Jesus the High Priest

Wherefore also [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25).

What is a priest?

It seems like a very easy question, but it might take us a minute. It is a lot easier to describe what a priest does, particularly in the Old Testament, than it is to actually define him. He is the one who offers the sacrifices, maintains the Tabernacle/Temple, and instructs the people (Leviticus). How can all of these be brought together?

We can settle on a fairly basic definition: a priest is a designated man who stands between God and the people. The people bring their sacrifices for God to the Temple; the priests offer them. The priests enter the places the “regular people” cannot go.

In that sense, Jesus, by definition, is the ultimate priest– He is the Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). He stands between God and us in a most powerful way.

The Hebrew author describes Jesus as the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:10) based on the prophecy found in Psalm 110:4. Jesus, like Melchizedek before Him, is both King and Priest (cf. Genesis 14:18, Hebrews 7:1-3), itself an extraordinary matter and responsibility.

Yet Jesus fulfills this task to an extent not seen before. Priests, by virtue of their work, sacrifice animals. They themselves cannot be the sacrifice– in fact, the high priest must first sacrifice for his own sins before he can enter in and make sacrifice on behalf of the people (Leviticus 6:6, 11; Hebrews 7:27). Jesus, on the other hand, offers up Himself, the perfect, unblemished Lamb who can take away the sin of the whole world (John 1:29, Hebrews 7:27-28).

He is able to do this because He was sinless, holy, undefiled, and separate from sinners, but is not really distant– He can sympathize with our weaknesses, having been tempted Himself in all points, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15) and having learned obedience through the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8).

This ought to leave us breathless, really. A perfect mixture of holiness and humility, righteousness and love, separation and sympathy. Jesus is never sanctimonious, for He upholds the right while being willing to suffer with people, sympathizing with their plight. His ministry is all the more excellent because He was willing to suffer death so that we might be reconciled to God and live (Romans 5:6-11, Hebrews 5:6-9)! Thus Jesus is able to save us to the uttermost, inaugurating a new and superior covenant!

It is immediately apparent that no matter how righteously we might live we will never be anywhere near reaching the perfect ministry of Christ. That high priesthood in the order of Melchizedek is properly suited for One and only One, and we are not Him! We ought to thank God continually for such a perfect and wonderful High Priest!

Nevertheless, in establishing the new covenant and being the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, Jesus changes the nature of priesthood entirely (cf. Hebrews 7-9). Much is often made of the description of all Christians as priests in 1 Peter 2:5, 9, but consider what is being said in those passages. In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter uses many descriptions of physical Israel to describe the spiritual Israel– Christians are as much an “elect race” and “holy nation” as a “royal priesthood.” Furthermore, what do we find in 1 Peter 2:5? Christians are being built up into a holy (spiritual) Temple, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices. And what is that spiritual sacrifice but ourselves (Romans 12:1)? A strange priesthood this is– we are as much the sacrifice as the priest!

This is all because of Jesus’ example. Jesus did not offer up some other person or animal; He offered up Himself, and thus established Himself as the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. The New Testament does not emphasize “priesthood” at all– servants, disciples, brothers and sisters are more appropriate images– but when it does, it focuses on that idea of the priest offering up himself as the sacrifice like Jesus did.

Therefore, as we are able, we do well to follow Jesus’ example. Today He is the only One who stands between God and the people (1 Timothy 2:5); we point to Him to show people the face of God and how to live as redeemed believers made in His image (Genesis 1:27, John 1:18). Our ministry is to offer up ourselves, spiritual sacrifices well-pleasing to God. Let us praise God for and serve our Risen Lord and High Priest!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus the High Priest

The Messiah: King and Priest

The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent: “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4).

It is important for us to remember that while “Jesus Christ” is used as a name today, it was not always so. His name was Jesus. His title, or His office, is that of Christ– the Messiah. Both words (“Christ” is Greek; “Messiah” from the Hebrew) mean “Anointed One.” David was anointed by Samuel as God’s choice for King of Israel (1 Samuel 16:12-13); his promised Descendant would thus also be anointed (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:17-21). But Aaron, the High Priest, was also anointed by Moses to reach his office (Exodus 30:30, etc.). The image of the two “anointed ones,” one king, one priest, seems to be behind Zechariah 4:11-14. It also seems to have impacted the author of the Damascus Document, writing within the hundred years before Jesus, who seems to speak of two Messiahs– one of Aaron, one for Israel (CD 9b:10, 29, 15:4, 18:7).

It seems that most Israelites in the first century looked forward to the Messiah who would come as king to defeat the Romans and re-establish the glory and power of Israel. Not a few Israelites also sought some kind of divine reformation and restoration of the priesthood and the Temple, imagined by some as a “Messiah from Aaron.” But there does not seem to be the expectation that the Messiah in the line of David would have the concern for ministry or the priesthood that belonged to the Aaronic line. Furthermore, the Jews had recently experienced the reign of priest-kings with the Hasmoneans– but they certainly were not the fulfillment of the predictions of the prophets, since they were not of David and Judah, but from Aaron and Levi!

Then we come to Jesus of Nazareth. He is without a doubt a descendant of David and Judah according to the flesh (Matthew 1:1-17). The throne of His father David is promised to Him (Luke 1:31-33). But in His life He never raises so much as a finger against Rome and its authority. Instead, He preaches a message of the imminent Kingdom of God and dies on a Roman cross– an event His followers understood as the sacrificial offering for the atonement of sin (Matthew 4:17, 23, Romans 5:6-11, Hebrews 9:1-15). He certainly does not fulfill the expectations of the Jews in terms of the rule of the son of David, but He certainly is engaged in functions of ministry, sacrifice, and atonement, the realm generally reserved for Aaron and his descendants.

This challenge was understood by the author of the letter to the Hebrews. He understood that Jesus was of Judah, a tribe concerning which Moses spoke nothing about the priesthood (Hebrews 7:13-14). But he also understood that the Aaronic/Levitical priesthood was imperfect, offering up animals that could not really atone for sin (Hebrews 7:11, 10:4). Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself, however, was perfect, able to atone for any and all sin, and thus speaks of a better ministry, a better mediation, and thus a better priesthood (Hebrews 7:15-28, 1 Timothy 2:5). But how could Jesus be a priest when He was not from Aaron but from David through Judah?

God’s great plan for salvation was predicted before the events took place, and the Hebrew author highlights a psalm of David to demonstrate how Jesus is a priest– Psalm 110.

That this is a “Messianic” psalm, written by David and inspired by the Spirit is without a doubt; Jesus asks the religious leaders about Psalm 110:1 and how David can say that “YHWH said to my lord…” if the Messiah is David’s son (Matthew 22:41-46/Mark 12:35-37/Luke 20:41-44). And then we have the promise in verse 4: God has sworn, and it will not be revoked– David’s Lord would be a priest forever according to the priesthood of Melchizedek?

Who is Melchizedek? We read of him in Genesis 14:18-20, and the Hebrew author describes him in Hebrews 7:1-10. His name means “King of Righteousness,” and he was king of Salem (“peace”; the city is later named Jerusalem) and priest of God Most High. Abraham gives him a tithe of everything carried back from the victory over the foreign kings, and the Hebrew author points out that thus Levi and the Levites, still in the “loins of Abraham,” gave tithes to Melchizedek. He did not receive his position as priest by genealogy or nepotism, and in him the roles of king and priest were truly intertwined.

Even if the Jews believed that there would have to either be two Messiahs or that the Messiah would focus entirely on his role as King of Israel, David in the Spirit knew better– the Messiah would mean the end of the old system (cf. Hebrews 7:12). The Messiah would be King, yes, but also a priest in the order of Melchizedek. The Messiah would be the King of Righteousness over the City of Peace (cf. Isaiah 61:1-4, Hebrews 12:22-24, Revelation 21:1-22:6). He would accomplish this through His priesthood– the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, providing Himself as the perfect offering, a ministry in every way superior to what came before (cf. Hebrews 7:11-28).

There would be only one Messiah, and He would provide the satisfaction for everything. Yes, He would reign as King, but only after He accomplished His ministry and His priesthood on the cross. In the resurrection He receives the authority and the throne promised Him, and the message of the prophets is satisfied. Let us praise God for Jesus the Christ, King of Righteousness over the City of Peace, High Priest, our Advocate!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Messiah: King and Priest