Aaron’s priestly work brings holiness Israel
In our last reflection on Exodus 28, we see that verses 36-39 describe the priest’s turban. Front and center in this brief description, and on the priest’s head, is a the mention of a golden plate. Engraved in this golden crown is the inscription, “Holy is the Lord.”
From this statement, it seems that Aaron and his sons’ ability to enter the holy of holies and not die, indicates that he was given the status of holy and pure. Does this anticipate imputed righteousness? Perhaps, but clearly from the surrounding context (esp. Exod 29), he is not intrinsically holy, but covered in the blood of sacrificial bulls and goats, and wearing his priestly apparel, he is “holy to the Lord.”
More importantly though, he is not just representing himself. He is approaching the throne of God on behalf of Israel’s twelve tribes. Their names are on his heart. Thus, his status of holy is representatively communicated to the people of God as well. As the mediating priest for this people, he maintains or establishes the ongoing holiness of God’s treasured possession (cf. Exod 19:5-6).
Christ’s priestly work does not depend upon bulls and goats
Again in Exodus, we are working in types and shadows. So, it must be asserted that at the same time that the priestly work effectively preserves the people of Israel–God really does dwell in their midst–the sacrificial system given to Moses on Sinai cannot really make Israel holy. The blood of bulls and goats cannot cleanse from sin (Heb 10:4). But as they point forward to Christ, God accepts these offerings for his people, until the fulness of time, when his own Son would come and fulfill the law.
In fact Hebrews 10:1-10 explains how Christ’s priestly service depends not on animal sacrifice, but rather his own holy life.
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
With Christ as our perfect high priest, his holiness extends to all those for whom he represents. As Hebrews 10:14 declares, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” To say it another way, the priestly work of Christ is particularly for those designated by God to receive the benefits of his atonement, not his enemies (v. 13). Still, the effect of his purification goes even farther.
Christ’s priestly work purifies all of heaven and earth
There is only one other place in the Bible where an inscription reads, “Holy is the Lord.” It is in Zechariah. Consider the what the prophet sees,
And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the LORD.” And the pots in the house of the LORD shall be as the bowls before the altar. And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the LORD of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them. And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day (14:20-21).
The question is what does it mean that “Holy is the Lord” is inscribed on the bells of horses? What is Zechariah, the prophet, telling us about the age to come?
Consider a couple things. First, the bells are on a horse, not a human. Though, I have had little experience with horses, the smell of Mackinaw Island stands out. There on that little island, cars are not permitted, and thus the island has a certain “horsey” smell. In other words, horses are not clean, and the bells on their bodies would certainly not, of themselves, have the kind of cleanness needed to enter the courtyard, let alone the holy of holies.
More biblically, the mention of horses in the Bible, though variegated, is often not holy. In the law, kings were not meant to collect horses as a means of strength (Deut 17:16). In the Psalms, there is exists a contrast between trusting in horses, or trusting in the LORD (20:7). In the prophets, this sort of distinction, plays itself out with regularity (cf. Isa 31:1). While not attempting to draw out a “theology of horses,” there is a certain kind of tension in the text, that the inscription of the priest is now engraved on the bells of horses.
Moreover, as verse 21 continues, this holiness is not limited to horses. Rather, it is an example of how far-reaching this holiness is. What does this mean?
Here is my proposal: This prophecy magnifies Christ’s priestly work! So great is Christ’s priestly work that not only will his people be eternally redeemed by his blood, but all heaven and earth will be cleansed as well. His blood perfectly atones for the New Israel (Gal 6:16), but it also makes a way for all the earth to be purified.
Has this happened yet? No, but the text in Zechariah is eschatological. It is looking forward to “that day.’ The cleansing of the universe has not taken place yet. New Creation is still forthcoming; and yet Christ’s new creation work has begun in the individuals who have been made priests by the blood of his atonement (1 Pet 1:18-19; 2:5, 9). Thus, while we have not seen Zechariah 14 yet, we have every reason to expect that it will come to fruition “on that day.”
In the meantime, we have confidence that if Christ’s blood has the power to make horses clean, his blood has the power to make the worst sinner clean. In other words, if the atonement is so extensive as to clean all the universe, than it must be have such an intensive power, that there is not one sin that God cannot forgive in Christ.
Indeed, that is the promise: For anyone who confesses there sins to God, he is faithful and just to forgive their sins and cleanse them of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). This is the good news, and it seen in the tabernacle of Exodus 28, on the bells of horses in Zechariah 14, and throughout the rest of the Bible.
What could be better knews than that?
Soli Deo Gloria, dss