Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Apostle and High Priest

Last night Robin and I were reading from Hebrews and we read chapter 3, verses 1-6, which say:

“Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God's house.  For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.  (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.)  Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”

I highlighted the phrase in the passage that just jumped out at me when we read it.  In the space of eight words the writer of Hebrews is telling us three important things about Jesus.

First, Jesus is “the apostle.”  An apostle is one who is sent to share a message on behalf of another person.  Traditionally within Christianity eleven of the twelve disciples of Jesus early circle (Judas Iscariot is excluded), plus Matthias (Acts 1:21-26) and Paul are considered to be the bearers of the apostolic ministry.  They were all witnesses to Jesus earthly ministry and/or witnesses to the resurrected Jesus.  The book of Acts, in particular, is filled with stories of the apostles and their work as ones sent to share the Good News made known in Jesus.  The apostles were charged with carrying this message to the world.  The author of Hebrews is telling us that this apostolic understanding of ministry also applies to Jesus.

Secondly, Jesus is “the high priest.”  A priest is one who is called to intercede between God and humans.  The priest carries the message of God to the people and also represents the people before God.  Within Judaism of Jesus’ day the high priest was a priest who was given more responsibility than all other priests.  It was the specific task of the high priest, and only the high priest, to go into the holiest part of the temple in Jerusalem to make an atoning sacrifice for sin on behalf of the people.  This was a task that he only did once a year.  The author of Hebrews is teaching us that Jesus intercedes for His people in the manner of the high priest, as the one who makes the atoning sacrifice to God on their behalf.

As an aside, I think that it is important that Jesus is identified as “the apostle and high priest,” rather than as “an apostle and high priest.”  Through the use of one small word choice the writer is giving emphasis to the distinctive, unique way in which Jesus fulfills these roles.  Jesus is presented to us as an apostle and high priest, one who is like, but also uniquely unlike, any other apostle and high priest.  As ‘the apostle and high priest’ we could consider Him to have a rank, or place, that is always above any other apostle or high priest.

And thirdly, as apostle and high priest Jesus both speaks to and represents believers in regard to “our confession.”  The author doesn’t say precisely or concisely what ‘our confession’ means but it forms the basic subject matter of the entire letter to the Hebrews, a letter of certain belief and encouragement in the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ.  He makes this clear in the letter’s opening verses, where he writes:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” 

In the phrase “consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” we are reminded that Jesus is both the most perfect one to bring the message of God to us, as well as the only person who can truly represent us before God, the one who Himself has made atonement with His very body for our sin, so that we who believe in Him, the people He dearly loves, could be reconciled with God.

That phrase, “our confession” brings to mind Romans 10:9, which I have cited several times recently and find to be appropriate here again today:

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

May you know the deep peace of God that is found when the truth of Romans 10:9 dwells in your heart.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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