Perfect High Priest: Part Two

As indicated briefly in part one of this study, there are five sections in the book of Hebrews that give urgent reminders not to take Jesus lightly in either his message of salvation (“which was first announced by the Lord” – 2:3) or his perfect, High Priestly accomplishments. These five solemnly developed admonitions are carefully interspersed among descriptions of Jesus’ superiority, his absolute human condition, his victorious actions, and his exaltation at God’s right hand.

A discussion of Jesus’ total identification with us as fellow human beings leads into the first major section in Hebrews that displays the High Priestly theme:

Because the children share flesh and blood in common, Jesus shared in this in the same way, so that through death he could destroy the one who had the power of death – the Devil – and liberate all who through fear of death were enslaved all their lives. Of course it is not angels he is concerned about; he is concerned to help the children of Abraham. That is why it was necessary for him to be like his brothers in every respect, so that he could be a merciful and trustworthy High Priest in the things of God, to forgive his people’s sins. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to come to the assistance of those who are tempted.

So, my brothers and sisters, God’s holy people who share in this heavenly calling, we need to think carefully about Jesus – the one whom we confess as Apostle and High Priest. He was faithful to God who made him, just as Moses was faithful to God in God’s house. But Jesus deserves much greater glory than Moses, in the same way that the builder of a house deserves more honor than the house. Every house has its builder; God is the builder of everything. As a servant, Moses was faithful in God’s house. He provided evidence of what would be announced for the future.

But Messiah is a Son, in charge of God’s household. And we are God’s household, provided that we hold on to the end, with confidence, to the hope we triumphantly believe in. This is why the holy spirit says, “If you hear what God is saying to you today, do not harden your hearts as at the time you rebelled against Him, when you tested Him in the wilderness. Your fathers put Me to the test, trying my patience, and they saw the evidence of My activity which I gave them for forty years. That generation made me angry and so I said, ‘They are constantly mistaken in what they think, and they do not know or understand Me or what I am doing.’ So in my frustration I vowed, ‘They will not enter my rest.’” 2:14 – 3:11 – OGFOMMT

In the overall context here, one can see and infer the following connections. Jesus was faithful when tempted like we are, so as to be a compassionate and faithful High Priest. Moses had also been faithful in his responsibility, even though Jesus was faithful in a greater capacity over a greater “building” – God’s ultimate household. We are that wonderful household if we continue to be faithful! Jesus already passed the test of being totally faithful, and thus he is exalted and honored. It is our turn to exhibit continued faithfulness (with Jesus’ help) instead of falling into the rebellious pitfalls of the Exodus generation of Israelites described in Psalm 95: 7b-11 (as quoted in Hebrews 3:7-11).

The section of serious warnings that follows (in Hebrews 3:12 - 4:13) challenges us with the following biblical logic, based on the application of Psalm 95. The need to encourage one another (and avoid the evil of abandoning faith in the living God) is still pertinent “today”, on each and every day. The Sabbath rest of the seventh day (an allusion to Genesis 2:2) is connected to the “rest” of the Promised Land, a rest that was denied to the generation of Israelites who hardened their hearts through unbelief and disobedience. David wrote Psalm 95 (about the Israelites’ rebellion and consequences) a few centuries after the conquest of the land by Joshua (which had provided an incomplete level of “rest”). Thus, Psalm 95 remains pertinent; it is not merely a retelling of past failures. There remains a future, complete “rest” implied in this analysis (in Hebrews) of Psalm 95, a “rest” that is actually bound up with the coming Kingdom of God (as can be connected to 11:10, 12:22 and 28, and 13:14 - verses in the latter part of Hebrews). Therefore, in light of such stark exhortations, believers in the Messiah must be careful not to fail to link reception of the message with continued, obedient faith. Such urgent reminders flow into a second major presentation of Jesus’ High Priestly function:

For whoever enters God’s rest also rests from what he is doing, just as God did. As a result we should struggle hard to enter that rest so that nobody falls by following the same bad example of disobedience. For God’s word is alive and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, so penetrating that it separates soul and spirit, bone joints and their marrow, judging the thoughts and intentions of the mind.

No living being is hidden from his sight; everything is exposed and visible to the one we are accountable to. Since we have such a great High Priest who has ascended to heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us make certain we hold on to our Christian confession. For the High Priest we have is not one who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who was tempted in all the ways we are tempted, but who never sinned. So we should go confidently to God on His throne of grace, so we can receive mercy, and discover the grace to help us when we need it.

Every high priest is chosen from among men and is appointed to work for the people as they relate to God. He presents to God both their gifts and sacrifices for their sins. The High Priest understands how ignorant and deluded people can be because he also experiences the same kind of human weaknesses. As a result he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as for those of the people. No one can take the position of High Priest for himself; he must be chosen by God, just as Aaron was. In just the same way Messiah did not honor himself by becoming High Priest. It was God who said to him, “You are My Son; today I have become your Father.” In another verse, God says, “You are a priest forever, following the order of Melchizedek.”

Jesus, while he lived on the earth, prayed and appealed with loud cries and tears to God, the one who was able to save him from death. Jesus was heard because of his reverence for God. Even though he was the Son of God, Jesus learned the meaning of obedience through suffering. When his experience was complete, he became the source of the salvation of the Age to Come for everyone who obeys him, having been designated by God as a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. (4:10 – 5:10 – OGFOMMT)

Several themes mentioned in this last section are further developed in later parts of Hebrews, such as details of why and how Melchizedek is connected to Jesus’ High Priesthood (in chapter 7). Also, learning obedience through suffering in Jesus’ anguished experience can be viewed in correspondence with how we are to keep our eyes on Jesus, while considering his example, when receiving the Heavenly Father’s discipline (which can be tough sometimes) according to 12:1-13. Jesus was always growing and learning wisdom (as mentioned in Luke 2:52), just as we must keep growing and learning while not “fainting” or giving up.

The godly encouragement to keep faithful and not give up is not only emphasized through clear, honest warnings; it is boldly highlighted by way of Jesus’ brave example and solid, sacrificial accomplishments which have acquired the forgiveness of sins. He is not unfeeling or unsympathetic toward our human plight. He, as fully human as we are, experienced temptation and great suffering like we do. In successfully overcoming (by not sinning), he has provided our basis for reverential confidence with pure motives. Since his High Priestly, redemptive role has been carried out perfectly, we are invited to approach God’s throne of grace, asking perpetually for his merciful, helpful, gracious intervention when we need it. As we obediently persevere in God’s light, among other blessed realities, we are completely liberated from living in the slavery of the fear of death.

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