By J.R. Miller
The Epistle to the Hebrews was written to those who felt that in giving up Judaism for Christianity, they had lost much that was dear to them. The writer showed them that while the outward form was gone, Christianity had given them instead realities which were incalculably better and more glorious than what they had parted with. In this passage, Hebrew Christians are shown that in place of the human priesthood, they had now as their priest Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God.
In other parts of this epistle, we have other words about Jesus as High Priest. The Jewish priest was chosen by God, not self-appointed. Christ did not glorify Himself to be made a high priest--but was called of God for the holy honor. Again, the human priest was to be a man of kindly sympathies, patient and forbearing, one who could bear gently with the ignorant and erring. Christ was boundless in His capacity for compassion. He knows human life, not through His divine knowledge merely--but because as man He had been tried all life. He was tempted in all points like as we are--yet without sin, without yielding, always victorious. He offered prayers with strong crying and tears. Though the Son of God, He yet learned obedience by the things which He suffered.
Thus He was glorified to be our Priest. A priest is one who stands between us and God. The Jewish priest was only a type of the divine. No man can truly go to God for us or come to us from God. An ancient philosopher, of peculiar character, received a visit from Alexander the Great. The emperor stood in the doorway of the hovel in which Diogenes lived and asked if there was anything Alexander the king could do for him. The philosopher replied, "Yes, there is one thing--you can stand out of my light." One thing which our friends can do for us is to keep out from between us and the Sun, from between us and God.
We need no man to be our priest. Indeed, no one can reveal God to us, except as he has the mind of Christ and thus becomes an interpreter of the divine nature and the divine love and grace. Yet everyone does really need a priest--for in our sinfulness, we cannot go to God, neither can God come to us, excepting through a mediator. Christ came to bring God down close to us, into intimate, personal relations with us. He was indeed God Himself, revealing in a human life the grace and beauty, the love and mercy of God. "He who has seen me--has seen the Father," He said. In no other way can we see or know God--but in Jesus Christ. Then, in no other way can we come to God. Jesus said, "I am the way ... no one comes unto the Father--but by me." In Christ we can get nearer to God than we can to any friend. No Jewish priest was ever to his people, what Christ is to all His friends as their High Priest. Human priests, the holiest and best, were full of faults and sins, and could be but most imperfect revealers of God to men. But Christ is perfect, holy, without fault or blemish.
In the passage before us we have other points of superiority in the priesthood of Christ.
1. He was a High Priest of good things to come. The old dispensation was but the dim dawn of the glorious day of the new. The blessings of the gospel are infinitely greater than were the blessings of Judaism. Of these good things Christ was the High Priest. He came to bring them to us.
2. Christ ministered as Priest in a greater and more glorious tabernacle. It was only a tent, first, and afterwards a temple, in which the Jewish priests ministered, a tabernacle made with hands, earthly and temporal. But Christ passed into the true Holy Place, that is, into heaven itself. The Jewish priest stood in a little inner room, interceding before a mercy seat of gold; Christ stands in the midst of the divine glory, in the immediate presence of God Himself!
3. The Jewish priest brought the blood of goats and calves when he appeared before God. These offerings had their use. They were pictures of the offering which Jesus afterwards made. But they had no efficacy in themselves. "For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins." But Christ entered in through His own blood into the Holy Place. This offering had infinite efficacy because it was the blood of the Son of God. This is made very clear in the words we are studying. "The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean, sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!"
The blood of animals had no power to purify a life--but the blood of Christ can make clean the most defiled conscience. That is, the redemption of Christ purifies the life, changes it, transforms it, makes it holy. We must not think that all Christ does for us, is to deliver us from the penalty of sin, setting us free from condemnation. This would not be salvation so long as the life continued sinful. He saves us from our sins in the true and full sense, putting His Spirit into our hearts as a new motive principle, to displace and replace the old evil heart. Thus we are saved from the love of sinning.
4. The Jewish priest made intercession for the people in the Holy of holies. But he himself was a sinner and had first to make intercession for himself. Christ, our High Priest, makes intercession, too. He made His offering on the cross, and then passed into heaven and stands before God, making continual intercession for us.
We cannot understand all that this intercession means. We know that Christ has the interests of all His people in His heart and in His hands. He does not forget any of us, nor is He ever ignorant of our need or our danger. He makes our interests His own, and speaks to His Father for us. All authority is His, in heaven and on earth, and we need never fear that anything can go wrong with us, while He is thinking of us and caring for us.
In some mysterious way He presents His own blood before the face of God as a plea for us. We are sinners--but He died for us. In one place He is called our Advocate, appearing before God to look after our case, as a trusted earthly advocate stands for his client before a court of justice.
5. The superiority of Christ's priesthood is shown further in the fact that His offering of Himself once was sufficient. The Jewish high priests made atonement yearly, entering into the Holy of holies with blood. But Christ made only one sacrifice, and this sufficed for the eternal redemption of all who believe on Him. "Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself." We must note that by the blood of Christ is meant the giving of His life in love's sacrifice. "The blood is the life." Christ poured out His life, giving all, giving Himself, to redeem us.
6. Christ's work as our High Priest will go on until all of His redeemed ones are all brought home to glory. "So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." The meaning of this is that Christ's work for His people is going on now in heaven, and will continue until He comes again, not then as Savior bearing His people's sin--but bringing full salvation and eternal glory!