Paul answers this question clearly and plainly in his epistle to the Hebrew Christians. His answer is: Jesus became high priest upon his resurrection.
However, before we examine Paul’s proof and reasoning, let us first note two texts he uses and applies most often - Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:1, 4. As far as we know Paul first reference Psalm 2:7 in a Jewish synagogue. This is recorded in Acts 13:32, 33,
"And now we are proclaiming to you [Jews] the coming of the promise to the forefathers, that all these things the God fulfilled to their children - to us - by raising Jesus, just as it has been written in the Second Psalm: ‘You are My son! Today I have begotten you!’ [Psalm 2:7]”
Thus it seems clear that Psalm 2:7 was fulfilled upon the resurrection of Christ.
Though Jesus is called “a Son” on other occasions the sonship predicted in Psalm 2:7 does not occur until his resurrection. Paul says the same at Romans 1:3, 4,
“… concerning His Son who descended from David’s seed by means of flesh, declared God’s Son (our Lord Jesus Christ) by a resurrection from the dead through a spirit of holiness.” [Christian Scriptures 2001]
But, where else does Paul apply Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:1, 4? In his letter to the Hebrews.
For example, consider some of the following. First Paul uses Psalm 2:7 in the context of Christ’s resurrection. Hebrews 1:5, 6 say,
“For to which one of the angels did [The God] say, ‘You are my Son. Today I have given birth to you’? [Psalm 2:7] And also, ‘I shall be a Father to him, and he will be a Son to me’? [2 Samuel 7:14] And again, when He brings His Firstborn [Psalm 89:27] again into the inhabited world of humankind, He says, ‘And let all God’s angels bow before him.’ [Deuteronomy 32:43 LXX].” [Christian Scriptures 2001]
It seems fair to conclude that the phrase “when He brings His Firstborn again into the inhabited earth" Paul is referring to Christ’s resurrection as the second time Jesus appeared again to the Jewish disciples. So it seems clear that Paul is consistent with his remarks in the Jewish synagogue [Acts 13:33] and his allusion to Psalm 2:7 in Romans 1:4.
Now in Hebrews 1:13 Paul uses Psalm 110:1,
“Regarding which one of the angels has [The God] ever said: ‘Sit you at my right hand until I place your enemies as your footstool’? [Psalm 110:1]” [Christian Scriptures 2001]
Paul alludes to Psalm 110:1 in Ephesians 1:18-23 where he describes the degree of Christ’s power in the heavens. So we can combine Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:1 as a prophecy regarding the resurrection and later ascension of Christ into the presence of the Ancient of Days. [Daniel 7:13]
Now having established this point Paul moves on to associate the high priesthood of Christ and the New Covenant with Psalm 110:1. Note Hebrews 8:1,
“Now let us summarize what we have been saying: We [Hebrew Christians] have a High Priest, who ‘sat down on the right hand of’ [Psalm 110:1] the Throne of the Magnificent in the heavens.” [Christian Scriptures 2001]
It would seem from this that Paul understood that Jesus became High Priest upon his resurrection. But, before we see this confirmed elsewhere, let us note a couple of other uses of Psalm 110:1. Hebrews 10:12-18 associates the New Covenant with Christ’s enthronement in the heavens upon his ascension into God’s Presence:
“However, after this person approached with a single sacrifice accomplishing the covering sins [perpetually], ‘He sat down at the right hand of The God.’ [Psalm 110:1] From that time onward [he] ‘waits until his enemies are placed as a footstool for his feet.’ For by a single offering he has accomplished the perfecting of those who are being sanctified. Additionally, the holy Pneuma testifies to us, for later it has spoken to us: ‘This is the covenant that I will covenant toward them after those days, YHWH is saying. I will put my laws upon their hearts. I shall accurately write them upon their mental comprehension.’ Then, ‘Their sins and lawlessness I shall never remember any more.’ [Jeremiah 31:31, 32] Now where there is a forgiveness of these there is no longer any offering regarding sin.” [Christian Scriptures 2001]
Paul combines Psalm 110:1 and Jeremiah 31:31, 32. So we could draw the conclusion that Jesus became High Priest upon his resurrection and the New Covenant went into affect upon his presentation of his sacrifice before the Presence of his God.
Paul alludes to Psalm 110:1 one more time at Hebrews 12:2,
“Observe carefully the Arch-Leader and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus -- who endured execution because of the Joy that lay before him -- disdained the humiliation [of the Cross]. [He has] ‘sat down on the right hand of the Throne of The God.’ [Psalm 110:1]” [Christian Scriptures 2001]
Thus, Psalm 110:1 began to undergo fulfillment following the death of our Master Jesus.
Now, Paul also associates Psalm 110:4 regarding a new priesthood for Christ with both this priesthood and the New Covenant. First we note Hebrews 7:15-17, 21-25,
”Also, it is clearly evident that a different priest [Jesus] arises according to ‘the likeness of Melchizedek’, who has become a priest, not according to a commandment of law which depends upon fleshly connections, but rather, according to the power of a life which cannot dissolve. For, there is a testimony [which states]: ‘You are an ageless priest according to the lineage of Melchizedek.’ [Psalm 110:4] … For, indeed, priests have become such without a sworn oath -- there is someone [Christ] who becomes [a priest] by means of a sworn oath. Because that One said regarding [this new priest]: ‘YHWH swore -- and He will not change His determination -- ‘You are an ageless priest.’ [Psalm 110:4] Just so, Jesus has received a pledge of a better [new] covenant. Also, [under the Law] there were many priests in succession because death prevented them from remaining [priests]. But, [Jesus] remains agelessly without having a succession to his priesthood. Also, because of [remaining alive forever] [Jesus] is able to completely save those approaching The God by his agency. [Jesus] is continually living to make intercession in their behalf.” [Christian Scriptures 2001]
It seems clear that Jesus became such a priest after the likeness of Melchizedek - both a priest and a king - following his resurrection. For he could not have become priest until he received such “indestructible life” - that is, immortality.
Paul writes earlier that Jesus must first endure suffering, learn obedience, and then become “perfected.” Note Hebrews 5:5-10,
“And just so the Christ did not glorify himself in order to become a High Priest, but rather the One who spoke toward him, said: ‘You are my Son. I, today, I have given birth to you.’ [Psalm 2:7] Just as he also says in another place, ‘You are a priest into the age according to the lineage of Melchizedek.’ [Psalm 110:4] Who in the days of his flesh made supplications and petitions toward the One able to save him from death. With strong outcries and tears borne toward [God] he was favorably heard, and as a Son, he learned obedience from those things he suffered. And having become perfected he became responsible to all those obeying him the one for causing ageless salvation. He was designated by The God a High Priest after the lineage of Melchizedek.” [Christian Scriptures 2001]
The word “perfect” is also rendered: CON: when his consecration was accomplished; NOR: finished his task; GDS: when he was fully qualified. The word “perfect” here is from TELOS [end] which may mean complete, consummated, mature, or in relation to a priest, inaugurated, installed, empowered, or, consecrated to office. Compare Leviticus 8:33 and Leviticus 21:10. Christ become “perfect” upon his resurrection when he was then inaugurated into his office as high priest.
Above Paul associates Psalm 2:7 - a verse fulfilled following the resurrection of Jesus - with Psalm 110:4 and a new priesthood. Now as such a high priest he had the value of his own body and blood to ascend toward God and the Celestial Temple, there to offer this before his Father as a sacrifice. Paul writes:
“However, when Christ arrived [in heaven] as a High Priest -- relating to the good things by means of the greater and more perfect Tabernacle not of human construction - that is, not of this creation -- he entered [the heavenly Tabernacle] -- not with the blood of goats and young bulls, but rather with his own blood - only once into [the Tabernacle’s] holy rooms, having found an ageless ransom. For, if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, upon those sharing in the communion sanctifies cleanses regarding the flesh, rather how much more [will] the blood of the Christ -- who through an ageless pneuma approached The God with himself [as an] unblemished [offering] - cleanse our consciences from dead works leading to sacred worship of a Living God.” [Hebrews 9:11-14 Christian Scriptures 2001]
But, when did the New Covenant become effective over the spiritual House of Israel and Judah?
In Paul’s context of a new High Priest in the resurrected Jesus, Paul also associates Jeremiah’s prophecy of a “New Covenant.” A covenant is a contract between two parties. Contracts have a purpose with beginnings and ends as the legal requirements are met or fulfilled. Jesus himself is the first to mention such a New Covenant when he borrows the phrase from Jeremiah 31:31. At Luke 22:20 Jesus uses the term “new covenant” in association with his blood symbolized in the Memorial Cup. Paul quotes the same language in 1 Corinthians 11:25. [Compare also 2 Corinthians 3:6] Based on this alone it would seem apparent that this spiritual contract went into affect following the outpouring of Christ’s blood.
The word “covenant” occurs several times in Paul’s epistle to the Hebrew Christians. When he uses the word he often associates it with the “partakers of a heavenly calling.” [Hebrews 3:1] Let us review these in the following verses. They will show that a] the New Covenant goes into affect following the death of Christ, for blood must first be poured out; and, b] the New Covenant is a spiritual contract only with the Israel of God. [Galatians 6:15] No where does the Bible ever include those outside the Church in the New Covenant. Consider now Paul’s use of the word “covenant.”
Paul first associates such a new covenant with the new priesthood foretold in Psalm 110:4,
“Just so, Jesus has received a pledge of a better covenant.” [Hebrews 7:22 Christian Scriptures 2001]
As shown above Psalm 110:4 was fulfilled upon the resurrection of Christ, after he had made his flesh and blood self-sacrifice.
However, now [Jesus] has acquired a much different priestly officiate in behalf of the people, as he is a mediator of a much better covenant, which is also lawfully based on superior promises. For if the first [covenant] was without fault, it is unlikely a second [covenant] would be sought. Note how [God] finds fault with the people of [Israel] when He says, ‘Behold! Days are coming,’ YHWH says, ‘and I will conclude with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah a New Covenant unlike the covenant which I made with their forefathers in that day when I took hold of their hand and led them out of Egypt. Because they did not remain in My covenant and so I showed no concern for them,’ says YHWH. ‘Because this is the [new] covenant which I will covenant with the House of Israel after those days,’ says YHWH, ‘giving my laws into their understanding minds. And upon their hearts I will write [My laws]. Then I will be a God unto them, and they will be a people unto Me. They will never teach each other’s fellow-citizen, nor each other’s brother by saying: "Know the LORD." Because they will all know Me from the smallest to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins I will never remember.’ [Jeremiah 31:31-34] By the use of the word, ‘New,’ [God] had made the first [covenant] ‘old.’ Now, what is "old" is becoming older and is about to disappear.” [Hebrews 8:6-13 Christian Scriptures 2001]
This “better covenant” is the New Covenant as Paul goes on to show. This New Covenant is based on “better promises.” While the old Law covenant promised everlasting life on earth, the New Covenant promises an immortal high priest with “a congregation of the Firstborn.” [Hebrews 12:22-24]
Paul argues that Jesus is the mediator of this New Covenant and only only became such following his death and resurrection. In the following text he expands and paraphrases on Jeremiah’s phrase regarding God’s forgiveness of the sins of Spiritual Israel:
“And so because of this [Christ] is a mediator of ‘a new covenant’ because a death has occurred leading to a release by ransom from the transgressions [of those Hebrews] under the first [Law] covenant, those who have been invited might receive ‘the Promise’ of the ageless inheritance. …Therefore, neither was the first [covenant] inaugurated without blood. For, ‘after every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people [of Israel] in accordance with the Law, [Moses] took the blood of young bulls and goats with water he sprinkled the small bible and all the people with scarlet wool and a hyssop [branch].’ [Then Moses said], ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the God has enjoined upon you.’ [Exodus 24:8]” [Hebrews 9:15, 18-20 Christian Scriptures 2001]
Paul associates the forgiveness under the New Covenant with Christ’s willingness to sacrifice his “prepared body” in a sin-offering.
“Then [Messiah] said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will.’ [Psalm 40:8] He removes the first [covenant] to establish the second [covenant]. By this ‘will’ we are being sanctified through the offering of the ‘body’ of Jesus Christ one time. … ‘This is the covenant that I will covenant toward them after those days, YHWH is saying. I will put my laws upon their hearts. I shall accurately write them upon their mental comprehension.’ Then, ‘Their sins and lawlessness I shall never remember any more.’ [Jeremiah 31:31, 32] Now where there is a forgiveness of these there is no longer any offering regarding sin.” [Hebrews 10:9, 10, 16-18 Christian Scriptures 2001]
This forgiveness of “their sins and lawlessness” involves the sanctification by the offering of the body of Jesus.
Twice more Paul mentions this New Covenant, but he does it in such a way as to explain who the “house of Israel and Judah” is. Note Hebrews 12:22-24 and 13:20:
“Rather, you have approached toward Mount Zion and the City of a Living God - to heavenly Jerusalem and myriads of angels -- to a great praise-assembly and to an ecclesia of those firstborn persons who have been inscribed in [the] heavens, to a God who is Judge of everyone, and to the pneumas of those righteous who have been perfected, and to Jesus, to a mediator of a New Covenant - and to the blood of sprinkling which speaks in a better way than Abel. … Now the God of peace - the One who raised the Great Shepherd of the sheep with the blood of an ageless covenant, our Lord Jesus.” [Christian Scriptures 2001]
It is the “Church [EKKLESIA] of those firstborn persons who have been inscribed in the heavens” who make up what is called in Jeremiah “the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”
Above Paul alludes to Jeremiah 31:34 in the phrase “cleanse our consciences from dead works.” In Jeremiah this reads: “I will not recall their sin any more.” Judging from the above the New Covenant would become manifest and effective when Christ’s disciples first received a cleansed conscience by the forgiveness of their sins. That would have happened beginning at the spirit-outpouring on Pentecost in the year 33 AD. For it was then Peter declared:
“So, you [Jews] should repent and turn around so that your sins might be blotted out [in fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:34]. Then restful times may come to you [Jews] from the presence of the Lord, and then He will send to you the One proclaimed beforehand, Christ Jesus. It is necessary that heaven must receive [Christ] until the times of restoration of everything that was spoken by the God through the mouth of the holy prophets in ages past.” [Acts 3:19-21 Christian Scriptures 2001]
Judging from the above the New Covenant went into affect around Pentecost 33 AD. When would the New Covenant with the spiritual House of Israel and Judah have served its purpose? It would be when the last member of the New Israel of God had his/her sins forgiven. It is likely this would occur just before the Return of the Master and the Rapture of the end-time Saints up into the Celestial Temple. The main contract of the New Covenant is the forgiveness of sins of the Church. After triumphant entry into the Celestial Temple no member of the Church would need forgiveness. Thus, the New Covenant would be fulfilled completely.
Though this would fulfill and bring to an end the New Covenant, the benefits and blessings that resulted from this agreement with the Church would shower divine favor upon humankind through Messiah’s Thousand Year reign with his Church. Indeed, more blessings would flow following the Thousand Years as billions of humanity are declared ”righteous” to enjoy earthly life forever.
Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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