“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 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. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
These are some incredibly powerful truths here. Let’s treat them in order.
First, in Jesus, we have the ultimate high priest. If you are part of the Protestant faith tradition, the idea of a priest at all might be a bit unfamiliar to you. In ancient Judaism there were two primary roles when it came to mediating the relationship between God and the people. One was the prophet. The prophet’s job was to speak to the people on behalf of God. He or she related to them what God wanted them to know.
The other role was that of the priest. The priest’s job was to speak to God on behalf of the people. The priest was the one who had been through the necessary purification-from-sin rituals such that he could draw nearer to the presence of God than the average person in order to communicate requests and obtain favors on their behalf. The high priest was the head of the priests. He was the person who was, in theory, closer to God than anybody else. He alone could enter into the holy place in the temple in order to offer sacrifices of incense in the direct presence of the Lord (or so they believed). The bottom line, though, was that if you wanted to get to God, you had to go through the priest. The average person could not get to God on her own.
The author of Hebrews will go on in later chapters of the letter to talk about the insufficiencies of the high priest and why Jesus is so much better than any other. Here we can settle for this: Jesus is the greatest high priest. The reason for this is that He has been to heaven. He is the very Son of God. He is higher in glory and authority than Moses or any of the angels. Who could possibly be closer to God than that? If the job of the priest is to connect us to God, there isn’t anyone who has ever been able to do that better than Jesus can. Therefore, we can hold tightly to our confession of faith. He can confirm it for us with absolute certainty.
But, someone might claim, Jesus was the Son of God. He couldn’t possibly represent my needs well to God. He doesn’t have any idea what my struggles and trials are like or even are. The old high priests were far removed from the pressures and stresses of common life. They lived a life of luxury in a beautiful temple and had everything they needed. Jesus is that raised to eleven. In fact, if He’s not just the Son of God, but God Himself in human flesh, the level of disconnect goes on up through the roof.
This is the second truth here. It isn’t like this with Jesus at all. He’s not a normal high priest. He’s the ultimate high priest. He knows from His own experience every struggle and temptation we’ve ever faced. He faced them Himself. Not only did He face them, but He overcame them. Never did He fall to sinning Himself. Not even a single time.
Now, this is where some folks might protest further. If Jesus never sinned, again, how could He really know what we’re facing such that He could represent us well to God? He never gave in to temptation. How could He know what it’s like to fight it?
This objection, though, results from a fundamental misunderstanding of how resisting temptation works. The one giving in to temptation isn’t struggling to resist it. He’s giving in to it. It is the one who doesn’t give in who is really struggling against temptation. The more he resists, the more familiar he is with the battle against it. Because Jesus never gave in to temptation, but continued struggling against it until His time on earth was completed, there actually is no one more familiar with our battle against sin in all the world. He can represent us before the Father perfectly.
This leads us to the glorious third truth: Because we have this kind of a high priest interceding on our behalf before the Father, we can approach God’s throne with confidence of being received when we come with humility and faith. We don’t have to fear not measuring up to the Father’s vaunted standards. We need not fear being rejected or not receiving the mercy and grace we need. Our high priest is for us. He wants the best for us. He is the perfect advocate for us. And He has the ear of the Father. We can know for sure that the Father will receive us when we approach Him through Jesus. No other way will get us there. This way will get us all the way there without fail every single time. This is the kind of high priest we have. This is the Jesus we have. This is the road that leads to life. Let us make sure we are walking it.