Hebrews 4:14-16 – Jesus as High Priest

The book of Hebrews emphasizes the priesthood of Jesus more than any other book in the New Testament. In fact, much of the argument of Hebrews 5-10 is based on Jesus as the High Priest. Two words of caution before discussing Jesus as a High Priest.

high priestFirst, the “high priesthood of Jesus” is based on the ideal form of priest found in the Hebrew Bible, not in the high priesthood as it actually functioned in the first century.  By the first century, the High Priest more a political figure that a religious leader.  Control of the temple and the priesthood gave the office a great deal of power, and this power usually led to great wealth. It is unlikely, however, that the writer of Hebrews has this sort of power in mind.  He consistently looks to the idea image (“the shadow”) from the Hebrew Bible in order to describe the “substance” of Jesus.

By way of analogy, we could study the office of president of the United States as it is described in the constitution, or by the way various presidents have functioned as president over the more than two centuries.  James Buchanan, for example, usually is ranked at the bottom of the list of presidents by historians, mostly for his handling of the issues which erupted into the Civil War. We would not, therefore, want to describe the office of president using Buchanan as our example!

In the same way, the high priests who held office in the first century were politically motivated and not particularly good examples of the way a priest ought to behave in his office. What is remarkable is that the book of Hebrews does not condemn the current High Priest as corrupt, nor does he say anything negative about the worship of the Temple other than it has been completed in Jesus.

Second, the word “priest” has connotations in English which are not present in the function of a Jewish priest.  We are not describing a Catholic or Orthodox priest, but rather the Jewish priest.  This modern sense of the word is not particularly helpful in understanding the priesthood in the Hebrew Bible.  The priest in the Jewish Temple was the mediator between God and man. As such, the office of priest foreshadowed the ministry of Jesus who was provides access to the throne of God for those who have entered into new life through him.

But Jesus is not just the High Priest, but the “great High Priest.” This was a title give to the High Priest Simon in 1 Maccabees (13:42, 14:27). This Simon was one of the founders of the Hasmonean dynasty and the first to take the title of both King and Great High Priest. His first year in power was “the yoke of the Gentiles was removed from Israel” (c. 142 B.C., 1 Macc 13:41). This combination of priest and king was an attempt to consolidate power into the one “office” in Maccabean revival of the kingdom in Judah.

How does the author of Hebrews distinguish Jesus as a high priest from the politically powerful priests of the first century?

26 thoughts on “Hebrews 4:14-16 – Jesus as High Priest

  1. I have the high priest outfit – just like in your picture. I do it as a presentation – putting one piece of the outfit on a model at a time, and explaining each piece from the OT, and making it relevant to the New Testament and how Jesus was the great high priest, etc. I inherited it from my father, who was a Bible teacher, now in his 80’s. I’ve done the presentation several times and it is always well received and the audience is fascinated. My audiences have been informed Christians, but to less informed you would need to make clear OT Jewish priesthood vs modern day priest, etc.

    • Where did your father get the outfit?

      I do find most Christians do not have a the understanding of the details the priesthood or tabernacle necessary to “get Hebrews.” Sometimes they have to unlearn some bad theology before getting into the book!

      • Years ago a group of women with sewing skills at a church made it for my dad. They did top notch work – not only following the biblical descriptions, but the quality of material they used and the skill of their sewing.

  2. It seems to me that the most OBVIOUS distinction that the writer of Hebrews makes is the one found in Hebrews 10:4. When he writes that the blood of animals “cannot take away sins” he is making a distinction that this is no ordinary priest and should not be associated with any kid of political figure. The author is not interested in the priest himself, but rather his actions. In a similar way today one could read that to say that Jesus is like a president who “provides for the general welfare.” We are not then referring to one certain image of a president, but rather the ideal way that a president should be seen. I think the obvious danger of this probably came in the delivery if this was in fact a “mishna” of some kind. It’s one of those issues that depends a lot on the way that the reader views the word. “Priest” could have certainly been something negative, but someone who takes away sins isn’t likely going to have the same bad image.

  3. I think that the book of Hebrews distinguishes the recent high priest and Jesus, the ultimate High Priest, through a couple of means. The first that I would like to point out would be that Jesus is not described as a priest in the line of Aaron, but he is rather attributed to being a High Priest from the line of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7), which is interesting because that line is not from the original tribes of Israel. I don’t know if the line of Melchizedek is an actual genealogy that Jesus is a part of, or rather a title for a Priest that assumes both the roles of King and High Priest. The traditional line of the high priest is also under the authority of Abraham, the patriarch of Israel; the line of Melchizedek, however, is above Abraham, as shown by Hebrews 7:4-7, which shows that Jesus is above the whole of Israel as both the High Priest and the King. Another distinction, is that Hebrew only refers to the Tabernacle, not the temple. It is quite possible that the temple had developed a tradition of corruption and had became tainted, as shown in Jesus’s rebuke of the temple practices (Luke 19:45-46), and in an effort to evoke a time when the people were closer to God chose to refer to the tabernacle.

  4. The priest, as you mentioned, is a mediator between the sins that humans commit and the atonement for our sins before the father. They are the ones who go before God and offer up our sins to be cleansed. Jobes in “Letters to the Church” points out that the priest must first make an atoning sacrifice for themselves, purifying themselves, and then once that was completed they were able to present the sacrificial blood in the temple (95). Jesus was fully human and Hebrews four mentions he is our priest, but because he is also God he would not have needed to present an offering to atone for his own sin because he had none. As nicholasewald pointed out Hebrews 10:4, that animals couldn’t take away the sin of the world. Messiah becomes higher than the other priests because he doesn’t just offer up the sacrifice he was the sacrifice. Not only that but, he is also higher than the other priests because they would only go into the Holy of holies one day a year, but the Messiah sits at the right hand of God being able to mediate for us constantly.

  5. The purpose of Jesus coming down was to atone for the human race’s sins, but in order to do that one must be what they are representing, which in this case is human. The priest in this day was meant to be a representation of the people to God as mentioned in Letters to the Church (94). Hebrews 5:1 goes farther in saying that the High priest is not just the representation, but they are the one’s to bring the sacrifices for sin. Not anyone could be the High Priest because this meant standing in the presence of God, and in order to do so one must be pure. For priests that meant a lot of rituals, but Jesus did not need to do so because He was blameless as mentioned in Hebrew 7:25-27. To put a distinction between Jesus and the priests of the time is through lineage. The priest’s are from the line of Aaron, while, like Malchizedek, Jesus is not from that lineage (104; Ps 110:4). A key difference to distinguish was were they worked.As Letter to the Church mentions, it is possible that Jesus working in the outer courts was a way to “distance the priestly work of Jesus from the first-century temple in Jerusalem, with all its politics and corruption…” (109).

  6. There was a huge reason why we needed Christ as our high priest. We needed perfection. Hebrews 2:17-18 states it nicely: “For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” We need someone with the ability to have complete access to God. The only way to have that is to be completely without sin. The only one without sin is God, so He made Himself flesh, i.e. Jesus, to be able to become our mediator. Our high priest does not need atoning sacrifices to commune with the Father, he sits at His right hand.

  7. Reading this blog was quite interesting and moreover, quite thought provoking as it relates to comparing the high priest in the 1st century and Jesus being the “great high priest”. Hebrews 4:14-16 explicitly makes it known that our high priest has been tested and temped in every way, yet has not sinned. When we look at the priests in the first century, most if not all never went nearly through the events that Jesus went through. Jesus’ priesthood stands as the most iconic and sought after era of his time. The priests during the time of Jesus had or mirrored some of the principles that Jesus did. However, Jesus as a priest when he was alive, was his acts being more personable, like his parables and miracles. Jesus was distinguished quite differently than the political priests because Hebrews explains him empathizing with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). No other priest in that time could empathize with their peoples weakness’, other than Jesus. Because of this, I fully agree with Jesus being called “Great High Priest”.

  8. I like to go to Hebrews 4:14-16. The high priests in the temple were known for being hypocritical and self-righteous. But Jesus was the “good” high priest, the perfect high priest. Because of His humanness, He was able to relate to mankind on every level and because of this, He as God was able to show immense compassion and mercy. I would even go ass far to say that because of Jesus’ station as the high priest this is why Peter refers to the nation of Israel as a nation of royal priests (1 Peter 2:9.)

  9. I really like how you better explained the correlation of Jesus as the high priest. I also appreciated and better understood the concept with the analogy of the past presidents of the United States. With Jesus being the high priest, I believe that the author of Hebrews did not find it necessary to interject any sort of comments towards the current high priest and the corruption that was occurring. In other words, the author was eagerly trying to explain that Jesus as the new high priest and as the ultimate high priest. The occurrences that had taken place in the past with former high priests was not important. The only thing that was important is Jesus. Like Jobes states, “Jesus sacrifice is the last one, in contrast to the unending priests.” (99). Jesus was considered much high than the priest or servants to God in the past. Hebrews 3:3 states it perfectly. “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.” I like the analogy the author of Hebrews uses about the house. It gives a reassuring explanation of just how incredible Jesus was. Jesus was the final, and most important part to God’s new covenant.

  10. The idea of Christ as the great high priest is rather intriguing. I like that you made the distinction between the previous priests and Jesus. The priests of the Old Testament were not perfect, but Jesus is and was. This is a tremendously important piece of information that we must remember when considering the idea of Jesus being the great high priest. Personally, I think the analogy is great considering the role, respect, and authority given to the high priests in the Old Testament.

    First, the high priest was very respected by the people and was given special privileges such as being able to be the mediator between God and the people. The high priest was the only one who was able to enter the Holy of Holies to make a sacrifice on behalf of the people on the Day of Atonement. The similarities to who Christ is and what He did for mankind blows my mind. First, Christ is the mediator between man and God the Father (Hebrews 12:24; 1 Timothy 2:5). Second, Christ performed the greatest sacrifice for our sins on our behalf and for us so that we may be saved.

    Finally, I really like what Jobes has to say on this matter in Ch. 3 of Letters to the Church: A Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles. She points out, just as you have, that the priests in the Old Testament were not perfect; however, Jesus was and is the perfect priest who made the perfect sacrifice. This is why the New Covenant is superior to the Old Covenant.

  11. P. Long goes into great depths on the amount by which Hebrews describes Jesus has the High Priest, mentioning how this is not in the sense that we think of a priest but in the sense of a mediator between God and humanity. Jobes separates Jesus as High Priest from other High Priests, in the way that Jesus’ resurrection causes Jesus’ atoning work as High Priest to continue on for eternity and to always represent us to God (Jobes Pg. 97). This is vastly different from past High Priests as past High Priests died and were never resurrected. Hebrews 4:14-16 also further separates Jesus from other High Priests, who P. Long describes as very political, as describing Jesus as one who can sympathize with us in every aspect. Yes, the other High Priests could relate to others but were too involved politically and prideful to relate to those below them, and though Jesus is the most High Priest, He came to relate and be with the sick (Matthew 9:12). In this way Jesus is unlike the other High Priests, He both continues to represent and cleanse humanity to God and also sympathize with us in every way as He was also tempted. Jesus is also separated by the author of Hebrews by writing, in Hebrews 10:12, that Jesus takes a set at the right hand of God after making one sacrifice for all sins. This is a reference to the fact that in the tabernacle there were no sets because the work of Priests were never done. But in the work of the most High Priest, the work is indeed finished, and Jesus has accomplished substitutionary atonement for all humanity, once and for all! Thus, in these ways Jesus as High Priest is very much so different and separated from the High Priests of that time.

  12. Jesus, as the great high priest, is not only the Son of God, also the Son of Man, who was able to to hold the role as holy and sympathetic, the final sacrifice for our sins and finalize it with His blood. Jesus being the great high priest reassures us that is has passed through the heavens taking his rightful place at the right hand of the Most High, that in Him we can receive eternal life. In his sympathetic character he can relate to us, but without sin. He is truly holy and without sin, making him the greatest holiness priest to represent all creation. This gives us the confidence to trust in him and believe with faith that with have someone to represent us daily and intercedes for us.

  13. I had not made the immediate connection of Christ as the Most High Priest until dissecting the concept in the book of Hebrews and the connection with the Old Testament and Jewish culture. Christ truly had to become fully human so that He could be the everlasting priest for believers. Hebrews 10 illustrates the beauty of Christ being the ultimate sacrifice for all believers and for all times. Karen Jobes discusses this concept wonderfully in the book “Letters to the Church” in describing how all the priests before Christ were only temporary mediators for God’s children. Christ is the everlasting Most High Priest who made the ultimate sacrifice through His death and resurrection. It is important to remember that the connection of Christ being the Son of God and the Highest Priest was not made until Christ’s accession into Heaven. I am sure this was a difficult new concept for the Jews to understand the they no longer needed an earthly priest and need to sacrifice animals for the atonement of their sins. The author of Hebrews clearly distinguishes the imperfections of the first century priests and the perfect Most High Priest and the Lamb of God. The author of Hebrews also shares that because of Christ’s sacrifice and the shedding of His blood, believers can fix their eyes on Jesus and openly speak to God while Christ intercedes on their behalf (Hebrews 12: 2).

  14. It is true that Hebrews emphasizes Jesus as the High Priest the most compared to the rest of the books of the Bible. As Professor Long points out the author of Hebrews did not condemn high priests during a time of sinful, greedy high priests. Yet despite that Jesus is called our High Priest, in fact, the “Great High Priest”. As High Priest, Jesus is the intercessor between Christians and God. Jobes points out that not only is Jesus is the High Priest, but He is also the final and ultimate sacrifice. By being the High Priest and ultimate sacrifice, Jesus started the New Covenant. This New Covenant replaces the sacrifices through the blood of Jesus.

  15. I think it is very important to note the significant differences between priests of any historical culture and our modern view of them today and how the author meant to portray Jesus. The authors perspective is the most important perspective to find as this will help in understanding exactly how he is trying to see Jesus. Hebrews is the only place in the New Testament that outrightly portrays Jesus as High Priest. This could just be because of its strong ties to Jewish law and Jewish tradition. I find it interesting that this post mentions the politically motivated priests. When we look back into the gospels, especially during the trial of Jesus (Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 18) we see that Jesus denied and rejected the idea of political power. Pilate mocked Him for it and he simply says, “You have said so”, and then later refuses to answer the chief priests. Just from this evidence we can confer that the author of Hebrews did not mean to portray Jesus as politically ambitious, because He simply never was. When we look deeper into Hebrews 4: 14-16, the high priest is seen as very approachable and merciful. Along with these things, He is portrayed as very human. He can relate to us because He was tempted just as we are. The difference is that He knew no sin (v. 15). Hebrews isn’t the only place that claims the holiness and unblemished nature of Jesus. We see this throughout the New Testament (1 Peter 2; 2 Corinthians 5).

  16. I think the author of Hebrews knew that there did not need to be any correlation between Jesus and the High Priest of the first century. Knowing that Jesus is the son of God, not taking this lightly, due to his messianic sonship. He came to be flesh and to live a life surrounded by temptation, and be like us, except he lived without sin. He is the great high priest because no other priest would have been able to fulfill the sacrifice that Jesus did. An example of this, I think, would be like Cain and Abel (Gen. 4). Granted they were not priests, but that is a similar concept of what I am trying to explain. Karen Jobes mentions in the book “The Letter to the Church” that Adam and Eve had a choice to obey God or his enemy, they chose to sin and everyone after them has to live with that consequences. Later, God would give his Son in order to repair that separation between his people.

  17. Jobes helps define a high priest as someone “who stood as an intermediary between the people and God” (Jobes, 94). Jesus was able to attain and maintain the role of High Priest because He became flesh and blood. Without sin yet fully sharing in our humanity, Jesus became the intermediary between the people of Israel and God. Jesus takes on the role of High priest, by becoming human, defeating sin and atoning for the sins of the whole world. Death could not even defeat Him, “he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1Cor. 15:3). Jesus was the intermediator and great high priest of the human race. Christ brought about God’s redemptive plan through His faultless incarnate walk on earth and through His death and resurrection. Jesus was not held by death, but his resurrection made Him the Eternal High Priest permanently (Heb 7:24). Jesus, therefore, is able to save anyone who believes in Him.
    Jobes states that Jesus is now alive forever (97). Unlike the president of the United States who can only be in office for eight years, Jesus is always in office. Jesus Christ intercedes on our behalf. Jesus’s priesthood was unique because it was based on God’s promise, it was eternal, had no succession, was for all people, and Jesus Christ had no sin (Jobes, 100). It is so cool to know that God actually sent some so perfect to become the great high priest to make such a perfect sacrifice for me. Allowing me to be forgiven and reconciled with Him!

  18. How does the author of Hebrews distinguish Jesus as a high priest from the politically powerful priests of the first century?

    There are a couple of distinguished attributes between Jesus and the political high priest. The main one was the fact he died and rose again to claim our sins. Jesus was the one and only high priest who did or will do that. Jobes says that a high priest is the one who brings an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people to God’s presence. (Jobes, 95). Also, the fact that he sat among the poor and the “nobodies”. The high priest at that time would not let them into the temple nor sit with them. The political high priest did not want to lower himself to their level so to speak. Jesus loved those people, he sat with them and told them the good news. He would heal them and even became a servant like most of them.

  19. We read that Jesus was a high priest, although this is an analogy for the time that Jesus was on earth it still is very much the truth. Jesus was a much different high priest than what all the other high priests. For many reasons, one reason being that he went and dwelt among the lowest of lows, the poor and prostitutes along with the cheaters and tax collectors. All high priests would not have even talked to him, think about the parable of the Samaritan man taking care of the guy beat up. This is a good example of how high priests would’ve dealt with people like Jesus was talking to and being with. Also, Jesus sacrificed his own self for the lives of others and us. All other high priests would’ve been the ones saying that they need to sacrifice someone else, because they saw themselves as better than others. These examples are to show that Jesus was a high priest, but he was the true and only true high priest as he sacrificed his life and everything for others. That is how true high priests and leaders are to treat others like. This is why we view Christ as a high priest.

  20. I do appreciate the way you have explained the correlation of Jesus as the high priest.
    The author of Hebrew distinguishes Jesus as high priest from the politically powerful priests of the first century by showing how Jesus is the great high priest. Jesus is reffered to as the greatest high priest different from the first century priests because He dwelt among the lows, the poor, and ate with sinners. The first century priests would not have talked to Him. These priest excluded themselves and were corrupt and all they cared about was to gather wealth for themselves. Look at the story of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:31, a priest came by a man who was beaten and close to death but he did not help but just passed him. Jesus came and dwelt among man, lived like man and tempeted but yet He overcome the world with no sin. This was so that He can sacrifice Himself for our sins for once and for all.
    Jobes states, “Jesus sacrifice is the last one, in contrast to the unending priests.” (99).
    We see Jesus as the great high priest because of what He did for us when He sacrificed Himself for us fulfilling the duties of a high priest.

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