Moving from Old Testament to New, the particularity of the priestly office continues. In fact, just as the high priest represents the 12 tribes whose names are engraved on his heart; Christ lays down his life for his church, the New Israel, those who are made new in Christ (cf. Gal 6:16; 1 Pet 2:5, 9).
Jesus Priesthood in John’s Gospel
For instance, in John, Jesus describes his atoning work as accomplishing salvation for those who believe (3:16), for all his sheep (10:14), for all his friends (15:13), and for all those God the Father has “given to him” —Jew or Gentile. Consider Jesus high priestly prayer,
Since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him… I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours (John 17:2, 6-9).
As John records it, Jesus does not reveal himself or pray uniformly to all people. He prays for those whom the father has given him. In priestly vernacular, he mediates only for those whose names are written on his ephod and breastpiece.
Maybe you are thinking, can we really connect Exodus 28-29 with John 17? That is a legitimate question, so it is important to see that there do seem to be some linguistic and conceptual links between the two passages. This is most evident in verses 16-19.
They [i. e. those whom God has given to Jesus] are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world… For their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth
In this brief prayer, there are at least two words/ideas that were used in Exodus 28–sanctify/sanctified and consecrate. Apparently, as Jesus anticipates his atoning death, he prays to the Father for his own. He stakes the fact that he will consecrate himself for them, which has explicit reference to his priestly work of sacrifice, so that they might be sanctified for access into God’s holy dwelling (cf. Heb 10:19ff). This was obviously the purpose of Exodus 25-40; and so it is with Jesus, who makes atonement not in an earthly tabernacle, but in God’s heavenly temple. And who does he make atonement for? According to John 17, it is those people whom the father has given. This is not a universal group; it is God’s particular covenant people.
Jesus’s Priestly Work in John’s Apocalypse
Finally, the list of names for whom Jesus represents as priest is also given in Revelation. For instance, in Revelation 13:8, John declares that judgment is coming upon “Everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” In other words, God in eternity past purposed whose names would be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Here, John is warning earth-dwellers of their impending demise, but by contrast, those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will be saved. Clearly, it would be inappropriate to say that this passage refers to the ephod or the breastpiece. However, the principle is analogous. In both the Lamb’s Book of Life and on his priestly garments are the names of those for whom Christ died. Again, the names indicate a particular representation for a particular people.
Likewise, in Revelation 17:8, John records, “And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.” Like the earlier verse in chapter 13, John is describing those whose names are left out of the book; but that has to imply that their are others–a countless multitude in Revelation 7–whose names are recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Thus in both positive (the ephod and breastpiece) and negative (the book of life) terms, God distinguishes those whom the Lamb dies for, and those whom he does not. As God’s appointed priest and sacrifice, God sends him to earth to be slain, so that by his blood he would ransom people for God “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (5:9-10). In this way, God’s particular means of salvation are made known to all the earth; and the promise that the gospel will be universally effective is found in the fact that in every tribe, language, people, and nation, God has his chosen ones. In this way, God’s offer of salvation can be offered to all people indiscriminately; and it has the promise of absolute efficacy, because of Christ’s perfect, priestly atonement and intercession (see Hebrews 9-10).
The Good News of Christ’s Priestly Work
This is the Good News! Christ’s salvation cannot be revoked. It cannot be overturned. It will not fail. While the Levitical priests were weak, and unable to cleanse human guilt, they did preserve the flesh. Yet, they could never save the soul.
Not so with Jesus. His priestly ministry is infinitely better. For all whom he died, he effectively saved. He is a glorious and beautiful priest! He perfectly intercedes for all those whose name are on his vestments; he does not forget us. We are close to his heart. As John records, He has lost not one! And all those who have trusted in him and repented of sin, can have glad-hearted confidence that their name is written across his heart.
May we proclaim that word all over the earth, until the priestly-king returns to reign on the earth!
Soli Deo Gloria, dss