“You are to make the robe of the ephod entirely of blue yarn. There should be an opening at its top in the center of it. Around the opening, there should be a woven collar with an opening like that of body armor so that it does not tear” (Exodus 28:31-32).
That’s the kind of verse that makes our eyes glaze over when we read it, right? For example, we often read scriptures such as Exodus 28:1-5 like this: “Make holy garments for your brother Aaron…,” blah, blah, blah, “These are the garments that they must make…,” blah, blah, blah, “They are to make holy garments…,” blah, blah, blah.
No, I’m not making fun of God’s word. On the contrary, I believe the smallest letter and smallest ornamentation on every letter of God’s Word is important (Matthew 5:18). I’m making fun of us disciples and how impatient we can be. “Can we just skip to the thrilling parts?”
The verses above are God’s commands about how Moses should construct the High Priest’s uniform. The fact that the design came directly from Yehovah should make us sit up and take notice. Why? Because God cares not just about big things, but also the minutest details. That’s what I’ve been exploring with the previous examples.
Let’s look at a detail in the above verse that’s critically important. First, I’ll lay a foundation. Then I’ll show you how that small, but critical detail from the supposed snoozer of a verse above has a profound impact on all humanity. Here’s a refresher of some information I’ve shared before.
The father as king and priest in ancient times. A simple reading of scripture shows fathers ruled their families and functioned as priestly “mediators” between their family and God.
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ruled their respective families and served as the priestly mediators between God and their wives and children. Going farther back, Noah did the same. Truthfully, this was part of God’s original design. Genesis 2 reveals humanity’s assignment as priests between God and His creation (caring for and guarding Eden as priests would the Temple, same wording), and Genesis 1 reveals humanity’s assignment as rulers (delegated kings) over God’s creation.
Traditionally, the king/priest function was passed down from the father to his firstborn son. But sometimes God chose who would serve as the “firstborn king/priest” of the family and it wasn’t always the physical firstborn son. Esau and Jacob are prime examples. Esau was firstborn, but before they were even born, God designated Jacob to function as Isaac’s firstborn son. So even though God set the king/priest design, He reserved the right to choose alternates.
For example: The Levitical priesthood wasn’t Yehovah’s original intent. At Sinai, God chose Israel’s firstborn to serve as the nation’s priests (Exodus 22:29). But after the Golden Calf debacle (actually, debauch-le) when the men of Levi’s tribe stepped forward to answer Yehovah’s call to quell the out-of-control, lust-filled, idolatrous Israelite party animals, God chose them as priests in place of Israel’s firstborn (Exodus 32:29; Numbers 3:12). That’s how the Levitical priesthood began.
Another example: A human king over Israel wasn’t God’s original intent. Yehovah was to be Israel’s King, period. But Israel wanted a human king, so they could be just like the other nations (1 Samuel 8:5). When the Prophet/Judge Samuel (Israel’s supreme human leader) spoke to Israel’s King about this, Yehovah told him to not sweat it. The nation wasn’t rejecting Samuel, they were rejecting their true King (1 Samuel 8:6-7).
But this didn’t surprise God (‘cause nothing does, right?). Yehovah had already revealed this desire for a human king prophetically to both Jacob (Genesis 49:10) and a Gentile false prophet (Numbers 24:17). God revealed Israel would indeed have a king, but the king must be God’s choice (Deuteronomy 17:15) According to Jacob, the king would come from the tribe of Judah. Yes, Saul was Israel’s first king, but 1) he was from Benjamin, and 2) God made him king because He knew Saul would be the kind of guy the people would choose. Tall, dark, and handsome, right? When the people’s choice failed, God chose “a man after His own heart,” David (1 Samuel 13:14).
Yehovah exercised his sovereign option to choose his king for Israel just as He sovereignly chose to shift the priesthood from Israel’s firstborn to the tribe of Levi. What was once embodied in the father/firstborn son was split into two functions at a national level. Though separated, the originally designed function of king and priest was not abandoned.
However, our Heavenly Father planned to restore the original King/Priest function to the Firstborn per the original design and His intent was to embody it in one person. And yes, I do mean His firstborn Son, Jesus.
How would God do this? The King thing is simple. Jesus was born of the line of Judah, of David’s lineage (Matthew 1:17). Since Israel fell in 586 B.C. by Babylonian hands, there has been no king of David’s line, even to this day. However, when Jesus returns, He will take the throne of his father, David, and rule over Israel (Luke 1:32).
Here’s the cool part. Since Jesus is “one with the Father” (John 10:31) and the 2nd person of the triune God, the kingship of Israel rests once again with God. And get this! Though in essence God, Jesus is human and thereby His Father’s Firstborn (and only) Son. Therefore, the Kingship of God’s entire human family has been returned to the original design – the firstborn son ruling the family in the father’s stead!
But now comes the tricky part and the crucial detail. What about the firstborn son serving as the priest of the family on behalf of the father?
During the Last Passover, Jesus revealed to His disciples that He was about to begin the New Covenant His Father had promised through His prophet, Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31). As with the previous Sinai covenant, the New Covenant would require a blood sacrifice to seal it. But rather than torn carcasses and the blood of animals that clinched the Sinai covenant, it would be Jesus’ own torn body and spilled blood that would finalize the New Covenant.
The Sinai covenant also required a mediator to seal the deal. That mediator was Moses who acted as God’s High Priest (Exodus 24) before there was an official High Priest. In the same way, the New Covenant would need a High Priest to oversee its sacrifice and finalization.
Logically, that would’ve fallen to Caiaphas “who was High Priest that year” (John 11:49). There’s a caustic bite in John’s words about Caiaphas. God’s design was for Israel’s High Priest to serve for life. But by Jesus’ day, the High Priesthood was a position that was sold by the Romans to the highest bidding Jewish family. “That year” is John’s sneer of utter disgust with the practice.
But even though Caiaphas was not officially chosen by God, God still honored the office of the High Priest. John continues, “‘You know nothing at all! You’re not considering that it is to your advantage that one man should die for the people rather than the whole nation perish.’ He (Caiaphas) did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to unite the scattered children of God” (John 11:49-52). Isn’t that amazing?
So, although the tribe of Levi was chosen by God to supply the priests, and Aaron’s Levitical family was chosen by God to provide the High Priest, in Jesus’ day people were doing the choosing, not God. But God was about to make His sovereign choice of High Priest “that year.”
How? Through that one little detail from the opening scripture.
After the Passover meal, Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-47). He was brought before High Priest Caiphas who was looking for an excuse to condemn Jesus to death (John 11:49-53). During the interrogation, Jesus truthfully declared that not only was He Israel’s true king, He was also God’s Son of Man who will descend from heaven to judge the world’s nations and have dominion over them (Matthew 26:64).
Caiaphas. Freaked. Out.
In an uncontrolled fit of outrage, High Priest Caiaphas “tore his robes and said, ‘He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? See, now you’ve heard the blasphemy’” (Matthew 26:65). Side note: Tearing a garment is a traditional show of intense anger and grief.
Wait! Since the High Priest’s robe was a one-piece woven garment, where did he tear it?
Not at the bottom. Not at the sleeve openings.
At the collar.
You know. The collar that God commanded to be reinforced so that it couldn’t be torn and wasn’t to be torn because that’s the way God designed it?
So, what do you call a High Priest who breaks God’s command? Ineligible. That is until he offers a sacrifice for sinning “unintentionally against any of the Lord’s commands and does anything prohibited by them…” (Leviticus 4:1-3).
And what do you call a High Priest who has been chosen by people and not God? Ineligible.
The tearing of the robe reinforced Caiaphas’ ineligibility by his direct, personal sin. And at that point, Israel had no qualified High Priest to conduct the crucial part of the Passover Temple service later in the day.
Scriptures are clear that Jesus is our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14; 5:15; 6:20). So, when did that happen? After Caiaphas affirmed his ineligibility as Yehovah’s High Priest, Jesus became High Priest by His Father’s choice. Israel needed a qualified, eligible man to serve as High Priest. As the sinless Son of the Father, Jesus was the overwhelmingly best qualified and immediately eligible candidate for High Priest on earth! As God’s chosen High Priest, Jesus was able to be both mediator (High Priest) and sealer (Sacrifice) of the New Covenant. And having been resurrected, Jesus will remain His Father’s and our High Priest forever.
And now the coup de grace. Through Jesus, the Priesthood is finally reunited with the Kingship in the Firstborn of God’s earthly human family.
Little details, huge impact. Because if you think about it, our salvation hung by a thread on the tearing of a robe.
“Wait!” some biblical scholar will now shout. “God said the kingship and the priesthood shall not be occupied by the same person. The High Priest can only be a Levite and the King can only be from Judah.” You’re right, Mr./Ms. Scholar. Until you’re not.
You see, God’s original design was for the king and priest function to reside in the same person, the family’s father. But it was because of national Israel’s sin, the Golden Calf event, and the rejection of God as King, that the priesthood and kingship were separated. Furthermore, God knows human nature. To imbue two such great responsibilities upon one fallen human being would invite disaster. Search and read about Israel’s Hasmonean kings (140-37 B.C.) and you’ll see. And yet, God said the priesthood and kingship would once again rest on one person (Zechariah 6:9-13). But it would take a unique man to pull it off.
God had the sovereign right to choose who would serve him as His king and priest. Who better than His sinless and absolutely obedient Son? Only in Jesus has the function of King and Priest finally been restored as it was “in the beginning.”
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts