Our Great High Priest in Hebrews: The Son Greater than the Prophets (pt. 1)

from Nov 19, 2009 Category: Articles

Read Part 2 & Part 3

How is it that the saints persevere in the faith? The author of Hebrews says that our perseverance against the temptations to sin amidst our present sufferings is traceable, in part, to the depth of our appreciation for the surpassing greatness of Christ our high priest. In other words, receiving and resting upon Christ our great high priest alone, as He is presented in the Word, is a means by which the grace of perseverance comes to us His people. In this three-part series, we hope to grow in our knowledge of the glory of Christ our high priest from the letter to Hebrews and, in turn, to enlarge our hearts in peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience.

In Heb 1:1-3, Christ our great high priest is introduced to us as one who is first and most basically the Son. Though, overall, the writer emphasizes the Son’s priestly office, our esteem for the Son comes first by seeing Him in His relationships with God and others who are part of the history of creation, revelation, and redemption. Remarkably, in those relationships, we see that the Son has not always been a high priest in the same state in which He is now a high priest: yes, God the Son has always been a priest to His people but He has not always been such in His present incarnate state. Each of the descriptions in 1.1-3 carries implications that we must consider all too briefly.

Heb 1:1-2a. The Son in whom God now speaks appears “in these last days,” that is, at the culminating point in the history of special revelation. Positioned as He is in this final, eschatological position, we see the Son in relation to those who preceded Him historically, namely, the prophets - presumably Moses and the prophets who follow him. Through them God spoke during a long and varied history of special revelation. Yet the Son, we are told, supersedes them all. The Son is that prophet for whose appearance they had waited since Deut 18.15: He is the one who would lead God’s people to spiritual liberty and who would mediate a better covenant (Deut 30.6-10; Jer 31.31-34; Heb 8.10; 10.16). In other words, the Son is superior to the prophets because He has spoken the final revelatory words and has accomplished the final liberating (i.e., redemptive) work!

Heb 1.2b-3a. Moving beyond the Son’s present place in the history of revelation, our writer draws our imaginations to the eternal covenantal purpose of God (see also 10.7; 13.20; Eph 1.9-10; 3.11; Acts 2.23). According to that eternal purpose, the Son, anointed by the Spirit, was to obey His Father’s will and thereby become the firstborn heir of all creation. In other words, we behold the Son not only as He has come to be in history, but also as He was in the pre-creation situation in relation to God and all things. As the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, we see that the Son has been a distinct person from the Father but of same essence as the Father. As the One through whom the Father made the worlds of time and space, we see that the Son was the builder of the visible temple of heaven and earth (1.10 with 3.4): He was before all things, and all things are from Him. As He governs all things by His powerful word to their proper goal, we see that all things are to Him. So before we properly consider the Son as priest, we consider Him as someone not only greater than the prophets in the history of revelation, but also as a “before creation, above history” Person equal to God in essence and distinct from the Father, the Alpha and Omega of creation and history.

Heb 1.3b. With the extraordinary portrait of the Son in relation to all things as prelude in 1.1-3a, our preacher sets our high priest before us in 1.3b, referring both to His sacrifice and to His post-sacrifice session. The two clauses in 1.3b carry deep and broad theological implications. Suffice it to say that in 1.3b we are already being told that this priest is greater than Levi (Aaron). Particularly by using the wording of Ps 110.1, our teacher brings the joyful news that the Son is a priest at rest. No longer standing but rather seated (Heb 10.11-14), the posture of our great high priest signals that Zion’s priest has succeeded where Sinai’s priests could only fail. The ramifications of the Son’s work and rest are staggering. He has done the work of offering the sacrifice that cleanses sinners: sacrifice is finished; forgiveness is granted! Now the sons of Levi are purified; now the worshipers they represented are reconstituted as a holy nation of priests (cf. Mal 3:1-4)! Now the cleansing of the cosmic temple is begun, for earth was the site of His sacrifice and heaven is the site of His session! 

How is it that the saints persevere in the faith? The grace of perseverance becomes ours as we receive and rest upon Christ alone as He is presented to us in the Word: He is the Son who is greater than the prophets of old.