By Mark Scott
The Bible is full of priests. There is a sense in which all of God’s people are priests (Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6). But there is another sense in which certain people were called especially to represent God to the people and to represent the people to God. Some of these priests were exemplary (Luke 1:5, 6), and some of these priests were rascals (Numbers 3:4). Our text today gives at least three reasons why Jesus makes a great high priest.
Because Jesus Ascended
Not everyone can ascend. Of course to be able to ascend means that first one has to descend. Our text mentions both as they relate to our great high priest. Jesus finished his priestly work on earth and then sat down at the right hand of God in Heaven (Hebrews 1:3). He experienced this wonderful exaltation because of the humiliation of first descending to earth. When he walked among people he did not do so aloof and unsympathetic. Rather, he was able to empathize (our English word sympathy comes from this Greek word) with our weaknesses. This empathy goes all the way to human volition and is best illustrated by Jesus enduring temptation. The text affirms that Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are. But unlike us, who cave in to temptation, Jesus experienced the full brunt of temptation by not sinning.
The writer of Hebrews gives us two commands concerning our great high priest’s exaltation. They are two of the many “let us” patches of Hebrews (4:1, 11, 14, 16; 6:1; 10:22-24). Because Jesus ascended, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. This means that we are to grasp tightly our confession of faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). Because Jesus ascended, let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence. There is no need for shy prayers. We need grace and mercy, and our great high priest can give those things because he has ascended.
Because Jesus Was Called
Even though Jesus is a member of the triune God, he did not presume (he did not take this honor or glory on himself). He waited for the Father to “call” him. This matched what happened with human priests. They also had to be called by God. When they were called they had two tasks: to offer gifts and sacrifices to God and to deal gently with the people. Their calling helped them with the first task, and their humanity helped them with the second. Of course the high priest would go into the holy of holies once each year in the fall and offer sacrifices for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. But no one could just casually walk into the presence of God. Such a person had to be called by God to come.
Jesus was called by God to be this great high priest, and the writer draws upon two psalms to underline this point. Psalm 2 is a royal psalm sung when the king’s reign might be threatened. God’s king will be victorious over people because God has called (named) him. Psalm 110 (quoted eight times in the New Testament) is a messianic psalm sung celebrating the authority of the Messiah. This high priest called by God dates previous to any priestly tribe (that of Levi of Aaron’s descendants). This great high priest is similar to that strange figure in the Old Testament named Melchizedek (king of righteousness). The writer will speak more about him in Hebrews 6:13–7:28. His calling was unique as was the calling of Jesus.
Because Jesus Suffered
As much as people like to avoid suffering, it actually becomes a credential for ministry. Human high priests shared a common humanity in the daily grind with their people. Our great high priest chose the path of suffering to fully identify with his people.
The agony of Jesus’ suffering was evident in his prayer life. He offered up prayers (specific requests) and petitions with fervent cries and tears to God. The Garden of Gethsemane comes to mind, but the text should not be limited to that prayer (Mark 14:32-42; 1:35-39; John 6:15). The agony of his suffering was also evident in his scourging and passion experience on the cross. Through this suffering Jesus learned obedience and became perfect (complete) so he could be the source of eternal salvation for us.
Jesus is the great high priest because he totally understands the human dilemma. No one understands like Jesus.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.