Christ’s High Priestly Blessing
He lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.Luke 24:50-51
As Luke comes to the end of his gospel, he tells us that the Lord Jesus finished his earthly ministry by blessing his disciples and then being taken by his Father up into heaven. As the Lord gave his blessing, his raised hands tell us something about the basis on which it could be given. To understand the significance of these raised hands, we have to think about the way that God's people were blessed in the book of Leviticus.
Leviticus 9 tells us about Aaron and his sons doing their official work as priests in the tabernacle. Through the sacrifices which they offered, atonement was made for God's people. It was only after Aaron the high priest had offered the prescribed sacrifices that he could then turn toward the people, raise his hands over them, and pronounce a blessing in the name of God. Without atonement the people couldn't be blessed; without atonement they were covenant breakers.
When the sacrifices were done and the blessing was given, the next thing Aaron did was to go into the tabernacle. There before God's presence he continued his work by mediating for the people. He stood between them and God to bring reconciliation and a restored relationship.
Looking back at Luke 24, we can see that what the high priests did in the Old Testament was fulfilled in Christ. First, Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice for our sins. Once that sacrifice was done, as also his resurrection testifies, he continued to act as high priest by raising his hands over his people and blessing them. Then he finally entered into the presence of God to continue mediating for us. He now stands between God and us, and on the basis of what he did we can receive the blessing that he pronounced.
Christ's work as high priest is so much greater than what Aaron and his descendants did in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 9, Aaron not only went into the tabernacle but had to come out again. For his work wasn't done; it had to be repeated endlessly day after day because with those sacrifices he couldn't give a permanent solution to sin.
The Lord Jesus came as the great and final high priest, and he offered himself so that permanent atonement could be made. Neither his sacrifice nor his blessing would have to be repeated because when he entered into the heavenly temple, he didn't have to come out again. His work was sufficient to completely remove the guilt of all our sins, and through faith in him we are now right before God and one with him for all eternity. Nothing else needed to be done.
We aren't actually told what the Lord said when he lifted his hands over his disciples and blessed them. But when we turn back to Leviticus 9, we get an idea of what God's blessing to his people involves. After Aaron had finished his work in the tabernacle, he came out and blessed the people for a second time. We are told that immediately after this, the glory of the LORD appeared to them. This was how God fulfilled the blessing that had just been given by his high priest. Whatever else God's blessing involves, it begins with his presence among his people.
This was also part of the blessing given by Christ as he ascended into heaven. With his arms outstretched, he promised that his people weren't going to be alone; he was going to continue watching over them. In the verse just before our text he told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were "clothed with power from on high." In Acts 1 he said that they were going to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Ten days later, on Pentecost, they received this part of his blessing. By pouring out his Spirit, the Lord is not only with us, he is even in us. Just like God's love to his Old Testament people meant abundant blessing in all of life, so the Lord now promises to be with you in every part of your life.
As we celebrate the ascension of our Lord, remember the blessing that he left us with. When he went into heaven, he didn't leave us alone. He promised that he was going to continue being with his people. Through his Spirit he now applies the blessing of God's forgiveness and all that this means for us.