Jesus’ Superior Office: As Apostle and High Priest
Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. (Heb. 3:1)
The Holy Spirit was speaking directly to Christian Jews who were looking at Jesus with one eye but glancing back to Judaism with the other. The word therefore always refers back to something previous. “On the basis of what I’ve just said,” the writer is saying, “consider Jesus.” The term consider (katanoeō) implies attention and continuous observation. The idea is, “Put your mind on Jesus and let it remain there, that you may understand who He is and what He wills.”
His recovering of man’s lost destiny, His humbling Himself and becoming our Substitute, our Author of salvation, our Sanctifier, our Satan-Conqueror, and our Sympathizer—all these more than qualify Him for the most serious consideration possible. Jesus is the supreme Apostle, the Sent-One from God, and the perfect High Priest. He is powerful, sympathetic, merciful, faithful, saving, reconciling, protective, helpful, brotherly. On the basis of who He is and what He has done, every person should consider Him. Every person should focus on the absolute sufficiency of Jesus and drop everything else. We have a new High Priest and a new Sent-One from God. He is all anyone will ever need. What an amazing message.
Holy Brethren Are Fellow Believers
As believers, we are brothers with Christ because we are identified with Him, as adopted children of the heavenly Father. Many people studying the book of Hebrews have assumed, therefore, that it must have been written exclusively to Christians, since the readers are so often addressed as “brethren.” But Scripture recognizes types of brotherhood other than spiritual. Both Peter (Acts 2:29) and Paul (Acts 13:38), for example, addressed unbelieving fellow Jews as “brethren.” But holy brethren refers to fellow Christians, to those who are true brothers. This particular passage is written to Christians, holy Jewish brothers in Christ. “For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb. 2:11). These were spiritual brothers, sanctified, set apart, and made holy in Christ.
This section is written to partakers of a heavenly calling, who desired a heavenly country (11:16), and who had come to the heavenly Jerusalem (12:22). All of these blessings show the superiority of Christianity to Judaism. Judaism was an earthly calling with an earthly inheritance. Christianity is a spiritual and heavenly calling with a spiritual and heavenly inheritance. It is, therefore, far superior.
Paul said, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.… For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:14, 20). Our true home is in heaven and we live spiritually right now in heavenly places (Eph. 1:3; 2:6). As true believers we are brothers of Jesus by position and are thereby holy. We are only strangers and pilgrims on earth. Our bodies are in this world but we do not really belong here.
The writer is saying to his Christian Jewish readers, “You are citizens of the heavenlies, so why don’t you let go of the earthly things? Why do you want to hang on to the earthly rituals, the earthly symbols, when you have the heavenly reality?” As Christians we do not need religious ritual because we have spiritual reality. Jesus said that now—that is, since He has come—anyone who wants to worship the Father truly, must do so in spirit and in truth, not in rituals and ceremonies (John 4:23). There is no place in biblical Christianity for externalism because Christians have continual access to spiritual reality.
All of us, at times, are tempted to think that our works and our religious trappings are all-important. Even when we know better, we often feel most comfortable and “religious” in traditional, familiar worship settings and when we perform certain religious acts or good deeds that we believe are particularly pleasing to God. We know and accept God’s free grace complete in Christ, but we hang on to some form of artificial legalism rather than live a positive, Christ-controlled, Spirit-energized life. Considering and experiencing Christ’s sufficiency should shatter all legalistic efforts, whether Judaistic or any other kind.
For Christians to hang on to earthly religious trappings not only is unnecessary and pointless but also spiritually harmful. To do so keeps us from experiencing the fullness of our new relationship with God and from being able to follow Him as faithfully as we ought. These things are barriers, not means, to blessing. Since believers share in the righteous nature of Christ and in His heavenly calling, they live in a heavenly existence. They ought to concentrate on that heavenly existence, not the earthly. It is not just the unsaved who need to consider Jesus. Believers also, no matter how mature, need to consider Him in everything they do.
Keep Your Eyes on Christ
Why do we need to keep considering Christ, when as Christians we are already in Him and identified with Him? Simply because all of us are far from fully discovering all of His glories, all of His beauties, all that He is. So the Spirit says to us, as to those early believers, “Gaze on Jesus. Keep gazing on Him and don’t look around at all the rituals and all the problems and all the persecutions. Keep considering Jesus. You don’t need anything else. He is sufficient for everything. Now that you have the supreme Reality, keep your attention on Him.”
There may have been a greater Christian than Paul, but I cannot imagine who he could have been. Yet this great apostle said that his greatest desire was to “know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; … Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:10, 12). Even Paul had not plumbed the full depths of Christ.
The reason so many Christians are weak and worried is that they do not keep considering Christ, and so His full strength and comfort and guidance are not theirs. The Holy Spirit continually says to every believer, “Consider Jesus.” When life gets rough and problems seem to have no solution and everything goes bad and disappointment and depression become “normal” and temptations seem impossible to resist—put your gaze on Jesus and keep it there intently until He begins to unfold before your very eyes in all His glorious power.
Jesus said, “Learn from Me” (Matt. 11:29). He did not say, “Learn about Me” but “Learn from Me.” Do you really enjoy your Christian life? Do you get up in the morning and say, “Lord, I just can’t wait to see what You’re going to do today?” Do you go through the day and say, “Lord, Your fellowship and Your presence are thrilling?” Do you enjoy Jesus Christ? Do you sometimes want to stand up and shout? You ought to enjoy Him like that. But many Christians do not enjoy Jesus. They appear to be miserable and unhappy, and they do not know anything about His joy. They may think the only thing the Lord does for us is to give an occasional rebuke. They see Him this way because they do not walk with Him day by day. They do not know Him richly and deeply and intimately. They need to consider Jesus and learn from Him.
When I was in college, I used to pay fifty cents to go through the back door of the orchestra hall in Los Angeles. I would go up into the balcony with two or three books and sit there and listen to a whole concert by myself while I did homework. I listened to Bartok and Moussorgsky and other great composers. As I listened, I began to gain an appreciation for the masters. To anyone who says he does not appreciate great music or great art, I would say, “My friend, go to the orchestra hall and the art museum and stay there until you enjoy it.” You have to learn to love the masters. You have to learn to recognize and enjoy great beauty and genius.
If you want to enjoy Jesus you have to stay with Him until you learn to enjoy Him. Stay there until your Christian life is one thrill after another. Until every waking moment of every day is joy upon joy upon joy. Consider Him. Focus your attention on Him.
When Timothy was still a young man, he began to have stomach trouble. Paul advised him to take some wine (1 Tim. 5:23). Among other things, he was being criticized by some of the Ephesian Christians. He became discouraged and was hurting. In his second letter to his young son in the faith, Paul tells Timothy to keep going, to be like a good soldier, a well-trained athlete, a hard-working farmer (2 Tim. 2:3–6). But his most important counsel was, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel” (2:8). There are many practical things, such as taking medicine when we are sick, that Christians can and should do. But when we face spiritual problems, serious problems, insurmountable problems, the really worthwhile prescription is “Remember Jesus Christ. Gaze on Him. Learn from Him.”
In Hebrews 12:1–2, the writer says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.” If we are going to run the Christian race, we must look at Jesus.
I ran the 100- and 220-yard dashes in college. We learned very soon that you cannot run while watching your feet. You look straight ahead. When we ran sprints we set our eyes on the tape, and we kept our eyes on it until the finish. Looking at the tape helped motivate the desire to win and it kept us going in the right direction. It also kept our attention off ourselves and those running next to us. When we are running in the Christian race, we must get our eyes off our feet, get them off ourselves, and off those around us. We look to Jesus, the Author and the Finisher of our faith. We look at Him and then we are able to run. Looking at Him we know why we are running and where we are running, and have the power and the joy to keep on running.
christ an apostle
Jesus is to be considered as the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. The fact that He is both of these is the first way in which He is superior to Moses. Though he was never called such in Scripture, Moses could be considered an Old Testament apostle in the basic sense of the word. Apostolos means “sent one” and was a title often used for official ambassadors. In this sense Moses was God’s apostle, His sent-one to bring His people the law and the covenant. But Jesus was both Apostle and High Priest. Though Moses could be considered a type of apostle, he was not a priest at all, much less high priest. Jesus is superior to Moses in office because He has two offices, whereas Moses had only one.
Even in the office of apostle, Jesus is superior—first of all because He brought a better covenant, and second, because He was Himself the sacrifice that made the better covenant effective. Jesus is the supreme Apostle, the supreme Sent-One from God.
What are the characteristics of an apostle or an ambassador? First, he has the rights and the power and the authority of the ruler who sends him. Jesus came in the power of God, with all of God’s grace, all of God’s love, all of God’s mercy, all of God’s justice, and all of God’s power. Second, an ambassador speaks completely on behalf of the one who sent him. Jesus said, “I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak” (John 12:49; cf. 8:28, 38). Jesus was the perfect Ambassador, the perfect Apostle sent from God.
christ the high priest
Jesus is also our great High Priest. But since His role as High Priest is dealt with in such detail in Hebrews 4 and 5, we will not elaborate on it here. Suffice it to say that He is the supreme Priest, the supreme Mediator, between God and man. He not only is the Sent-One from God with all God’s power, speaking with God’s voice, but He is the One who brings man and God together. Thus He brings God to man and man to God.
1. Wherefore, holy brethren, &c. He concludes the preceding doctrine with a necessary exhortation, that the Jews should attentively consider what sort of being and how great Christ is. As he had before, by naming him a teacher and a priest, briefly compared him with Moses and Aaron, so he now includes both clauses; for he adorns him with two titles, as he sustains a twofold character in the Church of God. Moses was a prophet and a teacher, and Aaron was a priest; but the two offices belong to Christ. If then we seek rightly to know him, we must inquire what sort of being he is; yea, he must be clothed with his own power, lest we lay hold on an empty shadow and not on him.
First, the word consider, is important, for it intimates that singular attention is required, as he cannot be disregarded with impunity, and that at the same time the true knowledge of Christ is sufficient to dissipate the darkness of all errors. And to encourage them the more to pursue this study, he reminds them of their calling; as though he had said, “God favoured you with no common grace when He called you into his kingdom; it now remains that you have your eyes fixed on Christ as your leader in the way.”3 For the calling of the godly cannot be otherwise confirmed than by a thorough surrender of themselves to Christ. We ought not therefore to regard this as said only to the Jews, but that it is a general truth addressed to all who desire to come into the kingdom of God; they ought sedulously to attend to Christ, for he is the sole instructor of our faith, and has confirmed it by the sacrifice of himself; for confession, or profession, is to be taken here for faith, as though he had said, that the faith we profess is vain and of no avail, unless Christ be its object.
1 For the first time the author addresses his readers directly (though he will revert to his more typical first-person address in v. 6). Picking up the significant term “brothers and sisters” from 2:11–12, 17, he enhances it by adding “holy,” a term which here, as in 6:10 and 13:24, and as often in the NT, distinguishes this religious brotherhood, “made holy” by Christ (2:11), from mere earthly kinship. The reminder that they are called to heaven (the adjective “heavenly” characterizes Christian salvation also in 6:4; 8:5; 9:23; 11:16; 12:22) reinforces their special status and also prepares for the warning that follows in 3:7–4:13 concerning the danger of losing that heavenly goal.
His invitation to “fix your thoughts on” (katanoeō, perhaps better here “take notice of”) Jesus alerts them that he is now about to explain another aspect of Jesus’ special significance. He introduces him with a unique double title, “our apostle and high priest” (TNIV). This is the only time Jesus is described as “our apostle” in the NT. The title denotes the one sent by God (cf. 1:6a; 10:7–9) as his representative (Montefiore translates “envoy”), as when it was applied to the original disciples sent on mission. By this time, however, it was no doubt already familiar as a term for the founding leaders of the Christian movement and so might also convey the same sort of idea as “pioneer” in 2:10 and 12:2. “High priest” echoes 2:17 and will be developed more fully as the letter proceeds; it attributes to Jesus a role that was allocated not to Moses but to his brother Aaron, despite Moses’ evident role as intermediary and intercessor for the people. “Apostle” and “high priest” are thus two different aspects of the special authority Christians “acknowledge” (TNIV, for the NIV’s “confess”) in the one through whom they come to God.
3:1 / The author appeals to his readers, placing himself together with them, in the words holy brothers, a common designation for the community of the faithful, who share in the heavenly calling. The readers, affirmed in their identity, are to fix your thoughts on Jesus, that is, resolutely to focus their thoughts on his true significance. He is the apostle. There are many apostles, but Jesus is the supreme Apostle, sent by God. Only here in the nt is Jesus so called. He is indeed both the apostle and high priest whom we confess. That is, the objective truth that we profess as Christians has been delivered by Jesus as apostle and accomplished by Jesus as high priest. Jesus as the one sent by God represents God to humanity; Jesus as high priest represents humanity to God. Jesus is therefore God’s revelation and makes possible human response. He is, as the author will describe him later, even if in a different connection (8:6; 9:15; 12:24), well qualified to be the “mediator” (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5).
3:1. The opening words link this chapter with the preceding chapter. The Therefore tells us that not only is Christ superior to prophets and angels, but he is also superior to Moses.
The author of Hebrews used two designations of New Testament Christians. First, they are called “holy brothers.” This reminded them that God had set them apart to live in separation from sin. Second, he called them sharers in the heavenly calling. God had given them the task of helping to complete his spiritual purposes. They carried out their jobs on earth, but they lived as citizens of a heavenly kingdom.
The command to fix your thoughts on Jesus called them to reflect firmly on the true significance of Jesus in God’s plan. They would then understand clearly that he was an apostle and high priest. Apostle presented Jesus as God’s representative to human beings. High priest presented him as our representative before God. Jesus was God’s perfect revelation to us. He also represented the perfect picture of our response to God.
1. Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.
The word therefore links chapter 3 to the immediately preceding discourse on the unity Jesus has with his brothers. Together they belong to the family of God. The brothers are holy because they are made holy by Jesus (Heb. 2:11), and on that account Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.
In 3:1 these people are, for the first time in Hebrews, specifically addressed as “holy brothers.” The adjective holy reveals that the brothers have been sanctified and may enter the presence of God, for sin has been removed through the suffering and death of Jesus. The term brothers also applies to the author of Hebrews. In fact, he is one of them in the family of God (Heb. 3:12; 10:19; 13:22).
The recipients of the epistle are also sharers in the heavenly calling. This is a unique calling, a heavenly invitation to enter the kingdom of God (Rom. 11:29; Eph. 1:18; 4:1, 4; Phil. 3:14; 2 Thess. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:9; 2 Peter 1:10).
The privilege of being called by God is coupled with a command. The charge is not difficult and complicated, and the brothers are able to comply with it. They are asked to fix their thoughts on Jesus and to do this diligently. Apparently the readers of the epistle are not doing this at the moment, for they seem to drift away. Already in Hebrews 2:1 the writer exhorts them to “pay more careful attention” to the gospel they have heard, for knowledge about Jesus is essential. As the author prepares to teach about Jesus, he does not call Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, the Son of man, or Lord and Savior, but calls him the apostle and high priest. Interestingly, the word apostle appears first in this verse, even though we would have expected the expression high priest to have precedence because of its use in Hebrews 2:17.
The term apostle refers to the one whom God has sent—a concept repeatedly used by the evangelist John in his Gospel (3:17, 34; 5:36–38; 6:29, 57; 7:29; 8:42; 10:36; 11:42; 17:3) and even in his first epistle (1 John 4:10). The word apostle has the deeper meaning of ambassador. The apostle is not merely sent: he is empowered with the authority of the one who sends him. Furthermore, he can and may speak only the words his superior gives him. He is forbidden to utter his own opinions when they are at variance with those of the one who sends him. Jesus, then, proclaims the very Word of God. He brings the gospel, the good news.
Whereas the term apostle relates by comparison to Moses, the designation high priest is reminiscent of Aaron. The separate functions of these two brothers are combined and are fulfilled in the one person of Jesus. And in his work Jesus is greater than both Moses and Aaron.
The congregation that received the author’s epistle confessed the name of Jesus. I do not think that the church of that time had a standard confession apart from the saying Jesus is Lord (1 Cor. 12:3) and a few hymns (Phil. 2:6–11; 1 Tim. 3:16; 2 Tim. 2:11–13). After all, the author of Hebrews instructs his readers about the apostleship and high priesthood of Jesus. In subsequent years, however, a carefully worded confession may have begun to circulate in the early churches.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 74–79). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (pp. 77–78). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 59). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Hagner, D. A. (2011). Hebrews (p. 59). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Lea, T. D. (1999). Hebrews, James (Vol. 10, pp. 44–45). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, pp. 82–84). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.