Who’s the High Priest?

Many of us know the story of how Jesus was called to defend himself before the High Priest and the rest of the council.

Matthew 26:62-65: Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”

Jewish high priest and Levite in ancient Judah (the depictions of the MenorahTable of Showbread and trumpets are inspired by the Arch of Titus).

The High Priest’s Interrogation

I used to think that it was just a display of frustration and anger. After all, they had been trying to implicate Jesus for hours and failing. In Jewish law at the time, people were only found guilty when 2 witnesses testified against them. However, with all the conflicting testimony, they were stuck. (Matthew 26: 59-61)

Then comes the part when someone decides to put both the Old Testament and the New Testament together to find deeper meanings and amazing revelations. So, what does it say about the High Priest’s responsibilities in the Old Testament? It’s interesting to read a part of Leviticus, where much is said about the responsibilities of the High Priest. In particular:

Leviticus 21:10
10 “‘The high priest, the one among his brothers who has had the anointing oil poured on his head and who has been ordained to wear the priestly garments, must not let his hair become unkempt or tear his clothes.

Why is this significant? Who really cares?

Here’s how ironic it is. This High Priest was denying who Jesus was and tore his own clothes (uniform, if you will) in a passionate moment. So, by Jewish law, he was no longer the High Priest! So, who was AT THAT MOMENT the new High Priest? The person he was condemning became the new High Priest!

Who Became the High Priest?

So, why does that matter? Let’s look at what the Old Testament says about Jewish traditions regarding the Passover: It was done to remember their miraculous escape from their slavery in Egypt (Deut 16:1). Only those who were ceremonially clean were allowed to kill the lamb, which was to be killed on the 14th of Abib (Numbers 9:5-6). God was very displeased when the wrong people offered a sacrifice, contrary to the rules God had laid down (Leviticus 10:1-2). The Lamb had to be without blemish (Exodus 12:5).

It would have been very wrong to have a High Priest in charge of a sacrifice who thought he was offering a blemished lamb. God needed a High Priest in charge of this sacrifice that was valid in the role and believed that the Lamb chosen was valid for the sacrifice. Since the High Priest had torn his robes and believed that Jesus violated Jewish law, he was no longer a valid choice for that year’s Passover.

So here’s how amazing it is to see what God shows to those who keep looking. It’s the job of the High Priest to ensure the sacrifice goes properly. Jesus, as the High Priest did just that is the legal way under Jewish law when He offered Himself as the sacrifice on the cross! He even did it on the same hill where long before Abraham was stopped from sacrificing his son. Jesus was not only High Priest because of His lineage, but also by the vacancy created by the one who judged Him!

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