Getting Lost Among the Particulars – The Great Work of the Great High Priest (1)
Among the five points of Calvinism, the “L” Limited Atonement (or Particular Redemption) is often times the most difficult one to accept. In fact, it seems to hit individuals as harsh and the most unbiblical (or biblically silent) of the five. However, I would want to argue that it is, in my opinion, the sweetest and most biblically profound of the five. I believe the climax of this sweetness that is in God’s particular redemption for his Church is found in John 17 – the High Priestly Prayer. The role of Jesus as our great High Priest is that of offering sacrifice and intercession. That is, Jesus came to die and intercede for his Church. Therefore, Christ must not omit either one of these works in order to be a faithful High Priest ( I owe much of this argument to The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, by John Owen). Christ is the advocate to the Father for us and he is the propitiation for our sins. This is plain in I John 2:1-2, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins.” The role of intercessor and sacrifice is one in the same. One cannot come without the other. Or in other words, the one is not effective without the other.
For whom does Christ intercede? The question, then is if the work of the High Priest is of sacrifice and intercession, ‘for whom does Christ intercede?’ Is his intercession particular, or does he intercede and pray for the entire world? This question is answered in many ways in John 17. But we first we might want to consider what he was praying for. The first thing would be that the Father would keep them. “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, as we are one ” (17:11). “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (17:15). The second thing that Jesus asks for is that the Father would sanctify them in truth. “Sanctify them in truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). “And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:19). The third is that they may be one as the Father and Son are one. “Holy Father keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (17:11). “That they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me and I in you” (John 17:21). Finally, the last thing that Jesus prays for is that, just as we are to be one as he and the Father are one, we would experience the “intra-Trinitiarian” love and glory of the Godhead. “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, and I in them and you in me, that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23). “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (17:26). For whom does he pray that the Father would keep, unify, sanctify and glorify in Trinitarian love? Verse 9 answers, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” Verse 20 specifies further, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” Jesus is specifically praying for those whom the Father has given him and those who would believe – not the world.
Did Christ die for all, yet only pray for some? As John 17 displays, the intercessory pray of our great High Priest Jesus Christ was for a particular people, namely the ones who believe in him because the Father gave them to Jesus. Yet, the claim that Christ died for all in his atonement would make his role as a High Priest only half accomplished. Why would Christ die for all yet only intercede for the few? The reason this does not hold true to Scripture is because in the covenant of redemption between the Father and Son, in eternity past, they had a particular plan with a particular people in mind, namely his Church. Therefore, in loving sovereignty, Christ came to give his life up for the sheep, all the while interceding for them that they may be kept, unified, sanctified, and glorified in Trinitarian communion and love in Christ Jesus.