Chapter 6: Christ as Great High Priest
by Brian Currie, N. Ireland
From the earliest times of human history, men have been acting in priestly character in seeking to approach God. In Genesis chapter 4 we read of Cain and Abel approaching God and they were aware that this had to be done on the ground of sacrifice, albeit Cain had not grasped the vital principle that such a sacrifice must involve the death of a victim. It appears he assumed that his sacrificial offering, consisting of what he grew, was equal in value to Abel’s sacrifice of an animal. Presumably Cain and Abel had been instructed by their parents of the basis upon which they had been clothed by God, thus enabling them to appear before Him. Even in the garden of Eden there was a foreshadowing of the one sacrifice of the Lord Jesus at Calvary, in that both Adam and Eve were clothed with the skin (singular) of one sacrifice.
We could think of the family priest as displayed in Noah of whom it is recorded that when he and his family came out of the ark, "Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the LORD smelled a sweet savour ..." Gen.8.20,21. This is the first mention of an altar in the Holy Scriptures. Then there were Abraham’s four altars, Gen.12.7,8; 13.18; 22.9; the altars of Isaac, Jacob, Moses and many others.
Important lessons regarding priesthood can be learned from a consideration of the somewhat mysterious man called, "Melchizedek king of Salem" who "brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God" Gen.14.18. This is the first mention of a priest in the Holy Scriptures. We shall think about this man later in the chapter, when we deal with the priesthood of the Lord Jesus as seen in the epistle to the Hebrews.
Discounting the references to Melchizedek, Poti-pherah, priest of On, Gen.41.45,50; 46.20, and the priest of Midian, Ex.2.16; 3.1; 18.1, we do not read of a priest until the nation of Israel had been redeemed and was in the wilderness. When the nation was in Egypt, God provided a means of salvation for these afflicted people who were held in bondage, whereas in the wilderness He provided a priest as a means of sympathy for an ailing people. The first is typical of a burdened sinner, the second that of a burdened saint. W.W. Fereday stated, "priesthood is not designed to bring men into relationship, but rather to help those who are already in relationship with God."1
- 1 Fereday, W.W. “The High Priest’s Garments of Glory and Beauty”. “Assembly Testimony”, July/August, 2006.
Perhaps the great importance of priesthood is seen in the fact that from the time the nation was redeemed from Egypt, God’s desire was that the whole nation would be a kingdom of priests, "ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" Ex.19.6. However, when the nation put themselves under law, God withdrew into thick darkness and they could not approach. When the nation rebelled in the matter of the golden calf, Moses went outside the camp and "stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD’S side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him" Ex.32.26. In response to this display of obedience, to the tribe of Levi in general and the family of Aaron in particular, was given the great privilege of priestly service.
This gave rise to the problem as to how the priests could be identified from those who were not priests. God solved this problem in a very simple way, by giving them different garments. It is on this Old Testament situation that many present day professing Christians base their practice of having different garments for their clergy.
NEW TESTAMENT PRIESTHOOD
In the New Testament, God has recovered His desire that all who are saved are in the priesthood. This is clearly taught by the apostle Peter. At the close of 1Peter chapter 1, he refers to the Christians as "being born again" v.23, and this came about through the gospel, v.25. He continues in chapter 2 to address these born again people and states, "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ ... But ye are ‘a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people;’ that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light" 1Pet.2.5,9.
Heb.10.19-22 states similar truth, "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water."
These two passages teach that all who are ‘born again’ and all who are ‘brethren’ form the priesthood. The teaching is that every true believer is in the priesthood and in this present age of grace there is no special caste group which has exclusive access to God. It is instructive to note that in the New Testament epistles the only occasions where we read of a priest in the singular, are in relation to the Lord Jesus and His unique priesthood, and every reference is in the Hebrews. No individual is ever referred to as ‘priest so and so’. When teaching with regard to the New Testament believer is introduced, the term is always plural: Rev.1.6; 5.10; 20.6. Some of these truths will be highlighted later in the chapter.
The Priesthood of the Lord Jesus can be taught from a number of Scriptures. Firstly, it can be seen illustratively in the garments of the high priest of Israel, the first of whom was Aaron. Secondly, it can be considered practically in Luke’s Gospel. Thirdly, we find the subject doctrinally in the epistle to the Hebrews.
Volumes have been written expounding the typical truth that the garments of the high priest of Israel illustrate, so there is no possibility that these can be dealt with in detail in this chapter. However, the following may assist those approaching this truth for the first time.
For Aaron and his sons four garments were made: Ex.28.40-43, "for Aaron’s sons thou shalt make coats, and thou shalt make for them girdles, and bonnets [turbans or caps] shalt thou make for them, for glory and for beauty. And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto Me in the priest’s office. And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach: And they shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they come in unto the tabernacle of the congregation, or when they come near unto the altar to minister in the holy place; that they bear not iniquity, and die: it shall be a statute for ever unto him and his seed after him."
To these were added six garments for glory and beauty for the high priest: Ex.28.4: "a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a broidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle" and then v.36 speaks of the "plate of pure gold" that is attached to the mitre. These make a total of eleven garments, but since he could not wear both a turban and a mitre at the same time, the high priest wore ten garments plus various accessories. The mitre of the high priest is to be distinguished from the bonnet, turban or cap of the priests. The mitre was a sign of royalty.
These garments illustrate the High Priestly work of the Lord Jesus and the qualifications that are required for this work.
- Coat - His Sublime Character
- Linen Breeches - His Spotless Walk
- Mitre - His Sanctified Mind
- Plate of Pure Gold - His Sinless Mind
- Breastplate - His Sympathetic Breast Containing the Urim and Thummim - Sovereignty of His Guidance
- Ephod and the Onyx Stone Clasps - Strength of His Shoulders
- Curious Girdle - Sweetness of His Affections
- White Linen Girdle - Sacredness of His Devotion
- Blue Robe - Splendour of the Heavenly Man
- Broidered Coat - His Special Sonship.
It is commonly accepted that the Gospel of Luke is the priestly Gospel, just as Matthew is the kingly Gospel and Mark is that of the Prophet. Luke commences his Gospel with an officiating priest, 1.5, Zacharias, and ends with a blessing Priest, 24.50. In 1.22 the priest was "speechless", in 24.53 the people were "praising and blessing God". This characteristic can be seen practically in the life of the Lord Jesus, because while He was not officially a priest on earth, He most definitely did priestly acts.
Note the number of times in Luke’s Gospel that the Lord Jesus is found praying: 3.21; 5.16; 6.12; 9.16,18,29; 10.21; 11.1; 22.32,41,44; 23.34,46; 24.30. The Priest is familiar with God’s presence and as we note the varied circumstances in which He prayed and the various matters for which He prayed, we see the fulfilment of Phil.4.6 "in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God"; and 1Thess.5.18, "In every thing give thanks ...".
Also, the priest was one of four persons who were anointed, the others being the king, the prophet and the leper, although only upon the priests among men was the holy anointing oil poured. Lev.8.12, "And he [Moses] poured of the anointing oil upon Aaron’s head, and anointed him, to sanctify him." Ps.133.2, "It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments."
Messiah’s anointing is prophesied in Isa.61.1,2, "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me; because the LORD hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God ...". It is a message of grace and judgment. Regarding our Lord Jesus and the quotation of these verses in Lk.4.18-21, it is all of grace, since the Lord closes His quotation before the phrase "the day of vengeance of our God" and so it reads, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And He closed the book, and He gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on Him. And He began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears." These are the features of a priestly Man and can be found in the record of His ministry as seen in Luke’s priestly Gospel.
"Preach the gospel to the poor" - 7.22, "Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached."
"He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted" - 24.17 "What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?" ... v.32, "And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the scriptures?"
"To preach deliverance to the captives" - 7.11-15, "And it came to pass the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and much people. Now when He came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And He came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And He said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And He delivered him to his mother."
"Recovering of sight to the blind" - 18.40-43, "And Jesus stood, and commanded him [blind Bartimaeus] to be brought unto Him: and when he was come near, He asked him, saying, What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God: and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God."
"To set at liberty them that are bruised" - 13.10-13, "And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. And when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. And He laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God."
"To preach the acceptable year of the Lord" - 13.23,24, "Then said one unto Him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And He said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able" ... vv.34,35, " O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see Me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord."
Regardless of how heart warming it is to see Him in priestly office illustratively and practically, we must have Scriptural doctrine as the basis of our teaching. Such is found in the Epistle to the Hebrews. We shall ponder the following:
- • The Character of Our Great High Priest - 2.14-18
- • The Compassion of Our Great High Priest - 4.14-16
- • The Call of Our Great High Priest - 5.1-10
- • The Continuity of Our Great High Priest - 7.23-28
- • The Consequences of Having a Great High Priest - 10.19-25.
The Character of Our Great High Priest - 2.14-18
As we approach the splendid temple that Solomon built, we arrive at the house via two great pillars, Jachin and Boaz: 1Kgs.7.21, "And he set up the pillars in the porch of the temple: and he set up the right pillar, and called the name thereof Jachin: and he set up the left pillar, and called the name thereof Boaz." It seems as we enter the Epistle to the Hebrews we do so via two great pillars and we get to the house in chapter 3. These two pillars are chapter 1, the pillar of His Deity, and chapter 2, that of His Humanity. In this chapter we have the first mention of a priest in the Hebrews, which is not surprising since "every high priest is taken from among men" Heb.5.1. Here we learn also, at least by implication, that our Lord Jesus is greater than all, including Old Testament worthies.
- • He is greater than Adam in His Sovereignty, vv.5-9
- • He is greater than Moses in His Shepherding, v.10a
- • He is greater than Joshua in His Soldiering, v.10b
- • He is greater than Joseph in His Suffering, vv.11-13
- • He is greater than David in His Salvation, vv.14-16
- • He is greater than Aaron in His Sympathy, vv.17,18.
He Became Man
In v.14 we learn that He became a real Man and then in the last two paragraphs a number of reasons is given why this was necessary. "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil" v.14.
It is notable that it is stated, "the children are partakers of flesh and blood" but that "He also Himself likewise took part of the same". What is the difference between partaking and taking part? As part of the human race we commonly share blood and flesh; we had no part in this; we did not decide when or where we would be born nor had we any control as to who our parents would be. However, He took part and thus willingly He became Man, choosing how, when and where: He was active in the planning of His birth.
The word "likewise" is important. It is used only on one other occasion and that is in Phil.2.27 where Paul states that Epaphroditus was "sick nigh unto death". This means that he became as close to death as it was possible to become without actually being dead. Bringing this thought to Heb.2.14, it means that the Lord Jesus became as close to us as it was possible to be without actually being one of us. Wherein was the difference? He was sinless. This word "likewise" guards the impeccability of the Lord Jesus, that is with Him sin was a total impossibility; He could not sin. This is the truth of 1Jn.3.5, "in Him is no sin". It does not say, ‘in Him was no sin’; that would leave the door open for sin in the future. This is an absolute statement and can be used of Him in whatever circumstance He is found. This is emphasised in v.17 where we read that He was "made like unto His brethren". Why state, "like unto"? This word is also used in Rom.8.3, "what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son inthe likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." It does not say that He came in the likeness of flesh, that would have destroyed His true humanity; nor does it say that He came in sinful flesh, that would have destroyed His Deity. The Spirit of God inspired the phrase so that both His humanity and Deity are guarded.
Why Did He Become Man?
Five reasons are given:
- v.14, "that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil". This verse and the following ones could be a commentary on David going into the valley of Elah to fight with the giant, Goliath of Gath. Goliath was marked by the number 6: 1Sam.17.4 "... whose height was six cubits and a span". He had 6 pieces of armour: v.5 "an helmet of brass ... a coat of mail ... v.6 he had greaves of brass upon his legs ... a target of brass between his shoulders ... v.7 his spear was like a weaver’s beam ... and one bearing a shield went before him." Note also that "his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron". Thus there were three sixes - 666!
- He held the people in fear of death but he was destroyed, annulled, rendered powerless by David. This was accomplished, "through death". That is, the Saviour used Satan’s own weapon, death, to conquer him. So in the picture: vv.50,51, "So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David. Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith. And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled."
- v.15, "and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Death now holds no terrifying fear for the believer. In His death and resurrection our Lord was victorious and we no longer cringe in fear.
- v.17, "that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest ...". "Merciful" conveys His work manward with respect to sympathy. He is actively compassionate, feeling the misery of others. However, "faithful" is Godward, showing that He is consistently faithful to God, can be relied upon in every circumstance and will never abandon us or let us down.
- v.17, "make reconciliation for the sins of the people." The word "reconciliation" would be better rendered as ‘propitiation’, as in J.N.D. and the R.V. Sins are never reconciled; they must be punished. People are reconciled. Propitiation emphasises that God has received eternal satisfaction from the death of His Son. How is it then that He continues to make propitiation? Since the work He did on the cross was so complete it will never need to be repeated, this cannot refer to that. However, now that He is in heaven, He makes good to us, in our experience and for our enjoyment, the satisfaction God has received from the never to be repeated work accomplished at Calvary. In the same vein John writes, "He is [not was] the propitiation for our sins" 1Jn.2.2.
- v.18, "For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted." This is not, as many suggest, temptation to sin. We have seen already that He was, and is, totally impervious to sin, He cannot sin. This verse has to do with Him sympathising with us and He never has sympathy with sin! When we sin we do not have a priest but an Advocate, 1Jn.2.1. These temptations are really trials and involve the normal troubles of life: hunger, thirst, rejection, reproach, persecution and so on. Whatever trial we may go through, He has been there before us and so can succour us.
- The word "succour" means to run to assist when there is a call for help. Note the following usage of the word: in Matt.15.25 the Syrophenician woman cried, "Lord, help me"; in Mk.9.24 the father cried, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief"; the invitation in Acts 16.9 was, "Come over into Macedonia, and help us." How beautiful it is to remember that we have a Man in the glory Who will, as it were, run to assist us when we cry for help.
The Compassion of Our Great High Priest - 4.14-16
As we would have approached the holiest of all in the Old Testament tabernacle there were three articles of furniture that were in a straight line: the brazen altar, the laver, and the golden altar. In chapter 2 we have noted the word ‘propitiation’ that brings us to the brazen altar: in chapter 4 there is the laver, v.12, "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword ..." and now in the verses before us there is the priestly ministry that implies the golden altar. We can discern:
- • Brazen Altar - Perfect Satisfaction of the Judgment of God - Salvation
- • Laver - Perfect Searching of the Word of God - Sin
- • Golden Altar - Perfect Sympathy of the Son of God - Sympathy.
Note also, in vv.14,15, His superiority over the Old Testament priesthood:
- • Superiority of His Priesthood, "Great High Priest"
- • Superiority of His Place, "passed into the heavens"
- • Superiority of His Person, "Jesus the Son of God"
- • Superiority of His Passion, "have not ... which cannot"
- • Superiority of His Pathway, "tempted in all points"
- • Superiority of His Provision, "throne of grace".
In v.15 there is a contrast between our Lord Jesus as Priest and the Old Testament priest, Eli. We recall how Hanna "was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the LORD, and wept sore" 1Sam.1.10. Eli watched her and certainly did not enter sympathetically into her state, but "Eli marked her mouth" v.12, and he "thought she had been drunken" v.13. Instead of compassion there was chastisement: v.14, "Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee". How encouraging it is to read, "we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities" Heb.4.15. The construction of the sentence, using two negatives, emphasises the positive truth. So the expression "we have not ... which cannot" really means, we have an high priest Who most definitely can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. The phrase "be touched with the feeling of" is the translation of one word, sumpatheo, which in itself combines two words, sun, meaning ‘with’ and pascho, meaning ‘to suffer’, so our Great High Priest suffers with us, or has fellow-feeling. It is easy to see our English word ‘sympathy’ in this word. Its only other occurrence is in Heb.10.34, "Ye had compassion of me in my bonds". As an adjective it is found in 1Pet.3.8, "having compassion one of another, [J.N.D. ‘sympathising’]".
How can He enter into our feelings? He became man and "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin". As previously noted, His temptation involved hunger, thirst, rejection, tiredness, bereavement; but, never sin. We do not hear suggestions that God or His Holy Spirit could sin, so why suggest that the Son of God could sin? Is the implication that His humanity made Him vulnerable? Jms.1.13 states, "God cannot be tempted with evil", meaning ‘God is untemptable’, and since each member of the Holy Trinity is God, none of them can be tempted regarding sin. Their holiness is absolute. The following quotation underlines the truth of His sinlessness: "Yet without sin," as in the Authorised Version, is most misleading, and has been responsible for deeply derogatory thoughts and statements touching the person of Christ. So many have read the Authorised Version rendering only, and have interpreted it as meaning that our Lord was tempted but did not sin. This is not only far from the meaning, but it is essentially and fundamentally erroneous. He was in all points tempted like as we are, apart from sin. Or, He was in all points, apart from sin, tempted like as we are. There was nothing in Him to respond to sin or to be enticed by it. Sinful temptings could not reach Him. He was not vulnerable. He was impeccable. It was impossible that He could sin."2
- 2 Flanigan, J.M. “Hebrews - What the Bible Teaches”. John Ritchie Ltd, Kilmarnock, Scotland, 1986.
Thus we can "come boldly unto the throne of grace" v.16. The word "boldly" means ‘frank speaking’ which in no way authorises irreverence. It is used elsewhere in the Hebrew Epistle, in 3.6, "... if we hold fast the confidence ..."; 10.19, " Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus ..."; 10.35, "Cast not away therefore your confidence ...". The Hebrews knew a throne, guarded by cherubim which they dare not approach. We can approach a "throne of grace" with absolute liberty because our sins have been dealt with eternally and we have One in the glory Who represents us perfectly. However, we come, understanding that we are on earth; He in heaven and grace is displayed in that we are invited to approach, but not with an over-familiarity that betrays our immature grasp of His holiness.
We come that "we may obtain". It is not that we even ask for or plead for, but just receive all that He procures in His intercessory office. What do we receive? The answer is sublime, "mercy and grace". "Mercy" may relate to past need and "grace" to the present. However, we ought not to compartmentalise these blessings; they are there at all times and under all circumstances, and to receive them we simply come.
There is a throne of grace. To this we are invited to come with boldness. There is a throne of glory. There will be, one day, a throne of government and a throne of judgment, but for us now there is a throne of grace. We may approach with boldness. We do not come cringing, or in fear and dread. Mercy and grace are there "in time of need". That is, the help is seasonable, perfectly suited for us at that particular time. We cannot be turned away, because we are there by the Lord’s own invitation.
The Call of Our Great High Priest - 5.1-10
Hebrews chapter 5 proves that He had every qualification to be our Great High Priest. These are three-fold:
- • He needs to be a man - v.1, "taken from among men"
- • He needs to be able to sympathise - v.2, "can have compassion"
- • He needs to be called of God - v.4, "he that is called of God".
These the Lord Jesus has:
Is He a man?
He cannot be angel, archangel, cherub or seraph. To sympathise with men He must be able to relate perfectly to man and this can only be done by Him becoming man. The author quotes Ps.2.7 to substantiate that He is a man: v.5, "Thou art My Son to-day have I begotten Thee". This is also quoted in Heb.1.5 and Acts 13.33, and in each case refers to His incarnation. The sentence can be divided into two parts: "Thou art My Son", this is a statement of eternal relationship; then "this day have I begotten Thee": this is begetting in time and relates to His humanity.
Note the beautiful alternation in the following verses that highlight His humanity:
- v.5, Humanity - "Thou art My Son, to day have I begotten Thee"
- v.6, Resurrection - "Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec"
- v.7a, Humanity - "Who in the days of His flesh"
- v.7b, Resurrection - "unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared"
- v.8, Humanity - "yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered"
- v.9, Resurrection - "and being made perfect ...".
Can He sympathise?
That He could, is proven in vv.7,8 where we are reminded that He shed tears. He came from a place where tears are unknown and He returned to that realm. However, He can dry tears because He shed them here, and did so on at least three occasions. At the grave of Lazarus, Jn.11.35, He wept because of the Blight of Sin; in Lk.19.41 He wept over the city because of the Blindness of Sin; here, in v.7, He wept in the garden of Gethsemane because of the Burden of Sin.
The reason why Aaron, and not Moses, was called to be Israel’s high priest was that he was with the people in their suffering in Egypt and so could more readily identify with them and have sympathy with them. To quote J. M. Flanigan again, "It has often been remarked upon also, that not Moses, but Aaron, was the man chosen for the priestly office. Perhaps Aaron was the one who, the more definitely, was taken from among their very ranks. While they made bricks in Egypt, and languished under the lash of their taskmasters, Moses had enjoyed much of the luxury and comfort of the palace and the court. But Aaron had been with his fellow Israelites. Would there not have been, with Aaron, an experimental knowledge of the sufferings they had endured? Was he not the more conversant with the conditions under which they had lived and suffered for all those years?"3
- 3 Ibid
Was He called of God?
This is answered in v.10, where we are told that He was "Called of God a high priest after the order of Melchisedec". This is the only occasion in the New Testament where this word "called" is used. It can mean to address, salute or to give a name in public. How beautiful to note that when the Saviour returned to heaven, God publicly named or saluted Him as "a high priest after the order of Melchisedec".
There are a number of contrasts between Christ and Aaron that emphasise the majesty of our Lord Jesus.
The first is that Aaron could have sympathy because of his weakness, vv.2,3 "he himself also is compassed with infirmity". However, with the Lord Jesus, He had sympathy because of His perfection, v.9, "and being made perfect". This is not teaching that He needed to be made perfect with respect to His Person, He was always perfect, but this has to do with His office, and relates to His resurrection. So He announced to Herod, "tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected" Lk.13.32. So v.7 is not telling us that He wanted to be saved from dying but He wanted to be saved out of [ek] death. J.N.D. makes this very clear, "Who in the days of His flesh, having offered up both supplications and entreaties to Him who was able to save Him out of [ek] death...", and this was answered in His resurrection.
Secondly, the priestly office brought honour to Aaron: v.4 "no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron." Regarding Christ, He brought honour to the office. Only of Him can it be said, "altogether lovely" S of S.5.16.
Thirdly, Aaron was called [kaleo], v.4; whereas Christ was called [prosagoreuo] meaning named, saluted, v.10. This latter word is only used here in the New Testament and is more formal and dignified than the word in v.4. He is perfectly qualified to be our Great High Priest, but for how long?
The Continuity of Our Great High Priest - 7.23-28
This chapter has to do with the Melchisedec priesthood which is proven to be greater than the Aaronic priesthood. How do we perceive this?
Firstly, we are to note that tithes were given by Abraham to Melchisedec willingly, v.2, "To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all"; but with respect to the Aaronic priesthood tithes were taken "of the people according to the law" v.5. Secondly, we learn that Levi, "in the loins of his father [Abraham]" paid tithes to Melchisedec, vv.9,10, who, "received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. And without all contradiction the less [Abraham] is blessed of the better [Melchisedec] ..." vv.6,7. Thirdly, v.11 teaches that there was no perfection under Levitical priesthood, so a change was necessary: "If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?" Finally, we see there was no continuity under the Levitical priesthood: "they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: But this man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable [untransferable] priesthood" vv.23,24. Thus there is the quotation from Ps.110.4, "Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec" vv.17,21. Also v.25 states, "He ever liveth ...".
The Melchisedec priesthood differed from the Aaronic in terms of the ‘order’ and the ‘pattern’. The order of Aaron was marked by death and succession. One priest died and another took his place and this continued down through the generations. In contrast, there is no record of Melchisedec dying and the picture is of a priest that abides forever. This is highlighted in 7.3: "Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually." So it is recorded, "And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: But this man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood" 7.23,24. Our Great High Priest will never die; He is always available, always the same Person for all His people.
The pattern of Aaron was to have a priest that has sympathy with his people as they pass through the trials of life. This is true of our Lord Jesus now. However, the pattern of Melchisedec is to give strength after the trial, and to preserve in any future trial. This Melchisedec did with Abram, Gen.14.17-24. It is in this chapter that there is the first mention of a priest; the first mention of Jerusalem (Salem) and the first mention of bread and wine. "Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God" Gen.14.18. He was the King-Priest, King of righteousness, and King of peace, Heb.7.2.
When Lot and his goods were captured by Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him, Abraham and his men went after them and recovered all. It was after the battle that Melchisedec came with bread and wine and blessed Abraham. Melchisedec was "King of Salem [Jerusalem] and was "the priest of the most high God" Gen.14.18 and so he was a king-priest. His office and ministry portray that of the Lord Jesus when the nation of Israel emerges from the battle of the tribulation, "He shall build the temple of the LORD; and He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon His throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both" Zech.6.13. This is seen also in other Scriptures where there is a hint of bread and wine instead of weapons of war: Isa.2.4, "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, [for wheat and thus bread] and their spears into pruninghooks: [for vines, thus wine] nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more"; Joel 3.10, "Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears"; Micah 4.3, "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
Just at this time of victory the king of Sodom tried to entangle Abraham with an offer of riches, but Abraham’s blessing from Melchisedec had strengthened him and he was victorious in this also.
So we have a Great High Priest Who, after the pattern of Aaron, sympathises with us and, after the order of Melchisedec, will always be there for us. This we learn also in 7.25, "Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them." This salvation applies to saints and relates to His constant intercession at God’s right hand, whereby He provides sympathy and preservation of life for us: this is the pattern of Aaron. It is not salvation by His death for sinners upon Calvary’s cross. The word, "uttermost" means He saves right unto the end and this He can do because "He ever liveth": this is the order of Melchisedec.
The Consequences of Having a Great High Priest - 10.19-25
This section begins with "therefore" v.19 and we are now being introduced to the practical section of the Epistle. The doctrinal part concludes at v.18. To conclude this chapter on a practical note, we shall note three possessions and three exhortations.
These possessions are introduced with the word "having" and so v.19 "having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus." We have boldness to enter because our sins, which kept us out, are gone and there is a way in. In v.20 we are informed that the way in is "a new and living way". Newberry’s marginal reading is instructive, it reads, "a newly slain way". The way in is based upon the Lord’s death on the cross and that will be eternally fresh before God. John views Him as "a Lamb as it had been slain" Rev.5.6. He still bears the marks of Calvary and this will keep His work fresh before all the heavenly hosts. It is also a living way, which means we can enter without the threat of death. We shall not die, because He lives and brings us near.
We are allowed to enter "through the veil". The Hebrews epistle is largely based on the tabernacle and the day of atonement in particular. The veil of the tabernacle was never rent, but the veil of the temple was, not to let us in, but rather to let us see that God was finished with Judaism and that He had left it. There is not much sense in going through a rent veil, since we enter an empty space void of the Shekinah glory. However, in tabernacle picture, we can go to the other side of the veil, right into His presence and can do so at any time, not just annually as did Israel’s high priest. This is the tabernacle in its pristine glory, not old and decrepit. The phrase "His flesh" is to be connected with the way, not the veil. The veil in the tabernacle relates to His Person and not His work.
Our second possession is v.21, "and having an high priest over the house of God". Both J.N.D. and the R.V. render this verse as "having a great priest over the house of God". Why is He called a Great Priest? The answer is, because He can take us to where no other priest could ever have taken us and that is into the presence of God on the other side of an unrent veil.
Our third possession is v.22, "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water." Our hearts are sprinkled and our bodies washed. It is obvious that neither of these is literal. The genuine believer has "a true heart" in contradistinction to "an evil heart of unbelief" that leads to "departing from the living God" which is a mark of apostasy, Heb.3.12. We have right thoughts and sincere motives as we approach God. We have been sprinkled with blood and washed with water, indicating that we have had both judicial and moral cleansing. This took place when we were saved. It was by the application of blood and water. Rev.1.5, "Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood." Note the references to "His own blood" in Acts 20.28; Heb.9.12; 13.12. John wrote concerning the new birth, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" 3.5. This will be the portion of the nation when, in a future day, they too will be born again: "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them" Ezek.36.25-27. Paul presents this truth to Titus when he wrote of "the washing of regeneration" 3.5. This is when we were bathed, Jn.13.10, "He that is washed [washed all over, J.N.D; bathed, R.V.] needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.". This truth is illustrated in Leviticus chapter 8, where in v.6 the priests are washed or bathed by Moses. Moses works for God and this bathing is never repeated. It depicts the new birth which happens once only. We must be born again, not again and again. However, these priests required constant recourse to the laver to wash their hands and feet in order to remove defilement.
These are introduced by the expression "let us": ‘Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith [both J.N.D and R.V. translate as ‘hope’ - the A.V. also has ‘hope’ in 53 of the 54 occurrences in New Testament] without wavering; (for He is faithful that promised;) and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching" Heb.10.22-25.
They embrace the three cardinal virtues of Christianity, namely, "faith" v.22; "hope" v.23 and "love" v.24. These are the themes of chapters 11, 12 and 13.
The first is, "Let us draw near" v.22. The present tense means that we can draw near continually. In the Old Testament the people had to stand afar off: "And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off" Ex.20.18. To approach would have meant death. Now, however, because of the death, burial, resurrection and enthronement of the Lord Jesus, we have constant and continual access and here we are invited to "draw near". How close we can come is seen in some of the uses of the word. We read of Judas that "he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him" Matt.26.49; as the women were going to tell the disciples of His resurrection, "behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him" Matt.28.9; Philip was told, "Go near, and join thyself to this chariot" Acts 8.29. The occurrences in the epistle to the Hebrews are instructive. "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace..." 4.16; "He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him..." 7.25; "For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect" 10.1; "... he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" 11.6; "For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest" 12.18; "But ye are come unto mount Sion ..." 12.22.
The second exhortation is, "Let us hold fast" v.23. This contrasts with v.35, "Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward"; and v.39, "we are not of them who draw back unto perdition ..." The first exhortation in v.22, is connected with the washing of regeneration and is internal, but here it has to do with our continuation in the Christian faith and is seen in our lives, that is in external testimony. It underscores the truth that the reality of conversion is displayed by the ongoing life. This cannot be interpreted negatively, in the sense that if a person backslides, they have lost their salvation, but it means that a true believer will continue in the faith and will not become opposed to it or apostatise from it. To assist us in this, our hope is in One Who "is faithful".
The third exhortation is, "Let us consider one another" v.24. There is an intensity in the word "consider" that is shown by the prefix "kata" in the word " katanoeo" which means ‘to fix your gaze on’. The first and last occurrences in the New Testament reveal this: "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Matt.7.3; "For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was" Jms.1.24. It is also seen in the only other mention of the word in the Hebrews: "Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the apostle and high priest of our profession, Christ Jesus" Heb.3.1.
This gazing on one another is not to find fault. It does not take a person of great spiritual perception to find fault in another believer. We ought to be seeking "to provoke unto love and to good works". This provocation has the thought of stirring, inciting, producing a holy paroxysm. The force of the word can be detected by noting the other ways it is translated: "the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other" Acts 15.39. It is as a verb in Acts 17.16 where, in Athens, Paul’s "spirit was stirred in him" and 1Cor.13.5, where it says of love, "is not easily provoked ...". How blessed is the assembly where there is such holy provocation!
The consideration of one another should be done mutually as we gather together, and this is emphasised by v.25, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." There is spiritual safety in being gathered with like-minded believers in the various meetings of the assembly. We are not meant to be isolationists, but to be part of the local assembly in the area where we live. The force of the word ‘forsake’ can be seen, for example, Matt.27.46, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"; Acts 2.27, "Because thou wilt not leave My soul in hell ..."; 2Tim.4.10, "Demas hath forsaken me ..."; Heb.13.5, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee".
May the Lord Himself enable us to avail of the ministry of our Great High Priest and to encourage others also to do so.