Jesus Christ, High Priest

By J. L. Leifeste

“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1).

God established a priesthood under the law of Moses. He did not accept priests of false religions (1 Kings 12:28-31; 16:31-33; 18:17-39; 2 Kings 10:18-28; 11:18; 23:4-18; Zeph. 1:4-6). The Bible teaches us important lessons about priests. The most important lessons concern the priesthood of Christianity.


Sometimes we see a shadow of something like a tree or a man, then we see the real substance which was casting the shadow — a real tree or a real man. In a similar way, because God knew the future, He gave us some Old Covenant “shadows” of things which would later be in His New Covenant. Many things in the Old Covenant of Moses were actually “the copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5), “...the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things...” (Heb. 10:1). The New Covenant of Christ contains the real substance for the shadows: “...which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col. 2:17).

To understand Christ as the High Priest of today, we must see contrasts and similarities. We must compare the Old Testament shadow with the New Testament substance of His priesthood. In this way, we gain a better understanding and appreciation of both shadow and substance.


Around fifteen hundred B.C., God established the Levitical priesthood by commandment in the Mosaic law — the law which God gave to the nation of Israel through Moses. In contrast, God established the timeless priesthood of Christ by consecrating Him with an oath (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 5:5; 7:20-22, 28).

The Mosaic system of worship first occurred in a structure known as the tabernacle, and later in a temple (Ex. 29:42-46; 1 Sam.3:1-21; 1 Kings 6:1-3; 7:50-8:11). Today, to correctly worship God, we must be members of the church of Christ, the true house and temple of God (Mt. 16:18; Rom. 16:16; 1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Cor. 3:16-17). Also, in a way, each Christian is a living temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19-20; 2 Cor. 6:16).

The Mosaic system included sacrificing animals as a representation of payment for sins (Ex. 20:24; 30:10). However, today the sacrifice of Jesus Christ actually pays the penalty for our sins (Isa. 1:11-18; 53:5, 10; Acts 4:12; Eph. 5:2; Heb. 9:13-14; 10:4-12).

Under the Mosaic system, God appointed Aaron as the first high priest. He was of the Israelite tribe of Levi and was the brother of Moses (Ex. 6:16-20). Priests could only be descendants of Aaron’s family (Ex. 29:9; Num. 3:6-10). However, prophecies in the Old Testament foretold that the Christ would be of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10; Isa. 11:1-5; Jer. 23:5-6). Since Jesus lived under the law of Moses (Gal. 4:4) and was not of the tribe of Levi, He could not be a high priest while living on earth: “For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood” (Heb. 7:12-14). Jesus had to complete His perfect obedience by submitting to the Law of Moses and by dying on the cross (Phil. 2:8).

At the death of Christ, the Law of Moses ended: “...And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14; see Eph. 2:15-16; Gal. 3:24-25). It was replaced by the Law of Christ: “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says [quoting from Jer. 31:31-32]: ‘Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt...’” (Heb. 8:7-9; see 9:15-17; 10:9). Resurrected from death, Jesus Christ is now the High Priest (Heb. 3:1). He conducts His priestly work from a seat at His Father’s right hand (Heb. 7:21; Eph. 1:20-23).

Now, every Christian is a “priest” (1 Pet. 2:5, Rev. 1:6). When sinners are reborn by obeying the gospel, they enter into Christ and become part of His lineage (Jn. 3:3-5; 1 Pet. 1:23-25; Gal. 3:6-9; Eph. 3:6). “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:26-29).

With the Mosaic system, a high priest had to be a male and physically perfect (Lev. 21:16-23). Jesus was perfect in a spiritual sense (Heb. 7:26; 9:14; 1 Pet. 1:19), rather than a physical one (Isa. 53:2).

In the Mosaic system, a high priest had to be washed with water before taking office. Such washing symbolized spiritual purification. In contrast, although Jesus was baptized (immersed) at the start of His public ministry (Mt. 3:13-17), He was sinless and did not need spiritual cleansing (Isa. 11:5; 53:9; Lk. 1:35; 4:34; Acts 4:27, 30; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 Jn. 3:5).

Under the Law of Moses, all of the other priests were likewise required to wash with water (Ex. 29:4; Lev. 8:6). Today, sinners must be “washed” in baptism to be consecrated and approach God (Rom. 6:3-23; 1 Cor. 6:11; Gal. 3:26-27; Col. 2:12-13; Heb. 10:22). It is not merely symbolic, but is a necessary part of our true, spiritual cleansing. To become a Christian and a “priest,” a sinner must believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, repent of his sins, confess his faith in Christ, and be baptized (immersed) in water for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 8:12-13, 35-38; 17:30; 22:16; Rom. 10:10; 6:3-5; 1 Pet. 3:21). “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk. 16:16).

Levitical high priests were anointed with oil (Ex. 29:7; Lev. 8:12; Ps. 133:2). Jesus was “anointed” spiritually (Lk. 4:16-21; Acts 4:26-27; Heb. 1:9). “...God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38).

The Mosaic high priest wore a crown (Ex. 39:30-31; Lev. 8:9). Men crowned Jesus with thorns upon this earth (Mk. 15:17), but He now has a crown of glory from His Father (Heb. 2:7, 9).

The Mosaic high priest had to obey God’s commandments for that office and its procedures to have meaning. Jesus Christ always obeyed His Father (Jn. 5:36; 6:38; 8:29; 14:31; 15:10).

The responsibilities of the Levitical high priest were more important than the responsibilities of the other priests. He stood as the mediator between the people and God (Ex. 28:29-30; 30:10; Lev. 9:7; Num. 8:21; 16:47-48). Therefore, he was a means by which justice was deferred until God’s complete grace would be revealed. Christ is now the Mediator through whom God’s grace is offered to all mankind (Rom. 3:20-26; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 9:15; 12:24). “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Heb. 8:6). “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1 Tim. 2:5-6).

The high priest of the Old Testament received communication from God. He was the leading religious authority who relayed God’s directions to the nation of Israel (Lev. 10:8-11; Num. 26:1; 31:29; Deut. 33:8-11). This required that the people listen to the high priest and obey those directions. Christ, our High Priest, received God’s word and conveyed it to us in the New Testament (Isa. 11:1-4; Mt. 11:27; 23:8; Lk. 4:15; Jn. 3:1-2; 5:30; Col. 2:3; 3:16; 1 Thess. 4:1-3; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; Heb. 1:1-2; 1 Jn. 1:1-5; Jude 3). The New Testament is God’s word for all people today.

At one point, Aaron’s authority was questioned by the Israelites. God proved His choice of Aaron by a miracle. God caused Aaron’s almond rod to bud, blossom, and bear ripe almonds in one night (Num. 17:1-11). Later, Christ’s authority was challenged by some of the Jewish religious leaders. The miracles worked by Christ confirmed His authority (Jn. 3:1-2; 20:30-31). “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know” (Acts 2:22).

Only the Levitical high priest could enter the most holy place and bring the blood of the sin offering to the mercy seat of God (Lev. 16:3, 15-17). In this way, the high priest received God’s mercy and kept the punishment of sins away from himself and the people. Unlike a Levitical high priest, Jesus was sinless and needed no sacrifice for Himself. The perfect sacrifice of His own life for us, required only once, is better than all of the sacrifices in the Mosaic law (Heb. 7:27; 9:23-24; 10:12). Jesus ascended into heaven, into the very presence of God, and intercedes there for us (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 6:19; 4:14; 7:25).

Because He is our High Priest, Christians have the priestly privilege of approaching the throne of God in prayer in the name of Jesus. He told His apostles, “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (Jn. 16:23-24). “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, 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 washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:19-22).

In the Mosaic system, when a high priest died, anyone who had accidentally killed a person was given freedom (Num. 35:25-28). Today, according to God’s eternal plan, the death of Jesus Christ sets us free from sin and death (Jn. 8:34-36; Rom. 5:6-8; 8:2; Gal. 5:1; Isa. 53:12; Mt. 26:39-44; Jn. 10:17-18; Phil. 2:8). Christ is the joy of humanity because He truly defeated death by His resurrection (Isa. 25:8; 1 Cor. 15:55-57; 1 Jn. 5:11-12). Upon each first day of the week, we commemorate His sacrifice by partaking of the Lord’s Supper (Mt. 26:26-30; Mk. 14:22-26; Lk. 22:17-20; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:23-29).

The Levitical high priest offered incense before God (Ex. 30:6-8; Lev. 16:12-13; 2 Chron. 13:10-11). Physical incense symbolized obedience and sacrifice (Lev. 2:2; 16:12-13; Ezek. 16:19). The obedience and sacrifice offered by Christ rose as a sweet savor to God (Eph. 5:2). Today, Christ does not tell us to offer physical incense in worship. The sweet savor from Christians includes spreading the gospel, praising God, and living daily for Him (2 Cor. 2:14-17; Phil. 4:18; Heb. 13:15; Rom. 12:1).

Under the Mosaic law, the priest tended the lamps to spread light in physical darkness (Ex. 30:8; Num. 4:16). Christ now ministers to the spiritual sanctuary: “Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man” (Heb. 8:2). Jesus is the light revealing God to mankind through the gospel (Isa. 42:6; Lk. 1:78-79; Jn 1:1-14; 8:12; 12:35; 2 Cor. 4:3-6; 2 Tim. 1:10; 2 Pet. 1:19).


Another shadow that we must notice from the Old Testament concerns Melchizedek (Melchisedec). He lived around nineteen hundred B.C., during the time of Abram, later known as Abraham (Gen. 17:5). Abraham received a promise from God and would be an ancestor of Christ (Gen. 12:1-3; 22:16-18; Lk. 3:23-34).

The name “Melchisedec” means “righteous king.” Melchizedek was a shadow of Jesus Christ. As substance, Christ is our righteous King (Jer. 23:5-6; Rom. 5:18; 1 Tim. 6:14 -16; Rev. 17:14). Melchizedek was the ruler of Salem (Gen. 14:18), a city whose name meant “peace.” That city later became Jerusalem (Ps. 76:2), and it is sometimes referred to by the name of one of its prominent hills, Zion (2 Sam 5:6-7; 2 Kings 19:21; Heb. 7:1-2). Jesus is the Prince of Peace and the King of the new or spiritual Jerusalem, which is also spiritual Zion (Ps. 2:6-7; 125:1-2; Isa. 9:6; Zech. 9:9-10; Mt. 21:4-5; Acts 13:33). That spiritual city is equated with Christ’s church (Jer. 3:15-17; Heb. 12:22-23; Rev. 21:9-10).

Melchizedek was also “the priest of the God Most High” (Gen. 14:18). However, we know nothing of his genealogy. There is no record of his birth or death. And the Bible does not tell us when or how his priesthood began. Therefore, symbolically, both his life and his priesthood had no beginning and no end (Heb. 7:3, 8). We must recognize that Jesus Christ is truly eternal and without beginning or end (Mic. 5:2; Jn. 1:1-18; 8:56-58; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:1-2, 8, 10-12; 13:8). His priesthood is also eternal (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 5:6, 10; 7:15-25).

God was evidently pleased with Melchizedek. This priest met Abraham and blessed him. Melchizedek’s priesthood was so important that even Abraham, an ancestor of Levi and the Levitical priesthood, paid tithes to him (Gen. 14:18-20; Heb. 7:4). These incidents esteemed Melchizedek as greater than Abraham and the Levitical priests (Heb. 7:2, 4-7). Melchizedek’s priesthood was a shadow of the priesthood of Christ (Heb. 6:20; 7:17). Therefore, Christ’s priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood.

It is interesting to compare and contrast the New Testament with the Old Testament. By doing so, we learn to appreciate the beauties of both the shadow and the substance. However, it is important that we do not invent shadow and substance in the Bible. We must learn what the Bible teaches by studying God’s entire, interwoven plan in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Today, we must live by that plan of salvation for mankind. It offers real meaning to sacrifice (Heb. 9:11-15; 10:1-10) and mercy (Mt. 5:7; Lk. 6:36; Col. 3:12-13). Christ is the substance. His priesthood encompasses all things to complete God’s plan. Jesus Christ is the true High Priest.

“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16).