By Shaun Aisbitt (c)
this paper I intend to examine one of the least grasped titles of Christ, Christ
- the High Priest. Understanding that Jesuus is the Lord of all, and all things
were created through Him and by Him we can grasp that He is God. Understanding
that He took on the form of man, was tempted in every way, died sinless for the
sinners, and rose again, and now is exalted at the right hand of God, we can see
that He is our one and only Living Savior. But how does the title and position
of Jesus, the High Priest of the New Covenant affect us in our daily walk with
the Lord? I intend to concentrate
solely on the passages in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and various other passages
in the Old Testament. In order to grasp what exactly the writer of the Epistle
to the Hebrews is saying about Christ's present ministry, and how it affects us.
a side note, I also have put this paper here because of the alarming amount of
false teaching going around for those who believe they are priests in the
order of Melchizedek including Catholic Priests, Mormons, New Age groups, Trance channellers, etc, or
believe the Melchizedek is a race that comes from outer space (The Urantia Book!, Raelians etc). Hopefully it will give you a
better understanding of WHY NO ONE BUT JESUS CAN EVER HOLD THE OFFICE OF MELCHIZEDEK.}
The Priesthood of Christ
is important to ask why, and for what reason is the Priesthood of Christ is
depicted in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is believed the reason for the letter
is that the Hebrew Christians were in danger of backsliding, spiritual
deterioration and apostasy. The Epistle was probably written to combat this
problem, and the means of achieving it was personal experience of the priesthood
of Christ. It appears that the writer of the Epistle somehow linked the
Priesthood of Christ with spiritual steadfastness, progress and assurance. By
truly understanding and accepting these truths, the secret of Christian growth,
spiritual growth and maturity of experience will be found.
appears that those who the Epistle is addressed knew Jesus as Lord and Savior,
but had a childlike understanding of redemption (6:1), and they did not realize
what it meant to have Him as a High Priest The difference between the two may be
seen by an examination of time and circumstances under which the priesthood
emerged with regard to Israel. Except for foreign priesthood's like those of
Egypt and Midian (Gen. 47 & Ex. 3), the first mention of priesthood in
Israelis at Sinai. There was no priesthood in Egypt, only redemption. There was
none at the Red Sea, where deliverance was the one thing needed. At Sinai they
realized for the first time their true relation to God, and God's relationship
to them as dwelling among them (Ex. 19:4-6 & 25:1-8). The priesthood was
appointed to provide the means of access to God and prevent fear in approaching
Him. Essentially then the priesthood is based on gaining access to God on an
already existing redemption. The Hebrew Christians knew Christ as redeemer; they
were now to be taught the certainty, privilege and joy of free access to God in
Him, and with this, the removal of fear and disfavor. Any sense of unworthiness
would be met by His worthiness, all fear removed by His nearness to them and to
God, as He is the Son of Man and Divine High Priest at the same time. There is
therefore a world of difference in knowing Christ as Savior and as Priest.
Knowing Him as Savior alone may cause spiritual childishness, knowing Him as
Priest must include spiritual maturity (5:10-14). This is one of the biggest
differences between Romans and Hebrews. The Epistle to the Romans appears to
concern itself with redemption, which makes access possible (Rom 5:2), while
with Hebrews, access is possible by redemption. This practical purpose of
Hebrews with regard to spiritual growth and maturity should be kept in mind.
This is where the present-day and enduring value of the Epistle is in Christian
life and service, with its constant stress on the phrases 'Draw near (10:22),
'Don't draw back' (10:39) and 'Let us go on' (6:1)
Essential Meaning of Priesthood
order to examine the idea of the Priesthood of Christ, I believe it is important
to examine the essential characteristics of priesthood. What were the functions
the priest carried out as priest, those which only he alone could perform under
any circumstances?. The best definition is in Hebrews 5:1 where we are told that
"Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to
represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for
sins. " that is, he represented man to God. What was included in this
representation I will look at later in this paper, but meanwhile it should be
clearly seen that the priesthood meant the representation of man to God, and was
the opposite yet complementary to the prophet which was to represent God to man.
The priest went from man to God, while the prophet went from God to man. The two
ideas are seen in Hebrews 3:1" Therefore, holy brothers, who share in
the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest
whom we confess." Christ is called Apostle and High Priest, Apostle
because He was sent, sent from God to man, High Priest because He comes from man
to God. In His dual ministry He is the perfect Mediator. If the priest did other
duties such as teaching and receiving tithes and blessing the people, they were
added functions and not intrinsic to the priesthood. The Levites could teach and
kings could bless, but by no means possibly could either do the essential duties
of the priesthood in representing man to God. This specific idea is clearly
taught as the essence of priesthood both in the Old Testament, and in the New
Testament also where the Godward aspect of priesthood is always stated and
emphasized (Ex 28:1, Num 16:40, 2Chr 26:18, Ezk 44:15, Heb 6:20, 7:25, 9:24).
The essential idea of priesthood as representative of man to God carries with it
the right of access to and of remaining in the presence of God. In earlier times
families were represented by the father (see Job) or head of the clan, but as
the sense of sin grew and the Divine purpose of redemption was gradually
unfolded, it became necessary to have men entirely separated for this office.
The fact that there was priesthood was then the admission of sinful worldly
living that is inherent in mankind, and the holiness of God, and the need of
conditions to approach God. I Believe it is important to define and keep clear
these central characteristics of the priesthood. They can be summed up in the
general ideas of drawing near to God by means of an offering and dwelling near
God for the purpose of intercession (Ezk 44:16, Lev 16:17, Exo 28:30 &
30:7-8, Lk 1:9-10).
Special Order of Christ's Priesthood
outstanding thought in the Epistle to the Hebrews is the association of Christ's
Priesthood with that of Melchizedek. Three times in the Scriptures Melchizedek
is mentioned, and each time the reference is important. In Gen ch.14 he meets
Abraham and is called at that time 'Priest of God Most High'. His second mention
is in Psalm 110, a Psalm that is regarded as Messianic, and is applied to
Himself by Jesus in the three Synoptic Gospels (Mat 22:44, Mk 12:36 & Lk
20:42). The underlying thought of Psalm 110 is of a priesthood, not Aaron's
though, and suggests a grasping, on the part of spiritually minded Jewish, hope
for something beyond and better than the Aaronic priesthood. The very mention of
another priesthood is significant and striking. The last mention of Melchizedek
is in Hebrews, where he is shown as a type of Christ. The account of Gen ch.14
is related and expounded on to symbolize and mirror some of the elements of the
Priesthood of Christ. The position of Melchizedek as king indicates the royalty
of Christ's Priesthood. The meaning of the name Melchizedek is used to suggest
the thought of righteousness, while his title 'King of Salem', suggests the idea
of peace. The order and combination of righteousness and peace are noted in
comes righteousness as the basis of relationship to God, and peace as the
outcome of righteousness. Righteousness without peace vindicates the law and
punishes sin, while peace without righteousness ignores the law and condones
sin. Righteousness and peace when combined honor the law while pardoning sin (1)
lack of mention in Gen ch. 14 of any earthly connections, whether by descent or
tribal is used in Hebrews to symbolize the timelessness of Christ's Priesthood.
What was true of the record about Melchizedek is present in actual fact in
Christ. One point of great importance not to be overlooked is that in Gen ch. 14
no priestly functions are attributed to Melchizedek. The gift of bread and wine
to Abraham had of course nothing essentially priestly in it. In the account he
is called 'priest of God Most High', without any characteristically priestly
acts being stated. This corresponds to the use of the Melchizedek priesthood in
Hebrews, which does not speak of any priestly acts or functions, but the order
of the priesthood. The underlying thought of the Melchizedek priesthood in
Hebrews refers to the person of the priest, not his acts. The functions or acts
of the Aaronic priesthood are contrasted with the priesthood of Melchizedek,
which is seen in the person not the act. It is the priestly person rather than
the priestly works that are emphasized in the Melchizedek priesthood. He was a
royal person, Aaron wasn't, an enduring person, Aaron wasn't, a unique person.
Aaron wasn't. It is the personal superiority in these respects. over the
priesthood of Aaron that is dwelt on regarding Melchizedek. These is no
comparison drawn between Melchizedek and Christ, but use is made of Melchizedek
to symbolize the personal superiority of Christ's priesthood over all others, a
priesthood that is older, wider and infinitely more lasting than that of Aaron.
Relating to Christ Alone
is with regard to the Aaronic priesthood, that the work of Christ's priesthood
is considered. A contrast is made as is shown by the recurring word 'better'
(7:22 & 8:26 etc.). Christ was never a priest in the Aaronic line (7:13-14,
8:4), but it was necessary to use the illustration of the Aaronic priesthood to
denote Christ's priestly functions, because no characteristic priestly functions
were recorded of Melchizedek. A series of comparisons between Aaron's and
Christ's priesthood needs careful attention. First generally in 2:17-18 with
reference to personal qualification. Then after bare mention in 3:1, and more
fully in 4:14-16. But it is in chapter 5, verses 1-10 we have the first definite
comparison. In verses 1-5 the requirements of the Aaronic priesthood are stated
in regard to (a) Office 5:1, (b) Character 5:2-3(c) Divine appointment 5:4-5.
Then in Chapter 5 verses 6-10 we have the fulfillment of these requirements in
Christ, stated in reverse order (c) Divine appointment, verses 5-6. (b)
Character, verses 7-8. (a) Office, verses 9-10.
in chapter 7 we have the comparison and contrast between Melchizedek and Aaron,
with the superiority of Melchizedek on three points: Aaron was not royal: Aaron
5 priesthood wasn't timeless due to his mortality: Aaron had many successors.
The superiority of the person gives superiority to the functions.
in chapters 8-10 the superiority of the work of Christ in compared with that of
the Epistle unfolds, several elements of superiority emerge. A superior order
(7:1-17), a superior tribe (7:14), a superior calling (7:21), a superior holding
(7:23-24), a superior character (7:26), a superior sanctuary and a superior
covenant (Heb 9), a superior sacrifice (Heb 10).
chapter 10 there is nothing priestly in the terms used, though chapter 13 refers
to the functions connected to the priesthood. These functions of the priesthood
can be seen in three areas. The priest had access to God for man, offering to
God for man, and intercession with God for man.
summed up in chapter 13 is the superiority of Christ's priesthood as shown in
the following particulars:
it is royal in character,
heavenly in sphere,
spiritual in nature,
it is continuously effective,
everlasting in duration,
universal in extent,
efficient in results.
this point there are a few questions that I believe should call for attention.
The first is why is there no distinction between priest and high priest. Christ
is both (5:6,10 I 6:20 I 7:1,3,15,17,21.). The difference is one of rank only,
the high priesthood being one of specialized form. The term 'high priest' occurs
only nine times in the Old Testament, and it is never applied to Aaron. This
clearly shows there is no real distinction between the two offices, for if there
had been an essential difference from the first, then Aaron would have been
called 'high priest'. Jesus is never called 'High Priest' in the discussions
regarding Melchizedek, only when the discussion turns to Aaron is the title
mentioned. I believe that because there a difference at the time of writing, it
was probably necessary to show that Christ fulfilled both offices.
second question that begs to be asked is why is the resurrection ignored in the
Epistle? The Epistle discusses Christ's offering with His death on the cross,
and His entrance
last question is about the use of the two priesthoods, Meichizedek's and
Aarons which are not to be interpreted as two aspects of priesthood, one on
earth and the other in heaven successively realized by Christ, because this
would be the opposite to what the Epistle says in 7:18 & 8:4. It means that
there is one priesthood, of which Melchizedek is used for the person, and Aaron
for the work. If Christ's death is associated with the Aaronic priesthood
(against 8:4), then the entrance into heaven must be associated with Aaron
(against 6:20 etc.), which would leave no room at all for the Melchizedek
priesthood. It is impossible for the death to be associated with one priesthood,
and the ascension with the other. The order or nature of the priesthood
according to Melchizedek gives validity and perpetuity to the acts which are
symbolized in the Aaronic priesthood.
practical and spiritual use made of priesthood in Hebrews gives special point to
the emphasis laid on the personal qualifications of Jesus as High Priest. These
are dealt with mainly from the human side up to Ch.5:9, and then afterwards from
the Divine side, Both the human and the Divine side are shown to be necessary.
Regarding His human qualifications we have His manhood, allowing us to identify
with Him, and He with us, (Heb 2}. His perfect sympathy, (4:14-16). His perfect
training by obedience through suffering, 5:1 - 10).
His Divine qualifications are:
Divine appointment (5:10).
His indestructible life, (7:16), involving an uninterrupted tenure of
office as compared with the constant deaths of the Aaronic priesthood.
His sacred, or unchangeable priesthood, (7:24), involving the
impossibility of succession or delegation [ডmp;#960;αράβατον,
aparabaton= this word is used only once in the New Testament, and means absolutely
unchangeable or untransferable (6)]
His perpetual life of intercession, (7:25).
His fitness through character, (7:26).
The Divine guarantee in the Divine oath of appointment, (7:28).
His position on the throne, (8:1).
His perfect offering, (9:12,24 /10:12). These Divine and human
qualifications are based upon His Divine Sonship (Heb 1). His priesthood exists
in His position as Son of God. It is this uniqueness as Son that gives Christ
His qualifications for the priesthood.
many aspects of His priestly work can be seen in the Epistle through His
propitiatory sacrifice, (2:17), His ability to suffer, (2:18), His ability to
sympathize, (4:15), His ability to save, (7:25), His present appearance in
heaven for us, (9:24), His kingly position on the throne, (8:1), His coming
again, (9:28). These are the elements connected with His priestly work, though
there are others that are more associated with His work as Redeemer. The work is
at once perpetual and permanent, He offered Himself through an eternal spirit,
(9:14), He has made an eternal covenant, (9:13,14), He is the cause of eternal
salvation (Praise the Lord!), (5:9), He obtained eternal redemption, (9: 12}
which culminates in eternal inheritance (9:15).
Practical Uses of Christ's Priesthood
The definitely practical purpose of the truth of priesthood is what must be kept in view. It is by means of the experience of Christ's priesthood that Christians come out of spiritual infancy into spiritual maturity, (6:1 & 10:1). Nowhere is the practical character more clearly seen than in the various statements and exhortations that have to do with the daily life of the believer. In particular there are the associated phrases 'we have', and 'let us'
(A) (4:14) Having a high Priest, let us hold fast.
(B) (4:15-16) Having a sympathetic High Priest, let us come boldly.
(C) (10:19) Having confidence of access, let us draw near... Another aspect of the exhortation are the three words faith. hope and love which are repeated throughout the Epistle, E.g.; Let us draw near with faith, having a High Priest let us hold fast hope, let us consider one another in love. These three exhortations to faith, hope and love are amplified in three respective chapters of the Epistle, Ch.11=faith, Ch.12=hope, Ch.13=love.
(D) (12:28) Receiving a kingdom, let us have grace.
(E) (13:12-13) Jesus suffered, let us go forth.
(F) (13:14) We seek a city to come, therefore let us offer a sacrifice of praise.
Epistle emphasizes one truth above all others, "..that Christianity is
religion of free access to God" . It might be summed up in
the exhortations 'Draw near' 'Hold fast 'Don't draw back'. It is
characteristic that the word for believers is [οί
=those who come right up to God] (8), and it's corresponding exhortation is [προσερχώμεθα
= "let us come right up, to God] (9). Christianity is the better hope by
which we draw near to God, and Christ in the certainty of a better covenant,
that is, One who ensures our permanent access to God. In proportion as we
realize this privilege of nearness, and respond to these exhortations to draw
near and keep near we shall find that element of free and fearless courage which
is one of the essential features of a strong Christian life. It is this, above
all that the priesthood of Christ is intended to produce and to perpetuate, to
guarantee and guard. This truth of priesthood, as taught in Hebrews, is
absolutely necessary for a vigorous life, a mature experience, a joyous
testimony and an overflowing work.
Shaun Aisbitt 1995
Stirling, John (Ed): Hebrews, A Little Library of Exposition: (Cassell & Co.
Toronto): Pg 85
Joseph H: Thayers Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament
i.b.i.d. [strongs 2774]
Milligan,W: Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of Our Lord, (pg 116)
B.F: The Epistle to the Hebrews, The Greek Text With Notes & Essays
Thayer, Joseph H: Thayers Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament
Bruce, Alexander Balmain.DD: The Epistle to the Hebrews, The First Apology For
Christianity (pg 290)
9. Thayer, Joseph, H: Thayer's Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament
Return to my Biblical Studies Page
Return to Shaun & Jackie's Hompage