Catch Word Trajectories
This next section will trace three major catch words through the scriptures in order to ascertain the key concept theology. These concepts are related to Exodus and therefore constitute a continuation of the exodus theme.
The Priest/Chief Priest Trajectory
To divorce the religion of the Israelites from the priesthood would result in a collapse of their entire religious system. Priests are generally understood as the personnel in charge of sacrifices and offerings at worship places, particularly the Tabernacle and Temple. They played a mediating role because they were responsible for the sacrifices and obtaining access to God in behalf of the people. Von Rad noted the extensive nature of their ministry:
The priest’s office was of course by no means exhausted in the offering of sacrifices . . . All the dealings of the people of Jahweh with its God were imposed upon the priestly office: the priest was thus pre-eminently the person competent to mediate any kind of divine decision. It was to him that people went when they wanted an oracle from Jahweh (I Sam. xiv. 18f., 36.); it was he who could manipulate the sacred lot, the Urim and Thummin (I Sam. xxviii. 6; Deut. xxxiii. 8) . . . The priests “teach” Israel Jahweh’s ordinances and his “torah” (Deut. xxxiii. 10).
As such, the priests of Israel served as the bridge between Yahweh and the people in a variety of modes.  Consequently priest were to be set apart (Ex. 28: 1; 29:1,44; 30:34; 31:10; Lev. 22:9), free from uncleanness (Lev. 21:1; Eze. 44:25), not shaven, mutilated or have physical defects (Lev. 21:5; 21:7), could not drink wine before entering the sanctuary (Lev. 10:9), they could not own land (Num. 18:20), and they were to obey the Law meticulously (Lev. 22:31). While initially, the head of a family could make the necessary offering himself (Gn. 8:20; 31:54), once the Levitical priesthood was instituted during the exodus period it continued to develop as the nation of Israel itself developed. By the time of Jesus they yielded the influence and authority to mandate his death (albeit with Pilate’s permission).
Of particular importance is the role of the “high” or “chief” priest in the Levitical priesthood. Prior to the institution of the Levitical priesthood two figures are depicted as High Priest of God—Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18) who Abraham paid tribute too and Jethro (Ex. 3:1; 18:1) the priest of Midian and Moses’ father-in-law—both superceded Aaron. Exodus 28 and 29 designate Aaron (Moses brother) and his sons (Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar) to serve as priests, Aaron being the High Priest. While all the priest had special garments, the High Priest’s clothes were especially unique because he was the only one permitted to enter the holy of holies and that only after special purification (Ex. 28:2–39; Lev. 16:1–6). Only the High Priest could perform the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement where he would offer the blood of the sacrifice for the sins of the entire nation (Lev.16:16–19). Thus the High Priest was the only one who could provide the atonement that would release the entire nation from the guilt of their sin. König observed “[g]radually the High Priest developed a position of power and in the time of Jesus the High Priest was the highest representative of the people.” By the close of the New Testament Jesus was identified by the writer of Hebrews as the new and final High Priest for his people.
The New Testament presents Jesus as superceding all the religious requirements mandated for Israel to have access to God and forgiveness of sins. While Hebrews is the only book that explicitly identifies Jesus as a High Priest, the entire corpus of the New Testament testifies to it as König observed:
Jesus is never called a priest except in the letter to the Hebrews, but in several places reference is made to priestly tasks that He carried out. His famous prayer in John 17 is known as his “High Priestly prayer” because of the particular way in which He intercedes for his disciples with God. Elsewhere mention is made that He opens the way to God for people (Ro 5:2; Eph 2:18; 1 P 3:18) and that He is our interceder or mediator (Ro 8:34; 1 Ti 2:5; 1 Jn 2:1). These are all priestly functions.
The writer of Hebrews asserts four characteristics that distinguish Jesus as a High Priest. First, he identified with humanity (2:17; 4:15; 5:1). This qualifies him as a proper representative for the human race, who sympathizes with human weakness but yet without sin. Next, the writer argues his validity as a priest although he was not a Levite because Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek (5:10; 6:20). Not only did Melchizedek antecede the Levitical priesthood, but Abraham the progenitor of the twelve tribes (including Levi) recognized him as a priest of the Most High God. Third, Jesus is depicted as a High Priest who intercedes in behalf of his people (4:14; 7:26; 8:1, 3; 9:7, 11). Jesus ascended to the heavenly Tabernacle (the original that the earthly one was patterned after) and makes intercession in the same way that Aaron would on the Day of Atonement, but Jesus’ is superior because it only needed offering once. Finally, what consummates Jesus’ superiority as High Priest derives from the fact that he offers his own sinless blood rather than the blood of animals (9:25; 13:11). The sacrifice and blood of Christ exceeds that which was prescribed in the Mosaic Law.