There is one book in the Bible that explains the role of Jesus, the Son of God, as the ultimate high priest appointed by God. Jesus’ perfect high priesthood is a major theme highlighted throughout the whole book of Hebrews, along with several other important threads of understanding.
Within the tapestry of a series of striking comparisons woven throughout Hebrews, Jesus’ unique priestly function emerges to portray the detailed superiority of the new covenant over the provisional, now “obsolete”, old covenant. Hebrews begins its highly comparative structure by dramatically illustrating how the Son of God is vastly superior to angels. That superiority, as developed in the first two chapters of Hebrews, involves his present royal position (being seated at God’s right hand) and his supreme rule over the future age, another bold theme throughout Hebrews. A bouquet of significant Old Testament quotes is given in chapter one to show how the absolutely human Son of God is much greater (now and in the future) to all angels. Chapter two continues that theme by unfolding Psalm 8’s focus on human exaltation to rule over God’s creation, while applying this truth (regarding future rule) to Jesus (who as a full “flesh and blood” human had been temporarily lower than angels). Eventually, in Hebrews, the truly human, helpful Jesus will be shown to be greater than Moses, and his priesthood will be described as emphatically greater than that carried out by any high priests serving under the Levitical, old covenant system during some 1,500 years.
The unknown writer of Hebrews, while gradually building the picture of Jesus’ majestic high priesthood, repeatedly breaks away from this major thesis to weave in a series of solemn exhortations and warnings to all Christians. In the following five sections of verses, presented in a careful balance with the overwhelming encouragement of Jesus’ superior high priesthood, one can perceive clearly that the required, continuous response of obedient faithfulness is never to be taken lightly: Hebrews 2:1-4; 3:12-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; and 12:14-29. Essentially, if the inferior old covenant norms meant serious business, and our new covenant standards involve greater promises built on a greater hope, sworn to us in a positively, more assuring way; how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?
By the way, Hebrews exemplifies a masterful, “God-breathed” development of the use of Old Testament Scriptures (many quoted from the Greek Septuagint) in order to display how Messianic prophecy was and is uniquely fulfilled in Jesus and will be completely realized in the future. In a sense, the book of Hebrews constitutes a detailed unfolding of Psalm 110:1, an umbrella text as quoted or alluded to, much more than any other verse (in New Testament expositions of O.T. declarations). As far as Jesus’ powerful role in past and current actions as the ultimate high priest, Hebrews is the development of Psalm 110:4 as joined to verse one, in relation to the human lord (David’s lord) exalted at YHWH’s right hand. Basically, verse one of Psalm 110 declares, “YHWH states to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” In the book of Hebrews, this foundational verse is the repeated, clear focus in 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; and 12:2.
Yahweh has sworn an oath he will never retract, you are a priest forever of the order of Melchizedek. (Psalm 110:4 – NJB)
Thus, the breathtaking presentation of the book of Hebrews explains how Melchizedek, a uniquely interesting person with whom Abraham met about 4,000 years ago, and whose name was briefly mentioned prophetically (in Psalm 110:4) by David about 3,000 years ago, displays a great foreshadowing truth concerning Jesus’ position as the “priest – king” of the new covenant (inaugurated almost 2,000 years ago). Jesus’ special, exalted, double role is similar to how Melchizedek had been both a priest of God Most High and simultaneously king of Salem (in Genesis 14:18). Since new covenant believers share in Jesus’ double identification now (as a holy, spiritual priesthood, a “royal (or kingly) priesthood” – 1st Peter, chapter 2), and their helpful, future function is described in Revelation 5:9 in terms of being “a kingdom and priests unto our God”, precise understanding of Jesus’ role as the new covenant founder and forerunner, actually being the ultimate “priest – king”, must be supremely relevant!
The very introduction to the book of Hebrews contains a definite strong hint regarding Jesus’ soon to be described priestly function:
Long ago, in many and various ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but at the end of these days He has spoken to us through His Son. He appointed him to be heir of everything, and through him He also made the ages.
He is the reflection of God’s glory,
The exact representation expressing His very reality;
He continues sustaining everything by his powerful command.
He brought about our cleansing for our sins,
Then took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
and so has become as much superior to angels,
as the authority he has inherited is superior to theirs. (Hebrews 1:1-4 – KGV)
Before taking his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high (a clear reference to verse one of Psalm 110), this Son of God had brought about “our cleansing of our sins” or “purification” for sins. The vocabulary is obviously indicative of the priestly function to make purification for sins through a sacrifice. This truth in verse 3 of chapter one in Hebrews is a preface to what will be described regarding Jesus’ real human actions during an obedient life and his sacrificial death to deal with our sins. As one can see, as further developed in the book of Hebrews, Jesus “made propitiation” (or achieved the substitutionary atonement victory) for our sins (2:17). Furthermore, on YHWH’s behalf, Jesus wrought and ratified the new covenant itself (promised in Jeremiah 31), in which YHWH declares Himself to be merciful concerning their injustices to remember their sins no more (8:12). Jesus himself acquired the effective redemption (liberation) from the transgressions committed under the first covenant (9:15). He has put away or removed sin by the “once for all” sacrifice of himself (9:26). He bore or carried away sins (9:28). Instead of following in the traditional performance of repeated rituals, he offered one sacrifice in reference to sins for all time (10:12). He brought about forgiveness for sins in such a decisive way that no more sacrifices for sins can ever be required or offered (10:18).
I passed on to you what I myself had also received, as from among those of first importance: the message that Messiah died for our sins, according to Scripture … (1st Corinthians 15:3 – OGFOMMT)
The incomparable New Testament view of the thoroughness of the human Jesus’ loving willingness (in a compassionate, priestly way) to offer himself voluntarily as a perfect, sinless sacrifice for the sins of all other humans and also for the triumphant, final restoration of God’s entire creation leaves one speechless. Atonement involved the supreme loving action of the Son of God walking in total agreement with the Father’s merciful, long-range plan to rescue His battered creation. It did not involve a paganized, twisted theory that Jesus be unfairly punished (instead of us) to appease the anger of a bloodthirsty tyrant. Real awareness of Biblical expiation - links vital kingdom of God truths to atonement and the resurrection. As realities from Hebrews are developed in Christian understanding, against the whole backdrop of new covenant roots in ancient promises, one will be increasingly in awe of the loving Heavenly Father’s perfect redemptive heart, when (in unity with Jesus’ free choice) He was accomplishing the Messiah’s victory, “according to Scripture!”