Face to Face with God (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology), T. Desmond Alexander. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022.
Summary: An exploration of the biblical theme of priesthood and mediation and how Christ fulfills these par excellence.
Throughout scripture, we learn that no one can see God face to face and live. Yet the promise of the New Testament is that one day we all will have the veil removed and see God face to face, and live forever in his presence. How can this be?
T. Desmond Alexander explores this in this sixth volume in the Essentials in Biblical Theology, focusing on the theme of priesthood and mediation throughout scripture, culminating with the portrait of Christ in Hebrews as a priest and mediator superior to all those who have gone before.
Alexander begins with a study of the portable sanctuary that Moses is instructed to erect amid the camp and how it is a model of the heavenly sanctuary, down to the perfect cubicle shape of the Holy of Holies, as is the new Jerusalem, descending from heaven as a cube. It is the place where heaven and earth meet, a footstool, as it were, of God’s heavenly throne. It also reproduces in its outer courtyard, holy place and Holy of Holies, the three zones on Mount Sinai, a new idea to me.
Then Alexander goes more deeply into the concept of holiness, the consecration of priests and of Aaron and the related concepts of clean and unclean, with the sanctuary being holy, the Israelite camp clean, and the world and nations beyond unclean. Yet with all of this, Aaron can only come before the Lord once a year, and not daily. But it is God’s intent, even if it is not yet truly face to face, that this be a tent of meeting, where God, mediated through the priests’ sacrifices, meets his people. He also deals with the “tent of meeting” where Moses talked to God “face to face” as it were, with the barrier of the tent between Moses and the cloud. When Moses asks to see God’s glory, he is told that he cannot see God’s face, lest he die. The mediation of human priesthood can only go so far. And even this is only possible by the daily intercession of Aaron and the priests, dramatically portrayed at one point when Aaron, burning incense, interposes himself between the dead and the living when God strikes Israel with a plague.
Daily sacrifices and incense are burned for the sins of the people, beginning at the outside of the camp and going into the holy place of the tent. Then on the Day of Atonement, the priest passes within the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifice for the people. Alexander shows how this pattern is fulfilled once and for all by Christ who is both priest and sacrifice, who in himself is mediator. Yet how can Jesus, born of the tribe of Judah, and not a Levite, and certainly not a descendent of Aaron, do this? Alexander shows how this is the significance of the reference to Jesus as a priest of the order of Melchizedek, the king of Salem. He is the priest-king, David’s greater son of Psalm 110. Hence he mediates a better covenant as head of a kingdom of priests, devoted to the service of God.
The wonder, as Alexander shows, is that all this is possible through the priesthood and mediation of Jesus, by which we are cleansed, sanctified and perfected. It is not that we must serve God but rather that we may. Our hope is one of being able to boldly approach, looking for forgiveness and cleansing, not only to serve but to rest. Alexander traces all this out, step by step from Sinai and the portable sanctuary and priesthood, to the fulfillment in the Son who more effectively mediates for us and intercedes than any priest. Read this to not only understand all the regulations around the sanctuary and priesthood but to grasp their wondrous fulfillment in Jesus and what this has won for us as his people.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.