Day 2 : The Priest in the Temple (Luke 1:5-10)
The idea of a Jewish priestly ceremony can seem alien to our Western eyes but to Zechariah this was his life’s calling. Born into his family line of priests, he would have learned the Scripture from childhood, memorising and following the letter of the law. When his lot was drawn to enter the temple, he was prepared.
No ordinary person was able to enter the temple, let alone burn incense inside. The law and custom of the priesthood was that one person of the right lineage would be able to enter on behalf of all the people of God and they would be the representative to the Lord. Zechariah and his wife were “righteous in the sight of God” and he was a worthy representative but he was still in need of grace. As we will find out in the following verses, he is not without fear or doubts.
The purity and awesome nature of God has not changed. We are still in need of a priest in the temple, a man to represent mankind before God, blameless and without sin. We need someone righteous and holy in the sight of God to speak on our behalf. And God in His kindness gave us Jesus, His own Son.
Jesus is the perfect High Priest for us. Fully man so he can represent us and also fully God so he is utterly holy and righteous. He is seated at the Father’s side now, interceding on our behalf. The priestly laws of the Old Testament point to Jesus: He came from the right lineage, he was blameless and without blemish yet he was sacrificed in our place. He is the fulfillment of the Scriptures that Zechariah would have pored over.
Jesus was worthy to enter into the temple for us.
But that is not the end of the story. One of my favourite verses in the New Testament is Matthew 27:51. In the moment Jesus dies, the “curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”. The High Priest who has entered into the temple on our behalf has also covered us in His righteousness, His holiness and His purity. We can come to God ourselves, stand in his temple blameless and washed clean of our sin because of Jesus. We are no longer distanced from God, but brought near.
As Zechariah enters the temple, the assembled worshippers pray outside.
As Jesus enters the temple, the assembled worshippers pray inside, in the very presence of God.