Of the titles given to Jesus, “priest” is the only one that has virtually an entire book of the New Testament devoted to explaining it—the letter to the Hebrews. The author of Hebrews is anonymous, but his message is clear: in the face of life’s difficulties, he encourages his readers, including us, to “consider Jesus,”1 to be “looking to Jesus,”2 and especially to see him as our great high priest.
A "More Excellent" Priest
To understand the encouragement this message offers, we must understand what it would have meant to the first Hebrews who came to faith in Jesus.
Listen to the sermon Great High Priest
In Philippians, Paul tells us that as a result of his own conversion to Christianity, he had “lost many things.”3 The same was true of other Jewish converts: upon becoming believers, they would have been personally, socially, and spiritually disinherited, excommunicated from the families, friendships and societies that made up the fabric of their lives. Their familiar place of worship, the temple, would have been closed to them. Perhaps worst of all, the high priest—the only man who, on the Day of Atonement, was allowed to enter the sacred “holiest of holies” to seek God’s forgiveness for the people—would have been hidden from their sight.
It is to such people that the writer of Hebrews penned his encouraging words, reminding them that in Jesus, God met their loss with an even greater gift: a “great high priest” who is merciful, faithful, and perfect, who is not “unable to sympathize with our weakness,” but “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”4 As their priest, he wrote, Jesus had provided them with a real salvation5, a final sacrifice6, and a better sanctuary7 than they had ever known.
It is almost as if he is saying to them, “What will keep you going in the way of the gospel of Jesus Christ is catching a glimpse of his greatness—specifically, what makes him such a great high priest. You have not lost—you have gained. You do not have less—you have more. Christ has done everything generations of high priests could not do. They were only shadows—he is the reality!”
Christ's Priestly Work
But what of us today? If Jesus is our great high priest as well, how does his work impact our contemporary lives?
Scripture suggests two dimensions of Jesus’ priestly work. The first is his finished work: in his death and resurrection, he has done everything necessary for our salvation to be accomplished. As Hebrews 2 puts it:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.8
But Jesus also applies his finished work. There is therefore also the unfinished work of Christ—his ongoing ministry among his people, speaking as a prophet from God to man, and interceding as a priest to God on man’s behalf. He is our perfect worship leader, present in and guiding every worship service we attend. He is our perfect preacher, calling us through God’s Word, expounded in the power of the Spirit, to spiritual wakefulness. He is our perfect praise leader, declaring with the psalmist, “In the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”9
He holds His children with one hand, and He holds on to his Father with the other hand, and as He draws near to Him, He says, "Father, here I am, and the children you have given to me."
And there is even more to the Lord’s ongoing ministry than this. Hebrews tells us that “he always lives to make intercession” for us, and so “he is able to save to the uttermost.”10 That means he is also able to save us from “the uttermost”—whatever that might be in our lives. He holds his children with one hand, and he holds on to his Father with the other hand, and as he draws near to Him, He says, “Father, here I am, and the children you have given to me.”
Before the Throne, Present with Us
Many contemporary Christians have come to appreciate the hymn “Before the Throne of God Above,” which encourages us with the truth that in heaven we have “A great High Priest whose name is love / Who ever lives and pleads for me.” The reality of gospel worship is that this same Jesus, by the power of the Spirit, is also present with us.
Have you ever come to Jesus, trusted him, and said, “My sins, Lord Jesus! You are the only one who can set my guilty conscience free, break the bondage of my soul, bring me into your presence, and help me to praise, glorify, and enjoy God forever”?
Jesus, our great high priest, will do all of this simultaneously. What a Savior!
Name above All Namesby Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson
Other articles in this series:
- Jesus Christ: Humble Servant
- Jesus Christ: Compassionate Shepherd
- Jesus Christ: Personal Evangelist
- Jesus Christ: Suffering Servant
- Jesus Christ: Great High Priest
- Jesus Christ: Divine King
- Jesus Christ: Lamb on the Throne
Truth For Life, The Bible-Teaching Ministry of Alistair Begg has adapted this content with permission from Name above All Names by Alistair Begg and Sinclair B. Ferguson (Crossway, 2013).
1) Hebrews 3:1 2) Hebrews 12:2 3) Philippians 3:8 4) Hebrews 4:14–16 5) Hebrews 7:23–25 6) Hebrews 9:11–12 7) Hebrews 12:18–24 8) Hebrews 2:14–15 9) Hebrews 2:12 10)Hebrews 7:25