1 Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession … (Hebrews 3:1)
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. (Hebrews 4:14)
The book of Hebrews presents Jesus as a priest, in contrast to the OT priesthood. We have seen elsewhere that His priesthood preceded and supersedes the Levitical priesthood, for He belonged to the Melchizedekian priesthood (Ps 110:4, Heb 7:11-17). But He is likened in the book of Hebrews to the OT priesthood as the High Priest. Why is this significant?
Our passage today asserts that as high priest He has “passed through the heavens.” One cannot help but envision the Jewish high priest on the Day of Atonement, entering through the massive curtains into the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle (later the temple). The curtains separated everything else from God’s symbolic presence. In the Most Holy Place resided the Ark of the Covenant, topped with what was called the mercy seat. Here was the Shekina glory of God representing God’s glorious presence. Only once a year could anyone enter into that place, under penalty of death. And then only the High Priest, a direct descendant of Aaron, Moses’ brother, was permitted to humbly enter with the atonement offering to present to God. The atonement represented God’s prescribed method for dealing with all the sin the people committed through the year. When the high priest died, a new one would take his place.
Now with Christ, we have a permanent high priest, who has gone into God’s very presence. Not the symbolic presence of the earthly Most Holy Place, but into the actual presence of God. Not through physical curtains, but celestial and spiritual spaces. The distance, the separation between us and God, is now removed. Note well the symbolism at the time of Jesus’ death: “the veil [curtain] of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matt 27:51).
As high priest, Jesus has the permission, the right and the access to go before God on our behalf. Instead of an animal sacrifice, which was symbolic of something better, He as High Priest offered Himself as the sacrifice:
[He] does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. (Heb 7:27).
We need no other mediator: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5).
Lord, with You as my High Priest I have no fear of judgment in God’s presence.