Did you know that Christ is functioning as a priest right now? We readily recognize Christ as Prophet and King, but we might fail to see him as our High Priest. But the Hebrews writer takes great care to show this aspect of our Savior’s work.
In a previous article we focused on the quality of his priesthood. Now, we wish to turn our attention to the operation of his priesthood. What is it that he does for us as High Priest? The Bible presents at least three ways that Christ ministers to us as our priest.
Propitiation comes to us from the Greek root word ἱλασμός (hilasmos). This Greek term lies at the heart of a hotly debated topic among biblical scholars. What does it mean and how should it be translated? The focal point of the debate is an understanding of God’s relationship toward sin, namely that God hates sin.
Propitiation is the way in which God deals with sin. Notice that the Hebrews writer says that in Christ’s priestly service, he is making (present tense) “propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:18 ESV). John states that God’s love is seen in sending Christ “to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:11). And Paul pens that Jesus was “put forward as a propitiation by his blood” (Romans 3:25).
How does Jesus make propitiation? He does so by entering heaven (Hebrews 9:24), by means of his own blood (Hebrews 9:11, 12), and “thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12). This blood sacrifice is absolutely essential, because God hates sin. Sin offends his holiness. It causes separation between Creator and creation. Because of sin’s destructive nature, God abhors it (see Romans 2:8; Revelation 14:9-11).
As our propitiation, Jesus both appeases the wrath of God and procures salvation by way of reconciling the torn relationship between man and God. This he continually does, “he is the propitiation for our sins, and not ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
Job long ago recognized the great gulf between man and God, “For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together” (Job 9:32). He then lamented that there was no one to mediate between he and God, “There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both” (Job 9:33).
The Old Testament priests were to serve God on behalf of men (Hebrews 5:1), thus aiming for mediation. But they were still men, they did not share the nature of God. Where they fell short, Jesus excelled. Jesus, being the eternal Word (John 1:1), put on flesh and became like man; therefore, he alone can bring the two parties together (1 Timothy 2:5, 6).
Jesus offers himself for our sins, stands between us and God to reconcile us, and continually appeals to God on our behalf. “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us (Romans 8:34). The Hebrews writer paints a beautiful picture by stating that Christ “lives to make intercession” (Hebrews 7:25). It is because of this intercession that our prayers are heard, and our praise is accepted (Hebrews 13:15; 1 Peter 2:5).
As our High Priest, Jesus serves as our advocate (1 John 2:1), by continually making propitiation for our sins, performing mediation between us and God, and making intercession to God on our behalf. What a wonderful High Priest we have!