Hebrews 4:14 As we continue our studies in the book of Hebrews we come to one of the most important themes of this letter. It is the concept of Jesus as our High Priest.
In order for us to appreciate the importance of this role by Jesus the Messiah, we need to understand the Jewish significance of the High Priest. We need to always keep in mind that this letter is written primarily to Jewish believers. The priests of Israel were appointed by God to be mediators between Himself and His people. During the years of the first Temple, the High Priest was a direct descendant of Aaron. Only the High Priest could offer the highest sacrifice under the Mosaic Covenant, and that was done only once a year on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur was the day that the multitude of sins that had not been atoned for in the daily sacrifices were taken care of. All the sins of the nation were brought symbolically into the Holy of Holies. It was here on the Ark of the Covenant that Blood was placed upon the mercy seat as a sacrifice to make atonement for the nation. It was on this day that God renewed His covenant with Israel, that was made on Mt. Sinai.
The High Priest, as no other human, represented God before the people, and the people before God. He was the only one who could enter the Holy of Holies. As we learn from Lev. 16, before the High Priest could even enter the Holy of Holies, much less offer a sacrifice there, he had to make atonement for himself, since he, just as all those whom he represented, was a sinner. Not only did he have to atone for his own sin, but his time in the Holy of Holies was limited. He was allowed to stay in the presence of God only while He was offering the sacrifice.
To enter the Holy of Holies, the priest had to pass through three areas in the Temple. He took the blood and went through the door into the outer court, through another door into the Holy place, then through the veil into the Holy of Holies. He did not sit down or delay. As soon as the sacrifice was made he left and did not return for another year.
Every year, year after year, another Yom Kippur was necessary. Between these yearly sacrifices, every day, day after day, thousands of other sacrifices were made, by the Israelites and Believing Gentiles to atone for their personal sins. The process was never ending, never complete, because Israel was not perfect, the priests were imperfect, and the sacrifices were not perfect. They pointed to a need for a perfect sacrifice.
That is why Jesus came. He came to bring the New Covenant that the Prophets had foretold would come. He is God’s perfect High Priest. He is the conclusion of a progression of sacrifices instituted by God. The sin offering was given to Israel to make atonement for any individual who sought to reconciled to God. The Passover sacrifice was God making provision for a family. Yom Kippur was God’s provision for the Nation of Israel.
And the Messiah was God’s provision for all the Nations to experience atonement and reconciliation with God. When Jesus died on the cross, He made atonement possible for all who would apply by faith, His blood on the door posts of their hearts. It was a onetime perfect sacrifice. He, like the High priest of Israel passed through 3 areas. When He passed through the Heavens, he went through the first heaven (the atmosphere, the second heaven (outer space), and into the third heaven, (God’s dwelling place).
Jesus our High Priest went to God Himself, not just where His Glory dwelt but into the Holiest of all Holies. And Jesus did not have to leave, because His sacrifice was made once for all time. The sacrifice and the High Priest were perfect. He made the perfect and complete atonement for sin, which is the reason He came to earth the first time.
In light of this, we need to understand that we can call on God. Hebrews 4 reaches a grand climax here, saying “You have a priest, and you have a place to come with your burdens.” Both are immediately accessible. Call on your priest and He will come to your help. Hebrews 4:14 tells us who our priest is.
Hebrews 4:15 This verse tells us what He offers:
1) True understanding – We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are yet, without sin.” What this means, is that when we come to our high priest who is in the heavens, and call on Him for our needs, we have the assurance of knowing that he identifies with our hurts and needs. In Jesus our High priest we have one who knows our weaknesses, who has felt our pain, experienced our rejection and loneliness. He has even tasted death, so he knows in total what we can suffer.
2) Offers grace – This is difficult for us to understand since in this world we find little grace in a throne or a courtroom. We have courtrooms of law, and judges of law. We have long fingers that point at us telling us that what we can and cannot do. But in the promised new covenant, we have the olive branch of peace and grace extended to us. We come to God dirty, guilty, and embarrassed, yet His arms are open wide and extended out to us. You and I need grace that offers understanding and forgiveness, and in our Messiah and High priest, we find it.
Why does Jesus qualify for this role of High priest? Because He is God, this is a mystery that is difficult if not impossible to comprehend. But the prophets of Israel stressed over and over in many different ways that only God could redeem our souls. That only a perfect sacrifice would atone for our sins once and for all. As we sing the words of Isaiah we are reminded of this truth: “Behold God is my salvation, I will trust and will not be afraid, for the Lord, My God is my strength and My song He also has become my salvation. God Himself is our High Priest in the Person of Jesus.
Not only does Yeshua qualify because He is God but also because He is truly human. Make no mistake about it; one of the reasons that God became a man in Jesus was to allow us to know that Almighty God understands us and our trials.
He qualifies as a High Priest because He was appointed by God to offer sacrifices for the sins of the people (Hebrews 5:1-3). Some have the mistaken idea that once Jesus offered Himself as our sacrifice and was raised from the dead, that His job was done. However, that’s not how Scripture describes Him. As our High priest, he is permanently active. He intercedes for us; He defends us when Satan rails his accusations against us. He represents us to God our Father as we come in prayer with our needs. He says to the Father, “This child is Mine and his groaning and his words mean such and such.
How Does He Provide this?
Hebrews 4:16 – Our tendency as sinful people is to keep at a distance from Him because of His purity. This is exactly what Adam and Eve attempted to do. But our High priest invites us to draw near to Him. “Come unto me all that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” In fact no minister can help unless he is made aware of our needs. Secondly He promises us mercy and grace when we do draw near. He will never reject us. He is unlike us in that regard. He accepts us just as we are. He will never come down on us or condemn us if we will come to Him.
So in concluding this study on the promised rest of God which we began in Hebrews 3 we learn that our High Priest and King gives us a peace that the world cannot give us and a peace that the world cannot take away.
We can see at least 3 requirements for this kind of peace:
1) Resting requires that we approach God. We need a sacrifice to do that, a perfect sacrifice. This is what Jesus provided for us.
2) Approaching God means that we must be clean and forgiven. This is accomplished as we approach Jesus our High Priest who accepts us just as we are, and intercedes on our behalf.
3) Being cleansed requires drawing near and opening up our hearts and minds to Him. We need to come to the throne of Grace and Mercy. We need to open our hearts to our high priest.
Hebrews 5:1-2 – In this chapter we learn the qualities and characteristics required of a High Priest.
A Priest is appointed for the sake of man. To offer gifts to God and to make sacrifices for sins. He can identify with ignorance, and the misguided, because he has the same problems. The word in Hebrews 5:2 that is translated “deal gently” means literally to deal with mildness and moderation. It carries with the idea of being in the middle, in two ways. 1) Being in the midst of, fully involved. 2) Taking a middle ground – knowing and understanding, but of avoiding extremes.
An example of this would be having a balance when dealing with grief or a dangerous situation. A person who becomes too sympathetic or too apathetic can’t really help someone in trouble. The one who is too sympathetic will himself be engulfed by the problem. And a person who is too removed or apathetic to the problem, may not even recognize the problem a person is having, and if by chance he did, wouldn’t be concerned in helping. In the middle is the person who can deal gently. He can fully identify with a person having problems without losing his perspective or judgment. Such is the responsibility of God’s priests. We who are believers are called a nation of priests, even as Israel was called to a national priesthood. In dealing with others it helps us to understand the expectations of God as his priests.
We learn that the High Priest must offer sacrifices for himself and for others. He also needs to be humble because he was appointed by God. We learn here how Yeshua has the qualifications to be High Priest. Two passages are given to establish the credentials of Jesus as a High Priest. Firstly Jesus was appointed by God to His office; just as the Priesthood of Israel went to those whom God appointed. Jesus, in fact, is a priest forever. While the High Priests of Israel were only temporary. Two significant Old Testament passages are referred to in demonstrating why Jesus’ Priesthood was greater.
1) Psalm 2:7 “Thou art my son, Today I have begotten Thee” In Heb. 1 we demonstrated that this Passage was a reference to the deity of Jesus. As this special prophesied son we demonstrated his heavenly rights.
2) Psalm 110:4 “Thou art a priest forever, after the order of Melechizedek.” This should be translated “of the same kind” not the same order. Melechizedek had no priests follow after him and therefore there is no “order” of Melechizedek. Jesus was a priest of his kind.
Who was Melechizedek? We will learn more of his relationship as a kind of priest like Jesus when we study chapter 7. But let’s take a look at him now. We find him in Genesis 14:17-20. Melechizedek is: a King of Ir Salem, a Priest, and the one who blessed Abraham. The passage in Psalm 110:4 is a prophetic passage concerning the King – Messiah who was to come. That he would be like Melechizedek. So Jesus is qualified as a High priest because He is the Son of God which gives him heavenly prerogatives, He was appointed by God, and His priesthood is like Melechizedek.
Another qualification of Jesus to be a priest is that he has a oneness with mankind. Jesus has experienced life as we know it. He experienced life=s pains and trials. He knows our emotional and our physical travails. He experienced that which mankind fears most, death. In Hebrews 5:7, we are reminded of the prayers and supplications, with loud crying and tears, which point to His dependence on God while in His earthly existence.
In fact in the Talmud we read “There are three kinds of prayers, each loftier than the preceding: prayer, crying, and tears. Prayer is made in silence: crying with raised voice; but tears overcome all things, there is no door which tears do not pass”. Even though He was God the Son, he experienced death. Although you would think that because of His position he would be exempted from such suffering. But he did suffer, and in the process learned obedience. Does this mean that Jesus went from disobedience to obedience? No, but rather he learned about obedience by obeying. There is a difference from doing something and just being willing and prepared to do something, just as innocence differs from virtue.