A Qualified High Priest – Part I

Since God is holy and we are sinful, how can we come into His presence in heaven? That question drives all of mankind’s religious efforts. However, there is only one way to have access to our Father in heaven, and that way is through His Son Jesus — the Christ of Scripture. There is no other qualified human being appointed to bring us to God.

This is a major theme of The Epistle to the Hebrews. The writer carefully presents Jesus as the Great High Priest of humanity who mediates God’s New Covenant of salvation. He draws us to this conclusion by explaining that the incarnate Son is God’s greatest revelation regarding His eternal purpose and plan for the creation (1:1-3). He is heaven’s greatest messenger who fulfills heaven’s great gospel message as the prince and pioneer of a redeemed humanity (1:4-2:18). Jesus is God’s faithful Son whom we must fully trust to lead us into salvation rest (3:1-4:13). He is the Apostle of our confession in that regard as 3:1 stated.

But 3:1 also identifies God’s Son as the High Priest of our confession, and 4:14-16 introduced Him as such. There we were told that Jesus has complete access to the Father. He also sympathetically, yet sinlessly, reconciles us to God and gives us access to the Father’s grace to receive righteousness and to live righteously.

Now the writer begins to explain more fully Jesus’ high priestly office (5:1-7:28) and His high priestly ministry (8:1-10:18). Also, as he did while teaching about Jesus’ apostleship, there is again an appeal to the reader to evaluate his or her faith in the Christ God has revealed in His Word to which we are all accountable (cf. 4:11-13).

Hebrews 5:1-11 begins the explanation of Jesus’ high priestly office, and it answers the question that the initial Jewish readers most certainly would have had when considering faith in Christ: “How does Jesus qualify as our High Priest?” We are told that Jesus meets the qualifications of being called by God and being compassionate toward sinners. First, God’s established requirements are presented. Secondly, it is explained how Jesus fulfills them. We consider the requirements in part one of this study.

A Qualified High Priest (5:1-11) – Part I
God’s Requirements (vv. 1-4)
A Priest is Called (vv. 1, 4)
God alone has set the standard for the priestly ministry. While the world’s religions have priests of all sorts, none are qualified to bring sinners to the true and living God in the way He requires. The LORD first established a true priesthood through the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel). From the tribe of Jacob’s son, Levi, the LORD “appointed” (v. 1) only Moses’ brother, “Aaron” (v. 4) to perpetuate a priestly line under the Old Covenant of Law (Ex. 28-29).

Aaron and his descendants served to foreshadow Christ as the One who truly brings reconciled sinners to God. While Moses and other prophets represented God to the people with His Word, Aaron and the priesthood acted on behalf of the people before God to help reflect their faith in and obedience to His Word. The ceremonial worship established by God under the Law of Moses emphasized His holiness, the sinner’s transgressions that separate him from God, and the need for an atoning sacrifice. In other words, God is holy and approachable only by a perfect sacrifice offered perfectly.

The Aaronic priesthood was designated by God to lead the people in worship based on these revealed truths. The Levites assisted in the work of the tabernacle, but they could not minister in the holy things (Num. 18:1-7). The temple worship was likely still being led by Levitical priests at the time of this letter.

This is the meaning of verse one when it says, “…every priest taken from among men is appointed for men in the things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.” The phrase, “gifts and sacrifices” speaks of the presentation of the sacrifice to honor God. God only accepts worship in the way He has commanded, since it reflects the truth of His redemptive purpose and plan in Christ (Jn. 4:21-26). The Old Testament worship under the Law via the priesthood was a foreshadowing of Christ who is the substance of Old Testament symbolism (Col. 2:17).

The office of a priest cannot be occupied by just anyone. Aaron did “not take this honor to himself,” and neither did any of the men in his family in successive generations. They were “called by God” for His own purpose and glory, and no substitutes were acceptable. Any attempts by others to assume a priestly role — even within the tribe of Levi — were met with God’s judgment (Num. 16-17).

A Priest is Compassionate (vv. 2-3)
Although being chosen by God is one of the qualifications of a high priest, there was nothing special about Aaron and his descendants that qualified them to be chosen. Why the LORD appointed them is unknown and irrelevant to us. What He chose them to do, however, is very significant, and they could not do it unless they were human. A priest of human beings in things pertaining to God must of necessity be human. Why? Because he must be able to compassionately lead sinners to God. He must be able to completely identify with them in order to bring them to worship God who calls sinners to Himself.

Verse two says that a priest, “can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness.” The verb, to “have compassion,” speaks of a moderate, gentle attitude toward someone whose situation you understand. God required priests to be sympathetic toward others, since people are naturally “ignorant” of truth, which fosters sin and leads them away from God (“astray”).

To effectively bring sinners near God, a priest must understand intimately why they go astray. He must know what it is to be “subject to weakness.” That is, he must identify with humanity’s complete inability to do God’s will apart from His supernatural intervention. After all, God created mankind in His image and likeness, and we are totally dependent upon Him for a righteous existence.

Aaron and his lineage were a perpetual line of sinners like the rest of humanity, and they certainly identified when God revealed in His Law that all people have fallen short of His holy standards. Likewise, when the ceremonial portion of the law “required…the people to offer sacrifices for sins,” the priests all understood why they also must offer a sacrifice for themselves (“so also for himself”). They were sinners, too.

So the requirement of compassion toward sinners in and of itself demanded a true understanding of the human condition. But as we learned in verse 15, our Lord Jesus Christ could be sympathetic while at the same time being sinless. He “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” He experienced all the natural human desires and the pressures to satisfy them, but He would not and could not do that in violation of God’s will. He yielded Himself to the Father whom He trusted and obeyed without reservation.

As God’s faithful Son, Jesus was sinless in every way. By the aid of the Holy Spirit, He lived a righteous life in complete obedience to God’s law (Lk. 3:22). But the difference between the Captain of our salvation (2:10) and we who need salvation is that He possessed nothing but a righteous nature, which completely and joyfully desired God’s will (Matt. 4:1-11; Jn. 4:34). His inherent righteousness enabled Him to walk in the Spirit and do God’s will from the heart, and that is why He could offer Himself as the sacrifice for sin. He could bear the sins of believers on the cross, and God could regenerate their spirit, producing faith and repentance, and impute His Son’s righteousness to them for justification.

Aaron and his descendants could serve compassionately as priests because they understood those to whom they ministered. But they could do nothing at all to remove the sin which separates sinners from God. They could represent the people to God with their sacrifices, but they themselves needed to offer a sacrifice for their own sins.

The requirements to qualify as a priest are to be called by God and to be compassionate. Aaron’s priestly line certainly met those requirements, but their ministry was ineffective to completely bring sinners into God’s presence. As sinners themselves, they could only bring other sinners to God under the Old Covenant of the Law. However, God established them to paint a clear picture of the One who would and could bring us into God’s presence forever — Jesus, our Great High Priest!

As we will discover in part two of this study (vv. 5-11), Jesus fulfills the requirements to qualify as our High Priest, and His priesthood is eternal. Unlike Aaron’s priesthood, which was restricted to the limitations of the Law, our Great High Priest brings us to God’s throne of grace (v. 16).

Do you have access to the Father in heaven through His Son Jesus Christ? God is holy, and your sin separates you from Him unless you trust Jesus who is your Great High Priest. He is called by God, and He is compassionate toward you. You can be certain that He is qualified to bring you into the Father’s presence.

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© Copyright 1997-2017 Richard E. Clayton, Jr. All rights reserved.

The Great High Priest

You are reconciled to God when you place your faith in Jesus Christ. This means your sins are completely forgiven, and the Father in heaven sees you as righteous because of your relationship to His perfect Son. You can confidently trust Jesus to bring you into this wonderful relationship in which you can approach the Father daily in prayer for every need.

What a wonderful truth this is, and the epistle to the Hebrews reasons with us to come in faith to the Son that we may have access to the Father.

In 3:1, the writer called us to consider Jesus Christ as “the Apostle and High Priest of our confession.” He is the Apostle (“one sent”) from God who leads His family of redeemed human beings. He is like Moses in that way. But as the head of that family, He is greater (3:1-6). As a foreshadowing of Christ, Moses was a faithful yet imperfect servant. To make the point that Jesus is the true, faithful Son of the household, the writer explained Psalm 95:7-11. And with that, he urges Christ’s faithful brethren to beware of unbelief, fear falling short of salvation rest Jesus provides, and diligently enter that rest by full faith in God’s word regarding their salvation in Christ (3:7-4:13).

Now we are told that Jesus is the true High Priest who sympathetically, yet sinlessly, mediates between God and His children. The first Old Testament high priest, Aaron (and all who followed in his line), was also a foreshadowing of Christ (5:1-4). But like Moses, Aaron was imperfect as well. Also, like Moses, Aaron’s ministry was limited — an insufficient and incomplete symbol of the reality of Christ’s ministry. Moses could not bring God’s people into full salvation rest, and Aaron could not bring them fully into God’s presence.

Jesus Christ is the sinless and eternal High Priest, and the writer of Hebrews expounds Psalm 110:4 to convey this truth. A large portion of the letter is dedicated to the superiority of Christ’s priesthood (4:14-7:28) and priestly ministry (8:1-10:18). And, in the middle of this lengthy passage (5:11-6:20), we find yet another appeal to the reader to evaluate their faith in the Christ of Scripture.

As an introduction to this broad section of the letter, Hebrews 4:14-16 explains the reasons why we can confidently trust Christ as the great High Priest foretold in the word of God. First, Jesus has full access to God. Secondly, Jesus is sympathetic and sinless. Thirdly, Jesus provides access to God for His children.

The Great High Priest (4:14-16)
Jesus Has Full Access to God (v. 14)
The writer to the Hebrews transitions from Christ as Apostle to Christ as High Priest in verse 14 when He says, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest…Jesus the Son of God” In other words, in addition to being the faithful Son of God over the children of God, Jesus is also their High Priest. What does this mean?

An Israelite priest under the Mosaic Law served God and His people by administering the temple worship. He mediated the interaction between God and the worshiper. This included accepting the required blood sacrifice for an individual’s sins and offering it on their behalf in the way prescribed by the LORD — burning them on the altar outside the temple and sprinkling their blood there as well. Each sacrifice portrayed the death required for sin, but the offering also symbolized individual faith in God’s provision of a truly sufficient sacrifice (Heb. 10:4).

The High Priest served to represent the people when he entered the Most Holy Place in the temple annually on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). With the blood of the atonement, he would pass through the outer court of the temple, into the Holy Place, and then through the veil into the Most Holy Place (i.e. Holy of Holies). There the Ark of the Covenant (representing God’s sovereign, holy presence) was located, and there the sacrificial blood was presented year after year to symbolically make atonement for the people in anticipation of Christ’s sacrifice.

To explain Christ’s fulfillment of this Old Testament foreshadowing, the writer says that Jesus “has passed through the heavens.” That is, having made peace with God for His children by the blood of the cross (Col. 1:20), the resurrected and glorified Christ ascended into heaven as an eternal High Priest. He passed through the veil, as it were, into God’s very presence (Heb. 6:19-20). In other words, as the faithful Son, He removed the sin that separates us from our Father in heaven.

Jesus passed through the atmospheric “heavens” of earth, the stellar “heavens” of the universe, and into the very heaven of “heavens” where God dwells on His eternal throne (2 Cor. 12:2; Rev. 4) — the place His children call home and will enjoy as home forever (John 14:1-4). The layout of the earthly tabernacle/temple symbolically portrayed the actual way into God’s eternal presence (cf. Rev. 21-22).

Jesus Christ was the only truly acceptable sacrifice for sin because He is the faithful Son of God. He was faithful in that He perfectly kept God’s law. His perfect life made Him fit as a spotless sacrifice, but it also provided the righteousness necessary for God’s children (2 Cor. 5:21). Because He is the tested and true Captain of our salvation (2:10ff), “He is a merciful and faithful High Priest in the things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people (2:17).

Jesus bore the sins of God’s children and satisfied God’s wrath toward them so they could be forgiven and reconciled. As High Priest, He presented Himself to the Father as the true, effective sacrifice for sin, and for this reason we can “hold fast our confession” of faith in Him.

Jesus has full access to the Father as our great High Priest. We need the symbolism God sets forth in the priesthood, priestly ministry, and the temple to help us understand Jesus’ relationship to the Father and the reality of our approaching God through His Son. But the reality of Christ, which earthly priests merely foreshadowed, is infinitely pure and effective. While the earthly priests of Israel could identify with the people, they themselves were sinners in need of reconciliation. They were unable to truly bring anyone into God’s presence. Jesus, however, is able to reconcile us to God because He is both sympathetic and sinless.

Jesus is Sympathetic and Sinless (v. 15)
The Old Testament priest could “have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness. Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sin” (5:2, 3). Aaron and his descendants knew what it was to be sinful and in need of reconciliation, and it helped them be compassionate. But they knew nothing about complete righteousness. An imperfect person “cannot sympathize with our weaknesses” as a merciful and faithful High Priest.

However, the faithful Son of God can completely sympathize and do something about our need a sinners. Being truly God and truly man in His incarnation, Jesus Christ is the great High Priest who thoroughly understands human weakness. Yet He had no need to offer a sacrifice for Himself. He “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

With our Lord’s humanity came every conceivable opportunity to yield to its natural desires, but He never did this outside of the Father’s will. His desire to obey God was at all times greater than His human needs (Jn. 4:31-34), since His human nature was inherently righteous as proven by His sinless sufferings (2:10). There was no inward principle of sin — no lingering effects of a fallen nature in Him — such as the believer has (Rom. 7). There was absolutely nothing that could move Jesus to yield to the desires of the human body in any way other than in complete harmony with the Father’s will and purpose (Matt. 4:1-11). His body was always a living sacrifice to God (Rom. 12:1).

As the writer will later inform us in 7:26: “For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens.” The only possible effective mediator between God and men is the sinless Man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). He understands the inherent weakness of the flesh, but He controlled its natural desires in complete righteousness.

Jesus Christ is the prince and pioneer of the redeemed humanity whose righteousness becomes ours as He “brings many sons to glory” (2:10). He not only makes us acceptable to God, but He brings us into His presence in that we can enjoy our relationship with Him now as His children and ultimately in the full joy and glory of heaven.

Jesus Provides Our Access to God (v. 16)
It is the here and now of our relationship to the Father through Christ that the writer has in mind. Since our sympathetic and sinless High Priest can effectively and eternally reconcile us to God and bring us into His presence, we can “therefore come boldly to the throne of grace” now as God’s righteous children. We do not have to be afraid to approach God, since Jesus has made it possible to approach Him. We do not need to wait for heaven, we can come confidently to His throne now.

It is, after all, entirely by the grace of God that we are justified by faith. Paul says in Romans 5:1-2 that, “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into the grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” God’s grace reconciles us to Himself through faith in Jesus. In our relationship as His children, we also have continual access to His grace in this world. And in that grace we rejoice knowing that one day our faith will become sight in the glory of God’s heavenly presence.

It was at God’s throne that Jesus made atonement for the sins of His brethren so that grace flows freely to make them righteous and help them live righteously. And they may come daily to the heavenly Father in prayer for the grace needed to live for His glory.

At God’s throne “we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” In other words, we can approach God in full assurance that we have been made righteous in Christ and with complete confidence in the Father’s desire to help us live according to His will in sanctification. In everything we face, we can confidently ask our Father for grace to do His will and know that His grace is extended to us for that purpose (Rom. 6:1-14). Our great High Priest gives us unrestricted access to the heavenly Father’s throne of grace.

Jesus, our great High Priest, has full access to God. He is sympathetic and sinless, and He provides our access to the heavenly throne of grace. You can confidently trust Him to bring you into an eternal relationship with God. And having trusted Him, you can hold fast your confession of faith.

Do you have this true relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ? There is no other way that heaven can come to you or that you can go to heaven.

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© Copyright 1997-2017 Richard E. Clayton, Jr. All rights reserved.