Installing the new priest
The Old Testament gave instructions concerning the priestly cult, yet these were only shadows. In these images it became clear the priesthood was lacking––it could never make perfect. The priests served as flawed individuals for a flawed nation. They sacrificed in tents and temples with the blood of animals. They came into service to intercede repeatedly for their own sins and the sins of the nation.
Therefore, when Jesus occupies the space of the earth he does so as the true priest. He fulfills what the priesthood lacked. Yet, it is not until Jesus ascends that he enters completely into his priestly role. Upon entering into heaven, God installs him as an eternal high priest.
The Messiah’s ascent thus does not put to a stop to his priestly work––on the contrary it transfers this role into a new epoch. Hebrews 4:14 affirms Jesus still acts as our priest in heaven. “Since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” The ascension marks an important turn and shift in Christ’s priestly work. Here we will focus on how the ascension shifts the high-priestly blessing.
The Priest’s Blessing
Priests essentially serve before God: they intercede based on their sacrifices. Yet, priestly intercession has a goal: receiving blessings from the face of God and distributing that blessing to God’s people. In the Old Testament, as the High Priest left the Tent of Meeting, they would lift up their hands and bless the people (Lev 9:22-23). This was modeled after both Moses and Melchizedek who blessed Israel and Abraham. Numbers provides the content of the priestly blessing.
The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.Num 6:24-28
Jesus blesses us in a similar way as our High Priest. Right before Jesus ascends in Luke, he lifts up his hands and blesses his people (Luke 24:50-51). In Luke God’s blessing is regularly connected with his presence (Luke 1:42, 68-69; 2:28-32). Acts recount this blessing includes the Holy Spirit and John 14:26-27 connects the gift of the Spirit with the High Priest’s blessing in Numbers. Jesus affirms in the Helper will teach the disciples all things. More specifically Jesus identifies this teaching as, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27).
Jesus, as the great High Priest, is the new Aaron who extends his hands over the people and gives them peace through the Holy Spirit. His priestly blessing gifts the Spirit––the one who allows peace. Jesus not only gives the Aaronic blessing but fulfills it. “The great High Priest can and not only pronounced the benediction, but he became the benediction.”
The blessing and Pentecost
Torrance therefore correctly connects the blessing with Pentecost: “Pentecost is the content and actualization of that high priestly blessing. He ascended in order to fill all things with his presence and bestow gifts of the Spirit upon men.” The timing of the gift of the Spirit is important here. Only after Jesus ascends is he positioned to give his people the Spirit as the priest. The Messiah’s ascension marks the perfection of his work as priest.
Some Puritans therefore spoke of the ascension in terms of military triumph corresponding to Roman triumphs. He demonstrates his victory both positively and negatively: he binds his enemies (sin, death, and Satan), and then distributes gifts (the Holy Spirit and officers of the church). When Jesus ascends to the right hand of the Father, he blesses his people with the Holy Spirit, washing them and making them clean (Rev 1:5-6).
The blessing of Spirit, through the priestly work of Christ, allows us to draw near to the Father. The Messiah’s ascension marked the Aaronic bestowing of the Spirit upon his followers. We now stand in the presence of God by the gift of the Spirit who gives us peace with God.
This post is adapted from The Ascension of Christ: Recovering a Neglected Doctrine by Patrick Schreiner (Lexham Press, 2020).