The Glories of Christ As Our Great High Priest

The Glories of Christ As Our Great High Priest September 16, 2022

While the book of Hebrews is often subjected to rigorous theological debate on some of its contents, the book is one filled with a profound sense of hope. Nestled amidst the several warnings of apostasy one finds several passages intended to encourage the weary, lift up the faint-hearted, and ultimately, direct our affections and intellect back to the person and work of Jesus Christ. The overarching message of the book of Hebrews is the superiority of the Son of God, but its contents are never divorced from strict application to this core teaching. In three words, you could perhaps summarize that application in the command: don’t go back. The temptation, of course, was this very thing.

The weight of pressure and persecution had come upon the church in full and the cost of following Christ was high. Some would be imprisoned, some would lose all of their assets, some would succumb to the lure of sin—yet the pressure would be lifted if they merely turned back to their old ways as Jews and rejected Christ. Yet time and again, the author of Hebrews lifts up this simple reality: Christ is supreme. In fact, as he shows throughout the course of the letter, every aspect of religious life as an Israelite testified to the reality of Christ’s supremacy. Whereas the Old Covenant put forth shadows of this hope to come, the New Covenant would put forth the Son as the pure expression of God’s final Word to us in these last days.

It is in light of this, therefore, that he says the old way brings nothing but death and a fearsome judgment, whereas following Christ brings eternal life. The cost of following Christ might be high, but the cost of turning back was all the higher, as those who apostatized would never come to enter into His rest. The mindset begging to be cultivated then is one of heavenly perspective, meaning that the warnings and encouragements given in this letter are intended to bring the people of God to persevere to the final day. Though temptation should seize them and persecution should buffet them, the call remains: don’t go back.

In much the same way, the temptation to Christ followers today is to return to the former paths we once walked in darkness. Perhaps it comes through a functional denial of taking the hard road of suffering, or, perhaps it that Leviathan we call sin that lures us to its mirey depths. No matter how we stretch it, the call to persevere in our faith is what we must abide in, lest we find ourselves disqualified, having forfeited our heavenly reward by making a shipwreck of our faith. It is for this reason that we are called to hold fast to the confession of our faith—and here the author of Hebrews does not have in mind our own personal, subjective faith, but rather that body of doctrine called the faith. The reason we are called to endure in Hebrews 4:14-16? We have a great High Priest.

While sin bars us from the presence of the Father, it is this great High Priest who brings us into His very throne room. This is a far more glorious reality than most realize. Whereas the former high priests could enter into the holy of holies but once a year to make atonement, Christ is the High Priest par excellence. The Israelites might see the high priest pass from their presence into the tabernacle, but it is Christ Himself who passed through the heavens (Heb. 4:14). The God-man, Christ Jesus, came before the Father to make intercession on behalf of the Christian, and yet He needn’t do so on a yearly to make atonement, or even daily basis to make sacrifices and offerings as the high priests of old. Once was sufficient, and ever will remain sufficient (Heb. 7:27). The ministry of the former high priests, even on that great Day of Atonement, pales in comparison to the efficiency of the great High Priest, who rectifies our plight once and for all.

Secondly, is this great High Priest who is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15a). He was tempted in all ways as we are—and His temptations were very real, perhaps even more so than our own. Think of all the ways Christ was uniquely tempted during His earthly ministry, and then contemplate the reality of the weight of His temptation. The longer temptation surrounds and bombards us, the harder it can become to simply resist that temptation. You and I are tempted in various ways and more often than not, we give in to such temptations after a short struggle. If we were to be brutally honest, we likely don’t even struggle all that much.

Yet Christ endured through the ultimate temptation with great droops of sweat pouring from His face like blood (Lk. 22:44). In every single way, He too was tempted as we are—and the beautiful reality is that in this, Christ does not look down upon mortal men as we would in pride. No, He has compassion upon us and sees our frailty. He sees us as we truly are: men sown in sin, in desperate need of help. In His compassion, He sees our ever-wavering hearts and supplies an even greater grace. He provides us with a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13), and over time, causes us to find besetting sin distasteful and grievous. Yet more gloriously, He intercedes on our behalf, just as a high priest would do, yet in the superlative sense, for He is truly God Himself (Rom. 8:34). In all our weakness, we have a perfect High Priest who, out of His sympathy, aids us in all things.

Thirdly, this great High Priest was tempted as us in every way, yet remained without sin. Here is seen that most splendid reality of Christ being the One who is worthy of His claim as the great High Priest. Whereas former high priests must make a sacrifice for their own sin, Christ is the sacrifice for sin. Only the spotless Lamb of God could satisfy the wrath of the Father, and only the spotless Lamb can come before the Father without the stain of sin impeding Him.

Even the high priests of old failed primarily in that they too could not remain pure enough to forego their own need for sacrifice and atonement. Yet Christ need not purify Himself, for He is the very embodiment of holiness. Thus, we know, truly and fully, this perfect Son of Man could enter into the presence of the Father and offer Himself as a substitute for the sinner. What the blood of lambs and goats could not accomplish, Christ Himself accomplished perfectly, which is the complete removal of our sins (Heb. 10:4).

Therefore, in light of the fact that Christ is our great High Priest, who perfectly made atonement for our sins, sympathizes with us in our weaknesses, and was tempted, yet remained without sin, we are to confidently enter into the presence of God at any time (Heb. 4:16). This reality is altogether mind-blowing. In the days of the former high priests, only those designated as such could enter into the presence of God in the tabernacle.

If the average Israelite were to stumble in, even by accident, it would mean a sure and quick death. Yet it is Christ, through His blood, who grants us direct access to the Father. Even though God should immense mercy and grace in forgiving the sins of His people through the work of the high priests of old, there remained a very strict sense of separation. No individual layman could approach the throne, yet in Christ, the temple veil is torn in two and every man, woman, and child in Christ can come boldly before the face of God. Sinners are no longer required to keep their distance, but are invited into the presence of the mighty Sovereign One.

Each and every day, the genuine believer has direct access to the Father. We need not go through another mediator between God and man. We can draw near to God in full confidence, knowing that because of Christ, we will receive mercy and grace in our time of need. Beloved, this is why we don’t go back. This is the very essence of the gospel itself, for though our sins once created a chasm between us and God, through Christ, we are told to enter into the Lord’s presence with courage, knowing that our gracious God will ever and always continue to give us grace.

And yet so often, we shrink back. We are tempted to remove ourselves from the Lord, as if our sin is too great and our weaknesses too limiting—but that is precisely the point. It is Christ who emboldens us to go before our Father and make our requests. It is Jesus who enables us to approach the Father even in the first place. It is purely through the grace of God in Christ that we find ourselves placed before the Father, but it is not as if the Lord saves us by grace and then changes the rules of engagement. When we sin and are tempted to return to our old ways, that is precisely the time we ought to come to God, for in Christ, we have our perfect Representative who stands in our stead.

There is a peculiar glory in this that seems counterintuitive to our finite minds, but the point I am seeking to make is that the first place we ought to go when we find ourselves weak, laden with sin, weary of the battle, and even tempted to go the easier route of returning to our past devices, is before the face of God. That is where we find our hope and our Helper. It is shrinking back that brings the most dangerous consequences, for it is there that we find no grace and mercy. Rest securely, believer, knowing that Christ is your great High Priest, and as such, you are not merely welcome to stumble into the presence of the Lord. You are invited to come boldly, and to expect sufficient grace and mercy in your time of need.

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