Hebrews 4:14 -16
Yom Kippur (also known as the Day of Atonement) is still being celebrated as one of the most important Holy days among the Jewish sect today. It was seen as a day to be set apart because it signified a time when the High Priest presents the sin of the whole Nation before God with the intent of obtaining forgiveness of sins knowing that only God could forgive sins. The day is still being celebrated but without a High Priest and without the killing of an unblemished goat/ram because the place where the sacrifice could be offered has been destroyed – AD70 and the destruction of the Temple.
The idea is that an unblemished ram is killed with the intent of using its blood to appease God so that their sins could be atoned for. The High Priest (there was only one appointed) who is supposed to be a representation of the people of God takes the blood and goes from the outer court, through to the Holy Place with the intention of getting through the Holy Place to the Holiest of all where there is the mercy seat. The idea was to sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat so that God would have mercy on His people with their sins atoned for.
This was done once a year. As soon as the sacrifice was made the High Priest leaves the presence of God not to come back until another year.
The duty of the High Priest was such a dangerous one that any mistake with the sacrifice killed will end up in the death of the High Priest. This is the reason why the High Priest had a belt tied around him coupled with a bell. To this belt was also attached a very long rope that extended from where the people gathered to the Holiest of all. This was so, in case the High Priest dies in the Holiest of all as no one would be able to rescue him and they will have to pull him out with the rope. While the High Priest proceeded to the Holiest of all, there was the jingling of the bell signifying to all that cared to know that the High Priest was still alive. When the bell stops to jingle, it meant that the High Priest had died and therefore they have to pull him out. It was not a joking matter or a position to be taken lightly or fore granted.
It was a matter of life and death.
To his audience again, especially those who heard the message of the Gospel and had not yet committed to it, the writer makes another appeal not to delay in accepting God’s salvation and His perfect REST. He went back to history and what happened in the temple as the High Priest presents the blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of the sins of the people hoping that they will understand what God was doing at that very moment. They were able to identify with the fact that there was indeed a High Priest who presented a sacrifice to God on behalf of the people. The twist in this story was that Jesus had become the perfect High Priest who did not need goats, rams or the blood of animals to appease God; He went in all by Himself; used His own blood once and for all.
God was satisfied with what Jesus did in the complete, perfect and total taking away of our sins. The difference is that Jesus is not going to offer Himself once every year, He did it once and for all. He didn’t come out of the presence of God; He sat at the right hand of God till date and forever. He went through the three heavens just like the High Priest of old did: the Outer Court (atmosphere), the Holy place (outer space) and the Holiest of All (God’s abode). Paul described the same when he said he was taken to the third heaven…
To this particular group of individuals, the writer had explained that Jesus was God; he told them that Jesus was greater than the angels they revered so much. He told them Jesus was greater than servant Moses because the owner of the house is far greater than the people sent to build the house.
He also explained the repercussion of not accepting the Lord as Master and Savior, comparing it to the time of provocation in the wilderness where some died and some did enter into the Promised Land. Obviously he was comparing the scenario of death in the wilderness to those who will not make Jesus their Lord and Master and the impending destruction that is to come. Jesus said, “He (anyone) that believeth NOT, is condemned”.
Something must surely be keeping this group of people from responding positively to the message they heard. Are they scared they would be ostracized like the believing Jews have been suffering from all sorts of trials and persecution because of their new and latest profession? They observed that fellow Jews were being isolated for their newly found faith (they had moved away from Judaism) and yet the approval of men seemed more important to these ones than the commendation of God. They were going to let this opportunity slip through their fingers and the writer was quick to warn.
The fact that Jesus was part of divinity didn’t mean that He wasn’t also flesh – feeling the same pain and agony we felt or are feeling today. On one side of the divide, He was perfectly divine and on the other side, He was perfectly human. In case this group of people felt God was so far from them, one that would abandon them in their trials and pains, one they also thought was too far from them in order that He might identify with our emotions, the writer was quick to opine that God indeed isn’t oblivious to our present pain. He went through Gethsemane with the sweat dripping from His face as thick as blood.
Apostle Paul puts it rightly when he said Jesus became sin; He came for sin and condemned sin in His flesh. His humanity was a battleground in all that He came to achieve. The idea was that since He did not have the Sin Nature, it was impossible for Him to sin. The pressure was for Him to bow out but because that nature was not part of Him, He didn’t know how to fall. He could not fall and He would not fall or give in to hard trials and temptation. Put in another way, He was not wired to sin like every other human being and therefore He could not sin or be condemned.
Sometimes as human beings, when we go through or are going through a difficult challenge, there is that tendency to want to open up to someone and not just anyone. We want to find out who’s been through the same as we are but at the same time we are very careful of whom we open up to. The writer encourages this group of people about the fact that they have a better High Priest in Jesus who is capable of sympathizing with our feelings or weakness; He has been tested and examined in every respect like us, yet without sin.
He reinvigorated his hearers about the fact that they can always talk to this “Better High Priest”; they can approach Him on the throne of Grace with confidence so that they can receive mercy – remember the former High Priest, finding Grace to help in that hour of need.
Now imagine that Temple at Jerusalem was not destroyed, the message of grace and entering into God’s REST through Jesus would have been misconstrued. There would still remain a man called the high Priest, appointed by the people to offer sacrifices for the atonement of their sins.