21 September 2021

Merciful High Priest

Jesus qualified as our high priest by participating fully in human sufferings, mortality, and death

Jesus condemned - Photo by Christoph Schmid on Unsplash
The priesthood of Jesus is the key subject of
Hebrews. He has become the “merciful and faithful high priest” who intercedes for “his brethren.” This topic was anticipated in the letter’s opening paragraph, including the uniqueness of his priesthood, by declaring that he had “achieved the purification of sins,” and afterward, he “sat down” in God’s presence - [Photo by Christoph Schmid on Unsplash].

Next, the letter describes his qualifications for the priesthood. It begins by citing the eighth Psalm, which celebrates the “crowning of man with glory and honor.”
  • For not unto angels did he subject the world to come, whereof we speak.  But one hath somewhere testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man, that thou visited him? Thou made him a little lower than the angels; Thou crowned him with glory and honor, And didst set him over the works of thy hands: Thou didst put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he subjected all things unto him, he left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we see not yet all things subjected to him. But we behold him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God he should taste of death for every man” - (Hebrews 2:5-9).


The passage refers either to Adam’s loss of the original glory that he received at the creation, or to God’s plan for man to become endued with glory, a plan that was derailed by Adam’s sin. Originally, the Psalm was not about the Messiah but the intended rule of humanity over the creation.

The role of man in the “coming habitable earth” is to fulfill the original mandate to “take dominion over the earth.” Prior to the work of Christ, humanity failed to fulfill that role. “But now, not yet do we see all things subjected to him.” The “not yet” indicates that the promised subjection is achieved by the Son (“Whom God has appointed heir of all things”).

But for now, Christians see Jesus “sitting” at God’s right hand. Like Adam, he was “made a little lower than angels,” but unlike the first man, he has been “crowned with glory and honor” because he endured “suffering and death.”

Moreover, his death was quite “fitting,” and the very reason for which he was “crowned with glory.” His suffering “completed” or “perfected” him, and his subsequent appointment to be the high priest for his people is the result of his faithfulness in death.

The letter portrays his exaltation as something he achieved in his human life. He became superior to the angels, “having gone beyond them.” Logically, this statement means that at one point he was not superior to the angels. But God did exalt him because of his obedience (“You loved righteousness and hated lawlessness, for this cause has God anointed you with the oil of exultation beyond your partners”).


The next paragraph presents the reason why his death meant hope and mercy for mankind. Having purposed to grant His children glory, it became “fitting” to “complete” their champion through suffering because he and humanity are “all from one.”
  • For it was fitting in him, for the sake of whom are all things, and by means of whom are all things, when many sons he would lead to glory, through sufferings, to perfect the Princely Leader of their salvation. For both he that makes holy, and they who are being made holy are all of one, for which cause, he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: I will declare your name to my brethren, in the assembly will I sing praise to you. And again, I will be confident upon him; and again: Behold! I and the children which unto God has given to me” - (Hebrews 2:10-13).
The Greek verb rendered “perfect” means to “complete, accomplish, finish; to bring to an end.” The idea is not moral perfection but bringing something to its intended conclusion. This sense is confirmed by the later application of the same verb to Jesus:
  • And being completed, he became the author of everlasting salvation for all those who obey him.”
Through his death, God qualified the Son to become our high priest. The term “suffering” has his death in view since God determined that he “should taste of death for every man” - (Hebrews 5:9).

And now, Jesus is “sanctifying” believers. Because he shares the same human nature, he calls them “brethren.” This stresses his solidarity with them and anticipates the later statement that they are sanctified “through the offering of the body of Jesus.” Three citations from the Old Testament are placed on his lips to emphasize his kinship with his “brethren” to validate the point - (2 Samuel 22:3, Psalm 22:22, Isaiah 8:17-18, Hebrews 10:10).


Having established his qualifications, Jesus is now presented as the high priest who intercedes for the needs of his church. He has participated fully in the nature and sufferings common to all men, and therefore, his priestly intervention on behalf of his “brethren” is characterized by faithfulness and compassion.
  • (Hebrews 2:14-18) – “Seeing, therefore, the children have received a fellowship of blood and flesh, he in like manner, took partnership in the same, in order that through death he might paralyze him that held the dominion of death, the Devil, and might release these, as many as by fear of death were all their lifetime liable to bondage. For not surely of angels is he laying hold, but of Abraham’s seed, he is laying hold. Whence he was obliged in every way to be made like the brethren, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the things of God, to expiate the sins of the people. For in that he suffered when tested, he is able to give succor to them who are being tested.
The phrase now applied, “flesh and blood,” is a Semitic idiom used to refer to human mortality - man in his mortal state. Since believers are subject to death, the Son “partook” of the same fate.

The Devil had the “dominion” of death or kratos (Strong’s - #G2904), in Greek, a strong word meaning “hold, power, force, dominion.” The English term “tyranny” best captures the sense.

Paradoxically, through his own death, Jesus invalidated the “tyranny” of Satan. And now, he is “laying hold of” the “seed of Abraham.” This clause alludes to a passage from the book of Isaiah:
  • But you, Israel, my servant Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend, you whom I have laid hold of from the ends of the earth, and called from the corners thereof, and said to you: You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you away” - (Isaiah 41:8-9).
Because he endured the same trials and sufferings as his fellows, he is well equipped to help them when they are “tested.”

Under discussion is not so much humanity in general, but the followers of Jesus in particular, which explains the term “seed of Abraham.”


The Son was obliged to be made like his brethren “in every way.” For him to become the “merciful and faithful high priest,” it was necessary to have the same nature and experiences as them.

Solidarity with humanity is mandatory for the office of the high priest since he represents men before God, and therefore, he must be one with them. Under the Levitical system, faithfulness was vital to the proper performance of the priestly service - (1 Samuel 2:35, Hebrews 8:3).

As our high priest, Jesus expiates the sins of his people (hilaskesthai – Strong’s #G2433). “Sins” is in the accusative case since it is the direct object of the verb hilaskesthai. What he “expiated” were the sins that separated men from God. More specifically, he removed the uncleanness, the stain caused by sin that left men unclean and defenseless in the presence of God. Thus, Christ “achieved the purification of sin.”

The passage presents four reasons why it was necessary for him to receive the same sentence of death as humanity. First, to experience death on behalf of others. Second, to bring God’s “many sons to glory.” Third, to achieve victory over the Devil and liberate believers from the tyranny of death. And fourth, to qualify him as the ultimate faithful and compassionate high priest.

Unlike Adam and all other men, Jesus did not trespass the commandment of God, and so he was without “blemish.” But in all other respects, he was as human as the next man. Because he suffered as all men only “apart from sin,” he is now fully qualified to be our “faithful and sympathetic high priest.”

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