Jesus is the Great High Priest

Once a year, in the old Jewish sacrificial system, the high priest went into the innermost part of the temple, called the Holy of Holies.  He made sacrifice on this day, the Day of Atonement, for the whole nation of Israel.  No one except this one man on this one day was allowed to enter this room.  Hebrews 6:19-20 tells us, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.  It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.  He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” (NIV).

Jesus is our high priest.  There have been many high priests since the first high priest, Aaron, was appointed just after Israel left their slavery in Egypt.  There were certain requirements that a person must have to be a high priest.  Jesus met, and often exceeded, those prerequisites.

First of all, how would a man even become a high priest?  He does not simply decide in his own mind that he will be a high priest.  God chooses him to be such.  Aaron was chosen by God to be high priest.  Jesus also was chosen by God to be high priest.

Before a priest could offer sacrifices for the people, he had to be free of sin himself, so he first had to offer sacrifice for his own sin, then offer sacrifices for the people.  Jesus, on the other hand, was sinless His entire life; that is, He never caused offense to God, and so His relationship with God has remained intact.  For that reason, there is no need for Him to offer sacrifice for Himself.  He has a constant connection to the Father that is not broken.  Because of this, He is most qualified to be a priest, an intercessor, for us.

As a sinless man, one might think that Jesus is unable to understand where we are coming from as people dealing with sin and temptation on a consistent basis.  Jesus, though He never sinned, was tempted during His life on earth.  He simply chose not to give in to those temptations.  He withstood temptation to the farthest reach of it, something we have never experienced because we give in to the temptation before it can reach its full strength.  He understands temptation and the strength of it.  He can sympathize with our struggles.  He understands us, so He can “deal gently” with us as the author of Hebrews says.

When God began to form the children of Jacob, the Israelites, into a nation, He appointed the Levites as the priestly tribe.  The first high priest was Aaron, and his descendants were to follow him in that role.  The tribe of Judah was the tribe of the kings.  King David was from the tribe of Judah, and the Messiah was prophesied to come from this tribe.  It is obvious from the genealogies in Matthew and Luke that Jesus was the tribe of Judah.  Jesus is qualified biologically to be king.  How then can Jesus be a priest when He is part of the tribe of Judah, the tribe of the kings, and not of the tribe of Levi, the tribe of the priesthood?

The answer to this takes us far back into the history of Israel, even before the nation was a nation, before Israel was named Israel.  Abraham, in Genesis 14, came to the aid of Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities who had been attacked and defeated by neighboring kings.  After Abraham and his people won the battle, Melchizedek, the king of Salem and the priest of God Most High, brought out bread and wine.  He blessed Abraham, and Abraham gave him a tenth, a tithe, of everything that he had.  The author of Hebrews states that Jesus is a high priest as Melchizedek was a high priest.  Melchizedek was not of the tribe of Levi; neither the priestly line nor Levi the man had even come to exist.  Hebrews explains that since the Levitical priesthood and the law were unable to save people, another priest and another law was needed to take the place of the previous.

How is it that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek?  Is it only that neither one were Levites?  Or is there more?  Hebrews tells us that Melchizedek had no father or mother and no genealogy.  He had no “beginning of days or end of life.”  He had always been.  He is a priest forever.  Hebrews says that Melchizedek and Jesus were both “one who has become priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.”  Through the history of the nation of Israel, there was a succession of high priests.  One would fill this role for a number of years, and then when he died, another would take his place.  With Jesus, there is no succession because there is no death.  Jesus is a priest forever.

Finally, what raises Jesus higher than the priests before Him is the quality of the sacrifice offered.  In the past, sacrifices were rams, bulls, doves and other animals.  We are told, though, that the blood of animals cannot forgive sins.  Those sacrifices were looking forward to and pointing to a greater sacrifice.  The greater sacrifice that was offered was a pure, unblemished sacrifice, the life of the high priest Himself.  Jesus became not only the high priest who offered the sacrifice but also the sacrifice which was offered.

Jesus has become our high priest in that He has fulfilled and exceed the requirements of high priest.  The scripture describes to us a high priest who is able to completely wipe away sins because of His special capability to serve in this role and His offering of His own life for the atoning sacrifice.

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