Jesus: A Better High Priest, part 1 (Hebrews 8:1)

Before we get into chapter 8 of Hebrews, we have a few verses to cover in chapter 7.

25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. 26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

The point the author of Hebrews is making is that Jesus is a better priest.  He comes from a different linage, after the order of Melchizedek, instead of Levi and the Aaronic priesthood.  Therefore he is an eternal priest and “always lives to make intercession for [us].”  In addition, he is totally sinless.  Look again at verse 26, “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.”

He is unlike the current priesthood, which must “offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins.”  Jesus, being sinless, does not need to offer sacrifices for himself.  Throughout his life he lived a totally sinless life, always doing the will of His Father and pleasing Him in every respect.  Thus, He could give himself as a sacrifice for us, because he was spotless and without defect.

The Levitical priests had to offer sacrifices to pay for their own sins before they could offer sacrifices for the people.  Jesus, however, because He was perfect, “once for all…offered up himself.”

Notice that Christ “offered up himself,” it was a willing sacrifice.  Although it was the Father’s will, Jesus willingly submitted to that will in the garden.  He says in John 10:17-18…

17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This charge I have received from my Father.”

The reason Christ offered up himself “once for all” is that His sacrifice perfectly appeased God’s wrath against sins.  Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished,” which can be translated “paid in full.”  No subsequent sacrifices are needed. Jesus paid it all.

Jesus is a superior priest because He is a Son (the Son of God), not a mere man, because God swore His priesthood into existence, because His priesthood is more recent, because his priesthood is permanent, because it is now in heaven, and because his person is perfect.

The outcome for us is inevitable and eternal: “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest” (v. 26a).  Hallelujah!  Double hallelujah!  How dare we go anywhere else with our need!  How dare we go to others without first going to him!  He is everything we need!  Either we are children or we are not.  Either Christ is sufficient or he is not.  And he more certainly is!

“One of the most distinctive themes in the theology of Hebrews is the change from old to new in God’s dealings with humankind. In Jesus Christ a decisive shift in salvation-history has occurred according to God’s plan. What was provisional and ineffective has been superseded by the final and full salvation in the Son of God, a change anticipated in the Old Testament itself” (Buist Fanning, “A Theology of Hebrews.” In A Biblical Theology of the New Testament, p. 398).

A better priest enacts a better covenant.  That is the theme of Hebrews 8.

And you might say, “So what?”

Well, I hope that a fresh understanding of the new covenant that Jesus enacted will be transforming to your life, and therefore exciting to you.

To the Jews, who for fifteen hundred years had been raised upon the Old Covenant with the Mosaic Law, it was very difficult for them to ever accept the possibility that the Old Covenant had been replaced with a new covenant.  Although this had been promised in the Old Testament prophets, they were leery about believing that it had been enacted by Jesus.

In previous chapters we have been shown that Jesus is superior to…

  • The prophets (Hebrews 1:1-3)
  • The angels (Hebrews 1:4-2:18)
  • Moses (Hebrews 3:1-5)
  • Aaron and the Levitical priesthood (Hebrews 5:1-10; 7:1-28).

So our author has been proving that Jesus is indeed a superior priest, having offered a superior sacrifice which inaugurates a superior covenant.

Let me read Hebrews 8.

1 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” 6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. 8 For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” 13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Why is Jesus so superior?

First, the superiority of Jesus’ high priestly ministry is established by the finality of His atoning sacrifice.

Our author begins verse 1 with the statement, “the point of what we’re saying” and that is not so much a summarizing statement as the idea that this is the apex, the high point.  It is not just the main point, this is the high point.  He will continue to develop this thought for the next three chapters. 

The author leads us on from his treatment of the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek beginning in Hebrews 4:14 and now reaching a crescendo in Hebrews 7, the writer has been emphasizing the priesthood of Christ to emphasize the point that Christ’s ministry far surpasses that of the Levitical priests.

And here is the high point: “We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty of heaven.”

Jesus is not just any priest, but “such” a high priest…a glorious high priest.

Don’t miss this little point here.  Our author uses the present tense here, “we have.”  We continually have this kind of priest, presently functioning for us.  He is our priest.  If we believe in Jesus Christ, He is our priest forever.  There will never be any change in that.  He is continually interceding for us.  There will never be any change in that.

Two things are highlighted about this high priest in verse 2.  One deals with the place the high priest ministers in (which we will deal with secondly).  The other deals with the posture of the high priest.

The Levitical priest never, ever sat down.  There was no place for them to sit.  Neither a chair nor a bench was part of the furniture of the temple.

In Hebrews 10:11-12 we read…

11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,

The Levitical priest was always standing because their work was never done.  They were always having to offer new sacrifices for the continuing sins of the people.  They did this day after day, “offering repeatedly the same sacrifices.”  Why?  Because these sacrifices “never take away sins.”  They are ineffective in permanently taking away sins.

In contrast, Jesus as the better high priest has “sat down.”  The verb indicates a completed, non-repeatable action.  And He is seated because his work made a single sacrifice that is effective “for all time.”  It is the physical expression that signified: “It is finished.”

In John 4, Jesus had to explain to His disciples what his real “food” was, declaring…

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34)

At this point in his ministry he still had much to do, so he was always at work doing the Father’s will.  But in John 17, Jesus indicated in his high priestly prayer “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.”

By this time the work was done.  Yes, He still had to hang upon the cross to satisfy God’s wrath against us and pay the penalty for our sins and rise again, but He could speak of His work as effectively finished.

And then John records Jesus’ words on the cross in John 19:28-30.

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

“It is finished” translates the single verb tetelesthai, which means in essence, “paid in full.”  The perfect tense speaks of the permanence of this payment—a single payment that has continuing benefits for us today.

In ancient times when someone had a debt that was finally paid off, the lender would write “tetelesthai” across the bill to certify that it had been paid in full.  And when Jewish priests would examine an animal for suitability to be sacrificed, they would use this same verb if they found the animal to be faultless.  We owed a debt we could never pay, but Jesus fully paid the debt He did not owe.  That is amazing grace!

Because in his person he brought finite man and infinite God together, he could then do what no one else could—he could bear all our sins in a single cosmic sacrifice.  Hence the heavenly song, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

In contrast, no earthly Levitical priest ever sat down. “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (10:11).  “Each repeated sacrifice was only a reminder that none of the sacrifices ever provided a finished salvation.  The blood of animals did not wash away sin or cleanse the guilty conscience; it only covered sin until that day when Jesus Christ died to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29)” (Warren Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, p. 824).

Jesus did what no priest before Him had ever done.  He sat down.  His work was finished.  It need never be repeated.

Several months ago we saw in Hebrews 1:3 this description of Jesus’ superiority to the angels:

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Then back in Hebrews 8:3 this contrast is emphasized.

For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer.

The Levitical high priest had to offer many “gifts and sacrifices.”  But Jesus Christ, “this priest” made one single offering…Himself.  This quantitative difference is carried out in the verbs as well.  For the Levitical priests “to offer” is in the present tense, an ongoing activity; for Jesus Christ “to offer” is in the aorist tense, in this context indicating an action which was not repeated.  Jesus, in one act, had brought before God the one offering that would perfectly satisfy God’s requirement.

Jesus Christ does not need to offer sacrifices day after day.  Hebrews 7:27 says, “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.”

Jesus is superior.  His offering of Himself makes all other attempts to win God’s favor unnecessary and ineffective.  We don’t have to do anything else to be well-pleasing to God.  You need to understand that God is totally and completely satisfied with you IF you are in Christ.  You don’t have to do anything because Christ has already done it.  Someone has distinguished between all other religions and Christianity in that all other religions are spelled D-0, “do,” while Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E, “done.”

If is the height of foolishness, even though it seems fitting, for us to try to earn God’s favor through our own efforts.  First, we could never do enough.  Second, even our righteousnesses are like filthy rags, shot through and through with defilement.  Believe me, your morality will never satisfy God like the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ does.

Any attempt to earn the favor of God on your own will make Him decidedly unsatisfied with you!

Now, because Christ is seated doesn’t mean He is inactive.  Remember that in the presence of the Father He continues to be our intercessor (Hebrews 7:25) and advocate (1 John 2:2).

Second, we see in verse 2 that the superiority of Jesus’ high priestly ministry is established by the manifestation of His royal dignity.

This has to do with the place where Christ is now seated.  Notice the absolutely unique location. “who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty of heaven.”

We not only have a High Priest who has majestically taken His seat at the Father’s right hand (v. 1), but we have One who now ministers as a priest in the heavenly sanctuary (v. 2; cf. Ps. 110:1).

The “majesty of heaven” is a description of God the Father in all His glory, His radiant splendor.  Revelation 4:2-3 describe that scene in these words:

2 At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. 3 And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.

Jesus is seated “at the right hand of the throne,” at God’s right hand, a place of honor, exaltation and power.

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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