Growing up, my family would visit a family camp in Westcliffe, CO every summer. As a kid from Texas, the sight of the Rocky Mountains always excited me and left me in awe of the mighty creation and its Creator. However, as anyone who has ever hiked a mountain would agree, the view from below only provides a sliver of the experience from above. In fact, from the summit, the new frame of reference often provides clarity of one’s old life below. This renewed perspective is exactly the aim of the author in the book of Hebrews.
Compiled around 100 AD, the book “to the Hebrews” serves as the key that unlocks the Old Testament sacrificial system and priesthood. Like a revelation from the top of a mountain, the divinely-inspired author wrote this book to the Hebrews in order to help them interpret the Old Testament in light of New Testament realities. The overarching theme of Hebrews emphasizes the Superiority of Christ and His New Covenant.
Having grown up in the Bible Belt of America and not a Jew in the Holy Land, I’ve often wondered what a High Priest was? Also, why was it significant that Jesus was our High Priest? Utilizing Hebrews, I hope to share what I’ve learned regarding these questions.
JESUS QUALIFIES AS OUR HIGH PRIEST (Hebrews 3:1)
First, the qualifications for being High Priest in the Old Testament were specific and therefore greatly limited who could be high priest. Some of the characteristics are listed below:
- Appointed by God, in the tribe of Levi – Hebrews 5:1
- Human – so he can sympathize with those whom he ministers – Hebrews 5:2
- Involved with offering sacrifices for people & himself – Hebrews 5:3
- Receives honor from God, doesn’t take it – Hebrews 5:4
Christ, although coming 500+ years after the start of the Levitical Priesthood meets all of the qualifications perfectly. Here are some examples mentioned in Hebrews:
- Appointed by God, in order of Melchizedek (See Hebrews 7 for more details)
Hebrews 5:10 – …being designate by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek
Hebrews 6:19 – …where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
- Fully Human, & thus a sympathetic High Priest
Hebrews 2:17-18 – Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.
Hebrews 4:15 – For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.
- Offered sacrifices & prayers on behalf of people
Hebrews 7:27 – …who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because He did once for all when He offered up Himself.
Hebrews 5:7 – In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.
- Glorified by God, not Himself (See John 8:54 & John 17:1-5 for more details)
Hebrews 5:5-6 – So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You;”
JESUS MADE THE PERFECT SACRIFICE AS HIGH PRIEST
Secondly, one of the major roles of the High Priest was to offer atonement for the sins of the Israelites once a year on the Day of Atonement. After performing various cleaning rituals and sacrifices, he would enter the Holy of Holies, the innermost room of the Tabernacle/Temple, separated by a veil, and make a blood sacrifice on the Ark of the Covenant. As an Old Testament Jew, this blood covenant with God was started during the Exodus (Exodus 24) and continued throughout Jewish history. In fact, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
Nevertheless, the author of Hebrews points out some of the insufficiencies of this Old Covenant. The four below are repeated multiple times throughout the book as well various parts throughout the New Testament. These references state them clearly and plainly.
- Animal blood sacrifices cannot forgive/cleanse Man of sin.
Hebrews 10:4 – For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin…
- The Old Covenant required atonement repetitively or year after year.
Hebrews 10:11 – Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sin.
- Human priests must atone for their own sin in addition to the people’s sin.
Hebrews 5:3 – …and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.
- The Old Covenant required multiple priests because they were mortal.
Hebrews 7:23 – The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death and from continuing…
Here’s how Christ perfectly fixed all of those issues through the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:13).
Hebrews 7:24-27 – …but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.
In summary, Christ, being fully human and fully God, was the perfect sacrifice for Man, atoning once for all sins, establishing a New Covenant and making intercession on our behalf forever!
Practically speaking, how does this knowledge about Christ as our perfect High Priest and ultimate sacrifice impact one’s life? In incredible ways! As a believer, I go to these truths about Christ regularly to battle lies as well as build confidence in a world filled with suffering and hardship.
Similar to the messianic Jews of the Church era, I often want to boast in my own self-righteousness, leading to anxiety when I sin and fall short of God’s standard daily. However, rather than running to my actions or a “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality, I can rest assured that Christ made atonement (satisfied God’s wrath) once and for all 2,000 years ago on the cross. Therefore, having a High Priest that “sat down at the right hand of God,” I can rest assured that His work is assured & complete! I am not condemned for my sin (Romans 8:1) and nothing can separate me from God (Romans 8:37-39). Ultimately, this knowledge about Christ as my High Priest gives me full assurance of my salvation!
In conclusion, like the view from a mountain’s summit, Hebrews helps provide the proper frame of reference with which to view the Old Covenant. Considering Jesus, our High Priest, all those who believe Him have peace with God because of His perfect sacrifice and eternal intercession. How great of news is that?
Are you battling with your assurance of your salvation? What truths about Christ’s work as a High Priest can you memorize & meditate on to battle these real insecurities? Remember, even the disciples wrestled with doubt (Matthew 28:17). We just don’t see them staying there. Rather they grow in their confidence in Christ!
Until next time,
The image at the top of the blog was obtained from the following cite: