“According to the eternal purpose” (Ephesians 3:11)

By Bob Myhan


Before time began, the eternal God eternally purposed to create man in His own image and promised to give him eternal life.

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. (2 Tim. 1:8-11)

Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began, but has in due time manifested His word through preaching, which was committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior; To Titus, a true son in our common faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior. (Titus 1:1-4)

God revealed His eternal purpose, in a nutshell, when He told the serpent,

And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel." (Gen. 3:15)

The seed of the woman is Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Gal. 4:4) and the seed of the serpent are any and all who are enemies of the Son of God (John 8:37-44). Promising to put enmity between the serpent and the woman and between the serpent’s seed and the woman’s seed was equivalent to promising to reconcile man to Himself, thus giving him eternal life.

God later called Abram and promised to bless “all the families of the earth” in him, or in his seed (Gen. 12:3; 22:18). This blessing is justification by or on the condition of faith (Gal. 3:8), resulting in reconciliation of man to God and enmity between those reconciled and the seed of the serpent. The seed of Abraham, like the seed of the woman, “is Christ” (Gal. 3:16).

God also promised to make of Abram a great nation (Gen. 12:1-2). This was accomplished in three stages.

The physical offspring of Abraham were providentially relocated and preserved through Joseph.

The law was given through Moses.

The promised land was entered, conquered and divided under Joshua.

The Aaronic Priesthood and the Sacrificial System

When God made a covenant with the nation of Israel He gave them an elaborate system of worship that foreshadowed simple New Testament worship.

For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. (Heb. 10:1-4)

Let us consider, in brief, some of the more noteworthy shadows of the Aaronic Priesthood and the sacrificial system.

God had told Israel that they would be “a kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6). Since He had spared their firstborn ones during the tenth and final plague in Egypt, He demanded the tribe of Levi in their stead and gave to them the responsibility of caring for the tabernacle and its furnishings (Ex. 32:25-29; Num. 1:49-54; 3:45). To Aaron and his sons God gave the specific responsibility of being priests (Lev. 8:1-36; 9:1-24; 21:1-24; 22:1-33; Num. 3:1-3).

In the outer court of the tabernacle stood the brazen altar for burnt sacrifices and the laver for the priests to ceremoniously wash before donning their priestly garments and entering the tabernacle proper (Ex. 26; 27; 30:17-21). The holy place contained the table of showbread, the lampstand and the altar of incense (Ex. 25:23-40; 30:1-6; 40:22-27). The most holy place (or the Holy of holies) held the Ark of the Covenant, wherein were the stone tablets, the pot of manna and Aaron’s rod (Ex. 16:32-34; 25:10-22; Num. 17:1-11; Dt. 10:1-5).

As with the Law of Moses, this system was intended by God to be temporary not permanent. It could not, and was not intended to bring about the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose. God always intended to establish a covenant with all men but it was necessary to prepare mankind for such a covenant.

Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, "See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain." But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah-- not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." In that He says, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Heb. 8:1-13)

Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron's rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people's sins committed in ignorance; the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience-- concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation. (Heb. 9:1-10)

In a later article, we will deal with the sacrificial system of the New Testament.

[To be continued]