"Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.” ( Hebrews 5:1-3 )
The sacrificial system was a type and shadow of what was to come ( Hebrews 10:1 ). It was a rough outline and not the very image itself. It represented a vague picture of the true sacrifice that would be made by the Messiah. It was used to remind those making the sacrifices of their sin ( Hebrews 10:3 ). They experienced this symbolism year after year looking forward with anticipation to the Christ.
When making a sin offering the worshipper had to provide a perfect, spotless lamb. Laying their hands on it to symbolically transfer their sin and guilt, the animal was then sacrificed as a covering for sin ( Leviticus 4 ). However the sacrificing of animals was never able to remove sin as evidenced by the conscience of the worshipper and the repetitive act of bringing sacrifices. Hebrews 10 describes this in detail, "The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" ( Hebrews 10:1-4 ).
The sacrificed animal couldn't take away sin because it was incapable of being the perfect substitute. In the same way, the priest selected from among men, could never be the perfect mediator for mankind. This is because they were subjected to the same faults and weaknesses as those making atonement. The priest would have to offer a sacrifice first for his owns sins and then the sins of the people. This is why the sacrificial system only served as a picture to remind the people that the perfect sacrifice and mediator was coming.
Hebrews 9 goes into detail, "This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order" ( Hebrews 9:9-10 ).
The High Priest was appointed to act on the behalf of men in all things relating to God. They offered both gifts and sacrifices. They served as mediator between God and man. This picture gives us insight into the function of the high priest, helping to understand the role of Jesus as the mediator of the New Covenant. Paul said in Timothy, "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time" ( I Timothy 2:5-6 ).
Jesus was both the perfect sin substitute and perfect mediator ratifying the New Covenant between God and mankind with his blood. He is the true picture and exact representation of what the sacrificial system portrayed. In contrast, we do not have a High Priest who is subject to the weaknesses of mankind, but one who is perfect in every way. This is why our covenant is much superior in every way. We have Jesus the perfect High Priest to intercede on our behalf.