To Fulfil All Righteousness
A strange thing happened. A man claiming to be a ruling elder came to me one day and asked me a hard question. Opening my Bible to Matthew 3:13-17 (about Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River) he asked, what did Jesus mean by the words, "to fulfil all righteousness"? Fresh out of theological training, I was sure I could turn up a satisfactory answer. But he countered every one of my stock commentary answers. Then He led me on a merry chase through the Scriptures for which I am forever grateful. As near as I can remember, this is how it went...
He said that when the word "fulfil" was used, it was usually in the context of a prophetic setting and that the answer to be found was in the Old Testament. But first he led me further into Matthew to chapter 21, to the triumphal entry and Jesus' clearing of the moneychangers from the Temple, The Scriptures record that the next day the temple officials demanded to know by what authority he did such things. Jesus, who was not in the habit of playing word-games with people and whose words always pointed to a truth said that he would answer the chief priest's question if they would answer his, Jesus posed the question, "John's baptism -where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?" You will recall that they could not answer the question. The point here is not whether the priests could answer the question or not, but that Jesus referred back to John's work in the Jordan River. Something happened there that would give an answer to the priest's question of authority.
These priests came with a very long and rich tradition stemming all the way back to Aaron with Moses. Leviticus 8 shows some of the tradition of the priesthood. vss. 12,23,30 say: "He poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron's head and anointed him to consecrate him...Moses slaughtered the ram and took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron's right ear, on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot ... Then Moses took some of the anointing oil and some of the blood from the altar and sprinkled them on Aaron and his garments and his sons and their garments.
This was how the priests of the Old Testament were ordained to the ministry. But the Bible speaks of another kind of priest--one ordained in a much different way.
My friend then led me to the book of Genesis and chapter 14:17-20 and the account of Abraham rescuing Lot and his family. Abraham meets a king from the town of Salem (a shortened early form of Jerusalem) whose name is Melchizedek which means, "my king is righteous". Here is a man who was a priest of God Most High, one to whom Abe gave a tenth his battle spoils and who shares a fellowship meal with him of bread and wine. The difference between this priest and the future Aaronic priests are seen in many parts of Scripture. One thing about the priesthood of Aaron was the very sharp distinction between kings and priests. Never were the two to be combined (we all remember what happened to king Saul when he tried to take on the role of a priest). And yet the Bible speaks of a Messiah-King who would also be a priest--after the order of Melchizedek (Ps 110). The prophet Zechariah 6:13 says: It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.
The writer of the book of Hebrews gives to us a better understanding of the links between the Messiah, Melchizedek, and Jesus. Chapter 5:1-10 identifies Jesus as a priest after the order of Melchizedek with further amplification in Chapter 6:20, and 7:28. The distinctions between the two lines are shown, especially the basis for becoming a priest (7:16) which on the one side was an ancestral lineage, while the other was based on the power of an indestructible life. This was announced in an oath of God Almighty (7:17 and Ps 110:4). The voice of God was the authentication of the office of priest which was after the order of Melchizedek.
It was then that I realised all the pieces of the puzzle were fitting together. What had occurred at the Jordan River was not Jesus attempting to identify with man in a symbolic washing away of our sins, but something of much greater importance ... the ORDINATION of Jesus into the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek. He was anointed with water by the Holy Spirit which is the symbol of the new covenant. Isaiah 42:1 says: Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.
As this very unusual elder wove together this most fascinating piece of theology, he brought me back to Matthew 3:15 and the very place we started. I now know what righteousness had to be fulfilled and how God did indeed fulfil it. He read out verse 17 which said, And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."
Here was God's authentication of His Priest, Here were the credentials that authorised a cleansing of the Temple with a consuming zeal. Indeed, here was the answer to the high priests question. Jesus Christ is a priest of a different type---one that intercedes for us before the throne of grace forever.
I never saw or heard from the ruling elder again. I often wonder if I was visited by an angel unaware.
Published in AP Magazine 1992