Our Bloody Religion Pt 2 (HC 14)

Part 1 of this post.

14. Can any mere creature make satisfaction for us?

None, for first, God will not punish any other creature for the sin which man committed;1 and further, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin 2 and redeem others from it.

1 Heb 2:14-18. 2 Ps 130:3.

One thing conferred significance to the sacrifice of animals under the typological administrations of the covenant of grace (i.e. those epochs of redemptive history from after the fall until the inauguration of the New Covenant): the obedience and death of Jesus the Messiah as the lamb of God.

Every single animal sacrifice, beginning with the slaughter of an animal and the covering of our first parents Adam and Eve in bloody animal skins, anticipated and was given significance only by the reality that would one day appear. Every time some sinful priest slaughtered some animal in the Jewish temple its meaning was fundamentally not that with which the priest or the people invested in it. Its meaning, its utility, its power lie only in the typological connection it had to the final, eschatological (i.e. that which is from heaven) historical sacrifice of Christ.

All this is to say that there are two schools of thought relative to the typological sacrifices which we should reject. First, we should reject the old liberal notion that what made the sacrifices significant was the personal, subjective meaning invested in them by those who offered them or by those for whom they were offered. In other words, we should reject the Schleiermachian notion that what made them significant is the way they helped one subjectively realize a great sense of divine dependence. No, however interesting it might be to speculate about the subjective meaning the act of sacrifice might have had for the people or the priests, it is basically irrelevant for understanding them. We really only know two things about those who participated in the typological administrations: they believed and somehow looked forward to the incarnation and entered into the new covenant by faith (Heb 11) or they did not believe and, in that case, to such, the sacrifices were useless.

The second school of thought regarding the sacrificial system that we should reject is that notion that somehow the sacrificial system was the reality to which redemptive history will one day return. It completely turns the biblical self-understanding on its head to think that Jesus’ self-sacrifice was only provisional and temporary or that that one day the temple, typological system will be restored. No, the entire book of Hebrews makes it clear repeatedly and unequivocally that the entire typological system existed for one purpose: to point to the reality, to point to Christ and his sacrifice as temple, priest, and lamb. Yes, we must understand Jesus’ life and death in the light of the typological system but the spiritual and theological and historical meaning of the typological system is derived from its relation to Christ and his once-for-all sacrifice.

Part three of this series is here.

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  1. Dr. Clark:

    There are a number of especially interesting nuggets in here. Forgive my length.

    I) Your remark on the Christocentrism of a proper typological reading of the Bible. From all I can tell in my ignorance, this careful ‘anchoring’ seems one of the best ways of conceiving the essential difference between much of Patristic and Medieval interpretation v. the Reformation’s. One can still read papers and things from people who ought to know better claiming the irreligious, unmysterious, or rationalistic nature of Reformation exegesis which overlook much deft use of this typology, and a corresponding deep vision of the whole Christ in the whole of Scripture. Maybe Turretin on the OT Temple’s (Inst. 2 p. 155-158) real signification is a dizzyingly good example of overlooked spiritual profundity.

    II) When a hermeneutic strays from seeing Christ everywhere, it often ends up separating Christians from the ‘once and for all’ nature of Christ’s incarnation, obedience, and sacrifice, with the danger of privileging Christ’s paradigm (or example) over the Person. For example, I think that this is what Luther had in mind when he accused Origen (unjustly) of having nothing to say of our Lord; Origen, of course, is always talking of Jesus, but in a way which I think probably (justly) leaves him open in places to the charge of not seeing Christ in all his finality, but rather as the one whom we follow in our own ascetical ascension above this world and the heavenly realms and so on. In a related way, he sees the revelation of the New Testament as set within a larger pattern of the ‘eternal testament’ that is potentially a disservice to our own little temporal one.

    III) The conscience’s apprehension of the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, which ought to grant a blessed assurance. This happens to connect also with your repentance post. How ought the conscience that understands the finality of Golgotha manifest itself? Not, it would seem, through endlessly multiplied sacrifices of other kinds. We have, here, on the one hand, Christ as paradigm in the extreme ascesis of the Desert or the monastery. On another, rather different one, the re-creation of Golgotha each day in the ‘unbloody sacrifice’ of the Mass. I think that in evangelical eyes, as your notes remind us, what ties these together is their inability to find unconditional consolation in the evangelium.

  2. Hi David,

    Thanks for this. I appreciate your very thoughtful interaction. I think you are exactly right about Luther and Origen. The latter’s debt to middle-Platonism leaves little room for actual redemptive history.

    Yes, Rome says, in effect, “It is begun.” Jesus said, “It is finished.” Those are very different words.

    Thanks again. I’m glad that someone reads these posts on the HC. Sometimes it seems as if all people want to read is controversy.

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