question of sin, as we understand it, meeting with punishment. Israel is assumed to possess the innocence of its first days in the wilderness (cf. Jer. 2:2-3): and anyone henceforth committing a "presumptuous" offence is to be "cut off" from the People. The problem, in fact, which confronted these writers was not so much a moral as an ontological one. The Being of God was to draw near in awful Holiness to human flesh and blood; the least impurity, however contracted, must therefore expose that flesh and blood to instant annihilation.

This is why the "Priestly Code" [Leviticus, etc.] is so much concerned with the consecration, cleansing, and re-cleansing of sacred things and sacred persons, and with a wide variety of "expiatory" rites and sacrifices. The essence of its sacrificial system is the communion of Israel with the glorious Presence within the Veil: but before that communion can be enjoyed, a screen of At-one-ment must be erected to protect the worshippers and make their offerings acceptable.

(i) Before any worship is possible, the Sanctuary with its furniture must be consecrated and special ministers must be consecrated to serve it. This is actually performed by Moses, but he is simply Jehovah's agent, using the material means which he ordains and of one of which he even prescribes the composition. This latter is the "most holy" anointing oil (Ex. 30:22-33), which no Israelite may compound, or use for any other purpose, on pain of being "cut off" from the People. It is the primary instrument of consecration.

The significance of this must not be overlooked. The oil of consecration comes, as it were, from the Presence above the Mercy Seat [lid of the Ark of the Covenant] which alone (not even excepting the Sacred Ark itself) does not receive this hallowing, because it is the throne of the Glory. The blood, on the other hand, which is a second such At-one-ment, comes from the side of Israel, from the Altar at which it presents its gifts (cf. Lev. 17:11, "I have given it to you upon the altar"). These two meet and mingle, first in the consecration of the Altar when the blood is that of the sin offering (Ex. 29:12, 36; Lev. 8:15) and then in that of Aaron and his sons, who are touched on the tip of the right ear and hand and foot with the blood of the ram of consecration, and have their garments sprinkled with it (Ex. 29:20-1; Lev. 8:23-4, 30). But even here the oil comes first, for both the Altar and the High Priest are anointed with it before there is any "shedding of blood" (Lev. 8:11-12).

The composition of the "most holy "incense is also prescribed (Ex. 30:34-8). Burned daily before the Veil, this is an additional screen between the Mercy Seat and the Holy Place (Ex. 30:6-7) as it is in Nu. 16:46, between the Presence and the mass (mostly innocent) of Israel.

It is not difficult to see what [all] this implies. The dwelling-place of Jehovah is sanctified by his Presence and by that which comes from it, and those whom he appoints to serve within it share the same consecration. But Jehovah does not dwell on earth for his own sake; he does so out of love for Israel, that it may be free to approach him with its gifts. Thus, besides the Mercy Seat there must be an external meeting-place where the People may offer, and he accept, its sacrifice. This is the Altar, itself "most holy" (Ex. 29:37; 40:10) because it is here that "the fire from before Jehovah" manifests his acceptance of that which is presented on it (Lev. 9:24); and yet at the same time most open to his annihilating "Wrath" because it is in constant contact with the infirmities and uncleannesses of flesh and blood. Here, then, as in a second but outer Holy of Holies, the blood which is the life of the victim is interposed, as a second (but in this case "creaturely") screen between the Being of Jehovah and the mortal existence of Israel.

(ii) First in the three orders of hallowed persons is Aaron the High Priest. He it is, out of all Israel, whose flesh and blood is to draw most near to the Presence. While, therefore, he shares with his sons, the priests, both the primary and the secondary consecration, he is distinguished by the wearing of special signs of his office (Ex. 28). The meaning of these is sufficiently clear. As the one man who may make the perilous entry within the Veil, Aaron in his own person presents the People to their God, while on the other hand he returns to them with the Divine decisions which are to guide the destinies of Israel. In him is thus focused the whole of that mystery of At-one-ment which brings near to the Mercy Seat the offerings made upon the Altar: he is invested, therefore, with the symbol of the Divine Mercy by which whatever remains to them of mortal frailty is, as it were, absorbed and neutralized, so that the path of access is kept continually open.

Next in rank to Aaron are his sons, the priests. These also minister within the Tent, though only in the Holy Place, but their charge is centered mainly around the Altar where they offer the sacrifices of the People. They are thus mediators of the second order.

Finally, as mediators of the third order come the Levites, who replace the "first-born among the children of Israel" (Nu. 3:40-51; 8:16). Their office is wholly subordinate, for they "shall not come nigh unto the vessels of the sanctuary and unto the altar, that they die not" (Nu. 18:3). Nevertheless with Aaron and his sons they "bear the iniquity of the Sanctuary" (Num 18:i) as yet another hallowed screen between the Presence and the People: "and henceforth the children of Israel shall not come nigh the tent of meeting, lest they bear sin, and die. But the Levites shall do the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their (sc. the People's) iniquity" (Num. 18:22-9; 8:19). So again it is the Levites who are to pitch immediately round the Tabernacle, "that there be no wrath upon the congregation of the children of Israel" (Nu. 1:53).

(iii) Among the various ritual acts we need concern ourselves only with the "sin offering" which is enjoined for unwitting offenses and for certain states of "uncleanness," mostly of sexual origin (Lev. 4,1-5:13; 15). This combination is enough to show how little the thought of "sins" in the usual sense enters into the rites of At-one-ment. Deliberate sin against Jehovah is in fact regarded as "cutting off" the offender from the People, and still more the Sanctuary of God; so that repentance and forgiveness for it are alike entirely excluded. (The analogous guilt offering is the exception which proves [guarantees, tests] the rule. It is prescribed inter alia for certain deliberate offenses against a "neighbour" but only after voluntary confession and restitution (Lev. 6:1-7; Nu. 5:7). It may be added here that the sin offering for poor people might be made "without blood" (Lev. 5:11-13).)

What the sin offering is intended to effect is something quite different: it is to protect from annihilation the worshipper who, having become temporarily unfit to offer sacrifice, enters and thus ignorantly profanes the courts of the Sanctuary. To guard against this the priest is to "warn" the People "as regards their uncleannesses," teaching them what preliminary steps they must take to cleanse themselves (Lev. 15:31). Then, when they are clean (for no unclean person may enter the sacred precincts), their sin offering restores them (as we might say) to the communion of the Altar.

There was thus built up, between the Presence on the Mercy Seat and the People in the Court of Israel, a vast and variegated perspective of At-one-ment; a barrier, but a barrier interposed in merciful protection, that Israel might know the joy of access to Jehovah, and live. This access was realized in what we may call "positive" sacrifice as opposed to the "negative" (expiatory) sin and guilt offerings. Three types were provided: the "burnt offering" in which the whole gift was surrendered to Jehovah; the "meal offering," a portion of which went to the priest as "a thing most holy"; and the various forms of "peace offering" (eucharistic, votive, and "free-will") in which after the priest's portion had been withdrawn the worshipper himself partook of the holy food (Lev. 1:3-3:17; 6:8-18; 19:5-8).

But these bare bones can give us no idea of the living reality. If we would know what this institution meant to Israel, even in the empty years which followed the Exile, we can learn it from the Son of Sirach's glowing description of Temple worship under Simon the High Priest. The passage (Ecclus. 50:5-21) is too long to be quoted here, but it should be read and pondered by every Christian who is tempted to belittle the cultus of the old Covenant.

Ecclesiasticus 50:1 The leader of his brothers and the pride of his people
was the high priest, Simon son of Onias,
who in his life repaired the house,
and in his time fortified the temple.
2 He laid the foundations for the high double walls,
the high retaining walls for the temple enclosure.
3 In his days a water cistern was dug,
a reservoir like the sea in circumference.
4 He considered how to save his people from ruin,
and fortified the city against siege.
5 How glorious he was, surrounded by the people,
as he came out of the house of the curtain.
6 Like the morning star among the clouds,
like the full moon at the festal season;
7 like the sun shining on the temple of the Most High,
like the rainbow gleaming in splendid clouds;
8 like roses in the days of first fruits,
like lilies by a spring of water,
like a green shoot on Lebanon on a summer day;
9 like fire and incense in the censer,
like a vessel of hammered gold
studded with all kinds of precious stones;
10 like an olive tree laden with fruit,
and like a cypress towering in the clouds.
11 When he put on his glorious robe
and clothed himself in perfect splendor,
when he went up to the holy altar,
he made the court of the sanctuary glorious.
12 When he received the portions from the hands of the priests,
as he stood by the hearth of the altar
with a garland of brothers around him,
he was like a young cedar on Lebanon
surrounded by the trunks of palm trees.
13 All the sons of Aaron in their splendor
held the Lord's offering in their hands
before the whole congregation of Israel.
14 Finishing the service at the altars,
and arranging the offering to the Most High, the Almighty,
15 he held out his hand for the cup
and poured a drink offering of the blood of the grape;
he poured it out at the foot of the altar,
a pleasing odor to the Most High, the king of all.
16 Then the sons of Aaron shouted;
they blew their trumpets of hammered metal;
they sounded a mighty fanfare
as a reminder before the Most High.
17 Then all the people together quickly
fell to the ground on their faces
to worship their Lord,
the Almighty, God Most High.
18 Then the singers praised him with their voices
in sweet and full-toned melody.
19 And the people of the Lord Most High offered
their prayers before the Merciful One,
until the order of worship of the Lord was ended,
and they completed his ritual.
20 Then Simon came down and raised his hands
over the whole congregation of Israelites,
to pronounce the blessing of the Lord with his lips,
and to glory in his name;
21 and they bowed down in worship a second time,
to receive the blessing from the Most High.

Here he will find no thought of sin and wrath and propitiation but a cloudless joy of communion with God in courts that ring with praises and thanksgivings. He will begin to understand then why no Jew who is wholly loyal to his Scriptures can ever be really satisfied with the worship of the synagogue; and he will realize what fire of yearning burns unquenchably in the inmost heart of Israel. For if a worship so splendid, so radiant, could be offered in a Temple where no Presence dwelt behind the Veil, how much more glorious a worship must it foreshadow in those "latter days" which all the prophets foretold?

It is here that we reach the goal of this first section of our inquiry. The predictions of Israel's ultimate bliss are too numerous to be quoted at length, but it is enough to observe the two main features which are common to all of them.

In the first place this consummation is centered in one great historic event, the return of Jehovah to his Temple. Hence Israel's glory is primarily the glory of Zion, his "holy mountain," for there is the "place of his Name," the House in which he is to "tabernacle" once more in the midst of his People. (Isa. 2:2-3, (Mic. 4:1-3); 4:2-6; 12:1-6; 18:1-7; 25:1-7; Joel 3:46-21; Zeph. 3:8-20; Hag. 2:1-9; Zech. 1:16; ii:10-13; 6:12-15; 8:1-8.)

In the second place Zion, so glorified, is to become the magnet which draws all men to itself. In some prophecies this thought seems to go no further than the judgment, if not the destruction, of the Gentiles who are thus assembled (Joel 3:9-10; Mic. 7:16-17). More often, however (and these are the prophecies most familiar to us), the Gentiles are described as coming eagerly and spontaneously to Jerusalem, not merely for instruction in the Law (Isa. 2:2-3 = Mic. 4:1-3) and to seek the favor of the God of Israel (Zech. 8:20-23), but as bringing him their own offerings and joining in his worship (Is. 18:7; 56:6-7; 60:6-7; 66:23; Zech. 14:16).

From these two thoughts flows naturally a third, which though less frequently expressed may be said to be implicit in every such prediction. This is that when the whole world has turned for worship to the Temple, the sacred precincts will be enlarged to meet it. Zion itself will become the Sanctuary of Jehovah:

"In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses HOLY UNTO JEHOVAH; and the pots in Jehovah's house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yea every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holy unto Jehovah Sabaoth and all they that sacrifice shall come and take them, and seethe therein" (Zech. 14:21).

So the glory of the new Temple spreads, as it were, through Zion and Judah to the whole People of God. With the institution of a new and greater Sanctuary there is established also a new and wider priesthood, the priesthood of Israel (Isa. 4:3; 61:6). No details of this are given, nor is it certain whether this priesthood is expected to supplement or supersede the ancient order. The former seems indicated by Isaiah 66:21, and it may well be that the conscious perception of the prophets penetrated no further than this. Those, however, who read their utterances as a whole may detect another significance in that which Zechariah spoke obscurely of the new Temple and its builder:

"Behold the man whose name is the Branch;
And he shall grow up out of his place,
And he shall build the temple of Jehovah
Even he shall build the temple of Jehovah;
And he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne;
And he shall be a priest upon his throne."
(Zech. 6:12-13.)

Modern criticism discerns behind the confusion which underlies the whole of this passage (6:9-15) the traces of an abortive attempt to crown Zerubbabel and Joshua the High Priest as joint "Messiahs" of Israel. Into this we need not enter. The attempt, if it was made, was a failure; and we may regard this prophecy, therefore, as an example of true prediction, mistakenly applied. (The problem of inspiration is too large to be discussed here; but we must certainly allow for cases such as this in which the writer had one thing in his consciousness and God, in his Wisdom, another, cf. 2 Sam. 7:13.) That the promised "Branch" ("Shoot") was to be of the seed of David had been foretold by Jeremiah (23:5; 33:15; cf. Is. 11:i, where a different word is used): and it is said of him later (Jer. 30:21) that Jehovah will cause him to "draw near," the term so commonly used of the priestly prerogative. Moreover, according to the prophecy of Nathan (2 Sam. 7:13) he and no one else was to build the House for the Name.

It would follow then from the prophecy of Zechariah as it stands that a new priesthood was to be inaugurated in the person of this new Davidic ruler, who would thus combine the anointed offices which had once been in conflict (Zech. 6:13; cf. 2 Chron. 26:18).

So we come to what is perhaps for Christians the most familiar of the great "Messianic" utterances in the Bible, Psalm 110.

Psalms 110 A Psalm of David.
The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.
{2} The LORD shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.
{3} Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.
{4} The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
{5} The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath.
{6} He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries.
{7} He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.

Here, again, we need not discuss the critical problem. Even if this Psalm was written, as some believe, to glorify or justify the king-priesthood of one of the Maccabees, its true significance would still be that of a prophecy, but of a prophecy malgré lui. For, whatever its authorship and the level of its inspiration, it must refer, as part of the canonical Scriptures, to the only "Messiah" whom these Scriptures recognize. It is the Seed of David and he alone to whose coming glory the prophets testify: and it is the Seed of David the conqueror of the city of Melchizedek, who alone can rightly claim to inherit his "royal priesthood."

This is he, then, who is to sit with Jehovah upon his throne within the Oracle. (This is shown by the words "out of Zion "in verse 2. For the meaning of the following verses see Kirkpatrick, The Psalms, p. 667. The alternative reading "in the holy mountains" is scarcely probable: there was only one "holy hill of Zion.") He is the High Priest (yet more than the High Priest?) of a new and mysterious order; while his People, clad as priests "in holy adornments," present themselves for "free-will offerings" in the day of his power (verse 3). Thus under its prince Israel itself becomes a "royal priesthood"; and the "covenant of peace" foretold by Ezekiel is consummated:

"My tabernacle also shall be with them;
And I will be their God,
And they shall be my people.
And the nations shall know that I Jehovah do sanctify Israel,
When my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore."
(Ezek. 37:27-8.)

II. New Testament

The essential point to remember, when we pass to the New Testament, is that we are not now dealing with the context of Redemption, the first stage of the Sacred Era, but with that of Consecration by Covenant, in a word, with the context of the Sanctuary. We are to think now, that is, not in terms of bondage and ransom, of the Passover, of Christus Victor; but in those of the "Wrath" of God, of the Mercy Seat and the Altar, of the consecrating oil and the screening blood: and we are to think of these, bearing in mind the true aim of the perspective of At-one-ment, access to the Father. (It is quite true, of course, that in the New Testament the "idioms" of these two contexts are often combined; and it is natural and proper to use them thus of the one Christ and his one work of Salvation. But I am sure we must begin by distinguishing them if we are to grasp the meaning of their homologies.)

Thus the "remission of sins" through Baptism in Holy Spirit is also an anointing (cf. 1 John 2:20, 27), under the new Covenant, of the new Sanctuary of God. It is the blotting out of the past which the prophets foretold (cf. Is. 43:25; Ezek. 36:24-7); but it is more than the forgiveness of conscious, "presumptuous," trespasses. As in the Old Testament, the mystery of sin is fundamentally ontological.

According to St. Paul (Rom. 7), sin is rooted in the "flesh," in the very being of man, thwarting the aspirations of his mind and making the whole organism a "body of death." And it is in this sense that St. John also speaks of it. The Lamb of God comes to take away the sin, not merely the actual trespasses, of the world.

With this clue in our hand we can go forward rapidly. We have seen that for the meeting of God with Israel under the old Covenant the primary focus of At-one-ment was the Mercy Seat within the Veil. This was from the Divine side: from the human side a secondary focus was provided in the Altar, at which the worship of Israel was presented for acceptance. So it has come to pass - but with how much deeper a significance - under the new Covenant! All men, says St. Paul, being sinners fell short of the Glory of God (the technical name for the "tabernacling" Presence). But God has justified them freely (the first stage of the Dispensation) through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom (as the second stage), he has set forth as the Mercy Seat through faith in his blood (Rom. 3:22-5).

(Hilasterion is the word by which Kapporeth (EV. Mercy Seat) is always rendered in the Greek. That St. Paul, writing to men familiar with the Septuagint, should have used it in any other sense is surely unthinkable. It. was as much a technical term in his day as, e.g., "broadcast "is in ours.)

Through death the Incarnate Son of God becomes, what he was sent forth to become, the Place of Meeting between God and redeemed humanity.

How was this prize won? "God sent his own son in the likeness of the flesh of sin and for sin "(Rom. 8:3). As of old, he provided the means of At-one-ment, but now in such wise that man himself might consecrate the Altar for his gifts. So in love for us Jesus our fellow-man presented himself as that sacrifice which would ensure for ever the acceptance of all our offerings; the sacrifice which alone is a "sweet savour" of acceptance before him whose Holiness is Love (Eph. 5:1-2). This it is which gives to us who have been "justified" (the first stage) the "peace" (the second stage) which is our "access" in boldness and confidence to the Holy One (Rom. 5:2; Eph. 3:12). Purified and redeemed, we stand before him in worship without fear of annihilation - we "draw near" in fulness of faith - knowing that even if we sin hereafter we have a Paraclete with the Father, who is the all-availing At-one-ment for the whole world (Heb. 10:22; 1 John 2:1-2).

Thus Christus Victor becomes Christus Sanctificator per Spiritum Sanctum. In the Blood of the new Covenant he inaugurates a new priesthood and a new worship. But he does more than this. Himself the Meeting-Place between God and man, he unites in his Sacrifice the two ancient foci of At-one-ment: he brings the Altar, as it were, to the Mercy Seat, and makes them one. This is the finished work of him who was "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead" (Rom. 1:4).

It is not simply that the "middle wall of partition" has been broken down, so that the Gentiles may now worship in the Court of Israel. Now everything which stood between that court and the Holy of Holies is for ever dissolved and done away. Sacred priesthood, sacred precincts, sacred rites of At-one-ment; - all these are gone, for all these have been fulfilled. Now around the throne of Love a new Temple rises; a House of the Presence compacted of living stones (Eph. 2:20-2; 1 Pe. 2:5).

This mystery of the Church's "Templehood;" (if we may so call it) is the climax of the new Covenant, the supreme revelation of the Divine Love. I emphasize that statement; for it seems to have faded almost entirely out of our view. As evidence of this I would point to our English versions, which habitually miss the point when St. Paul speaks of it. To say that we are a temple (naos) of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19) surely reveals a profound misunderstanding of the Apostle's' doctrine. There can only be one Sanctuary of the Presence in Israel, the new Sanctuary foretold, early and late, by all the prophets; and to suggest further that each one of us is a separate miniature "temple" is the exact opposite of the truth which St. Paul is most concerned to expound. The Presence who "tabernacles" in this Sanctuary is Love, the Spirit of God, of the Father and of the Son: and no individual as such can be his Temple; he must be "builded together" with his fellow-Christians, that, as there is one Spirit, so there may be one House for his habitation (Eph. 2:22).

But if Love is the Presence in the new Temple, love is also the Law - the only law - of the new Covenant. And love is, above all, an energy. It does not repose in self-contemplation, it goes forth to serve others. It gives, and rejoices that in Christ it can offer itself freely, a sacrifice of "sweet savour." The Church's "Templehood "is thus at the same time the Church's Priesthood. We are "built up a Spiritual House "(i.e., we are made in Christ the Sanctuary of the Holy Spirit) "to be a holy priesthood to offer up Spiritual sacrifices (i.e., offerings sanctified in the Holy Spirit) acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Pe. 2:5)

Our Templehood does not mean the enjoyment of a passive holiness, it is given us to be a Priesthood of active self-giving love. The static conception passes at once into the dynamic. So St. Paul, after speaking of the Church as a Temple that "groweth," goes on immediately to show that this "growth" is that of the living Body which constitutes the Temple, and that it "makes increase unto the building up of itself in love "(Eph. 2:21; 4:11-16).

To determine the nature of this Priesthood we have to consult those passages in the New Testament in which the idioms of the Sanctuary are used explicitly. We may begin with three of these, which must be studied together:

(i) In Romans 15:16, St. Paul speaks of the grace that has been given him that he should be a "sacred officiant" of Christ Jesus towards the Gentiles, "ministering" (hierourgounta) the Gospel, that the "offering "of the Gentiles might become "all-acceptable" being "sanctified" in the Holy Spirit.

(ii) In 1 Corinthians 9:13-14, he reminds his converts that those whose work is holy, eat the holy things of the Temple, those who wait upon the altar have their portion with the altar even so Christ has ordained that those who proclaim the Gospel shall live of the Gospel.

(iii) To the Philippians (2:17) he expresses his readiness to be "poured out as a drink-offering" upon the "sacrifice" and "sacred office" of their faith.

Putting these passages together we find a sufficient guide to St. Paul's thought. It might appear at first glance that in speaking of the "offering" of the Gentiles he means that they are the sacrifice which he presents. This was, in fact, the view of our translators ("offering up of the G."; A.V. margin "sacrificing"): and it is that also of most commentators. But a consideration of the three passages together shows that when St. Paul uses the idioms of the Sanctuary he has a specific homology in his mind. As at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:47), he sees the Church (represented by the Apostles) as ordained to carry out the mission of the Servant "unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Is. 49:6).

This mission is the preaching of the Gospel, but St. Paul thinks less of this in itself than of the effect which it produces. Now in response to this preaching, and, in an abundance proportioned to the grace given to the preachers, the Gentiles are flocking to Zion, bringing to its Altar their own sacrifice of faith and love (Is. 60:7; 67:23; Zech. 14:16). That is why in the second passage St. Paul insists upon the right of an Apostle to be supported by those to whom he preaches. As the priest under the old Covenant received a portion of the peace-offering because he assisted the worshipper to offer his sacrifice acceptably, so the Apostle to whose sacred offices the Gentiles owe their access to the Altar may rightly claim a share of their thank-offerings.

But the homology extends no further than this. By his preaching the Apostle mediates At-one-ment ("reconciliation") between the Gentiles and God according to the grace given him: and it is his "holy work" to evoke and nourish such a faith in them as will be "all-acceptable" when it is laid upon the Altar. But once that is done he is, as regards their sacrifice, a "priest" no longer: all that he can add to it is the pouring out of his own love even unto death, that he and they may be one offering together.

What, then, more particularly is this sacrifice which Christians offer as a "royal priesthood"? The locus classicus is Romans 12ff, but the argument which precedes this is as important as the sequel to it which we have already considered. St. Paul has been speaking (from ch. 9) of the rejection of all but a faithful remnant of the old Israel, and the grafting of the Gentiles in their place. This is due in part to the blindness of Israel, in part to the mercy of God.

It is in the name of these mercies - the mercy shown to themselves as Jews or Gentiles, and the mercy which is to be shown through them to the old Israel - that St. Paul "beseeches" the Romans to remember their priesthood in Christ. Theirs is now the true Temple-worship; and theirs the true and only acceptable sacrifice, which he goes on to describe:

(i) It is an offering of their "bodies ": not as opposed to their minds (note the singular in verse 2), but of "reasoning" bodies as opposed to the meat and drink-offerings and animal sacrifices of the old worship. They are to be surrendered, for transformation, to that renewal of mind which is the Holy Spirit's own gift of spiritual discernment (Rom. 12:1-2; cf. Titus 3:5, and 1 Cor. 2:10-16).

(ii) It is an offering of themselves not as individuals but as "one body in Christ"; each member exercising his gifts according to the grace given him in harmonious co-operation with his fellow-members (12:3-8):

(iii) More particularly, it is the offering of lives wholly subject to the single and all-embracing law of love: where tender affection and humility go hand in hand with fervent service; where wrongs are not avenged but forgiven; where all are rendered their due of honour; where the weak are not harshly judged or offended in conscience, but are borne up by the strong in patience and comfort, in righteousness and peace and joy (12:9-15:4).

Such is St. Paul's picture of the sacrificial worship of the new Temple, and it is unnecessary to quote the familiar passages in which he describes it elsewhere. It is the offering of fellowship in the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit, of unity in his Unity, of love in his Love. It is the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving which rises as from one mouth and one mind, proclaiming - "Immanuel"; that God dwells in his People, and they in him. So, as St. Paul says here, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is glorified before all the world; his truth alike in promise and in prophecy is confirmed: and so is fulfilled the ministry of Jesus the Servant who came both to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to be a light to the Gentiles (Rom. 15:5-12; Isa. 49:6).

This note of Election [Chosen by God] is sounded even more clearly at the beginning of the Epistle to the Ephesians, where we also find two familiar idioms of the Sanctuary: God "chose us in him before the foundation of the World that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love" (Eph. 1:4). Here "without blemish" is the homology of the perfect sacrificial victim required by the law of the old Covenant; while "before him" - more explicitly in Jude 24, "before the presence of his Glory" - is the homology of that worship at its highest point (cf. Ex. 23:17, etc.). It is important to notice how in both these passages, as well as in the parallel passage Colossians 1:21-2, it is God ("God our Saviour") who through and in Jesus Christ thus brings us as a holy sacrifice into his Presence in love, i.e., in his Holy Spirit.

Christ is thus the Offering of Righteousness who has made our offering possible: and these two offerings, his and ours, are never for a moment disparted. He did not die to save us from the vengeance of his Father: he died according to the good pleasure of the Father that we might be in him, and he in us, the perfect offering by which God is glorified.

When St. Paul bids us "walk in love," it is because Christ, walking before us, gave himself in love to this very end (Eph. 5:1-2): and when in this offering we appear before the Presence, he is with us not as High Priest, but as the Head of his Body, the Church (Col. 1:18-21); just as the Mercy Seat is a part, albeit the holiest part, of the Temple.

It is no accident, then, that when in another place (Eph. 5:25-27) St. Paul uses the same sacrificial term "without blemish" of the Church, it is in the context of that deepest of human mysteries, the union of a lover with his bride. Sin-stained as the Church is now, she is yet even now one flesh with the Sinless One who died to win her. We wrong the truth of Love if we think otherwise. Here are not two, the one standing over against the other as priest and sacrifice: but one flesh offered "continually" upon one altar; one lifting up of incense and pure oblation from the arising of the sun even unto its going down (Mal. 1:11).

To complete this sketch we may review briefly the vision of the future, when the Church as the Bride of Christ appears in her glory, "not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing" (Eph. 5:27). Very little is said about this by St. Paul who, when he speaks of our "inheritance with the saints in light," does so in general terms (cf. Gal. 4:26; Phil. 3:20). There is, in fact, only one book in the New Testament in which the subject is dealt with in any detail, and that (as is only fitting) is the last book of all. That it is also the most obscure is unfortunate, but we start with one advantage.

The author of the Apocalypse writes as a prophet of Israel, whose theme is the ultimate fulfillment of all Sacred History. His book is thus in great part a mosaic of Old Testament prophecies, which he sees consummated in the Wrath and Mercy of the Lamb: and where these are concerned with the Temple and its Priesthood, he interprets them homologically in the line of the classic tradition.

His references to the Royal Priesthood are explicit and clearly reveal the trend of his thought (Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6). Even more illuminating, however, is the promise in 3:12, that he who overcometh will be made "a pillar in the Temple (Naos) of my God." For this makes it evident that, whether or not the writer distinguishes between the new Temple and its Priesthood (and this remains to the end a matter of some doubt), he certainly thinks of it as a definite "measurable" entity, built up of "living stones." This is Naomorphism in the true homological sense, and it provides the clue that we are to follow.

Thus even at the outset, when the door is first "opened in heaven" (4:1), what we see is a Sanctuary of the Presence, heavenly indeed but still defined by the context of the Covenant. Its throne is the Mercy Seat with the attendant Cherubim as in Ezekiel's vision; and the Glory above it is a self-limited Glory, not the fulness of him who dwells in light unapproachable. (In 15:8, which echoes the vision of Isaiah, the Glory so far excels that none is able to enter the Temple: but this manifestation comes to an end when the seven last plagues are finished.)

Before the throne are the seven lights of the Sacred Candlestick (Ex. 25:31-40): and ranged about it, as the Tribes once encamped around the Tabernacle (Nu. 2:1-16), are four and twenty elders who represent the totality of the People of God (cf. 21:12-14) [12 Patriarchs for physical Israel and 12 Apostles for spiritual Israel?]. Finally, in the midst appears the Paschal Victim, the Lion of Judah and Root of David, who by his Death has constituted the Priesthood of His Kingdom and whose wrath is now to be poured out upon its adversaries (cf. Ps. 2 and 110).

This is the "Temple of God that is in heaven" (11:19); and as such it is to be distinguished from the Temple on earth. The latter is only mentioned in one passage (11:1-2) where the prophet is told to measure it with "its altar and them that worship therein": he is to leave unmeasured "the court which is without," because it has been given to the nations who will tread the holy city under foot for forty and two months. This signifies the straitness of the siege which the Church on earth will have to endure, and the strictly limited number of its true adherents, only those who are faithful unto death being reckoned as within the Sanctuary.

(The Church reappears as the Woman in Rev. 12.)

But what of the Altar? Since the need for the external Altar of Sacrifice has been done away in Christ, this must be the Altar of Incense within the House itself. It must therefore be intimately connected with its counterpart in the Temple in heaven as well as with the prophecy of Malachi (1, 2). The Altar of Incense in heaven is mentioned in several places. It has beneath it the souls of the martyrs (6:9); incense is offered upon it as a gift to the prayers of the saints, and fire from it is cast in wrath upon the earth (8:3-5; cf. 14:18). Twice it speaks: once to command the loosing of the angels of the four winds (9:13); once more in assent to the righteousness of the judgments of the Almighty (16:7). These references by themselves do little to help us, but they become much clearer when we consult the writings of Ignatius and Polycarp.

"Hasten all together as into one Temple (Naos) of God," says Ignatius, "as upon one altar, upon one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father, and with one is, and to one is departed" (Magnesians 7:2). So elsewhere he says: "Unless a man is within the altar, he falls short of the (fulness of the) loaf of God (Phil. 4:1, Eph: 20:2, cf. 1 Cor. 10:17); for if the prayer of one or two has such strength, how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church" (Ephesians 5:2). Finally: "Give diligence to use one eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup for at-one-ment of his blood, one altar, as there is one bishop together with the presbytery and the deacons" (Philadelphians 4:1; cf. Trallians 7:2).

The Altar thus signifies primarily our Lord's own offering of himself "for a sweet savour." It thus becomes secondarily the symbol of the Church's offering, made in union with his and within the unity of his Body, and therefore centered in the Eucharist. It is in this secondary sense that Polycarp speaks of Christians as "the altar of God" whose offerings are all "tested for blemish" (Polycarp to the Philadelphians 4:3)

In the Apocalypse both senses are plainly present. From the Altar within the Temple on earth, the prayers of the Church ascend to the golden Altar in heaven, where in one eucharistic offering they are blended with those of the martyrs of all the ages. Yet the heavenly Altar is more than all of these; and its voice proclaims not mercy only, but the righteous judgments of God.

Meanwhile, the Temple in heaven grows continually towards its fulness; and the Ark of the new Covenant (the Royal Law of Love) is revealed in its midst. (11:19). It is called now the "Temple of the tabernacle of the testimony" (15:5); that is, of those who have suffered for the testimony of Jesus and over whom the "tabernacling" Presence now spreads his Glory (7:15; 12:12; 13:6).

Thus is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah (4:2-6) concerning the remnant that is written among the living in Jerusalem. The first-fruits of this great company of the Lamb's book of life are the hundred and forty-four thousand, who appear with him on Mount Zion (7:4-8; 14:1-5): it is their number which determines the form of the new Jerusalem; we may even say that they constitute its walls (21:16-17)

So the end comes, which is the new beginning of all things. Once more the tabernacle of God descends upon earth. But it is now no longer a Tent set up among "the fewest of all peoples," (Deut. 7:7) nor is it merely a Temple within which only the elect of Israel may worship. It is Israel itself, an Israel transformed into the promised Zion whose gates stand open to the offerings of all the nations.

Once again we look back to the prophecies of the Old Testament. They foretold this great widening of the Sanctuary now they are fulfilled. There is no Temple in the new Jerusalem it is all Temple: for its streets shine with the Glory of the Presence, and the Mercy Seat of God and of the Lamb is in its midst (21:22-7; 22:3). And as Zion is the Temple of God for all the world, so Israel is its Priesthood, a Royal Priesthood who "shall reign for ever and ever" (22:3-4).


Christians are one Church, One Covenant, one Temple,...
Chapter 1: The Pattern of Sacred History
Chapter 2: The Royal Priesthood
Chapter 3: Biblical Theology in Eclipse
Excerpted from "The Way of At-one-ment: Studies in Biblical Theology" by W. J. Phythian-Adams, Carlisle, England, 1944.


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