Research Fellowship in Biblical Studies

Jesus, Our Faithful High Priest

This post is part of an ongoing series exploring Biblical theology. Tim Bertolet is a Research Fellow with the BibleMesh Institute.

5 minute read.

One of the important aspects of Jesus’ work described to us in the book of Hebrews is his role as our high priest. In the Old Testament, the high priest is the one who went into the presence of God on behalf of God’s people by entering the Tabernacle and later the Temple. Once a year, on the day of Atonement, the high priest would carry the blood of a sacrificed goat into the Holy of Holies. That inner sanctum that symbolized God’s throne was where the ark of the covenant resided. The high priest would sprinkle the blood over the ark of the covenant and purify the sins of the people for a year.

Jesus has become for us a high priest. He is the fulfillment of the office of priesthood. Hebrews tells us that he became for us a merciful and faithful high priest.

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb. 2:17-18)

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:14-16)

First, to become a high priest Jesus had to become truly human and “like his brothers in every respect.” The high priesthood, like his office of kingship, is an office that Christ carries out in his humanity. It is not an office he exercises in his preincarnate state. The priest had to be one from among the people of God, one from “the brothers” so that he could stand representatively for God’s people. So too, Christ has to be human so he can represent human beings in the presence of God. Hebrews 5:1 makes this clear as well “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” If there is no incarnation, there is no priesthood for the Son of God.

Second, the high priest makes propitiation for the sins of the people. This occurs in the entire event of the day of Atonement. First, there is the sacrifice of the goat outside the inner sanctums of the temple. Then, and arguably most importantly, the high priest carries that blood into the Holy of Holies and sprinkles the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. This is the place of the propitiation. As Leviticus puts it:

Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.” (Lev. 16:16)

By this the tabernacle is cleansed, God’s wrath is abated, and fellowship is restored. God can continue to dwell in the midst of the people. Finally, the high priest comes out and lays hands on a second goat, the Azazel, which is sent into the wilderness signaling that the people’s sin is truly departed.

Third, in Hebrews Jesus is our high priest who goes into the true temple of God. The true temple is not the earthly tabernacle or temple we saw in the Old Testament. The Bible tells us that the true throne of God is in heaven (Ps. 11:4; Isa. 66:1). Of course, heaven is something God created and there is a lot of symbolic imagery and language that goes on. But Hebrews and Exodus tell us that when the tabernacle was made, God showed Moses the pattern in heaven (Heb. 8:5; Ex. 25:40). God exercises his rule over all things from heaven. The day of Atonement in the Old Testament was something repeated yearly in the earthly tabernacle to show us what Christ would need to do for us ultimately in heaven, the true tabernacle / place of God. This is why Hebrews says, “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens” (Heb. 4:14).

Finally, as a high priest Jesus who continues to minister mercy and grace to us. This is what high priests “do.” Speaking of high priests in general, Hebrews tells us, “He [the high priest] can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness” (Heb. 5:2). While Jesus did not have any sin, we are told in Hebrews 2:18 and 4:15 that he was tempted in every way. He knows what it is like to struggle and fight against temptation. He knows hardship. He experienced suffering. He has had such experiences of lowliness and need that he has desperately cried out to God the Father to save him (Heb. 5:7). He has wailed tears. He has walked through the valley of the shadow of death.

This experience fits Jesus to be a perfect minister to you and me. He can sympathize with us. He understands the feelings. He understands desperation, need, tears, and despair. He walked through all these things faithfully and without sin but he walked through them. He understands. He learned obedience through suffering (Heb. 5:8). And now, as our priest, he can help. He will help.

When you come to Christ you will find a high priest who will minister to you. He is gentle and caring. Matthew 12:20 says “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench,” In Jesus, we have a representative in heaven who is at the same time our king and our high priest. When you pray and cry out in desperation he hears.

Not only does Jesus Christ hear your prayers, but he delights in ministering mercy and grace. Sometimes, we think God is going to respond in a way that is callous and cold. In seasons of despair and desperation where we are constantly calling to God for help, it can be easy to think that he’s going to get tired of hearing from us. If you’ve struggled with a sin for years, it can be tempting to think that the Lord is going to get tired of having to bail you out. As if he is going to cluck his tongue and say, “I can’t believe we’re here again. Haven’t you learned your lesson?” But this isn’t who Jesus is (nor is God the Father this way, for that matter).

Jesus is most able and most willing to hear and help. He delights in sending his mercy and grace. You can approach the throne of grace as a throne of grace. It is not a throne of wrath, nor a throne of ambivalence. It is a throne from where Jesus and the Father dispense mercy, grace, and love to the children of God. Jesus is able and willing. Come to him and know that you will “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16b).

Tim Bertolet

Tim Bertolet

Timothy Bertolet currently serves with the missionary sending agency ABWE International, located in Harrisburg, PA. He has also served as youth, and then a senior pastor at two different churches, and earned a PhD in New Testament Studies from the University of Pretoria.