What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you see the words high priest? I’ll give you a few seconds to consider.
One, two, three . . . okay, time’s up.
Is it the Old Testament? Tabernacle? Headdress? Long embroidered robes? Some old guy tying a rope around his leg just in case he doesn’t make it out of the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement? To be honest, those are the first things I think of.
I don’t think in terms of the present day when I hear the words high priest. I think in terms of ancient days, due in part to our present-day reality (in Christ) of approaching God’s throne of grace anytime we want. Born into the era of salvation by grace through faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and the many privileges therein, it’s commonplace for us to call upon God for ourselves without seeking the aid of a priest.
The Israelites however, relied on the mediation of priests, and in particular, the high priest, to present the necessary atonement for their sins in order to be accepted before God. Yet the truth is, we still come to God in the same way, through the mediation of not just any high priest, but Christ Jesus, our High Priest.
You see, the ministry of high priest is not an ancient tradition, but a presently inhabited position. It’s still true, just as it was in the days of the Law and the tabernacle, that we, as sinful humanity, need representation before a holy God. This is something the recipients of the book of Hebrews would have understood well. The argument then in Hebrews 7 is not for the necessity of the position, but for the superiority of its current holder.
Jesus Christ is the current high priest.
We still, to this day, can’t come to God on our own. To think God will and does accept us in our sinful state is to flirt with apostasy of the Christian faith. Just like the recipients of the book of Hebrews, we need to take note of the warning not to fall away from the truths we’ve been taught (Heb. 2:1).
The danger for us is to grow calloused to the incredible allowances we’ve been given. And perhaps more importantly, we can become desensitized to how we actually get to present our requests before a holy God day in and day out—through the ministry of Christ alone.
It’s not that God has done away with the old system, but that He’s fulfilled it, perfecting it (or completing it) with something better. The tabernacle, the furniture within, and the sacrifices were not intended to last forever; they were copies of the real thing in heaven, put in place until the time of Christ.
For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. (Heb. 9:24)
There is a superior way that includes a superior priesthood. Just as the tabernacle was a picture that foreshadowed the better way to come, so did “Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God” (Heb. 7:1) forshadow the better and more perfect High Priest who was to come.
While the Levitical priesthood did indeed picture the ministry of Christ as mediator, the facts that the Levitical priests were many in number, were “prevented by death from continuing in office” (Heb. 7:23), and had to offer sacrifices over and over again for their own sins as well as for those of the people, meant that the picture they presented fell way short of the true High Priest of heaven.
There is a better picture for us to see.
And that better picture is Melchizedek. Melchizedek is a bit of a mystery, appearing only once at the end of Genesis 14 as Abraham returned in victory from a mini-war against the Canaanite kings of the north. Yet consider this: just as Christ “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26), so does Melchizedek appear only once.
We do know that Melchizedek was both king of Salem and priest of God Most High. This is something that was not possible in the Levitical priesthood, but it is possible with Christ, who is both our High Priest and our King today.
We also see a play on words. The name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness” in Hebrew, and the word Salem (or shalom) means “peace,” making Melchizedek both king of righteousness and king of peace. Sound familiar? There is none other than Jesus who holds the title King of Righteousness and Peace.
The writer of Hebrews also states that Melchizedek’s lack of recorded genealogy pictures Christ’s lack of beginning or end and therefore His ability to continue as a priest forever, since he had “become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life” (Heb. 7:16).
Death could not conquer Jesus as it did the Levitical priests. Therefore,
It is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb. 7:17).
This is a quote from Psalm 110, which was a psalm of David that tied the priesthood to the promised, future Davidic king.
Christ the Lord is our eternal High Priest.
Jesus is “the guarantor of a better covenant” (Heb. 7:22). “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). Though we live with an invitation to approach the God of heaven and come into His presence, it’s not because we’re so great or any better than the Israelites. It’s only because of the continuous intercession of Jesus Christ.
His sacrifice is superior. His covenant is superior. His mediation is superior. It’s based not on the blood of bulls and goats, but on His own blood. It’s needed only once to offer propitiation for the sins of mankind.
I know it might feel like we can just saunter up to God whenever we want, for whatever we want, in whatever way we want. But that’s not how it works. We’ve been invited into the presence of God on the basis of one thing only: the perfect and superior intercession of our High Priest.
Jesus didn’t have to make a way for us, but He chose to make a way for us. And He is still making a way for us and will continue to do so forever. We will not enter heaven one day because of anything we have done or will do, but only because of the faithful and unceasing ministry of Christ Jesus, our High Priest.
So you see, the position of high priest is still very much in effect today. It’s not an ancient institution, but a present reality. O praise the LORD that He saw fit to offer a more perfect way through which we can draw near to God (Heb. 7:19)!
For when the powers of hell accuse me, when holiness escapes me, when habits overwhelm me, and the heaviness of guilt assaults me, therein is Jesus my High Priest intervening: No, she stands, because she is forever and always with me.