By Sam E. Stone
The writer of Hebrews reminded Jewish Christians of the new dispensation’s superiority to the old. The role of the high priest was a position familiar to all Jews. The title first occurred in Leviticus 21:10, where it was used to designate Aaron and his successors. Christians have but one who serves in this capacity—Jesus (Hebrews 2:17). He always stands ready to help us.
A Sympathetic High Priest
Jesus has already been identified with the role of great high priest in Hebrews (3:1). Each year on the Day of Atonement, the Jews had seen their high priest go alone into the Most Holy Place to offer sacrifices, first for his own sins, then for those of all the people (Leviticus 16:11-17). Jesus is described as one who ascended into heaven. As Aaron went out of sight of the children of Israel for a time when he did this, so Jesus was taken up into Heaven, out of sight of all his followers (Acts 1:9). Evidently some believers had been in danger of falling away from the Lord, since the writer added, Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
Christians must remember that all the frailties of human flesh are understood by Christ, our great high priest. Since he lived as a man for more than 30 years, he can understand what we are going through. He has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
Temptations can be categorized in three general types: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). All three types of temptation were included when Eve succumbed to the devil’s bait in the garden (Genesis 3:6). Jesus faced all three types of temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:3-10), but he did not fall.
We can approach God’s throne of grace in Heaven where we are assured of receiving mercy and grace for every need. God is not only holy and just, but he is also compassionate and merciful. Because of what Jesus experienced, he is able to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 2:18).
A Gentle High Priest
The writer of Hebrews next pointed out that every high priest among the Jews had been appointed to represent the people in matters related to God. The priest’s role was that of an intermediary. He offered sacrifices on behalf of the people and was their representative before the Lord. Because he was one of them, the priest sympathized with the difficulties the people faced. Aaron’s own sin (Exodus 32:1-6) made him more sympathetic to the sins of the nation.
The priest had to see that he was right with God before he could intercede for the people. God does not overlook sins, and neither could the high priest. While animal sacrifices had rolled back the sins of Israel year by year, the sacrifice of Jesus was for the sins of all people of all time. Significantly, no one takes this honor on himself. Instead he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was. In New Testament times, the high priesthood was purchased by one family. This person often acted out of character with what a true high priest should do (Acts 23:1-5).
Jesus did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. Rather he was selected by God himself. Christ received all glory appropriately from the Father (John 8:54). The writer of Hebrews cited two references to prove his case—Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4. God honored his Son by raising him from the dead. Now Jesus rules at the right hand of his Father in Heaven. God made him both priest and king.
Throughout his life, Jesus was a man of prayer. With fervent cries and tears he talked with his Father (see Matthew 26:53, 54; 27:46). Even when he faced the cross, he remained committed to do his Father’s will, whatever it might be. God heard Christ’s plea and sent angels to minister to him. Ultimately God saved Jesus from death by raising him from the grave. Even though Jesus was the Son, the Father’s edicts had to be followed. No special privilege exempted Jesus from suffering. Now he serves as our great high priest, interceding with the Father on our behalf.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.