By name Aaron is mentioned in the NT only by St. Luke (Lk 1:5, Ac 7:40) and by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (5:4; 7:11; 9:4), and in his personal history very little interest is taken. Officially, he was represented to be the first of a long line of high priests, specifically appointed such (Ex 28:1f.) in confirmation of the status already allowed him in Arabic usage (Ex 4:14); and, though his successors were probably not all in the direct line of descent, they found it convenient to claim relationship with him (Ezr 2:61f.), and gradually the conceptions involved in high-priesthood were identified with the name of Aaron. That continued to be the case in the apostolic period; and it became a familiar thought that the high priest was a type of Christ, who was viewed as the antitype of all true sacerdotal persons and ministries.
In this typical relation between Aaron as the embodiment of priestly ideas and Christ as their final expression, an attempt was made to trace differences as well as correspondences. Christ was thought of, not as identical with His prototype, but as invested with higher qualities, of which only the germ and promise are to be found in Aaron.
- In regard to vocation, both were appointed by God (He 5:4); yet to the priesthood of Christ no Aaronic (7:11), or Levitical (7:14), or legal (9:9) measure may he put. He was a man like Aaron (2:16f.), capable of sympathy both by nature and from experience (4:15); yet His priesthood is distinctly of a higher and eternal order (5:9), limited neither to an earthly sanctuary (9:24), nor to the necessity of repeating the one great sacrifice (9:25f.), nor in efficiency to the treatment of offences that ware chiefly ceremonial or ritual (9:9, 14).
- In the consecration of the high priest the supreme act was anointing with oil (Lv 8:12), from which, indeed, the designation Messiah (‘anointed one’) arose. Yet such was the lofty position of Jesus, and such was His consciousness, that He could say, ‘I consecrate myself’ (Jn 17:19m), on the very eve of His priestly sacrifice.
- In function Aaron stood between God and the congregation, representing each to the other. On the one hand, not only were the priests gathered together into an embodied unity in him, but in his annual approach to God he brought a sacrifice even for the ‘ignorances’ of the people (He 9:7), and purified the sanctuary itself from any possible defilements contracted through the sins of its frequenters (9:19ff.; cf. Lv 16:16). As the representative of God, he wore the sacred Urim and Thummim in the pouch of judgment upon his heart (Ex 28:30), indicating his qualification to communicate God’s decision on matters that transcended human wit; and through him and his order the blessing of God was invoked. In the Christian thought of the apostolic age all these functions pass over to Jesus Christ, with modifications emphasizing their ethical effect and the intrinsically spiritual benefit that follows. One of the most general statements is He 2:17, where the phrase ‘things pertaining to God’ covers both sides of the relations between God and man, though prominence is given, as in the passages that speak of Christ as our Advocate with God, to the work done by Him as representing men. Much the same is the case with the great passage on mediatorship (1 Ti 2:5). As He is the Saviour, so He is the High Priest, of all men, ‘specially of them that believe’ (1 Ti 4:10). In virtue of His immanence as God, as well as of His priestly rank and sympathy, He fitly represents all men before God, while for those who have put themselves into a right attitude towards Him He acts as Paraclete (1 Jn 2:1), promoting their interests and completing their deliverance from sin. On the other hand, as representative of God, He bestows gifts upon men (Eph 4:8), communicating to them the will of God and enriching them with every spiritual blessing. He is not only the Revealer of the Father; but, just as He offers His sacrifice to God in the stead of man, so He represents to man what God is in relation to human sin, and what God has devised and does with a view to human redemption. Between God and man He stands continuously, the medium of access on either side, the channel of Divine grace and of human prayer and praise.
See, further, art. Melchizedek.
Literature.—See art. ‘Aaron’ in HDB, DCG and JE, and Comm. on Hebrews, esp. those of A. B. Davidson and B. F. Westcott, A. S. Peake (Century Bible), E. C. Wickham (Westminster Com.); also Phillips Brooks, Sermons in English Churches, 1833, p. 43; J. Wesley, Works, vii. [London, 1872] 273.
HDB Hastings’ Dict. of the Bible (5 vols.).