Names of Jesus -- Great High Priest

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler
2022 17 May

Prophet, priest, and king—these were the three major offices in Israel, titles also ascribed to Jesus. While the king governed as God’s representative on earth, the priest’s role was to represent the people to God by offering sacrifices, prayers, and praise on their behalf.

Moses’ brother, Aaron, was the first Jewish priest. Thereafter priests were drawn from among his descendants and they were given charge of worship, which eventually became centralized in the Jerusalem temple. Jewish worship primarily consisted not in singing songs and listening to sermons but in offering sacrifices as prescribed by the Mosaic law. The priest’s role was to offer sacrifices for his own sins and for the sins of the people.

The priesthood consisted of three groups: the high priest, ordinary priests, and Levites. The Levites occupied the lowest rung of the ladder, taking care of the temple service. The priests, who alone could offer sacrifice, were next. At the pinnacle stood the high priest, the only one authorized to enter the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement. On his ephod (a garment attached to the breast piece) were stones that bore the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, a physical reminder that the high priest was bearing the people into God’s presence.

The New Testament identifies Jesus as a priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Melchizedek, a priest who was a contemporary of Abraham, predated the Levites). This was a way of indicating that his priesthood was both different and superior to that of the Levitical priesthood. The book of Hebrews, emphasizing Jesus’ role as High Priest, may have been aimed primarily at priests who became believers after the resurrection. The Greek word for “priest” is hierus.

Jesus is our great high priest—the one who faithfully bears us into God’s presence by virtue of his self-sacrifice. Because of his work, those who believe in him are part of a kingdom of priests who in Christ Jesus offer ourselves on behalf of others.

Praying to Jesus, Our Priest

Imagine for a moment that you’ve taken out a mortgage for a house you can’t afford. This house is magnificent, more beautiful than any other house on earth. It’s so expensive that the seller won’t take money for it. He wants something far more valuable—your life. Now imagine that you have come to an agreement. You agree to pay him twenty thousand dollars each year. For that amount of money, he’ll let you stay in the house. But, no matter how much money you pay, you will never be able to pay off the debt, because it can only be retired with the currency of your life.

That’s a rough analogy of our position pre-Christ. Our sin incurred a debt we could not pay, for as Scripture says, “the “payment for sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

To deal with this debt, the Jewish people observe Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement. In biblical times Yom Kippur was the day on which the sins of the nation were laid on the head of a goat (called a scapegoat). The goat was then driven into the wilderness. On that same day, the high priest would enter the Most Holy Place of the temple, symbolically carrying the people into God’s presence and then asking forgiveness for the sins of the nation. Since the payment for human sin is human life not animal life, the forgiveness obtained was only partial and the ceremony had to be repeated year after year.

Not wanting this situation to continue forever, God sent his Son, who paid our impossible debt with the currency of his perfect life. Jesus is the only high priest who can truly bear us into God’s presence, obliterating the debt we owe.