The Hebrew writer speaks of Jesus in lots of different ways that (with a little work) we can relate to: He is the radiance of God’s glory (think of the Transfiguration), superior to the angels, the Apostle/One Sent (surpassing Moses and Joshua), etc. But the book’s central image is the most challenging—Jesus as our high priest.
Some suggest the struggle to appreciate the high priesthood of Jesus has to do with the fact that Hebrews is the only book in the biblical witness that develops this concept. Perhaps that’s part of it, but I think it has more to do with the simple fact that unlike the letter’s original recipients, we have no basis for relating to the priesthood and sacrificial system. They are totally outside our experience and frame of reference.
The people of Israel made sacrifices to God of grain, drink, and animals. The animals were killed by them, their blood drained, carcasses cut into pieces, and their internal organs removed. All of this was quite visceral, but it was part of the covenant Yahweh had made with them and therefore a substantive aspect of their existence. Given that they were an agricultural society, they wouldn’t have the dis-ease concerning these things that we do just thinking about them.
All of this is to make the point that when the writer spoke to these Jewish Christians about Jesus being their high priest—it said volumes. It said that the whole of the sacrificial system (including the high priesthood), was fulfilled by Jesus. Given their heritage, there wasn’t any way they couldn’t appreciate this.
And while we give a hearty nod to all of this, it’s hardly as impacting to us as it would have been to them. We just don’t have the background for it. But what we can relate to is something like cancer. Anyone who’s lived very long has been touched by this disease. You either have a family member who’s had it, a friend, or you yourself have had it. It doesn’t require any imagination to understand its devastation—we see it everywhere.
What would be our estimation of Jesus if He came and put an end to cancer? It would be off the charts, wouldn’t it? Maybe we should view the cross as the place where Jesus took care of our spiritual cancer (sin). That would help us to have the kind of response we should to Jesus being our high priest. It’s certainly not a stretch to think of sin this way. It threatened not our physical existence, but our eternal life. It ate away at all that was good and through Him it has been defeated. No wonder the Hebrew writer speaks of Him as our great high priest (4:14)!
“Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest truly meets our need” (Hebrews 7:25-26).