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Great are the Offices He Bears (3): Our Great High Priest

T Wilson, Glasgow

The writer to the Hebrews gloried in "another priest", not called "after the order of Aaron" (Heb 7.11), that God has provided to bring many sons to glory. That other priest was necessary because of the imperfections that marked the lineage of Aaron – men "compassed with infirmity" (5.2), "which have infirmity" (7.28), who needed to offer sacrifices for their own sins (5.3;7.27); men who "were not suffered to continue by reason of death (7.23). Indeed, before the Lord Jesus appeared among men "to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (9.26) other limitations had become evident.

A Priest with Urim and Thummim – Qualified to Serve

Judah’s return from exile in Babylon (5th century BC) presented many problems, one of which was related to the priesthood. Although the available records in which the names of those registered as being of the family of Aaron were searched, Nehemiah was confronted with some claiming to be priests whose genealogy could not be validated. These he dismissed as polluted from priestly service and forbad their partaking of the most holy things. Normally questions could be raised with the High Priest, some of which he would answer using the two special stones in his breastplate. Nehemiah’s decision was final but only "till there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim" (Neh 7.63-65).

The deficiencies Nehemiah detected in Eliashib and many who followed him in the office of High Priest were not restricted to matters requiring the use of Urim and Thummim; they were marked by grave moral shortcomings (Neh 13.7-9), later replicated in the first century AD in men like Annas and Caiaphas. Over the generations after Nehemiah, there were those who saw the need for "another priest" (Heb 7.11).

We have no need to await the arrival of another priest with a breastplate containing the Urim and Thummim. The other priest who has arisen is the One to whom Peter said, "Thou knowest all things" (Jn 21.17). Among the "all things" He knows, Paul says, are His people: "The Lord knoweth them that are his" (2 Tim 2.19). He knows every saint and acknowledges their right to serve as priests, whether they be young or old, male or female. He expects no less of them in moral purity than He did of Israel’s priests: "touch no unclean thing…be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord" (Is 52.11).

A Priest after the Order of Melchisedec – Blessed by the Better

The Hebrew writer points to the testimony of Scripture that spoke of another priest – "a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec" (7.17; Ps 110.4-6). The appointment of this other priest was to involve an oath. Strangely, the first reader of Psalm 110 also learned that this Priest will one day assert Israel’s military supremacy over her enemies. Five hundred years later, Zechariah wrote about crowns and "a priest upon his throne" (Zech 6.1-13). The crowns are not to be confused with the golden plate fixed to the mitre of the Aaronic High Priest. Zechariah was pointing forward to "another priest". That other priest when He appeared was also described as "another king, one Jesus" (Acts 17.7). This other priest is described by the Hebrew writer in a variety of ways, among which we note that He is:

• "a priest/high priest...after the order of Melchisedec" (Heb 5.6,10; 6.20; 7.11,15,17)

• "a great high priest/great priest" (Heb 4.14; 10.21, JND)

• "an high priest of good things to come" (Heb 9.11).

Melchisedec is one of the "most mysterious and unaccountable personages"1 on the page of Scripture, of whom space "would fail me to tell" (Heb 11.32). He was great enough to receive tithes from, and then to bless, Abraham. In blessing Abraham, notes the writer, he blessed the whole family of Levi, from which tribe Israel’s priests had come (Heb 7.1-10). Although they were still in the loins of Abraham when Melchisedec met him, it was as if the whole progeny of Levi stood there being blessed by one greater than their patriarchal father. Genesis 14 establishes that the Melchisedec priesthood preceded that of Aaron by four centuries; Hebrews 7.7 establishes that the Melchisedec priesthood supersedes the Aaronic priesthood in glory, for "the less is blessed of the better" (v.7). The record of Genesis 14, by its omissions, has lessons to teach about the One who is now a priest after the order of Melchisedec – the eternity of His being and the perpetuity of His priesthood. We who are Christ’s are blessed by, and in, a greater than Aaron.

A Great Priest – Invited to Enter through the Veil

The solitary tasks of Aaron on the Day of Atonement were many, none of which he could delegate to his sons. In the record of the divine requirements of Aaron set out in Leviticus 16 he is never accompanied. No man was to be in the Tabernacle as he, as the anointed priest, was to make atonement for himself, his house, the priests and all the people of the congregation (Lev 16.6,24,33). Only two tasks were allotted to others: "a fit man" was to let go the live scapegoat in the wilderness, and some would be involved in burning the sin offerings (Lev 16.21,26-28). On that important day, Aaron stood alone.

The One who has offered one sacrifice and has sat down is the "great priest" ("high priest", AV) who has consecrated for us a new and living way "through the veil, that is to say, his flesh" (Heb 10.2,19-20). He also undertook that great work altogether alone. Having entered into the Holiest, He is saluted by the writer as "a great priest over the house of God" (Heb 10.21, JND). How different our lot, because Christ is the Great Priest over the house of God. We hear no prohibition against entering within the veil; on the contrary, we hear words that encourage us to enter the Holiest. We are invited to "draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith" with a fitness that no Levitical priest ever knew. To do less than respond daily to that invitation is to waver with doubts about the faithfulness of this Great Priest. There we find a Priest who is able to be touched by the feeling of our infirmities (Heb 4.15); there we find grace in our time of need; there we commune with One who is singularly equipped to bless us as He sees our need. No matter our circumstances, we know that our Great Priest has offered up prayers and supplications in the completion of a curriculum of sufferings related to His learning obedience. He knows the pressures we face and the pains we are experiencing.

A Priest of Good Things to Come – Sharing the Fruits of His Work

The testing period for earnest souls on the Day of Atonement was the period during which Aaron or a later High Priest functioned in the Holiest of all before the mercy seat. Moses describes it as the period "until [the high priest]…come out and have made atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel" (Lev 16.17). From the sin of Nadab and Abihu onwards, they waited prayerfully until he came out, having secured the atonement for one more year. Not until Aaron or one of his successors as the anointed priest appeared was the nation assured that a basis had been laid for God to dwell among His people for another year. To the thoughtful saints of that period, the Day of Atonement was all-important. It was also a period when they afflicted their souls (Lev 16.29,31).

What are those "good things to come"? They are associated with the One who has come as Priest. Many, if not all, of those "good things" had been promised before His coming into the world. The Lord’s people today enjoy those "good things". The context points to eternal redemption, serving the living God, the blessings of the new covenant, and the appearing of our Priest in presence of God for us (9.14-24). When this "high priest of good things to come" appears the second time He will not need to repeat the once-for-all sacrifice He made at Calvary. There will be "good things" for the penitents of Israel and a great multitude from the Gentiles. They will be accepted in the fragrance of the sacrifice made when He appeared the first time. Among the "good things" the saved of Israel will learn is the meaning of the scapegoat for their nation – the complete and everlasting putting away of all their transgressions. Zechariah 12.10 observes that it will not be learned without many tears, when they look on Him whom they pierced.

To be continued.

1 The Expositor’s Bible – Marcus Dods.


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