Jesus is the Priest
Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:17NKJ
Question 44 of the Larger Catechism asks, “How doth Christ execute the office of a priest?” It gives the answer, “Christ executeth the office of a priest, in his once offering himself a sacrifice without spot to God, to be a reconciliation for the sins of his people; and in making continual intercession for them.” Last time we saw how Jesus was and continues to be our prophet. This week we consider how Jesus is our priest.
The priesthood of the Old Testament was a typical priesthood, instituted to foreshadow the real priest who would one day come and actually accomplish what these precursors were symbolically performing. In other words Jesus did not become our “priest” and “sacrifice” Himself for our sins because He was bound fulfill an ancient system arbitrarily imposed upon Him. Jesus preceded the Old Testament priesthood. It did not determine how He would come and what He would do, constraining Him to conform Himself to it, but it was fashioned after Him. Jesus was the reality, the original. he Old Testament priesthood was the type, the copy. Thus, the concept of a priest, of someone set apart to intercede for and offer sacrifices on behalf of sinful humans, was not a human innovation, but a divinely instituted and revealed office given to us because we need it!
Even as Jesus is the true prophet behind all prophetic utterances of the Bible, so Jesus is the true priest who actually accomplishes the reconciliation of God to His people. All of the Old Testament priests offered their sacrifices in obedience to God’s commands. They would have been rebels had they not performed their duties. Likewise, the Old Testament believers could not be reconciled to God and have their sins forgiven if they failed to bring the sacrifices God required of them. So the Old Testament priesthood and the sacrificial system kept by them was absolutely necessary for the believer to be reconciled to God. There was no other way to receive God’s gracious salvation. However, it is equally true that the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins (Heb. 10:4), and the Old Testament saints knew it! David understood that not the mere outward display of sacrifices, but a broken heart and a contrite spirit showed one to be right with God (Ps. 51:16-17). There are many places in the Bible where God rebukes His people and refuses to accept their sacrifices, when, like Cain, they did not bring them in faith (Isa. 1:11-15; 66:3; Jer. 6:20; 7:21-22; Hos. 6:6; Amos 5:21-22; Mic. 6:6-8; etc.).
The sacrificial system was important and necessary, because it was the means through which God applied the redemption accomplished by Christ to His people, before He came. The sacrificial system taught them to look to God alone for the taking away of their sins, to hope in the coming messiah, who would somehow fully do what the sign of animal sacrifice represented. Thus the sacrifices are pictured as placating God’s anger, of having a soothing aroma (Gen. 8:21; Lev. 1:9, 13, 17), for they were pointing to the propitiation of God’s wrath against sin. However, as we have already seen, only Jesus actually satisfied God’s wrath for our sins. As the Catechism says, He once offered Himself a sacrifice for our sins, and in so doing He accomplished our atonement and fully and finally reconciled God to His elect. Thus, the Old Testament priesthood and sacrificial system was put away, its purpose having been fulfilled, as Jesus, the substance, has come and accomplished what that picture foreshadowed.
Finally, we see the Catechism paraphrasing Heb. 7:25, which shows how Jesus continues to be our High Priest: “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Christ, having once and for all put away our sins, continues to make intercession for us. If you are a believer in Christ, you can have confidence that God accepts you, loves you, and will continue to work in you and through you, keeping you to the end. For your High Priest is in heaven right now speaking to God – based upon the worthiness of His sacrifice – for you!