Jesus is Our High Priest

by: Bill Bratt


"The New Testament word for "priest" is related to a word meaning "holy", and indicates one who is consecrated to and engaged in holy matters." (1)

"Originally, individuals were priests (Gen. 4:3-4); later, fathers of families (Gen. 12:7, 13:18); at Sinai God through Moses designated Aaron, his sons, and his descendants priests (Ex. 28:1). The Aaronic priests had to meet very rigid standards (Lev. 21:16-24); in the sanctuary they ministered in special garments, and adhered to a definite ritual. They were divided into 24 courses, each serving a week at a time (1 Chron. 24:1-19). They represented the people before God, offering sacrifices and praying in their behalf. The Chief, or High, Priest supervised the priests, offered a sin offering (Lev. 4) and sacrificed on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16), and ascertained the will of God by the Urim and Thummin (Num. 27:21; Neh. 7:65). The Levites served as assistants to the Aaronic priests (Num. 3). In the New Testament Jesus Christ is described as a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 6:10, 20-7:17). The Aaronic priesthood is abolished in Him. The sacrifice He offered was Himself, and it never needed to be repeated. By His death He made atonement for the sins of men once for all." (2)

Jesus is our High Priest

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus Christ is our High Priest. "Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus" (Heb 3:1).

Jesus was God (John 1:1-3), but He came to this earth and was born as a baby (Luke 2:7), He lived His life in the flesh (1 John 4:2), obeyed Godís laws perfectly without sin (Heb. 4:15) and died on the cross (1 Thess. 4:14) as our Savior (Phil. 3:20). He was resurrected (Luke 24) and ascended to Godís heavenly throne (Acts 1:9) and there He is before God as our High Priest (Heb. 8:1).

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus as our High Priest is holy, harmless and undefiled. "For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens" (Heb 7:26).

According to the order of Melchizedek

Jesus was a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek: "where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" (Heb 6:20).

The Melchizedek priesthood was in operation before the Aaronic priesthood was established. "Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. {19} And he blessed him and said: "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; {20} And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand." And he gave him a tithe of all" (Gen 14:18-20).

Notice that in verse 20 Abraham paid tithes, a tenth, to Melchizedek.

Jesus, when He lived upon the earth as a man was Jewish. He was born of the tribe of Judah. "For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood" (Heb 7:14). Being a Jew, He did not qualify to be a priest, because the priests had to be Levites and also a direct descendant of Aaron. Jesus now dwells in heaven at Godís throne and is High priest after the order of, not the Levitical priesthood, but the Melchizedek priesthood.

Numbers chapter eighteen deals with the duties of the Priests and Levites including the tithes going to the children of Levi (Num. 18:21). This is when the priesthood changed from the Melchizedek priesthood to the Levitical priesthood.

Chapter seven of Hebrews deals with the change of priesthood from the Levitical back to the Melchizedek priesthood including the tithes (Hebrews 7:12).

The Tabernacle

God commanded that Moses build the Tabernacle. The intricate details that God gave to Moses in how to build this portable tent sanctuary are revealed in Exodus chapters 25-31 and 35-40.

The Tabernacle was a place where God might dwell among His people. It played an important part in the life of Moses and the ancient Israelites.

The Tabernacle stood in a court 150 feet long and 75 feet wide. It stood at the west end of the court and was a wooden structure 45 by 15 feet, divided by a heavy veil into two parts, a holy place and a most holy place.

The holy place contained the table of showbread, a golden candlestick, and the altar of incense. The most holy place, or Holy of Holies, had in it only the ark of covenant, a small box-like structure of wood covered with gold in which there were the tablets of the law, a pot of manna, and Aaron's rod (Exodus 25:16, 22; Heb. 9:4).

(Request our free article: "Jesus and the Tabernacle" to see how each part of the Old Testament Tabernacle teaches us lessons concerning the work of Christ and the way of approach to God.)

The New Testament Explains the Old Testament High Priestís Function

The high priest of the Aaronic priesthood was an impure mortal human being and not fit to stand in the very presence of the sinless spiritual God. "And the LORD said to Moses: "Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat." {3} "Thus Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with the blood of a young bull as a sin offering, and of a ram as a burnt offering." ... {6} "Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house" (Lev 16:2-3,6).

The Old Testament book of Leviticus includes the law of rituals (animal sacrifices, meal and drink offerings, incense burnings and various washings) which the priests in Old Testament times had to perform. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul called it the "law of works". There was a lot of physical labor involved in sacrificing. This was the law which "was added because of transgressions, till the Seed (Christ) should come" (Gal 3:19).

These sacrifices that were offered in Old Testament times were a substitute for Christ, intended to lead Israel to Christ (Gal. 3:24-25) and therefore after the crucifixion ceased to be necessary.

Letís notice what the high priest in Old Testament times was required to wear and what he had to do before coming into the presence of God: ""He shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments. Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on" .... {23} "Then Aaron shall come into the tabernacle of meeting, shall take off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the Holy Place, and shall leave them there" (Lev 16:4, 23).

Letís compare this to the New Testament Church: "And to her (Jesusí wife - the Church) it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints" (Rev 19:8) .

Notice that the "fine linen" represents "righteous acts".

It was necessary that the high priest be accompanied into the holy place by a "cloud" of incense. "Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil. (Inside the veil was the holy of holies - the most holy place.) {13} "And he shall put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the Testimony, lest he die" (Lev 16:12-13).

Letís notice what the incense symbolizes: "Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints" (Rev 5:8).

David prayed the following: "Let my prayer be set before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice" (Psalms 141:2).

Our prayers to God are to be like a sweet incense flowing up to God. Our prayers must show our attitude as being humble and submissive to God and not bitter or vindictive. Our prayers to God provide us with protection just like incense protected the high priest.

The high priest had to offer a sin offering for himself: "Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house." ... {14} "He shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat on the east side; and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times" (Lev 16:6, 14).

Beneath the mercy seat was the Ark of the Covenant. Do you remember what the Ark contained? "... the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron's rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant" (Heb 9:4).

Letís notice why the blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat: {13} "For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh" ... {7} "But into the second part (the holy of holies - the most holy place) the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people's sins committed in ignorance;" {20} "saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you" (Heb 9:13, 7, 20).

The Ark of the Covenant contained the two tables of stone (Heb. 9:4) on which God had engraved the Ten Commandments with His very own finger. Since the Ten Commandments were the laws that were broken and made the sin offering necessary, the sacrificial blood was sprinkled on and before the cover to the Ark, thus symbolically "covering" the broken laws.

This ritualistic blood, the sin offer-ing, pictured Christ: "whom God set forth as a propitiation by His (Jesusí) blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed" (Rom 3:25).

After the high priest completely purified himself, he was ready to go out and officiate. What now follows has to do with the Day of Atonement. Its types foreshadow New Testament fulfillments.

The next thing the high priest did was to offer the goat chosen by lot "for the Lord" as a sin offering for all the people: "Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat" (Lev 16:15).

The New Testament fulfillment is that Jesus our Lord was slain for the sins of all the people and then He assumed the office as our High Priest: "Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (Heb 2:17).

The New Testament tells us that Jesus Christ our High Priest and the heaven of Godís throne are the realities which the Old Testament high priest and Tabernacle only represented.

"Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. {24} For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us" (Heb 9:23-24).

Letís also notice a couple of verses in chapter eight: {2}"a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man." .... {5} "who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, "See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain"" (Heb 8:2, 5).

Jesus Christ entered behind the veil to the very throne of God in heaven: "This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, {20} where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" (Heb 6:19-20).

Jesus is now seated at the right hand of God: "Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens" (Heb 8:1).

Jesus presented His own blood as an offering for sin: {12} "Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption" (Heb 8:12).

Christ began to do what the Aaronic high priest did in type on the Day of Atonement: "But into the second part (the holy of holies - the most high place) the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people's sins committed in ignorance" (Heb 9:7).

Letís continue with the procedure of what the Old Testament high priest did: "Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. {16} "So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness. {17} "There shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place, until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel. {18} "And he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD, and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. {19} "Then he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, cleanse it, and consecrate it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel" (Lev 16:15-19).

The goatís blood symbolized Christís blood. The Tabernacle, the altar and the mercy seat were considered defiled by their presence being among the sinning Israelites. Through the year Israelís sins were symbolically transferred to the Tabernacle and its fixtures. Then once a year on the Day of Atonement these sins were purged from the nation in order that God might continue to dwell in Israel. Why? Because sin separates us from our God who is holy. "But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear" (Isa 59:2).

The Old Testament high priest represented the risen, resurrected Christ who ascended to heaven: "Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His (Jesusí) own blood He (Jesus) entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption" (Heb 9:12).

What Has Christ Been Doing for the Past 1900 Years?  

Jesus is our Intercessor before God in heaven: "Therefore He (Jesus) is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb 7:25). Jesus intercedes, persuades, entreats and petitions God on our behalf for God to have mercy on us and to favor us.

Jesus is our Mediator: "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5). Jesus is the one who mediates between parties at variance. When we sin, our iniquities separate us from God (Isa. 59:2). Jesus interposes, intervenes and comes between the parties (us and God) in order to reconcile them. We are reconciled to God "through the blood of His cross" (Col 1:19-20).

Jesus is our Advocate: "And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1). Jesus is our advocate, our defense attorney, our defender, who pleads our cause before the judicial court in heaven before God the Father. Satan is like the prosecuting attorney, he is our adversary (1 Pet 5:8) and our accuser (Rev 12:10). God the Father is the Judge (Rom. 2:16,Heb. 13:4).

Jesus is our compassionate High Priest: "Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. {15} For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. {16} Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb 4:14-16).

In Conclusion: Jesus is our High Priest, the only one who is qualified and authorized to perform the sacred rites as Mediator between us humans and God.


Footnotes: (1,2): T. Alton Bryant, "The New Compact Bible Dictionary", 1967, p. 474-475.