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What were the duties of the high priest? 

The high priest

The high priest was the chief religious leader of the Israelites. His office was hereditary and handed down from Aaron, Moses’ brother the Levite (Exodus 28:1; Numbers 18:7). The man serving in this position had to be a holy dedicated person without physical defects. Only four times in the books of Moses is he called the “high priest,” and in each case a literal translation would be the “great priest” or the “chief priest” (Leviticus 21:10; Numbers 35:25, 28).

All priests were anointed, but the high priest only was anointed on the head; hence, by way of pre-eminence, he is here called “the priest that is anointed” (Exodus 29:7–9; Leviticus 8:12, 13). He is designated as “the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured” (Leviticus 21:10).

Although the rules were strict for a priest, they were still more strict for a high priest. He alone was consecrated to put on the golden garments. He must not uncover his head, since this meant the removing of the golden plate on which was the inscription “Holiness to the Lord.” He must not tear his garments, as was the tradition during mourning. He must not go near a dead body. Should he do so, he would become defiled and so unfit for conducting the duties of his holy office.


The high priest stood for and represented the people (Leviticus 16:15, 16; Zechariah 3:1–4). He was the man, who acted for the people in all things pertaining to the sanctuary. He was the head of the high court in the matter of religious cases (2 Chronicles 19:11). Though he could participate in general priestly ministries, he alone could wear the Urim and the Thummin, which were special stones used to determine God’s will (Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; Numbers 27:21).

He had to offer a sin offering for the sins of Israel and for his own sins (Leviticus 4:3-21). Also, he could prophecy (John 11:49-52). When he passed away, all the refugees in the cities of refuge were liberated (Numbers 35:28).

But the most significant role of the high priest was to serve in the Day of Atonement. He alone was permitted by God to enter the Most Holy Place. Having made a sacrifice for himself and for the people, he then brought the blood into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled it on the mercy seat, God’s “throne” (Leviticus 16:14-15). He atoned for himself and the people for all their sins committed during the year that ended (Exodus 30:10).

Christ our High Priest

From the yearly type of the ancient day of atonement, all of humanity is assured that our faithful High Priest, Jesus Christ, still mediates in heaven for His people. He stands ready to blot out the sins of all who will exercise faith in His shed blood. The final atonement leads to the final judgment, which settles the sin question in the life of every individual, culminating in either life or death.

“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.  Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:1-28).

Christ our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) is now ministering the benefits of His atonement in the sinner’s behalf before God to secure an “eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12). Through His shed blood applied to those written in the book of life, Christ would confirm the decisions of His people to serve Him eternally. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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