Now as we begin this ninth lesson on Hebrews, we've already heard a few times in the book of Hebrews that Jesus is our High
Priest, but what exactly does the author mean when he gives Jesus this
title? What's a great high priest?
In the original Greek the word we translate to “great” has the same root as the word “mega”. When I was a kid, the original power rangers were on TV. They used an enormous robot to fight the bad guys called the Megazord. Some lotteries are named the “Mega-Millions”. The author wants us to understand that Jesus is not just a high priest. He is our mega high priest.
Why is that important? Why do we as Christ-followers want that?
For us today it's a little confusing. Off the top of our heads most of us couldn't describe much about the Jewish high priest. However, the original audience would have understood this title well. So, in order for us to properly understand this scripture we must understand how the original author and audience would think of a high priest.
Moses’ brother Aaron was the first high priest. He was appointed by God to preform ritual sacrifices for the entire Jewish people. After Aaron, the high priest was chosen from the tribe of Levi and the decedents of Aaron. The high priest's most important job happens once a year and is described in Leviticus 16.
The Tabernacle was a movable tent that was the place of worship for the Jews while they wandered in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt. After they settled in Jerusalem, Solomon built a temple for God based off the pattern of the tabernacle.
It had an outer court where both men and woman could go. It also had an inner court where only the priests were allowed. And it had the most inner place. This smaller room in the middle of the tabernacle was called the Holy of Holies.
It was separated from the rest of camp by a veil (a big curtain). Only one person was allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies. That person was the High Priest. And they were only allowed to enter it once a year, on the Day of Atonement.
The High Priest would go through this ritual. First, they would inter into the court of the priests and they would wash themselves. Then they would put on special clothes only for the High Priest. They would sacrifice a bull to atone (cover or compensate for) their sins and their families’ sins. They would burn heavy incense to create a lot of smoke in the Holy of Holies in order to conceal the Ark of the Covenant, also known as the Mercy Seat.
It was called the Mercy Seat because the presence of God was in the Holy of Holies and it was through the sacrificed blood given before the seat of God that they could receive mercy and be atoned for. Because God was present in the Holy of Holies the High Priest feared to catch a glimpse of God and die. This is why they concealed the room with smoke.
When they were in the room they would sprinkle the blood of the bull before the mercy seat. Then they would exit to sacrifice the first goat. This goat was killed in order to atone for the sins of the whole Jewish people. The High Priest would sprinkle the blood of the goat before the mercy seat, and then in different places around the tabernacle.
Next the High Priest would place his hands on the head of the second Goat, confessing the sins of the people he would ask for forgiveness from God and then he would send the goat out of camp to die in the wilderness.
Finally, he would undress and wash. This was the ritual that was preformed every year by the High Priest for the forgiveness of the Jewish people’s sins. - Read Leviticus 16:30.
The High Priest was the most important person in the Jewish community because he kept them in right relationship with God. Every year, year after year, for thousands of years another Day of Atonement was necessary.
In addition to these yearly sacrifices, everyday day, day after day, thousands of other sacrifices were made of produce and animals. For two reasons the process was never ending, never completed.
So, why do we want Jesus as our Great High Priest?
Jesus made the perfect sacrifice as both the Great High Priest and by providing the pure blood. Jesus was both fully man and fully God. Because he lived a sinless life he could represent man as the perfect high priest.
And because he was God in the flesh, he could be a sacrifice great enough to atone for all people. Jesus didn't atone for my sins with the blood of a goat. Instead, He offered his own body to suffer and die for me.
So, can we still today offer the sacrifice of animals to atone for our sins? No.
Do you remember what separated the Holy of Holies from the people?
It was the curtain or veil.
When Jesus completed his sacrifice as Great High Priest the separation from God and man was torn. This means the Holy of Holies no longer existed. This was the end of the old system and the beginning of the greatest opportunity ever offered to man. The cycle of animal sacrifice and human sin ended.
Christ is the greater High Priest. He is greater in every way.
The Greek language uses in this sentence a present active participle. In other words, this verse could be translated “high priest we are having” or this “high priest that is ours”.
Do you remember how often the high priest of the old covenant could go before God?
Once a year
But Jesus is constantly at the right hand of God, continuously interceding for us. This means we have constant and continual access to our high priest and our God instead of yearly.
Also, Jesus’ location as a high priest is greater. He is in heaven at the right hand of God. This is a position of authority. The old covenant High Priests kneels in the tabernacle at the feet of God’s throne. This is a position of submission.
The High Priest of the Old Testament gave a temporary offering. But Jesus gave an eternal offering.
We know that Jesus was the perfect offering because he was sinless. But we also know that Jesus is a perfect High Priest to represent man because He was man. Tempted in every single way that we were. That means he has sympathy for our struggles!
Because of Jesus we have access to Gods throne. What kind of throne does God have?
One of Grace
This truth is so incredible it should completely blow us away - us? We the sinners! We can have bold confidence in Gods presence?!
Just compare the attitude we can have in God’s presence to Isaiah when he went before God’s throne. He coved his face in fear and cried out for mercy! (See Isaiah 6.)
But we can enjoy Gods presence instead of being afraid! Not because of how great we are, but because of how great our high priest is. Because of how pure His blood was! And because He gave it for you.
Paul describes salvation as a free gift of grace (see Romans 5). But a person never receives a gift until they put out their hands to accept the gift that's being offered to them.
Pray that God would draw you to Himself.
Pray that you would understand our Great Supreme Christ.
Pray to accept the free gift of grace that God is offering to you.