The high priests were a special sect of the Levitical priests, coming from the line of Aaron. The high priests lived much like the regular priests, only they had a few special responsibilities that set them apart. They were also held to a higher standard of holiness than the rest of the priests. The high priests were forbidden from coming into contact with any dead body unless it was of the closest relatives, they were not to shave their heads or cut their beards, they could only marry Israelite virgins, and they could not perform their priestly duties if they had any physical deformities (Leviticus 21). The people would often go to the high priest when they were seeking the will of God. John 11:49–52 possibly indicates that the high priests often had the gift of prophecy.
The high priests wore special garments made of gold, purple, blue, and scarlet. These garments consisted of a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a coat, a turban, and a sash. One particular part of their special garments were the Urim and the Thummim. These were precious stones inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel that the high priest was to wear on his breastpiece and his shoulders: "So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD. And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron's heart, when he goes in before the Lord. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the Lord regularly" (Exodus 28:29–30).
The high priests' main duty was to make sacrifices for the peoples' sins once a year on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). Because God is wholly good and pure, He cannot dwell with impurity, so the place where God's presence dwelt on the mercy seat was separated from the rest of the temple by a large, heavy drape. On the Day of Atonement the high priest would ceremonially cleanse himself before entering the Holy of Holies. He would take the blood of the sacrifice and sprinkle it on the mercy seat to make atonement for the sins of the congregation.
Jesus is the ultimate High Priest (Hebrews 2:17; 3:1; 4:14—5:10; 6:20; 7:11—8:13; 10:12). Jesus was the perfect sacrifice that paid the price once and for all for our sins. When He died, the veil in the Holy of Holies tore, allowing people to have direct access to God when they place their faith in Jesus. Jesus is now our "better hope . . . through which we draw near to God" (Hebrews 7:19). Because our sin was imputed on Christ and His righteousness is imputed on us (2 Corinthians 5:21) we now have access to God's presence without an animal sacrifice or ceremonial cleansing. Jesus was the once-for-all sacrifice, fulfilling the Old Testament sacrificial system and making it no longer necessary. Hebrews 10:19–22 explains, "we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful." Jesus Christ now acts as the sole mediator between man and God (1 Timothy 2:5). We do not have to go to any religious leader for access to God, but instead rely on God's grace received through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8–10).
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