Jesus, the Great High Priest
The death of Jesus was the end of the priesthood. Even though there actually were a couple more high priests in Jerusalem before the temple was destroyed in AD 70, Caiaphas was the last high priest to serve as a pointer to the Great High Priest, Jesus. There was simply no need for an imperfect priest once the perfect priest had come. “And since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:21–23). Based on the kind of high priest we have, the most reasonable response should be to draw near to God.
The death of Jesus was the end of the sacrificial system. No more innocent lambs needed to be slain. “He did this once for all when he offered up himself” (Heb. 7:27).
The death of Jesus was the end of the temple made with limestone in Jerusalem. But it was not the end of all the temple was meant to be. When the True Temple was destroyed, sure enough, it was raised in three days. Jesus was raised from the dead, he ascended into heaven, and then forty days later the fire of God in the person of the Holy Spirit descended not over the Most Holy Place of the temple in Jerusalem, but over the heads of believers gathered in an upper room as they waited and prayed for power. They became living, breathing temples of the Holy Spirit, living stones that were “being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5).
The death of Jesus was the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement. No longer was there a need for a high priest to slit the throat of a goat and sprinkle its blood on the veil. The veil was split. Jesus “entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). No longer was there a need for the high priest to confess sins onto the head of the other goat, the scapegoat, and send him out into the wilderness to die. All the sins of God’s people were laid upon the one true scapegoat. At the cross, “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6), so that we might know: “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12).
He Opened the Curtain
The death of Jesus was the end of once-a-year access into the presence of God by one high priest. The tearing of the veil in essence threw open the door. Because the sins of all those who put their trust in Christ are fully dealt with in the death of Jesus, forgiven sinners are now welcomed into the presence of God in union with Christ. “We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Heb. 10:19–21). The tearing of the curtain was a tangible sign of the tearing of Christ’s flesh. Because his flesh was torn, we can enter in.
Have you? Have you entered in? And if not, why not? Could it be that you don’t see yourself in need of mercy? Or is it that you don’t really believe you will receive mercy?
Because the sins of all those who put their trust in Christ are fully dealt with in the death of Jesus, forgiven sinners are now welcomed into the presence of God in union with Christ.
Poor Caiaphas. He didn’t see himself in need of mercy, and therefore he never cried out for it. No wonder he was unfit for the role of high priest, the role of extending and inviting God’s people into experiencing the generosity of God’s mercy. My friend, if you don’t see yourself in need of mercy, I pray that God will open your eyes to the reality of your own soul, that you will see its deadness, its darkness. I pray that instead of the reality of your sin making you hopeless, it will make you determined to reach out to the only source of the mercy you need.
And if you are someone who doesn’t really believe that you will receive mercy, I pray that God will open your eyes to the kindness and generosity of your Great High Priest who loves to lavish mercy on people who don’t deserve it.
Someday you are going to stand before the Judge of all the earth. He won’t be a wicked, corrupt judge like Caiaphas. He will be the perfect judge, Jesus himself. All who cry out to him for mercy now will stand before him not only as their judge, but as their Advocate, as their Great High Priest. All who cry out to him find mercy today and will still be experiencing his mercy on that great day and into eternity.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:15–16).
Photo by Martin Schmidli via Unsplash.