Israel has often been described as a type of the Church. So the 12 patriarchal tribal heads of Israel prefigure the 12 Apostles (pillars of the Church); the Passover and the Exodus prefigure the death of Jesus and the Redemption of the Church; the giving of the Law at Sinai prefigures the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost; the wandering of Israel in the desert prefigures the time of testing for the Church militant on earth; Israel’s entry into the Promised Land prefigures the entry of God’s people into the New Creation; the glory of David and Solomon on their throne in the earthly Jerusalem prefigures the glory of Christ on his in the heavenly Jerusalem. In other words, in terms of biblical books, Exodus to Kings/Chronicles.
If so, then what do we do with Genesis? And the Patriarchs in Genesis 12-50? And going further back, Genesis 1-11? Of course there are many spiritual lessons to draw from the patriarchal narrative, but how does the narrative as a whole, how do the Patriarchs taken together reflect life in the New Testament? Did Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac give him a small glimpse into how the eternal pact between the Father and Son would work out in history? Or Jacob’s vision of heaven at Bethel with the staircase on which angels ascended and descended? Do all the patriarchs taken together point us somehow to the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus? In other words does the whole narrative of the Old Testament prefigure the narrative of the New Testament?
And so are we meant to discern some large ‘covenant-cycles’ through Scripture? We can discern various ‘kings’ and ‘bringers of rest’ bringing these covenant-cycles to an end: Noah (whose name means ‘comfort/rest’ and who was given authority to wield the sword of justice with the death penalty); Joseph (who became the ruler of Egypt before whom his brothers did finally bow the knee); David (who established rest for Israel from their enemies in the land); and Jesus who brings true rest for the weary in the New Creation?
It would appear that the specific priestly duty of manipulating blood at the altar (under the Mosaic Covenant) has been fulfilled and replaced by gospel ministry (under the New Covenant). This seems to be clear from 1 Corinthians 9:13-14, where the apostle Paul is defending his right to receive financial remuneration from preaching the gospel;
Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:13-14).
There are two parallels here. One is to do with stipend, i.e. the parallel between ‘eating food from the temple’ and ‘receiving a living from gospel ministry’. The other is to do with the nature of these respective ministries (altar-service and gospel-proclamation). Both are God-given mechanisms to effect forgiveness of sins. Under the Mosaic Covenant, blood sacrifice was the means of effecting the forgiveness of sins (anticipating Christ’s final sacrifice). But now that Christ’s perfect sacrifice has put away sin once and for all, there is no longer any need for blood sacrifice of any kind. Instead, sins are forgiven through the gospel. As the message of Christ’s atoning work is proclaimed, and as people hear it and believe it, sins are forgiven. Thus we see that “the work in the temple” finds typological fulfilment in “the preaching of the gospel”.
One of the possible objections being raised by the second generation Jews (which the author of Hebrews seeks to answer) was this: “Where do we go to worship if there is no temple?”
The author answers this question by saying that the sphere of worship under the new covenant is no longer inside a holy place (or temple) but outside in the ungodly places.
11The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 13Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:11-14).
Those who would mediate God’s blessings to the world (as New Testament believer-priests) will suffer as Christ suffered. We go into the world to bear Christ’s disgrace. But we go to Christ for refuge. True Christian worship is shaped by Jesus’ moment of self-sacrifice which happened outside the camp and outside the city gate.
In his book The Priesthood of the Plebs, Peter Leithart argues that Christian baptism fulfils and replaces Levitical ordination. I find this a most wonderful truth that will transform the way we think of ourselves as Christians. Let me quote a paragraph from his book that summarises why he makes such an important link:
“Like Christian baptism, the washing at the beginning of the ordination rite was an administered initiation, and in these respects the ordination bath was unique in the Levitical system. While most Old Testament ablutions were self-washings, Moses washed Aaron and his sons (Exod. 29:4; Lev. 8:6; cf. Lev. 14:8; 15:16-18, 27); while most cleansing rites were repeated as often as one became unclean, the ordination washing was once-for-all. Though priests washed their hands and feet before approaching the altar or approaching the tent (Exod.30:20), this self-washing was not a repetition of the ordination bath since it was partial and not administered. Similarly, when the Levites were set apart to help the priests in tabernacle service, Moses sprinkled them with water, then they shaved themselves and washed their clothes before being installed through a sacrificial rite and the laying on of hands (Num. 8:5-15). The ordination bath and the closely related sprinkling of the Levites were the only administered initiatory water “baptisms” in the Levitical system. [Italics his].” (The Priesthood of the Plebs, (Eugene, Wipf and Stock, 2003), p95)
Thus in baptism, Christians are ordained as priests into the New Testament Priesthood and our whole life is dedicated to the service and guardianship of Christ, the Gospel and the Temple (ie the Church).