“Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.” Hebrews 3:1
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” Hebrews 4:14
“Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 6:20
These are some pretty confusing passages of Scripture. Jesus, a High Priest? What does this mean? Why does it matter?
It’s impossible to understand this passage without having a grasp on the Old Testament idea of a high priest. The first priest mentioned in the Old Testament is Melchizedek, who is briefly mentioned in Genesis during an encounter with Abraham. He’s an exception to the norm, though: the rest of the high priests mentioned in the Old Testament came from the tribe of Levi, a tribe especially anointed by God to serve as priests. They were essentially the mediators between the people of Israel and God, the only ones who were allowed to sacrifice the animals that would atone for the sins of the people. These animals had to be sacrificed yearly because they did not remove sins, they merely covered them.
So, then comes Jesus. He was unique. The Son of God, God in the flesh, humanity and divinity inextricably wrapped into one body. He was both sacrifice and priest. He died for the sins of the world–all the sins of the world–and his sacrifice was once for all. Because He was God and because He was sinless, His sacrifice was eternal and all-encompassing. At the same time, He was the High Priest. He was the mediator between God and man. He allowed himself to be killed: He performed the rite of sacrifice. He is an eternal priest, the perfect priest. The priests of the Old Testament were just a shadow of the real thing, just an earthly example of a heavenly reality.
For us as believers, this means that we are covered eternally with the blood of Jesus and are no longer seen by the Father as sinful. We are covered with the righteousness of Christ, which means that we can be one with the Father and dwell in eternal unity with Him. This is powerful. We can walk in freedom and intimacy with the Father. We no longer have to perform or try to earn righteousness, but we can rather rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.
I hope you continue to examine Jesus as the High Priest and in the process discover more about the beautiful character of our Savior!