Hebrews 5 - Jesus, A Priest Forever
A. Our Compassionate High Priest.
1. (1-4) Principles of priesthood under the Law of Moses.
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. He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness. Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sins. And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.
a. For every high priest taken from among men: God established both the priesthood and the office of high priest in the days of Moses, as described in Exodus 28:1 and following. The writer to the Hebrews neatly summarizes the work of the high priest, in saying that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. The primary job of the high priest was the officiate, either directly or indirectly through lower-ranking priests, sacrifices unto the Lord.
i. The phrase gifts and sacrifices for sins reminds us that not every sacrifice was a blood atonement for sins. Many of the ritual sacrifices were intended to be simple gifts to God, expressing thanks and desiring fellowship.
b. He can have compassion: Ideally, the high priest was more than a “butcher” offering sacrifice. He also had compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, and ministered the atoning sacrifices with a loving heart for the people. In this ideal, the high priest has this compassion because he understands that he himself is also subject to weakness.
i. God made specific commands to help insure the high priest would minister with compassion. In the breastplate of the high priest were set twelve stones engraved with the names of the tribes of Israel, and on the shoulder straps were stones engraved with the names of the tribes. In this, the people of Israel were always on the heart and on the shoulders of the high priest (Exodus 28:4-30).
c. Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sins: God also made specific commands to help insure the high priest would minister with awareness that he was also subject to weakness. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest had to sacrifice for himself first, to remind himself and the nation that he had sin to atone for, just like the rest of the people of Israel (Leviticus 16:1-6).
d. And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was: Of course, the High Priest was taken from the community of God’s people; but was not chosen by God’s people, but appointed by God for His people. But it was important to state that no man takes this honor to himself. The office of high priest was nothing to aspire to or campaign for. It was given by right of birth, it was chosen by God. It was an honor no man could take to himself.
i. The true priesthood, and the high priest, came from a specific line of descent. Every priest came from Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, whose name was changed to Israel. Every priest came from Levi, one of Israel’s thirteen sons. God set the tribe of Levi apart as a tribe committed to His service and as representatives of the whole nation (Exodus 13:2; Numbers 3:40-41). Gershon, Kohath and Merari were Levi’s three sons; each of these family lines had their own duties. The family of Gershon had care of the tabernacle’s screen (veil), fence, and curtains (Numbers 3:25-26). The family of Kohath will this family had care of the tabernacle’s furnishings, such as the lampstand, altar of incense, and the ark of the covenant (Numbers 3:31-32). The family of Merari had care of the boards and pillars of the tabernacle and the fence (Numbers 3:36-37). These families were not properly priests, though they were Levites. The priesthood itself came through Aaron, the brother of Moses, of the family of Kohath. Aaron’s family and their descendants made up the priests and the high priest, those able to serve in the tabernacle itself and to offer sacrifice to God. The high priest was generally the eldest son of Aaron, except if they disqualified themselves like Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3) or according to the regulations of Leviticus 21. In this sense, the priesthood was not popularly elected, but chosen by God, not appointed by man.
ii. There are some dreadful instances where men presumed to act as priests who were not priests, such as Korah (Numbers 16), Saul (1 Samuel 13) and Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:16).
iii. We can also not take the honor of being our own priest. It is great arrogance to think we can approach God on our own, without a priest; but it is great superstition to think we need any other priest other than Jesus Christ Himself. God has provided a mediator, a priest, and we must avail ourselves of the priest God has provided.
iv. “A sinner can undertake to manage nothing towards God immediately, or by himself, but with a mediating priest, who must know God’s mind and perform it . . . The common sense of mankind about it since the fall doth evidence it; no nation being without a religion, a temple, a place of worship, or a priest.” (Poole)
2. (5-6) Jesus is qualified to be our High Priest.
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.” As He also says in another place: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek”;
a. Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest: Jesus did not make Himself High Priest. Instead, just as much as Jesus was declared to be the Son (Psalm 2:7), He was also declared to be a priest forever (in Psalm 110:4).
i. It was easy to see why the priesthood of Jesus would be difficult for early Jewish Christians to grasp. He was not from the lineage of Aaron. Jesus claimed nor practiced no special ministry in the temple. He confronted the religious structure instead of joining it. In Jesus’ day, the priesthood also become a corrupt institution. The custom had become High Priest in those days through intrigue and politicking among the corrupt priesthood.
ii. A priest forever is an important contrast. Jesus’ priesthood (like Melchizedek’s) is unending, but no High Priest descended from Aaron ever had a forever priesthood.
b. Today I have begotten You refers to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. At that time He fully assumed His role as our great High Priest, having been perfected (Hebrews 5:9).
i. Jesus’ resurrection demonstrated that He was not a priest like Aaron, who had to atone for his own sin first. The resurrection vindicated Jesus as the Father’s Holy One (Acts 2:24; 2:27), who bore the wrath sinners deserve, without becoming a sinner Himself.
c. Hebrews 7 will more fully develop the theme of Jesus as a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
3. (7-11a) The compassion of Jesus, our High Priest.
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, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,” of whom we have much to say,
a. When He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears: The agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemane (Matthew 26:36-39; Luke 22:44) proves He knows what it is like to struggle with the difficulty of obedience, yet He obeyed perfectly.
i. This answers the question, “How can this glorious, enthroned Jesus know what I am going through down here?” He knows; obedience did not always come easy for Jesus.
b. The word for supplications is hiketeria. This ancient Greek word essentially means “an olive branch wrapped in wool,” because that is was someone in Greek culture would hold and wave to express their desperate prayer and desire. Significantly, this supplication of Jesus took place in a garden of olives - and he supplied the “wool,” being the Lamb of God!
c. And was heard because of His godly fear: If Jesus asked that the cup be taken away from Him (Luke 22:42), and the cup was not taken away, how can it be said that He was heard? Because His prayer was not to escape His Father’s will, but to accept it - and that prayer was definitely heard.
d. He learned obedience by the things which He suffered: How could Jesus (who never stopped being God) learn anything? Then again, how does God, enthroned in heaven experience obedience, except by casting off the glory of the throne and humbling Himself as Jesus did?
i. Jesus did not pass from disobedience to obedience. He learned obedience by actually obeying. Jesus did not learn how to obey; He learned what is involved in obedience.
e. He learned obedience by things which He suffered: Suffering was used to teach Jesus. If suffering was fit to teach the Son of God, we must never despise it as a tool of instruction in our lives.
i. Some say that we might learn through suffering; but such lessons are only God’s second best. God really intends for us just to learn by His Word, and it is never His real plan for us to learn through trials and suffering. But was Jesus ever in the Father’s second best?
ii. The Bible never teaches that strong faith will keep a Christian from all suffering. Christians are appointed to affliction (1 Thessalonians 3:3). It is through many tribulations we enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22), and our current suffering is the prelude to glorification (Romans 8:17).
f. Having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation: Jesus’ experience of suffering makes Him perfectly suited to be the author (the source, the cause) of our salvation.
i. Some don’t want Jesus to be the author of their salvation. They want to write their own book of salvation. God won’t read it! Only Jesus can author your eternal salvation.
g. Notice that this salvation is extended to all who obey Him. In this sense, all who obey Him is used synonymously for believing on Him - which simply assumes that believers will obey!
h. Called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek”: The emphasis is repeated. Jesus is a High Priest, who was called by God (not personal ambition), according to the order of Melchizedek. The much to say comes in Hebrews 7.
B. An exhortation to maturity.
1. (11b) Their dullness of hearing is exposed.
And hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.
a. Since you have become dull of hearing: This explains why the writer doesn’t go into the topic of Melchizedek right away. He wants to address some critical basics before going on to more intricate topics, but their spiritual condition makes it hard to explain.
i. He fears the discussion of Aaron and Melchizedek and Jesus will sound too academic and theoretical to his readers. At the same time, he recognizes this says more about his dull hearers than the message.
ii. Being dull of hearing is not a problem with the ears, but a problem with the heart - you just aren’t really interested in what God has to say to you. Not wanting to hear the Word of God points to a genuine spiritual problem!
b. These Christians who felt like giving up with Jesus were also dull of hearing. The dullness usually comes first, then the desire to give up. Watch out when the Word of God starts seeming dull to you!
c. They have become dull of hearing. Become is an important word. It indicates that they didn’t start out that dull of hearing, but became that way.
2. (12a) Their failure to mature is exposed.
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God;
a. By this time: According to the time they had been followers of Jesus, they should have been much more mature than they were.
b. You ought to be teachers: It wasn’t that these were unique people who would hold a unique role of teaching. Instead, they ought to be teachers in the sense that all Christians should be teachers.
i. There is an important sense in which every Christian must be a teacher, because we can all help disciple others. We really only master something after we have effectively taught it to someone else. Teaching is the final step of learning.
c. You need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God: This isn’t to their credit. It isn’t that the first principles are “beneath” the mature Christian. Rather, the sense is that one should be able to teach one’s self, and remind one’s self of these first principles of the oracles of God.
3. (12b-14) A contrast between milk and solid food.
And you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
a. And you have come to need milk: Milk corresponds to the first principles of Hebrews 6:12. Solid food is the “meatier” material such as understanding the connection between Jesus and Melchizedek. It isn’t that milk is bad; but these Christians should have added solid food to their diet. Peter reminds us all as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby (1 Peter 2:2).
b. In the original language, the sense of for he is a babe is for he has become a babe. There is nothing more delightful than a true babe in Jesus. But there is nothing more irritating and depressing than someone who should be mature but who has become a babe!
i. Have you become a babe? Perhaps your Christian life is unstable. Babies are handed from one person to another; babes are tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14-16).
ii. Have you become a babe? Perhaps you are divisive in your Christian life. Babies each have their own crib that they stick to; babes have their particular denomination or church that they think of as “my church.”
iii. Have you become a babe? Perhaps you are star-struck by Christian celebrities of one kind or another. Babies are focused on one particular person (mommy); babes glory in men (I am of Paul, I am of Apollos).
iv. Have you become a babe? Perhaps you are spiritually asleep. Babies need a lot of sleep; babes spend much time spiritually asleep.
v. Have you become a babe? Perhaps you are fussy and cranky with others. Babies can be cranky; babes will fuss over any little thing.
c. Is unskilled in the word of righteousness: Those who have become babes reveal themselves because they are unskilled in the word of righteousness. We don’t expect brand new Christians to be skilled in the word of righteousness, but those who have been Christians for a time should be.
d. Who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil: Our senses are exercised (trained by practice and habit) to discern both good and evil (doctrinally, not morally). How are our senses exercised? Plainly, by reason of use. When we decide to use discernment, we mature.
i. These Christians demonstrated immaturity by both their lack of discernment between good and evil and in their contemplation of giving up with Jesus. The mature Christian is marked by their discernment and by their unshakable commitment to Jesus Christ.
ii. The ability to discern is a critical measure of spiritual maturity. Babies will put anything in their mouths! Babes are weak in discernment, and will accept any kind of spiritual food.
e. Have their senses exercised: It can be said that all five human senses have their spiritual counterparts.
i. We have a spiritual sense of taste: If indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious (1 Peter 2:3). Taste and see that the Lord is good! (Psalm 34:8)
ii. We have a spiritual sense of hearing: Hear and your soul shall live (Isaiah 55:3). He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 2:7).
iii. We have a spiritual sense of sight: Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law (Psalm 119:18). The eyes of your understanding (heart) being enlightened (Ephesians 1:18).
iv. We have a spiritual sense of smell: He shall be of quick scent in the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:3, RV margin). I am full, having received from . . . you, a sweet-smelling aroma (Philippians 4:18).
v. We have a spiritual sense of touch or feeling: Because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before the Lord (2 Kings 22:19). The hardening of their heart; who being past feeling, have given themselves over to licentiousness (Ephesians 4:18-19).
©2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission.