Our Great High Priest

July 09, 2016

by Brandon Crowe

From the earliest centuries of the church, Christian theologians have articulated Jesus’ person and work in terms of prophet, priest, and king. One of the clearest places we see the interplay of these three offices of Christ is in Hebrews. More specifically, one of the distinctive contributions of Hebrews is its teaching on Jesus as our great high priest. In fact, one could argue that the main point of Hebrews is to explain the significance of Jesus’ high priesthood. In Hebrews 8:1 we read: “Now the [main] point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven.” Protestants today may not always see the practical value in priesthood, since we do not believe that the mediation of a special order of priests is necessary to assist in our approach to God (unlike, for example, Roman Catholicism). However, this does not mean that priesthood is somehow unimportant or unnecessary. In fact, Scripture teaches that we all require a priest to approach God. But Hebrews emphasizes that Jesus Christ himself is our priest—indeed, our great high priest—and he has no rivals. Therefore, we do not need to rely on any lesser order of imperfect priests to approach God. What, then, does it mean for Jesus to be our great high priest? We will consider three aspects from Hebrews, and then broaden our focus to consider some other New Testament passages as well.

The High Priesthood of Jesus in Hebrews

First, as our great high priest Jesus has offered the final sacrifice to atone for sins (Heb. 10:14). Because Jesus’ sacrifice is perfect, no additional sacrifice is needed forever. This is the case because Jesus did not simply offer a sacrifice that was external to himself, but he offered himself as the perfect sacrifice. A key text in this regard is Hebrews 10:5–7, which quotes Psalm 40:6–8:

“Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

Hebrews 10:9 then adds: “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Jesus’ sacrifice provides the solution to a problem that we often find in the Old Testament: even where sacrifices may be offered, people’s hearts (including those of the priests) were often far from God.

Jesus overcame the imperfection of previous offerings by offering the sacrifice of his own body. For in his body, Jesus was fully devoted to God in every way. Jesus never sinned, whether by deeds of omission or commission, and therefore he realized the perfection in himself that is necessary for true remission of sins. Jesus lived a perfect life, which enabled him to serve himself as the perfect sacrifice. As Hebrews says, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (9:22). However, the blood of bulls and goats can never suffice to take away sins (10:1, 4). That is why it is such wonderful news that Jesus himself is our final sacrifice. Jesus can actually bring true and lasting forgiveness of sins because of the value of his sacrifice.

Second, Jesus is our great high priest in a way that is superior to the high priesthood of the Old Testament because Jesus ministers in heaven itself. We see this in Hebrews 1:3, which states that Jesus sat down at the right hand of God when he had made purification for sins (see also 10:12). It is important to remember that Jesus’ sacrifice is effectual because he did not stay dead, but was raised to an indestructible life (7:16), and this resurrection life is the presupposition for the heavenly, priestly reign of Christ. His seat at the right hand of God is the seat of the victorious conqueror, who has conquered all his enemies, including sin and death (cf. 1:13; Ps. 110:1). There is no one who can provide closer access to the throne of God. He is our “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul,” our “hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain” (Heb. 6:19).

Jesus thus reigns as our great high priest in heaven itself (Heb. 8:1; 9:11, 24). As our great high priest who makes final atonement for sins, Jesus is fully human. Yet the same verse at the beginning of Hebrews that tells us of his ascension to the right hand of God also emphasizes the divinity of the Son: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (1:3a). The power of Jesus as our great high priest to forgive our sins is therefore keenly related to his divinity as well.

And as the risen-and-ascended, divine-and-human great high priest, Jesus is a priest forever. He never has to be renewed in his office. He never takes a break or goes to sleep. Death will never prevent him from executing his office as priest. He is a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. He is the royal priest-king whose priestly reign has no end. He therefore is able to save his people to the uttermost, because he always lives to intercede for us, and never ceases to provide access to God, blessing us with the benefits of salvation acquired by his high priestly work (see Heb. 7:23–25). . . .

. . . continue reading in Credo Magazine (Volume 6, Issue 2, pg. 16–21).

Brandon Crowe

Dr. Crowe (PhD, Edinburgh) is associate professor of New Testament at WTS.

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