My wife and daughter went clothes shopping yesterday for a wedding. As they did, they came across some plaid dresses for sale. If only we could convince the bride to do a plaid wedding!!! Some of us (the men) are oblivious to what fashions, tones, and subtle differences a pair of shoes can bring to a wedding. But some of us (the women) could probably talk for hours about the various combinations that would make the upcoming wedding a success.
Why bring up clothing and shoes? Well… Exodus 28 contains a description of the beautiful clothing the Lord required for Aaron the high priest to wear when fulfilling his duties in the tabernacle. As we look at the outfit designed by the Lord, you may have a variety of responses. You could notice the expensive materials (gold, jewels, colorful threads). You could notice that they dressed quite differently than we do today (unless you are used to your pastor wearing a robe). But before this becomes a sermon about clothing, I would like to tell you our focus.
Our focus today will be not necessarily on the clothing, but on what the sacred outfit shows about the high priest’s duties. We should notice several things about the high priest: (1) He was a representative to God, (2) a representative for Israel, and (3) a representative of holiness. After looking at these items, we will look at how the New Testament describes our High Priest, Jesus in the Book of Hebrews.
- What does the High Priest’s Clothing show us?
a. The OT high priest was a representative to God (Exodus 28:2).
In our previous study of Exodus 25-27, we saw the immense amount of gold used in the tabernacle and its furnishings. The Lord wanted the people to show their honor for Him by covering the tabernacle with gold and precious items.
Aaron served the Lord as Israel’s main representative to God. It seems fitting that his ministerial outfit was made of beautiful material. It included beautiful threads, gold, and costly gems. There would be no other outfit like this. In fact, the Lord told Moses that his outfit was for glory and beauty.
ILLUS. If you were invited to the governor’s house for a meal, how would you dress? I realize that some people don’t care about dressing up, but wouldn’t the occasion dictate what you wore? In this case, the high priest was visiting with someone greater than a governor and dressed accordingly.
b. The OT high priest was a representative for Israel (Exodus 28:9-12; 17-21).
As we later read the duties of the high priest, we will understand that his duties were not insignificant. He was a representative of the people to God. This is made clear by two parts of his high priestly outfit.
In Exodus 28:9-12, the Lord told Moses to make an ephod for Aaron. “The ephod is difficult to describe. It was worn over the linen garment. Two long pieces of cloth were brought together and fastened by a stone on one shoulder and a stone on the other shoulder” (McGee 289). But it was more than just a beautiful robe. The ephod was to have two onyx stones on the shoulders with the names of the tribes of Israel in them; six on one and six on the other.
In Exodus 28:17-21, the Lord told Moses to make a breastplate for Aaron. It was a cloth of the same colors folded in half to make a small square. On this square he was instructed to place 12 costly stones including an amethyst, diamond, and sapphire. But it was more than just fancy gems. On each stone was engraved the name of one of the tribes.
As Aaron fulfilled his high priestly duties, he was carrying with him the names of the tribes. In this way, he was acting as their representative to God as he entered the tabernacle. This must have been a sobering thought.
c. The OT high priest was a representative of holiness (Exodus 28:36-38).
As I read through this chapter, the section that stood out to me most was this section. The Lord told Moses to make a gold plate engraved with the words, “Holiness to the Lord.” This golden plate was to be attached to the turban worn by the high priest. It would be near his forehead and would remind him of the need for holiness in approaching the Lord.
The high priest wore this golden plate (1) to bear the iniquity of the holy things dedicated by the Israelites and (2) so that they would be accepted by the Lord. What exactly does this mean?
Spurgeon points out that even after being purified by the blood sacrifice, the Israelites would sin. “But how shall they draw near, for even after being reconciled by the blood they continue still to sin; there is iniquity even in their holy things. How shall they come to God without someone to stand between, who shall continually bear for them the iniquity of the ‘holy things which they shall hallow in all their holy gifts’?” (Spurgeon)
The high priest then was to wear this golden plate as a reminder that these people were seeking to be holy for the Lord despite the fact that they never could be continuously holy to the Lord. What a sobering thought this must have been every time Aaron wore this message on his forehead!
- What does the New Testament say about Jesus being our High Priest?
a. Jesus is our representative to God.
The OT high priest dressed in garments of “glory and beauty” which were fitting for a visit with our great and glorious God. Jesus, on the other hand, serves as our representative to God with no need for special garments to make himself glorious.
Think of John’s vision of Jesus in Revelation 1:12-17. John saw Jesus in all his glory and it was too much for him. He fell at His feet as if her were dead. As the Son of God, Jesus has all the glory needed to stand in God the Father’s presence. There is no need for Him to “dress up.”
Think about that for a moment. Our high priest is God Himself. How can you get any better than that?
b. Jesus is the representative for us (1 John 2:1-2).
The OT high priest wore an outfit with the names of the 12 tribes inscribed on his shoulders and over his heart. In this way, he represented all of God’s people. Jesus, on the other hand, is the high priest who represents not only Israelite believers but all those who put their faith in Him.
John describes this in 1 John 2:1-2. He says that Jesus is our Advocate with the Father. Notice two things. First, he uses the word “our.” This indicates that Jesus represents us (believers. Second, the word advocate indicates someone who “publicly supports or recommends” (Oxford). The Lord Jesus Himself advocates for us directly to the Father. How can it get any better than that?
c. Jesus is our representative for holiness (Heb. 7:26-27).
The OT high priest was a sinner just like the people he represented. And so he had to wear a reminder which said, “Holiness to the Lord.” Jesus, on the other hand, is holy with no need to be reminded. In Hebrews 7:26-27, we read that Jesus is “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” Jesus never sinned and never needed to offer a sin offering for his own sins. As the holy Son of God, He was able to be the perfect representative for us on the cross where he paid the price once-for-all for our sins.
APPLIC. Have you ever felt like you were not good enough for God? Being that each of us is a sinner who can never live up to God’s perfect holiness, this is something we all have felt. But set aside that thought and think about what Jesus did for you. He, the holy Son of God, took your place on the cross. He was the perfectly holy sacrifice that God the Father accepted on your behalf. No longer do we need to think about our unworthiness. Instead, we can thank God for sending His Son to make us holy in His sight.
It may seem strange to go from high priestly clothing to Jesus, but that is just what happened. The high priest in the Old Testament was a picture of what Jesus would later do for us. Just as the high priest represented the Israelites to God in the temple, so Jesus is our high priest representing us to God by virtue of His perfect sacrifice for us. Today, will you recognize that Jesus is the high priest who paid the final price for your sins and brought you to God?
Hannah, John D., “Exodus” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1989, 151-52.
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible: Genesis through Deuteronomy, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1981, 288-91.
Spurgeon, Charles, “The Iniquity of our Holy Things” as viewed at The Spurgeon Library | The Iniquity of our Holy Things on 8/20/2022.
“What was the significance of the ephod?” as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=2115 on 8/20/2022.