Useful Bible Studies > Hebrews Commentary > chapter 5

Israelís chief priests

Hebrews 5:1

In order to understand Jesusí work as a priest, we need to know about Israelís priests.

The first of Israelís chief priests was Aaron, who was Mosesí brother. All Israelís priests came from Aaronís family. The chief priest was the most important priest. He was the son of the previous chief priest. He became chief priest after his fatherís death. And he continued to be chief priest until his own death.

Israelís chief priests continued their work through the whole period of the Bible. But the arrangement to appoint them changed in later years. At the time of Jesus and the first Christians, the government appointed the chief priests. And they did not continue to be chief priests for life.

So the chief priests continued to look after Godís house for about 1500 years. That is, from Aaron until about 40 years after Jesusí death. Most of their names are not well-known. Some carried out brave deeds, like Phinehas (Numbers chapter 25), who afterwards was chief priest, and Azariah (2 Chronicles 26:16-20). Some were weak men who did not deal with their responsibilities properly, like Eli (1 Samuel 2:27-29) and Eliashib (Nehemiah 13:4-11).

The priestsí work was to serve God on behalf of the people. And the chief priests had responsibility for all the priestsí work. It was the priests who offered Israelís gifts to God. This included all their sacrifices (the animals that they gave to God).

Sacrifices were necessary because of sin. Sin means the bad and wrong things that people do against God. Sin has been part of every oneís life since Adam. It separates people from God. Because of sin, our lives do not please God.

Most of Israelís sacrifices were not sacrifices for sins. But it was sin that made sacrifices necessary. People could not worship (give honour to God) properly without sacrifice.

There was one especially important sacrifice for sin each year. That sacrifice was the responsibility of the chief priest only. No other priest could do it. It happened on the day called Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. On that day, the chief priest made atonement for (dealt with) the peopleís sin. (See Leviticus chapter 16)

It was that type of sacrifice that Jesus made by his own death.

The death of animals did not really end the power of sin (Hebrews 10:4). If that were so, there would be no need to repeat those sacrifices. But those sacrifices made it possible for people to have a relationship with God. They helped the people to have faith (active belief and trust in God). So they trusted that, in the future, God really would end the power of sin.

And now we know that this has happened, by the death of Christ.

Next part: How chief priests deal with sin (Hebrews 5:2)


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© 2014, Keith Simons.