Posts Tagged 'Judaism'


Hebrews 4:14—16; 5:1—10; 7:1—8:6

The high priest was of singular importance in Jewish worship. Since Christians do not have an equivalent office, it is difficult to grasp the power of the comparison of Christ to the Jewish high priest. In a nutshell, the primary duty of the high priest was to represent the people before God and to represent God before the people. His was a position of mediator; teaching the people God’s Law and seeking God’s will for the people. Without a high priest, there could be no temple worship.

In Hebrews, we learn that Jesus Christ fulfilled the high priest’s duties flawlessly; so perfect and effective was His work that Jesus far surpassed any earthly high priest. The high priest of the Jewish faith wasn’t perfect; his work was not perfect. Jesus, though, is different. David Wilkerson captured this when he wrote:

Jesus is capable of bringing all the needs, pain, cries, and prayers of His people before the Father—at one time, at any time—and making intercession simultaneously for all of them. You Advocate knows your address. He has counted ever hair on your head. He knows your every thought, feels your every pain, hears your every cry.

1. Christ’s Eternal Priesthood, Hebrews 5:1—10

An understanding high priest, verses 1—3

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.

A major purpose of this letter to the Hebrews was to show how superior Jesus Christ was to certain “heroes” of the Jewish faith. He was a Redeemer, Ruler, and Revealer of God far superior than was Moses. Jesus is also a high priest far superior to another Jewish hero, Aaron.

To establish Jesus’ qualifications to serve as a high priest, the writer of this letter stresses three well-known prerequisites for earthly high priests that Jesus, in fact, fulfilled:

  1. He was selected from men. Why is this so important as it relates to Jesus? It’s because only a man is able to completely empathize with another man. For example, a man cannot know what a dog is thinking and a dog cannot know what a man is thinking. Jesus isn’t so far above man that He is so far removed from us that He cannot relate to us! It’s clear that the Son of God was also the Son of Man; He can completely identify with the people He is interceding for.

  2. He represent men before God. Jesus, as One perfect man is able to represent all men before God.

  3. He offers gifts and sacrifices to atone for sins just as the earthly high priest did. The first term, “gifts,” refers to all offerings of the Jewish faith, bloodless or bloody. The second term, “sacrifices,” has a reference to the shed blood of the particular offering. How do these two things relate to Jesus? In theology, Jesus is said to have practiced both “active” and “passive” obedience. In His life, Christ obeyed His Father perfectly and never stepped outside of His will. This was Christ’s “active obedience.” But when Christ submitted to the bloody death on the Cross for the sins of all men, He demonstrated “passive obedience.”

But the high priest’s work also involved compassion; he had to be able to totally identify with the needs of the people. He didn’t side with the sinner against God, but he did have an understanding of human weakness and frailty. He was able to be like this because, as was stated previously, he came from the ranks of sinners, even though He Himself never sinned. How perfectly does Jesus meet this requirement? Our Lord knows that we are not perfect; He understands the weaknesses of human nature and He is able to, while not excusing our failings, at least represent them accurately before God in a reasonable way. Compassion does not equal tolerance, however. It simply guarantees that our sins will be dealt with with complete understanding, never in an over-the-top, heavy-handed manner, nor will they ignored. Thanks to Jesus’ perfect intercession on our behalf, God knows our hearts absolutely perfectly.

b. An ordained, suffering, perfected high priest, verses 4—10

No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

A high priest, according to the Jewish faith, had to be called of God. For just anybody to do the work of a high priest was a terrible and punishable offense, as King Saul found out the hard way. Personal choice didn’t figure into becoming a high priest; it all rested on a divine call.

Jesus, even though He was not of Aaron’s family line, as all high priests were to be, was nonetheless called and ordained of God, as noted by God Himself in Psalm 110:4. This would have been a very powerful argument in support of Jesus’ high priestly qualification. It was a big deal to the Jews, and it should be for us as well. God is totally sovereign and called and appointed His perfect Son to be our intercessor.

Our great High Priest “learned obedience” and was “made perfect.” What does that mean? Was Jesus lacking something? Not at all. While He was suffering on the Cross, our Lord could have called 10,000 angels to save Him. He had all the power of heaven available to Him, but Jesus exercised perfect discipline and submitted to His Father’s will. Discipline is a mark of sonship. Jesus executed His assigned duties and completed His mission perfectly, without error. That’s the sense of the use of the word “perfected,” that is, there was nothing left for Jesus to do.

2. Melchizedek, a type (example) of Christ, Hebrews 7:1—17)

This is a fascinating chapter and the character of Melchizedek has fascinated people for centuries. Who was this man, where did he come from, and why is Jesus like Him?

The only time Melchizedek is mentioned in the Bible is in Genesis 14, where he is referred to as the ruler of Salem, a city which would later become Jerusalem. In the ancient near east, cities were often ruled by men who were called “kings.” In the Jewish faith, which didn’t exist in Genesis 14, kings could not be priests, but Melchizedek is also referred to as a “priest.” So we see in this one man, Melchizedek, two offices or two duties: king and priest.

Melchizedek is also said to have been a priest of El Elyon, or “the most high God,” one of God’s names in the Old Testament. The really interesting thing about this is that we learn there were other people besides Abraham who knew of and worshipped the one true God! We aren’t told how these isolated people found God. Did He reveal Himself to the people of Salem?  The Bible is silent about this, but there is no doubt that Melchizedek was a true believer.

The name, Melchizedek, is given as a reason why he is a type or example of Christ. “Melchizedek” is, in fact, a compound name. “Melech” means “king” and “zedek” means “righteousness.” So, “Melchizedek” means “king of righteousness.”

But he was also the “melech” or king of Salem. “Salem” is a word related to the Hebrew “shalom” (or “salam” in the Arabic, a language not dissimilar to Hebrew) meaning “peace.” So the man who blessed Abraham was both a king of righteousness and a king of peace! This brings Psalm 85:10 to mind:

Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.

This is an ideal combination, and it is found in Christ. “Righteousness” is an attribute of God that means He is absolutely right in all His judgments, thoughts, opinions, and so on. It means that He treats human beings correctly. And “peace” is one of the names of the promised Messiah (Isaiah 9:6). No wonder the author of Hebrews sees parallels between Jesus and Melchizedek! But the similarities don’t end with their names or titles.

Genesis is a book full of genealogies; they are all over the place. Melchizedek, though, has no genealogy. All this means is that for some reason Moses, author of Genesis, was unable to trace Melchizedek’s family line. We shouldn’t read any more into it than that. But the writer to the Hebrews notes that that didn’t stop Melchizedek from becoming a priest! His priesthood was not inherited from his father or grandfather. What was true of Melchizedek symbolically—he is without beginning of days or end of life—is true of Jesus in the literal sense! In other words, Jesus’ priestly office had nothing to do with His family or lack of family. He was a priest independent of anything but the call of God.

Consider how powerful this group of verses would have been to these first century Hebrew Christians:

For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priest. And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (verses 14—17)

Jesus could trace His earthly ancestry through the tribe of Judah; therefore in the strictest sense He could not have been a priest for priests had to come from the tribe of Levi. Here’s the powerful part: although priests did not descend from Levi, kings did! So Jesus Christ came to Israel, called and ordained of God as a priest, yet born of the tribe kings came from. Jesus, then, like Melchizedek before Him, was a priest because God called Him to be not because of a law. Furthermore, also like Melchizedek, Jesus was a king, or more accurately, He will be THE King of Kings.

What does this tell us? It teaches in no uncertain terms that the priesthood of Christ was not the result of man’s ideas or traditions but a result of God’s calling in eternity past. This makes Christ’s priesthood as endless as eternity itself. Christ’s priesthood and His work on behalf of sinners, then, operates way, way beyond the Law.

3. Christ’s priestly ministry, Hebrews 4:14—16

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

The emphasis on this paragraph is that Christians have a High Priest just as the Hebrews did. It may have been that some of the readers of this letter missed the ministry of their high priest, believing that ministry to have been unique to Judaism. Not so, wrote the writer of this letter. In fact, Christ is the High Priest of all Christians! We all need an intercessor; we all need help. This was something Job understood well:

If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both… Job 9:33)

We have, in Christ, what Job longed for but didn’t have! That is, somebody to come and bring two sides together in peace.   Christ is that mediator; He is the One through Whom every single believer has personal access to God.

Jesus was not a High Priest, or any other kind of priest, while He was here on Earth. He assumed His High Priestly duties when He went “through the heavens,” or when He ascended to Heaven.

In fact, the amazing thing about Jesus Christ is that He actually occupies a three-fold office:

  • He was a prophet, when He came to us two thousand years ago. This was in the past, obviously.
  • He is a priest in Heaven, at the Father’s right hand. This is in the present.
  • He will be the King of Kings. This will be in the future.

The writer uses an interesting phrase: let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. This does not refer to our salvation, but rather “the faith we profess,” or our testimony, our witness to the world. Christ died on Earth to save us and He lives in Heaven to keep us saved enabling us to have a positive witness. In truth, we are unable to live the kind of life that pleases God, but we are empowered and enabled to do so through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; Christ’s presence in us.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

Thanks to the fact that we have an Advocate in Heaven; One who is able to take us by the hand and introduce us to God the Father, we are able to come before God, not in fear and trepidation, but with confidence, not in our selves, but in Christ, our Advocate. Jesus Christ is the One who has everything we need to have fellowship with the Father.

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