Friday, November 20, 2009

"Priests and Levites"

Two prominent threads weave through the Old Testament Church, the New Testament Church and its Remnant of these last days. These threads are the corporate solidarity of the race and also individual acceptance of Christ and His righteousness. Both the corporate and the individuality themes are further illustrated by the various human body parts and its differing systems--the skeletal, sensory, circulatory, reproductive, respiratory, and digestive--all working together in harmony. Each one, although different in structure and function, contributes to the well being of the whole body.

In three of his letters Paul used the human body to illustrate the structure and various functions of the church and its individual members (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:14-31; Eph 6:11-16). The Church, whether in the Old Testament wilderness (Acts 7:38), or in New Testament times (Matt. 16:18) or in the last days (Rev. 12:17) was and is to be under the control of Christ its Foundation, Head, and Representative (Eph. 1:22, 12; Col 1:18).

After the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram in the wilderness, God re-emphasized the roles of both the priesthood and that of the Levites within the church. The issue was not one of superiority and inferiority as imagined by the rebelling Levites led by Korah. The issue was that of corporate structure and distinctive function. The distinctions are outlined in Numbers 18 with each as a part of the church of Christ.

The division caused by Korah, Dathan, and Abiram brought much suffering into the Church in the wilderness. Centuries later Paul wrote "that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another" (1 Cor. 12:25). This care was ignored by the rebels in the Old Testament Church. Korah and cohorts claimed they and the congregation were "holy" and stated that Moses and Aaron were guilty of self-exaltation above everyone else (Num. 16:3). This accusation against God's messengers seems to be a recurring theme throughout the history of the church.

Jesus had to deal with a similar false holiness as did Moses. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness" (Matt 23:27). These men while professing godliness rejected both the gospel message and the Messenger, Christ Jesus their Savior.

Along a similar vein Ellen White wrote, "Men professing godliness have despised Christ in the person of His messengers. Like the Jews, they reject God's message" (The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, vol. 4, p. 1651).

There is only one cure for this whitewashed deadness that appears beautiful on the outside. This cure is of course, Christ.

One of the shrubs, whose twigs were used for the sprinkling of blood or of water in ancient Jewish rites of purification, was the hyssop. This was a type of the cleansing power of Christ for the uncleanness of sin. David understood this and prayed "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:7).

Another typical purification ceremonial rite was that of a "red heifer." The animal was slaughtered and burned outside the camp (Num. 19:1-9). The red heifer was similar to, yet different from, the other offerings for sin. Nevertheless, the purpose was the same. It was a sin offering "for purifying from sin" (vs. 9). The blood was not individually applied to the sinner, but corporately for the congregation. The blood is mentioned only in relationship to the sacrifice, when the priest sprinkled it toward the tabernacle seven times. The blood of this slain animal was not carried into the first apartment of the tabernacle.

After sprinkling the blood of the red heifer, it was completely burned. Nothing but its ashes remained. Along with the heifer, pieces of "cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet" were placed in the fire (vs. 6). The ashes of those combined elements were then preserved for future use and lasted over a considerable length of time. The ashes were to be kept and later mixed with water for the "water of separation," or "purification for sin" (vss. 9, 17-22). The ceremony was for the removal of defilement incurred through physical contact with the dead and applied to the "stranger" as well as to the Jew (vss. 10-16). Hebrews 9:12-13 refers to this custom when contrasting the effectiveness of Christ's blood for the purging of conscience "from dead works to serve the living God."

The red heifer was a congregational, or corporate, offering (Num 19:1, 2). It was to be offered outside the camp, typifying Christ who was made to be sin and a curse for us. He suffered outside the established order of things (Heb. 13:12). The offering of Christ was corporate in nature, not for believers only but also for non-believers even enemies. Although enemies, He reconciled us to God, through His death (Rom. 5:10).

A yoke was never placed on the red heifer. This signified the voluntary giving of Christ to and for the world. Christ, in heaven, was above all law. The only thing that bound Him was the cord of His own love for us. When He became incarnate He came under the law, both in its jurisdiction and in its condemnation. He came under its jurisdiction in order to develop a righteous character for us. And He came under the condemnation of the law in order to redeem mankind (Gal. 4:4, 5).

Just as the red heifer was offered as a sacrifice outside the camp, so likewise Jesus went outside the gate to become the curse of God in order to redeem Adam's corporate and our individual failures (Gal. 3:13). Both the offerings of the red heifer and that of Christ were corporate in nature. However, the heifer's ashes were applied because of the individual's personal contamination with contact with the dead. So with Christ's sacrifice, while it is for the fallen human race, only those who have it applied individually are personally cleansed and these only receive eternal life.

--Gerald L. Finneman