Sanctuary Lesson 13 - The High Priest
As we continue our journey through the sanctuary, we are about to enter the Most Holy Place. However, we see a priest dressed in a dark blue robe over a white linen coat. He is curiously wearing an embroidered vestment. It looks like a sort of apron with two straps attached to a golden breastplate. On this breastplate are twelve different colored precious stones, each inscribed with a different name. On the shoulders of this apron there are also two onyx stones. The priest is wearing a crown of golden, which has an inscription "Holy to the Lord." We turn to the priest we have been following and ask him who is this man? The priest tells us that we are looking at the high priest.
The high priest was the ultimate mediator between God and Israelites in the sanctuary. Only the high priest could perform certain ceremonies on the Day of Atonement in the Most Holy Place (more on this in another lesson). The high priest was under an even stricter law of purity then the Israelites or even the regular priests (Leviticus 4:1-12; 21:10-15).
A question you may at this point is how was the high priest chosen? Let's turn to Hebrew 5:1-3.
- According to these verses, could anyone be the high priest?
- Answer (highlight to read): No, God chose the high priest.
When Moses came down from Sinai with the Ten Commandments from God, he was appalled to see the people of Israel worshiping a golden calf. He completely destroyed the calf and made the people of Israel drink its dust. When Moses called out and asked "Who is on the Lord's side?", it was the tribe of Levi who answered the call. Thus, they were given the honor and responsibility of serving in the sanctuary (Exodus 32:20-26; Deuteronomy 10:8-9; 18:1-18).
Although Aaron sinned greatly in making the golden calf for the people of Israel, he fully repented of his sin and yielded his life to the Lord as the Bible later recorded (Psalms 106:16). God made Aaron the first high priest and would subsequently choose the high priests from Aaron's descendants (Numbers 8:19).
Aaron, as high priest, could fully sympathize and understand the weaknesses of the people of Israel, as he had been tempted and fully identified with their sin. As Aaron was forgiven greatly, he in turn loved fervently and served God and the people of Israel as high priest.
Now let's turn our attention to the garments of the high priest and learn of their significance.
Let's turn to Exodus 28:36-39.
- According to these verses, what did the high priest wear on his head?
- Answer: A turban of fine linen with a crown of gold inscribed with "Holiness to the Lord"
The turban (also known as the miter) signified the high priest's rulership of the people (Acts 23:5).
Let's turn to Exodus 28:31-35; Exodus 29:5; and Exodus 39:22.
- According to these verses, what was the first item the high priest would wear over his white linen tunic?
- Answer: A robe of blue
Is there anything significant about the color blue? Let's turn to Ezekiel 1:26; Exodus 24:10-12; and Numbers 15:37-41.
- According to these objects, what other objects are also of blue color?
- Answer: God's throne, the Ten Commandments, and a tassel the Israelites were to put on their garments to remind them of God's laws.
The blue robe woven in one piece and was symbolic of perfect obedience to God's laws. The high priest was never to tear this robe because the Ten Commandments cannot be broken. To tear the robe was an offense punishable by death (Leviticus 10:6 and Exodus 39:23). Caiaphas was the only high priest in the Bible recorded to have committed such an act. How sad and symbolic his act was in tearing his robe (Matthew 26:57-65) to indicate his rejection of Jesus!
Let's turn our attention to the next item the high priest wore. Let's turn to Exodus 28:4, 6, 8.
- According to these verses, what did the priest wear over the blue robe?
- Answer: An ephod
The ephod was an apron-like sleeveless garment that was bound at the waist by a girdle. When you read those verses in Exodus 28, note that the ephod was made of materials similar to the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. The girdle was made of the same materials as the ephod.
Let's turn to Hebrews 10:20.
- According to this verse, if the ephod is made of materials comparable to the veil, what could the ephod be symbolic of?
- Answer: Jesus' flesh
The ephod pointed to Jesus' humanity and his compassionate understanding of our sinful human condition. The ephod was also symbolic of service to God. Samuel also wore an ephod when he served in the sanctuary (1 Samuel 2:18). David also wore an ephod when he danced to the Lord in worship (2 Samuel 6:14).
Let's turn to Exodus 28:9-12.
- According to these verses, what were placed on the shoulders of the ephod?
- Answer: Two onyx stones engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel
Where were the onyx stones originally found in Scripture? According to Genesis 2:12, the onyx stones were originally found in Paradise. Are these engraved stones a reminder that God is calling His people to be with Him in Paradise?
Let's turn to 28:15-30.
- According to these verses, what was to be placed over the ephod?
- Answer: The breastplate of judgment
- According to these verses, what were to be socketed onto this item?
- Answer: Twelve precious stones, each engraved with the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel.
- According to these verses, where exactly was the item to be placed on the high priest?
- Answer: Over his heart
Justice and judgment were part of the high priest's duties. The breastplate of judgment reminded the high priest to think continually of God's people. While the high priest must always judge with justice, his decisions are made in light of the love he has for his people.
You may be wondering why we are spending so much time talking about the high priest? What is the relevance of the high priest today?
Let's turn to Hebrew 4:14-16.
- According to these verses, who is our high priest right now?
- Answer: Jesus
Jesus is our High Priest today! He is the ultimate intermediary between God the Father and us. Jesus is the only one who can connect us with God's loving forgiveness. Jesus is the only one uniquely qualified to intercede on our behalf as not only is He fully God, He is also fully human, being able to sympathize with our frail human nature. There is no one else in this world (from the beginning of time to eternity) who can make this connection! The high priest's garments and duties in the Old Testament illustrate Jesus' life and ministry to us. Re-read the book of John and you will gain a better appreciation of how he presented Jesus' story to us!
Friend, will you let Jesus be your high priest?