Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Did Jesus Fulfill Requirements Of The High Priest?

TWH: There is no question that Paul refers to Jesus as a high priest throughout his letter to the Hebrews. (Yes, I genuinely believe that the evidence favors Paul as the author of this text.) The first reference to Jesus as high priest is found in chapter two:
"Therefore, he had to be like his brethren in all things, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since he himself was tempted in that which he has suffered, he is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted." (Heb. 2:7–8)
In Heb. 3:1 Jesus is referred to as "the apostle and high priest of our confession." And in chapter four Paul writes:
"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin." (Heb. 4:14–15)
In Heb. 6:19–20 we find the following:
"This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." 
And there is a lengthy discussion about the nature of Jesus' priesthood in Hebrews 7–9. The last reference to a high priest is found in Heb. 13:11, but there the attention is on Jesus as sacrifice, not as high priest.

So I mention all of that to get to the main subject of this post. When I was in college I remember reading an article by Joseph E. Zimmerman titled "Jesus of Nazareth: High Priest of Israel's Great Fall Festival––The Day of Atonement" (published in Evangelical Journal 17:2 [1999]:49–59). You'll remember Jesus' words in Matt. 5:17 I'm sure: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill." So Zimmerman asks the question: "If, in fact, Christ was the high priest for the perfect Day of Atonement, might he not have been consciously fulfilling the responsibilities of that priestly role as if it were the eve of Yoma and the night before the sunrise of Yoma in the activities, for example, of the last supper and in the Garden of Gethsemane?" Let me just point out a couple of the observations about the high priest's activities on the eve of Yom Kippur that Zimmerman mentions in his article. I assure you, it's very interesting stuff.

According to Zimmerman the high priest would remain isolated from most of the other priests and the people at large on the eve of Yom Kippur. The only exception was a small group of priests. They were tasked with staying with the high priest and keeping him awake all night. The primary reason he was to stay awake was the belief that he could keep himself clean. He would do this by prayer and meditating on the Scriptures. For the high priest on the eve of Yom Kippur, the greatest temptation was falling asleep and becoming impure. Now contrast this with what Jesus does on the eve of his crucifixion (remember Jesus died on Passover, not the Day of Atonement). Jesus likewise went away from the people, including most of his own disciples. He took with him three disciples and charged them with staying awake and told them to pray. It seems very similar to what was going on during Yom Kippur in the first century. There is one striking difference though. The most difficult temptation for Jesus was not falling asleep. Jesus went off to pray, but he wrestled with something that no earthly high priest ever wrestled. He thrice mentions a "cup" and he agonizes over what he was about to endure the coming day. Instead of his disciples keeping him awake, Jesus has to keep them awake.

The most interesting connection Zimmerman makes regarding Jesus' actions and the Day of Atonement rituals deals with the washing of the disciples' feet. There was a symbolic cleansing that took place on the Passover, but, as Zimmerman points out, the disciples would have already performed that cleansing. Then he writes this, "What Peter (and the other disciples) would not have understood was why a supplemental washing was necessary and why Jesus had to be the one to perform the required Passover washing." The Passover required no subsequent cleansing, and this is Zimmerman's point. For the Day of Atonement, according to Yoma, those who received the benefit of the atoning sacrifice needed additional cleansing if they had become unclean or impure due to actions taking place after the ceremonial immersions earlier in the day. Zimmerman's point is if Jesus is focused on fulfilling the expectations of Yom Kippur and the Passover on the same day, then this supplemental washing would have satisfied the Yoma requirements. Actually it involved cleansing the hands and feet, but not the whole body.

He has some other parallels that are pretty interesting. I'm not entirely sure what I think about all of this. The washing of the disciples' feet is easily explained without all of this. Jesus uses it as one final opportunity to teach his disciples what it looks like to serve others, especially since (according to Luke) they had begun to fight about who was to be greatest in the kingdom (this was actually the third time they fought about this issue). Instead of telling them what was required to be great, Jesus showed them and gave them the perfect example. Fulfilling the law, in my opinion, has more to do with fulfilling the obligations and requirements set forth by God in his Word, not manmade expectations or criteria. But that doesn't mean that Jesus didn't fulfill these expectations, especially as a Jew living in the first century. Perhaps had he not, when others pointed to his role as high priest, a cloud of doubt would have deterred Jews in the first century from accepted him as such. In any event, the article is interesting and worth the read for sure.

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