Jesus, the Great High Priest

By Pastor Teck Uy

The Old Testament prescribed a way by which a man could be atoned for his sins. The process involved a High Priest that would act as mediator between God and man, and was done in the temple once a year during the Day of Atonement. The temple area was divided into two by a thick curtain, with one side called the Holy of Holies and the other called the Holy Place. Access to the Holy of Holies was restricted to the High Priest alone, and the other priests doing their temple duties were confined to the Holy Place. The rest of the priests and the people coming to make sacrifices were in the outer court. While the High Priest served as mediator, he himself was subject to sin. For this reason, he had to offer a sacrifice for himself first before he could offer the sacrifices on behalf of the people. If he happened to have sinned, he would die in the Holy of Holies. Since no one else could enter the Holy of Holies, the High Priest, before he entered, would tie a rope on one of his feet by which he would be pulled out of the Holy of Holies if he did die.

In the New Testament, we have Jesus as the Great High Priest. He is greater than the High Priest of old in many ways. The Book of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16). These verses highlight the supremacy of Jesus’ priesthood, his intimate empathy and his abundant grace. He is now seated at the right hand of God, ever living to make intercession for us.

The priesthood of Jesus is greater than all since it is from everlasting to everlasting. His priesthood is not on the basis of regulation as to his ancestry but in the order of Melchizedek, without beginning of days or end of life. Unlike the priests of old, Jesus did not descend from the line of Aaron but became a priest on the basis of an indestructible life. For this reason, we can hold firmly to the faith we have in him. Through his death, he paved the way for us to be able to enter the Holy of Holies. The Bible tells us that the moment Jesus died on the cross “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matt. 27:51). We can now access God directly through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest.

Jesus’ priesthood is punctuated by his empathy. The reason for this was that Jesus was “made like us 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” (Heb. 2:17-18). Having been tempted himself and having suffered in the hands of men, he knows exactly what we are feeling when we also are being tempted or going through difficult times. He does not only sympathize with us but he also empathizes. His empathy was fully demonstrated when Jesus wept upon seeing Mary, and the Jews with her, weeping for her brother Lazarus who died earlier.

Many claim that the reason why Jesus was able to resist temptation was that he is God. While it is true that he is God, he was made fully human just like us in every way. What Jesus demonstrated was that sinning is man’s choice. We may choose to resist temptation or submit to it. It is only when we submit to it that we sin. It is for this reason that we need the abundant grace of God that we may not live in sin. We cannot live the holy life that God demands from us apart from living under the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, just like the apostle Paul. He said, “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 1:14).

While we shall face many trials, temptations and troubles in life, our joy is that Jesus had already made a way for us to approach God directly and present to him our prayers and petitions. Unlike in the old order where we needed to go through a human High Priest to present our petitions, we now have the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who is seated at the right hand of God in heaven. The curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies had been torn into two through his death. Therefore, “let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  God is merciful and gracious, abounding in love and faithfulness. Praise the Lord!