Jesus the Priest
“[Christ] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (v. 25).- Hebrews 7
Prophets served as representatives of God during the old covenant period, for they delivered His words to His people. The “word of the Lord” came to prophets such as Hosea (Hos. 1:1), so these prophets were spokesmen for God Himself.
Yet, in the relationship between God and His people under the old covenant, our Creator was not the only one who had a representative—the people did as well. Under the old covenant, these representatives were the priests, particularly the high priest from the line of Aaron. We see the high priest’s work of representation most clearly in the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16), the annual occasion when he would take the blood of the sacrificial bull and the sacrificial goat into the Holy of Holies to atone for the sins of the priesthood and the sins of Israel. Representing the people before God, the high priest confessed the sins of the nation over these animals (and the scapegoat, which was sent into the wilderness), pleading for the Lord’s pardon and offering atoning sacrifices on behalf of the people.
God Himself established the office of priest and the various sacrifices for atonement and forgiveness, but any astute old covenant believer would have noticed a certain weakness in this office and these offerings. The nation of Israel, aside from a few periods of national renewal, remained stuck in grievous sin. The sacrifices were offered continually; the work of atonement was never finished. No high priest held the office permanently but was replaced upon his death with the next priest. This meant that in one sense, the whole process of atonement had to be restarted again with every new high priest because there was a brand-new mediator representing the people.
Of course, this apparent weakness in the old covenant priesthood and sacrificial rites was by design. God Himself built it into the priestly system, as we learn in the book of Hebrews. The author of Hebrews develops a sustained argument that the repeated nature of the old covenant sacrifices demonstrates that the blood of bulls and goats could not truly take away sin. They could only point forward to our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who offered Himself as the true and final sacrifice of atonement (Heb. 9:1–10:18). Old covenant believers did not receive any benefits from the animal sacrifices in themselves but only from the sacrifice of Christ, which these animal offerings foreshadowed. Christ is the perfect Priest who can provide complete salvation because of His perfect offering (chap. 7).
Uniquely among world religions, Christianity tells us that we cannot offer atonement for ourselves. We could pray continually, afflict ourselves physically, and do many other penitential acts, but we would still not achieve atonement for ourselves. Only the perfect sacrifice of Christ atones for sin, and if we have trusted in Him alone for salvation, we can be confident that our sins have been atoned for and that we are God’s beloved children.
Passages for Further Study