Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 20, 1963
NUMBER 8, PAGE 3,11a

"The High Priest Of Our Confession" - (No. I)

James W. Rury

A study of the book of Hebrews makes one to marvel at the writer's reasoning and the line of logical arguments which he sets forth to edify the Hebrew Christians to steadfastness. The central line of reasoning seems to be to encourage the Jewish converts by showing them what they have — Jesus Christ. By several different approaches the writer shows the superiority of Jesus over the things of the Jewish system. One of these themes pursued is the pointing out of the perfect and perpetual priesthood of Christ.

In order to better understand and appreciate the priestly function of Christ, we will endeavor in this study to discuss some matters pertaining to the office of a priest seeking to show that Jesus Christ completely fulfills the office of a priest and that he ever serves as the merciful and faithful high priest of our confession.

The Priest And His Function

In Hebrews 5:1-3 is stated some of the nature and function of the priestly office. It is to be noticed that qualifications of the high priesthood are thus:

First, the high priest is "from among men." This could possibly be suggesting the thought that the great High Priest of the Christian age had an origin above the earthly and had a rank superior to men. Or the meaning might be that both the high priest under the old order and the new was taken from among men and therefore served as God's representative to man.

Secondly, the high priest was "appointed for men." The priesthood was not for the benefit of God, but for men was it ordained. The priest served as mediator between God and man. God does not need such help. Thus it is evident that the priestly office and its function was the medium of God's blessing for mankind. The priesthood was "for men."

In the third place, he was for "things pertaining to God." That is, he has to do with religious matters or with reference to worship and he was not a civil ruler, a military leader, or even one who dealt with the laws and ordinances of nature. His ministry was of holy things pertaining to service to God.

The fourth descriptive fact about the priest's office, and one of prime importance, is that he was "to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins" It is in this sense that he is selected for men. He was to offer the gifts, which were thank offerings expressing gratitude. The high priest served as the medium of expression from man to God. The priest was to offer sacrifices for sins. These were bloody offerings of slain beasts as required by the law that the sins of the people might not be remembered for a year.

The fifth function of the office was that he was able to "bear gently with the ignorant and erring." The priest was to be one given to compassion and sympathy for one under the law. It was up to the high priest to determine whether or not a sacrifice could be legally offered for the sin committed. If one was ignorant of God's will or was overcome by temptation, a sacrifice might be offered for the sin. (Num. 15:22-29) On the other hand, if the sin was committed in a proud manner, there was no repentance nor sacrifice. It was necessary for the priest to determine the nature of the offence. He was to use forbearance as far as possible but to execute the law of God when it was necessary. The fact that the high priest was a man enabled him to recognize the faults, dispositions, and weaknesses of man for that he himself was also subject to the same temptations.

The Priest And His Appointment

A further legislation upon the priestly office was that he be appointed or "called of God even as was Aaron." (5:4) Logically, no man takes this honor unto himself for no one had the right to enter as a priest unless he be qualified as God had prescribed and the laws of succession to the priesthood were fixed and definite. The tribe of Levi was designated by God to furnish the successors to the priestly office.

Jesus And His Priesthood

The prophet was one who spoke to man for God; the priest was one who spoke to God for man. Each of the three dispensations has had its priesthood; the father was the priest in the Patriarchal; Aaron and his sons in the Mosaic; Jesus Christ is the high priest in the Christian, and each follower is a priest.

The complete, full and perfected priesthood is found in Jesus Christ. As the Levitical priests were "taken from among men" so also Christ in a sense was taken from among men. Hebrews 2:14-18 presents this thought Christ made himself like unto his brethren by taking on the fleshly form of the creature that he might die and be raised, thus bringing to nought the devil who had the power to hold in death. In doing this Christ was made subject to the temptations and desires of humanity and thus he is able to understand and sympathize with the tempted. Paul affirmed the humanity of Christ also when he said in Philippians 2:6 that Christ "took upon himself the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of man." Christ was truly "from among men."

Certainly also was Christ "appointed from men." He being the fulness of God (Col. 2:9), man finds in him all the beneficial richness of God's love. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10) God's son was given "for" man. It is in Christ that man finds all the spiritual blessings in heavenly places. (Eph. 1:1-3)

Christ dealt with "things pertaining to God." He did the work of the Father (John 5:36) and was not attached to earthly things but sought to do the will of him that sent him. His kingdom and subjects did not pertain to the world (John 18:36) and he was subject to the law of man only as far as it was consistent to God's. (Matt. 22:20-21) Also his covenant had ordinances of divine service — they pertained to God. (Heb. 9:1)

Furthermore, Christ is the perfect priest because he offered a "sacrifice for sins" and his was "once for all." (Heb. 7:27) "Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf." (2 Cor. 5:21a) "And he is the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 2:2) Paul says of Christ's suffering and sacrifice that even though Christ was a Son, he learned obedience by his experience and was thereby perfected, thus becoming to the obedient the author of eternal salvation. (Heb. 5:8-9) His blood, anti-typical of the old priests' was shed for the remission of sins. (Matt. 26:28) "Who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree...." (1 Peter 2:24)

That Christ qualifies for the requirement of priesthood to "bear gently with the ignorant and the erring" is evident from the spirit manifested in his life and ministry. Hear him as he stretches out his arms in love and says: "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden...." (Matt. 11:28) See him as he stoops down and writes on the ground telling those who were without sin to cast the first stone at the woman who was taken in adultery. The compassionate Christ condemned her not but told her to go and sin no more. (John 7:53-8:11) Again, behold his tears as he wept at the death of Lazarus. (John 11:35) Once Jesus was passing by a city and two blind men "cried out, saying Lord, have mercy on us.... Jesus, being moved with compassion, touched their eyes; and straightway they received their sight, and followed hint" (Matt. 20:20, 34) Even though it be remembered that these instances of compassion are in his life time and he was not a priest while he was on earth (Heb. 8:4), they do show what his nature was and it can be shown that he has the same tenderness of heart after his death. He is now the interceder for man and the mediator between man and God. (1 John 2:21) Therefore, we can conclusively see that Jesus is capable of being a merciful priest who can bear gently with the ignorant and the erring. Christ meets the qualifications and serves the functions of a high priest. "Having then a great high priest, who hath passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need." (Heb. 4:14-16)

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