How is Jesus our High Priest?
Hebrews has several passages depicting Jesus as the High Priest (Hebrews 2:17; 3:1; 4:14-5:10; 6:20; 7:11-8:2; 10:12). The office of priest was an important one in the Old Testament system and is fulfilled by Jesus.
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In the Jewish system, a priest mediated between the people and God. Aaron and his descendants were appointed priests, with the tribe of Levi serving as assistants in the Tabernacle (Numbers 3:5-10). The Levites were viewed as belonging to God (Numbers 3:12); they were set apart. The priests, too, were set apart (holy). Specific regulations for the priests can be found in Leviticus 21 – 22. The high priest was the chief religious leader and had certain duties. Among those duties were wearing the Urim and Thummin to assist in determining the will of God and overseeing the other priests. Most importantly, it was the high priest who entered into the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Only the high priest could enter and, before doing so, he was required to make a sacrifice for himself. In this way the high priest was cleansed and could then go on to offer the cleansing sacrifices for the people (Leviticus 16).
Jesus as High Priest mediates for us. His sacrifice is what provides cleansing for our sins. Rather than a yearly (or daily) atonement, Jesus' sacrifice is once-for-all (Hebrews 10:1-18). Jesus, like the high priests of Old Testament times, stands in the gap between us (the people) and God. He made the necessary sacrifice for us (Jesus was without sin so did not need to offer a sacrifice for Himself as did the high priests of the Old Testament). We have been made righteous by Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21) and are now able to enter into God's presence. This mediation of Jesus is permanent and continual. Hebrews 7:23-25 says, "The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever." While Jesus' sacrifice was once-for-all, His mediation for us continues. Jesus also communicates the will of God to us through His teachings and through the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).
Jesus is not only our High Priest, but also a "priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 7:11-22). Melchizedek is introduced in Genesis 14. He is said to be both a king and a priest (Genesis 14:18). He met Abram (later known as Abraham) after Abram's battle victory. In their meeting, Melchizedek blessed Abram, and Abram gave him a tenth of everything, thus confirming Melchizedek's priesthood and authority. The writer of Hebrews explains that Jesus is of this order of priests – His priesthood is based on authority rather than on lineage (Hebrews 7:11-17), and it is also kingly. Therefore, Jesus' priesthood institutes a new way of being: "For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well" (Hebrews 7:12). With Jesus as High Priest, a new covenant is in effect.
Perhaps the most crucial thing for believers to understand today is that it is because Jesus is our High Priest that we can approach God with confidence (Hebrews 4:16). We no longer need to go through earthly mediators. Jesus has broken the barrier, made the sacrifice, established a new covenant, and reinstituted our relationship with God. Because of our High Priest, we are free to come to God.
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