As Christians living near the end of the age, we often focus our attention on what Jesus Christ will be doing in a few years. With anticipation, we look toward the future reign of the Messiah from Jerusalem. Understanding that within a few years Christ will return to this earth as King of kings to establish His government over the nations, we eagerly await this turning point in history. It is exciting to think about this glorious time, and to look forward to our role in administering God's government under Jesus Christ.
In the same way, we often think back to the time of Jesus' first coming, and to the events described in the gospels. After all, God in the flesh was walking the earth as a human being. Jesus Christ was Immanuel, God with us, and He came with an important message—announcing the Kingdom of God and how we can actually inherit that Kingdom. When we read the gospel accounts of His earthly ministry, we may find ourselves thinking about how glorious and exciting it would have been to be present with Him, in the flesh. It would have been wonderful to hear His teachings and witness His miracles, and to talk personally and fellowship with Him, as so many were able to do in His few years on the earth. Then we read of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, and we understand why He came as He did. He was, as John the Baptist explained, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).
The Passover season points to Jesus Christ's role as our Redeemer and Deliverer. During that time, we reflect on the purpose of His first coming— and what it means to us and to the whole world. In the same way, at the fall festival season we generally turn our attention to Christ's imminent return and how important it will be for all humanity.
But do we reflect on what Jesus Christ is doing right now? After all, it has been nearly two millennia since Christ's ascension into heaven, and His return is still a few years away. What has He been doing in the nearly 2,000 years since the disciples stood on the Mount of Olives and watched Him disappear into the clouds? Is the time between His first and second comings merely a "holding pattern"?
We need to understand the vital role that our Savior is currently playing, and what that role means to us personally. When we do understand, we will see that His role ties directly in with the Pentecost season, the time between the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles.
It Is Profitable That I Go Away
As Jesus looked around, He saw troubled expressions on His disciples' faces. It was the evening of His final Passover with them, and He had begun to reveal His imminent return to the Father. As He began, He could see that they were unhappy and uncomfortable upon hearing this news. The unspoken thoughts in each of their minds must have been: "No, Lord, don't leave! We want you to stay right here with us."
Jesus, however, told them not to worry, and said that His departure would be profitable and beneficial to them. Jesus explained the benefit of His return to the Father, and helped them understand. But do you and I fully understand the benefit that Christ is making available to us, right now, as He is with the Father? Are we making maximum use of that benefit? Christ reminded His disciples that He had come from the Father and was returning to the Father (John 16:5, 28). He told Peter: "Where I go you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterwards" (John 13:36). As Jesus anticipated His restoration to the glory that He had shared with the Father before the creation (John 17:5), He also understood what it would mean to His disciples.
Although His disciples were worried that He was abandoning them, Jesus did not intend that at all. Jesus emphasized that He would not leave them comfortless. Jesus understood that when He began to talk of leaving, His disciples were worried that He was leaving them alone. That, of course, was not at all what He intended. In fact, He emphasized to them that He would not leave them without a helper: "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you" (John 14:18). The Greek word rendered "orphans" in the NKJV and "comfortless" in the KJV is orphanos, the word from which we get our English word "orphan." The disciples feared that they would be orphaned at Christ's departure, but He promised that both He and the Father would come and make their abode with them (John 14:23).
When Jesus Christ walked the earth as a human being, He could only be in one place at one time. In emptying Himself of the power and glory He had shared with the Father (Philippians 2:7), He had accepted the limitations of time and space. After returning to the Father in glory, He would no longer be bound by those limitations. Rather than encourage or be with just one person at a time, Jesus would be able to work with each and every true disciple at the same time.
Another clear reason why Jesus went away was to send the Holy Spirit, called in John's account the parakletos. This word is translated "Comforter" in the KJV, but a more literal rendering would be "Helper" as in the NKJV. God's Spirit is given to us as a helper in the Christian life. It is the means by which our minds are connected to God's mind, and through which we receive the help of God's divine power.
During this final Passover with the human Jesus, His disciples could not possibly imagine what a difference it would make to have the Holy Spirit actually inside them, uniting their minds with God. Until Pentecost, the disciples would have the Spirit with them, but not actually in them (John 14:17).
Jesus' departure to heaven would not only make the gift of the Holy Spirit possible; it would also open the way for a close, intimate and personal relationship between the disciples and the Father. As long as Jesus was personally with His disciples, they naturally would make their requests to Him, asking Him to ask the Father on their behalf. However, both Christ and the Father wanted the disciples to know the joys of an intimate relationship with the Father. Notice: "And in that day you shall ask Me nothing. Most assuredly I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:23–24).
When Jesus told the disciples that He would soon go away, He said that He was doing so to prepare a place for them (John 14:3). Many professing Christians have the misunderstanding that heaven is that place, and expect to go there to "roll around heaven all day" for the rest of eternity. But when Jesus talked of preparing a place for His disciples, he was not talking about such a "heaven." Do you know what that place is, and when you will inherit it? It is important to understand this key scripture, to recognize what place Jesus is preparing.
First, we should note that Jesus did not say that His disciples would come to Him—or that place—right upon their deaths. Rather, He said that not only would He go away to prepare that place, but also that He would return for His disciples, after which they would from then on be with Him (John 14:3). Where will Jesus be after His return? Zechariah 14 declares that His feet shall again stand on the Mount of Olives, and that He will be King over all the earth. The reward that Jesus promised His disciples was rulership of the nations on the earth (Revelation 2:26–27).
What, then, is the place that Jesus is preparing?
Christ told His disciples that "in My Father's house are many places of abode [mansions, NKJV]" (John 14:2). What is the Father's house? Is it heaven? Actually, Jesus called the temple the Father's house (John 2:16). Did you know that there were dwelling places in the temple? Note Jeremiah 35:4: "And I brought them into the house of the Lord, into the chamber of the sons of Hanan, the son of Igdaliah, a man of God, which was by the chamber of the princes, which was above the chamber of Maaseiah the son of Shallum, the keeper of the door." A number of chambers, or dwelling places, were connected to the temple structure (1 Kings 6:5). These chambers were assigned to those who held offices of responsibility at the temple. These temple chambers, or offices, represented the structure of God's government. Jesus Christ was returning to the Father so that He might prepare a place or position for His true followers in His soon-coming Kingdom.
Christ thus taught His disciples that His return to the Father would be expedient or beneficial to them, as it would allow Him to prepare a place for them in His coming government. It would allow Him to be present with each of them personally through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, sent to help and aid them in their Christian walk. It would also allow them to establish and enjoy a close, intimate relationship with the Father Himself.
The Priesthood of Melchizedek
Since His return to heaven, Jesus Christ has been functioning as our High Priest before the throne of God. He has been appointed a High Priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:6). The earliest New Testament Christians were very familiar with the Jerusalem temple and the functioning of the temple priesthood. Growing up, they had been exposed to the various ceremonies that took place there.
The priesthood was, in essence, the intermediary between God and mankind. Human beings had to approach God through the office of the priest, because the priest was the only one authorized to present gifts and sacrifices on the altar (Leviticus 17:5–6). The priests also oversaw the cleansing of those who had become defiled; they "separated" the children of Israel from their uncleanness (Leviticus 15:31). Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies to make reconciliation and atonement for the people (Leviticus 16:15–16). The priesthood represented God to man, and represented man to God. All of the ceremonies carried out in the temple, year after year, pointed toward the current ministry of Jesus Christ. The earthly temple was patterned after a heavenly reality (Hebrews 8:5).
Centuries before Aaron was ordained as High Priest, there was One who functioned as High Priest, blessing Abraham and receiving tithes from him (Genesis 14:18–20). That One was Melchizedek. Who was that mysterious individual who appeared so suddenly on the scene in Genesis? Paul explained in Hebrews 7 that Melchizedek was no mere man: He was without father and mother, without beginning of days or end of life, and He abides a priest continually (Hebrews 7:3). King David described the Messiah, his Lord, sitting at the right hand of the Eternal, proclaimed a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4). Paul explains in Hebrews 6:20 that this reference to Melchizedek is a reference to Jesus Christ.
The temple, and its ceremonies, showed ancient Israel that one does not simply wander into the presence of God. We cannot just come as we are! Rather, humanity by itself is defiled and unclean and excluded from the presence of the holy and sovereign God. Only through the mediating office of the priest, and the resulting atonement, can mankind enter into fellowship with God. Those ancient temple ceremonies pointed to what Jesus Christ is doing right now!
Jesus Christ has an unchangeable priesthood, and is fully able to save those who come to the Father through Him. He is continually alive to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:24–25). "For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the people's, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself" (vv. 26–27).
We have a High Priest who is at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 8:1). He is our Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1), whose mediating role allows us to be forgiven of sin and cleansed from all unrighteousness. The temple ceremonies were not the ultimate reality— they merely pointed to it! Ceremonial defilement, contracted from touching something unclean, was not the real cause of separation from God. Rather, it pointed toward the spiritual defilement brought about by the thoughts and attitudes that separate us from God (Matthew 15:18–20). Christ is the One who makes possible our continual cleansing and restoration to fellowship with God.
How much do we value the role that Christ is exercising in our behalf? He is not a High Priest who cannot understand what it is like to be human. He was, after all, tested in every point as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He underwent all of the tests and temptations that are common to human beings, and is therefore able to have compassion and offer us help. He emptied Himself and experienced humanity so that we might ultimately be filled with all of the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19). He is currently fulfilling His role as our High Priest to equip us for our ultimate destiny!
Christ came to reveal the Father, and to introduce His disciples to the same kind of close, intimate relationship that He Himself had enjoyed from eternity. We are brought into an actual family relationship with the Creator of the universe. In fact, we are told that we can approach the throne of God with boldness and confidence (Hebrews 4:16). We can come seeking help in our times of need.
In the days of Christ's earthly ministry, the priests drew lots to determine what parts they would perform in the temple worship (cf. Luke 1:9). The privilege of entering the holy place, bearing incense to burn before God, was a rare opportunity—one that many priests received just once in a lifetime. Even then, they were still separated from the Holy of Holies by a heavy veil. But what are we told as Christians today? "Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water" (Hebrews 10:19–22).
Brethren, let us be deeply aware of the role that Jesus Christ, our Savior, is fulfilling for us right now. He came to earth as our Redeemer and Savior, He is right now serving as our High Priest and Intercessor and He will return in a few short years as King of kings and Lord of lords! How thankful we should be to Him for each of these vital roles!