NOTES on Hebrews 5:1-10 (click here for study)

The author of Hebrews has explained that Sabbath rest remains for the people of God. He "again set a certain day, calling it Today," says verse 4:7. This rest is God's rest which we enter when be believe in Jesus, and it is the same rest which God established when he rested at the end of creation.

Next the author explains how Jesus is our high priest who has gone "through the heavens" and can sympathize with us because he has been tempted in the same ways we have been tempted. He continues his explanation of the superiority of Christ's high priesthood in chapter 5.

In the time of Israel, high priests always came from the tribe of Levi, and their job always included direct intercession with God for the people of Israel in the place of God's presence: the Most Holy chamber of the tabernacle. Only the high priest could enter God's presence without dying, and he could only enter God's presence once a year. His job was to offer to God both sacrifices for sin and voluntary offerings which the people presented to God as acts of worship and obedience. Only the high priest could present the blood of the sin offerings in the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement. Only the high priest could make intercession for the sins of the people so they could be forgiven on that day each year.

Because they were human, the high priests could identify with the sins of their people. They could be gentle with those who were going astray because they also struggled with sin and human weakness. Because of their own sinfulness, the high priests had to offer gifts and sacrifices for themselves as well as for their people.


Human High Priest

When Jesus came to offer the one sacrifice that could cleanse us from sin for eternity, he had to come as a human, just as the Israelite priests were human. Because sin entered humanity because of a man, Adam, life could only be restored to humanity by a man-only this man was the Son of God-Jesus. Only as a human could he pay the price of the curse-death to humanity. Similarly, only as a human could he restore life to humanity through his own resurrection.

But no mere human could do what Jesus did. Only God could pay the price of sin; only God could restore life. Jesus did not only sacrifice his human life so he could eradicate sin; he also sacrificed the glory that was his as God in order to take on human form so he could die. Jesus was God, and Jesus was man. He sacrificed the privileges of both identities in order to redeem us from sin.

Jesus did not have to present our offerings and sacrifices to God as did the Old Testament priests. Our sacrifices and offerings, in fact, are completely powerless to remove sin. Jesus interceded with God for us by offering his own living service and his own living body to God as the ultimate payment for sin.

Because Jesus has lived and suffered as a human, he is able to empathize with us as we struggle with temptation and pain. He experienced the limitations of humanity; he experienced suffering so intensely that he died. Because of his humanness, Jesus can deal gently with us not only as our God, but he can deal gently with us in complete empathy as our brother. Jesus is not only our loving and powerful God interceding for us, he is also literally human, and he completely identifies with us and with our struggles.

We can completely trust him.


Ignorance and Straying

The text in verse 2 says specifically that the high priests were able "to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray." The Bible distinguishes between ignorance and outright defiance. Numbers 15:29-31 established a protocol for sin offerings in the case of unintentional sin. It also states that "anyone who sins defiantlyblasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from his people."

Hebrews 6:4-7 and 10:29-31 also state severe consequences for deliberate, persistent rebellion. "It is impossible," states 6:4-7, "for those who have once been enlightenedif they fall away, to be brought back to repentance." Hebrews 10:28-31 contrasts the rejection of "the law of Moses" with trampling "the Son of God under foot" and insulting "the Spirit of grace".

"How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?.It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:29, 31)

The Israelite high priests were equipped to deal with people who struggled with ignorance and spiritual drifting, but they were not equipped to mediate for the blasphemous and those who sinned defiantly. Those who blatantly sinned were cut off from the people of Israel.

Jesus, however, able to deal with all sin. He is human, and as a human he can deal sensitively with the weak. But he is also God, and as God he is the only one who can deal with the persistently defiant. Only he can know who can be saved, and only he can pass ultimate judgment on unrepentant sin.

The Israelite priests represented humanity to God, bearing sacrifices to atone for sins. But Jesus presents himself to God for us. Jesus, as both human and God, sympathizes with us and stands in our place before God. The Israelite priests could not stand before God in the place of their people because they were sinners, just like those they represented. Jesus, however, can stand in our place both because he is human and can present himself as the ransom for humanity's curse, and because he is God and has the power to forgive and to restore us to life.


Qualifications for High Priesthood

High priests had to meet two qualifications. The first was to be "selected from among men." All the Israelite priests were from the tribe of Levi.

The second qualification was to be "called by God, just as Aaron was." (v. 4)

Jesus, according to verse 5, did not "take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest." God appointed him to be our high priest. The author of Hebrews quotes two Psalms which state that God called him: "You are my Son; today I have become your Father." (Psalm 2:7) Also, "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." (Psalm 110:4) Jesus did not make these claims for himself. God said these things about him.

When Jesus was baptized God proclaimed, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." (Matt. 3:17) Christ was appointed by God.

Jesus' priesthood, however, was not the same as Aaron's. Jesus was a priest "in the order of Melchizedek," not in the order of Aaron. Melchizedek, according to Hebrews 7:3, was "without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever." In addition, Melchizedek was not only a priest; he was a king-the king of Salem.

Aaron, on the other hand, clearly descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus, too, descended from the patriarchs, but because he is God, his priesthood is not like Aaron's and his descendants. Jesus, according to God, is not a priest like Aaron; he's a priest like Melchizedek-eternal and singular.

When Melchizedek appeared to Abraham, Abraham paid tithe to Melchizedek. The one who collects the tithe, verse 7 declares, is greater than the one who pays it, and the lesser "is blessed by the greater". Jesus, who is a priest like Melchizedek, is greater than Aaron, a descendant of the man who paid tithe to Mechizedek.

Jesus meets the requirements of a high priest: he is chosen from among men, and he is also called by God-called to be the Son of God, an eternal priest, and a king.


Made Perfect by Suffering

When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane before his arrest, he cried and pleaded with God to take the cup of suffering from him if it was God's will. He was submissive to his Father, however, and he did not walk away from his ordeal. The suffering which he most dreaded was carrying the weight of all humanity's sin-a weight which separated him from his Father.

Because Jesus was submissive, verse 7 says, God heard him and answered his prayer. God did save Jesus from death; he rose from the dead! Physical death was not the most fearsome part of Jesus' suffering. The second death-spiritual separation from the Father-is what Jesus longed to escape. Even though such separation means death, it did not destroy Jesus. Even though he bore all the world's sins and endured the soul-killing separation when he cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me," death could not keep him. He rose back to life!

Even though Jesus was God and was perfect, his humanity had to learn complete obedience. His humanity was made perfect-complete-by his suffering and obedience. Adam, as a perfect human, had failed in the area of obedience. Jesus was the first-and only-human being to obey perfectly, even to the point of death. As an obedient and perfect human, he could be our eternal salvation. He had to be human to save us, and he had to be a perfect human in order to redeem our lives. As a human made perfect through his suffering in the wilderness and in Gethsemane, Jesus redeemed not only our souls but our bodies as well. He brought meaning to our suffering and struggling, and as a perfect human-possible only because he was born alive, not dead-he qualified to die for our sins and thus pay the price the law demanded.


High Priest for Our Salvation

As our high priest, Jesus ministers to us when we are ignorant or drifting away from truth. He disciplines us when we veer off course, and he brings us back to himself.

Because Jesus has paid the price for our sins, once for all, we no longer have to try to atone for our guilt. Jesus has already done the atoning. Our response is not to try to balance our sins with acts of goodness; rather, it is to trust in Jesus.

Jesus asks us to submit our sins and temptations to him. He asks us not to run from them or to try to ignore them. If we do those things, they will not go away; they will always find new ways to seduce us.

Jesus asks us to be honest with him about our failures and weaknesses. He asks us to bring him our vulnerability and pain. He asks us to give up our control and our tight-fisted hold on our lives and let him show us how to live.

Jesus asks us to allow him to live in us, to change our hard, dead hearts into living hearts warm with his love and life. He asks us to let him have access to those hard, angry places deep inside that want to rebel and manipulate. He asks us to give him our anger and fear, and he promises that his love and his great atoning sacrifice will forgive and cleanse those places in our hearts.

Jesus also asks us to submit to him our disappointments and deep sadness. He asks us to let him be mother, father, brother and sister to us. He asks us to risk trusting him, to honestly desire truth, and to allow him to lead us toward it.

Praise God for being our loving Father whom we can approach directly, without an earthly go-between. Praise Jesus for being our sacrifice and atonement-perfectly human and completely God-and for offering himself for our eternity. Praise the Holy Spirit for living in us and for realizing in us the miracle of a new birth!

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