The High Priest: Christ is Superior
The high priest, clothed in the beautiful dress of his office, moved gracefully through the Tabernacle ministering in behalf of Israel. None was held in higher esteem among the people than he! None enjoyed greater privilege to experience the sweet fellowship of God’s presence than he! None held a more prominent position on earth than he! Yet, with all his privilege, position and prominence, he was not a perfect high priest — he was subject to infirmities and death like all men.
The Aaronic priesthood was only a shadow of the perfect priesthood of which Christ is the superior fulfiller. Superior, because He is of a more excellent order than Aaron. Superior, because He had a more excellent sacrifice. Superior, because He has a more excellent ministry still functioning in our behalf. In the studies to follow, you are invited to experience the majestic beauty of Christ’s high priestly ministry as revealed in the Scriptures.
Christ Is Superior In Selection
The high priest was selected “from among men” (v. 1) for the sole purpose of representing the people as their mediator before God. He was not chosen by the people, nor self-appointed, but divinely “ordained” (v. 1) in his call. “No man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron” (v. 4), states the writer of Hebrews.
Some like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram tried to challenge the divine ordination of Aaron’s high priesthood, stating that he took too much authority upon himself as the only one to represent Israel before God (Num. 16:1-3). Moses accepted the challenge, He had Korah and his followers come before the Lord with censers full of incense and fire to see whom the Lord had ordained. God vindicated Aaron’s high priestly call when the ground opened and swallowed up Korah and those who stood with him (Num. 16:32). God added further confirmation of Aaron as His choice by the miraculous budding of his rod (Num. 17).
Although Aaron’s ordination was great, Christ’s was greater. Aaron was only a “man”, but Christ is the “God-Man”. Yet He did not appoint or glorify Himself as High Priest. God Himself ordained the Son into His eternal priestly ministry.
Jesus is not only a high priest but a king-priest. This is clearly seen from two messianic Psalms. Christ’s priesthood is anchored in His Sonship: “Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee” (v. 5). This verse is taken from Psalm 2:7, which speaks of the kingly rule of our Lord after His resurrection.
He is a king-priest from a different order than that of Aaron: ‘Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (v. 6). This was prophesied in Psalm 110:4. First, Melchizedek was a king-priest, whereas Aaron was only a priest. No king dare enter the Temple to function as a priest without paying the consequences. King Uziah tried to minister in the priestly office and was stricken with leprosy until the day of his death (2 Chr. 26:16-21). Yet, our Lord is both King and Priest, ministering in these offices, because He is of a different order than Aaron. Secondly, Melchizedek stood alone, having not inherited his kingly priesthood, nor transmitting it to any successors. But the Aaronic high priesthood was inherited and transmitted to many sons through the centuries. Our Lord did not inherit nor pass on His high priesthood. Thirdly, Melchizedek had no recorded ending, typifying Christ whose priesthood is eternal. Aaron on the other hand must be replaced because of death. The Aaronic priesthood ceased with the destruction of Herod’s Temple in 70 A.D.
Christ Is Superior In Sympathy
The high priest was taken from among his brethren to represent them before God. Like them, he suffered being compassed (beset) with infirmity (weakness) [v. 2]. He, like his brethren, felt temptation, committed sins, would someday die, and give account of his works before God. He understood those who sinned out of ignorance (Lev. 4) and those who wandered “out of the way” (v. 2), erring against God. Being conscious of his sin as well as the people’s sin, he was able to have compassion (lit. deal gently) on the people whom he served.
In order for Christ to be a high priest He could not take the nature of an angel, but must take the seed of Abraham; become a man like unto His brethren (Heb. 2:16-17) —yet without sin. As a man He knew the feelings and pains which mortals face, but to a greater degree. He knew love and rejection, joy and sorrow, peace and fear. Physicality, he experienced the natural sensations of any man, but even more so. He endured poverty, persecution, and the forsaking of His friends when He needed them most — one denied knowing Him before His death. Satan dogged each step of His life trying to destroy Him at every opportune chance that he had, from birth till that last gasp on the cross. Yet the worst experience of rejection was when, while hanging on the cross. God the Father deserted Him. No better words sum up His suffering than those of Isaiah: “He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (isa. 53:3).
The writer of Hebrews draws back the curtain to give us a glimpse of how excruciatingly Jesus agonized before His death. Let us reverently enter the Garden of Gethsemane and witness it. Failing prostrate on the ground, with the shadow of the cross looming up in His mind. He offers “prayers (beggings) and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death” (v. 7). The mental torment intensifies with each moment, as His time draws near. Here we see His pitiful pleading and uncontrollable sobs, not to be saved “from death” that awaited Him, but “out of death”, to be resurrected. He doesn’t shrink back from the thought of dying, for He clearly predicted His death (Mt. 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:18-19). Nor should it be inferred that He feared that the agony experienced in the garden would cause His death. But it was that awful cup of suffering which awaited Him; He had looked in and shrunk back in horror! In a matter of hours He would become a sin offering, separated from God, bearing the sin of the whole world while He hung on the cross. Yet never once did He seek His own will on the matter, only the Father’s. True, He said, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;” but He also said, “not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Mt. 26:39). We are witnessing again Jesus, the God-Man, humbling Himself in complete dependence upon His Father.
Through a life of suffering He “learned . . . obedience by the things which he suffered” (v. 8). Naturally, He did not have to team obedience; He knew what it meant to obey. In fact. He said, “I do always those things that please him (the Father}” [Jn. 8:29]. Why then must He learn obedience? The growth experience was part of His humanity; He experienced all the trials and temptations which man faces in his obedience to God. To be a high priest who could feel with others. He must experience life on a human level (Lk. 2:52).
Today there is a high priest “greater” than Aaron to whom we can turn. In personhood He is greater, since He is “the Son of God” (Heb. 4:14). Aaron was only a man. In physical afflictions He is greater, having gone through more severe suffering than Aaron, even crucifixion (1 Pet. 2:23-24). In perfection He is greater, having been tempted in all areas of life which we go through, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). In position He is greater, having passed through the heavens to minister in our behalf (Heb. 4:14). In privilege He is greater, being “seated on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Heb. 8:1). Thus, He is able to sympathize with the believer in any trial or temptation he faces.
Since the believer has such a great high priest who knows his weaknesses, feels with him in every situation, and knows what it is like to be tempted, he is bidden to “come” (Heb. 4:16). Come to God’s throne which, through Christ his High Priest, is a place of grace (unmerited favor) and mercy. The believer is to come boldly, literally in a spirit of freedom and frankness, bearing his heart before God, letting Him know with all openness any weakness he possesses (Heb. 4:16).
The result of his coming is threefold. First, he finds “mercy”, because Christ understands his infirmities having suffered in the flesh. Secondly, he finds grace through Christ’s suffering on the cross. He has opened the way for the loving God to provide redemption for the sinner. Thirdly, he finds “help in time of need”. No matter how severe the difficulty, night or day, all year long, the throne of grace is open to give him help (Heb. 4:16). Never was the Aaronic high priest able to provide such complete grace and mercy to those he served, but Christ, our High Priest, is able.
Christ, the High Priest, is able to help in any need! This was of great encouragement and comfort to Hebrew Christians in the first century who suffered severe trials for their faith. Knowing this, they are exhorted to tenaciously keep on clinging to their profession (lit. confession) of Christ (Heb. 4:14). Not only them, but the believer today is exhorted to continually hold a testimony to a lost world no matter what or how severe the opposition might be.
Christ Is Superior in Sacrifice
The ministry of the high priest was to otter “gifts and sacrifices” for the sins of himself and those of the people (vv. 1, 3). These were not the various gifts and sacrifices offered on the sabbath or special feast days (Lev. 1-7). Reference is being made to the high priest who entered the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement to offer gifts (incense) [Lev. 16:12] and animal sacrifices (Lev. 16).
The death of Christ was a priestly act! He did not offer gifts and sacrifices, but Himself as the spotless Lamb of God (1 Pet. 1:19) to atone for sin. He is both the priest offering the sacrifice (Heb. 8:3} and the sacrifice offered (Heb. 9:14). Jesus, the High Priest who, through His own blood purchased redemption for mankind (Heb. 9;12), needeth not to continually offer up sacrifice as did Aaron. He has appeared once to bear the sin of many, putting away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26, 28).
Through the suffering sacrifice of Himself Jesus is “made perfect” (v. 9). Not that He was morally incomplete, but through His suffering death upon the cross Jesus was consecrated a high priest, becoming a complete Saviour ushering in a completed salvation for evermore. He is the “author” (lit. principle cause), not a temporary salvation as was Aaron, but of an “eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (v. 9). Notice, salvation is not universally bestowed unto all men, but only those who “obey” through putting saving faith in Christ.
Through His suffering, obedience, and sacrifice Jesus is fit to be “called” (designated or greeted) a high priest after Melchizedek (v. 10). Like Melchizedek, Christ is a high priest “forever” (v. 6), whose ministry is permanent, continually functioning in the believer’s behalf.
Christ’s ministry as a high priest is superior to Aaron’s. First, Aaron only offered sacrifices; Christ offered a perfect sacrifice, once for all. Secondly, Aaron needed to offer for his own sin; Christ was sinless. Thirdly, Aaron offered a sacrifice external to himself; Christ offered Himself.
Fourthly, Aaron provided only a covering for sin; Christ secured an eternal salvation. Fifthly, Aaron’s atonement was for Israel; Christ’s atonement is for all men, but only efficacious for those who believe (Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, p. 258).
The writer of Hebrews has thrilled our hearts in presenting the “superior high priesthood” of the Lord. We eagerly hang on every word wanting him to go deeper into Christ’s holy and heavenly ministry. But he is reluctant to do so. The writer is not afraid that the subject is too difficult, nor that he lacks the skills to teach it. The difficulty lies with his hearers!
First, is their spiritual condition. His listeners are “dull of hearing” (slothful) [v. 11]. They had drifted away and had become insensitive to deeper teaching on the priesthood of the Lord.
Secondly, is their spiritual capacity. Even though they were believers for a long time, they had degenerated in their Christian walk. Becoming slothful had caused stagnation which was stunting their spiritual growth. They were not able to take the meat of the Word, but had to be nursed on the milk concepts of Christ (v. 13). It became necessary for the hearers to be retaught the “first principles” (ABC’s of Christianity) which do not take much mental ability to digest. New babes in Christ are beautiful to behold, but become very grotesque if they remain babes after 30 years.
Thirdly, is their spiritual callousness. Dull, degenerated Christians, will have callous senses when it comes to discerning what is good and evil (v. 14). If the believer does not exercise himself in the study of God’s Word he will remain a spiritual infant.
If God were to read your spiritual report card, how would it read? Would it read: “Student is attentive to God’s Word; able to assimilate and apply spiritual principles; is progressing well in spiritual growth.” If not, you have some homework to do!
I imagine you have thought a lot about your relationship with the Lord this Christmas. Why not do something about it? Why not talk it over with the Lord, and allow Him to reign supreme on the throne of your life, Ultimately that is what Christmas is all about!