Our Great High Priest

“In all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful High people, for in that he himself had suffered, being tempted, he is ably to succor them that are tempted.” —Hebrews 2:17,18

HEBREWS 4:14-16, AGREES WITH our theme text, stating: “Seeing then that we have an great High Priest that has passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession, for we have not an High Priest that cannot be touched by the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

These Scriptures attest to the fact that we do have a very sympathetic High Priest in the heavens, our Lord Jesus. The word ‘suffered’ or ‘suffering’ as used in Hebrews 2:18 and many other places in the New Testament, have been translated from several Greek words, and each has its own peculiar meaning. There is the meaning, of course, of actually ‘enduring pain’. There is also the meaning of ‘permitting’, or ‘allowing something to happen’, as when our Lord said, “Suffer [permit or allow] little children to come unto me.” This might be the way we should consider the statement in reference to Jesus—he allowed himself to be put in the position where he could be tempted, tested, or tried by the experiences he agreed to undergo as a man here upon earth.

There is no question that Jesus did suffer much physical pain at the end of his life, when he was hung upon the cross until he died. Throughout the three and one-half years of his ministry here upon earth he suffered weariness, fastings, lack of physical comforts. Jesus said of himself, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Matt. 8:20) Besides this he permitted himself to be tempted and tested by the Devil, and by the Adversaries agencies—the chief priests and the Pharisees; and even those who should have known him well in the area in which he grew up, were cruel to him. But he suffered all these unpleasant taunts willingly, and even joyfully, in order that he might learn to be our sympathetic High Priest.

At his resurrection, Jesus did assume the position of the great High Priest to the Heavenly Priesthood, interceding for the members of his Body, the church. In Hebrews 4:13 we read: “We have a great High Priest, who has passed into the heavens.” Again, the purpose for his holding this position is clearly stated by Paul to be, “to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”—Heb 7:25

In Ephesians 2:20 we have an account concerning the time when Jesus was resurrected from death by the mighty power of Jehovah. It says, “He [God] raised him [Jesus] from the dead and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places.” Jesus was raised above the angelic hosts to the very highest order of life, to a position next to God himself, on the divine plane of existence! The apostle says that this was an exercise and evidence of God’s “exceeding greatness” and of his “mighty power,” when he raised Christ from the dead, and set him far above all principalities, and powers, and mights, and dominions, “and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.”—vss. 19-23

A little further along in Hebrews we find the wonderful quality of ‘mercy’ emphasized, as well as its availability to those who seek it. God’s mercy allows for the forgiveness of our past and present sins by our Heavenly Father when we humbly and earnestly request it at his Throne of Grace, asking, too, for future grace and strength to help in time of need. And our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, is full of mercy, the very image of his Father. We read, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may attain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”—Heb. 4:16

Returning to our opening remarks concerning the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ, we will now consider the statement in the verse just previous to this one, verse 15, which says: “We have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” Some have objected to the thought that Jesus was tempted in all points, or in every way, that we poor, fallen creatures have been tempted. When we consider Paul’s statement we must remember that at the time the apostle was writing, Christ was a New Creature, and he was tempted in the same way that we are as New Creatures.

How are we tempted or tested as New Creatures? ‘Tested’ or ‘tried’, are better words to use, since they more closely express the proper thought. For a concise answer to this question we cite the three temptations which came upon our Lord when he emerged from the wilderness after his forty days and forty nights of fasting and prayer. These three temptations encompass every manner in which Jesus’ footstep followers are tested in their walk along the narrow way. Jesus was tempted, or tested, as to whether or not he truly was the called of the Lord, the Messiah—“If thou be the Son of God, Command that these stones be made bread.” Jesus was very hungry after forty days of fasting, and to perform a miracle which would assuage his hunger, would certainly prove that God was with him. But he knew just what the answer to that temptation was: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”—Matt. 4:3,4

Do we experience doubts, from time to time, put into our minds by the Adversary in a great variety of temptations, as to whether or not we have been called by the Lord to the great purpose which he has purposed—to bless all the families of the earth? Do we know how to counter these accusations of the Devil, and to be assured of our calling? Yes, we know that we have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit to understand the Bible, the Word of God, and of God’s divine plan of the ages, and of our part in it, which is a undeniable assurance that we are His.

Jesus was again tempted by Satan to display his favor with God before men in a way that could not be questioned, and in a way that would establish him in the eyes of men with great power and prestige. In vision he took Jesus up onto a pinnacle of the Temple and said, “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” Jesus knew this was not the way his Father wanted him to approach his ministry. It was not the time for spectacular works; God was seeking men of faith. Jesus replied, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” (vss. 5-7) We, too, know that it is ‘a day of small things’, and that the Lord continues to seek those who will follow in faith, taking up their cross, and walking in Jesus’ footsteps come what may.

The third temptation was of no interest to Jesus in his day, nor Is it of any interest to us in our day! The devil offered Jesus power over all the world, “if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” (vss 8,9) Our Lord’s reply, so short and so sweetly given, “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve”!—vs. 10

The Christian’s three foes have been listed as being ‘the world’, ‘the flesh’, and the Devil. The Apostle Peter said, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the Devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour, whom resist steadfast in the faith.” (I Pet. 5:8,9) He was our Lord’s adversary, and he is our adversary; and he uses the same temptations to lure us away from faithfulness to the true God as he did with our Master. Satan desires that we will seek to please the flesh and the world, and thus we will be worshiping him and his unrighteous standards.

Christ is able to succor the tempted, because he himself has experienced temptation, from the very beginning of his ministry, down to the very last moment on the cross. “If thou be the Son of God”—Satan’s taunt again repeated—“come down from the cross.” (Matt. 27:40) When he healed the blind, however, Jesus did not become blind; when he healed the lepers, he did not become leprous; when he healed the lame, he did not become lame. No, but he experienced great sympathy with the diseased and dying world of mankind, and expended much time and energy in walking among them, preaching the Gospel of the kingdom to them, and healing as many as came to him. He did not seek out the rich or famous, the powerful or those in a position to assure him a life of ease and luxury. No, Jesus suffered. By following the Adversary’s advice he could have avoided suffering. In fact, with his perfect mind and body he could have been a wealthy, prominent man, successful beyond imagining, along any endeavor he would choose—he could have been King of the Jews, yea, even of the whole world! This was what Satan offered him, and Satan could have produced it!

Thayer’s commentary on the word ‘suffering’ as it is used in Hebrews 2:18 and in Hebrews 4:15 states that its meaning is: ‘to inflict tests upon one in order to prove his character and the steadfastness of his faith.’ This was the purpose of our Lord’s testing, the purpose of his experiences, the purpose of those three and one-half years of suffering—to prove his faithfulness and worthiness to be raised out of death to the divine nature.

Paul wrote in Hebrews 5:1: “Every High Priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.” Paul was referring to the ancient Tabernacle arrangement. There the High Priest of the Tabernacle—the first one having been Aaron—offered the people’s gifts which they brought throughout the year. Aaron, on the Atonement Day, offered the sacrifices which were spoken of as sin offerings—the bullock and the Lord’s goat. This was Aaron’s duty as a High Priest.

The second verse goes on to tell us that those High Priests, who were imperfect men, could have been, and were, guilty of breaking the Law themselves, not willfully, but because they were unable to keep the perfect Law. Only a perfect man can keep God’s perfect Law. Therefore we read, “Who [the priest] can have compassion on the ignorant and on them that are out of the way, for that he himself is also compassed with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. And no man taketh his honor unto himself but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.”—vss.1-4

Since Jesus was a perfect man, when he gave his life as a sin offering for all the world, he did not need to make an offering for himself. But the High Priests in ancient times did, since they were imperfect men, and only shadows of the perfect sacrifice which was to come many centuries later in the person of Jesus Christ, the righteous one.

Aaron did not take the honor of serving in this office upon himself. Moses did not appoint him to it. Aaron was appointed to it by God. His appointment was confirmed by the placing of the rods of the twelve leaders of the tribes of Israel in the Most Holy, and on the next morning, the rod that had budded was God’s choice. And that was Aaron’s rod, indicating that God had, without a doubt, chosen Aaron to serve as High Priest. Next, Paul extended the picture to Jesus, saying, “No man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an High Priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee.”—vss. 4,5

The words of God come to mind, spoken when the Lord Jesus was baptized at the hands of John the Baptist. John lowered him into the Jordan River, and as he raised him up out of the water, John saw the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending, and lighting upon Jesus. And then he heard the voice of God, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”—Matt. 3:17

In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist tells us how he would be certain that one was the Messiah. He says that he “knew him not,” but somehow it had been revealed to him that the Messiah would become manifest to him and to Israel while he was baptising with water, through the descending dove. When his cousin, Jesus, came to John to be baptized, John saw the sign which would indicate that Jesus was the Messiah—the sign which was the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove.

But there was something even more marvelous which happened then, as John and Jesus stood together in the River Jordan. There was a voice speaking from heaven, announcing, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” And so Paul tells us (Heb. 5:5) that Jesus did not appoint himself a High Priest, but he was given this honor by God when he spoke the words, “Thou art my beloved Son, today have I begotten thee.”—Heb. 5:5

We continue to read in Hebrews: “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” (vs. 6) The order of Melchisedec was a far higher order than that of the Aaronic priesthood. Now, we are told that very little is known about Melchizedek. He was a priest, apparently appointed by God to receive the honor and respect due him as such, by receiving tithes from Abraham, thus foreshadowing the high position which will be due to the Melchizedek priesthood during Christ’s Millennial reign.

Then Paul continues: “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers, and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.”—Heb. 5:7,8

Our Lord Jesus, had a pre-human existence before he was born a babe in Bethlehem, before the ‘days of his flesh’. We speak of him before he came to earth as the Logos. Isaiah prophesied concerning him and his willingness to do the Father’s will, saying, “Here am I, send me.” God revealed his great plan of the ages to the Logos, and indicated to him that there would be a necessity for a ransom to release mankind from the curse of death. The Logos volunteered to pay the ransom price. He left the heavenly courts. He was out of existence for nine months, and then, suddenly, he was born to Mary as the baby, Jesus. He had placed God’s will first in his life, saying, “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”—John 6:39

Some time ago, a young man left home for the first time, to attend college. He was from a religious family, and as he was about to leave, his father gave him a plaque on which were just three words: “I am third.” The lad looked at it, and said, “Father, what does this mean? I don’t understand it—‘I am third’.” The father replied, “Well, when you get to college and are assigned your room, I want you to put this near the door on the wall, where every time you leave the room you will read the statement, “I am third.” “O.K., dad,” he answered, “but I still do not understand what it means!” The father said “It means this: God is to be first in your life; your neighbor or your friend, is to be second; and, after that, your desires come third!”

In essence, that is what our Heavenly Father said to the Logos when he left the heavenly courts to come to earth. It is the Great Commandment. At one time a lawyer asked our Lord Jesus concerning the Law: “Master which is the great commandment in the Law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”—Matt. 22:36-39

What did our Master mean when he said that ‘the second was like unto it?’ He was referring to the fact that love is involved—thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, and mind; and the second is like unto it—thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” There are the two great commandments, which is a summation of the entire Law. The young lawyer must have appreciated that concise and accurate summary.

However, we find that our Lord gave us a third commandment when he spoke to the brethren gathered in the upper room to commemorate the Passover, and to institute the Memorial Supper, just before his death. We read concerning this in John 13:34,35, where it is written, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

So we see that the Lord placed himself in that same position, saying, “I am third.” He first served his Heavenly Father; secondly, he served his neighbors—his brethren and all the world of mankind; and then thirdly, he served himself. By sacrificing himself, he made it possible for God to raise him up out of the oblivion of death to the highest of all the planes of existence—divine nature! We find that throughout his ministry Jesus always placed his will third. This is the divine law, in which God includes himself, that only through service to others can honor be bestowed. Honor and position are dependent upon humility and meekness, and service to others. There is a most important lesson for us in this knowledge. If we can apply that principle in our own experiences, in our walk in the narrow way, we know that the promises will be ours. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”—Rev. 2:10

In the Jewish Law—the ten commandments—sacrifice is not suggested. But our Lord did suggest sacrifice when he gave us the new commandment: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” How did Jesus show his love for those gathered in the upper room, his church, those whom he was dying for? He loved them to the extent that he was willing to give his life in sacrifice; he was willing to go through all the suffering, ignominy, and the shame of death by crucifixion; he carried out God’s will faithfully from the very beginning of his ministry, all during the three and one-half years, until finally, while hanging on the cross, he said, “It is finished.” Thus ended his sacrifice, and the laying down of that life, that perfect life.

Going back to Hebrews, we find that Paul spoke of Jesus’ willing sacrifice, and particularly the time just before he died upon the cross, saying, “In the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplication with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared.” This takes our minds and hearts back to the time recorded in Matthew 26, when our Lord had gone to the Garden of Gethsemane with the eleven apostles, and there he went apart, taking just three of them with him—Peter, James, and John. He left these three, and went still deeper into the Garden, and there he prayed. He prayed to his Heavenly Father, falling upon his face. He prostrated himself on the ground to pray, such was his earnestness and need for assurance from his Father. Have we ever prayed in that manner? Probably not. We have gone to bed at night and prayed lying on our back, praying in bed, perhaps, because of experiencing an illness, but I doubt very much if many of us fall upon our faces to pray to God, despite our earnestness and need. But our Lord was in such agony of heart and mind at this moment, he prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”—Matt. 26:39

There has been a lot of theorizing as to what being released from drinking that ‘cup’ meant. Obviously, Jesus was not asking to be excused from dying. He had covenanted to die. When he had entered into his covenant of sacrifice three and one-half years earlier, all the prophecies with which he was very familiar pointed to the fact that he had to die to redeem mankind. It was not death that he feared, or even the manner of death. What he was praying for at that time was, perhaps, that God would relieve him from the agony of mind and heart as to whether he had been faithful in carrying out his covenant of sacrifice. He knew that if he had not been faithful, it would mean that he would be subject to the Second Death, and God’s plan for redemption would fail.

And Paul assures us that Jesus “was heard in that he feared.” God heard his prayers, and Jesus received the needed assurances of God’s complete love and favor, and total satisfaction with his sacrifice. Luke tells us that angels came and ministered unto him. But, we must remember that Jesus offered that prayer three times. Each time he went back to the three apostles, and each time they were sound asleep. He awakened them, and then went away to pray again.

When our Lord had finished praying, having received assurance that he had been faithful, he returned a third time to his disciples, and shortly after that Judas arrived in the Garden with the soldiers from the Temple to arrest Jesus. From the account it is evident that our Lord was the most calm, he was the most fortified and strongest of the group that were gathered there. He met that traitorous situation, and the experiences that followed, with calmness, courage and fortitude. He had in some way been assured by the Father that he had been faithful, and that in just a few more hours it would indeed be finished.

“Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” If we just took that statement at face value, it would seem to suggest that he must have been disobedient at some previous time, and in need of learning obedience. But our Lord had never been disobedient to his Heavenly Father. He was perfect. He had been perfect for eons of time before he came down from heaven. And as a man he was “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” (Heb. 7:26) He, as a spiritual being, had proved to be perfectly faithful under perfect conditions. He, as a human being, had proved himself to be perfectly faithful under very adverse and imperfect conditions. Therefore he ‘learned’, or proved to be, perfect under all conditions.

The word ‘perfect’ is a very interesting word. Strong’s Concordance tells us that the Greek word, number 5048, has the meaning ‘to raise to the state of heavenly blessedness’, which means to us, ‘to raise to the divine nature’. This is what Paul is referring to—that because Jesus was perfect, and because he flawlessly endured the test of three and one-half years under grossly adverse conditions, he did indeed pass the test of a perfect, faithful, obedient character. His grace was fully developed; the fruits and graces of the Holy Spirit were abundant—they had been ‘crystallized’ under adversity.

We might think of the matter in this way: that during the thirty years from our Lord’s birth until he reached manhood, he had been very carefully watched over, guarded and protected from Satan’s evil powers. But when he entered into his ministry, then he was tested, proved to the very utmost, even unto the death on the cross. And as a result of having proved faithful to the utmost, he was resurrected to the divine nature and “he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”—Heb. 5:9

Jesus died for our sins, and he was raised for our justification. This is true. We use the expression that a ‘dead savior’ would have been of no benefit to the world of mankind, and of no benefit to us, his followers. But he was raised, he was raised by God to the divine nature! To substantiate this thought, we will quote the phrase, “the Son, who is consecrated [Margin, ‘perfected’] forevermore.” (Heb. 7:28) We know that one property of the divine nature is that it exists ‘forevermore’—divinity and immortality are inseparable. Divinity cannot be brought to an end—it has life within itself, inherent life.

And so, bringing our thoughts back to our earlier premise, we do indeed have a faithful High Priest, a sympathetic High Priest, one that we can go to in our time of trial and stress, and in our moments of joy, as well, to express our thanks, to seek mercy, and to find grace to help in time of need—our Lord Christ Jesus, the same today, yesterday, and forever!

The great tests or trials that we endure are not what bring about our development as New Creatures. The little things, the everyday experiences, are where the real trials, the real testings, take place. By way of example, perhaps not many of us remember the era back in the late ‘20’s or early ‘30’s, when there was quite an epidemic, or at least a strong inclination, for men to do things that were unusual.

Some of you may remember the name, Barney Oldfield. He was considered an outstanding automobile racer of that time. He set a speed record from Los Angeles to New York, driving his racer across country about 50 miles an hour—extremely fast for the 1920’s! There were also other accomplishments. There was a man who rode a bicycle clear across the country. And that was the era when they had dance marathons—young couples wanted to prove they could dance the longest amount of time. There was one man who walked across the country from Los Angeles to New York. It took him quite a while, but when he finally finished his journey he was given quite a welcome in New York.

When he was Interviewed he was asked how he had managed to endured all the hardships. “What was the hardest thing you had to endure? Was it when you were out in the desert and it was so hot—100 to 120 degrees?” “No,” he said, “that was very hard, but I managed to survive that.” “Was it when you went through the mountains and it was so cold and the high mountains were difficult to climb?” “Well, that was tough too,” he said, “but I endured that.” “Well, just what was the worst past of the whole trip?” He said, “The hardest part of the whole trip was that I had to endure having sand in my shoes.”

A little thing, but so constant and so irritating. And thus it is with us also; the hardest thing we have to endure is the ‘sand in our shoes’—the little, unavoidable, grating experiences of every day. And that is the reason we have this sympathetic High Priest, the one to whom we can turn to for grace and help in every time of need. He understands the ‘sand in our shoes’ because he suffered the same small, persistent trials.

Let us not deny ourselves of the privilege of going to the Throne of Heavenly Grace, of seeking the grace and strength that is necessary to get successfully through the experiences of our everyday living. Let us continue to rejoice in the privileges of receiving comfort and solace from our great High Priest.

Let consider one last thought. It has been suggested that the 144,000 who make up the bride of Christ will have been tried and tested so that there will be a representation among them of all the experiences mankind has been involved with, from the worst trespasses and sins and crimes, to the very smallest.

That sounds very reasonable, because we know that we have been brought together from many and varied strata’s of society, and had engaged in a great variety of activities before we received the truth. In most cases we know very little about the backgrounds of our brethren before we met them by coming into the truth. It is probably just as well that we do not know, because it is unimportant and not applicable to making our calling and election sure. But no matter how varied our experiences have been in the past, even collectively they could never match the billions of experiences mankind has had during the 6,000 years under condemnation.

But, let us consider whether or not it is really necessary that God should have a composite 144,000 who have experienced every sin that mankind has been guilty of committing during the past 6,000 years? It is not likely. Our Lord Jesus did not have to commit any sins at all to be a sympathetic High Priest. He merely had to learn by close-at-hand observation of the depths to which sin had led mankind.

Jesus knew what it was to be tempted, or tested, and that is the essence of the lesson. The church, the faithful followers of Christ, have been promised the divine nature also. They will have the ability to be sympathetic toward all mankind, regardless of what man’s activities in this life might have been—no matter how degraded, how immoral, or whatever sins they committed. It is certainly not necessary that each of the 144,000 be acquainted with, or perhaps guilty of, all of the immoralities and wickedness that has been committed during the past 6,000 years. Certainly God, who is the very epitome of compassion, long-suffering, and every grace, has never experienced any sin, and he is the very essence of mercy and sympathy.

We, if faithful, will have part in the work of the sympathetic High Priest on behalf of the world of mankind. The Ancient Worthies, however, will be the ones who, as God’s earthly representatives of the kingdom, will deal directly with mankind at that time. And surely many of them have had experiences that none of the church members ever had! Some were kings; some were generals; some were in high positions in government, and, because of their positions, were responsible for the deaths of thousands of men, women and children. Surely they understood God’s great mercy on their behalf, and will be prepared to extend mercy to those who need it. Nothing that will be necessary for the complete rehabilitation of the world of mankind back to the perfect image of God will be lacking, but will be provided in superabundance in that glorious kingdom soon to be established on the earth. Praise the Lord!

“Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.”—Heb. 2:17,18

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