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Why We Need a Priest

When I first began church planting, I seriously considered naming the church I planted “Christ Our Priest Presbyterian Church.” After all, there were already thousands of churches that had “Christ the King” (or some variation of it) in the name. I still find it utterly shocking that there are no churches named “Christ Our Priest.” After all, everyone needs a priest. No one can approach God without a mediator. It is for this reason that the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ is one of the most glorious truths in all of God’s revelation in Scripture. Christ’s role as the High Priest of believers has a far-reaching impact on our Christian lives and experiences.

Believers rightly love to talk about the “finished work of Jesus.” After all, Scripture puts the once-for-all atoning sacrifice of Christ in the driver’s seat of redemptive history and of the Christian life. However, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus is only one-half of His priestly work. The work of the priest under the old covenant was to sacrifice and to intercede. As the Great High Priest, Jesus now “always lives to make intercession” for those for whom He has sacrificed Himself to God (Heb. 7:25). The writer of the book of Hebrews focuses on both sides of Jesus’ priestly work—His “finished work” of offering Himself to God as the perfect sacrifice and His “unfinished work” of continual intercession. The Christian life can be lived only in light of these two sides of Christ’s role as the High Priest over the house of God.

When we consider what bearing the priesthood of Jesus—in its finished and unfinished aspects—has on the Christian’s life, we must seek to draw out all that we can from the book of Hebrews. The writer of Hebrews had a profound interest in the grandeur of this subject. Writing to a people beleaguered by suffering—a people who were tempted to turn back from Christ to a ritualistic form of Judaism in order to avoid persecution—the author went to great lengths to help believers understand the significance of the priestly work of Jesus for their continuance in the faith. He did so by setting out the following benefits of the priesthood of Christ.


The great promise of the new covenant is God’s forgiving sin (Heb. 8:12; 9:22; 10:18) and remembering no more the lawless deeds of believers (10:17). The once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus’ finished work at Calvary accomplishes this for the people of God. The blood shed at the cross is the blood by which God forgives and passes over the sin of His people. By virtue of this aspect of Christ’s priestly work, believers “no longer have any consciousness of sin” (10:2). The guilt of sin has been dealt with in the death of the Great High Priest.


In addition to the forgiveness of sin, believers have their hearts cleansed by virtue of the bloodshed of the new covenant Mediator. Through the blood of the Priest, Jesus Christ, we have our “hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” (Heb. 10:22). The blood of Jesus is the blood of the sacrifice that can make the worshiper acceptable to God. “The blood of Christ . . . [purifies] our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:14). We are consecrated to God as His worshipers through the sacrifice of Christ.


The priestly work of Jesus ensures that believers “receive the promised eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15). The writer picks up the language of a last will and testament and applies it to the priestly work of Christ in the new covenant. When Jesus died, He redeemed God’s people from the legal condemnation of the old covenant and secured by that death the everlasting inheritance. In His death, we have life and an everlasting inheritance.


One of the chief differences between the office of a prophet and a priest is that a prophet stands more intimately related to God as revealing Himself to man and a priest stands more intimately related to man as coming before God. Geerhardus Vos captured this well when he wrote, “A prophet . . . represents not man but God; therefore the nearer he stands to God the better he is qualified. A priest, on the other hand, represents man and his qualification is measured by his nearness to man.” Jesus is the great and final Prophet and Priest of God; however, in His work as the Great High Priest over the house of God, He is measured by His nearness to man. This is why the writer of Hebrews can say that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). When we are being tempted, we go to Jesus, our great Priest, knowing that He will sympathize with us and will give us grace and mercy in time of need.


While so much of the book of Hebrews calls professing believers to persevere in the faith, there is also a focus on the foundational truth that we will persevere because the living Christ is preserving us. Since Jesus is the risen, ascended, and reigning Priest over the house of God, we are confident that “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” (Heb. 7:25). At the right hand of the Father, Jesus is praying on behalf of His people. Theologians have called John 17“the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus.” We take great comfort in knowing that Jesus, during His earthly ministry, prayed that the Father would keep us and bring us to glory. How much more comfort should be derived from the fact that He is doing that very thing now in the presence of His Father in glory? We have a perfect representative who has lived, died, and risen for us, and who ever pleads the merits of His finished work on behalf of His people. This is the same truth that the Apostle John latches onto when he writes, “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1–2, NKJV).

The entirety of the believer’s life can only be lived in light of the priesthood of Christ. As the Mediator of the new covenant, Jesus preeminently functions as the Great High Priest over the house of God. In the words of James Henley Thornwell, “Priesthood is the perfection of mediation,” and we have such a perfect Mediator in Jesus—who has, “by one offering . . . perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14).


This post was first published on February 26, 2018 at Tabletalk Magazine Online.