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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Hebrews 5

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Jesus, A Priest Forever

A. Our Compassionate High Priest.

1. (Hbr 5:1-4) 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 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 to 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 sin. Many of the ritual sacrifices were intended as simple gifts to God, expressing thanks and desiring fellowship.

b. He can have compassion: Ideally, the high priest was more than a “butcher” offering animals for 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 had this compassion because he understood that he himself is also subject to weakness.

i. God made specific commands to help the high priest to 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). The intention was to stir the compassion of the high priest.

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 the high priest serve knowing that he was also subject to weakness. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest had to sacrifice for himself first, to remind him 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: The High Priest was taken from the community of God’s people but was not chosen by God’s people. He was appointed by God for His people. The principle is 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 and therefore chosen by God. It was an honor no man could take to himself.

i. The true priesthood and 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 twelve sons. God set the tribe of Levi apart as a tribe to serve Him and represent Him to the whole nation of Israel (Exodus 13:2 and Numbers 3:40-41). Levi had three sons: Gershon, Kohath and Merari. 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 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 by sin (as Nadab and Abihu in 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. Man did not appoint the high priest.

ii. There are dreadful cases where men who were not priests presumed to act as priests. These include:

· Korah, who was swallowed up in a divine earthquake (Numbers 16).
· King Saul, who was rejected from his place as king over Israel (1 Samuel 13:11-14).
· Uzziah, who was struck with leprosy in the temple itself (2 Chronicles 26:16).

iii. Today, we also are prohibited from being our own priest. It is great arrogance to think we can approach God on our own, without a priest. But it is also great superstition to think we need any priest other than Jesus Christ Himself. God provides Jesus as a mediator and priest, and we must use the priest God provides.

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. (Hbr 5:5-6) 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 (in Psalm 2:7), He was also declared to be a priest forever (in Psalm 110:4).

i. It is easy to see why the priesthood of Jesus was difficult for early Jewish Christians to grasp. Jesus was not from the lineage of Aaron. Jesus neither claimed nor practiced special ministry in the temple. He confronted the religious structure instead of joining it. In Jesus’ day, the priesthood became a corrupt institution. The office was gained through intrigue and politicking among corrupt leaders.

b. Today I have begotten You: This 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 and Acts 2:27), who bore the wrath sinners deserved without becoming a sinner Himself.

c. A priest forever: This is an important contrast. Jesus’ priesthood (like Melchizedek’s) is unending, but no High Priest descended from Aaron ever had a forever priesthood.

i. Hebrews 7 will more fully develop the theme of Jesus as a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

3. (Hbr 5:7-11a) 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) proved He struggled 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. Prayers and supplications: The ancient Greek word for supplications is hiketeria. This word means “an olive branch wrapped in wool” (Clarke) because that is what the ancient Greek worshipper held and waved 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: Jesus asked that the cup be taken away from Him (Luke 22:42), yet the cup was not taken away. Nevertheless, His prayer 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: Though Jesus was God and is God, yet He learned obedience. God, enthroned in heaven’s glory, can only experience obedience by casting off the glory of heaven 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.

ii. “Obedience is a trade to which a man must be apprenticed until he has learned it, for it is not to be known in any other way. Even our blessed Lord could not have fully learned obedience by the observation in others of such an obedience as he had personally to render, for there was no one from whom he could thus learn.” (Spurgeon)

e. He learned obedience by things which He suffered: Suffering was used to teach Jesus. If suffering was good enough to teach the Son of God, we must never despise it as a tool of instruction in our life.

i. Some say that we might learn through suffering; but such lessons are only God’s second best and God really intends for us to learn only by His word, and it is never His real plan to teach us through trials and suffering. But Jesus was never 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). Our present suffering is the prelude to glorification (Romans 8:17).

f. Having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation: Jesus’ experience of suffering – and subsequent resurrection – made Him perfectly suited to be the author (the source, the cause) of our salvation.

i. Sometimes when a person dies and leaves an inheritance, it never gets to the intended heirs. Jesus died leaving an inheritance, and He ever lives to make sure His people receive it. As Spurgeon said it, “He died, and so made the legacy good; he rose again and lives to see that none shall rob any one of his beloved of the portion he has left.”

ii. Some don’t want Jesus to be the author of their salvation. They want to write their own book of salvation – but God won’t read it. Only Jesus can author your eternal salvation.

g. The author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him: This salvation is extended to all who obey Him. In this sense, all who obey Him is used to describe those who believe 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 by personal ambition), according to the order of Melchizedek.

i. Of whom we have much to say: The much to say comes later in Hebrews 7. From here until the end of Hebrews 6 the writer to the Hebrews deals with problems he believed prevented his readers from receiving this truth.

B. An exhortation to maturity.

1. (Hbr 5:11b) 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 didn’t go deeper into the topic of Melchizedek right away. He wanted to address some critical basics before going on to more intricate topics, but the spiritual state of his readers made it hard to explain.

i. He feared the discussion of Aaron and Melchizedek and Jesus sounded too academic and theoretical to his readers. At the same time, he recognized this said more about his dull hearers than it did about the message. It wasn’t that the message was too complicated; it was that the hearers were dull of hearing.

ii. Being dull of hearing is not a problem with the ears, but a problem with the heart. The hearer isn’t really interested in what God has to say. Not wanting to hear the Word of God points to a genuine spiritual problem. It can even be a reason for unanswered prayer, according to Proverbs 28:9: One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.

iii. 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. When the Word of God starts to seem dull, we should regard it as a serious warning sign.

b. You have become dull of hearing: The word “become” is important. It indicates that they didn’t start out that dull of hearing, but became that way.

2. (Hbr 5:12a) 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 should hold a unique role of teaching. Instead, they ought to be teachers in the sense that every Christian should be a teacher.

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. (Hbr 5:12b-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 5:12. 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. For he is a babe: In the ancient Greek, the sense of this phrase 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, and spiritual 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, and spiritual 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 (their mother), and spiritual babes glory in men (I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, as in 1 Corinthians 1:12).

iv. Have you become a babe? Perhaps you are spiritually asleep. Babies need a lot of sleep, and spiritual babes spend much time spiritually asleep.

v. Have you become a babe? Perhaps you are fussy and cranky with others. Babies can be cranky, and spiritual 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 (primarily doctrinally, more than morally). Our senses become exercised when we use them (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. Vincent on good and evil: “Not moral good and evil, but wholesome and corrupt doctrine. The implication is that the readers’ condition is such as to prevent them from making this distinction.”

iii. The ability to discern is a critical measure of spiritual maturity. Babies will put anything in their mouth. Spiritual 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).

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

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