In the previous chapters, the author of Hebrews has expounded on the superiority of Jesus, the Son, over the Old Testament prophets, the angels, and Moses. But now he turns to Jesus as our great High Priest. And this topic will occupy most of the next six chapters. Jesus has a priesthood that is superior to the Aaronic priesthood, offering a better sacrifice, on a better altar.
Our Great High Priest
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.Hebrews 4:14 NIV
The idea of Jesus’ priesthood was introduced earlier in Hebrews. Hebrews 2:17 says that he “became a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” And then in Hebrews 3:2 he is once again identified as our high priest.
The Role of the High Priest
In the Old Testament, the role of priest was given to Aaron, the brother of Moses, and to his descendants. One priest within the family was identified as the High Priest and he had the responsibility of leading the activities of the other priests. The primary function of the priests was to make intercession for the people before God. There were a number of sacrifices mandated in Leviticus. Some dealt with sin; some were expressions of thanksgiving; and others were offered on a daily basis, representing a meal provided to God. All of the priests could participate in these sacrifices and offerings.
But there was one sacrifice that was the sole duty of the High Priest. And that was the sacrifice of atonement that was offered once a year. This sacrifice is described in Leviticus 16 and was the one sacrifice actually intended to make atonement for the sins of the High Priest as well as for the people of Israel. And it is this high priest, and this sacrifice, that the author of Hebrews will go to great lengths to associate with Jesus. They both pointed to him and his work on the cross.
Ascended into Heaven
Our great high priest is Jesus. And he has ascended to the Father above and is now serving at the heavenly tabernacle (Heb. 8:1-2). The earthly tabernacle, and temple, only pointed to this one. Just like the Aaronic high priest only pointed ahead to the work that Jesus would perform. This will be discussed later in much more detail.
Hold Firmly to Your Faith
Yet once again the author encourages us to hold onto our faith. And here he tells us that it is because of what we have in Jesus. He is a superior high priest, offering a superior sacrifice and serving at a superior tabernacle. This encouragement to hold onto ones faith would seem to be most relevant to Jewish believers who may be tempted to revert back to their former life under the Law.
And so, as he does throughout this letter, he reminds them that what they had before was only a shadow of the reality that is found in Jesus. And it makes no sense, once you have experienced the fuller reality, to revert back to life in the shadows. Hold firmly to your faith. Let nothing move you. Including pressure to conform to those who still live according to your old way of life.
An Empathizing High Priest
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.Hebrews 4:15 NIV
An important aspect of Jesus’ humanity is that he truly understands what we go through as people. Because he has himself experienced all of the temptations we face. He knew what it was to be hungry, thirsty, tired, and rejected. As well as to suffer and die. He understands, because of his own experience. He has, as they say, been there and done that.
Tempted, Yet Without Sin
Jesus was tempted in every way that humans are tempted. As Hebrews 2:17 said, Jesus was “fully human in every way.” As fully human, he would have had the same desires we had. He would have had the same limitations we have. And yet, he was without sin. Unlike the rest of humanity, Jesus never gave in to the temptations of his flesh. He never took his eyes off of the Father and the mission that he had been given.
It is easy to dismiss Jesus’ sinlessness because he was also fully God. And that in some way gave him an advantage over the rest of us. But that neglects what the author said earlier, that Jesus was “fully human in every way.” If his divinity gave him an advantage over the rest of us, then I find it hard to say that he was fully human, just like me. Because he would not have been just like me.
And that raises the question about the possibility of Jesus sinning. Could he have given in to temptation? When Satan tempted him to turn stones into bread, was it possible for him to do that? It seems like most people I know would say that, as God, he could not have sinned. Yet could he have been fully human, like me, without the ability to sin? And, could he have actually been tempted if there was no chance of succumbing to the temptation? I do not find a definitive answer to this question in the pages of Scripture, so I think it best not to be too dogmatic about it. But, in my opinion, it was possible for Jesus to sin. But he never did. He was the spotless lamb of God.
Approaching God’s Throne with Confidence
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.Hebrews 4:16 NIV
Because we have such a great high priest serving in the heavenly tabernacle. And because he understands all that we are going through, because of his own personal experience. We can have confidence in approaching God’s throne of grace. We do not have to be like Esther who approached the throne with fear and uncertainty (Esther 4:10-11).
The Throne of Grace
Revelation 20:11-15 describes a great white throne that God sits on to execute judgment. But that is not the throne that Hebrews is talking about here. Instead, it is the throne of grace. The throne of God’s favor. We are invited to confidently come to this throne. And when we do, we will receive what we need to help us in our time of need.
Mercy is more than not holding someone accountable for what they have done. Showing mercy involves helping someone in their need. When we receive mercy from God, it is not just him letting us off the hook. Instead, it is a matter of him, out of his abundance, giving us what we need. Our greatest need was for a savior, and he gave us that in the person of his Son, Jesus. But he also provides for us in our daily lives as his children. And we can approach him with our needs, confident that he will care for us.
Grace is a good compliment to mercy. It is simply God’s favorable disposition towards us. God wants us to come to him to receive his mercy. It is hard for me to understand why God would take an interest in someone like me. But he does. He loves me, as unlovable as I am. And he wants to care and provide for me. I can confidently approach his throne of grace because he is gracious and loving.
- Hebrews: An Introduction
- Hebrews: The Supremacy of Christ (1:1-4)
- Hebrews: Superior to the Angels (1:5-14)
- Hebrews: A Warning to Pay Attention (2:1-4)
- Hebrews: We See Jesus, Crowned with Glory (2:5-9)
- Hebrews: Made Perfect Through Suffering (2:10-13)
- Hebrews: Jesus Is Fully Human in Every Way (2:14-18)
- Hebrews: Jesus Is Greater Than Moses (3:1-6)
- Hebrews: Failure to Enter God’s Rest (3:7-19)
- Hebrews: Enter God’s Rest (4:1-11)
- Hebrews: the Active Word of God (4:12-13)
- Hebrews: Our Great High Priest (4:14-16)
- Hebrews: Obedience Learned Through Suffering (5:1-10)
- Hebrews: Move Beyond Elementary Teachings (5:11-6:3)
- Hebrews: A Most Explicit Warning (6:4-12)
- Hebrews: An Anchor of Hope for the Soul (6:13-20)
- Hebrews: The Priesthood of Melchizedek (7:1-10)
- Hebrews: A New Priesthood (7:11-28)
- Hebrews: We Do Have Such a High Priest (8:1-6)
- Hebrews: A New Covenant (8:7-13)
- Hebrews: Worship in the Tabernacle (9:1-10)
- Hebrews: The Blood of the New Covenant (9:11-15)
- Hebrews: Entering the Heavenly Sanctuary (9:16-28)
- Hebrews: One Sacrifice for All Time (10:1-18)
- Hebrews: Enter the Most Holy Place (10:19-39)
- Hebrews: The Role Call of Faith (11:1-31)