Summary: In what way is Jesus our great high priest
Jesus Christ, Our Great High-priest Ex 29:1-21; 38-46
4:14 Seeing then that we have a great high-priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession
After his digression, warning the Hebrews not to harden their hearts through unbelief like their ancestors the writer returns to his main topic–the priesthood of the Lord Jesus. This is particularly welcome after the solemn warning about falling in the wilderness through unbelief.
He had already used the term High-priest twice (2:7; 3:1) and there are 14 other references in this book, most refer to Jesus. The term great high-priest appears only in this verse, but high-priest appears 77 times in the Bible. Only ¼ (21) are in the OT and surprisingly only 4 in the Pentateuch – including 2 in one verse. In contrast you can find it 41 times in the gospels and Acts – most of these relate to the arrest and trial of Jesus or the persecution of the early church.
Deep down in the heart of men there is a strong, instinctive need for a priest, to be a mediator – to stand between God and man. All over the world, throughout human history people have chosen one person, set apart from ordinary work by special rites, to plead at their god’s altars, interceding for humanity in times of war, famine, pestilence, and plague. Only in the last few decades in the wealthy, well educated West have we risen above this innate desire. Even then here large parts of our population worship in mosques and temples, while others worship at shrines of turf, telly or concert!
This craving was carefully met in the practices in which these Hebrew Christians had been reared. The sons of Aaron were the priests of Israel. They wore a special dress, ate special food, and lived in special towns; whilst every care was taken to emphasise their separation to the spiritual business of the nation. The key tasks of a priest were reconciliation and mediation: the first involved the myriad sacrifices; the other involved the priests representing men before God. Even the Hebrew term for priest (Kohen) has the root-meaning of ‘one who stands up for another, and mediates in his cause.’ Given the number of Cohens today, I guess there must have been a lot of priests!
The priests and the Levites were set apart – sanctified – from the rest of Israel to serve God. Like the offerings, priests had to be free of physical blemishes and diseases – to emphasise their holiness. This sanctification or holiness was also symbolised by a gold-plate which the high-priest wore on his forehead: You shall also make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet: holiness to the Lord Ex 28:36
For sixteen centuries this system had prevailed and it was very hard for these new converts to wrench themselves away, and accept a religion in which there was no visible temple, ceremonial, or priest. (Many still can’t cope without this pomp and ritual today.) The writer’s main point is that Jesus Christ is the perfect answer to these instincts which really pointed to Him anyway. Aaron and his sons were the priests and high-priests of Israel, but Jesus is not just a priest, or even a high priest. He is our Great High-Priest!
We no longer need human priests. Their work is done, their office is superseded and their functions are at an end. He has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father Rev 1:6. DV. As priests our work involves offering the incense of prayer and praise, and the gift of surrendered lives. We have nothing to do with atonement for sin – except that we need it to deal with our own sins. We are priests; He is our Great High-priest. All other priests and high-priests were and are inferior. Let’s look at the reasons for His superiority in this verse. In months to come we pick off some of the others covered in this wonderful book.
He has passed through the heavens
This is an apt description for His whole nature is stamped with heavenliness. He communicates the purity, the power and the life of heaven to us.
The inner part of the Tabernacle, and later the temple, was split in two. The outer part was called the holy place and every day priests offered sacrifices and performed their other tasks there. Beyond that was the inner shrine, the Holy of Holies. These two areas were separated by a curtain or veil woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen. It shall be woven with an artistic design of cherubim Ex 26:31. This kept out everyone but the high-priest, and he was only allowed in after careful preparation and even then, only once each year. As the high-priest of old entered God’s presence by passing through that curtain so, after His death and resurrection, Jesus entered God’s presence by passing through the heavens.