By Bryan Patrick
In the first century a group of Jewish Christians became convinced that they were happier under the system of religion set forth in the law of Moses than they were with the religion of Christ. As a result of this, an inspired man wrote the epistle which we call “Hebrews” to them to convince them that the way of Christ is superior to the way of Moses. In one large section of the book (4:14-8:6) the author discusses the fact that Jesus is our high priest and that his priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood of the Law of Moses. Let us study this priesthood of Jesus, centering our study around this particular section of Hebrews. From this section we learn about Jesus’ particular qualifications to be our high priest, why his priesthood is superior to that of the Levites, and the ease with which we can approach God as a result of this priesthood.
The qualifications of a high priest are related to the work which he performs. Hebrews 5:1-3 says, “For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.” A high priest was to aid and support the people in the discharge of their religious duties by offering sacrifices for their sins and being able to discern sins of ignorance from presumptuous sins. This duty requires a knowledge of man’s needs and an intimate understanding of his ways. Jesus is qualified to be our high priest from this standpoint. He lived as a man, and is thus able to “sympathize with our needs” because he “has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). While here on this earth he prayed to God as we do, offering prayers asking God to fulfill certain needs (supplications). These prayers were made with “loud crying and tears” because he was suffering, a suffering he did not have to endure because he was equal to God. However, he obeyed God from the heart and experienced this torture (5:7,8). Jesus also did not take upon himself the duty of high priest, but was appointed by God, just as the descendants of Levi were appointed to the priesthood under the Old Law (5:3-5).
The writer of the Hebrew epistle needed to convince these Jewish Christians that they would be deprived if they returned to the Law of Moses because the priesthood of Christ is superior to the Levitical priesthood. Jesus is declared by God to be a “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:6, 10) because he is a king and priest as Melchizedek was. Melchizedek was the king of Salem and a priest of God (7:1). As Abraham returned from a victorious battle in Genesis 14, he met Melchizedek and Melchizedek blessed him. Abraham then apportioned a tenth of all of his battle spoils to Melchizedek, just as the Levitical priests collected a tenth from the people of Israel. In a sense, Levi himself paid a tithe to Melchizedek because he is a descendant of Abraham. Therefore, the priesthood of Christ is superior to that of Levi because Christ’s priesthood is after the order of Melchizedek. The author of the epistle goes on to say that we cannot be perfected through the priesthood of the Old Law, so we need a new priesthood. This new priesthood is unchanging because Christ is eternal, while the priesthood under the Law had changing faces because of physical death. This unchanging priesthood was confirmed with an oath (7:20,21) and enables Christ to continually intercede on behalf of all who come to the Father through him (7:24, 25). Moreover, Christ does not have to offer sacrifice for his own sins for he had an immaculate character while on earth, and he does not have to continually offer sacrifices for our sins because he took care of that once for all with his sacrifice on Calvary (7:26-28).
With such an excellent priesthood, there is no reason for one to desire a return to the old ways of the Law. Instead, we should be bold and with confidence draw near to the Father through Jesus and receive mercy and grace to help in time of need, because we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God (Heb. 4:14-16).
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 18, p. 548
September 19, 1991