Jesus Is Better Than the Old Testament High Priest and Sacrificial System
To understand the Book of Hebrews, we must have some understanding of the Levitical system—its orders, law, administration, and sacrifices. This article considers only two areas of that Levitical system, the high priest and the sacrificial system. It shows that although they were instituted by God and were good, Jesus is superior to both.
Jesus is superior to the Old Testament High Priest
Jesus is superior because of His permanence. The office of high priest under the Levitical system lasted for life. The high priests were highly respected and loved by the Israelites. But in the natural course of human events, priestly tenure was limited because, like all others, priests died and passed from the scene.
Jesus is a superior high priest because His position is permanent. He will never die and therefore will never have to be replaced. There will be no changes. “And they, truly, were many priests, because they were not allowed to continue by reason of death; But this man [Jesus], because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood” (Heb. 7:23–24).
Jesus is superior because He is of divine lineage. This is an early premise made by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews. He stated that Christ is superior to the prophets and is better than the angels because He has a better inheritance and name. Jesus is the Son, and as such even the angels worship Him. Furthermore, no angel was ever granted the privilege of sitting at the right hand of God (1:13), but Jesus was given this honor upon His return to glory.
Moses is held in high esteem by Jewish people and, in Hebrews 3:2, is said to have been “faithful in all his house,” yet Jesus is considered to have more glory than him. Moses was merely a servant, but Jesus is the Son. Jesus is superior to any high priest of the Old Testament because He is a better person.
Jesus is superior because He is of a different order. Before a man could be anointed as high priest, his genealogy was carefully scrutinized. This was done to prove beyond doubt that he was from the tribe of Levi and the lineage of Aaron. This requirement seemingly poses a problem with the biblical record, for Jesus was not a descendant of Levi or Aaron. How, then, can He be a high priest? Can there be a high priest from another line or another order?
The answer to this question is given in the record of an incident that took place long before Moses was born and the law was given. In Genesis 14, Abraham learned that his nephew Lot had been taken captive by Chedorlaomer, king of Elam. To rescue Lot, Abraham pursued the armies of this king, smote them, and freed Lot and the other captives. As Abraham returned home in victory, Melchizedek, king of Salem (Jerusalem), went, out to greet him.
Melchizedek was more than a king, for he was called “the priest of the most high God” (Gen. 14:18). Recognizing Melchizedek’s position, Abraham paid tithes to him. Because Abraham recognized Melchizedek as high priest—although he was not of the tribe of Levi or even Jewish—there must be some other order of priests.
Furthermore, the Scriptures clearly teach that the Mosaic law and the Levitical priesthood were temporary. If Jesus, our High Priest, had come through the Levitical system, His priesthood would have been temporary. Instead, he is declared to be “after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:5–6, 10; 7:11–22). Therefore, Jesus is a superior High Priest because Melchizedek’s order is permanent.
Jesus is superior because He is the perfect one. Perfection is often strived for, but it is never attained by any sinful person. No person born through Adam can achieve perfection in this life. Jesus, being conceived by the Holy Spirit did not come into the world with a sinful nature; therefore, He did not sin.
The Scriptures clearly show that Jesus is a better High Priest because He is perfect: “For we have not an high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). “For such an high priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens” (Heb. 7:26).
Jesus is superior because He offers a perfect pardon. The sacrifices performed by the Old Testament priests—even the high priest—could never provide pardon for sins. The very best they could do was provide a kapporah or covering of sins for a brief time. Even when the high priest went into the holy of holies on the day of atonement after offering sacrifices for his own sins and those of the people, there was no pardon—only a temporary covering for sins. Jesus Christ, the God-Man, offers a perfect pardon because He was the perfect substitutionary sacrifice. He satisfied the demands of a holy and righteous God, providing pardon for all who would believe in Him.
Jesus is superior because He is the perfect intercessor. Deep in the heart of each person is a longing for access to God. That beautiful fellowship was lost when sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden. The Levitical high priests were allowed access into the holy of holies only once a year, and then for only a few fleeting moments. But even in that sacred place, they had no real access to God, and the other priests and ordinary people never had direct access to God. There was a separation because of sin.
Jesus, our High Priest, not only offered Himself as the sacrifice, but He ascended to heaven where He is at presently seated at the right hand of God. His sacrificial work completed, He is now in the presence of God the Father interceding on our behalf. Thus, we are not only given access to the Father through Him, but we are invited to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
Through Christ we have the great privilege of direct access to God, a privilege the Old Testament believers never experienced. Christ is superior in that He not only offers this access, but He is pleading our case before God the Father at all times. He is a superior High Priest because He is a perfect intercessor.
Jesus is superior because He offers a superior covenant. It pleased God to base His relationship with Israel on covenants. Four of those covenants (the Abrahamic, Palestinian, Davidic, and New) are totally unconditional in nature; they are based solely on the character of God rather than on the faithfulness of Israel.
Another covenant, the Mosaic or Old Covenant, was temporary and conditional in nature. It came from God and was good; however, even though it did not provide forgiveness of sins or eternal life, it served a significant purpose. Paul declared it to be a schoolmaster to show sinful people their spiritual bankruptcy before God (Gal. 3:24).
Although the Mosaic Covenant was good, it was inadequate because it did not provide a solution to mankind’s sin problem. It did not bring God and mankind together. In spite of its many procedures, practices, and pictures of the coming Messiah, it could not save people from their sins.
On the other hand, the New Covenant is a better covenant (Heb. 5:6) because it is based on better promises and was activated and sealed by Christ’s death on the cross, at which time the Mosaic Covenant became invalid.
By faith in the person and work of Christ on the cross, no further sacrifice for sin is needed. The work is finished. People can find forgiveness of sin, and they have direct access to God and an eternal relationship with Him. Jesus is superior because He brought in this New Covenant through His sacrifice at Calvary.
Jesus is Superior to the Old Testament Sacrificial System
Monotony is often a way of life. People wash dishes and make beds over and over. Dirt and grime just seem to jump onto the cars, and it seems that the grass has to be cut every other day. These types of monotonous chores must be done constantly.
So it was with the Old Testament sacrifices. They seemed endless. They were recorded in the early days of Adam. Noah, and Abraham, and with the institution of the Mosaic law they multiplied. Thus, believing Jewry repeated the prescribed ritual. On the day of atonement alone, countless animals were slain. These sacrifices, which could not save, were a wearying repetition of ritual that even God tired of (1 Sam. 15:22).
Despite the endless activity in the Tabernacle and later the Temple, and the countless animals that were sacrificed, salvation was never provided. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). They were merely object lessons for the people. God used them to teach that sin required the shedding of blood; therefore, a substitute for sinners was necessary. The blood of someone superior to these animals was necessary to remove the Israelites’ sins and give them access to God.
Jesus’ sacrifice was superior to the animal sacrifices. His sacrifice was not tainted by sin. The winter to the Hebrews stated that Jesus was a holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens” (Heb. 7:26). His sacrifice satisfied a holy and righteous God, but it also identified with mankind and was a substitute for the death they deserved for their sins.
In contrast to the Old Testament sacrifices, the superior sacrifice had to be accomplished just once and provide for every need of sinful mankind. Jesus “needeth not daily, as those [Old Testament] high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins and then for the people’s; for this he did once, when he offered up himself” (Heb. 7:27).
The inspired author went on to state that Jesus offered one sacrifice for sins forever and then sat down at the right hand of God the Father (Heb. 10:12). “For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified” (Heb. 10:14). Unlike the Old Testament sacrifices, Jesus offered a superior sacrifice in that it was offered once, and its efficacy lasts forever.
In conclusion, Jesus, our High Priest, is far superior to the Levitical high priests, and His mediatory work provides us with direct access to God. Finally, His perfect, once-for-all sacrifice is far superior then the Old Testament sacrifices. Truly Jesus is a great Savior, providing us with redemption and giving us direct access to God and an eternal heavenly home with Him.