Priests were the people who cared for the temple.* Priests led the times of worship* for the people of Israel.* But the priest’s most important task was to make offerings* or offer sacrifices* to God for the people. They stood between God and the people to connect them. When someone sinned, the law* of Moses* said they had to bring a sacrifice. This sacrifice would be a sign that the people were sorry for the bad thing they had done. It was also a way to avoid the punishment that they deserved. They would bring an animal to the priests. The priest would kill the animal. He would take parts of the animal and burn them with fire on the altar.* Some of the blood would be poured out on the ground or put on the sides of the altar. The animal, who had done nothing wrong, would die in the place of the one who had sinned.
Why were the priests so important? Only the priest could make a sacrifice. No one could come to God on their own. Only the priests could go into the temple to do acts of worship there. And only one special priest, the High Priest, could go into the Most Holy* place. The Most Holy place was where God was present in a special way. The High Priest would make a special sacrifice. This offering was to cover the sins of the whole nation. He would go into this Most Holy place once a year and offer the blood from the sacrifice to God.
The writer of the book of Hebrews knew a lot about the work of the priests in the temple. So he uses many of the words that speak of priests and sacrifices in the temple to speak about Jesus. He calls Jesus our Great High Priest.
Here is what Hebrews says about Jesus.
In the Old Testament*, the priests had to make the same sacrifices over and over. The High Priest would go into the Most Holy Place, and the next year he would have to go again. But when Jesus died, he died as a sacrifice. He made this sacrifice once, and it would never need to be made again. In the Old Testament, when the High Priest died, another priest would take his place. But Jesus is alive and lives for ever. So, he will be our priest for ever. Under the law of Moses, priests would need to make a sacrifice for their own sin before they could go into the Most Holy Place.
But Jesus did not need to be forgiven.* Jesus obeyed God in every way. He had no sin. Because he was perfect, he could offer a perfect sacrifice. And Jesus himself was that sacrifice. On the cross*, Jesus was the Lamb* of God. By his death, he would take away sin. But the work of Jesus as our priest did not end on the cross. Jesus rose from the grave and now sits with God the Father. There, as our High Priest, Jesus prays for us. Jesus, the Son whom God loves, speaks to the Father for us as our friend. Jesus knows how to speak to God for us because Jesus became one of us. He can understand our weakness. He knew what it was like to be tempted.* But he did not sin. This is why we can go to God and not be afraid. So, we know that we will find mercy* when we come to pray. Because Jesus is our High Priest, we know that God will give us grace* to help us in our time of need.
One more important part of being a priest was the job of seeing that the people were free from sickness. If they had a skin sickness, the priest had to say that they were not clean. That meant that the sick person could not worship at the temple. They had to live outside of the community.* When someone came near them, they had to say ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ This was to warn people not to come close. In that time, people thought this sickness was a curse* from God. People with this sickness were called ‘lepers’.* These men and women lived with great shame because of this. The people during the time of Moses and of Jesus had no cure for this sickness. People believed that only God could make the leper better. When a leper saw that his sickness was gone, he, first, had to present himself to the priest. The priest would make sure he was well. Then he would make a sacrifice for the leper. And the leper was declared by the priest to be clean. He could go back to his family. He could come to the temple again. He was welcomed into his community again. His shame had been removed .
Jesus healed many lepers during his life. The Bible* uses words that mean ‘to wash’ and ‘to clean’ to talk about how Jesus removes our sin. Because of his sacrifice for us, he makes us clean. He takes away our shame. He made a way for us to be welcomed into the presence of God. He is our High Priest.
 Leviticus 16
 Hebrews 4:14
 Hebrews 7:27
 Hebrews 10:19-23
 Leviticus 13-14
 Matthew 8:1-3; Matthew 11:5; Luke 17:11-19
 1 Corinthians 6:11; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 9:13-14; 1 John 1:7; 1 John 1:9; Revelation 7:14