Today's passage from Hebrews continues and amplifies yesterday's discussion of a "man of mystery"--Melchizidek--and moves on to discuss the role of high priest which, we presume, would have been well known to the recipients of this letter. Our (unnamed, also mysterious) author in no way denigrates the role of the priests in the Temple, but does cite their critical limitations:
1. The High Priest was mortal. Even if appointed for life, when he died, someone else took his place.
2. The High Pries offered sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.
3. The High Priest's sacrifices were ongoing; their effectiveness was temporary.
By contrast, Jesus, the "Forever High Priest"
1. Is eternal, in place now and always
2. Without sin himself, sacrificed himself for the sins of all
3. Sacrificed once for all time on the Cross.
With the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, the High Priesthood as an institution ceased to exist. Jews no doubt felt the loss keenly. No longer did they have an earthly, physical intercessor. But for those who followed (and follow) Christ, the Eternal Intercessor does in a perfect way what the High Priest could only do humanly and imperfectly.
We who have never known Temple worship struggle to understand all this. It seems to have been vitally important, to those who had grown up with it but now were scattered, to find again that connection to the All-Holy which once was rooted only in Jerusalem. Thinking about that can help us, too, when we begin to think of our God-connection being limited by place or person. Human leaders and human-built buildings cannot stand forever; but one Person is standing (and waiting patiently) for us, every day.