Posts Tagged 'High Priest'


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


The One True Man, 2:10—18

The teacher so far in his letter to the Hebrews, has given two reasons for the Incarnation. First, the Son of God became the Son of Man in order to restore man’s original purpose as the ruler of his domain. The first Adam failed in this purpose, and therefore no human being since has been able to fulfil Genesis 1:26—

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

When Jesus came as the Second Adam, He did not sin; He succeeded where the first Adam failed, therefore, in time, God’s original purpose for man will be restored.

The second reason for the Incarnation was so that the Savior could taste death one time for all men. Jesus would die the kind of death reserved for all sinners so that redeemed sinners would never have to experience it.

The third reason for the Incarnation is given in verses 10—13: He came so that He might bring many sons to glory.

1. Jesus and His family, 2:10—13

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. He says,

I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

And again, I will put my trust in him.”

And again he says, Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

In verse 9, the author stated that Jesus suffered the pains of death for everyone. In verse 10, he describes precisely who “everyone” includes: sons and daughters, the saved. It may seem odd that something is described as being “fitting” for God to do, but the way of salvation is not arbitrary, but totally befitting the character of God. Since all things were created for Him and since through Him all things exist, then it makes sense that God would do anything in keeping with His character to save what He has created. Therefore, all the sufferings and humiliation of His Son did not take happen by chance; they, in fact, proceeded from His eternal purpose for man.

It’s important to note that the subject of verse 10 is God. The plan of salvation was His. It was not Jesus’. The suffering and death of Jesus was not the Devil’s idea. It was God’s.

Jesus is referred to “the pioneer” of our salvation. The ESV calls Him “the founder” of salvation, and the KJV says that our Savior is “the captain” of our salvation. What does this say about Jesus? Simply this: Jesus went ahead of us. God made Him experience awful suffering to bring about our perfection. It was God’s will for Him to suffer in order to bring about the salvation of “many sons and daughters.” When the Son completed His assigned task, He became the founder of our salvation. He alone was given the responsibility of leading the elect out of a life of bondage to sin to a life of eternal happiness. Or, as Theodore Epp once wrote:

Christ was not content to be crowned alone with glory and honor; He desired to bring many to share His glory with Him.

The “perfection” the writer refers to does not mean that Jesus was ever imperfect and that His work made Him perfect. It simply means that Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man, completed His work. The eternal purpose of the Incarnation was finally accomplished.

In verse 11, the writer to the Hebrews links the Savior to those He came to save. It was God’s eternal purpose to identify as many sons and daughters with His Son in glory; and through the great Incarnation of the Messiah, He so identified Himself with mankind that He could consider them HIS brothers and sisters.

But this incredible union between the saved and their Savior is not something new to the New Testament! In another stroke of genius, our teacher quotes a couple of Old Testament verses that actually anticipated the glorious Incarnation:

I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. (Psalm 22:22)

I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the descendants of Jacob. I will put my trust in him. Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion. (Isaiah 8:17, 18)

The quote from Psalm 22 is a direct reference to the Messiah, and the two quotes from Isaiah are indirect references. In those verses, the prophet Isaiah identifies himself with the very people who have rejected the Lord and rejected him as a messenger from the Lord. Isaiah chooses to identify himself with his people in spite of their rebellion. The writer to Hebrews, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, takes Isaiah’s verses about himself as a foreshadow of Christ’s identification with people, sinners, who are in rebellion against God.

2. Jesus’ 6-fold purpose, 2:14—18

Jesus not only identified Himself with human beings in the Incarnation, but He managed to accomplish no less than six significant things.

a. To destroy the devil, 2:14

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was a divine judgment on Satan. But make no mistake about it, this world and the world system is, at this present time, Satan’s territory. Remember, we have not been restored to our original purpose yet. Ever since the Fall, mankind has been living on Satan’s land. He is the prince of the power of the air, the god of this age. He is a defeated foe, but he is still on the loose, “seeking whom he may devour.”

This is why any and every worldview apart from a biblical worldview ultimately opposes the plans and purposes of God. This is why believers, when they live lives wholly committed to Jesus Christ, sometimes feel out of place on this earth. Christians, for the time being at least, are “strangers in a strange land,” often living under hostile rule.

But this verse makes it plain: Satan has been defeated by Jesus Christ. He has not been annihilated, but his power was broken—annulled, legally canceled. The Incarnation actually lured Satan into defeating himself by using own weapon! By killing Jesus, the Devil forfeited all his legal rights, for he killed the only One he had no claim on, the only One who had never sinned. And by His resurrection, the power of death was decisively broken. The first Adam gave Satan the advantage by selling the human race into slavery to Satan. The glorious Second Adam overturned Satan’s advantage and He rescued the human race from its slavery.

b. To deliver those in bondage, 2:15

...and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

In human experience, man’s fear of death is related to Satan’s power of death. With the end of Satan’s power, comes the end of man’s fear of death. And this is such a pitiful kind of bondage. It causes man to do all kinds of strange things to try and extend or preserve his puny life. But because Jesus Christ is able to deliver all people from all judgment, He can remove the fear of death. Anybody who has ever experienced the New Birth has an assurance that at the very moment of physical death, they will be ushered into the presence of the Savior. The apostle Paul described the Christian’s conundrum like this:

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6—8)

c. To become our great High Priest, 2:16, 17a

For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God…

The Incarnation was essential, not only so Jesus could become the Savior of all mankind, but so that He could become a High Priest for those He came to save. As a Savior, He delivers us from the power of Satan; as a High Priest, He delivers us from the condemnation of God.

A priest is a mediator between God and man; he represents God before men and represents men before God. Since Jesus Christ is the Son of God, He is eminently qualified to represent God before men. And as the Son of Man, through the Incarnation, He is eminently qualified to represent men before God!

Because our Savior is the perfect Son of God and the perfect Son of Man, He is completely merciful because He understands the pain, the miseries and the temptations all men face because He Himself faced them in their full intensity. And He is a faithful representation of God; He is able to manifest God’s perfect faithfulness to us.

So the Incarnation was absolutely necessary to provide the kind of High Priest we needed to represent us in our desperate need before God.

d. To make propitiation for sins, 2:17b

that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

The phrase “make atonement” may not be the best rendering of hilaskesthai, which means “to propitiate,” not “to make atonement,” and means “to put away God’s wrath.” When we sin, we make God angry, which is not to say we “make God mad.” God’s anger is holy; it is not His temper in action. God never “blows His top.” When we arouse God’s anger, we become His enemy. Part of our salvation involves ending God’s wrath towards us. The way this verse is written in the original language makes it clear that the work of Christ ended God’s wrath directed at His people only; that is, only those who have confessed Christ and are living for Him are living wrath-free! Unrepentant sinners are living under God’s wrath, and one day will experience it first hand.

e. To help those who are tempted, 2:18

Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

The sufferings Jesus endured enable Him to help others. Jesus didn’t just suffer on the Cross; He suffered His whole life. There is no temptation you can face that Jesus hasn’t already faced. Being who and what He is, Jesus’ temptations must have been horrific in nature. And Jesus faced the full force of every temptation because He never yielded. Human beings almost never face temptation’s full force because we give in. But Jesus never gave in. He fully identifies with what you are going through.

For many of us, defeat begins when temptation begins. Most of us are good at not giving into the temptation to commit murder. Most of us are good at overcoming the lustful thoughts that flow through our minds on a daily basis. But what about the temptation to despair? Or to get really, really mad at somebody? What about the temptation to become depressed or discouraged? What about the temptation to worry and fret? All those things have the potential to become sinful. What about temptation to not go to church or to not pray because you’re too tired? Or what about the temptation to compromise your testimony because of a decision you want to make that may not be what God wants for you?

Jesus understands what we all go through. Though our temptations come from within from our own sin nature, and from without from the adversary of our souls, Jesus understands our weaknesses, He understands the full power of temptation, and is able to help, if we would but ask. He is able to deliver completely.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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