Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The eschatological fulfillment of the priesthood.

Here's another section of my book. This is the end of the section on priestly mediation. I discuss Old Testament prophecy of the fulfillment of the priesthood. Remember this is a rough draft, so I haven't worked out all the bugs yet.

The priestly mediation was not successful throughout the Old Testament. The mediation of the priesthood could not hold off the exile. Furthermore, the priesthood could not by its own ministrations communicate holiness, but rather was dependent on God's presence and justifying power. Beyond the texts in Leviticus we have examined where God lends his holiness to Israel, in Zechariah 3, the Angel of YHWH purifies the high priest Joshua so that cult will be able to function. All this suggests that the Angel of YHWH, which we have seen is identical with the divine kavod present in and enables the cult, also functions as a heavenly high priest (a widely held belief among the Jews of the Second Temple period[1]). He is a heavenly high priest, just as he also functions as a prophet speaking to the Patriarchs (Gen. 18, 22) and a heavenly king, leading the armies of YHWH (Exod. 23, Josh. 5, Dn. 10). Daniel 10:4 suggests that the Angel of YHWH, who here is pictured dressed in the robes of a high priest,[2] is at the same time is the leader of YHWH's heavenly armies (v.20). He effectively posses the dual roles of a heavenly priest and king. This is figure also appears to be identical with the "one like a Son of Man" in Daniel 7. As Fletcher-Louis notes, the Son of Man must be a high priestly figure, because he undoes all the impurity in creation (symbolized by the mixed animals that come from the sea) by coming on "clouds" (reminiscent of clouds of incense that the high priest "rides" in entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement) while entering into the divine presence.[3] He is also given universal dominion (v. 14) a prerogative of the Israelite king/Messiah described in Psalm 2:2, and a position held by the protological high priest Adam in Genesis 1:28. This figure must also be identified with the divine kavod, because he comes on the glory cloud which is a sign of the divine presence from elsewhere in the Old Testament (see Exod. 40, 1 Kgs 7-8) and because as a human figure he is pictured in an almost identical way as the vision Ezekiel has of the divine kavod in Ezekiel 1-2.[4] All these prophetic visions bear a striking resemblance to the figure that appears in the Psalm 110, who refers to a heavenly figure who is both the "lord" (v. 1) at right hand of God and also a "priest after the line of Melchizedek" (v. 4).
Not only does the Old Testament suggest that there is a parallel between the earthly high priest and a heavenly high priest who is the Angel of YHWH/kavod, but it predicts an eschatological fulfillment to priestly mediation as we saw hinted at above. We are told in Numbers 25:13 that God has promised the Levites an eternal priesthood.[5] Nevertheless, as was clear from earlier texts, the priesthood is under the Sinaitic covenant just as much as the rest of Israel. If so, then their failure and sinfulness would logically disqualify them to possess a perpetual priesthood as it did with the house of Eli in 1 Samuel. To maintain the promise of eternal priesthood, God must act to purify creation and the make the priesthood function in a final eschatological act.
Such an implicit eschatological expectation becomes more explicit in the writings of the later prophets. In Malachi 3:3, we are told that God himself will come to purify the sons of Levi. The text also tells us that God himself will come to his Temple to purify it in the form of the Angel of the Lord: "Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger [or "Angel"] of the covenant, whom you desire, will come" (Mal 3:1, Emphasis added). This connects with the expectation of the return of God to Zion, found in Isaiah 40 and Ezekiel 37-39. In Zechariah 3, we are told that the Angel of YHWH's purification of the high priest prefigures (v. 8) God's eschatological action of redemption: "I will remove the sin of this land in a single day"(v. 9).
The descriptions of the actions of the eschatological high priest are scattered throughout the Old Testament in a variety of interconnected texts. As we have already noted, the Servant of YHWH in the later chapters of Isaiah is identified as the new Passover lamb, necessitated by the new exodus. He is, as we have also suggested, identified in chapter 49 and 63 with the Angel of YHWH and the kavod. This identification is deepened by the description of the Angel of YHWH Isaiah 63:9 as possessing both robes soaked in blood (Isa 63:2) and the role of the divine warrior (v. 1-5), much like Leviticus' portrayal of the high priest. As was previously noted, the Angel of YHWH is also said in v. 9 to be afflicted with the afflictions of the people in order to redeem them. This therefore identifies him with the afflicted Servant of chapter 53. In the same way, atonement lead to the a universal Jubilee. We are told that the Servant announces such a Jubilee in Isaiah 61 and that he "justifies" many in 53.
Isaiah 53, 61, and 63, find an intertextual echo in Daniel 7 and 9. The kavod, is described as functioning in Daniel 7 as a universal and heavenly high priest coming to God's throne to enact a universal Day of Atonement. If the Son of Man comes to God's throne, he must have like the earthly high priest on the Day of Atonement have an offering to make to God. Like the suffering Servant, he therefore implicitly makes "intercession for the transgressors"(Isa. 53:12) by this offering. The Son of Man is also exalted to the divine throne in the same manner as the Servant, who after his sufferings has "portion among the great" (v. 12). In light of the New Testament's identification (which we will examine below) and these striking parallels, we must posit that this text is suggesting that the Son of Man is the same person being spoken of in Isaiah 53 as the Servant.
Daniel 9 is also highly suggestive of this parallel. We are told that: "Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy" (Dn 9:24). Seventy "sevens" or "weeks" (as the KJV translates it) represent the fulfillment of ten Jubilees (Lev. 25). The number appears to suggest not an actual timeline, but rather symbolically convey a supreme and definitive Jubilee. The finality of this Jubilee is deepened by the statement that in this period there will be an "end of transgression" and establish "everlasting righteousness." The agent of this transformation must be a divine and heavenly high priest (described as the Son of Man earlier), since God alone can bring "everlasting righteousness." This also parallels the "year of the Lord's favor" of Isaiah 61 enacted by the Servant. The seventy weeks (or as it is restated "sixty-two sevens and seven-sevens, i.e., sixty nine sevens, that is, a "seven" before ultimate fulfillment) will culminate in the coming of the "the Anointed One, the ruler" (v. 25).
This prince or anointed one "will confirm a covenant with many" (v. 27) which will end sacrifice. The confirmation of this covenant is presumably is tied up with a new order of redemption. Because of the universal Day of Atonement and a supreme Jubilee, sacrifice for the sake of atonement will no longer be necessary. The anointed one is therefore also identical with the Servant who is a "covenant to the nations," the "Angel of the covenant" of Malachi 3 and the prophet like Moses of Deuteronomy 18. He is indeed like Moses, in that he also mediates a covenant. Lastly, since this covenant is tied up with "ending sacrifice" and bringing "everlasting righteousness" (i.e. forgiveness and sanctification) it must be thought to be identical with Jeremiah's "New Covenant." This parallel is suggested by the fact that Daniel at the beginning of the chapter is reading a scroll of Jeremiah (v. 2). Part of God's promise to Jeremiah regarding the new covenantal order is that Israel will never lack a priestly mediator to stand before him (Jer. 33:18). This finds fulfillment in the announcement that the anointed one will be "will be cut off and will have nothing" (v. 26).[6] This again directly parallels the fate of the Servant of Isaiah 53 (who is also "cut off" v. 8), and implicitly the Son of Man of Daniel 7 (who as we saw, has an offering to offer the "Ancient of Days"). For this reason, the anointed one must be both the heavenly high priest, who is the Angel of YHWH/kavod, and the eschatological suffering Servant who brings about a "New Covenant" through his earthly vicarious suffering and death. In a word, this must be the "seed of the woman," whom we know to be Christ.


  1. There's a whole lot of good stuff in there. Too much to absorb/meditate on at this moment.

    You make much of Zechariah 3, which is wonderful because despite the difficulty of the book of Zechariah, there is a beautiful gospel message from it, especially ch. 3. Still, I confess to not understanding how the book coheres to the point I would like.

    You make comparatively little of Melchizidek, despite mentioning Ps 110. I sense that your purpose is to exposit an "Old Testament Systematics" here, but Hebrews does such a fabulous job of explaining the priesthood of Christ and its comparison/superiority to/fulfillment of the Aaronic priesthood, that it dominates my thinking on the subject.

    Anyhow, it seems to me that the priest-king Melchizedek is actually a lynchpin in understanding the priesthood of Christ. Now, to be fair, I am one of the few that thinks Melchizedek _is_ Jesus (pre-incarnate, of course), but be that as it may, Hebrews spends a whole lot of time on Ps. 110.

    Oh, and I found your discussion of Daniel 9 extremely thought provoking. thanks,


  2. Hey jack, you have a title for your book. Need to cite it in my work. thanks

  3. Sorry brother I need to ask you permission first...Can I cite your work in my research? Thanks