We are now entering into a new major section of the book of Hebrews. Thus far we have seen that Jesus is greater than the Prophets (He is the Final Word), the Angels (He is the Son), and Moses (He is the Builder of the House of God). In this section (4:14-10:18), we will learn that Jesus is greater than Aaron: the first High Priest of Israel because He has greater access to the Father and is sinless. But first, let us consider what the Bible says about the High Priest so that we can better understand how Jesus is the Great High Priest.
What is a High Priest?
We learned in Hebrews 2:17 that Jesus “had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” We are told in Hebrews 4:14 that Jesus is our Great High Priest. What is a high priest? In the Old Covenant, the high priest was the supreme religious figure in Israel. He oversaw the functions of all the priests and was chosen by God. The first high priest was Aaron and the role passed through his lineage. Of all the responsibilities of the High Priest, the greatest was to offer a sacrifice in the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). The High Priest was the only person who could enter the holy of holies and he could only do so on a specific day, in a specific way, with specific sacrifices (see Leviticus 16:1-34). The role of High Priest was very significant as he was the mediator for the Jews before God so that God would accept their sacrifices and offerings.
He has Greater Access to the Father
Our next section begins with the statement: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God…” (Heb 4:14). Let’s stop here for a moment to take in what we are being told; namely, that Jesus is greater than Aaron because Jesus has greater access to the Father than Aaron did. Just as the High Priest on the Day of Atonement would pass into the holy place and through the veil into the holy of holies, Jesus has passed through the heavens and is now sitting at the right hand of God the Father (Heb 1:3). The High Priest in the Old Covenant would cautiously enter the holy of holies and have access only once a year to the mercy seat of God. Jesus, however, has gained complete access to the mercy seat and remains there. Therefore, He is greater than Aaron.
Let Us Hold Fast our Confession
Because He is greater than Aaron with a greater priesthood, we are told: “let us hold fast our confession” (Heb 4:14). What is our confession? 2 Corinthians 9:13 reminds us of our “confession of the gospel.” Romans 10:9 says “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” 1 Timothy 3:16 speaks more of our confession: “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” Also, in 1 John 4:15 we read that “whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” We hold fast to our confession by believing it and defending it.
Because Our High Priest Sympathizes with Us
We continue on with this glorious truth: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but One who has been tempted in all things like we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). He is able to sympathize with us because He understands what we endure on this earth each day. Jesus was tempted (temptation itself is not sin) and was able to repel each temptation and not give in to sin. James wrote: “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). Jesus was lured by temptation but was able to resist temptation and not let it give birth to sin. We are told of the sinlessness of Jesus in Hebrews 4:15: He “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Being tempted like we have been, He is able to sympathize with us. Aaron was tempted, but Aaron was a sinner. Aaron had to purify himself before he offered sacrifices. Jesus is the pure sacrifice who offers Himself.
Let Us Come Boldly to the Throne of Grace
Being able to sympathize with us, our great high priest calls us to come boldly to the throne of grace. Some translations say, “let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace.” He is compassionate and calls us to boldly come before Him “that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). Jesus has offered the greatest sacrifice so that we may be fully forgiven of our sin. His sacrifice is the greatest because it was a perfect, sinless sacrifice. One important result of Jesus’ high priesthood is that He is approachable. Christians are God’s children who have access to their Father.
Because Jesus is our Great High Priest, it is important what we believe and do. Herman Ridderbos once said: “Every imperative of Scripture (what we are to do for God) rests on the indicative (who we are in our relationship with God), and the order is not reversible.” Bryan Chappell helpfully added: “What Christians do is based on who we are in Christ.” Because Jesus is our Great High Priest with continual access to the Father, let us hold fast to our confession. Because Jesus is our Great High Priest, let us come boldly before His throne of grace. He is our advocate and our redeemer. He is our victorious Lord whom we serve wholeheartedly. Philip Hughes said about Jesus as Great High Priest: “What we, and they, needed was not a fellow loser but a winner; not one who shares our defeat but one who is able to lead us to victory; not a sinner but a savior.” Let us worship Him!