Alexander, T. Desmond. Face to Face with God: A Biblical Theology of Christ as Priest and Mediator. ESBT 6; Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2022. 156 pp. Pb; $24. Link to IVP Academic
T. Desmond Alexander is senior lecturer in biblical studies and director of postgraduate studies at Union Theological College in Belfast. Has contributed the Apollos commentary on Exodus as well as numerous other works on biblical theology, including From Paradise to the Promised Land: An Introduction to the Pentateuch (fourth edition, Baker 2022) and Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission (with Andreas Köstenberger; second edition 2020).
This new volume in the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology presents a biblical theology of Christ as Priest and Mediator. What does it mean to speak of Jesus as a priest? Alexander answers this question beginning in Genesis with Adam as a priest in Eden, but the primary text he uses is the book of Hebrews. Hebrews is an exhortation centering on the priesthood of Jesus Christ. How does this portrayal of Jesus as a priest and mediator contribute to a deeper understanding of our relationship with God?
The first three chapters of the book look back to the Old Testament description of the Tabernacle as a model of the heavenly sanctuary, representing God’s holy presence on earth. Here he follows closely the work of John Walton, who argued the cosmos is God’s temple and Eden is an archetypical temple. Alexander thinks the evidence is strong, but he also acknowledges Daniel Block’s caution: sanctuaries resemble Eden rather than the other way around. After all, God never dwelt in the garden of Eden (27).
The Tabernacle is a model of the cosmos and a “portable Mount Sinai,” the place where Israel experienced God’s presence. The innermost part of the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, is the place “where God is.” This anticipates Israel’s experience in Jerusalem in the Temple. The closer one approaches the holy place, the closer one comes to God, therefore, high levels of holiness and consecration are required.
Only the high priest can enter the innermost part of the sanctuary, and then only after fully consecrating themselves. The next four chapters deal with the role of the high priest as an intercessor and mediator of the covenant. Alexander begins with Moses in the tent of meeting (Exodus 33), a story deliberately incorporated into the Golden Calf incident. This highlights the importance of intercession: Moses is the covenant mediator who enters God’s presence because Israel’s covenant relationship is in danger. The Aaronic high priest follows the same pattern. Aaron is a mediator in the book of Numbers, in contrast to the rebellion of the sons of Korah. The Aaronic high priests make daily intercessions in order to maintain Israel’s covenant relationship. The high priest sacrifices for the sins of the people who cannot themselves approach God.
To explain what a priest is, Hebrews looks back to Exodus and Leviticus and the nature of the sanctuary and the Aaronic priesthood. What happens at the tent of meeting? The high priest makes intercession for sinful humanity and reconciliation with God. Turning to Hebrews 7:27, Jesus Christ as priest makes a once for all sacrifice on behalf of the people for the sins of the people. Hebrews also compares Jesus to the mysterious Old Testament priest Melchizedek. “The introduction of Melchizedek enables the author of Hebrews to unite the priestly activity of Jesus with his royal status as the ‘son of David’ and the ‘anointed one/Christ/Messiah’” (106).
The final two chapters of the book deal with Christ as a mediator of a “better covenant.” Beginning with the discussion of the new covenant in Hebrews 8, Alexander describes the new covenant as a better covenant because it ensures the two parties will be reconciled (115). Just as Moses was the mediator of the old covenant (Galatians 3:19-20), Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant. Alexander observes there are no priests in the Christian Church because the church itself is a community described as a royal priesthood. Adam served as a royal priest in the garden and failed; Israel served as a Kingdom of priests and failed. Jesus is the ultimate high priest because he succeeds by reconciling sinful humanity to God through his sacrifice.
Conclusion. Alexander does an excellent job describing the importance of the sanctuary and sacrifices in the Old Testament as well as the role of high priest as intercessor and covenant mediator. He examines these as “shadows of the reality in Christ” through the lens of Hebrews and focuses on that book’s description of Christ as priest, intercessor and mediator of a new covenant. In fact, this book could be considered an introduction to the theology of Hebrews.
Other reviewed commentaries in Essentials of Biblical Theology series:
- Benjamin L. Gladd, From Adam and Israel to the Church: A Biblical Theology of the People of God
- Matthew S. Harmon, Rebels and Exiles: A Biblical Theology of Sin and Restoration
- L. Michael Morales, Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption
- G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim, God Dwells Among Us: A Biblical Theology of the Temple
NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the wor