HEBREWS, Part 8

Our Great High Priest, Part2

Hebrews 5

The author has just affirmed the priesthood of Jesus Christ, with the emphasis on the identity of Jesus’ Person—He is our great High Priest, superior to any earthly high priest because He is both the Son of God and the Son of Man, perfectly able to empathize with human beings. With this new chapter, the emphasis shifts from Jesus as the superior High Priest to His role as High Priest.

Remembering that this letter was written to Hebrew Christians, we can well understand how important this section must have been to them. Here was Jesus Christ, the Object of their faith, fulfilling His Messianic role to perfection. Yes, He was the Savior, but He was the Son of David, whose return to earth as King was, for the time being, interrupted, yet expected. Now, presently from Heaven, He was fulfilling His role as High Priest, the great Mediator between God and man.

To help his readers grasp Jesus’ role as High Priest, and us as well, the teacher will now explore the nature of the high priesthood, and he begins by showing that the priesthood worked both God–ward and man-ward.

1. The requisites of priesthood, verse 5:1—3

Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. (vs. 1)

Here the role of the earthly high priest given succinctly. He was chosen from among the people, actually from the descendants of Aaron, and was “ordained” or appointed to represent the people before God, and to offer sacrifices for their sins. We read verse 1 so quickly, sometimes it comes across as sounding very glib. In fact, sin is never taken lightly by God. What the high priest did was not a mere exercise of religious form and ritual. It was done with the understanding that through his actions alone, the rebellion of the people against God would be forgiven.

Sin is the only thing that can separate man from God; this is why some kind of priestly mediation was necessary and is necessary today. This was the God-ward direction of his ministry. This is also Jesus’ direction, for Jesus represents His people before God the Father in Heaven.

The high priest under the Levitical system did not assume his office by his choice, nor was he elected by the people. It was God who established the office and the one who assumed the office had to be called by God, just as Aaron was.

In terms of how the high priest functioned man-ward, verse two gives us a clue:

He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.

This brings our minds back to 2:5—18, but spells out both an important quality of the earthly high priest and at the same time great weakness. First, he is “able to deal gently” with the sinners he represents before God. The Greek here is difficult. The word, metriopathein, refers to a state some place between anger and apathy. A good high priest could never be indifferent to the sins of his people, but he could not respond in anger, either. But because he has the same weaknesses as they do, he is able to respond in patience and compassion.

This, of course, is also the weakness of the earthly high priest: he has experienced not only human weakness and frailty, but also sin. In contrast to our Lord, who hungered, thirsted, was sad and lonely, Jesus never experienced sin, only the temptation to sin. Because the earthly high priest sinned, he had to make sacrifices for himself and his people. The implication of verse 3 is that because of this sin-weakness, the Levitical priest, even though he was divinely appointed, could not serve as an effectual mediator.

So we learn that while the traditional order of high priests had an “official superiority,” it did not have superior moral authority. It is true that in office and function the earthly high priest was above the people, spiritually speaking they were on the exact same level, for they too were sinful human beings. For this reason, more was needed.

And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was. (vs. 4)

Verse 3 is slightly negative, so verse 4 is added by the writer as if to make sure his readers understand that the call of the priest originated with God Himself. Not just anybody could be a high priest and not just anybody could do his work. One time King Saul tried to offer a sacrifice, something only the priest could do, and he was reprimanded by Samuel and told that what he did was so heinous in God’s sight that His judgment would not only fall on the King but on his whole family.

This is important in relation to Jesus Christ. Though not of the line of Aaron, He was called of God to His priestly work. Thus we read this:

My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34)

Just like nobody could do the earthly high priest’s work before God—not even the king of the land—so nobody can do the work of Jesus Christ! He is uniquely qualified to be our great High Priest. There is no substitute for Him in the life of a believer.

2. Christ’s qualifications, vs 5—11

Jesus, though not from the priestly line of Aaron, was clearly called of God to His priestly work.

In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. (vs 5a)

The author refers to our great High Priest as “Christ,” not Jesus, so as to stress His divinity. He, God’s own Son, became our great High Priest not of His own volition. To explain the first sentence, the writer cites two Old Testament passages, both from the Psalms. The first one brings Christ’s Sonship to the fore, but Sonship isn’t the same thing as priesthood. So a second quote from the Psalms is given:

You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. (vs. 6)

That’s a quote from Psalm 110, and gives us the main reason why the priesthood of Christ is superior to that of Aaron and his sons. While it is true that all the priests of Israel were to come from the family line of Aaron, the Law spoke of a priest before Aaron who was recognized by Abraham himself as a priest from God. Melchizedek was the priest and king of Salem, that is Jerusalem, long, long before it became the City of David. Here is the crux of the matter: Melchizedek was God’s chosen priest. He did not descend from a priest nor did any priest descend from him. Not only was Melchizedek a priest, but he also a king. Remember that as we read Zechariah 6:13—

It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.

So Melchizedek is a sort of foreshadow of Christ, who functions at the present time as Priest, and will function as King. Psalm 110 is a Messianic psalm teaching that the ruler of the Hebrews would be able to reflect in His person the role of priest and the role of king.

Combining the high priesthood of Aaron and the special high priesthood of Melchizedek Jesus exhibited the second qualification—He is one with man.

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (vs 7)

Remember, Aaron’s sons could empathize with his people because they too had the same weaknesses, both physical and spiritual, and so could Jesus. The idea here is that Jesus’ sufferings qualified Him perfectly to be the Author of our salvation. Jesus’ sufferings throughout His life and His crucifixion enabled our Lord to perfectly identify with the plight of all human beings. He prayed the way you pray when your back is against the wall with no one else to turn to.

Jesus prayed to be saved from “death.” What does that refer to? Some infer that Jesus was afraid of permanent death; that is, physical death. This doesn’t seem likely in view of the fact that Jesus repeatedly spoke of His coming death and since Jesus knew the Scriptures better than any man who ever lived, then He surely knew Psalm 16:10—

you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.

It seems more plausible that our Lord shrank from the spiritual aspects of death; His coming face to face with sin and the cold loneliness and isolation from His Father that He would face. In some way no human being can fathom, Jesus must have experienced—however briefly—what it must feel like to be a lost soul, with no hope. He who never knew the taint of sin or saw His Father frown at Him suffered those things and more so He could be our perfect High Priest.

The final thing that qualified Jesus to be our great High Priest is given in the remaining two verses:

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became thesource of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

This passage is not teaching in any way that Jesus was either disobedient or ignorant about something. Jesus learned obedience by obeying; the “creative pain” of suffering taught Jesus something about obedience to the Father and submission to His will. He had always done these things, yet doing them as a Man showed Jesus something more about obedience and submission and added something to His character.

The “perfection” Jesus achieved does not mean that He was previously imperfect, it means He accomplished something through His death and Resurrection; His qualifications as our great High Priest were finally completed when His mission was completed. Like Aaron’s sons, Jesus’ humanity was so total that somehow, mysteriously, He “learned” obedience through the things He experienced throughout His life. His temptation to sin taught Him something. The feelings He experienced at the death of His friend Lazarus taught Jesus something. Jerusalem’s refusal to listen to Him, Peter’s denial, Pilate’s harsh sentence, and the agony of the Crucifixion all taught Jesus what it feels like to be you.

And that is why He is perfectly suited to be your great High Priest.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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