Christ Our Better and Eternal Priest
How often do we experience disputes where someone has to step in to dissolve a situation? An everyday example for many of us may be when children fight over a toy and we step in to remedy the situation. To step in to dissolve or remedy a situation is to act as a mediator. As Rachel pointed out in her article Christ as Sole Mediator, Christ fulfills the role of a mediator in three ways: as a prophet, priest, and king. In this article, I want to dive into how Christ acted on our behalf to mediate between us and God as our Better and Eternal Priest.
In Scripture, we learn that a priest has two main functions: 1) offer gifts and sacrifices for sins and 2) intercede on behalf of the people (Heb. 5:1). Everything about the priests and sacrificial system under the old covenant foreshadowed and pointed towards our perfect high priest, Jesus Christ. Jesus fulfilled each of the Old Testament functions of a priest in better ways than His counterparts ever could.
Looking Forward to Eternal Pardon
Priests in the Old Testament, although set apart by God, were sinful humans. Since ‘they themselves were beset with weaknesses’ (Heb. 5:2-3, Lev. 17:11), they were obligated to offer sacrifices for their own sins as well as the sins of all of Israel (Heb. 5:3; 7:27). Everything under the old sacrificial system had its purpose. God decided who was to make the sacrifices—priests–and what was to be sacrificed–clean animals. Though animals were the prescribed sacrifices for atonement for the sins of His people, they couldn’t take away sin. Hebrews 10:4 says “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Why did God require the sacrifice of animals if they could never take away sin? The answer is that they are a “reminder of sins every year” (10:3) and ultimately point to Christ who would fulfill the law that could never save by offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice that was sufficient: “once for all time” (Heb. 10:10).
Jesus’ sacrifice was perfect because unlike the priests before Him, Jesus was sinless: ‘holy, innocent, and unstained’ (Heb. 7:26, Heb. 4:15, 2 Cor. 5:21, 1 Pet. 1:19). He did not require sacrifices for His own sins because He had none. Jesus was both the perfect offering and the perfect offeror (Heb. 9:26). Jesus had to be truly man and truly God. To take on the sin of man, He had to become a man. To pay for our sins, He had to remain fully God. One sin deserves God’s wrath for all eternity, but the shed blood of Christ, our Eternal Priest, removes the punishment for our sins forever.
Looking Forward to Perfect Intercession
To intercede means to intervene on behalf of another. Intercession is synonymous with mediation which usually occurs between two or more people within a dispute to bring about reconciliation. The dispute that needed reconciliation is between a Holy God and sinful people, and it displays the people’s need for intercession. God ordained the way in which the priests were to come before Him to make intercession for the people. The temple—God’s dwelling place—had two rooms. The first room was called the Holy Place, where the priests could enter on a regular basis. Beyond the Holy Place was a thick curtain, or veil, separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The purpose of the veil was to hide man’s sinfulness from God’s holiness. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and he could only enter once a year on the day of atonement (Lev. 16). The people could assemble in the courts of the temple but had no direct access to God Himself. They were utterly dependent on sinful humans to make reconciliation through intercession between them and God.
Then Jesus entered the scene. Jesus left His perfect dwelling place in Heaven, humbled Himself by coming to earth in the form of a man (Phil. 2:5-8), lived a perfect life, and died on the cross to pay for our sins. When Christ died on the cross, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two” (Luke 23:45). The thick curtain that separated us from God has been removed because our sins have been removed! Hebrews 10:19-20 says, “we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh.” Because of Jesus’ perfect work on the cross, we have been reconciled to God so that we, mere sinful humans, can have access to Our Father.
Jesus returned to His rightful place and is seated at the right hand of God the Father (Heb. 8:1-2). Hebrews 7:25 says that, “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Christ lives, at the right hand of God the Father to bring your requests to God, believer.
What This Means for Believers
Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” What a beautiful comfort to know that we can come to our Father with confidence–not confidence in ourselves, but confidence in Christ, the perfect, eternal, Creator of the universe who daily intercedes on our behalf. Christ’s intercession on our behalf is Him working with us for our sanctification. 1 Peter 2:5 says, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”. At the same time, we are already “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (2:9). We are secured by Christ our Perfect Sacrifice, and are being made into a holy priesthood by Christ our Perfect Intercessor.
If you are interested in diving deeper into this beautiful truth of Christ as Priest, here are two suggestions for continued study:
1) Read through Hebrews in the New Testament and look back at the Old Testament sacrificial system in Leviticus.
2) Listen to this sermon by Pastor Nathan Rose titled “Christ as Priest”.