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Teaching series from Hebrews

Jesus Our High Priest

Hebrews 5,7

Teaching t04998


Last week, we introduced the concept of priesthood. In 4:14, the author introduces Jesus as our high priest. Before we go on with our study of this letter, we need to understand a little more about what priests are and why they are necessary.

The Bible teaches that no human can have direct dealings with God. Why? Because we're unqualified to enter God's presence the way we are. This is because God is so different (holy) than we are. Specifically, he is morally righteous, and our sinfulness constitutes a real barrier to communion with God. If we were to just walk into his presence as we are, we would be destroyed by his righteousness.

Therefore, if we want to have dealings with God, we must have a mediator - someone who goes between us and straightens out the problems that exist between us and God. This is what a priest is.

God met this need in the Old Testament period through the Levitical priesthood. Priests from the tribe of Levi mediated between God and his people via a complex, cumbersome system of sacrifices and rituals. Several Old Testament books were devoted to how this system was to work (Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy). The author explains a little about those priests in 5:1-4 (read).

The problem the audience was having was how their faith in Jesus affected the validity of the Levitical priesthood. What were they to do with all of the Old Testament material which commanded them to approach God through the Levitical priestly system? They believed that Jesus was their Messiah, but since he wasn't a Levite he didn't qualify as a priest. So they evidently continued to approach God through the Levitical system.

The author's solution is that the Old Testament itself taught that the Messiah would replace the Levitical priesthood. Before we read his commentary on those passages in chapter 7, let's look the Old Testament passages themselves. The first one is quoted in vs 7...

The Author's Case

Psalm 110

Read vs 1-3. David speaks of one superior to him who is a great king. His kingship is made even more clear in vs 5-7 (read). David was speaking of the Messiah (God's chosen king) who is portrayed in exactly this way in many Old Testament passages (Ps.2; 2Sam.7).

But the Messiah would be not only a King who exercises God's rule over people. Read vs4. But unlike the Old Testament system which separated kingship and priesthood into different offices, he would also be a priest who provides access to God. This big change is why God is so insistent in vs 4a. And not a Levitical priest - he would be a "priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." Who was Melchizedek? For the answer to this question, we must turn to the other Old Testament passage...


This passage records a seemingly insignificant event in the life of a great man - Abraham (FATHER OF JEWS & LEVITICAL PRIESTS). Explain setting and read passage (EBLA). What does this passage teach us about Melchizedek? And what bearing does this have on the Levitical priesthood? Let's let the author of Hebrews tell us...


Read vs 1-3. Who was Melchizedek? It's not exactly clear. Maybe he was the pre-incarnate Christ. Maybe he was a TYPE of Christ (vs 3 "like"). He definitely foreshadowed Jesus as a king-priest of Jerusalem, and maybe the bread and wine he gave to Abraham came with an explanation of his death for our sins.

Read vs 4-7. Vs 7 refers to what is known as the filial principle: those who are of lesser rank should honor those who are of greater rank. This was shown by the greater blessing the lesser, and by the lesser giving gifts to the greater. Both of these things happened in the encounter between Abraham and Melchizedek, showing that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham.

Read vs 8-10. The point here is more subtle. Vs 9,10 refer to what is known as the federal principle: what our ancestors do affects us (IMMIGRATION; CITIZENSHIP). Since the tribe of Levi was "in" Abraham, the Levitical priesthood also acknowledged the superiority of Melchizedek. Therefore, Melchizedek's priesthood is greater than the priesthood descending from Abraham. And because the Messiah has now come, Jesus' priesthood supersedes the Levitical priesthood.

The Theological Implications of Jesus' High Priesthood

>> This has titanic theological implications...

God never planned the Levitical priesthood to be permanent (vs11). If he had planned this, he would never have spoken of the Messiah as a Melchizedekian priest. He sovereignly arranged the encounter between Abraham and Melchizedek, and inspired David to say the Messiah would be a priest according to the order of Melchizedek so that his people would know that a change in priesthood was coming.

God has now set aside the whole Old Testament way of approaching him (vs 12,18,19a). A change in priesthood signals a change in the way we approach God. The value of this system was that it performed a foreshadowing function which we will study in the coming weeks. But it was "weak and useless" in the sense that it did not have the ability to truly reconcile anyone to God (see below). With the coming of the "real thing" in Jesus, this system should be cast aside.

Through Jesus, God has provided a better way to relate to him (vs19,22). Why is this way better?

BECAUSE HIS PRIESTHOOD IS BETTER. The Levitical priests obviously kept dying and having to be replaced (vs 23), and this interrupted proper representation before God. But Jesus will never die and therefore holds his priesthood permanently (vs24). This means that he is always available for our needs and thus able to "save completely" (vs25).

BECAUSE HIS SACRIFICE IS BETTER. The Levitical priests offered animals, which could never take away human sin (10:4). Because their sacrifices never did the job, they had to keep offering them. And because they were sinful themselves, they had to make sacrifices for themselves. The whole system was obviously flawed. But Jesus was the Son of God, so his sacrifice does deal with the issue of human sin. And since it was a perfect sacrifice, it covered all of our sins and never needs to be repeated (vs27)