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Bible Facts Little Understood by Christians


Christ’s Present High Priestly Ministry[1]


Christ is presently exercising the office of High Priest on behalf of Christians.  He is ministering in the heavenly sanctuary, on the basis of His own blood, for Christians who sin.  Christians presently reside in a body of death; they still possess the old sin nature.  And Christians, falling into sin, must have a High Priest to effect cleansing from their sins.


The high priestly ministry of Christ is for the heirs of the kingdom.  It has nothing at all to do with the issue of our presently possessed eternal salvation.  In the camp of Israel, the ministry of the Levitical priests was for those who had already appropriated the blood of the paschal lambs.  It was for the cleansing of a people destined to become “a kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6; cf. Hebrews 9:1-7).  And in Christendom, the work of Christ as High Priest, typified by the work of the high priest in the camp of Israel, is for the same purpose.  It is for the cleansing of a people destined to be “kings and priests” (Revelation 5:10; cf. Hebrews 9:11, 12, 24).


God would have His people clean for both present and future purposes.  According to the epistle of First John, God desires to have a present reciprocal fellowship with a cleansed people.  Cleansing makes fellowship possible, and the entire matter is with a view to the return of Christ and attendant events.  Christians have been instructed:  “. . . abide in Him [i.e., live in a state of continuous, close fellowship ‘with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ’]; that, when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1:3-2:2, 28; cf. 3:6-9; 4:16, 17).  In this respect, Christ’s high priestly ministry is a vital present provision for the future heirs of the kingdom.


Christ gave Himself for the Church,


That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word,

that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing;  but that it should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:26, 27)


This aspect of Christ’s present ministry is possibly best illustrated by the incident in John chapter thirteen where Christ girded Himself, took a basin of water, and began to wash the disciples’ feet (13:4ff).  Peter, not at all understanding the significance of that which was happening, refused to allow Christ to wash his feet.  Upon his refusal, Jesus responded, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me(v. 8).  Then Peter, comprehending at least the gravity of the latter part of Christ’s statement, said, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head” (v. 9).


In other words, if a washing is what it would take in order to have a part with Christ, Peter didn’t want the washing limited to just his feet.  Rather, he wanted his entire body washed.  However, Jesus replied, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you” (v. 10).


In the Greek text of John 13:8-10, there are two different words used for “wash.”  The word used in verse eight (in both occurrences) and in the latter part of verse ten is nipto, referring to “washing a part of the body”; and the word used in the first part of verse ten is louo, referring to “washing the complete body.”  Further, the word louo in verse ten appears in a perfect tense, showing a past, completed action with the results of this action existing during present time in a finished state.  Such an act reveals a washing that occurred in the past, with the person washed continuing in the present as a cleansed person on the basis of that which occurred in the past.  Thus, any thought of the cleansed person undergoing another washing of this nature would be completely out of place, for he presently exists in a continuing state as cleansed.


Peter’s entire body had already been washed; but now, in order to have a part with Christ, he must avail himself of the partial washing to which Christ referred.


The entire matter is highly symbolic of a “complete washing” that Christians received in the past and “partial washings” that Christians receive during the present.  The complete washing results in eternal salvation, but the partial washings are necessary if one is to have a part “with Christ” in His kingdom.  The complete washing — viewed from the perfect tense usage of louo in John 13:10 — is a one-time, past occurrence, which can never be repeated.  But the partial washings, set forth by the word nipto, are something else altogether.  Subsequent partial washings have to do with a present, continuing cleansing made possible because of the one-time, past cleansing.


On the basis of the past, finished work of Christ, redeemed man has been saved by grace through faith.  In Ephesians 2:8, the words “are you saved [lit. ‘you have been saved’]” are the translation of a perfect tense in the Greek text, the same as the word louo in John 13:10.  Redeemed man possesses a salvation, based on a past, completed act (Christ’s work on Calvary), which presently exists in a finished state.  Everything has already been done on his behalf.  He had nothing whatsoever to do with the matter simply because there was nothing he could do.


He has been washed completely (louo) by another Person, and presently stands justified before God.  This is an act performed once.  It can never be altered or nullified.  It is just as secure as the finished work of Christ on Calvary, for it is based entirely upon this work; and Christ, in John 19:30, said of His work, “It is finished [lit. ‘It has been finished’ (another perfect tense usage in the Greek text)].”


Teachings in the realm of complete and partial washings, as set forth in John 13:8-10, are drawn from the experiences of the Levitical priests in the camp of Israel.  Upon their entrance into the priesthood, a washing of the entire body occurred (Exodus 29:4; cf. Exodus 40:12-15); then, after they had entered the priesthood, washings of parts of the body had to occur (Exodus 30:21; cf. Exodus 40:30-32).


The Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) uses the words louo and nipto respectively in these passages, in perfect accord with John 13:8-10 and corresponding teachings throughout Scripture relative to complete and partial washings of the people of God.  The hands and feet of the Levitical priests became soiled in their ministry between the brazen altar and the Holy Place of the tabernacle, and a necessary cleansing occurred at a brazen laver in the courtyard.


This laver was located part way between the brazen altar and the Holy Place and had upper and lower basins filled with water to wash the hands and feet of the priests.  Levitical priests, carrying on their ministries, had to wash these parts of their bodies before ministering at the brazen altar and before their entrance into the Holy Place.  This is the partial washings in the type and the partial washings in view in John 13:8-10.


The washing of parts of the bodies of the Old Testament Levitical priests is highly typical of the relationship that Christ, in His high priestly ministry, has to New Testament priests (Christians).  This is the teaching brought out in 1 John 1:6-2:2;  and these verses must be understood in the light of the Old Testament type, also taking into account events occurring on the Day of Atonement when the high priest placed blood on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies (cf. Hebrews 9:1ff).


A Christian walkingin the light” (1 John 1:7) is one who has availed himself of the antitype of cleansing at the laver.  Cleansing occurs as we confess our sins, on the basis of Christ’s blood on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies of the heavenly tabernacle (v. 9; cf. 2:1, 2).  The cleansed person is able to “walk in the light” (in the Holy Place) and have “fellowship . . . with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”  The Christian walkingin darkness” (v. 6) though is one who has not availed himself of the antitype of cleansing at the laver.  He remains in the darkened courtyard outside the Holy Place.  He remains on the wrong side of the laver, leaving him estranged from the experience of “fellowship.”


Christians have a “great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God” (Hebrews 4:14); and if Christians would have a part with Christ in that coming day*, they must avail themselves of His present high priestly ministry.  They must allow Christ to wash their feet; they must avail themselves of the laver; they must keep themselves clean through confession of sin.


*  Editor’s Note:  As a reminder, although already covered in the body of this document, the “coming day” refers specifically to the coming literal kingdom of Christ at His second advent that will be established upon earth for a specific period of one thousand years (Revelation 19:11-20:6).


[1] Judgment Seat of Christ, Arlen L. Chitwood, The Lamp Broadcast, Inc., pp. 198-201