Who Is Jesus? High Priest

In This Series
Who Is Jesus? | About Messianic Prophecy | Son of God
The LORD | Son of Man | The Word | Light of the World
Savior of the World | High Priest | The Great Physician | Other Names of Christ

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In This Lesson
Jesus' Eternal Priesthood | The High Priest
A Better and Eternal Covenant | The "KING of Kings" Is Also "PRIEST of Priests"!


Technically, according to strict legalistic Judaism, Jesus was not qualified to be "High Priest". The two genealogical records in Matthew and Luke trace Jesus' genealogy through both of His earthly parents — Matthew tracing His genealogy through Joseph and Luke tracing it through Mary. Both records prove Jesus is a descendent of King David, which is clearly a requirement for the Jewish Messiah.

However, Jesus was not eligible for the priesthood because He was not a descendant of Levi (cf. Numbers 3:12-13).

Then, how did we come up with the title "High Priest" for Him if He wasn't even qualified to be High Priest? It begins with a Messianic prophesy hundreds of years before Jesus began His earthly ministry.

    "Jehovah has sworn, and will not repent, You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." (Psalm 110:4)

If the Jews had known their own Scriptures and not been so offended by the Messiah in their midst, they would have understood the foreshadowing of the Messiah's eternal High Priesthood in the prophecy.

Jesus' Eternal Priesthood
Even though there are several other verses preceding it, we'll start with Hebrews 5:6 for constructing the framework on which to build Jesus' priesthood. We're starting there because that's where the writer of Hebrews quotes from the only prophetic psalm that mentions the Messiah being a Priest.

The writer starts with the universally accepted understanding that Psalm 110 refers to the Messiah on the basis of the following:

  • The psalmist, David, wrote of One who was superior to himself, and whom he called his "Lord" in the first verse of the Psalm: "Jehovah said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand until I place Your enemies as Your footstool.'" (emphasis added)
  • The language in the Psalm is consistent with the language in all the other Messianic psalms.
  • Jesus expressly ascribes this Psalm to Himself in Matthew 22:43-44.
  • No passage in the Old Testament is more universally conceded as referring to the Messiah than this Psalm.

Notice that the writer here does not call Jesus "High Priest", only "Priest". This is not inconsistent with Jesus' priestly calling in that...

  • Melchisedek did not bear the title "High Priest";
  • Jesus wasn't a High Priest exactly in the sense in which the title was given to Aaron and his successors; and
  • all that mattered at the moment was that Jesus was designated to the priestly office by God and that He had not intruded Himself into it.

Also, one of the most important words — if not the most important word — in this verse is the word "forever", which he repeats in Hebrews 7:24. It means...

  • The priesthood of the Messiah would not be handed down to a successor;
  • it would not be laid down at death as with all other priests (cf. Hebrews 7:23); and
  • it would remain unchangeably, forever, the same.

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After the Order of...
Few phrases in the Bible have been the object of as much speculation and debate as this one. What does it mean to say Jesus is "priest forever after the order of Melchizadek"? It means "in the same way as" or "just like", and it refers to the similarities between the two, such as:

  • Genesis 14:18 tells us Melchisedek was "the priest of the most high God." The prepositional phrase "of the most High God" denotes that he was appointed "Priest of God Most High" . . . by God.

    Jesus was — is — Messiah, Son of God, Savior of the World, and God; He's Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Immanuel. And, just in case there's any question about these offices qualifying Jesus as priest, God tells us in Psalm 110:4 that He has appointed Jesus a "priest forever".

  • Melchisedek existed hundreds of years prior to God instituting the Levitical priesthood, and therefore logically was not a part of the Levitical priesthood. Thus, his office and ministry differed from theirs and was, in fact, superior to theirs (cf. Hebrews 7:7).

    Likewise, Jesus was not numbered with the Levitical priests, but like Melchisedek, His ministry was also superior to theirs.

  • Another striking resemblance between Christ and Melchisedek that does not exist between either of them and any other High Priest is that Melchisedek was both a priest and a king.

    None of the kings of the Jews were priests and no priest was ever elevated to the office of king. But Melchisedek was both — as is Christ Jesus. He isn't just a king, but He is both the King of kings and a Priest.

Continuing to build the framework for Jesus as our High Priest, let's look at Hebrews chapter 6. The writer of Hebrews goes all the way back to Abraham to begin making the case for Jesus being High Priest.

    13 For when God made promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no greater, He swore by Himself,
    14 saying, "Surely in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply you."15 And so, after he [Abraham] had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.
    [In the above verses, the writer tells us that God made a promise to Abraham, swearing by His own name, and that after Abraham had been very patient, God gave him what He had promised.]

    16 For men truly swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.
    17 In this way desiring to declare more fully to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, God interposed by an oath,
    [Here, the writer tells us that God made a vow when He wanted to prove for certain that His promise to Abraham's descendants could not be broken.]

    18 so that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us,
    [Since God's promises and vows can never be changed, we should be greatly encouraged to take hold of the hope that is right in front of us.]

    19 which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters into that within the veil,
    [This hope is like an anchor for our souls and has, in fact, gone behind the curtain into the Holy of Holies.]

    20 where the Forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek."
    [Jesus has gone there ahead of us, and He is our High Priest forever, just like Melchizedek.]

This passage prepares the way for us to better understand Jesus' position as High Priest. In verse 19, the "curtain", or "veil" as some translations render it, refers to the veil at the entrance to the Holy of Holies.

This is the area of the Temple which only the High Priest was allowed to enter once a year during the Great Day of Atonement. This is where the Ark of the Covenant was placed and was considered as a type of Heaven. It's where the presence of God was known to dwell.

The "veil" here is also the same veil which was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died.

    "At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split." (Matthew 27:51)

The rending of the veil would signify that our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, was about to enter in as the Forerunner and that the way to Heaven was now open to all. Some have even speculated that the fact that the veil was torn from top to bottom implies that God Himself tore it, granting us direct access to Him!

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Who Is Melchizedek?
Since God's Word tells us Jesus is "a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 6:20), it is incumbent upon us to learn what we can about Melchizedek.

The name "Melchizedek" or "Malki Tzedek" derives from two Hebrew words: malk-i, meaning "my king", and sédeq or tsedek, meaning "righteous".

Melchizedek is first mentioned in Scripture when, as "king of Salem" and "Priest of God Most High" [El 'Elyon], he greets and blesses Abram with bread and wine.

    "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him [Abram] and said, 'Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!' And Abram gave him a tenth of everything." (Genesis 14:18-20)

This is the first tithe recorded in Scripture, which by the way, happens to be many centuries prior to God giving the Law to Moses in which He commanded the tithe.

The identity of Melchizedek has been the subject of much debate over the centuries. Some ancient writings claim that "Melchizedek" is a nickname for Shem, Noah's eldest son, who may have survived to this particular time. However, there is no other biblical reference to either affirm or negate that belief.

Some have claimed he was a theophany [visible (but not necessarily material) manifestation of God]; others say he was a literal human being, an angel, or the pre-incarnate Christ. The only explanation Scripture gives concerning this person is in Hebrews 7:2.

    "...and to him [Melchizedek] Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace." (emphasis added)

Beyond those introductions and a few other scattered references to him, Scripture tells us very little while at the same time, presuming our understanding.

Melchizedek's full identity is one of the wonderful mysteries of the Word of God —like Enoch's being "no more", Elijah's disappearance into the whirlwind, and the mysteries surrounding the "Angel of the Lord" — that we may not be given to understand until we are face-to-face with our Savior.

As I've been given to say more than once: "The Bible doesn't tell us all there is to know, but it tells us all we need to know."

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The High Priest
We could continue to speculate about who Melchisedek was, where he came from, etc., as well as the manner in which Jesus is like him. But at this point, anything else I would offer would be extra-Biblical and, therefore, hardly profitable.

Instead, let's look at the how the High Priest foreshadowed Christ as our eternal High Priest.

The New Testament Leviticus
In reviewing the comparisons between Christ and the earthly High Priest, all of which are outlined in the book of Hebrews, some Theologians have suggested that Hebrews is, in essence, the New Testament Leviticus.

  • Leviticus...

    details the righteous requirements of a holy God in order for sinful man to fellowship with Him; and

    appoints the High Priest as the mediator between the people and God in making inquiries of God and administering the judgments of God.

  • Hebrews...

    points out how Jesus has fulfilled God's righteous requirements on our behalf by His sacrifice on Calvary; and

    tells us that Jesus is now the one eternal Mediator between God and man.

The Aaronic Priesthood Actualized in Christ
The book of Hebrews explains the antitypical meaning of the Aaronic high priesthood, as fulfilled or accomplished in Christ.

Appointed and Anointed
Both the High Priest and Jesus Christ were called or appointed by God.

    "And you shall take to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel, so that he may minister to Me in the priest's office..." (Exodus 28:1)

    "Therefore, holy brothers, called to be partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was faithful in all his house." (Hebrews 3:1-2 emphasis added)

    "And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called of God, as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify Himself to be made a high priest, but He who said to Him, 'You are My Son, today I have begotten You.'" (Hebrews 5:4-5 emphasis added)

I believe the most important distinction about both the Aaronic priesthood and Christ's priesthood is the anointing of God on both.

    "Neither shall he go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his God; for the crown of the anointing oil of his God is on him. I am Jehovah." (Leviticus 21:12 emphasis added)

The High Priest was often referred to as "the anointed priest" or "the priest that is anointed", as he was the only one among all the priests who was anointed on the head with oil.

    "And he poured of the anointing oil on Aaron's head and anointed him, to sanctify him." (Leviticus 8:12).

The oil represented the Holy Spirit and signified that the High Priest was personally appointed or called by God. The oil would stream down from the head upon his beard, then to his robes and skirts, signifying the Holy Spirit's anointing of power and authority over spiritual wickedness.

The Bible says Jesus was anointed, not with oil, but with the fullness of the Spirit for the purpose of conquering the works of the Devil.

    "...God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and He went about doing good, and healing all those who were oppressed by the Devil, for God was with Him." (Acts 10:38)

This may be the source of confusion for some Christians. After all, Jesus was/is God. So, why and how did He need/receive an anointing that was, technically, already His? The answer to that, although easily discerned in the spirit, cannot be easily explained.

Although Jesus was/is God, He was also man. As a man, He had lain aside most of His divine attributes and submitted Himself to the physical limitations that had become His daily reality. Then, after Jesus submitted Himself to the Father, God anointed — endowed — Him with the power and influences of the Holy Spirit, so as to be completely qualified for His great work.

    "And out of His fullness we all have received, and grace for grace." (John 1:16 emphasis added)

    "...to the Son He says, 'Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated iniquity, therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your fellows.'" (Hebrews 1:8-9 emphasis added)

Christ Superior to Aaronic Priests
The Law says the priests must be descendants of Levi, which Aaron was. However, they still could not make anyone perfect. Rather, we needed a priest like Melchizedek who was superior to them.

    "Therefore if perfection were by the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the Law), what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron?" (Hebrews 7:11)

    "...who is made, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life." (Hebrews 7:16)

    "...by so much was Jesus made a surety of a better covenant." (Hebrews 7:22 emphasis added)

    "Now the sum of the things which we have spoken is this: We have such a High Priest, who has sat down on the right of the throne of the Majesty in Heaven, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man." (Hebrews 8:1-2)

    "But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by so much He is also the Mediator of a better covenant, which was built upon better promises." (Hebrews 8:6 emphasis added)

  • Consecrated with an Oath
    With this appointment, God Himself made a promise and fulfilled the promise stated in Psalm 110:4 as well as the promise made to Abraham so many centuries earlier (cf. Genesis 22:17).

    "...inasmuch as He was not made priest without an oath (for those priests were made without an oath, but this one was made with an oath by Him who said to Him, 'The Lord swore and will not repent, You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek,')" (Hebrews 7:20-21 emphasis added)

  • Endless and Cannot be Transferred
    The Law appoints priests who have weaknesses, but God's promise came later than the Law, making Jesus the perfect High Priest forever.

    "And they truly were many priests, because they were not allowed to continue because of death;" (Hebrews 7:23)

    "For the Law appoints men high priests who have infirmity, but the word of the swearing of an oath, after the Law, has consecrated the Son forever, having been perfected." (Hebrews 7:28 emphasis added)

  • No Blemishes
    Just as the animal sacrifices and the Lamb of God could have no blemishes (had to be sin-free), so too, the High Priest could have no blemishes (Leviticus 21:17-21). No one or no thing could come or be brought into God's presence with any defect, disability, blemish, or disfigurement of any kind, whether permanent or temporary.

    "For such a high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners and made higher than the heavens, who does not need, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice daily, first for his own sins and then for the people's sins. For He did this once for all, when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men high priests who have infirmity, but the word of the swearing of an oath, after the Law, has consecrated the Son forever, having been perfected." (Hebrews 7:26-28 emphasis added)

Our Merciful High Priest
Mercy is a prime requisite in a priest, since his office is to help the wretched and raise the fallen. One of Jesus' criticisms of the religious leaders of His day concerned their inability to identify and empathize with the people they were supposed to serve.

    "Woe to you, lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and you have hindered those who were entering in." (Matthew 12:7)

    "...you have left undone the weightier matters of the Law, judgment, mercy, and faith. You ought to have done these and not to leave the other undone." (Matthew 23:23)

    "Even so you also appear righteous to men outwardly, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity." (Matthew 23:28)

    "Even so you also appear righteous to men outwardly, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity." (Luke 11:42)

    "Woe to you, lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and you have hindered those who were entering in." (Luke 11:52)

  • Merciful and Faithful High Priest

    "Therefore in all things it behoved him to be made like His brothers, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of His people. For in that He Himself has suffered, having been tempted, He is able to rescue those who are being tempted." (Hebrews 2:17-18)

  • Identifies with Us

    "For we do not have a high priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted just as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)

    "...who can have compassion on the ignorant and on those who are out of the way. For he himself also is compassed with weakness." (Hebrews 5:2)

  • Turns Us from Our Sin

    "Having raised up His son Jesus, God sent Him to you first, to bless you in turning every one of you away from his iniquities." (Acts 3:26)

  • Both King and Priest

    "Even He shall build the temple of Jehovah; and He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne. And He shall be a priest on His throne; and the counsel of peace shall be between them both." (Zechariah 6:13)

Awaiting His Undefiled "Virgin" Bride
The High Priest was commanded to marry a wife in her virginity (cf. Leviticus 21:13). Likewise, Jesus is anticipating a virgin Bride.

    "For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy. For I have espoused you to one Man, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ." (2 Corinthians 11:2)

    "These are those who were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, as a firstfruit to God and to the Lamb." (Revelation 14:4)

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A Better and Eternal Covenant
As our eternal High Priest and perfect sinless sacrifice, Jesus has instituted a better agreement with God than that of the earthly priests.

    "...by so much was Jesus made a surety of a better covenant." (Hebrews 7:22 emphasis added)

Eternal Redemption
Because He is holy and innocent, Jesus doesn't need to offer sacrifices each day for His own sins and then for the sins of the people. He offered the perfect sacrifice — one time for all time — when He gave Himself.

    "...but He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood, therefore He is able also to save to the uttermost those who come unto God by Him, since He ever lives to make intercession for them." (Hebrews 7:24-25 emphasis added)

    "...nor by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered once for all into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption for us." (Hebrews 9:12 emphasis added)

Eternal Purification
If Christ's blood had no more power over sin than that which the High Priest offered — which only covered sin and had to be repeated year after year — it would have been necessary for Christ to die many times.

But Christ's sacrifice permanently removed the punishment for, power of, and stain of sin.

    "Nor yet that He should offer Himself often, even as the high priest enters into the Holy of Holies every year with the blood of others (for then He must have suffered often since the foundation of the world), but now once in the end of the world He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself." (Hebrews 9:25-26 emphasis added)

    "...so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many. And to those who look for Him He shall appear the second time without sin to salvation." (Hebrews 9:28)

    "For the Law which has a shadow of good things to come, not the very image of the things, appearing year by year with the same sacrifices, which they offer continually, they are never able to perfect those drawing near. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? Because the worshipers, when they had been once for all purged, would have had no more conscience of sin." (Hebrews 10:1-2)

Eternal Perfection
By His one sacrifice, Christ has forever set us free and has sat down at God's right side, signifying completion of His work. Now, instead of writing His laws on tablets, God says He will write His laws on our hearts, and He assures us that our sins are totally and permanently forgiven.

    "But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right of God, from then on expecting until His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified. The Holy Spirit also is a witness to us; for after He had said before, 'This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord; I will put My Laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,' also He adds, 'their sins and their iniquities I will remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin." (Hebrews 10:12-18 emphasis added)

Eternal Assurance of Faith
The great High Priest who removed the veil that separated us from God is in the One who's in charge of God's house. Therefore, we can draw near to God because He has forgiven our sins and purified our hearts by His blood.

    "...how much more shall the blood of Christ (who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God) purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Hebrews 9:14)

    "Therefore, brothers, having boldness to enter into the Holy of Holies by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He has consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies having been washed with pure water." (Hebrews 10:19-22 emphasis added)

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The "KING of Kings" Is Also "PRIEST of Priests"!
And now comes the climax, the pièce de résistance, in Hebrews chapter 8!

In this chapter, the writer of Hebrews summarizes the line of reasoning he has been pursuing in the previous chapters. The writer has already demonstrated that Jesus was not of the Levitical order, but of the order of Melchizedek. As such, His Priesthood surpassed the Aaronic priesthood in respect to permanency. But more importantly, it involves a dramatic change in the nature of the promise of God to His people.

    1 Now the sum of the things which we have spoken is this: We have such a High Priest, who has sat down on the right of the throne of the Majesty in Heaven,
    [This is a bold declaration of the pre-eminence of our High Priest. To sit in the throne is to possess sovereign power and dominion. Christ now enjoys in Heaven the very highest degree of exaltation.]

    2 a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man.
    [Jesus' ministry to us did not end with His death on Calvary. Rather, our great High Priest, in the height of His glory, continues to humble Himself as a minister on behalf of His Church. This ministry, of course, takes place in the Heavenly tabernacle, which is also far superior to any earthly sanctuary.]

    3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One have something to offer also.
    [A priest always has to have something to offer. Since He was not of the tribe of Levi, however, He could not offer the typical sacrifices. Rather, He offered Himself, His whole human nature, soul, and body — of which the other sacrifices were mere shadows.]

    4 For if indeed He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the Law,
    [Christ's sacrifice on the cross was a much higher priestly act in that He brought the sacrifice into the Heavenly Holy of Holies. In fact, there would be no salvation if He had offered any other sacrifice than Himself!]

    5 who serve the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was warned of God when he was about to make the tabernacle. For, He says "See that you make all things according to the pattern shown to you in the mountain."
    [The temple where the earthly Priests served was a mere shadow of that which is real and substantial in Heaven.]

    6 But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by so much He is also the Mediator of a better covenant, which was built upon better promises.
    [Christ's ministry is more excellent to that of Aaron's priesthood in that the new covenant instituted through Christ's sacrifice was the best covenant God has ever made with man. Not only are we saved by a covenant of grace, but Old Testament believers are saved by the same covenant of grace because they have believed God's promise.]

    7 For if that first covenant had been without fault, then no place would have been sought for the second.
    [This does not mean that the first covenant made through Moses had any real faults. It was merely preparatory to the Gospel. The first was unable to justify and save us, because of our inability, through the weakness of the flesh, to answer the demands of it (see Romans 8:3.) The Law was not weak to us, but we were weak to it. It pointed us toward our need for a Savior and Priest who could do what we could not.]

He Goes Between
The Apostle John tells us Jesus existed before Creation (cf. John 1:1-3), which means that as the Son of God . . . as the Word . . . and as the life which was "the light of men", He naturally goes between Adam and God. Who is that person who "goes between" sinful man and God in the Old Testament? The Priest.

Melchizedek was appointed "Priest of God Most High" . . . by God. And this well before Levi was even born, let alone him and his descendants being appointed by God to the priesthood! And yet, the Jews recognized Melchizedek, not only as "High Priest", but as a High Priest superior to the Levitical/Aaronic priesthood!

Therefore, when the writer to the Hebrews said Jesus was a "high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek", he was acknowledging that Jesus, the Son of God, was and is eligible for any priesthood, anytime, anyplace, and in any way He wants to be!

Melchizedek was the only Priest who was also a king. Jesus Christ is the only "King of kings" who is also our High Priest! He is "King of kings" . . . "Lord of lords" . . . and "Priest of priests"!"

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