Our High Priest (Part 1)
© C. O. Bishop 3/21/17 THCF 4/2/17
We spoke last time about the rest that God offers: we saw a serious warning to professing believers that they recognize what is being offered and not fail to enter the salvation-rest through unbelief. We also saw that the rest has two parts…one part is a gift, offered to unbelievers on the sole condition of faith. When a person chooses to believe that Jesus’s blood is full payment for his or her sins, specifically, then they become a believer in Jesus, and that “salvation-rest” is given as a gift: they are no longer under the curse of God’s Law. This is a positional truth. Since the believers are now “in Christ”, their new position frees them from the law of sin and death.
But, the rest has a second part: the second part is conditional upon continuing, day by day, in an ongoing relationship with Christ on the basis of faith. It is a relational rest, and is available only to the believers, and only as they continually choose to enter into His rest, by faith.
9 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.
The writer concludes that neither the Sabbath-day rest nor the Canaan rest were the actual fulfillment of the rest offered by Christ. Notice that he says that this specific rest remains “for the people of God”—believers. What is the “rest”, then? And why is it offered after faith has come? If salvation itself is not the “rest”, in this case, then what are we talking about?
10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
What rest? How do we labor to enter into rest? It is actually pretty difficult, in some ways, to accomplish what is being taught, here, because it goes against our flesh. We all want to believe that we can do something to earn a right standing with God. Even though we know we were saved by Grace through Faith, we still want to think that, at some level, we “deserve” God’s Grace. But the word “deserve” means to “have earned”…if you can earn God’s favor, it is no longer Grace but wages.
So, he says that “he who has entered into rest has ceased from his own works.” It requires constant attention for us to break the cycle of legalism, by which we hope to impress God with our behavior. We have to learn to submit ourselves daily to God, to allow Him to live through us. The result is that we quit worrying about whether we are “doing enough”. We simply do what He calls us to do.
How does this bring about “rest?” For one thing, I quit wondering whether I am really saved. Having placed my faith in Jesus’ completed work, there is nothing for me to add, nor can it be diminished. Jesus said “it is finished!” And it is! But we need to consider who He really is!
Who are we dealing with?
12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
It is odd that this verse begins with the word “for”—it would seem to indicate that we are to labor to enter into His rest, because God’s Word is alive, etc. It certainly says that all these things are true of the Written and the Living Word. Remember that it is truly God’s Word, not Man’s. (1st Thessalonians 2:13)
The issue is that, regardless of what we say we are doing, and why…the Lord knows our hearts. He knows our real motives. We may fool others, and we certainly often fool ourselves, but we don’t fool God. He says that the Word of God is alive and powerful. (The old English word “quick” means “alive”, not “fast on its feet.”) Incidentally, the word translated “powerful”, is the Greek energes, which is usually translated “effectual”—accomplishing something. The Greek word looks like “energize”, and it is tempting to grab that English word as a meaning, but that is not what it means. It means that Jesus, the Living Word, is alive and still working today. And…He sees things as they really are.
He further says that the Word is sharper than any two-edged sword…it can be used for a weapon or for surgery, apparently, as he says it separates between soul and spirit, as well as joints and marrow. However, there are only two words in the New Testament that are translated “sword”—this one is the Greek word “machaira”, which comes from the verb “to fight”, and means, specifically, a fighting weapon. I am not sure why this specific picture is drawn for us. Perhaps it underscores that this is the believer’s offensive weapon, but that it can be used in discipline against us, as well. Bear in mind that it is two-edged: whenever we think it is applying to others, it is also applied to our own lives, at one level or another. Every honest preacher knows that every sermon applies to himself.
I don’t know whether you have ever noticed, but inside any bone there is a substance called “marrow”, which has a vital part in our survival, as that is where blood cells are made. But, in a cooked soup-bone, for instance, we can see that at the end of each bone, approaching the joint, there is a transition between marrow and bone, where it seems to be a mixture of the two, and it is hard to tell which is which. God says He can see the difference, and can separate the two.
In similar manner, though we may have a hard time explaining the specific differences between soul and spirit (some people even denying that one or the other exists), God not only recognizes both but is completely clear on the differences. It is only from God’s Word that we even know for sure that a spirit and a soul are definitely two different things, and that a human is a three-part being, having Body, Soul and Spirit. God is clear on all of it. He knows what our real position is, and is never in doubt.
He meets us with compassion, but no human has ever “pulled a fast one” on God. We have never succeeded in “pulling the wool over the eyes” of God. It is tragic that we even try. But, if you think about this regularly, and use it as a measuring-stick against your thoughts and motives, it may help you to set aside self-effort, and enter into His rest.
Nothing I can do can add to my salvation or my security in Christ. And nothing can detract from it. It does take labor to enter into the rest offered to believers, because our flesh constantly wants to doubt it. The labor we exert, then, as members of Christ, is only an effort to be His hands, feet, heart, and voice, here on Earth. We are already part of Him…we serve because we are a part of him, not to become part of him.
He knows our hearts completely, understands our weaknesses and conflicts of interest and is completely tender toward us…which is a good thing, because he is also our High Priest!
Jesus is Our Great High Priest
14 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.
The phrase, “Great” High Priest is not a reference to Jesus being “great” at the job, though He certainly is. It means that He is high, and lifted up, far above all the other high priests of the history of Judaism…just as He is called the Great Shepherd, because He is the Master Shepherd, and high above all the human shepherds of the history of the flock of God. Remember that because the human shepherds have human failings, and, in some cases, have abdicated their responsibilities, God has declared that He is taking over the job (Ezekiel 34). It hasn’t happened yet, in its final fulfilment, but I personally believe that the final fulfilment is coming soon.
The High Priests of the time during which Jesus served in his earthly ministry (Annas and Caiaphas) were completely corrupt, and were his worst enemies. Though we don’t know their identities, the priests at the time when this book was written were the last to claim that title, as the temple was destroyed about five years later. Jesus is the Great High Priest, today and forever.
I have no doubt that there will be some sort of priesthood during the tribulation period, but it will be very brief, and will be cut short by the Antichrist. So the priesthood of Jesus is really the only one left. He is not only “our” great high priest; He is THE Great High Priest, for all eternity. His sacrifice stands forever, and his intercession for us is continual. The writer tells us that in light of this fact—the eternal priesthood of Christ—we are to hold fast to our profession.
This does not say we should hold on to Christ, or hold on to salvation, but to maintain a life that honors Him…our profession—our testimony. Since OUR high Priest (in contrast to that of the Jews at that time) has passed into heaven, and is not in danger of dying, now (as theirs was), nor is he corruptible, or vacillating, let us press on! Let us live lives that honor Jesus…adjusting our priorities to match His. We are secure in Him, and we can live in that security. We can walk confidently in the reality of His presence and His continuing ministry on our behalf.
Remember: this was written before the destruction of the temple (which happened in A.D. 70), but not much before…maybe four or five years. So, the system of faith within which they had grown up (which was God-ordained; not man-made) was about to be literally destroyed. Perhaps some historians know what happened to the priesthood of that day. Perhaps some even survived the destruction…perhaps none did. But the temple and all of its trappings were gone for good.
The Hebrew believers to whom this epistle was written did not know what was about to happen. The writer, here, was warning them of the need to make a full transition from Law to Grace; from the human-built temple to “a Temple made without hands.” Part of that transition means recognizing that Jesus is the replacement for every aspect of what they were about to lose. In fact, he had already replaced them all, but they, the Jewish believers, simply had not yet seen it.
The Gentile believers had never experienced any of the things written here. They were new to all of it. And, in spite of the fact that I have been a believer more than two thirds of my life, I am still nearly completely ignorant of the inner workings of Judaism. I cannot know it from the inside, because I am not one of them. The writers of the whole New Testament were primarily (if not exclusively) Jews; but this epistle makes a special outreach to the Jews who already had embraced Jesus as their Savior Messiah, but who were still living within Judaism. He is telling them that it is high time that they all step all the way into Christ. Not to become Gentiles, in any way, but to transfer their loyalties and dependencies to the Risen Christ.
15 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.
We should keep in mind that Aaron, the first high priest over Israel, was not born a priest: he was Moses’ younger brother. He was reared as a Hebrew slave, after Moses was taken up to be reared by Pharaoh’s daughter. He knew what it was like to grow up under the thumb of the Egyptians. He knew what slavery was like, and what hard work was like. He had travelled in the desert, as had all the other children of Israel who escaped under Moses. He knew the taste of manna in the morning, and quails in the evening. He had drunk water from the rock as they all had done. He had seen the judgment of God upon the disobedient. He had looked to the blood of the covenant for salvation. He could completely relate to all the experience of the Jews at that time. But he sinned and failed Israel in many ways. And, finally, he died.
There was never again a High Priest like Aaron, who had grown up under the exact same life as the rest of the Jews. The later priests all grew up in the home of a priest, and had lived a separate life…a somewhat privileged life. Consider, then, that the “great high priest” that Aaron was, even with his flaws, could never have been repeated, until Jesus stepped into that role. Why? Because he did live out the life of a poor, ordinary Jewish man, and yet is the High Priest.
Jesus has experienced all that the Jews of that time experienced, and did not sin. He lived under the hand of God the Father, though he, along with the whole nation of Israel, was subject to Rome. He was tested in every way, and still honored God with every breath he took, every decision He made…every Word He spoke. So, when I am tired, discouraged, or feeling under attack, and in pain, and want to give up, I frequently remember how tired He must have become during his ministry on earth, being exposed to every sort of hardship, and deprivation. His friends abandoned Him. His enemies sought to kill Him. But He pressed on, in faith and obedience. He is our Great High Priest! And, unlike Aaron, the prototype High Priest, he cannot die, leaving us to start fresh with another, lesser priest. He is alive forever—immortal: and forever unchanging: immutable. He is incorruptible, and holy. He is compassionate and wise.
So where does all this leave us? These things are all true…we see them in God’s Word, and not in just a few remote, obscure passages…these are all major doctrinal themes: The lostness of man apart from God; the Deity of Christ; the Holiness of God in the Person of Christ; the efficacy of the Blood of Jesus at Calvary, the preaching of the Cross, Salvation by Grace through Faith, and the eternal priesthood of Jesus, the Messiah. So, where does that leave us?
The Conclusion is in Verse 16
16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
On the basis of all those truths, the writer encourages his readers to draw near to the throne of Grace in full assurance that the High Priest is a friend, a companion, who truly, completely understands and accepts us, and is not secretly condemning us as hopeless sinners. He died to clear the way for us to approach God freely, and now calls us to do just that.
The review of these eternal truths leaves us with an open invitation…in fact, a standing command…to enter into the throne room of God on a regular basis. In fact, to make it our dwelling, as the Psalmist suggests (Psalm 15:1): “LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill?”
We are invited to enter that tabernacle, and to abide there. Psalm 91:1 says, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the Shadow of the Almighty.” And that is where we are to approach the Throne of Grace, to obtain mercy, and find grace, to help in time of need.
God invites us to change our priorities. To read the Gospels and see the priorities of Jesus. To adopt His priorities as our own. He invites us to enter into His rest, and abide under His shadow.
Lord Jesus, teach our hearts to abide in you, to rest in you, and to live under the constant awareness of your intercession on our behalf. Let us serve beside you, as priests in the Body of Christ. Make us your hands and feet, reaching to the lost world. Make us a blessing to those around us.