The High Priestly Ministry of Aaron
(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)
In the Old Testament, the high priests descended from the line of Aaron, thus this was called the Aaronic priesthood.
There were certain qualifications that had to be met in order for one to be a high priest. First, the high priest had to come from among men. In verse 1 the author says, "For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins." This fact clarifies that it was men who were high priests, and not angels. Only men can act on behalf of men. This verse also points to the fact that Christ had to become a man in order to be our great high priest in heaven.
Exodus 28:1 illustrates the instructions of the Lord to Moses concerning the origin of this priesthood. He says, "Then bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel, to ministers as priests to Me--Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's sons." Obviously, Moses knew that Aaron and his sons were part of Israel, but it is repeated here to stress that the priest is chosen from among those he represents.
Secondly, the priest represents men "in things pertaining to God.", He is "appointed." A high priest functions as man's representative to God. This is the opposite of the role of a prophet. A prophet functioned as a representative of God to man. The prophet was God's "mediator" to man, while the high priest was man's "mediator' to God.
This is the role Christ plays for us. In Hebrews 8:6, the author illustrates the superiority of Christ' s representation; "But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises." As one can see, Christ is a high priest just like those found in the Old Testament, but His ministry is superior, in all aspects, to any other high priest.
1 Timothy 2:5 underscores the point that Christ is the only suitable representative of man before God. Paul says, "For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." This passage could be reworded "...the only mediator between God and men...," because Christ is the only high priest who is still functioning today. He is the only one through whom it is possible for man to be brought into a relationship with God.
The third area of qualification in the ministry of a high priest is that he is "to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins." This is the key responsibility of the high priest--to offer sacrifices for sins to provide reconciliation between man and God.
This responsibility is seen in the day of Atonement - the one day a year when the high priest entered into the presence of God into the mercy seat to offer sacrifice for the sins of Israel. Leviticus 16:15-16 says, "then he shall slaughter the goat of the sin offering which is for the people, and bring its blood inside the veil, and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat, And he shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the impurities of the sons of Israel, and because of their transgressions, in regard to all their sins; and thus he shall do for the tent of meeting which abides with them in the midst of their impurities." The purpose of the high priest offering a sacrifice to God on behalf of the people of Israel is to lay a foundation for forgiveness so that the people could be reconciled to God.
The fact that only a high priest can reconcile men to God by sacrifice has been forgotten today. I used to work for a man who was an orthodox Jew. He would share with me the details of his religious practices during Passover...etc. When he got done I would ask him, "In all of this detail, where is the sacrifice that is demanded for your sins? His only answer was, "I don't know. We don't sacrifice. There is no blood being shed." So, on the basis of what we have examined in the Old Testament there was no forgiveness being provided if there was no blood being shed.
This is the situation for the average "religious" person today. They say, "I'm going to heaven because God loves me." Where is the sacrifice that God demands? Usually the answer is something like, "Well, my good works outweigh my bad works, so He will forgive me based on that." I am sorry to say, the Bible never says that the penalty for sin is paid if your good works outweigh your bad works. The penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23). There is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood. The tragedy is that most people today think that they are going to heaven. However, they have never stopped to consider that unless they recognize themselves as sinners, separated from God, and place their faith in Jesus Christ alone, for salvation, there is no forgiveness because the shedding of blood for their sin has not been credited to their account.
The fourth characteristic of the Old Testament priesthood is that he must be identified with the people. We have already touched on this as the first characteristic, but in verses 2 and 3 it is elaborated. Verse 2 begins, "he can deal gently... ." This phrase means to have a "balanced" approach. He is not apathetic nor is he overly excited or emotional when dealing with the people.
He deals "gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness." We have already seen this concerning Christ (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15). Christ suffered and endured the same things that we do, therefore He is able to understand and listen to us.
The Old Testament high priest, because of his weakness, was obligated to offer sacrifice for the sins of not only the people, but also for himself (Lev 16:11). The difference between Christ and the Old Testament high priests was that Christ did not have to offer a sacrifice for His own sin. He was without sin.
The priest deals gently with the "...ignorant and misguided." The grammatical construction of this phrase indicates that this is the same group of people. The concept is that, because of a lack of knowledge and understanding, people go astray. When people lack understanding of God's revelation of Himself, they will go astray. Now, for sins of ignorance, forgiveness was provided through the sacrifices seen in the Old Testament. But for the sin of apostasy, there was no other sacrifice provided. This fact becomes important to our understanding of the warning passages found in Hebrews.
Numbers 15:27-29 illustrates the process of forgiveness for those who sin unintentionally; "Also if one person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering, And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally, making atonement for him that he may be forgiven. You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the sons of Israel and for the alien who sojourns among them." The law applies to both the gentile or the Jew who have sinned in ignorance.
But note what verses 30-31 say: "But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him." There is no sacrifice for the person who willingly rebels against God, and declares, "I will not submit to God". God says that person must be destroyed.
The writer of Hebrews has already warned us about such rebellion in 3:12; "Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God." This was the warning we studied earlier concerning those who would sin intentionally by rebelling and blaspheming God, and refusing the sacrifice that He has provided in His Son.
The same issue is illustrated in Hebrews 6:4; "For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame." This is willful sin for which there is no sacrifice provided. When one sets himself against Jesus Christ, and refuses to believe in Him, the only destiny for that person is destruction.
But when one has accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, he has the great High Priest in heaven, interceding on behalf of him before God. The great High Priest, Jesus Christ Himself, understands our "weakness" because He was also tempted "in all things," yet He never sinned. He is able to deal with us "gently," and make atonement for us before God the Father.
The last characteristic of the high priestly ministry is found in verse 4. The author says, "And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was." A high priest had to be appointed by God. The family of Aaron in the tribe of Levi was not given the responsibility of high priests because of anything they had done to deserve it. They were appointed by God.
God had a rather firm way of dealing with those who claimed to be appointed by God when, in fact, they were not. Consider Numbers 16. In this account, a man named Korah, from the tribe of Levi, believed he was just as qualified as Aaron to be a high priest. He assembled a following of 250 men in order to carry out the priestly ministry that God had appointed to Aaron. Moses assembled the people of Israel and had Korah stand at the entrance of his tent and said, "If God has spoken by me, and Aaron is the true high priest, let the earth open up and swallow Korah and his family."
What happened? The earth devoured Korah and his family, and the Lord sent fire and consumed the other 250 men who were followers of Korah. Why was this done? "As a reminder to the sons of Israel that no layman who is not of the descendants of Aaron should come near to burn incense before the Lord; that he might not become like Korah and his company - just as the Lord had spoken to him through Moses (Numbers 16:40). Clearly, the Lord did not take the role of the high priest lightly.
We do not understand this today. We have people appointing men to be high priests as though that made an impression on God. God is not impressed with our attempts to please him. The account of Uzziah the King in 2 Chronicles 26 is a perfect example of this truth. When he appointed himself priest as well as King, he was stricken with leprosy. The tragedy is that we think "we are going to heaven because we have appointed a priest that prays for us." Is that what the Bible says is needed to be born into the family of God? No, it is only God who can appointed a high priest, and Christ is the only high priest who functions today. He is the only one who can intercede for us before God the Father.
The author now turns his attention to proving that Christ meets the qualifications of a high priest. And there is one notable difference between Christ, and the qualifications we have examined: Christ is not from the family of Aaron, nor is He from the tribe of Levi. He is of the tribe of David - the kingly tribe. So His priesthood is a new priesthood declared by God.
Verse 5 says, "So Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, 'Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee.'" It was God who appointed Christ to be a high priest, not Christ who aspired to that position.
The author continues in verse 6; "just as He says also in another passage, 'Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.'" The authority of Jesus Christ as high priest comes from God the Father. The author quotes from Psalm 110:4, which the Jews would recognize as a Messianic Psalm. We are told that the Messiah will be a priest, not after the order of Aaron, but of the order of Melchizedek.
Melchizedek first appears in Genesis 14. He does not appear again until Psalm 110:4, where we are informed that the Messiah will be of his order. The Messiah is of a new order, where He is both king and high priest - the Melchizedekian order. We will learn more about Melchizedek in Hebrews 7.
The author declares the second proof of Christ's priesthood in verses 7 and 8; "In the days of His flesh, when He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and who was heard because of His piety, although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered." This is the identification of Christ as a priest after the order of Melchizedek. The author is emphasizing His humanity in His weakness and suffering, not His deity in the forgiveness of Sin.
He "offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and who was heard because of His piety... ." Remember in the Gospels, when Christ was in the Garden of Gethsemane and He prayed to the Father "...if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt" (Matthew 26:29). Jesus Christ was separated from the Father when all the sins of the world were placed on His shoulders. He was confronted with horror and agony, but He still obeyed God's will that He had to die.
The end of verse 7 states that Christ was praying to "...Him who was able to save Him from death, and who was heard because of His piety." Literally this means "Him who was able to save Him out of death." Verse 7 is elaborating on Christ's prayer time in the Garden of Gethsemane. Christ is praying regarding His resurrection after His death. And He was heard by God. He died, but He is raised from the dead three days later, after intense suffering and agony.
As verse 8 says, "He learned obedience from the things which He suffered." When Christ was identified with us in His suffering, He learned obedience, not as God, but as the God-man. And He was obedient to the point of death.
This is an example to us who are thinking of stopping our obedience short of 1OO%. The pressure may be getting to us, or maybe we are not sure we are "ready" to completely obey the Lord. Well, Christ obeyed "to the point of death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8).
The author points to Christ's superiority in verse 9; "and having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation." What is the key ministry of a high priest? He is to make sacrifice for sins. What did Christ do? He made sacrifice for sins, but it was a sacrifice that is superior to all others because it provides "eternal salvation." We, as believers, have been saved once and for all for eternity (Hebrews 10:10, 10:12, 10:14).
The last factor concerning the proof of Christ as the great High Priest is re-emphasized in verse 10. The author says, "being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek." Again, Christ is not a priest from the order of Aaron. He is a priest from order of Melchizedek. This is the new order of priesthood established by God to supersede the order of Aaron.
Some of the Hebrews thought that they could return to the old ways - to the Aaronic priesthood. But that order has been superseded. There is nowhere to go back to. Therefore, there is only one high priest, Jesus Christ, who has offered one sacrifice for all time. He is the only one that can represent you and me as our high priest before God. He is the only one who can provide eternal salvation for our sins.
The choice is yours. You can function as those who sin with a high hand and blaspheme God by saying "I reject the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I am unwilling to obey God." You can do what you wish, but understand one thing: there is no forgiveness of sin for those who reject the revelation of God concerning salvation.
Or you can choose to accept the free gift that God is offering you. If you believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ, you will be forgiven every sin. You will be cleansed and reconciled to God, and spend eternity in His presence. And you will be one who will persevere until the day of Christ Jesus.
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