Jesus, the Great High Priest

I haven’t shared any excerpts from my forthcoming book Creation Waits: Paul’s Use of the Book of Genesis in the Epistle to the Romans (Wipf and Stock, 2013), but I thought this excerpt from the draft of the chapter on which I am working currently might prove interesting to a reader or two of this blog (please note, this is a draft, it will be expanded with more footnotes when published). I am writing on Romans 8:33-39 here, specifically v. 34, which reminds me of the language of the the Epistle to the Hebrews:

Paul’s earlier discussion on justification reemerges here. He has written about how the work of Christ has made their justification possible, but now he reminds his readers again in verses 33 and 34 that if God is the one who justified them there is no one who can “bring a charge against God’s chosen/elect” and no one can condemn them. Jesus’ death and resurrection provided forensic justification, but it did something else: death and resurrection are the gateway through which Christ entered his role as a priest and king in the presence of God according to verse 34. Paul speaks of Christ being “at the right hand of God”, language used to explain Jesus’ role as the one who shares the power and authority of God, which he does so as the Davidic King, the “Son of God”, which is what God proclaimed him to be through his resurrection by the Holy Spirit (1:1-4). Also, he says that Christ “intercedes for us”. It is likely that the language of Christ interceding for the children of God invokes priesthood imagery. The author of Hebrews is another voice advocating this tradition. He or she writes that Jesus  “the Son of God is the “high priest: who “passed through the heavens”, likely ascension language. Jesus can sympathize with human weakness (being tempted as a human, but remaining sinless unlike the others), which makes him the perfect high priest to occupy the heavenlies (4:14-15). Jesus’ high priesthood is described as “in the order of Melchizedek” and greater than the Aaronic priesthood (7:1-8:6), in part, because he is able to “save forever/completely” (σῴζειν εἰς τὸ παντελὲς) unlike the former priests. Jesus “always lives to make intercession” (πάντοτε ζῶν εἰς τὸ ἐντυγχάνειν) on behalf of the people of God (7:25). As high priest Jesus does not have to offer sacrifices like the other priest, because he offers himself “once and for all” (τοῦτο γὰρ ἐποίησεν ἐφάπαξ ἑαυτὸν ἀνενέγκας, v. 27). Jesus’ death is seen as the once and final sacrifice made by Jesus on behalf of the people of God and every time the resurrected Jesus stands before God interceding for the people as high priest he presents himself to God (7:28-8:6).[1]

I believe that Paul has a similar idea in mind in Romans 8:34. As the author of Hebrews can speak of Jesus the “high priest” who has also “taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb. 8:1), so can Paul combine Jesus’ royal and priestly identity to explain to the Roman Christians how their destiny in Christ is secure—it is secure because Jesus is alive as their advocate. As advocate there is nothing that can overcome “the love of Christ” that he has for his siblings under God the Father: not tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword (v. 35), death, life, angels, rulers, things present, things to come, powers (v. 38), height, depth, nor “any other created thing”, a fitting conclusion since in this epistle it was a “created thing” embodied in the serpent of Genesis 3 that separated humanity from God in the first place causing humanity’s relationship with Creation to be severed as well (1:22-23; 8:18-25). Whereas humanity was conquered by evil in Eden, now Paul says that because of Christ in verse 37, “…we overwhelmingly conquer (ὑπερνικῶμεν) through the one who loves us.”

[1] For an in-depth discussion of how Jesus’ death and resurrection relate to his eternal priesthood in Hebrews see David M. Moffitt, Atonement and the Logic of Resurrection in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Leiden: Brill, 2011).