Jesus – Our High Priest
By Rich Carmicheal
Scripture Reading: Hebrews
"Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest whom we confess" (Heb. 3:1).
What a great blessing it is to our lives to fix our thoughts on Jesus! No matter what our particular situation may be, whether we are strong or weak, encouraged or discouraged, joyful or sorrowful, in good health or poor health, in plenty or in want, victorious or struggling – we always benefit when we turn our eyes and hearts toward Jesus. He is our strength, our encouragement, our joy, our health, our riches, our victory, our salvation, and the list goes on and on.
I invite you to consider with me one of the many central truths about the Person and work of Jesus, a truth that is especially emphasized by the writer of Hebrews: Jesus is our High Priest. In order to help us embrace this truth about Jesus, the writer of Hebrews draws a series of comparisons and contrasts between high priests (and other priests) under the Old Covenant, and Jesus. In each instance, he shows how Jesus as High Priest far surpasses the former high priesthood.
Jesus and the Most Holy Place
Consider, for example, the responsibilities associated with sacrifices and the Day of Atonement. At the heart of the ministry of a high priest was his calling to offer sacrifices to make atonement for the sins of the people. This ministry culminated each year in the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 16) when he was permitted by God to enter through the curtain into the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle to make atonement for himself, his household and for the whole community of God’s people. Only he could enter the Most Holy Place and only on this one special day, and then only after following the careful preparations of washing and dress prescribed by the Lord (otherwise, he would die upon entering).
The writer of Hebrews points out that Jesus, like other high priests, entered the Most Holy Place to make atonement for sins. However, there are a number of differences of tremendous consequence between His ministry and their ministry. These include the following:
Whereas other high priests entered the earthly sanctuary that was only a copy and shadow of the heavenly one, Jesus did not enter a man-made sanctuary, but He entered heaven itself, into the very presence of God (9:24). He continues to serve in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord (8:2).
Whereas other high priests entered the Most Holy Place only under the cover of the smoke of incense that concealed the atonement cover above the Testimony (Lev. 16:13), Jesus, as the Son of God, appeared openly in the presence of His Father (Heb. 9:24; 10:9).
Other high priests were sinners who had to atone first of all for their own sins. Therefore, they could only enter the Most Holy Place with blood that was not their own – the blood of a bull (for their own sin) and of a goat (for the sins of the people). Jesus, however, because He was sinless, did not need to offer a sacrifice for His own sins. He was able to present Himself unblemished to God as the sacrifice – His body and His innocent blood (9:14). He entered the Most Holy Place by His own blood!
Whereas other high priests had to enter the Most Holy place year after year (9:25), Jesus appeared"once for all" at the end of the ages to do away with sin (9:26; 7:27). His sacrifice is a once-for-all event that is completed!
Although the blood of animals offered by other high priests had some atoning value and could sanctify those who were ceremonially unclean so that they could become outwardly clean (9:13), it was impossible for the blood of animals to take away sins. The people continued to experience the power of sin and the guilt of sin. In fact, the sacrifices offered by the high priests actually served as an annual reminder of sins (10:2-3). But the precious blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, has power and merit to set us free from sin and to cleanse our consciences from sin (9:14-15).
Jesus’ Superiority as High Priest
The writer of Hebrews shares a number of other points of comparison and contrast between other high priests and Jesus that can enrich our knowledge and relationship with our High Priest. Some of these include:
Jesus as High Priest was selected from men just as were the former high priests (5:1). He was fully human, made"like His brothers in every way" (2:17). He was tempted in every way, He suffered when tempted (2:18; 4:15), and He learned obedience from what He suffered (5:8). But unlike other high priests, Jesus is without sin. He is "holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners..." (7:26). Whereas they were weak, He "has been made perfect forever" (7:28).
There was a long succession of high priests because death prevented each one from continuing in office (7:23). But Jesus lives forever and has a permanent priesthood (7:24). He is able to save us completely as we come to God through Him,"because He always lives to intercede" for us (7:25).
Unlike the other high priests who came from the tribe of Levi, Jesus came from the tribe of Judah, a tribe from which no one had ever served at the altar (7:13). He also came as High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, not the order of Aaron (Aaron is from Levi).
At least three things are of significance regarding the order of Melchizedek: 1) this is a permanent priesthood – Jesus remains priest forever (7:3); 2) like Melchizedek, Jesus is both priest and king (7:1-2); and 3) Jesus’ priesthood is greater than the priesthood of Aaron and the line of Levi. This latter point is true because of the principle that the lesser person is blessed by the greater. Since Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek, the latter is considered greater. And, as Levi would eventually come through Abraham’s line, Melchizedek is greater than Levi. Jesus, therefore, being in the order of Melchizedek, is greater than those priests descended from Levi (7:4-10).
Whereas other high priests, including Aaron, could be unfaithful in their relationship with God and in their responsibilities, Jesus is a"faithful high priest in service to God" (2:17) and is "faithful as a Son over God’s house" (3:6).
Like other high priests, Jesus was a man appointed by God to serve as High Priest. But unlike them, He is not just a man, He is the Son of God (5:5). He is not only fully human, but also fully divine."The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful Word" (1:3).
Others became priests without any oath, but Jesus became a priest with an oath. God said to Him,"The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind: ‘You are a priest forever’" (7:21). By the certainty of the word and promise of God, Jesus is Priest and will always be Priest!
Whereas other priests would stand and perform their religious duties, again and again offering the same sacrifices (10:11), Jesus offered for all time one sacrifice for sins and sat down at the right hand of God (10:12). On the cross He could proclaim,"It is finished" (John 19:30). Atonement is made! The writer of Hebrews emphasizes this by reminding us over and again that Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). His sacrifice is complete, and He is forever exalted in heaven at the highest place of honor, the right hand of the throne of God!
Other high priests had a ministry, a covenant, promises, and some degree of hope. But in Christ everything is better: He has a superior ministry (8:6), He is the guarantee of a better covenant (7:22) that is founded on better promises (8:6), and He introduces a better hope (7:19).
Benefits of Jesus’ High Priesthood
As we take to heart the many truths related to Jesus as our High Priest, there are a number of wonderful blessings we can by faith fully embrace for our lives. Here are some of those blessings:
In His full humanity, He experienced the sorts of things that you and I experience. Because of this, He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses (4:15) and is merciful toward us (2:17; 4:16). He is able and willing to help (2:18) and we can depend upon Him to give us mercy and grace when we approach Him in our time of need (4:16). We can turn to Him at any time for help.
We can find great assurance and encouragement in the fact that Jesus is able to save us completely. There are times when we may feel like giving up, times when the pressures against us seem too strong. But we can press through such times knowing that He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion (Phil 1:6). Jesus sustains all things by His powerful Word (Heb. 1:3). He is more than able to sustain us. And so we can"hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast" (3:6) and we can "hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first" (3:14). We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved! (10:39). Jesus is our source of eternal salvation (5:9).
We can find great encouragement in the fact that Jesus always lives to intercede for us. Part of the intercession that Jesus makes must surely be His prayers on our behalf. Consider His intercession for Simon Peter:"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:31). Consider the following portions of His intercession in John 17, considered by some as His High Priestly Prayer: "My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; Your Word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world" (vv. 15-18); "I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You…. Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory, the glory You have given Me because You loved Me before the creation of the world" (vv. 20-21, 24).
The Apostle Paul also reminds us that Jesus is now at the right hand of God, interceding for us, and nothing can separate us from His love. In all things we are more than conquerors through Him (Rom. 8:34-37). We can press on to victory because our High Priest is interceding for us!
Since our High Priest is absolutely faithful, we can trust Him completely. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8). Our hope and confidence in Him will never be disappointed."We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf..." (6:19-20).
Through His blood, we are liberated from the power of sin, and enabled to serve the Living God (9:14). We are no longer slaves to sin, but we can now offer ourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life (Rom. 6:13). We are new creations in Christ, with His salvation and life at work in us! The Holy One is making us holy (Heb. 2:11).
Through the blood of Christ we can be forgiven and purified from all sin. The Apostle John reminds us that"…the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin....If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:7-9). He also writes that "…if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins…" (1 John 2:1-2). Jesus is able to deal completely with our sin! If you are struggling with sin, you can look to Him this very day for victory!
We now have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10:19). He has opened the way for us into the very presence of God. Not only has He opened the way, He has also led the way (6:20). Andrew Murray’s description of the blessedness of entering the Most Holy Place seems a most fitting way to conclude:
"Here the Father’s face is seen and His love tasted. Here His holiness is revealed and the soul made a partaker of it. Here the sacrifice of love and worship and adoration, the incense of prayer and supplication, is offered in power. Here the outpouring of the Spirit is known as an ever-streaming, overflowing river, from under the throne of God and the Lamb. Here the soul, in God’s presence, grows into more complete oneness with Christ, and more entire conformity to His likeness. Here, in union with Christ, in His unceasing intercession, we are emboldened to take our place as intercessors, who can have power with God and prevail. Here the soul mounts up as on eagle’s wings, the strength is renewed, and the blessing and the power and the love are imparted with which God’s priests can go out to bless a dying world. Here each day we may experience the fresh anointing, in virtue of which we can go out to be the bearers, and witnesses, and channels of God’s salvation to men, the living instruments through whom our blessed King works out His full and final triumph. O Jesus! our great High Priest, let this be our life!"