To say that Christ’s first advent changed history is an understatement of monumental proportions. Consider the history of special revelation: to our fathers God spoke “long ago, at many times and in many ways … by the prophets,” but to us “in these last days he has spoken … by his Son” (Heb. 1:1–2). With Christ’s coming, all the former ways of God’s revealing His will to His people have now ceased. Or consider the history of redemption: Christ, we are told, “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26). With Christ’s coming, then, the only sacrifice fully and finally powerful to redeem sinners has now been offered. Christ’s first advent was clearly epoch-making. A megashift has occurred in history—we who live after His first coming are now to see ourselves as those “on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11). What does this change mean for God’s people and what did Christ do to bring it about?
To gain a proper appreciation for what it means to live at “the end of the ages,” we need to begin with some key thoughts from the New Testament. For example, according to the author of Hebrews, to live the life of faith now is to live in “the time of reformation” (Heb. 9:10). God’s reforms in Christ are far-reaching. He has enacted a better covenant (7:22) through a better mediator (3:3) from a better priesthood (7:11–28) with a better ministry (8:6) in a better sanctuary (8:2) because of a better sacrifice (9:23). We should appreciate, then, that this “time of reformation” in which we live is a time when God has “provided something better for us” (11:40) than He provided for previous generations.
John speaks to the same effect. As he reports it, the first coming of God’s Son inaugurated “an hour” that “is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25). Thus, to live in this present “hour” is to live in an era when “whoever hears [the Son’s] word and believes [the Father] who sent [Him] … has passed from death to life”—already!—(5:24; 1 John 3:14). Yes, we bear in mind that there is indeed “an hour” that “is coming” and that is not yet here. That hour, known also as “the last day” (John 6:39–40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48), is the occasion “when all who are in the tombs will hear [the voice of the Son of God] and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (5:28–29). Even so, the apostle would have us appreciate that we live in “the hour [that] is now here” (John 4:23), for in this hour “whoever believes has eternal life”—now! (6:47; 1 John 3:14).
One last example: To live the life of faith now is, according to Peter, to live during “the last days” (Acts 2:17) when God, through His enthroned Son, is fulfilling the promise He made (Joel 2:28–32) to pour out His Spirit on His people (Acts 2:33–34). What is more, according to Paul, this same Spirit is nothing less than the down payment on the inheritance that will be ours in the age to come (Eph. 1:14)! To be sure, only then will our groaning for glory be relieved and our hope of heaven become sight (Rom. 8:11, 18–24; 2 Cor. 5:1–10). Yet, even now, as we walk by faith, we are to know both that we have “the firstfruits of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:23) and that we are not to grieve that Spirit, for by Him we are sealed for that day when the full harvest of redemption’s blessings will be ours (Eph. 4:30).
Is it not clear from such statements that it is better to live the life of faith now than in former days, before “the end of the ages” came upon us? Through Christ, God is fulfilling the promises He made long ago. Is it not clear also that for the apostles a proper appreciation for what it means to live faithfully at “the end of the ages” is tied directly to a proper appreciation of what Christ has already brought to pass? Indeed it is. Yet, at the same time, the apostles teach us to avoid two extremes: we must misjudge neither the extent to which God has been fulfilling His promises nor the extent to which He has promises yet to fulfill. Just as we should not underestimate what Christ has yet to accomplish, even so we should not underestimate what Christ has already accomplished. For our purposes here, let us consider the second part of that underestimation.
First, when we lack a proper appreciation for what Christ has already accomplished, we end up detracting from the glory of Christ’s priesthood. For example, some Christians in our day believe that God intends either to keep the Levitical priesthood in office now or to reinstate it in the future. Such beliefs profoundly misunderstand that old covenant order. Levi’s priesthood was anything but God’s ideal. Scripture shows us that Levi’s sons had neither the power to deal effectively with sin nor the authority to hold office permanently (Heb. 7:1–8:13). The order of Levi’s priestly tribe was, therefore, only temporary, only a shadow of the ideal that would come from Judah’s tribe and Melchizedek’s order. That priest, qualified for office by His victories over sin and death, would have both God’s power to save to the uttermost and God’s oath to continue as a priest forever. That new priest, then, renders the priests of Levi obsolete. The message of the letter to the Hebrews is clear—Christ Jesus, the new and ideal priest, is in office. Let us not degrade, then, the glory of our high priest by imagining that He yields His office to the sons of Levi, now or ever.
Second, when we lack a proper appreciation for what Christ has already accomplished, we wind up detracting from the glory of Christ’s sacrifice. Some believe that God intends to continue the Levitical sacrifices today or to reinstitute them in the future. The Bible makes plain, however, that Sinai’s sacrifices, like those who offered them, were not God’s ideal; they were offered in a ceaseless cycle because they were powerless to make purification for sins (Heb. 9:1–10:18). Those sacrifices, then, could only be provisional, a mere shadow of the ideal that would, once and for all, take away our sins and bring an end to sacrifice. The letter to the Hebrews is crystal clear—by Christ’s one offering of Himself, sins are forgiven and sacrifice is finished. We dare not demean, therefore, the finished work of our high priest by supposing that the ceaseless cycle of Sinai’s sacrifices continues today or will resume someday.
Third, when we lack a proper appreciation for what Christ has already accomplished, we end up detracting from the glory of Christ’s new covenant temple. Some believe that God intends to have the old covenant temple rebuilt. The NT teaches, however, that something greater than the old covenant temple is here (Matt. 12:6)! It is Christ (Matt. 21:42; Acts 4:11; 1 Cor. 3:11), His apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20), and His church (Matt. 16:18; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:19–22; 1 Peter 2:4–6) whom God is now building as His true and final temple of living stones. Let us, therefore, not undervalue Christ’s new covenant temple by believing that something less is God’s ideal.
Fourth, when we lack a proper appreciation for what Christ has already accomplished, we wind up detracting from the glory of Christ’s present kingship. Some today believe that Christ’s reign is only a future hope and not also a present reality. The Scriptures beg to differ. Christ is already, “in this age,” ruling and filling heaven and earth from His Father’s right hand (1 Cor. 15:24–28; Eph. 1:20–23; 4:8–10; Heb. 2:5–9). To be sure, “at present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (1 Cor. 15:25–26; Heb. 2:8). We do, however, see him “crowned with glory and honor” (Heb. 2:9), wielding the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12), to destroy spiritual strongholds and to deliver His captive elect (2 Cor. 10:3–5). Especially in these days of intensifying spiritual warfare, let us be sure that we see Christ as He is—reigning now in regal glory!
Indeed, it is better to live “in these last days” than in former days. Yet greater privilege brings greater responsibility. It is incumbent on us, therefore, to make sure that we have a proper appreciation for what Christ has already accomplished. As we give appropriate esteem to His priesthood, sacrifice, temple, and kingship, others will learn of His glory also!