After Jesus overcame, He sat down on His Father’s throne of grace, where He serves as our merciful high priest. He sympathizes with our weaknesses. If we, who are tempted, draw near to God, Jesus will come to our aid. He will give us mercy and grace. God promised, “their lawless deeds I will remember no more”, and our high priest Jesus guarantees that new covenant promise.
This is the third in a series of articles on Hebrews’ teachings of Christ as our high priest.
In the first article (How Jesus became high priest) it was noted that God perfected Jesus through suffering. Therefore Jesus could offer Himself without blemish to God, making purification of sins through death. After His resurrection, Jesus sat down on His Father’s throne. On the basis of Psalm 110 (verses 1 and 4) the writer of Hebrews interprets this event as Jesus becoming our high priest in the tabernacle in heaven.
In the second article (Jesus is a better high priest) it was shown that the Levitical priesthood was merely a copy and shadow of the tabernacle in which Jesus serves, and for that reason was unable to do away with sin. “Perfection” is only possible through Christ, based on His better sacrifice, which is the sacrifice of Himself.
In this third article the question is what Christ has been doing since he became our high priest, and what He is still doing today.
2:17-18 Makes propitiation
The first reference to Jesus as “high priest” is found in 2:17. This verse states that, as high priest, He makes “propitiation for the sins of the people”. The word “propitiation“, in normal English, means an appeasement; a payment which satisfies; to appease the wrath of an angry god. The word translated “make propitiation” (2:17) is hilaskomai (Strong’s G2433), but there is absolutely no need to read into this word that God is angry with sinners, and has to be pacified. This is indicated by the following:
1. This word hilaskomai appears only in one other place in the Bible, where it is translated as “be merciful”:
“But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13)
2. The KJV translates hilaskomai in Hebrews 2:17 as “make reconciliation”. “Reconciliation” is used several times in the Bible to describe what happens when man turns to God, and it is always man that is reconciled to God; never God that is reconciled to man. In other words, it is man that needs to change; God has always been willing to accept man. See the article Metaphors of Salvation for more information.
3. The NIV translates hilaskomai in Hebrews 2:17 as “make atonement”, which is a more neutral word. The word atonement originated when the Bible was first translated in English. At that time people used the word “one” as a synonym for the verb “reconcile”. In other words, when you reconcile two people, then you “one” them. “At-one-ment” was used to indicate a restored relationship. See the article Atonement for more information.
4. We should therefore rather allow hilaskomai in Hebrews 2:17 to be explained by the context, namely that hilaskomai means that He is “merciful” (2:17) and “come to the aid of those who are tempted” (2:18).
God is not angry with sinners. Rather, He so loved the world that He sent His Only Son (John 3:16).
4:14-16 Receive mercy and find grace
The second time that we read in Hebrews about Jesus as high priest, is in 4:14-16, which is also the introduction to the great center section in Hebrews on Christ as our high priest. In 2:17 we read that He is “merciful”, but 4:15 goes one step further by explaining how He feels towards sinners, namely that He sympathizes with our weaknesses; “therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16). This is also an interpretation of the word hilaskomai in 2:17. In other words, hilaskomai means that Jesus intercedes for us so that “we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”.
Mediator of the New Covenant
The covenant is an important concept in Hebrews. The word “covenant” is used 21 times in Hebrews and the quotation in Hebrews 8, of the new covenant promise in Jeremiah 31, is the longest quotation in the entire New Testament.
God made the first covenant with Israel “on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt” (8:9). The new covenant includes that God will put His laws into their minds and write His laws on their hearts. His people will therefore not teach one another, “for all will know me” (8:10-11). One may argue that this promise has not yet come true, but it is important to note that Hebrews associates the new covenant with Christ’s ministry as high priest:
7:22 “Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant”. [It is “a better covenant” because it “has been enacted on better promises” (8:6).]
9:15 “He is mediator of a new covenant” (9:15).
12:24 “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant”
But what is this new and better covenant? As mentioned, Hebrews 8 contains a very long quotation of the new covenant promise in Jeremiah 31. Hebrews 10 repeats the two main points of that new covenant, namely:
10:16 “I will put My laws upon their heart, and on their mind I will write them”.
10:17 “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more”.
However, if we consider the context of the quotation in Hebrews 10, namely to “make perfect” (10:1), which means to “take away sins” (10:4), and “forgiveness” (10:18), then we see that the main promise in the new covenant, for the writer of Hebrews, is the second point above, namely, “their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more”. Jesus is the mediator of this promise, which means that Jesus is the go-between between God and man; not to appease God’s wrath, but as guarantee of God promise “I will remember their sins no more” (8:12; 10:17).
9:24 Appear in the presence of God for us
This concept of Jesus as Mediator of the new covenant is well summarized in the following statements:
9:24 “Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us”.
7:25 Jesus “always lives to intercede for” “those who come to God through him” (7:25 NIV).
Jesus said “I … overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev. 3:21, cf. Heb. 1:3). His throne is the “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16). Our high priest Jesus is “merciful” (2:17) and sympathizes with our weaknesses (4:15). He will “come to the aid of those who are tempted” (2:18). If we “draw near”, we will “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16). God promised, “their lawless deeds I will remember no more”, and our high priest Jesus guarantees that promise.