Great High Priest


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.


 

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Forerunner


Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:20)


In a time before modern communications technology, long before the internet, telephone or telegraph, long distance communication was done by sending out runners, advance men. A forerunner was an individual who went before and on behalf of another, to prepare for or to announce the arrival of another. The OT is filled with examples of those assigned to run ahead with news, whether good or bad, to announce the coming of someone else. Of course the most well-known forerunner for Christians was John the Baptist, of whom it was written, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight!’” (Matt 3:3).

Surprising at first, but the Lord Jesus Christ is called our forerunner! But this designation makes sense in light of things Jesus Himself said: “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places … I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). He is getting things ready for our grand “entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ [that] will be abundantly supplied to [us]” (2 Pet 1:11). “Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” (Heb 4:14). Unlike the earthly priests, Jesus is an eternal high priest and has a permanent residence in that celestial Holy of Holies, and we shall follow Him there. So we read that until we get there, He has entered heaven “to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb 9:24). We are coming too, because He has gone ahead of us and gone in for us and entered on our behalf.

He has taken His seat next to the Father in advance of us: “Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Heb 8:1). That seating is ours as well, as though we were now seated with Him: “[E]ven when we were dead in our transgressions, [He] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:5–6).

As William MacDonald has put it, “It is no exaggeration to say that the simplest believer on earth is as certain of heaven as the saints who are already there.” How can we be sure? Our forerunner, our high priest, has gone before us, to secure our place there with the Father and announce our coming.


Lord Jesus Christ, the victory over sin and judgment has already been won, and You have gone ahead and announced that to all heaven, in the very presence of Your Father. You have secured me a seat there in His presence. Thank You!


 

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Firstborn of Creation


He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15)


God incarnate, of course, takes the most preeminent position in creation. But we must not confuse this fact with the false notion that Christ was a created being. He took up a place in creation with a created human body, but nowhere does the Bible indicate or even imply that He was created. He existed before the day of His birth 2,000 years ago.

The book of Hebrews identifies Him as the OT character Melchizedek and says that He was “[w]ithout father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life…” (Heb 7:3). He is the One who said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). No, Jesus Christ was not created at His birth, nor was He created at all. In the beginning, Christ was already there (John 1:1).

So when we read that He is the firstborn of all creation, we do not read that He is the first-created of all creation. So what, then, does “firstborn” mean? It can mean the first in a series. This is the sense in Revelation where we read, “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead” (Rev 1:5). He led the way of resurrection into new life.

Yet the term “firstborn” also carries the sense of priority or prominence. In Jewish history and culture, the oldest male child had special privileges and prerogatives. All the firstborn sons were originally dedicated to God (“The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me” (Ex 22:29). But in time this changed: “Now, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the sons of Israel instead of every firstborn, the first issue of the womb among the sons of Israel. So the Levites shall be Mine” (Num 3:12). As a nation, God spoke of Israel holding a primary status apart from all other nations: “Israel is My son, My firstborn” (Ex 4:22). God affirmed this much later when He said of His people, “I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn” (Jer 31:9).

We see that the concept of firstborn, while rooted in the first to be born in a family, came to refer to priority or preference, and could be assigned in a non-literal sense (see 1 Chronicles 26:10). Jesus as God’s designated firstborn of all creation is the most important entity in existence: He is most important to God, as He should also be to us. As God in the flesh, He is pre-eminent over all: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything” (Col 1:17-18).


Lord Jesus, I worship You as the central focus, first and priority of everything.


 

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Faithful and True Witness


“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God …” (Revelation 3:14).


Eyewitness accounts can differ, whether in the minor details of an event or in the major elements. Juries in court are often called on to determine who is recounting the scene accurately. Depending on the witness, the account can be skewed toward one perspective at the expense of another. One person, in protecting himself or herself or someone else, may shade the facts. Scripture warns against believing the first rendition of a story without cross-examination: “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him” (Pr 18:17). How often do we believe what a person says, only to later hear the “other side of the story”? Who can you believe without question? Whose word settles any matter without even the slightest fear of disputation? There is only one: Jesus Christ, the “faithful and true Witness.”

If Jesus were just a man and not God, then at some point fallen human nature would render Him unfaithful to His own words. If He were not God in the flesh, then He would be subject to the same truism mouthed of every other human being: “No one is perfect.” Everyone is flawed at some level. At the level of His flaw, if He were not God, He would become a hypocrite and couldn’t be trusted. Moreover, since He is considered the greatest teacher and moral revolutionary who ever existed, how could we possibly know which of His words could be trusted as a faithful witness of God and His truth, and which of His words reflected some moral deficit at some level, no matter how miniscule it might seem in view of His otherwise greatness? In truth, we would simply not know, and would need, for our own integrity’s sake, to cross-examine the teachings of Christ with the philosophies and teachings of other so-called great teachers of morality and spirituality.

Against all this, the apostle Paul proclaims (if we might adapt his apt words), “May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written” (Rom 3:4). Because Jesus is God, then any cross-examination is pre-empted with the truth that Jesus is the Word of God, the Logos (John 1:1, 14). He is truth defined (John 14:6). Therefore, whatever the Lord Jesus Christ says about God is faithful and true. He does not spin things, but speaks of God straightforwardly. Jesus asserted confidently to Pilate, “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37). We can trust every word Christ says without ever fearing He will lead us astray.


Lord, I believe You even when tempted by the misleading voices of this world.


 

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Image of God


He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15)


Many are the descriptions, titles and epithets of the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the most interesting is that He is the “image of the invisible God.” To Moses, God said, “My face shall not be seen” (Ex 33:23). In the Law of Moses, God commands, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above …” (Ex 20:4). Some English translations use the word “image” for “idol.” God was not to be seen or represented in any way that would provide visual imagery or effigy. Regardless of the reason (and clearly, God warns against pagan idolatry—the worship of lifeless statues depicting divine beings), the command against imagery of God stands at the head of the commandments. The downward spiral away from God always results in people foolishly embracing false imagery of their Creator: “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (Rom 1:22–23).

So against all this, the New Testament declares that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” The only way this could not be a violation of the first commandment is if Jesus were Himself God. Otherwise, He would be a false image, misrepresenting God.

Paul’s declaration that Jesus is the image of God is not the same as what God said at the creation: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27). Humans were created, and were patterned in God’s image. But the text does not say that humans “are” the image of God. They are facsimiles, replicas, copies, but they are not the originals. To be sure, we should live our lives like fine reproductions that are hard to distinguish from the original, but we are not the original. Christ is the original. He was not “created” in the image of God; He “is” the image of God, the original.

This is what Jesus was getting at when He said to Thomas, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father…” (John 14:9). God in His unmitigated glory cannot be seen by human eyes (Ex 33:20). But God incarnate can be seen “a little lower than the angels” (Ps 8:5-6, Heb 2:7). “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18). If a picture is better than a thousand words, than Christ as the image of God is the perfect explanation of who God is!


Lord Jesus, I look to no other imagination of what God is like, but only to You.


 

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Prince of Peace


For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)


At the birth of Christ the Messiah, the angels heralded, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:14). To be sure, at His second coming He will come like a warrior, as John’s prophecy depicts Him in the final days:

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He [Jesus Christ] who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire … From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. (Rev. 19:11-15)

In other words, Jesus Christ is no pushover. Being the Prince of Peace implies no weakness. Rather, He is like a conquering hero who symbolically and triumphantly rides on a colt of a donkey into a war-torn city and conveys the end of war and a new and better regime to come. He comes as a prince of peace. Only in Messiah’s case, He entered the world as Prince of Peace before the final battle is won! Now that is some confidence! That can only come from one who is eternal by nature (Eternal Father), who knows the outcome before it happens.

So Isaiah’s proclamation in today’s verse and the angelic announcement at His birth form the ultimate statement of God’s purposes in Christ. That is what the Scripture says: “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). For this is His ultimate purpose in the incarnation, “namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:19).

Peace with God—this is what we need more than anything else, that we would be made right with the One whose image we bear. Unless He makes this happen, there is no hope that we can reconcile ourselves to Him. There is nothing we can do to procure peace with Him—we simply have nothing to give Him that is not His already, nothing that would motivate Him to accept our offerings of peace. But on His side, He is the Prince of Peace, and He demonstrated this by giving us the ultimate peace offering, the sacrifice of Himself (Eph 2:15).


Lord, I am completely contented and at rest with You. You have freed me up to live for You without any fear of judgment. You are my Prince of Peace!


 

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Eternal Father


For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)


Odd as it sounds, the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, would be “called .. Eternal Father.” But when we use the term “father” we must ask “father of what?” His being called “Father” is not to be put in relationship to the other members of the Trinity, where Messiah is actually the second person, the Son. Rather, the term “Father” used here has to do with His relationship to eternity. He is the Father of Eternity, as the Hebrew literally puts it. Daniel writes that He is “the Ancient of Days” (Dan 7:9). As the Bible Knowledge Commentary says, “The Messiah will be a “fatherly’ ruler.”

Another commentator suggests that this title implies that, like an earthly father will not abandon his children, so Messiah will not, after securing the victory of Israel, abandon His people (Barnes Notes). Indeed, it is not all too infrequent that earthly rulers abandon what is good and right for their people and live for themselves. Saul, the first king of Israel, was concerned more about his reputation than with doing right in leading the people in obedience to God. Solomon spent copious amounts of time in pursuit of pleasure and self-aggrandizing public works, even the pleasure of any woman he wanted. In the end, the people of Israel suffered because his failed earthly fatherhood was remiss in training up his son, Rehoboam, to be a righteous king to carry on the godly dynasty of His father, David. History is replete with examples of pagan and even so-called “Christian” rulers who put themselves before their people. Messiah would not be like that. He would be the Father of Eternity, who would always care for His people.

It could also convey the sense that was common in Hebrew culture that the person who possesses a thing is called the father of it (see Barnes Notes again). So the father of strength means the person is strong, the father of knowledge is intelligent, etc. So the Father of Eternity is everlasting. Abraham is inferred to be the father of all who believe. He was the original believer, and is the “federal” head of all who believe, that is, the one who set faith as the standard. He was faithful, par excellence.

Finally, did not Jesus often refer to His followers as “children” (see John 13:33)? Yes, Messiah would be Father of Eternity, who would lead those who follow Him by faith into eternity.


Lord, I have come to know true life by faith in You for eternity (John 17:3).


 

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Mighty God


For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)


Many times in the Bible we see the mightiness of God, so the phrase in itself is not unusual. But this appellation is given to the child who would be born; He would be called “Mighty God.” From our Christian, Trinitarian perspective, the implications are enormous: The coming of Jesus into the world would be the incarnation, God in the flesh, becoming part of His creation. Nothing could be more fundamental to orthodox, historic Christianity.

Consider this from the Jewish perspective, though. When did Jesus ever run the government of Israel? When was Jesus ever called any of these names? Other names in the OT often carry meanings about God; for example, Elihu means “He is God.” That doesn’t mean that the man Elihu was God incarnate, so why think “Mighty God” in Isaiah 9:6 is a reference to God coming in the flesh? Further, how could Jesus be a “Father” when in the Trinity He is the Son? Therefore, Jewish interpreters see this verse as referring to Hezekiah, whose name in meaning is similar to the phrase “Mighty God.” Some today interpret this verse as giving prophetic names to King Hezekiah, who serves as testimony to God’s greatness. Even referring to a Jewish king as “son of God” was not unheard of among the Jews (see Psalm 2:7).

Left without the NT, one might be sympathetic to such a Jewish understanding, for the idea of this verse saying that God would become a man is preposterous. In fact, the idea of an incarnation did not “catch on” until the Jews came face to face with the evidence. Jesus Himself claimed for Himself the OT prophecies about the Messiah. For example, in quoting Isaiah 61:1, he stated, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:17-21). In connection with this, the Jews tried to stone Him. At another time, they concluded that Jesus claimed to be God when He said, “Before Abraham was, I am” followed by their trying to stone Him (John 8:58-49).

Jesus’ followers certainly came to the conclusion He was God, there being no greater witness than a former doubter who changed his mind, namely Thomas, who confessed before Christ, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). There is no question, Jesus did many things only God Almighty could do: He healed the sick, stilled the storms and raised the dead. Therefore, without blasphemy or idolatry we worship Jesus Christ as the mighty God in the flesh.


Lord Jesus Christ, I believe and worship You as my Lord and my God.


 

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Wonderful Counselor


For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)


Four magnificent names of Christ! Musically rendered by Handel in his classic oratorio “Messiah,” this passage has thrilled many with its lofty exaltation of the promised Savior. It was written during Israel’s dark days of sin, amid prophecy of God’s impending judgment—first by the Babylonians and then the Assyrians, first against the northern kingdom of Israel (the rebel tribes led by Ephraim) and then the southern kingdom (of Judah and Benjamin). There is always a ray of hope, a lifeline to the believing remnant.

One would suspect that expectations and hopes would have been slim or completely absent upon hearing the Babylonians would completely ransack Israel and take the people away as slaves. But God always gives the faithful His promises to which they can anchor their faith, so that they might not descend into the vortex of unbelief when the chaotic world spins around them. In the midst of foreboding prophecies is this gem, this description of the longer-term picture: One is coming who would will exceed all their hopes and expectations.

By seeing the coming one referred to as a “child” and a “son,” the faithful should understand that God’s salvation would come from among their own people, born a Jew. In fulfillment, Jesus was born as a Jew. It would not be a military intervention and rescue by another nation. It would be a solution “given” by God. He would be a governing person, and as such, Jesus was a descendent of the kingly throne of David.

He would first of all be a “Wonderful Counselor.” “For by wise guidance you will wage war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Pr 24:6, see also 20:18, Luke 14:31). The conquering Messiah will wage an excellent war against all of God’s enemies, whether physical or spiritual. He will not need an abundance of military advisors, for His counsel will be “wonderful” (in the sense of miraculous, unusually good). It has been described as “of an extraordinary nature making it mysterious or difficult to comprehend” (Logos.com). In the end, everyone will be in a state of “shock and awe” at how He carries it out!

While we rightly interpret this prophecy as the Messiah coming in military and political victory over the political forces of this world (Is 9:7), Christians have long understood that He is also a victor over the spiritual forces of darkness. And if He is a wonderful counselor at war, then we can go to Him in His Word and in prayer for wonderful counsel for all of life.


Lord, thank You that I am not left alone to my own understanding (Pr 3:5-6).


 

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Chosen One


“Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:1)


Chosen One, or as the NKJV renders it, Elect One—what a beautiful description of Christ in the OT. Clearly Messianic, this passage shows that God has a favorite! And that one, as it turns out, is Christ. The term carries the connotation of “choice” or “best.” The focus is not so much on a theological concept of election as on the valuation God places on the one called “chosen.” Of course, God’s choosing Christ has eternal relevance to us believers in view of the fact that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:4). We are His choice possessions, and therefore we individually are God’s favorites. Is that not a beautiful thought?!

One remembers the psalmist’s exultation while contemplating God’s omniscience and omnipresence: “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Ps 139:17). He was completely contented, even overwhelmed with amazement in contemplating that God had good thoughts about him. That goes for you and me as well. And it is not dependent on any moral superiority we fancy for ourselves, but rather on the grace of God!

How different this is than the person who, through unbelief, sees God only in judgmental terms and fears that God’s thoughts are primarily harsh and negative toward him. God’s proclamation to Jesus, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased” (Mark 1:11), is true now for believers in Christ, for we have been “blessed … with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). In fact, our being “in Christ” means we are adopted as sons, “according to the kind intention of His will” (Eph 1:5); we have been lavished with forgiveness “according to the riches of His grace” (Eph 1:7-8). That sounds like we are now God’s “choice” possessions, does it not?

Because Christ is God’s chosen one, we too, in Him, are likewise chosen. He was the first, but we also are included. We must remember that when we are feeling alone or abandoned, rejected or unloved. Our Savior is God’s choice, and so are we. We are His first round draft pick, to use a sports illustration. Because we are in Christ, the Chosen One, we are like the number one pick, along with Christ. God wants us, and His thoughts about us are fantastically good; we can be assured that He not only likes us, but deeply loves us.


Lord, “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Ps 139:17). You really do love me!


 

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