It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
— Hebrews 2:6–9 —
The key idea in Hebrews is priesthood. However, I believe sonship is equally important to understanding the flow of the book, not to mention the nature of Christ’s priesthood. In other words, Jesus is a greater priest because he is a greater son (see 4:14; 7:28).
Making a similar point, B. B. Warfield once commented on Hebrews 2:6–9:
The emphasis is upon the completeness of the identification of the Son of God with the sons of men . . . The perfection of His identification with us consisted just in this, that He did not . . . assume merely the appearance of man or even merely that position and destiny of man, but the reality of humanity. (The Power of God Unto Salvation, 5, 10; cited in Zaspel, The Theology of B.B. Warfield, 256).
Highlighting the personal nature of Christ’s union with his people, Warfield touches on the very weakness of the priesthood of Aaron. And in so doing, he highlights three ways Christ’s priesthood is greater than that of Aaron.
First, Jesus’s origin in heaven and his two-way meditation between God and man proved to be greater than Aaron.
The nature of Aaron’s priesthood moved only from man to God. God chose Aaron from among men and clothed in him in priestly glory. His holy garments gave him a holy splendor, which represented God’s presence to the people. But underneath, he was entirely human. Not so for Christ.
While fully human, Jesus is the Son of God Incarnate. He took on the form of human (i.e., he became fully human) in his Incarnation, so that God the Son would now possess existentially every aspect of humanity. Yet, by remaining fully divine, Jesus mediated an inseparable covenant (cf. Gal. 3:19). In other words, while the priests of Israel could mediate a covenant, that previous covenant could be broken. Not so with Christ, whose indestructible life became the cornerstone of the temple, the beginning of a new covenant, and the head of a new priesthood.
Second, Jesus could sympathize with hurting, defiled, sinful people without fear of becoming unclean.
When Jesus approached the people he represented as priest, he did not look down upon them with scorn or run past them afraid of defiling himself. This threat of defilement was in the background—if not the foreground of the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). Had the priest or Levite touched the “dead” man, they would have been unable to serve in the temple.
By contrast, Jesus granted healing and purification to the impure he encountered. In the fullness of his Incarnation, he could be a sympathetic high priest because he had power to heal and cleanse. Truly, as intimately acquainted with grief, he could minister with true sympathy. At the same time, as one who has passed through the heavens to make a way for sinners to find mercy from God, he was the true source of grace to everyone who came to him. In this way, his priestly ministry exceeded the self-conscious priests in Aaron’s line.
Third, Jesus’s two natures are what secured the union of God and man.
When he approached the Father as a fully human high priest on behalf of his brothers, there is no doubting his qualifications. He was perfectly in union with the people he represented as priest. And, as the Son of God Incarnate, he was perfectly in union with the Father.
Certainly, it was in his human nature that he fulfilled the law, bore the curse, and inaugurated the covenant. But all of these redemptive acts were completed by the Son of God, who is one with the Father. Altogether then, it is Christ’s unique union with the Father and his people that make his priesthood perfect.
What the priests of old could not do—atone for sin once and for all and successfully bring the people near to God—Christ did. And his Sonship, outlined in Hebrews 1–2, plays a key part in that mediation. To that end we should continue to consider Christ our great high priest and apostle (Heb. 3:1) and learn how his superior Sonship is the source of his superior priesthood.
For more on Hebrews, Christ’s sonship and priesthood, check out these studies:
- Hebrews Overview [audio, notes]
- Hebrews 1:1–4 [audio, notes ]
- Hebrews 1:5–2:4 [audio, notes ]
- Hebrews 2:5–18 [audio, notes]
- Hebrews 3:1–6 [audio, notes ]
- Hebrews 3:7–19 [audio, notes]
- Hebrews 4:1–13 [audio, notes]
- Hebrews 4:14–5:10 [audio, notes]
- Hebrews 5:11–6:12 [audio, notes]
- Hebrews 6:13–20 [audio, notes]
- Hebrews 7:1–10 [audio, notes]
- Hebrews 7:11-28 [audio]
- Hebrews 8:1-13 [audio, notes]
- Hebrews 8:7–13 [audio, notes]
Soli Deo Gloria, ds