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.
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Table of contents
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 Post List
- Hebrews: An Introduction - This article gives a brief introduction into the book of Hebrews. It is the first of a series of on this sermon from a pastor to his people.
- Hebrews: The Supremacy of Christ (1:1-4) - In the prologue to Hebrews the author identifies the supremacy of Christ over the prophets and angels as well as summarizing his Christology.
- Hebrews: Superior to the Angels (1:5-14) - This passage uses seven quotes from the Old Testament to demonstrate that Christ, the Son, is superior to the angels.
- Hebrews: A Warning to Pay Attention (2:1-4) - The author of Hebrews here warns us to pay attention to the great salvation we have been given. If we do not, the danger of drifting away is great.
- Hebrews: We See Jesus, Crowned with Glory (2:5-9) - Humanity is not what God created us to be. But we see Jesus, who took on a human nature, tasted death for us, and is now crowned with glory and honor.
- Hebrews: Made Perfect Through Suffering (2:10-13) - Jesus, the author of our salvation, was made perfect, as a savior, through his suffering on the cross. The perfect lamb sacrificed for us.
- Hebrews: Jesus Is Fully Human in Every Way (2:14-18) - Jesus became fully human in every way, allowing him to defeat death and to become our perfect high priest, offering himself as our atonement.
- Hebrews: Jesus Is Greater Than Moses (3:1-6) - To one raised in Old Testament Judaism, there was no one greater than Moses. But Hebrews here affirms that Jesus is greater than Moses.
- Hebrews: Failure to Enter God’s Rest (3:7-19) - Hebrews uses Psalm 95 to demonstrate that failure to enter into God's rest is because of our disobedience and failure to remain faithful.
- Hebrews: Enter God’s Rest (4:1-11) - The promise of entering into God's rest is still open to us today. Unlike many in the past, make every effort to enter into that rest.
- Hebrews: the Active Word of God (4:12-13) - God's word is active and alive. It is not just words on a page. It is his message for us that reaches deep within us to shape our lives.
- Hebrews: Our Great High Priest (4:14-16) - Because Jesus is our great high priest, who has experienced the life we live, we can confidently come to God for his grace and mercy.
- Hebrews: Obedience Learned Through Suffering (5:1-10) - Jesus, the Son of God, learned obedience through his suffering on the cross. He knows what it is to obey the Father, even in suffering.
- Hebrews: Move Beyond Elementary Teachings (5:11-6:3) - The author's challenge to us here is to move beyond the elementary teachings of the faith. To be growing ever deeper in the truth.
- Hebrews: A Most Explicit Warning (6:4-12) - There are a number of warnings in Hebrews about falling away. But this is the most explicit of them. How should be understand there warnings.
- Hebrews: An Anchor of Hope for the Soul (6:13-20) - The promise that God made to Abraham is relevant to those of us who have come to trust in Jesus. And that hope is an anchor for our soul.
- Hebrews: The Priesthood of Melchizedek (7:1-10) - Two priesthoods are examined here. That of Melchizedek and that of Aaron. And Melchizedek's is demonstrated to be the superior one.
- Hebrews: A New Priesthood (7:11-28) - Jesus has ushered in a new priesthood. One that is after the order of Melchizedek, eternal and fully able to meet our needs.
- Hebrews: We Do Have Such a High Priest (8:1-6) - Hebrews has been building toward this point. A high priest after the order of Melchizedek is not just theory. In Jesus, it is a reality.
- Hebrews: A New Covenant (8:7-13) - The new covenant that Jeremiah foresaw has found its fulfillment in Jesus. He is the mediator of this new covenant made with us.
- Hebrews: Worship in the Tabernacle (9:1-10) - The worship in the old covenant tabernacle was a shadow of what was to come. Especially the hiddenness of the Most Holy Place.
- Hebrews: The Blood of the New Covenant (9:11-15) - The old covenant was written on tablets has been replaced with a covenant written on our hearts and inaugurated by the blood of Christ,
- Hebrews: Entering the Heavenly Sanctuary (9:16-28) - The earthly tabernacle was only a shadow of the heavenly sanctuary that Jesus entered into on our behalf, offering a perfect sacrifice.
- Hebrews: One Sacrifice for All Time (10:1-18) - Jesus sacrificed himself for us. One sacrifice that was sufficient for all time. There is now no longer any need to sacrifice for sin.
- Hebrews: Enter the Most Holy Place (10:19-39) - Because of what Jesus did for us, we can have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place with full assurance. We have been cleansed and washed.
- Hebrews: Faith in Action (11:1-31) - The 11th chapter of Hebrews is nicknamed the Hall of Faith. The author here defines faith, and then shows faith in action.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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