Our High Priest

Posted: May 19, 2009 in Hebrews

Hebrews 5:1-11, “Our High Priest”

So what’s with all this talk about priests? If you have a Protestant background, it’s most likely very foreign to you – and even if not, the people who are called “priests” today have a very different role than what’s described here in the Scripture. Obviously there is no more Temple – no more sacrifices – no more of anything left of what priests originally took part in.

Yet throughout the book of Hebrews, we’ve had several introductions to Jesus as our High Priest. Ch 2:17, Jesus makes propitiation for us as our High Priest – Ch 3:1, He’s the Apostle & High Priest of our confession – Ch 4:14-15, He’s the High Priest who’s passed through the heavenlies & tempted alongside us, though without sin.

Keep in mind that the book of “Hebrews” wasn’t exactly written with “Protestants” directly in mind. It was written for…Hebrews.  These Christians from a Jewish background knew exactly why they needed a high priest, what role the priest served among the people, and who qualified the person to be a priest to begin with.

Why do we need a high priest? That’s basically what the author has been writing about in the last 2 chapters. We need to enter the rest of God (there is a rest He wants to give) – the Scripture helps us determine if we’ve indeed entered that rest – but the only way in is through the work of a High Priest, who mediates between us & God…

So what are the qualifications for a high priest? And does Jesus meet those qualifications? Those are the questions Hebrews 5 delves into.

Hebrews 5:1-11 (NKJV)
Part 1: the qualifications & duties of the high priest…
1 For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.

A. Speaking of earthly Hebrew priest at this point (to go back to Christ). The priest is “taken from among men” (he’s one of us); the priest is “appointed for men” (he serves in regards to us).

B. What does the priest do? He offers “gifts and sacrifices for sins.” Whether the offering was a grain offering in thankfulness to God, or an animal offering seeking atonement for sin, the priest offered it to God on behalf of the people. This was not merely a job for the local butcher; this was holy service that needed to be done in precisely the right way according to God’s command. Sacrifices were offered on the altar throughout the year, but to go into the most holy place in the Tabernacle or Temple could only be done by the high priest on the Day of Atonement & only with blood from the sacrifice for the sins of the priest & of the people (see Ch 9).

2 He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness.

A. Perfect people don’t need priests; imperfect people do (which includes all of us!). Speaking of those “who are ignorant and going astray”. There were definitely sacrifices that needed to be made for known, intentional sin (trespasses), but God also made provision for unknown sin – sin committed in ignorance. (And praise God for it! His standard is perfection & on our BEST days, we’re nowhere close to perfect. He even provides atonement for the sins we have no idea we’ve committed.)

B. Define “compassion” – Gk is a compound word (measured/moderate + suffering/pathos/passion), some translations read “deal gently.” (Wuest) “Metripatheo (Μετριπαθεο) means to be moderate or tender in judgment toward another’s errors. It speaks of a state of feeling toward the ignorant and the erring which is neither too severe nor too tolerant. The high priest must be careful lest he become irritated at sin and ignorance. He must also take care that he does not become weakly indulgent.” IOW, the high priest had to certainly represent God to the people & teach & chastise when necessary; but the high priest also represented the people to God & indeed was a part of the people being represented in need of atonement for sin. So he needed to act compassionately & gently with the people he represented.
__a. God had always designed the priesthood to demonstrate His compassion for His people. The onyx stones & the breastplate… (Exo 28)

C. Is this “weakness” the same as the word used of Jesus in Ch 4:15? Yes, but 2 completely different situations. Jesus as our High Priest can “sympathize with our weaknesses” because He was tempted just like we are. The early high priest was surrounded by weakness (“subject” lit = “to lie all around”). The difference? Jesus understood what our weakness is like because of His temptation, but He never was weak in His temptation. Jesus never sinned.

3 Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sins.

A. Priest offers sacrifice for others – that’s obvious. The people had sinned (either intentionally or out of ignorance) & sacrifices needed to be made. Why? Because the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23)…always, every time. Even Adam & Eve experienced this – they spiritually died in the Garden with their sin, but a physical death took place immediately as well. Where else did God get the animal skins with which to clothe their nakedness (Gen 3:21)? Our sin requires the death of a sufficient sacrifice. (Ch 10 deals with the question of which sacrifice is sufficient…) But make no mistake, a sacrifice MUST be made. (Which was made by Jesus Christ!)

B. Priest offers sacrifice for himself. Because the priest is encompassed by the same weakness as anyone else, he sins just like anyone else & requires a sacrifice. In fact, the priest was required to offer the sacrifice for his own sin first (Lev 16:6,11), and THEN for the sins of the people (Lev 16:15). Why? The priest’s own sin needed to be dealt with before he could deal with the sins of others…otherwise his service would have been unclean & not accepted.
__a. This is one place where Jesus differs from the normal high priests. Jesus never had to offer a sacrifice for Himself; He Himself WAS the sacrifice…

4 And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.

A. The call of the priest… ONLY by God. God had specifically given the priesthood to the tribe of Levi, specifically to the descendants of Aaron, and the descendants of Phinehas (Num 25:12).

B. Was it possible for some to claim the priesthood for himself? Not without dire consequences. [Korah – Num 16]

– Part 2: Jesus is qualified as High Priest…
5 So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.”

A. Jesus was called by God to be High Priest… Quote – Ps 2. Psalm 2:7-8 (7) “I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. (8) Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession. [] Definitely a Messianic psalm – usually read at the coronation of a new Davidic king…
__a. What makes this quote interesting in Hebrews is that usually this Psalm is thought of referring to the Messiah as King, but the author of Hebrews is using it to refer to Jesus as High Priest. But that seems to be his point – Messiah Jesus is both King AND High Priest! Some Jewish sects believed there might be two Messiahs: one to suffer & one to reign; one to be priest & one to be king. There aren’t 2 Messiahs; there’s one Messiah who comes twice!

B. The point of the context? Jesus is chosen. He’s always been the Son of God – and with that came the choice & call of Jesus as God’s Messiah & Priest. Jesus did not lift Himself up to that position; He was given it by God the Father.

6 As He also says in another place: “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek”;

A. Jesus’ call, part 2… Quote – Ps 110. Psalm 110:2-4 (2) The Lord shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies! (3) Your people shall be volunteers In the day of Your power; In the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning, You have the dew of Your youth. (4) The Lord has sworn And will not relent, “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.” [] Again, we see the tie between the kingdom & the priesthood – two functions of one Messiah chosen & named by God Himself.

B. Who is Melchizedek & why is he important? He’s the king/priest of Salem Abraham encounters & tithes to in Gen 14 before he’s tempted by the king of Sodom. Stay tuned till Ch 7. 🙂

7 who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear,

A. Not only was Jesus called by God (one qualification as High Priest); He demonstrated compassion with the people (another qualification). Jesus ministered in the same way as the earthly priests did. He interceded on behalf of the people to God…

B. Jesus prayed passionately – “with vehement cries and tears…” Is this a reference specifically to Gethsemene? Yes, but not entirely – the “days of His flesh” imply His entire earthly life…but specifically at the Mount of Olives in Gethsemene we know Jesus prayed with much passion. Cries & tears aren’t necessarily recorded for us in the gospels, but His sweating of great drops of blood is.
__1. We never want to be ‘showy’ in our prayers; but there’s nothing wrong with showing emotion during prayer in innocence & pure motives. We shouldn’t pray like the hypocritical men who fast to draw attention to themselves (Matt 6:16); but neither should we feel obligated to pray in solemn “Thee’s & Thou’s.” Prayer is simply coming before God in reverence, petition, worship, and fellowship. If that includes tears, so be it.

C. Was God the Father unable to answer Jesus’ prayer? After all, God “heard” Jesus’ prayer, but Jesus still died on the cross… Perish the thought! The crucifixion did NOT take God by surprise. God “was able to save Him from death.” That God chose not to save Jesus from death is not a denial of Jesus’ prayer…keep in mind that His prayer in the garden was primarily one of submission; not escape. Matthew 26:39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” [] God heard & answered that prayer perfectly! …
__1. Another possibility regarding Jesus’ passionate prayer is that it was not just a reference to Gethsemene, but continues to the Cross itself (as reflected in Ps 22). There, without a doubt God saved Him from death – literally in the Greek, God saved Him “out of death”…at the Resurrection!
__2. As an aside – be careful of the thought that Jesus prayed that He wouldn’t have to die a physical death. Obviously, Jesus did not relish the idea of the physical suffering He was about to endure (He warned James & John about the same cup of suffering & persecution they’d be partaking of in Matt 20:22-23) – but Jesus whole purpose in His incarnation was to die for the sins of mankind… ! He referenced His coming sacrifice over & over through His ministry – it’s a constant theme throughout the Scriptures… Physical death was never the issue for Jesus. This was a cup of immense suffering (on many levels!) He was about to endure – and if there had been another way, then Jesus’ prayed that God would take it, but that God’s will be done.
__3. Know this for a fact: IF there was any other way for salvation to be accomplished & for the wrath of God over our sin to be satisfied other than the cross of Jesus Christ, God would have taken it. As much as God loves the world, I can guarantee He loves His Son…Jesus’ death was not poured out capriciously or randomly. So what? So if it were possible for you to be saved any other way outside of Jesus Christ, the world would never have seen Jesus Christ on the cross in the 1st place. Jesus is the only way to have your sins forgiven – no other name given among men by which we must be saved…

D. Don’t miss the fact that Jesus prayed. It was a habit of His. Jesus prayed at His baptism (Luke 3:21) – He prayed before choosing the 12 disciples (Luke 6:12) – He prayed in solitary places in the morning (Mark 1:35) – He prayed in public before raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:41-42)… Jesus is a man of prayer! Demonstrates a couple of things:
__1. The relationship within the Trinity. Jesus is God, but Jesus is not God the Father… Jesus wasn’t talking to Himself in prayer…He was praying with purpose TO God the Father.
__2. Sets an example for us. If the Son of God thinks it’s important to pray – so much so that He made it an obvious habit, how ought we?

8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.

A. How does Christ Jesus (the Son of God) learn anything? Doesn’t He already know everything? … Here, to “learn” is not speaking of a lapse of knowledge, but a gaining of experience.

B. What did Jesus learn? “Obedience” Not that Christ was disobedient before (He was without sin – Ch 4:15); but Jesus learned obedience in obeying. We move from disobedience to obedience; Jesus was always obedient – thus He learned obedience perfectly.

C. How did Jesus learn it? Through suffering. Again, the point of Jesus’ incarnation was so that He could be the sacrifice for sin, seek & save the lost, and thus glorify God. The sacrifice ONLY happens through the suffering & death of the cross, to which Jesus was fully obedient to go (Phil 2:8). Being the Son of God didn’t exempt Jesus from suffering…
__a. Neither does being a “King’s kid.” Those who preach that true Christians never suffer don’t read their Bibles very thoroughly. Be it persecution, physical suffering, or emotional anguish, Christians are well acquainted with suffering because our Master is as well. We’re not exempted from experiencing suffering; but we do have power to endure it!

9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him,

A. Wasn’t Jesus already perfect? Yes. “Perfected” is in the context of Jesus’ incarnation & experience in learning obedience. Being made perfect is simply a reference to that time of incarnation being complete. Jesus did what His Father sent Him to do, accomplished what needed to be accomplished, and fulfilled every requirement necessary as our ultimate High Priest. (This is the final qualification: He offers the only acceptable sacrifice to God…)

B. What took place as a result of the fullness of Jesus’ incarnation (His life, death, resurrection, and ascension)? … Jesus “became the author of eternal salvation…”
__a. Salvation originates with Jesus. He’s the “author.” Gk could be defined as “cause.” Scientists & philosophers alike agree upon the law of cause & effect – “causality” (reflected in theology as sowing & reaping). For every effect, there must be an originating cause. The effect is salvation – forgiveness from sin, a new spiritual birth, adoption into the family of God, a new inheritance with Christ & more. The cause? Christ. Jesus is the author & source of everything we have in God!
__b. Salvation never ends. It’s “eternal” & praise God for it! The ancient Hebrew version of atonement meant dealing with sin over & over & over again. Sacrifices took place daily & an individual could easily bring hundreds of animals for sacrifice. Their atonement was a temporary rolling back of God’s wrath & restoration to fellowship. Our atonement in Christ is done once & once is enough! It’s sufficient for all sin for all time…
__c. Salvation is good. It’s “salvation.” 🙂 We need to be saved from the result of sin, and through Jesus we truly are saved! All those who place their faith & trust in Christ are given new life forever…

C. To whom does Jesus give His salvation? “To all who obey Him.” Is this works-righteousness?! Do we go to heaven by doing good things?! Of course not…that’s antithetical to the rest of the teaching of the entire New Testament (and Old Testament, when properly interpreted). Obedience to God is not the condition of salvation (because Jesus is the author; brought about by the Cross & Resurrection) – obedience to God is the description of those who are saved.
__a. That doesn’t mean any Christian is perfect (outside of the righteousness of Christ), but it does mean that true Christians are changed & continually changing. We’re not sinless; we “sin less”…

10 called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,” 11 of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.

A. Sums it up & transitions to the next thought. We’ll pick up here next week.

B. Jesus IS “called by God as High Priest”… there is no doubt – God called Him according to Melchizedek. The author wants to get more into detail on this point, but he’s concerned that his intended readers aren’t paying attention.

C. Is this deep theology? Yes. Can it be tough to understand? Sure – but we need to know it! Why wouldn’t we want to understand more & more about our Savior? The more we know of Him, the more we grow to love Him, the more we walk with Him, the more we rely upon Him through the power of the Holy Spirit. … Beware of taking Jesus for granted! … When we do, we become “dull of hearing…”

Because of our sin, we need a high priest… To whom can we turn? Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Is Jesus qualified? Yes! He’s MORE than qualified…He was chosen by God Himself – compassionate towards those He’s mediating for – effective in His work & all-sufficient sacrifice. … As a Christian, your fate is in the hands of the most qualified High Priest in all the universe! Your salvation has not been entrusted to just any old man like one of us (who needs as much saving from his own sins as your own!) – it’s in the hands of the author of salvation: our High Priest, Jesus Christ the Lord!

There’s no one & nothing better that our hope could be in. Our good deeds aren’t enough – not only can they not intercede for us (being deeds & not a Person), but our deeds are why we need salvation to begin with! Our “religiousity” isn’t good enough; there’s only one High Priest appointed by God – and we can’t substitute Him for anything. Our favorite preachers & Bible teaching isn’t enough; the most eloquent preacher in the world can only help you see the Savior – but he needs as much saving as we do. Only Jesus is our High Priest…

What does this tell us as believers?
A. We can rest in Him…
B. We can rejoice in Him…

What if you’re not a “believer”? I.e., you haven’t turned away from your sins & selfishness to place your faith & trust in the Savior, Christ Jesus. … You NEED a High Priest! … Even in OT times, the average Joe couldn’t walk into the holy place in the Tabernacle or Temple to offer sacrifices to God – they were excluded. The only ones who could were those appointed by God. Ultimately, Jesus is the ONLY one appointed by God. … Turn away (repent) from your sins today & receive Jesus by faith as your Savior, King, and Priest.


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