Hebrews 4:15, 16, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need”
Our text – (Luke 22:39-44; James 4:6-10; Hebrews 2:17, 18; 4:14-16; 7:3-28; 12:1-3)
Theme – “Christ, our great high priest, intercedes for us at God’s right hand”
Our Lord was humble and meek. He did not insist on luxury nor seek for the possession of material things. He did not own or possess any property except for the clothes He wore. In terms of pursuing fame and glory, He walked away from more crowds than He called together. He was the leader, but He knelt to wash the feet of His disciples (John 13). In all things, He humbly submitted to the Father’s will. Yet, with such beautiful humility, there was also an awesome majesty about Jesus.
One word or look from Jesus could quiet a crowd, calm a storm, or make a disciple weep. Thousands followed Him as He lived and taught with unequaled power and authority. Death came hurtling at Him as He hung on a cross and took the full penalty we deserved. He heard people cry out to Him to save Himself and come down from the cross (Matthew 27:40). But to save others He chose not to save Himself (v. 42).
With divine, sacrificial love, Jesus refused to spare His own life. He died so that He could provide forgiveness of sin. Our Savior stayed on the cross, for you and for me! How are we to respond? We respond by worshipping, honoring, loving, trusting, and obeying Him. For He alone is worthy of all our devotion and all our praises and now intercedes for us in heaven at God’s right hand.
The writer of Hebrews shows how Christ fulfilled the promise of His ministry of reconciliation; in that it was PERFECT, UNDEFILED, and ETERNAL compared to the TEMPORAL and SIN-TAINTED ministries of men who pointed to Him. For the Jew, the law and all of its variations was vital to their existence and unique identity as God’s chosen people. They took pride in their identity and unique standing in a way where the law became their spiritual badge, instead of faith in the promises of the Messiah, found in the law and the prophets.
Jesus Christ paid the price for our salvation that we might have His righteousness credited to our account. Christ’s work on the cross is complete and there is no further work that needs to be completed in order to secure our salvation. However, the cross was just the beginning of Christ’s work on our behalf. He is our great high priest seated in Heaven interceding for us before the Father. The book of Hebrews expounds on the high priestly ministry of Jesus and is the Scripture focus for this lesson.
Hebrews 4:14, “We have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God”
In the Old Testament the high priest was the number one spiritual leader. There were various levels and orders of priests in Judaism, but there was only one high priest who represented the nation of Israel on the Day of Atonement. On that day he would go behind the thick veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. There he would offer the blood of a goat on the golden Mercy Seat that sat atop the Ark of the Covenant. When the blood was offered in the way God prescribed, the sins of the people were atoned or covered for another year (see Leviticus 16).
That system was never meant to last forever and as such the high priest had to repeat the sacrifice year after year. When one high priest died, he was replaced by another who continued the yearly sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. Now that Christ has come, the sacrificial system of the Old Testament has been abolished. Christ has become our great high priest who has passed through the heavens into the sanctuary of God. Christ’s sacrifice never needs to be repeated because through his death on the cross, he made a complete and final atonement for our sins.
OUR GREAT HIGH PRIEST IS ABLE TO HELP US BECAUSE
- He is Merciful – (Luke 22:39-44; Hebrews 2:17, 18)
Hebrews 5:1 gives the requirements that priests be taken from among men. So Jesus needed to become a human in order to serve as the great high priest for humanity. Jesus is indeed made “in all things … like unto his brethren” (Hebrews 2:17). He is lacking nothing that would make Him less than human. The placement of “in all things” at the beginning of the sentence gives the phrase emphasis in the original language, underscoring the completeness of Jesus’ humanity. Jesus’ humanity, then, allows Him to be a “merciful … high priest” (Hebrews 2:17).
As a merciful high priest, Jesus understands us fully. He experienced the full range of temptation and suffering that we experience, though His experience was far more intense than any other person’s experience. The temptation and suffering He faced as He approached the cross could never be equaled.
Read Luke 22:39-44. Describe the intense temptation Jesus endured as He faced the cross?
Because of His personal identification with suffering and temptation, Jesus responds compassionately to believers who ask for help. He “is able to succor them that are tempted” (2:18). “Succour” is a rich word in the original language and comes from two root words meaning “a cry” and “to run.” It also means to (help, aid, assist and comfort). So it conveys the idea of running to aid at the sound of a cry. A parent dropping everything to run to his/her child at the sound of the child’s cry is the picture portrayed.
How does the illustration of a parent running to the aid of a child help you understand the mercy with which Jesus intercedes for you?
The work of removing our sin by Christ’s work on the cross (2:17) gives us access to the Father in the first place. So Christ removed our sin and now stands as our tender, merciful intercessor before the Father.
- He is Faithful – (Hebrews 2:17)
While “merciful” describes Jesus’ intercession on our behalf, “faithful” describes His work in relation to the Father. Jesus was faithful in His obedience to the Father in atoning for our sin. As a result, He is able to be faithful in His mercy toward us, and He will never stop being merciful. “Faithful” is the key word to describe God in the Old Testament and is the appropriate word to describe God the Son’s intercessory ministry today.
What does it mean to you to know that Jesus will always be faithful in His intercessory ministry on your behalf?
OUR GREAT HIGH PRIEST PROVIDES ACCESS TO THE FATHER
- He Passed Through the Heavens – (Hebrews 4:14, 15)
The writer of Hebrews picks up the great high priest theme again in chapter 4. His message builds on what he had already written in chapter 2. The original Jewish readers of Hebrews were most likely in the final years before the destruction of Jerusalem. Being a Jewish believer was especially difficult during that time. Both the non-believing Jews and the Romans did not want them around. Sp persecution was on the rise. Staying true to the Lord great harder and harder. The Jewish believers were tempted to revert back to the Judaism God had saved them from.
The message from the writer is very clear. Don’t give up! “Hold fast” your “profession” of faith because Jesus passed through the Heavens (4:14). This is a reference to Jesus’ death on behalf of humanity. He provided the final, once-for-all atonement for sin. The Jews needed to reject the notion of returning to a religion that relied on priestly service and sacrifices. Jesus made the need for additional atonement for sin unnecessary when He passed through the heavens and gave every believer access to God the Father. The writer continues with his words of instruction and encouragement by describing Jesus as the sympathetic high priest (4:15). Jesus understood what the Jewish believers were going through and He knows what we are going through this very hour. He had successfully faced tremendous temptation.
There were no temptations the Jewish readers were experiencing that Jesus didn’t experience. He was tempted “in all points” (4:15). He couldn’t be a more suited sympathizer with their needs.
- He Invites Us to the Throne of Grace – (Hebrews 4:16; James 4:6-10)
Instead of giving up, the Jewish readers were to go to the throne of grace to get the “mercy” and “grace” they needed (Hebrews 4:16). Prayer is the means to approaching the throne of grace. “Grace” is God’s enabling. The Jewish believers needed God’s grace to successfully face temptation as we do today, because God never intended for believers to try to triumph over temptation on their own.
Read Hebrews 4:16. Given the truth of this verse, how important is prayer to gaining victory over sin and temptation?
So, why don’t we go to the throne of grace as often as we should? Often the problem is pride. We don’t think we need God’s help, so we don’t ask for it. Not praying for others is another indication of pride. When we are wrapped up in ourselves, we don’t concern ourselves with the needs of others.
Read James 4:6-10. What connection did James make between God’s enabling grace and humility?
- His Priestly Ministry Has No End – (Hebrews 7:3-25)
As further evidence for not returning back to Judaism, the writer of Hebrews develops the superiority of Christ’s priesthood in chapter 7. The comparison of Christ to the Levitical priesthood reveals that Christ’s high priestly ministry has no end. Christ wasn’t a descendant of the tribe of Levi. He was instead after the priestly order of Melchizedek. God must not have deemed it very important that we should know the exact identity of Melchizedek.
If so, He would have revealed it more clearly to us in His Word. God wanted the readers, then and now, to focus on the nature of Melchizedek’s priesthood rather than on his person. Thus, the book of Hebrews focuses on Christ’s priesthood and His majestic authority and duration which are eternal. Jesus Christ is a better Priest than those who came before Him. For the remainder of this lesson we will be focusing our attention on how Jesus Christ is a better priest for us.
Hebrews 7:3, “Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually”
Verse 3 states that Melchizedek was a priest without a genealogy and without a known beginning or end. He therefore remained a priest continually. The expression without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life was used, not to indicate eternality, but to express the idea that an individual didn’t have a recorded genealogy, but rather the lack of knowledge about one’s genealogy. The phrase without descent doesn’t mean the absence of ancestors, but the absence of a traced genealogy and the phrase “having neither beginning of days, nor end of life” could merely mean that the day of Melchizedek’s birth and death were not recorded.
This would be in complete contrast to other well-known men of the Bible who births and deaths are recorded with great accuracy. The importance of one’s age under the Levitical and Aaronic priesthood was essential. Under the Levitical priesthood one had to prove their birth date so it could be determined whether or not they were too young or too old to serve as a priest. The Aaronic priests could not begin to serve as a priest until the age of 25 and had to retire when they reached the age of 50 (Numbers 4:1-3, 22-23, 35, 43; 8:24-25). Age was very important to the Aaronic priesthood, but not to Melchizedek’s. He remained a priest continually.
Some have viewed this verse as that which speaks of Melchizedek as being more than human, which isn’t the case. The difficulty arises in the fact that Melchizedek is seen as one remaining a priest forever. However, we must keep in mind the context. Here Melchizedek isn’t spoken of as a man but as a priest, which is to suggest, that his priesthood did not cease like the priesthood of Aaron and the Levitical line. If he were to foreshadow the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ, this would make all the sense in the world.
Melchizedek wasn’t a superhuman, a divine or angelic being, is without a doubt established by Hebrews 5:1 that says, “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.” To be possessed of human nature is an essential prerequisite in order for one to occupy and exercise the priestly office. The Son of God could not serve as Priest until he became incarnate.
Melchizedek was made like, or made to resemble, Christ in description and typical significance. The focus is thus placed on Christ’s majestic authority and the unending duration of His priesthood, which, in turn, is based on His person (the eternal Son of God) and His work in redemption (as the King of righteousness, Romans 3:25-26; and as the King of Peace, Romans 5:1). Our King-Priest now sits “on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens” “ever living to make intercession for us.”
The writer is putting the law into perspective and the role it played, as well as the role of Christ, who is the Son of God, raised from the dead. He is warning these Hebrew Christians not to be tempted to go back to the shadows of what the law spoke of, but to embrace the substance, who is Christ Himself. He is talking about Melchizedek and his priesthood and comparing it with the priesthood of Aaron.
- There Was a Need for a Better Priesthood – (Hebrews 7:11-14)
The writer is now going to explain why the priesthood of Aaron and the law, given by God who brought that priesthood into existence, came woefully short of being able to accomplish men’s redemption. The Levitical priesthood lacked “perfection” in the sense of finality of function and completeness of operation and effect. It could neither remove sin, nor grant righteousness or favor and position with God. This lack of perfection is recognized as follows:
(a) Psalm 110:4 speaks of God’s establishment of a priest of the order of Melchizedek. The very fact that God perpetuated a second form of priesthood demonstrates that the Levitical priesthood was incapable of bringing people to perfection, or spiritual fulfillment, before God.
That system couldn’t permanently take care of sin, because the blood of animals was insufficient to accomplish spiritual cleansing (Hebrews 9:11-14). If the Levitical priests functioning under the Law of Moses could have brought perfection to the people, there would have been no need for a different kind of priest, a priest of the order of Melchizedek. God’s reference to the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4) shows that the line of Aaron was imperfect.
The Hebrew Christians seemed to want to pick and choose among the features of their Jewish heritage and their Christian faith. They needed to recognize that in accepting Christ, they had to reject the whole legal system that He superseded. As Paul taught in Galatians 3:24, the law was a schoolmaster designed to bring people to the point of realizing that they needed Christ. It had an important role to play in God’s overall program of redemption, but it was not to be held on to after it had outlived God’s purpose for it.
Moses gave no priestly authority to Judah. The fact that Jesus came from the tribe of Judah, not from the priestly tribe of Levi (Hebrews 7:13, 14), was well known (note Matthew 1:1-6; Luke 3:23-28; and Revelation 5:5). Therefore, according to the Law of Moses, Christ could not have qualified as a priest. To be the great high priest for Christians (Hebrews 4:14), He had to belong to a different priestly order. What was impossible under the Levitical system became possible in the order of Melchizedek.
- Benefit of a Better Priesthood – (Hebrews 7:15-22)
Christ’s priesthood, after the order of Melchizedek, is final and complete because of:
(a) Its Superior Nature.
The efficacy of Christ’s priesthood is superior because it is sealed by divine oath. In contrast to the Mosaic Law, which constituted men priests who themselves were sinners, God’s oath in Psalm 110:4 (which was made after the law was given) makes the sinless Son Priest perfected forevermore.
(b) Its Qualification.
Is by the power of an everlasting life and not by physical regulations. Compared with the Levitical priesthood, the order of Melchizedek provides some important advantages. Just as Melchizedek had no recorded end to his life (Hebrews 7:3), Christ possessed eternal life. The Levitical priesthood was limited to a particular family line, and each priest was limited to the span of his own lifetime.
However, the order of Melchizedek isn’t limited by either of those factors. Though Christ came from the tribe of Judah, He is qualified to be a priest. His endless life, indestructible by sin or death, provides an unending priesthood for His people. Christ is not limited by any of the factors that hindered the Levitical priests from bringing the people of Israel to spiritual perfection.
(c) Its Instituted by the Authority of the Word of God.
In God’s plan, the Old Testament was a temporary arrangement until Christ could bring the final, perfect solution to the problem of sin. The Law of Moses was like a mirror that revealed to people that they were sinners. The animal sacrifices that the law required reinforced the seriousness of the sin problem, because they had to be repeated over and over. There was no sacrifice that could settle things once and for all for the Old Testament Israelites. Only Jesus, the Lamb of God, could take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).
(d) Its Bringing in a Better Hope with Immediate Access to God.
With Christ, God’s people can have a better hope than what the Law of Moses provided. The Levitical priesthood kept people away from the holy God, because the priests had to offer the sacrifices and because the way to the Holy of Holies was covered with the veil. Christ the perfect priest, however, brings Christians near to God. Instead of simply pointing out the problem of sin, Christ has died as the complete sacrifice for sin. By doing that, He has reconciled sinful humans with the holy God, something that the Levitical priests and the Law of Moses were too weak to do.
(e) Its Finalization.
Is by a divine oath establishing and ordaining Christ’s eternal priesthood. This oath is a secure guarantee that Christ’s priesthood is the final solution of the problem of human sin. His priesthood is forever, so we will never be superseded. Additionally, God swore with an irreversible oath. The Levitical priesthood was changeable, but Christ’s priesthood will continue without alteration. This better priesthood provides the basis for a better covenant than the Old Testament could sustain (Hebrews 7:22).
(f) Its Christ Guarantee.
Christ, is the guarantee of a new and better covenant by virtue of the oath’s better validity (Jeremiah 31:31-33; Matthew 26:28; 1 Corinthians 11:25). Jesus Himself is the surety, or guarantee, of a superior covenant. The flawless character of Christ means that He can guarantee a relationship between God and humans that is better than the relationship that the system of Moses allowed.
- Permanence of a Better Priesthood – (Hebrews 7:23-25)
The Levitical priesthood encompassed a long line of priests. As one priest died, another stepped into his place (Hebrews 7:23). It had a built-in-limitation, because each priest could have only a temporary ministry. Christ, however, is a permanent, ever-living, unchangeable priest (Hebrews 7:24). Because He abides forever, His priesthood is permanent. Christ will never have to hand His priesthood over to a successor less qualified than He. As the Hebrews faced the threat of persecution, they may have begun to doubt God’s provision for them. They could be confident; however, that Christ their priest would never change in His ministry to them.
As Christ had saved them in the past from their sins, so He would continue to deliver them in the present and future from a variety of damaging threats (Hebrews 7:25). Christ the eternal priest is always active in ministry to the needs of His people, so He is the guarantee of their deliverance. The continuous nature of Christ’s priesthood is important. Because it is eternal, Christ is able to save “to the uttermost” those who come to God through Him. Salvation is forever secure because Christ’s priestly ministry is eternal. Jesus’ priestly ministry is also continuous for all believers. Christ always lives to make intercession for us (7:25).
- He Has Been Perfected Forever – (Hebrews 7:26-28)
Because Christ was the perfect sacrifice, He does not need to daily offer up sacrifices as the Levitical priests did. He paid for sins once for all “when He offered up himself” (7:27). The final verses of Hebrews 7 the writer summarized and draws together what the chapter has taught about Christ in every way is better than the priests of Old Testament Israel. In addition, it sets the stage for the teaching in chapters 8 to 10 concerning Christ’s superior character and sacrifice, such as:
(a) In His Personal Character.
Christ is absolutely above reproach (Hebrews 7:26). Unlike humans who are contaminated by sin, Christ is totally untouched by impurity. He alone is morally qualified to represent people before God. Because He is unflawed by sin, only He can be the kind of high priest that humans need.
(b) In His Priestly Work.
Christ is also better than the Levitical priests in His priestly work (Hebrews 7:27). In the Old Testament, the priests had to offer a daily sacrifice to take care of their own sins. They could not minister for the people until their own sins were covered. After that, they had to present countless sacrifices as the people came to confess their sins before the Lord. Christ offered just one sacrifice.
(c) In that He was Sinless.
Christ as the Son of God is totally sinless. Nothing in His character is flawed by sin, and He alone is able to survive the full extent of temptation. Unlike all other humans, Jesus Christ is not limited by “fallenness” or finiteness. His purity is complete, and His power is beyond measure. He alone is perfectly qualified to be the priest for Christians.
(d) In His Appointment from God.
Christ is also a better priest because He received a perfect appointment from God (Hebrews 7:28). The Levitical priests were limited by death and flawed by sin. They were born into the priestly family and its responsibilities. Christ received His priestly office because God called Him to it. By His oath, God guaranteed that His Son was the eternal priest and His priesthood will have no end. Christ’s sacrifice was a once-for-all offering of Himself as a final, complete, and effective sacrifice, the Sinless One alone, as an offering for the sinful.
10. Our Great High Priest
As our high priest Who is perfected forever (7:28), Christ also becomes our example of persevering in obedience. So Christ’s intercessory ministry is more than a safety valve for us to use when we need help. His intercession on our behalf and His life of obedience demand that we actively obey and serve Him. We also need to explain the gospel message as clearly as possible. Yet, the clearest explanation isn’t going to win hearts for our Lord unless His love is alive in our lives.
To quote the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” And holding himself up as a pattern, he wrote in Philippians 4:9, “The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” Pray, then, that like the apostle Paul, we may live out our saving faith before the watching world. And that they will see Christ because He is our example.
11. He is Our Example.
Names are important. Parents may spend months researching and deciding on the perfect name for their baby. Often the final decision is based on its sound, uniqueness, or meaning. One woman took on a new name because she disliked her original name. She mistakenly believed that changing it could alter her destiny. That’s not likely, but for those who trust in Jesus as their Savior and are from that time on identified by His name, a radical transformation does take place
There is a powerful significance attached to the name of Jesus. The apostles performed miracles (Acts 3:6-7, 16; 4:10) and cast our demons in His name (Luke 10:17). They spoke and taught in the name of Jesus. They baptized believers in the name of Jesus (Acts 2:38). And it is only through the name of Jesus that we gain access to the Father (Acts 4:12).
When we become Christians, we share in that worthy name. And as we follow Christ, we are able to reflect His light to any darkness we encounter, whether in our neighborhood, our workplace, or even our home. Our prayers should be that when people see us, they will see Christ because He is our example.
12. He Ran His Course with Endurance – (Hebrews 12:1-2)
The writer of Hebrews opens chapter 12 with the word “wherefore,” a link to the previous chapter. Hebrews 11 lists the heroes of the faith, men and women, who demonstrated how faith can endure in the face of great challenges. But Christ is the ultimate example of endurance (12:2). We are to look to Christ, the “author” and “finisher” of our faith (12:2). “To look” means having eyes for no one but Christ and trusting Him completely. He is to be the central focus of our purpose and course for life.
The story has been told of the pastor who rented a room at the home of a farmer who wasn’t a Christian. The pastor waited for an appropriate time to talk to the farmer about Jesus Christ. Finally, early one morning the opportunity came when the farmer asked him to accompany him to the chicken house. There, on one of the nests, sat a hen with a brood of little ones peeking out from under her wings. “Touch her, Pastor,” the farmer said. As the pastor put his hand on the hen, he found that she was cold and very dead. “Look at that wound on her head,” the farmer continued. “A weasel has sucked all the blood from her body, and she never once moved for fear the animal would harm her chicks.”
“Oh,” said the pastor, “that was just like Christ. He endured all the suffering on the cross. He could have saved His own life but He would not, because if He had moved we would have been lost!” The Holy Spirit applied the simple words to the farmer’s heart, and soon he put his faith and trusts in the One who on Calvary chose to save us, rather than to spare Himself! As we consider Christ’s role as the great high priest, He made our salvation possible as the “author,” and then provided the means for completing our race as the “finisher.” As we run, we can know that Jesus Christ will enable us to endure until the end.
The world is watching us – the question is, “Do they see Jesus?”