- Stephen Wiebe
Our Great High Priest
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:19, 20)
We have just crossed over the threshold from winter into spring, and it brings with it happiness and improved moods in people around us. The warm weather of spring also dismisses the snow and cold of winter and brings in the new tree buds and blades of grass. Unfortunately, it also allows the weeds the same opportunity to grow. Spring is the time we celebrate Easter where Jesus dismissed a weak commandment of sacrifices and offerings which could not save, and brought in a new and better commandment that does save and justify. Just like the weeds, sin is a persistent problem that remains even though we are in a new ‘season.’ There are two ways that Jesus ushered in this new commandment: First, by becoming our High Priest; and second, by becoming the sacrifice for sin.
The Old Testament high priest was chosen from the tribe of Levi, of which Aaron was the first high priest. Only a descendant of Aaron could serve before God in the capacity of priest. The priests could go into the courtyard and Holy Place to carry out their duties regularly, but only the high priest was allowed into the Most Holy Place. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest could go before the presence of God to minister for the sins of the people, but only after having first made a sin offering for himself.
The high priest was sympathetic and gentle in dealing with his fellow Israelites because he himself was tempted by sin as they were (Hebrews 5:2). It was necessary for the priests to repeatedly offer gifts and sacrifices for their sins and the sins of the people because the offerings they presented could not bring forgiveness for sin and they continued to sin! In Hebrews 9:9, the author refers to the complete Old Testament system of sacrifices as symbolic. In this verse, the Greek word for “symbol” is parabolé, the word from which we get parable. The Old Testament Levitical system was a parable showing what was to come when Christ came. The system of sacrifices, which could not alleviate guilt nor forgive sin, served as a solemn object lesson of the completing work of Christ.
Jesus is the dissolution of the Levitical priesthood, though through a different order, the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:6). According to God’s law, only a male from the tribe of Levi was able to serve in the temple, and only the descendants of Aaron could become a priest. This Levitical system was inferior in that it could not save, so God prepared a new order of priesthood after Melchizedek, king of Salem. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, which meant that He would not be able to be a priest after the old covenant. It was necessary for the inferior Levitical priesthood to be set aside for a new, superior priesthood of which Jesus is the High Priest, after a new order, built on better promises.
Whenever the high priest would sin, according to Leviticus 4:3, he would need to offer a sacrifice for himself. According to Leviticus 4:13, he would also need to do this for the people whenever they would sin. This could quite possibly have been a daily occurrence. He would need to do this annually on the Day of Atonement also, first for his sin, and then for the sin of the people. Jesus had no sin, and he only needed to offer himself up one time, for all time, for all people. This High Priest, the sacrificer, was also the sacrifice.
The high priest was chosen from among men to minister on behalf of men because of his own propensity toward sin. Jesus was tempted in all points as we are and is able to minister on our behalf because he can sympathize with our weakness, even though he committed no sin. “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16). Jesus did what no earthly priest could ever do, He brought us into the presence of the Father! In fact, we can go whenever we have need, and we are able to approach boldly!
The high priest could only enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of calves and goats. Christ entered by his own blood and this secured an eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12). “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:13-14).
Praise God for his gift of redemption through the work of his son, Jesus Christ!
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24, 25)