The High Priest of Our Profession

Hebrews 3:1  •  17 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Listen from:
A high priest. This tells a tale of God's grace and his people's failure. Of God's grace, because it implies a certain relationship instituted by God, and existing between Him and His people. Of His people's failure, because otherwise there would be no need of a high priest.
The relationship is founded on accomplished redemption. It was after Israel had been redeemed that the priesthood was instituted. Redemption having taken place, a settled thing, which nothing could alter, God made known he would dwell in their midst. Hence a sanctuary was to be built of the form and pattern prescribed, and for service in that sanctuary, an order of priesthood was appointed. For if God was to dwell in the midst of Israel, holiness must characterize their walk and their camp, (Lev. 19:22Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy. (Leviticus 19:2); Num. 5:33Both male and female shall ye put out, without the camp shall ye put them; that they defile not their camps, in the midst whereof I dwell. (Numbers 5:3),) otherwise communion between them and the Lord, enjoyed on the basis of redemption, must be interrupted. God could have no fellowship with sin. But when that communion was interrupted, on the part of the congregation or an individual, as the case might be, the offenders, whoever they were, had to present themselves at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation with the sacrifices for the priest to offer. The sin or trespass offerings being brought as the law prescribed, the victims were slain, the blood was shed and sprinkled on the altar of burnt-offering, or before the Lord, as the case required, (Lev. 4,) a token at once of what the sinner deserved-death, and a recognition of that which alone could put away sin. Then forgiveness for that act was declared, and restoration to communion was effected. These offerings and the priesthood were for Israel. The Gentiles had no share in them as Gentiles. For them no priesthood had been appointed by divine command. For them no scapegoat went yearly into the wilderness bearing their sins into a land of forgetfulness. These appointments were for God's people, His provision for the redeemed ones.
Redemption once accomplished, nothing, as has been observed, can alter it. A glorious truth this. But the maintenance of intercourse between the redeemed and the Lord, depends on the walk of His people, and when that fails, on the divine means of restoring it. We see this clearly illustrated in Israel. Each individual act of sin or trespass required certain offerings. But more than this, we see, on the great day of atonement, the whole congregation before the Lord, represented by their offerings, who needed atonement to be made, and thereby their communion to be maintained for them. When comparing them with us one great difference must be remembered-they were redeemed as a nation; we as individuals. Hence, among them, individuals could perish, though the nation could never cease to exist; whereas, of believers now, redeemed individually, the Lord spoke: " They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." (John 10:2828And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. (John 10:28).) If the carcasses of those who refused to go up to Canaan at the earnest entreaty of Caleb and Joshua fell in the wilderness, the nation, nevertheless, entered the land of promise. Israel sinned at Mount Sinai, and worshipped the golden calf. God's anger was kindled, and he threatened to destroy them. But would the whole nation have ceased to exist before Him? No, for He adds to Moses, " I will make of thee a great nation." (Ex. 32:1010Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation. (Exodus 32:10).) Again, when they sinned as referred to above, the Lord declared, " I will smite them with pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee, (Moses) a greater nation and mightier than they." (Num. 14:1212I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they. (Numbers 14:12).) All that generation might have been cut off for their rebellion, but the seed of Abraham would have remained, and the promises made to the patriarchs fulfilled to their descendants. The nation could not wholly perish, for the Lord had redeemed it. And this fact furnishes Moses with a plea to urge on their behalf: "O Lord God, destroy not thy people and thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed through thy greatness, which thou hast brought forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand." (Deut. 9:2626I prayed therefore unto the Lord, and said, O Lord God, destroy not thy people and thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed through thy greatness, which thou hast brought forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand. (Deuteronomy 9:26)) So the remnant in the latter days will urge this same plea before the Lord. " Remember thy congregation which thou hast purchased of old, the rod of thine inheritance which thou hast redeemed." (Psa. 74:22Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old; the rod of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed; this mount Zion, wherein thou hast dwelt. (Psalm 74:2).) Nor is this confined to Moses and the remnant; the Lord, too, when remonstrating with Israel, (Hos. 7:1313Woe unto them! for they have fled from me: destruction unto them! because they have transgressed against me: though I have redeemed them, yet they have spoken lies against me. (Hosea 7:13); Mic. 6:44For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. (Micah 6:4),) records the fact that He had redeemed them. So the beautiful prayer framed by the Spirit of God for the remnant in their great trouble yet future, thus speaks: " Thou, O Lord, art our Father, our Redeemer." And " We are thine: thou never bearest rule over them; they were not called by thy name." (Isa. 63:16,1916Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O Lord, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting. (Isaiah 63:16)
19We are thine: thou never barest rule over them; they were not called by thy name. (Isaiah 63:19)
.) Thus, amidst all their backslidings in the wilderness, their grievous sinfulness in the land, the fact of redemption is acknowledged by God, and remembered by the people.
It had been accomplished once for all. The pascal lamb had been slain in Egypt, the blood sheltering from judgment sprinkled on the door-posts, and the people had passed in type through death, which overtook their enemies, and stood on the east shore of the Red Sea, a nation in the enjoyment of redemption. For all this no priesthood was required. They came to Sinai ere Aaron and his sons were set apart for their office.
Redemption completed did not imply the preservation of the people from failure, nor their fitness to be in the presence of the Lord. Hence priesthood was instituted, and the various sacrifices for sin and defilement, as well as the day of atonement, appointed. It was not a question of redemption that day shadowed forth, but atonement-atonement for a redeemed people. The high priest entered into the holy place with the blood " of others," " for himself and for the errors of the people," (Heb. 9:77But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: (Hebrews 9:7),) and " to make an atonement for the holy place, because of their uncleanness, and because of their transgressions in all their sins; and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation that remaineth among them, because of their uncleanness." (Lev. 16:1616And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness. (Leviticus 16:16).) Repeated every year, the services of that day spoke of that blood-shedding which alone could put away sin. But it was the need of the putting away of sin, and the knowledge of forgiveness, and the maintenance of communion, which they set forth. It was not redemption. Israel commemorated the latter on the 14th of Nisan; they remembered their need of the former on the 10th of Tisri.
With us the case is different. There is redemption, and there is atonement and forgiveness. But the sacrifice, by which. the former is secured, is the same by which the latter is assured. " By his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption." (Heb. 9:1212Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. (Hebrews 9:12).) " In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins." (Eph. 1:77In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; (Ephesians 1:7).) For us both are accomplished; with Israel it was not so. The sacrifices continually offered, brought sin to remembrance, but could not put it away. (Heb. 10:33But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. (Hebrews 10:3).) Redemption then and remission of sins are distinct, as the history of Israel shows, though now accomplished by one and the same sacrifice. As High Priest, Christ has entered in once into the holiest of all, having obtained eternal redemption, carrying in His own blood. We know then both redemption and forgiveness. Israel had the pascal lamb speaking of the former as accomplished, and the day of atonement shadowing forth the latter not yet forever assured. Is not this the condition of many souls now? They believe themselves to be children of God, yet cannot say they have " no more conscience of sins." (Heb. 10:22For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. (Hebrews 10:2).) The normal condition of Israel before the Lord came they accept as their rightful position after He has died and risen again. A great mistake, and a grievous dishonor to Him, who, as our High Priest, has gone into the holiest once for all, and remains there. Aaron was admitted into the holiest on earth for a brief space once a year. The Lord maintains his place in the heavenly sanctuary forever. Can the question of sin put away be still unsettled, and the High Priest remain within the sanctuary? Assuredly not. They knew Aaron had been permitted to enter within the veil and had been accepted by his coming out and showing himself to the people. We know our High Priest is in heaven itself, in the presence of God for us, by the Holy Spirit sent down from above. (John 16:5,75But now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? (John 16:5)
7Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. (John 16:7)
; Acts 2:3333Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. (Acts 2:33).)
Having an High Priest, fulfilling the type of Aaron and his successors on the day of atonement, entered the holy of holies, but with His own blood, and sitting now at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having purged our sins, what remains for Him to do? He sits on high because He has once for all offered up the sacrifice which could, and has, put away sin. Is there anything else for the Lord, as High Priest, to accomplish? Nothing for the putting away of sin, but much for the comfort and sustainment of His people.
This leads to the consideration of the present work of the High Priest. Sin put away, forgiveness assured, eternal acceptance in Him announced-wonderful as these truths are they do not exhaust the list of blessings we receive now from the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a finished work, there is a work still going on. We have entrance into the holiest of all by His blood, but we need the services of our High Priest continually for worship, failure, and temptation.
As in Israel, when the priest was engaged at the altar in the court each morning and evening, offering up the appointed daily sacrifice, the high priest had his place before the golden altar in the holy place; and as the smoke ascended from the brazen altar outside, the cloud of incense went up from the altar within; so the intercession of the Lord Jesus, to render our worship acceptable to the Father, is continually required. " 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." (1 Peter 2:55Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5).) And again, " By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually." (Heb. 13:1515By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. (Hebrews 13:15).) If we need the High Priest for worship, we need Him not less for failure. " If any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 2:1,21My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1‑2).) How amazing the grace which, not only pardons and sets us as children before our God, but provides for failure too after we have known the Lord. His care and watchfulness never cease, for His people need them continual
But is He an advocate suited to our wants? Is He qualified for the work? Has He been called to this office by divine appointment? Where does He exercise it? What does He do for us? These are questions which the Epistle to the Hebrews answers. (Chapter 2-8) Then we have the ground on which He can exercise this office, and the work as High Priest He has already accomplished. (Chapter 9;10)
Let us now look at the present work the Lord carries on, as unfolded in this epistle.
In chapter 2:17, 18, we get the first mention of the High Priest: " Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted." What a statement I A man having brethren, and made like unto them in all things, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest. And of this One it has already been said, " By whom he made the worlds." (Chapter 1:2.) Are His brethren partakers of flesh and blood? So is He., they in circumstances of suffering? Rio was He.. Are they liable to death? He has passed through it. His brethren 1 Who are they? The whole human race? Scripture never tells us that. Children of men? Yes; but not all the descendants of Adam it was the seed of Abraham He took hold of; not his children by natural descent, but those who are really his children. (John 8:3939They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham. (John 8:39); Gal. 3:2929And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29).) It was not by His incarnation that men were admitted to this relationship with Him; but by His death and resurrection. (Psa. 22:2222I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. (Psalm 22:22); John 20:1717Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (John 20:17).) His brethren are the sanctified ones. " He who sanctifieth, and they who are sanctified are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren." (Heb. 2:1111For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, (Hebrews 2:11).) It is not here a question for whom He died, but for whom He is High Priest; for His brethren, " the people," i. e., those who stand before God on the ground of redemption-for these He is High Priest. And " having suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted." Mark, " He suffered being tempted." Do we? It is not suffering arising from the consequences of yielding to it, that He never did, for He was holy, harmless, undefiled; but suffering from being tempted. Tried in every way by temptation, yet never failing, He knows what it is, and therefore can succor them that are tempted. What words of comfort Tempted as man once, now High Priest above, and able to help " the holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling."
Where does He exercise this office? Chapter 4 tells us: " Seeing we have a great high priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God." He who is now in heaven, Jesus, is the one who was tempted as man down here. But why is He there? Because there is the only sanctuary now recognized by God. Nor is this all. Not only have we His place of service stated, but His ability to sympathize made known. Here is something fresh. He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; having been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. The high priest in Israel, compassed with infirmities, would, doubtless, be able oftentimes to sympathize with the people. But the Lord has no infirmity, and is where no trial or sin can ever come; yet He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. Whence then has He learned to sympathize? Aaron and his sons would, the longer they lived, be the better fitted for this part of their priestly work, as each day they experienced something more or something fresh, of the trials incident to humanity. Their experience would increase with the duration of their priesthood. He was perfected in this before He became High Priest. Theirs would be always partial, but His was not. A tried and tempted Israelite might find the High Priest able to enter into his trouble, having passed through a similar one himself, but he might not; and though what he suffered might be nothing more than that which is common to man, the high priest might never have experienced what he complained of, and hence his full sympathy be withheld. But here is One who will never be found a stranger to the position His people may be placed in, by the temptations permitted to assail them; One who can always fully sympathize; for He has been in all points tempted as we are.
As He can help, so He can sympathize. Man can sympathize where he cannot help: Aaron might help where he could not, from want of experience, sympathize. But He who help the tempted, can fully sympathize with them also. Do any ask when the Son of God became acquainted with all the sorrows of humanity consequent on sin, and the sufferings of those who are tempted? The next chapter, vi., answers, " In the days of his flesh." And the same chapter unfolds another important point, His authority to exercise the priesthood. His ability to help and sympathize having been set forth, the question is now set at rest how He came to take the office. Did he assume it of His own accord, or was He appointed by another? " No man taketh this honor unto himself," we are told, " but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So Christ glorified not Himself to be made high priest, but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee. As He saith also in another place, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedec." (v. 4-6.) His authority being established beyond a doubt, the Spirit of God dwells on another thought, which the Psalm quoted., (110) introduces, the excellency of this priesthood, yea, its surpassing excellency. (7) God appointed the Aaronic priesthood, He also instituted the Melchizedec priesthood. The Aaronic was first in order of time, but is superseded by reason of the superiority of the other. Aaron died, and his sons after him, but He lives forever. Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedec, and, as the apostle argues, Levi, as it were, paid them in the person of his forefather. Melchizedec, as the greater, blessed Abraham the less; not Abraham Melchizedec. The priests of Aaron's order were appointed without oath. But of Him the Lord sware and will not repent, " Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedec." The superiority of this priesthood is therefore conclusively established. He liveth forever as priest, " Wherefore he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them," 7:25. An unchangeable priesthood, such is His office; hence able to save to the uttermost. No position His people can be in is beyond His power to save, because He ever liveth to make intercession for them. There is one point more to be noticed, and that is its royal character. Melchizedec was king and priest, so He who is appointed after his order is set on the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens as priest and king. What a contrast between the life on earth and the place He now occupies." " Made perfect through sufferings;" (Chapter 2:10;) " offered up supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death; " " learning obedience by the things which he suffered;" now at the right hand of the Father, there to save to the uttermost. And why? Because He ever liveth to make intercession. It is intercession, not redemption, though grounded on it. But He saves by interceding. It is not the offering up of a sacrifice, that He has done. He lives to intercede. It is in this way the high priesthood is now exercised. It is this His people need, and needing, never fail to have. We have not to ask Him to intercede. He lives to do that; and as He told Peter, (Luke 22:3232But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. (Luke 22:32),) so He assuredly acts. It is the result of His intercession that Il is people are restored; for them only is He represented as interceding. He died for sinners, He intercedes for saints. Souls not understanding this, (His present work of priestly service,) think that each sin requires a fresh application to the blood to wash it out. He has taken His blood in once for all to God. It is ever there, so He can effectually intercede. It is not a sacrifice they need to be again offered up, it is not the blood to be applied to their souls, but the intercession based on the atonement. Their ignorance of this mars their enjoyment of the truth, and hinders that peace of soul all His people may possess; but, blessed be God, it cannot hinder Him in His work. What His people need, that He does. Yet we have no right to be ignorant on such subjects when He has made it so plain.
What comfort, then, from the priesthood of the Lord, based on the redemtion through His blood. Able to sympathize—the depths of that sympathy can never be fathomed. Able to save to the uttermost-the extent of His power none of His people can measure. Unfathomable and illimitable they are. But this we know, and this should suffice-We have a High Priest able to help, able to sympathize, able to save.