Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
– Hebrews 2 verse 17
The first office (or role) of Christ we can look at is that of High Priest. In order for us to do this we can look at three main things.
1. How Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Old Testament role of High Priest
2. Looking at what it means that he “made propitiation for the sins of the people”
3. Looking at what it means for us to be a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9)
1. So firstly looking at how Christ fulfilled/perfected the Old Testament role of High Priest.
In order to do this we must look at the main roles of the High Priests in the Old Testament, then see how Christ’s life compared to these roles.
1. Firstly the High Priests were appointed by God and were chosen by succession. If the son of a High Priest was deemed worthy of the office then it would be given to him.
We first see this with Aaron being appointed High Priest and then his sons after him (Exodus 28 verse 1) this then carried down the generations with the most worthy and God fearing of the sons being chosen as the next High Priest. But even though it was a hereditary office, this line of men were still chosen by god in order to serve him, just not chosen in a direct sense of the word. Off course with Christ we see this this being made perfect by the fact that Christ was explicitly chosen by God in order to perform his service (Matthew 3:17) This voice from heaven , was the guarantee that this Christ was chosen by God. It is interesting to note here that Christ did not make himself High Priest. But instead he was specifically appointed by the father to carry out this role , Hebrews 5 and verse 5 :
“So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”
Just as the High priests were chosen of God by being descendants of Arron , Christ was also chosen by God, but in a direct and clear way. The office of High priest was explicitly and eternally given to Christ by His father.
2. Secondly the High priests were to offer up prayer on behalf of the people. This was especially noted and important on the Day of atonement (which we will look at in more detail later on) But it was the duty of the High priest to offer up petitions for his own sins and the sins of the nation. This was intercessory prayer, praying on behalf of others , petitioning for them.
Again although these high priests may have been genuine in their prayer, their sins still barred them from having any place before God. The gap of the fall prevented them from having any real or lasting access to God.
In our state of sin and depravity we can not hope to draw near to God in prayer. We need one to bridge that gap for us , we need one to pray for us and on our behalf.
That is why Christ became our intercessor. As we have in Hebrews Chapter 7 and verse 25 :
“Consequently, 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 through his willing sacrifice crossed the gap between God and man , only through him are we granted any access to God in prayer.
But its not just that we can pray to God through him , its also that he is in continual prayer for us also. As the verse has it he lives to make intercession for us.
3. Thirdly the High priests were to be Holy and live set apart lives. Leviticus 21 and verse 6 shows us this :
“They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God. For they offer the LORD’s food offerings, the bread of their God; therefore they shall be holy.”
The Priests were to live lives that were different from the rest of the nation, it was their wholes life’s duty to remain as sinless as possible and to dedicate their time to the service of God. But this sinlessness was in no way a lasting state of being. They did strive to remain sinless but off course they would have sinned and sinned countless times. But in Christ we had more than a high priest who strived to be sinless , we hjad one who was wholly without sin or blemish. In Hebrews 4 and verse 15 we have this demonstrated to us:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin”
As well as showing his sinlessness , this verse again develops on the fact that Christ is our High Priest. Christ’s Holy and perfect life plays a role in our salvation , not just his death and resurrection. If Christ had sinned then his death would be nothing the more than the death of a really good sinner, but it would mean nothing for our salvation.
4. Lastly the priests were to sacrifice out of thanksgiving and out of repentance.The priests would daily sacrifice two lambs ,as we have it in Exodus 29and verse 39:
“One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight.”
But there were many sacrifices offered throughout the year on various feast days and days of celebration.On the feast of the tabernacles there were to be 199 animals sacrifices, on Passover week there were 77 to be sacrificed, 96 Sabbaths sacrifices, 708 daily sacrifices.
In one year there was over 1200 Animals sacrificed by the priests.
But these sacrifices were preformed by the priests , it was the role of the high priest to preform the sacrifices on one of the most important days of the Jewish calander.
The day of atonement.
This day was so special and set apart that instead of the usual cleaning of the hands and feet , the high Priest would have to bathe his whole body and also thoroughly was his garments.
By looking at what took place on this Day of Atonement we can begin to clearly see Christ as our ultimate sacrifice.
2. Christ as our Reconciliation /or Christ as our propitiation
On the Day of atonement which took place in September-October) the nation would spend the day in mourning, it was a day of national repentance.One of the practices of this day included two goats. It is this practice which we can look at in more detail.
In our verse , verse 17 we have it described to us that Christ is our reconciliation to God /or some translations may have propitiation.
The Greek term for reconciliation is KAT-AL-AG-AY .
In this word we find to principles, the principle of expiation and the principle of propitiation. It is these two principles in which we can
The first goat would be killed and its blood was then sprinkled on the mercy seat. The Mercy seat was the covering on top of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark which symbolized Gods presence among his people, this ark was sprinkled with this goat’s blood in order to make symbolize the temporary atonement that was made between God and the people of Israel.
In Leviticus chapter 17 verse 11 we can see this concept more clearly explained:
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.”
The goat was sacrificed due to this principle. This is the principle of Propitiation: The Holy and just wrath of God being satisfied by the only true satisfaction for sin, that is death.
The second goat was not killed , instead Aaron (and all the High Priests that came after him) would place both hands on the head of the live goat and then speak out all the sins that the nation had committed. This symbolically represented placing the nations sins onto the goat. The goat was then taken out from the people into the wilderness and released.
This represented the sins of the people being removed from them into the wilderness to not be seen again. This is the principle of expiation.
But the Old Testament Day of Atonement was not an everlasting covenant. The blood of animals could in no way permanently cover the sins of the people. This is of course why Jesus needed to come down and become the perfect sacrifice.
Jesus Became our perfect propitiation and expiation.
In order to make this more clear we can think of the cross
The vertical beam of wood in the cross represents the satisfaction of Gods justified wrath. Unlike the temporary covering that the blood of the goat offered, the blood of Jesus has eternally appeased the wrath of God that is directed towards sinners who do not repent.
The vertical beam can remind us of the coming down of Christ from heavenly realms to the sinful earth in order to become our eternal propitiation. We have this plainly written for us in 1 John 4 verse 10 :
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
The horizontal beam of wood on the cross we can take to represent the expiation that Christ carried out by dying for us. Just as the goat symbolically took the sins away from the people , by his death on the cross Christ removed from us our sin, we were reconciled by his death.
It is this continual removal of the sins of those that believe and trust in Jesus that should leave us in awe of what he has done for us. By his death we are not only made right in the sight of God , but we are also continually cleansed of our sins. Our sins are now no longer accounted against us , they are “as far as the east is from the west,”– psalm 103 verse 12
Jesus is our perfect expiation 1 John 1 verse 9 :
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”
Both Goats were essential for the people to be temporally forgiven of their sin. In Jesus we have both the propitiation of the righteous anger of God being eternally appeased and the expiation of former sinners now being called clean and becoming sons and daughters of God.
But the reverse of this is , if we do not hold Christ as our Lord , and if we do not love him as our king or our saviour. Then Gods wrath is not turned away from us and our sins are in no way forgiven.
It is solemn and it should make us stop and think, we are being offered with salvation, offered with the love and forgiveness of God. But if we do not acknowledge the offer then we are still slaves to sin and we can in no way hope to enter into heaven.
3 . Looking at what it means for us to be a “royal priesthood”
If we are Christians , if we have been cleansed form our sins and forgiven due to Christs sacrifice for us then are called into service.We can see that call in 1 Peter chapter 2 verse 9 :
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
So what does it mean for us to be called a royal priesthood ?
1. Well firstly it means that we must commit ourselves to intercessory prayer, we must be willing to pray for those who see no need to pray for themselves. And trusting that God is sovereign in all that he does.
First Timothy 2 and verse 1:
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,”
2. It also means that we must strive to live Holy lives, and set apart lives. Of course we must be part of the world , we must live out our daily lives , but we are no first and fore most servants to our Lord:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
3. And it also means that we should seek to grow in our knowledge and in our love of our Lord and saviour. The Christian should willingly give up time each day in order to read the word of God and to offer our prayers to him. And off course we must also be willing to be with Gods people.
In Christ we have the fulfillment of all the roles of the Old Testament High Priest.
In Christ we also have find reconciliation. Through his death we are eternally forgiven and eternally cleansed form our sins. And if we are forgiven then we in turn are no called priests, set aside by God for his service.