Book Reviews

Book Review: Face to Face With God (ESBT), T. Desmond Alexander

This is the sixth volume in a ten-volume series called the Essential Studies in Biblical Theology (ESBT) series. Each book looks at an aspect of God’s plan of redemption in the Bible. Each volume is meant to be a primer, accessible to all people, that introduces them to a particular biblical theme while tying it to how we live and minister as Christians in God’s world. Instead of getting into the weeds like many of the NSBT volumes, the ESBT volumes show us the fruit of the authors’ close exegesis.

Benjamin Gladd’s first volume looked at who the people of God are. The church, composed of believing Jews and Gentiles, is the restored people of God, true Israel, because of their identification with him (xi). Michael Morales looked at God’s redemption through exodus, and Matthew Harmon showed how Jesus restores not only Israel but all of humanity from their exile away from God. Brandon Crowe studied how God’s covenant and law functions in Christians’ lives, and G. K. Beale and Kim Mitchell showed how the temple pervades the biblical storyline, enters our lives, and encourages us in missions.

Now, long-time OT scholar T. Desmond Alexander, has added his contribution on Jesus Christ as our high priest and mediator. This is a niche subject, as there are many facets of Jesus one could focus on. Yet this is a topic that stretches from the OT up to the NT. Alexander, who has written an introduction to biblical theology and to the Pentateuch, a commentary on Exodus, and more.

Why would you want to read this book?

Christ’s work as our great high priest and mediator bring us into the very presence of God. Having an understanding of how the tabernacle, the priesthood, and some of the sacrifices functioned in the OT gives us a foundation for understanding what “Christ has already accomplished for us through his self-sacrifice and what he is presently achieving on our behalf, seated at the right hand of the majesty in heaven” (1). The goal of this book is simply to “describe how the related concepts of priest and mediator are used in the Bible” (2), which leads us to a “deeper understanding of God and our relationship with him” (4).

There are nine chapters in this book. I won’t give a summary of them all, but instead I’ll give you a quick perusal through them. The first six chapters stay close to the OT text. The last three chapters (and a bit of ch. 6) moves to Hebrews.

Chapters 1–3 look at the function of the sanctuary.

Chapter 1 looks at texts related to building the sanctuary, as well as to it’s purpose—it was God’s dwelling place among these ex-Egyptian slaves. They were his special people and he was going to live amongst them. The fact that that tabernacle would be a dwelling is highlighted in Exodus by using the term mishkan (מִשְׁכָּן) 58 times. This portable tent would be God’s place of residence among a sinful people. It would be a model of the heavenly sanctuary, and has connections with the garden of Eden, God’s first dwelling place on earth. Chapter 2, though brief, looks at how the tabernacle was both a model of the cosmos and a portable Mt. Sinai. It also foreshadows the temple-city.

Chapter 3 keeps its focus on the sanctuary, but now on its holy status. Alexander covers the differences between holy and common, clean and unclean, as well as the differing degrees of holiness and uncleanness. The sanctuary has three main levels of holiness: the Holy of Holies/Most Holy Place is, well, the most holy. The Holy Place has a lesser degree of holiness, and the courtyard outside the tent is the least holy part. Non-priestly Israelites may enter the courtyard, only ordinary priests may enter the Holy Place, and only the High Priest is allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, and only once a year. Alexander shows how certain degrees of sinful behavior defiled different parts of the tabernacle, and he shows the significance of the priestly consecration process.

Chapters 4–6 explore how the high priest met with God.

Chapter 4 shows how Moses met with God in the tent of meeting, pointing forward to when the Aaronic high priest would daily meet with God in the sanctuary. Chapter 5 focuses on the high priests intercession of the people. He is the only one who can intercede for those whose “malevolent actions… place them in jeopardy of divine anger” (68). The high priest is the only who who can atone when the Israelites came under God’s judgment and were deserving of death (69). The high priest meets daily with God to offer sacrifices for the sins of the people. How much better do we have it when the perfect Son of God is forever at the right hand of God? He never needs to fear death for his sins because he is perfect, and he knows the Father perfectly. Chapter 6 explores how the high priest presented offerings that gained God’s favor. Alexander writes, “Every offering must ascend to God in the form of smoke as a soothing aroma” (85). Likewise, Jesus ascended to the Father after his sacrifice as part of our reconciliation to the Father. Alexander notes,

While the sacrifice must ascend to God to be efficacious, the killing of the sacrificial victim takes place on the altar outside the tabernacle. Paralleling this, Christ’s sacrificial death occurs on earth outside the heavenly sanctuary (86).

Christ’s self-sacrifice occurred on earth, but his presented himself to the Father after he ascended.

Chapters 7–9 and Hebrews

Jesus’ Melchizidekian priesthood is explored in chapter 7. In chapter 8 we read about how Jesus’ death inaugurates the new covenant and how much better it is than the old covenant. Chapter 9 looks at how Jesus’ followers should “model their lives in light of Jesus Christ’s high priesthood, not falling away in the face of suffering, but serving God in anticipation of eventually being in his presence” (9).

Two things about chapters 7–9. The discussion on the relationship between Melchizedek and Jesus was really helpful. I don’t want to give too much away, but Melchizedek is a “priest forever” because he didn’t give his priesthood to anybody. the same cannot be said about Aaron. Both Jesus and Melchizedek are unique priest kings.

Alexander also explained well how Jesus both offered himself as a sacrifice on earth but completed his priestly work after his ascension to the Father in heaven. Jesus could not serve within the earthly tabernacle because he was not of the tribe of Levi. Yet that did not prevent him from serving in the heavenly tabernacle. In fact, the efficacy of Jesus’ sacrifice “depends on his perpetual presence in heaven” (87).

Recommended?

As with all of the other volumes in this series, this one is necessary for understanding Jesus’ priesthood. I must add that this is not easy reading. In one way, it is simple. Alexander does not go into long discussion about Hebrew or Greek terms, but he does give attention to details of the tabernacle, the priesthood, and the sacrifices, and he does note the importance of certain Hebrew and Greek terms. To really benefit form this book, you need to have your Bible open and you ought to be ready to look at many of the cross-references. Then you will have a much better grasp of the priesthood throughout the Bible and the greatness of Christ’s priesthood.

Lagniappe

    • Series: Essential Studies in Biblical Theology (Book 6)
    • Author: T. Desmond Alexander
    • Paperback: 176 pages
    • Publisher: IVP Academic (March 22, 2022)
    • Read Chapter One

Buy it on Amazon or from IVP Academic

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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