Hebrews 2: 17-18
17 For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
Ephesians 6: 13-17
13Therefore take up the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness arrayed, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
In Ephesians Chapter 6, believers – followers of Jesus – are told to put on the whole armor of God. This is the armor to protect us and aid us in our daily “fight” to live out the salvation and righteousness that Christ has called us to. It points to a soldier’s zeal and determination to live for his cause and if needs be die for his cause. Yet, yet our calling is mainly a spiritual calling, and not a call to arms nor a militancy that one usually associates with the armed forces. It is a vision of Almighty God that lives in us and through all our actions. Courage and fortitude are the centerpieces of this walk with Christ.
This “armor” is however often misconceived as an actual Roman soldier’s armor; however, it is only metaphorically armor but more truly echoes and re-imagines the priestly garb of the Aaronic priesthood in Exodus 28. Therefore, the armor dovetails nicely with the quote from Hebrews 2, which was at that time well understood by the Jewish converts. [I want to give special thanks to Barbara Kilka of Set Apart Ministries for this insight into the “whole armor” as a renewal and re-shaping of the priestly garments described in Exodus 28.]
Thus the “armor” expresses our calling to be a royal priesthood as in 1 Peter 2:9 [ “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”] and is consistent with the Messianic fulfillment of Mosaic law where Jesus is now our high priest, not Aaron, and we are royal priests or “saints” who serve the priestly cause of salvation, righteousness, and holiness.
Jesus is our high priest, and we are a royal priesthood. In some places all saved persons are referred to as saints. In the OT, as in Catholicism, saints are set apart, special “righteous ones” similar to those in Judaism referred to as “tzaddikim.” Saints and righteous ones are especially holy within the body of believers. In the NT, all followers of Jesus are referred to as saints or tzaddikim. We are called according to His good purposes into lives of holiness.
As royal priests, we are thus representatives of God’s holiness and His righteousness. The terms royal priests and saints are almost synonymous, except the term “royal priest” connotes a personal standing as a representative of Christ to others, whereas the term “saints” suggests a personal righteousness that inheres in us as believers in and followers of Jesus Christ.
In Ephesians 6 we are exhorted to wear the breastplate of righteousness (Eph 6:14). In Exodus 28 the high priest’s garment is called the breastplate or breastpiece of judgment. In Exodus, this breastplate was quite ornate and to be covered with various jewels. It was to contain the names of the twelve tribes. The names of the tribes’ points to the unity of the tribes of Israel who are blessed and loved by Almighty God (chosen offspring of Jacob, not of Esau) and live “near” (or within) the heart of the high priest as he seeks to maintain the pathway of god through worship and obedience to the worship practices designated by the Law (Torah).
Thus, the breastplate in Ephesians simply symbolizes the believer’s commitment to righteousness. It is spiritually conceived – there is no physical article of clothing. Harkening back to the high priest in Judaism, we see spirituality in the NT moves into and is grounded in attributes of spirituality that are real but can only be seen by those with eyes to see. It is a special estate and calling.
In Ephesians 6, we are exhorted to put on the helmet of salvation (Eph. 6:17). Again, this is not a physical helmet but harkens back to the Aaronic “helmet” in Exodus 28. As the high priest, he was assigned to wear a turban, and on the turban, there was to be placed a gold plate with the words “HOLY TO THE LORD”. So, tying these two together, we see that salvation is intimately related to holiness. Thus, we see that as people saved in and by Christ, we are committed to a life of holiness. We are not to be the apostate church whose favorite relatives today are Uncle Greed and Auntie Nomian. We are not to believe that we live any which way we please because God is so forgiving that anything goes. Yet at the same time, we are justified in Christ, and we have eternal security. Yet, we are to walk the walk of faith in “fear and trembling” because there is a tension there. We are to resist temptation to sin, and we are not to sin. If we know we are sinning, we must confess our sins. This is the ongoing sanctification of the believer.
It is not usually noted in sermons, but in Ex. 28 regarding the helmet of salvation we are told that Aaron, the high priest, will bear the guilt so sacrifices will be acceptable. This surprised me because I had always assumed that the animals sacrificed bore the guilt of the sins of the people making the sacrifice. However, the high priest in his role as high priest bore at least some of the guilt up to a point so the sacrifices which complete the atonement will be acceptable. However, our high priest in heaven bore ALL the guilt for our sins and for all time. So, He has gone beyond the claims of holiness of the high priest and ceremonial sacrificial atonement of the tabernacle (in Exodus) or the Temple (in Jesus’ time).
Part of the whole armor of God not mentioned in Exodus 28 but referred to in Ephesians 6 is “the sword of the spirit which is the word of God.” (Eph 6:17). The word of God extended to include the New Testament and also the letters and communication of the Apostles, but they were not collected as the New Testament yet. So, it would be more accurate to say that as in John 1: 1, Jesus was the Word referred to. He replaces Torah and the sacrificial system as the point of real-world worship and contact with others and our environment. The Word created the world, and so we live by and through the created Word (which is Christ Himself) rather than through the object of the Word’s creation, namely the world. Yet we live in the world. The sword of the Spirit thus is that ability to live in the world but not be OF it.
Lord, thank you for this day. Help us more deeply appreciate your salvation, and that you have called us to be a royal priesthood that daily represents you and lives out your salvation, your righteousness in our dealings with others, and your holiness in our ongoing and eternal relationship with You. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Picture credit: Christianity
To read more articles by Jeffrey Ludwig click here.