Occupational Obsolescence and the Priestly Order

Austin T. Duncan | February 9, 2018

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16

For years, people have been predicting that machines will make human workers obsolete. In an article written for The Atlantic—entitled, “A World Without Work”—Derek Thompson explores occupational obsolescence: the idea that jobs are phased out of existence because of improvements in technology. He describes a future where automation invades every area of business and private life, with robots appearing everywhere from the operating room to fast food counters, competing for the jobs that once belonged to men and women.

The key to perseverance is understanding who Jesus is, and receiving help through prayer. In the Bible, it is hard to find a clearer picture of occupational obsolescence than the one presented in Hebrews 4:14–16. This passage shows Jesus as the Great High Priest, taking the place of all the priests that came before, and fulfilling God’s design for communion between Himself and His people. Jesus’ priesthood completely redefines our relationship to God, and it shows how desperately we need a priest.

The author frames this passage with two commands:

  • Persevere (v. 14—“hold fast to our confession”)
  • Pray (v.16—“draw near with confidence”)

Jesus’ priesthood demands that we persevere in our faith and have an increased confidence in God. We are commanded to persevere, and we do that through closeness to Jesus. That is the necessary model we see in this passage—to hold fast to our confession and to draw near with confidence. The reality of persevering in the Christian life is always wrapped up in deepened love and affection for Jesus. The key to perseverance is understanding who Jesus is, and receiving help through prayer.

The priesthood, the old system, is obsolete but Jesus’ ongoing ministry to us as our High Priest is not. It is vital for our endurance in the faith. This is the heart of the book of Hebrews: Jesus is better. Thus, the author uses these commands, to persevere and pray, to highlight two essential aspects of Jesus’ role as Priest.

Jesus’ Infinite Supremacy

Jesus is a superior priest because He made a complete atonement for our sins. The old priests would have to make atonement for their own sins before they could enter the Holy of Holies and sacrifice for the people. Jesus’ priesthood is different in that He had no sin in His own life to atone for. Jesus is also superior because of His greater accomplishment. Hebrews 4:14 speaks of our, “great High Priest who has passed through the heavens” it speaks of the Ascension and enthronement of Jesus. He passed through the heavens unlike the priests of old who would offer the sacrifice and then immediately leave. He passed through the heavens, not just the outer court, inner court, and Holy of Holies, but from this stratosphere to the next, to the very presence of God. This is a far greater example of an accepted sacrifice. Jesus entered into God’s presence—not merely in a symbolic way, like in the temple—but into the actual presence of God.

Jesus’ infinite supremacy is also seen in His superior lineage. In this passage, He is called Jesus, the Son of God. In the New Testament, Jesus’ various names are never indiscriminately placed; this name is a reminder of Jesus’ humanity. His lineage was different than that of the other priests; Jesus was of the tribe of Judah, the royal line—not the tribe of Aaron, the priestly line. That is why His forerunner was Melchizedek, in a priestly sense, and that is also why His priesthood never comes to an end. From this point forward, as we persevere in the Christian life, all that awaits us is Jesus, the Son of God. His humanity and His deity entwine perfectly in His superior identity. His ministry is eternal.

The message here is, look to this One, this superior priest with a superior accomplishment, a superior lineage, and a superior identity, as you persevere in your faith. Christian perseverance is a focus on the greatness of the One we confess—not the confession, not the faith, but the object of the confession, and the object of the faith. The sustaining power is in the One we confess. No matter what difficulties we face, we can persevere because Jesus, the Son of God, is with us. That is the infinite supremacy of our Savior.

Jesus’ Intimate Sympathy

The author follows the call to persevere immediately with this encouragement: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). This is so needful in our battle against sin. We know sin personally. We’ve fallen into it lots of times. Our lives before Christ were ensnared in sin, and our lives still have the mark and pattern of sin’s scars all over them. We taste the effects of sin every day and we think, “Did Jesus really understand what this is like?”

We are welcome to receive His unfathomable kindness, and He will never grow tired of our requests.The answer is resoundingly, “Yes!” And more so than you realize. Jesus is holy, sinless, and perfect in every way, but a real human. He had to be human to stand between humanity and God. He had to be divine so He could represent God to us. He was both of these things, which means that His ministry is marked by a uniquely intimate sympathy.

Jesus understands the full force of temptation better than we do, because in our lives we have given in to sin’s power. At some point, we felt the pull of temptation, maybe resisted, but eventually gave in—we are sinners by nature and by choice. We know what it is like to fall into sin; but Jesus never did. He experienced the full force of temptation’s power, not for an hour, an evening, a week, or months, but for His entire life. From the first temptation He ever faced, He utterly resisted it and never succumbed to its power. Jesus’ perfection amplifies His sympathy, and His sinlessness reminds us that He has endured greater than we have endured.

Jesus’ sympathy compels us to, “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). In Hebrews, the command to draw near is synonymous with prayer. This passage is teaching that God’s throne is now fully accessible to us. We are welcome to receive His unfathomable kindness, and He will never grow tired of our requests.

Come to Him. Do not hesitate for one moment to call out to God. Jesus, our great Mediator, is an intimately sympathetic High Priest who has demonstrated His infinite superiority.


Austin T. Duncan avatar
Austin T. Duncan serves as the college pastor at Grace Community Church. He is also the Professor of Pastoral Ministry and the Director of D.Min. Studies at The Master's Seminary.

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