The Priesthood of our Lord Jesus
E. J. Strange, Bridgwater
"He ever liveth to make intercession for them", Heb. 7. 25. So the writer to the Hebrews expresses in one short sentence our Lord's present ministry in the glory. But it has often been pointed out that we must beware of a wrong impression of what our Lord is doing, and even hymns can be misleading. In this paper, we shall dwell briefly on the Lord's character as Man that manifests that He alone is the One fitted to be our Great High Priest, in contrast to the failure of the first priesthood of the Aaronic order.
The Function of the Priesthood is clearly stated. The priest is taken from among men ... for men . .. that he may offer. Only a man can be a priest; no angel or archangel, however dignified, could fulfil such a function. (This argument at once precludes any view that Melchizedek was not a man). A man was appointed to act for men in those things relating to the living and unseen God. These involve "gifts and sacrifices", the mediation and maintenance of a right covenant relationship, the maintenance including the responsibility of teaching the things of God. Malachi gives a description of the ideal in the passage beginning, "My covenant was with him of life and peace", Mai. 2. 5-7.
The Failure of Man is characteristic of the Old Testament priesthood. The weakness of Aaron and his successors was manifest. They were compassed by infirmity, and they could not continue in their office because of death; their history is sufficient evidence of the truth of our former statement. Aaron weakly yielded to the demands of a people who said, "make us gods", Exod. 32. 1. Two of his sons died in their presumptious offerings in the tabernacle. Lev. 10. 1-5. Eli was too weak to restrain his evil sons who both perished miserably, 1 Sam. 3. 13. In the prophets there appears a constant clash between priest and prophet, and Jeremiah complained that the priests did what they pleased, and the people loved to have it so, Jer. 5. 31. Annas, Caiaphas and Ananias in the New Testament were worthy successors of these men!
Whether the priest was faithful or unfaithful, however, the issue was the same; he died. It is appointed unto men once to die. One of the sad chapters in the Old Testament is Numbers 20, where in the sight of all the congregation Moses took Aaron up mount Hor there to strip Aaron of his "garments of glory and beauty", putting them on Eleazar his son, w. 27-28, since the time had come for Aaron to die. The priest must die, but the office must continue; similarly with royalty - The king is dead, but, Long live the king.
A Faithful High Priest. Quite early in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the writer speaks of Jesus as being a "merciful and faithful high priest", 2. 17. He was faithful amidst unfaithfulness; He is "holy, harmless, undeflled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens", 7. 26. In His relationship with the Eternal, He was ever the "Holy One of God". He was utterly set apart to the will of God so that He alone could truly say, "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me", John 4. 34. In His relationship with man, He was harmless. The prophet had spoken long before, "he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth", Is. 53. 9. There have been periods in man's history that have been exceptionally violent; most would agree that such is the character of our age. As those who belong to Christ, we must beware of getting infected with the spirit of the age; our Lord died to redeem us from it. He suffered also, "leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps", 1 Pet. 2. 21. The Lord said, "Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves", Matt. 10. 16. Again, Jesus was undefiled - as to His personal life. In a filthy place, we find that we become soiled; with the best will in the world, our most holy moments are at times marred by defiling sounds and thoughts. But of Christ the hymn-writer has truly said:
Morning by morning Thou dids't awake
Amidst this poisoned air; Yet no contagion touched Thy soul,
No sin disturbed Thy prayer.
Moreover, He was separate from sinners. He received sinners and ate with them; He was the friend of publicans and sinners, but He was never one of them. In the perfection of His Manhood, He alone was unique. When the work of redemption had been finished on the cross, no impious or hostile hand was allowed to touch Him. By resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God, He was separated from sinners, dwelling in that place where nothing that defiles can ever enter, but which shall be the home of sinners saved and cleansed through His grace. Such a High Priest is truly fitting for us; He is absolutely suited to our need.
Fulness in Him. There is in our great High Priest a wonderful fulness, a fulness of power and grace. Death is the great destroyer of man's powers, but Jesus has conquered death and ultimately death itself shall be cast into the lake of fire. In the strength of His righteousness our Lord lived untainted in a defiled world; in the strength of His love He went to the cross to yield Himself a sacrifice for human guilt -"Love is stronger than death". Of the Lord Jesus the hymn-writer has truly said, "Stronger His love than death or hell". All power and authority belong to our Risen Lord, and He is able to save completely all who come to God by Him.
Power alone can terrify, but in the relationship of God with His people, power is never alone. It is always hand-in-hand with grace. Even the Psalmist could say, "God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God. Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy", Ps. 62. 11-12. In our Lord, power and grace are fully expressed. We are therefore encouraged to come with complete confidence to the throne of grace where Jesus the Son of God is seated; there we shall obtain mercy and find seasonable help.