How Jesus differed from the Jewish High Priest
The outstanding day of the Jewish religious calendar is the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). This occurs once a year about six months after the Passover. On this day the high priest made animal sacrifices and entered the Most Holy Place and offered the blood for his sins and as a mediator for those of the people (Heb. 9:7).
The people fasted and did not work on this day (Lev. 23:26-32; Acts 27:9). They also made offerings—the sin offering expressed repentance for minor sins, while the burnt and grain offering represented acts of personal commitment (Num. 29:7-11).
“Atonement” is the act by which God and people are brought together in personal relationship—it presupposes separation and implies reconciliation and forgiveness. This day was given in Old Testament times to maintain the relationship between the people and God. It was when the collective sin of the whole year was dealt with and atoned for.
Day after day and year after year
These offerings occurred day after day and year after year (Heb. 10:1,11). They were a feature of Jewish religious life that taught:
- Sin had created a distance between God and humanity. No one else was allowed in the Most Holy Place; the punishment was death (Lev. 10:1-2; 16:1).
- People must approach God through a mediator; the high priest.
- The mediator could only approach God through the blood of a sacrificial victim—“without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22NIV).
This Judaic system was replaced by Christianity when the curtain of the temple was ripped in two from the top to the bottom. This meant that the Most Holy Place where God dwelt was no longer a place hidden from the people. In fact the Jewish temple was destroyed in AD70; it was no longer needed.
Jesus – sacrifice and mediator
Jesus was different. “Unlike the other high priests, He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered himself” (Heb 7:27). Christ died for sin “once for all” to bring us to God (Rom. 6:10; Heb. 9:12,26; 10:2,10; 1 Pt. 3:18).
- “Once”. The work is completed! It was necessary and sufficient. He said on the cross, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). He secured our salvation forever (Heb. 9:12). It is lasting and permanent. There is no need to repeat it. There is no more need for sacrifices (Heb. 10:17-18).
- “For all”. It was for all people who trust in Him by faith – for all time, past, present and future (Heb. 10:12).
|(new covenant)||(old covenant)|
|Once – based on one act by Jesus Christ||Repetitive – based on a system of daily and annual sacrifices|
|For all – available to all mankind (universal)||Primarily for those in one nation who kept the law, the Sabbath, circumcision etc.|
Jesus was both the mediator between God and people, and the sacrifice. He sacrificed His own blood as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”; not that of animals (Jn. 1:29; Heb. 9:12,15). Jesus entered heaven; not the Most Holy Place (Heb. 9:11,24). He also cleansed the inward conscience (Heb. 9:14).
Jesus did this once for all when He sacrificed Himself on the cross and rose back to life again. Everything about Christ was “once for all”. He was unique and His mission was to make salvation available to all humanity. The early believers had to be reminded that Christ’s achievements were “once for all”. So do we.
What can we offer God?
God has done so much for us. He has provided a way for us to get right with God. The sacrificial method is given in the Old Testament and the perfect mediator and perfect sacrifice is shown to be Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
In the New Testament all Christians are pictured as priests (1 Pt. 2:5,9). There are at least three sacrifices we can offer back to God:
- Our lives as “living sacrifices” (Rom. 12:1).
- “A sacrifice of praise” (Heb. 13:15).
- Our time and possessions – “to do good and to share with others” (Heb. 13:16).
Written, August 2002