Leviticus 16 is a special chapter which is not the most mysterious, but rather should be the most well known in every Jew and Christian’s heart. The sacrifices themselves witness to this truth, this “Day of Atonement”, and yet, this chapter comes straight after the death of Aaron’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu as the first verse indicates.
Why is chapter 16 not placed right after chapter 10, so chapter 10 flows naturally onto chapter 16? I think it has very much to do with the significant placement of the Day of atonement in the book of Leviticus to show a particular progression, from uncleanness to holiness. The first 16 chapters has been spent explaining the meaning of the sacrifices and the procedure for each type of person/group; followed by the ordination and the preparation of the priests, then Nadab and Abihu’s death, which seems to be sandwiched insignificantly between the deaths of the sacrifices and the animals. Then, chapters 11-15 speaks of the type of flesh which is edible and which is not, in the form of the three categories of ‘holy’, ‘clean/common’ and ‘unclean’. Chapter 16 comes as the only example which represents everything that came before it and ties everything that comes after it. It is like a centrifugal force of Leviticus: the preceding and consequent chapters circle around this day of atonement. To focus on Nadab and Abihu’s death now is most relevant, because the Day of Atonement is a day of OUR holiness, a day of OUR sanctification as well as a day of the sanctification, a renewal, of the entire universe – however, not because of our extra offerings (especially not that of Nadab or Abihu as history showed!) but because of Jesus’ eternal offering.
Thus, chapter 17 until 27 fittingly begins to speak of not only cleanness, but holiness for the congregation of Israel. We’ve seen what cleanness and uncleanness is, and a glimpse of holiness between chapters 8 to 10. But now, we see the nation becoming sanctified and the commandments for that, between chapters 17-27, AFTER the Day of Atonement in chapter 16:
Chapter 1-15: Teachings on how to become clean from being unclean, and only the priest is sanctified
Chapter 16: Teachings on how nothing we do can actually make ourselves sanctified. The Day of Atonement preaches an atonement once and for all.
Chapter 17-27: Teachings on how to become sanctified from being clean.
1. Jesus’ ascension (Leviticus 16)
(a) The Most Holy Place
The High priest, Aaron, dare not enter the Holy Place inside the veil (referring to the Holy of Holies, because the Angel is referring to the mercy seat on the ark of covenant, which is in the Most Holy Place), so that he may not die (v.1-2). This is quite important, given the importance of Aaron having just seen the death of his two sons for giving an alien/hostile/strange offering. Thus, whatever offering should take place in this chapter is the one offering that can take the mere mortal into the Holy of Holies, as opposed to being destroyed.
As stated, we already understand the meaning of the Most Holy Place as the small cubic room inside the Tabernacle, and the Holy Place as the room with the table of shewbread, golden lampstand, and the altar of incense. The ark effectively acts as the throne room, with the mercy ‘seat’ whereupon the Father sits; then the Table and the Lampstand respectively represent Son and Spirit. Altar of incense is our prayers (Revelation 8:4) – and so this altar is in the middle of the three pieces of furniture, to show how the Trinity takes our prayers very seriously.
There is a veil between the ark, and the two other pieces of furniture representing the persons & and altar of incense which is very close to the veil. This veil, sown with cherubim represent the time when the angel with a flaming sword that turned every direction prevented Adam and Eve from entering the Garden from the east entrance. Therefore, whenever the High Priest enters the Most Holy Place (or Holy of Holies), it is symbolic of a re-entrance to where God had resided (since the garden was also called the “garden of God”, implying that the garden AND heaven were united in a way we cannot perceive except spiritually and theologically today). Jesus’ work on the cross and his entrance to the third heaven is exactly what the High Priest’s entrance into and work in the Holy of Holies preaches, and we will be working through that now.
(b) The Holy Garments
Aaron must then take a bull from the herd for a sin-offering, and a ram for a burnt-offering, whilst he puts on holy garments (holy linen coat, with linen undergarment on his body, with linen sash and linen turban). He shall wash himself with water before putting on these holy garments (v.3-4).
Something should be said about linen:
In Deuteronomy 22:11, it states that “You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together”. Why? What is the great significance of this material? Why the purity of this material?
Then, in Jeremiah 13:1, the LORD said to Jeremiah to buy linen loincloth and put it around the waist without dipping it in water.
Once more, in Ezekiel 9:3-11, 10:2 – calling to the “man” clothed in linen with a writing case at his waist who places a mark on people who should not be struck dead, akin to the Passover. Ezekiel 16:1-14 – that Jerusalem is wrapped in fine linen, a proverbial method of showing God’s covenant faithfulness and sanctification of Israel. The connection between linen and wool is again made in Ezekiel 44:17 – that when they enter the gates of the inner court, they shall wear linen garments… have nothing of wool on them, while they minister at the gates of the inner court. The faithful Levites who kept charge of the LORD’s sanctuary when the Israelites went astray wore such clothing to signify purity, who happen to be wearing the same clothing as the High Priest Aaron on the Day of atonement (c.f. Ezekiel 44:17-18). The garments were literally holy – v.19 suggests that if they wore the garments outside the holy chambers, the holiness would have been trasmitted to the people! And how fitting it is in Ezekiel 44:23, that the faithful priests shall teach the LORD’s people the different between holy and common, unclean and clean.
Daniel 12: a man clothed in linen who is Christ (c.f. Daniel 12:8 – the Hebrew used for ‘my lord’ is Adoni – this is the sovereign lord, which CAN refer both to a divine and a human lord; it would however, be quite odd to call an ‘angel’ lord as the angel is a servant and by no means sovereign over anything).
Finally, John interprets the meaning of the linen: Revelation 19:8 – ‘”it was granted her to clothe herself with the fine linen, bright and pure” — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints”. But who is the perfecter and founder of the faith of the saints, so the saints can even do such righteous deeds? In Christ alone (Hebrews 12).
(c) The offerings and the “Scapegoat”: the important procedure
He shall take two goats, one of which is to be determined by lot to be a sacrifice; the other to be a scapegoat, v. 5-10.
He shall offer a bull for himself and for his family v.6 and v.16 – this is preceding any other sacrifice, and this is an atonement for his household for cleansing (as a sin offering for themselves) before he can approach the tabernacle and complete his priestly duties.
Following this, v.7-10 explains the nature of the two goats: Aaron will cast lots over the two goats, one for the LORD and the other for “Azazel”. The goat for the LORD is what the lot falls on; this is a sin offering for the congregation of Israel. Contrarily, the other goat on which the lot fell for “Azazel” shall be presented alive for the LORD to make atonement. Afterwards, this goat will be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.
And now, he shall do this in order:
(i) Kill the bull for himself and his family; (v.11)
(ii) provide sweet incense (representing the prayers of the saints – Revelation 8:4) (v.12-13)
(iii) v.14 – he shall take the blood of the bull and sprinkle it in front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat with his finger seven times.
(iv) Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering for the congregation of Israel and bring the blood inside the veil and do the same as with the blood for the bull (v.15).
(v) The four procedures above is explained as atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the people of Israel, their sins and transgressions (v.16)
(vi) This step is extremely important: NO ONE may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out. I will be covering this in the next section, under “Awaiting His return”.
(vi) Then he shall go out to the altar before the LORD to make atonement for the altar, and put the bull and the goat’s blood on the horns of the altar sprinkled with his finger seven times. The altar is thus cleansed and consecrated from the people of Israel’s uncleanness.
(vii) AFTER all this symbolic procedure, THEN Aaron prays over the scapegoat, the goat for Azazel, and lays his hands on the head of the goat whilst confessing the iniquities of the children of Israel. After this,the goat shall be permitted to escape to the wilderness (v.20-22). This is ended with v.22 which states that: “the goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness“.
(viii) Then v.23-28 is a reverse procedure of taking off the linen holy garments, leaving it in the Most Holy Place, and cleansing himself with water in a holy place and put on his common garments and offer burnt offering for himself and the congregation. All the offerings are systematically burnt up outside the camp, with skin, flesh and dung burnt up with fire.
(ix) This is a statute forever, in the seventh month, 10th day. This is a day of no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns with the Israelites (v.29).
(x) It is a Sabbath of solemn rest (v.31) – again, it is a statute forever.
Christological reading of the offerings & Scapegoat
We already understood from Exodus and established that the mercy seat, which represents the throne of the Father, is in the Holy of Holies, which represents third heaven; and this is contrasted to the Holy Place which represents the spiritual church with the furniture of the table of shewbread (Christ), with the golden lampstand (the Spirit) and the altar of incense (the prayers of the saints in the middle of the Trinity).
The importance of cleansing not only the people of Israel as an annual cleansing, but also the cleansing of the tabernacle again marks something of new creation: like the mildew which grew on buildings and clothings, the LORD wishes everything to be renewed. This is especially true of the tabernacle which is in the midst and not in the outskirts of the people of God! For the LORD to be present before them, the work of the blood of cleansing as sin offering must be done for the tabernacle to also be cleansed. This is the same blood which cleanses man – thus, the message of the same blood cleanses and renews not only men, but also physical creation. It is important that the blood is sprinkled on the east side, for we have discussed the implications of the east side – being the only exit and entrance of the Edenic Paradise represented once more in Ezekiel 43:2-4, the only entrance where the Glory of the LORD entered the New Creation. The blood sprinkled on the east is representative of the new opportunity to enter the renewed kingdom of God.
We shouldn’t forget also that the 10 Words of God on Mt. Sinai are placed within the ark, as well as the budding of Aaron’s staff (but that will be later). It is important to see that God’s holiness manifested in the law is tied up with the blood of the goat. To be surprised that the Messiah did not come as a literal king, but as a person who beared the offence of society and would shed blood on the world’s behalf is to forget the profound imagery provided by the Angel and the High Priest.
Therefore, the renewal of the tabernacle in entirety, with the blood on the east side of the mercy seat, and the cleansing of the altar of sacrifice, shows the RENEWAL of the tabernacle AND the altar of sacrifice: the cleansing of the two holy symbolisms of both Jesus Christ and the New Creation of the New city of Jerusalem, where heaven and earth join. Zion, where the LORD will commune with the completely sanctified spiritual Israelites.
Let’s not forget that during this period in the Holy of Holies, the cloud on the ark is actually an indication of the presence of Christ – the Angel of the LORD (Colossians 1:15). Anytime the congregation of Israel meets with “God” is a meeting with the Son, whose role is to present the works and the thoughts of the Father. He is inextricably tied to the Father’s works (John 6:38), making Christ’s identity mysterious. What are his own works? What are his OWN intentions? Indeed, his OWN intentions IS to obey the Father completely – and it is shown here, by his presence, instead of his Father’s on the ark.
The offerings, unsurprisingly point to Christ – but the bull offering for the priest simply shows that the priest himself is sinful. Yet, Christ need only offer himself and need not die for his own sins; rather, it is quite important that he dies for the sin of the others, whilst the human priest must acknowledge his own incapability of removing others sins without dealing with his own first. In the same way, how can a Christian preach the gospel if he isn’t himself made righteous? And only in Christ are we righteous. The ‘ascension’ of the high priest, wearing linen representing the ‘righteous deeds of the saints’, is the same ascension of Christ in Acts 1-2. You may ask why the ‘holy garments’ here is so simple compared to the ordination in Leviticus 8-10; it is because there is a renewal of all things on the Day of Atonement (as if the priestly ordinations prior to the Day of Atonement were merely ‘mock-offerings’, and a warm-up, a teaching tool, to this one day. Indeed – the Old Testament law came only for a temporary period to teach them about the gospel, and many believed the gospel through this teaching tool. Yet, Christ had come to fulfill what they had already perceived by the power of the Spirit, and so the offerings all year round effectively leads people to look forward to the ‘great cleaning’ of the Day of Atonement which only happens annually. For us, Christ still remains in the Most Holy Place to this day.
In this sense, the goat, the scape goat, is sent out with the sins of Israel and our sins are removed as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). It is important to note that the two goats were taken from the community (v.5) because they represented the community; in the same way, Christ was taken as man, as partaker of our community, to be sacrificed for us. Thus, the goat that died for us is the goat which represented Calvary; but the goat which is sent off into the wilderness is the epitome of “evil” and the “way of the devil”, which is why it is effectively ‘banished’ to outside the camp. The wilderness has always been seen as a place of ‘desolation’ and representative of no communion with God. Hence, the significance of Hagar, Mt. Sinai, and the covenant of the Mosaic law being made at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20; Galatians 4) implies the existence of the law merely to magnify the transgressions.. yet the law is completely undergirded by the gospel (Genesis 12 preceding Exodus 20) which is the meaning of the statute forever which ends this chapter of Leviticus (Leviticus 16:33-34). I would go as far as to say therefore, that the goat of sacrifice is the Second Adam, Christ; but the scapegoat, is the first Adam, in whom we sinned as an entire human race. It is only right to make this connection, because of the two creatures sacrificed being the same type of goat, taken from the same community; and both Adam and Christ bore the same human flesh, albeit the latter was sinless, but the former bore the sins of the community and was banished to the wilderness to the east of the Garden in Genesis 3.
It is quite important also to look at the significance of the term Azazel, which seems to be omitted in the KJV. The Hebrew is עזאזל (the English being almost a literal translation from Hebrew: “aza’ zel“, and the LXX rendition is αποπομπαιω (apopompaiow) and αποπομπαιου στησει in v.10 which are both hard to translate. There is no indication that the LXX sees “Azazel” as a figure, a person, like Satan or a fallen angel – rather, it is implied in the LXX that “Azazel” is like a high cliff, or even just a magnification of the word ‘wilderness’. In the Hebrew, there is no indication of the distinction between ‘scapegoat’ and Azazel – it is as if both as tied together inextricably. Adam Clarke has this to say about the term:
“azazel, from עז az, a goat, and אזל azal, to dismiss; the dismissed or sent away goat, to distinguish it from the goat that was to be offered in sacrifice. Most ancient nations had vicarious sacrifices, to which they transferred by certain rites and ceremonies the guilt of the community at large, in the same manner in which the scapegoat was used by the Jews.”
Whatever merit there is to compare Jewish rites with other religions, it is clear that the other ‘religions’ and cultural practices are merely mock-ups of the true sacrifice of the great exchange of imputed sin and righteousness which is clearly shown in the Day of Atonement. This begs the question: did the Jews know it clearly? I hope so, otherwise they are no better than their Egyptian counterparts who have similar, but unChristian cultures in the time of Moses.
Perhaps the spiritual understanding of the scapegoat is offered in Zechariah 3:1-10 –
Zec 3:1-10 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. (2) And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” (3) Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. (4) And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” (5) And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by. (6) And the angel of the LORD solemnly assured Joshua, (7) “Thus says the LORD of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. (8) Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. (9) For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. (10) In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.”
The significance here is that Satan is present, and is rebuked symbolically by Jerusalem, our nation. The choice of Jerusalem is of course the choice made in Christ; for Jerusalem is the elect only because Christ is the elect one in whom Jerusalem as a new nation resides. Joshua, as High Priest in the book of Zechariah, bears the same Hebrew name as Jesus – and he therefore works as a twofold prophetic witness to Christ’s work on the cross and through to ascension. The rebuking of Satan is a prophetic picture of the rebuking of the goat, whilst the blood of the first goat is offered to cleanse the uncleanness of both man and creation. It wouldn’t therefore be far-fetched to say that the goat in some sense is offered to go back to Satan, the first liar, deceiver and murderer, just as the filthy garments are left behind immediately after the LORD’s rebuking of Satan. This is true symbolism of ridding ourselves of our filthy rags which smell of Satan, and wearing the new clothes from God which is aromatic of Christ.
Finally, the significance of the Sabbath ending the Day of Atonements (v.31-34) is indicative of looking forward to the 8th day of Christ’s circumcision on the cross. The 8th day of New Creation. This significance of ‘day’ cannot be underplayed – neither should we overlook the significance of this Day of Atonement as part of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, the month of Tishrei and the 10th day of Tishrei. In Jewish history, “Tishrei” is the month where Adam and Eve were created, and they consider the 1st day of Tishrei to be day six of creation.
Following this, on the 10th day of Tishrei in Moses’ time is the day when the Second Tablets, the second set of Ten Words were given to Moses. This is extremely significant: if the 10th day of Tishrei is when the second set of the Ten Words, which were different from the first (the first set pertained strictly to the land; the second set looked beyond that!), then the Day of Atonement isn’t just any other day. It is both a Sabbath, looking forward to the 8th day; and this 8th day is shown in the giving of the second set of 10 words, looking forward to the fulfillment of the promise of Genesis 12 instead of Exodus 20.
2. Awaiting His return
So, we understand the work of the priests as completely re-enacting the patterns of heaven on earth. Hebrews 9 was written with a detailed explanation of this truth, which would not have escaped Moses’ and Aaron’s knowledge either. It is worth quoting the chapter from v. 11-28 with some emphasis:
Heb 9:6 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties,
Heb 9:7 but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people.
Heb 9:8 By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing
Heb 9:9 (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper,
The meaning here is quite important: the first section is still standing – and that is the present age. We are STILL in the age where the veil is unbroken; and the veil is merely broken spiritually, but we are still removed from the Holy of Holies where Christ is now, until his second coming.
Heb 9:10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.
Heb 9:11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)
Heb 9:12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
Heb 9:13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh,
Heb 9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
Again, the emphasis is on the tent of meeting being a copy of the greater representation NOT of this creation. Something which cannot be made with human hand.
Heb 9:15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
Heb 9:16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established.
Heb 9:17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive.
Heb 9:18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood.
Heb 9:19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people,
Heb 9:20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.”
Heb 9:21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship.
Heb 9:22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
Heb 9:23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.
Remember: the blood of the covenant shown in the Old Testament, in the form of the blood of goats and bulls and rams is merely symbolic of the blood necessary to purify the symbolic furniture and tent of the Godly tent of meeting not of this creation.
Yet, it is important to ask a few questions: how then, was Moses saved by the Spirit and by Christ, if Christ had not already died? If the Spirit was not already given? I find it quite troubling when people answer that the Old Testament saints were saved by another way, but Hebrews 9 states it quite clearly. “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you”. The law only came temporarily, from Moses onwards; the law clearly did not save them. Not only did the law not save them, but Moses did not need to trust in the sacrifices as a peripheral trust in Christ. No – Moses trusted in Christ directly. Without that, he would not have understood the sacrifices. In the same way, we would not have come to understand the spiritual truths of the Mosaic law if the covenant to Abraham was not made prior to the law, which is merely for a temporary period.
If the tabernacle, which came only temporarily, represented an eternal truth which cannot be described fully, then also the blood of the covenant represented an eternal truth of Christ Jesus, whether he had already fulfilled his work on the cross and had given the Spirit already or not. How did Oholiab, the architect of the tabernacle have the Spirit if Christ did not die, resurrect and ascend to give the Spirit? How can Moses, in Deuteronomy, ask the Israelites to have their hearts circumcised except by the Spirit? Such are the important mysteries of God’s being in becoming, and the mystery of Revelation 13:8.
Heb 9:24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.
Heb 9:25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own,
Heb 9:26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
Heb 9:27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,
Heb 9:28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Finally, Christ need NOT offer himself repeatedly. This is where the Catholic Eucharist entirely fails, because of the doctrine of transubstantiation which teaches that Christ is continually offered! The point of the day of atonement is that it is done symbolically annually, which is taken to mean once and for all. Christ’s work need not depend on our re-enactions, but Christ’s work was done before the foundations of the world! v.27 – as it is appointed for man to die once, so Christ will appear a second time NOT to die again, nor to deal with sin, but to save those who are waiting.
Not only this, but let’s meditate on the importance of Christ in the Holy of Holies now. He is not WITH US now. His meaning in Matthew 28, that he is with us to the end of the ages, is in terms of access by the power of the Spirit. Christ, very much, still resides in third heaven. To assume that the Eucharist, the Sacraments, physically and manifestly brings Christ down to us is nigh-heresy (c.f. J.C. Ryle’s “Five English Reformers” who were martyred when they spoke against this Papist doctrine). Rather, we are taken back to Christ in its symbolism.
In the significance of sacraments, we must remember it in three parts: the sign, what it signifies, and the connection of the two. In what way, therefore, is the consecrated bread and wine the body and blood of Christ? The Catholic view of bread and wine is physically changed into the body and the blood. Much thanks to Paul Blackham’s study notes from his series on the Biblical Frameworks on the Sacraments for these three broad-stroke views within the Reformed view of communion:
He is most extreme in the sense that there is no bodily presence of Christ in the elements of the Eucharist. The bread and wine were literally mere symbols of the body and blood of Christ. When it states that “this is my body”, it is really”this represents my body”. The meal is a remembrance that the LORD was here – so Matthew 28 means His Spirit is with us.
Calvin wanted to distinguish from Zwingli, though he basically believed also that there is no physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But he also stated that the Eucharist was more than a ‘mere commemoration’, for Calvin believes that Jesus is located in one place, at the right hand of the Father in third heaven. He, therefore, cannot be bodily present in the Eucharist. Yet, also, because of his divinity, he can be present in all places at once, filling the entire universe. In this way, Christ is not present with us in any real sense, but his influence by the Spirit is with us. I personally take to this view, because it balances between Jesus’ divinity and humanity, as well as relate the role of Christ to the Spirit as the parakletos, the Helper whilst Jesus is not ‘here’ (John 14:16).
Now Luther thinks this is all ridiculous and his proof-text is Ephesians 4:10 – “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all heavens, in order to fill the whole universe”. How can Jesus fill the whole universe if He is located simply in one place, at the Father’s right hand? Calvin and Zwingli are essentially saying that Jesus’ human nature is in one place, while his divine nature is everywhere. But Luther could not separate Jesus’ humanity with his divinity, and said instead he’s “rather drink blood with the Papists than wine with these fanatics”… and paraphrasing him, if Christ is not clothed in our humanity, then he would be ‘nothing to do with us’. Thus, Christ was omnipresent in BOTH divinity and humanity (1 Corinthians 15:44).
Luther’s position is therefore a bit more nuanced in answering to Matthew 28:20 “surely I am with you always”. This is not like Rome’s position because for Luther, the bread and wine remain the same and they do not become the body and blood of Christ. We take the blood and body of Christ with the bread and wine, and thus take the LORD’s Supper seriously (1 Corinthians 11:27-30).
While there are further things to be said about Calvin’s and Luther’s position, as opposed to Zwingli’s overly-spiritual tangent on the Communion, I think Calvin’s position holds more water here. Whatever the merit is on both sides, we can see that the Papist position does injustice to the once and for all concept of Christ’s work for us; and I believe all three reformers would agree that Christ’s filling of the universe and taking the blood to the throne room is the cause for this discussion to break away from the Papist view of the Eucharist, and remember that Christ has not yet manifestly returned to us yet.
We are waiting for the High Priest to return
And so, we are still in the stage of Leviticus 16:17 – we are still waiting for his return. Are you? Some people complain that he has spent too long a time in the Holy of Holies – that he should return now. Indeed, having that desire is not sinful, since we ARE looking forward to Christ’s second advent! Yet, to also ‘complain’ and not wait patiently is to misunderstood his work for us. 2 Peter 3 is poignant on this point:
2Pe 3:1-18 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, (2) that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, (3) knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. (4) They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (5) For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, (6) and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. (7) But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
The significance here is that the “word of God” (v.5) is the source of creation – and the subsequent destruction of that creation and a renewal of the world is a direct prophecy of our times today. We are, as Peter explains, in the ‘in-between’ time of the Word of God creating the world, and the oncoming renewal of creation by fire. The scoffers in Noah’s time asked where the punishment is? Where is the Christ? And the scoffers in our times ask the same question. As inevitable as the flood was, and as much of a surprise it was in Noah’s time, the fire, the Resurrection Day will come as a surprise to the scoffers today.
(8) But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (9) The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (10) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (11) Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, (12) waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!
The LORD is still working to this day for the salvation of many. V9 is great: “that all should reach repentance“. This, coupled with Romans 16:7, displays that we were not ‘pre-elected’. Rather, the Elect One, is Christ – and by partaking in Christ, in his work on the cross, then we also are taken up with Christ. We are the elect only because he is the elect one; we are righteous because he is the definitive righteous one (Psalm 1). So, it is important to remember that we are waiting for Christ’s return, but should not ‘rush’ him – he is not slow to fulfill his promise, that all should reach repentance. His bringing of his blood to the Holy of Holies and awaiting his own return is his expression that as many people as possible should reach repentance. Do you have that sort of love for your neighbour, or do you care only for your own salvation? If the latter, what kind of Jesus are you believing in? Not the Jesus of the Bible for sure.
The ending words of 2 Peter are especially relevant for this post on the Day of Atonement. Meditate of these words well, and look to Christ even more so:
(13) But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (14) Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. (15) And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, (16) as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (17) You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. (18) But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.