•••by Russell Young
Although all believers have heard of the ministry of Christ as high priest, this ministry is often not well understood even though it is essential for a person’s eternal salvation. The duty of the high priest is to represent humankind in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices (Heb 8:3) for sins. (Heb 5:1)
The ministry of the high priest was first practiced in the sanctuary of Jewish tabernacle worship and we are told that the earthly sanctuary was a copy of the heavenly sanctuary. (Heb 8:5) It had two sections. The priests carried on their prescribed ministry in the Holy Place which was the outer room. They carried out the ceremonies and rituals of the earthly tabernacle in accordance with God’s instructions. They offered animal sacrifices on a daily basis for the sins of the people as they were acknowledged by the confessor; that is, for known sins.
Only the high priest entered the inner room, the Most Holy Place, and only once a year. His duty was to offer a sacrifice “for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” (Heb 9:7, NIV)
Since the earthly pattern is a copy of that which is practiced in heaven, it can be seen that there are two kinds of sins…those known and those committed in ignorance. Both kinds need to be addressed before our holy God. The commission of sin is serious business and needs to be recognized as such. The believer as priest (Rev 1:6) can offer the prayer of confession and repentance before God and like tabernacle worship he needs to do this as he becomes aware. Paul wrote: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9, NIV) Sin separates. (Isa 59:2) Paul confirmed the hope of the repentant sinner under the New Covenant. “But if anyone does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence-Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is our atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1, NIV)
The believer cannot confess and be purified concerning sins about which he is unaware. It is the role of Christ as high priest to plead his blood for cleansing sins committed through the believer’s ignorance.
The writer of Hebrews has encouraged the believer concerning the power and authority of Christ, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Heb 7:25, NIV) Christ is able to save completely because he intercedes for the believer in regard to confessed sin and for sins committed in ignorance.
There is condemnation, however, for those who willingly continue to sin. “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that consumes the enemies of God.” (Heb 10:26-27) It is revealed that God will bring his vengeance on those “who have trampled the Son of God under foot, who have treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace.” (Heb 10:29) The believer is to “work out his or her own salvation with fear (terror) and trembling.” (Phil 2:12)
As high priest, Jesus represents his brothers and sisters to the Father. He is an advocate (1 Jn 2:1) for the person who does not deliberately continue to sin. An advocate pleads the case of the offending one. He examines the circumstances of the offense and the position of the law. Using these, he presents a defence if it can be found. There is no defence for the person who deliberately or knowingly continues to sin since through his divine power he has been given all that is needed for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3)
The ministry of Christ needs to be understood and respected. His Father, who allowed him to suffer on the cross will not allow his Son to be trampled under foot. Teaching that promotes the thought that all sin and sinning was addressed at the cross is error and those who live as though sin is no longer of concern to them will one day suffer the wrath of God for their disregard.
Christ came to defeat the work of Satan and to create a holy people. (Heb 12:14, NIV) It is in this matter that Christ as high priest is essential. The New Covenant is a covenant of the Spirit and not of the law. Sin is revealed in the believer’s life according to the Spirit’s enlightenment and he reveals sin specifically and individually according to the stage of transformation that he is carrying out in the believer. Not all sins are revealed at the same time; the believer remains ignorant of some. Those that are made known however, are to be confessed in order for cleansing to take place and for the believer to gain victory over their practice. Those about which the believer is unaware will be advocated by Christ as high priest. Because of this Paul has emphasized the ministry of the Spirit. “And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4, NIV) The Spirit reveals sin on his schedule.
The high priest of tabernacle worship offered sacrifices and Christ also must offer sacrifices to God. Paul stated that he was given “the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:16, NIV) The cleansed and transformed believer is the acceptable offering.
The goal of Christ is to keep and to present the transformed sinner to his Father, perfect and holy, as his own brother and sister and his ministries as Spirit and as high priest are essential to that accomplishment.