“Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17, ESV)
In a legal case where a plaintiff sues the defendant, the plaintiff may be awarded a financial sum in the settlement. In these cases, the court will order the defendant to give the plaintiff an amount of money that it deems appropriate to resolve the issue. However, while the amount of money that is transferred may be fair, it may not bring full appeasement to the plaintiff. The reason is that the plaintiff may still harbor ill feelings towards the defendant. I have seen this to be the case in many situations, including difficult divorces, personal injury claims, etc.
Something more is needed than just money. Yes, a price is necessary to settle the suit, but reconciliation and forgiveness is often missing. For this to happen the plaintiff must take extraordinary measures to forgive and reconcile, which money alone cannot do. In contrast to what happens in these types of cases, we see something much different in the courtroom of Heaven.
The writer of Hebrews here speaks of Christ making “propitiation for the sins of the people.” The verb, “making propitiation,” hilaskomai, speaks of appeasing or placating, the means by which forgiveness is accomplished. It goes beyond a mere payoff. It is a work that it is so perfectly complete that it appeases an infinitely holy God for the transgressions that people have committed against Him. This appeasement thus results in complete forgiveness and reconciliation by God to the people who have directly sinned against Him.
The author of Hebrews indicates that one reason that God the Son became man was to become the “faithful high priest” in order to “make propitiation for the sins of people.” We will look at this again later in the book of Hebrews, but according to Levitical Law the high priest would enter the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple once a year on the Day of Atonement to make propitiation for himself and then the people of Israel. This he would do by presenting the blood of the sacrifice first for himself and then the blood of the sacrifice for the people on the Mercy Seat in the Most Holy Place (See Lev 16:1-18). However, this was a temporary provision that had to be repeated every year.
Jesus, being God incarnate had an ability to do something that we could never do. He was able to overcome every human temptation, to be pure in every way so that He could serve as the Great High Priest and also the perfect sacrifice. He as the Great High Priest offered His own blood shed on the cross at Calvary to make propitiation, appeasement, for our sins before holy God. Because Jesus lives and His life was without sin, this work was done once and for all (Heb 7:27; 9:12, 26; 10:10). Jesus is our Great High Priest and also the final sacrifice for sin.