The Egyptians did it.
The Jews definitely did it.
Babylonians? Yep. They did it too.
Same goes for the Greeks and Romans.
Even the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans did it.
What do all these ancient civilizations have in common? They all had their own religious systems. And those religious systems all involved sacrifices. And those sacrifices were offered by priests. This fact led to one of the early objections to Christianity as a fledgling religious system.
Every religious system in history, from the dawn of civilization until the dawn of Christianity, has always had some kind of priestly sacrificial system. While these cultures’ religions differed on who the divine was and how to best appease it, they all agreed that the Divine did need to be appeased. And the way to appease the divine was universally understood to be by blood sacrifice, performed by a priestly class, carried out in temples. The priest acted as the mediator between God and man.
Enter Christianity: no priests, no temples, no blood sacrifices. To ancient minds, this made no sense. It was well known that the Divine wrath over human wickedness needed to be propitiated (satisfied). Without priests offering blood sacrifice, it would have been argued, there was no way to propitiate divine wrath. Therefore, any religious worshipers lacking in the priest department must also have been lacking in the brains department. Christianity didn’t satisfy the universal human need for sacrifice. Christianity wasn’t true, because it had no mediator between God and humanity. Every religion worth its salt has a priestly system. Hey Christians, where are all your priests?
To overcome this ancient objection, let’s turn to the Bible, to the book of Hebrews. This book is a sort of sermon-letter hybrid, written to second-generation Christians of ethnic Jewish descent. At this time, Christianity was in the process of breaking away from Judaism, but it was still seen as a Jewish sect.
The above argument seems to have been lodged against the Hebrew Christians in an attempt to discredit their fledgling faith and convince them to return to the more “sensible” Jewish religion. After all, they were ethnically Jewish, and the religion their parents left had sacrifices ordained by God Himself. Come on, Christians, get your acts together. Get back to the true religion–the one with the priests!
In fact, one commentator points out that Jews and Gentiles alike found it difficult to believe the Christian message, because of the lack of a visible priestly system.
So the author of Hebrews writes to address this objection and reassure his Christian audience.
He writes in Hebrews 4:14, “Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” (ESV, emphasis added).
Their confession was their public declaration that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, send by God as the prophet, priest and king over heaven and earth. The author says that the Hebrew Christians should hold fast to this belief, because not only do they have a high priest, but they have a better high priest than the Jewish religion they left.
Christians have a great high priest, but you won’t see Him ascending the steps of a stone temple to offer daily sacrifices.
Christians do have a priest, but you don’t have to go to Jerusalem to meet with Him. In fact, you don’t even have to go to your local cathedral.
Christians do have a priest, but you don’t have to bring him sacrifices to offer, because He provided the sacrifice. And His Sacrifice was so sufficient, that one was all He needed.
What was the sacrifice offered by this high priest? He offered Himself.
Then, after Jesus died for sinners, He resurrected. Over the next forty days he appeared to over five hundred eyewitnesses, and then He ascended (the author says he “passed through the heavens” to God’s own throne room. Jesus did not go to a manmade temple, but to the place that all those temples were symbols of. There he sits at the Father’s right hand, where He always lives to mediate between God’s people and God Himself.
Jesus Christ is the perfect priest. Who better to mediate between humanity and divinity than the One who embodies both?
So the objection that Christianity has no mediator falls flat. We have a priest who satisfies God’s wrath over sin, because He paid it Himself. Now He is the “great high priest” whose work is finished.
Beware any religious teacher who tells you that you need a merely human priest to make you right with God. Think about that: if (merely) human priests could fully satisfy our debt, then why did they have to keep making all those sacrifices, year after year, for millennia?
All those priests who came before could not make an eternal effect; they were shadows of the real thing. Jesus is the real thing. He is the priest we need. You and I can trust Him to pay our debt of sin and reconcile us to God. His shed blood (grace alone) can wash away your sin, if you will turn your heart away from your sin (repent) and come to Him (by faith alone) as your priest.
How about you? Who are you trusting to make you right with God? Who is your priest? Don’t let it be anyone other than the one who “passed through the Heavens” for you.