The High Priest

The High Priest is considered the chiefest of all those who served at the temple. Aaron, the brother of Moses, was appointed as the first one by God. They were the head of the twenty-four courses that rotated serving in Jerusalem's temple. The division into courses occurred during the reign of King David. The office of any priest, filled by those of the tribe of Levi, represented the people before God.

For many years after the time of Moses the office of high priest was held based on heredity. It was considered a lifelong position. The Great Sanhedrin alone had the right to appoint, or confirm their appointment. In later times, however, civil authorities appropriated the right of appointment and filled the position based on their own religious and political considerations. For example, King Herod the Great (reigned 37 to 4 B.C.) appointed at least six of them, a frequent turnover that the New Testament may have hinted at (John 11:51).

There were qualifications for becoming High Priest other than heredity. The age of eligibility for the office is not fixed in the Bible, however, according to rabbinical tradition it was twenty years old (2Chronicles 31:17). Aristobulus III however, appointed by Herod the Great, was only 17 years old when he took the office. The man considered for the office also must be married and married only to an Israelite maiden (Leviticus 21:13 - 14). He was expected to be superior to all others in physique, in wisdom, in dignity, and in material wealth. In fact, if he was poor it was considered the duty of others who served in the temple to contribute enough money to make him rich!

The person serving in this most important position was considered the presiding officer of the Sanhedrin (supreme council of the Jews who met in Jerusalem). He was also the only one allowed to enter the Holy of Holies inside Jerusalem's temple, and that once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur - Leviticus 16). He was not permitted to come in contact with the bodies of the dead, not even of his own parents. He was not permitted, as a sign of mourning, to leave his hair disheveled, to expose it, or to rend his garments (see Leviticus 21, etc.).

 

New Testament Religious Groups

Disciples of
John the Baptist

Elders

Essenes

Herodians

High Priest

Pharisees

Sadducees

The Sanhedrin

Scribes

Zealots

Priests, in general, were responsible for the temple and its sacrifices, and thus were some of the religious and social leaders of the Jewish people. They also took care of the ritual concerns of the temple. Others of the tribe of Levi also took part in the operation and maintenance of the temple. Those who did or would soon serve in the temple lived near it.

"on the Levites devolved the Temple-police, the guard of the gates, and the duty of keeping everything about the sanctuary clean . . . at night the priests kept watch . . . half of each of the twenty-four 'courses' . . . were permanently resident in Jerusalem" (Temple at the Time of Jesus, Chapter 4)

The Gospels inform us that temple priests were instrumental in not only having Jesus arrested but also killed. Jesus knew in advance that he would suffer and be put to death by them (Matthew 16:21, Mark 8:31, Luke 9:22). They were among other leaders who challenged Jesus' authority just days before the crucifixion (Matthew 21:23, Luke 20:1 - 2). They and other religious leaders met just a few days before the Passover to plot the murder of Jesus (Matthew 26:3-5). It would be these same men who would soon hear Jesus' testimony after his arrest and condemned him to die (Matthew 26:57, 59, 66). It was elders and those considered a priest who bribed Judas with 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus (Matthew 26:14 - 16). After his arrest, Jesus was taken to an assembly where many of them were gathered in order to judge him. The conclusion of the mock trial was that Jesus was (falsely) accused of blasphemy and given a death sentence by all those gathered (Mark 14:61 - 64, Matthew 26:62 - 66).

Even though most of them were against Jesus and what he taught, a great number of priests were converted and became Christians after his resurrection (Acts 6:7).

Additional Study Materials
Important People
in the New Testament
Timeline of the
New Testament
 
Why did apostle Paul
curse the High Priest?
 
Map showing events
in Early Church
Who were the Roman rulers
over Judea during Jesus' time?


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