In our previous post, we saw that the writer had briefly mentioned the priesthood of Christ in an earlier passage. In the next several chapters of Hebrews, he will expand on that teaching. We saw last time the general responsibility of the High Priest, which was, once a year on the Day of Atonement, to enter the Holy of Holies in order to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat. This would atone for the sins of the nation for that year, though each individual Israelite was also responsible to bring gifts and offerings to God for his own sins.
Having laid that groundwork, the writer now moves in the fifth chapter to the priesthood of Christ.
1. The origin of the priesthood of Christ, vs. 1-3.
There are some who deny even the existence of the Lord Jesus, and say that He’s a complete figment of the imagination. It just seems to me, for someone who doesn’t exist, that He’s had a tremendous effect of history and society. There are others who say that He just decided to become the Messiah on His own. A noted Muslim scholar, who spoke some time ago at a local Catholic university, teaches that Jesus was just one of a number of self-proclaimed, self-deluded Jews who claimed to be the Messiah and who wound up being executed by the Romans. It’s true that there were a number of false Messiahs around that time, but the writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus wasn’t one of them: He did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, v. 5. See also v. 4. Even the OT priesthood wasn’t self-originated, but God singled out a single family to fulfill that office. There were even those who were disqualified from being priests because they couldn’t prove their genealogy from Aaron, from that family, cf. Ezra 2:62; Nehemiah 7:64, an event so important that it’s mentioned twice in the OT.
In v. 5 and 6, the writer quotes two OT Scriptures: Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4 to show that even the OT prophesied such a Person. Verse 6 introduces Melchizedek, about whom the writer has a great deal to say in 6:20-7:28.
We don’t know for certain when Jesus became aware of His destiny, humanly speaking, but we do know that by the age of twelve, He was aware of it, Luke 2:41-50. Later on, in His ministry, He said, “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me,” John 6:38. Even His message wasn’t “His”: “…I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things,” Jphn 8:28. (NKJV) There are a number of other Scriptures, especially in John, which teach the same thing. Jesus was sent by the Father.
2. The outcome of Christ’s priesthood, vs. 4-6.
a. for Himself, vs. 7, 8.
Cf. 2:10, 17; 4:15. Also see Isaiah 53:3, 4: He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. We can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for the Lord to assume humanity. He never complained about it, but there are indications that He felt it greatly. In Luke 12:50, He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with [His suffering on the Cross], and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!” He didn’t come to be praised and petted. His birth was largely ignored in the events of the day – much like it is today – even at Christmas! His life was spent in a troublesome province in the Roman Empire, and His death was just another of many deaths in that time. He was despised and rejected, Isaiah 53:3. He still is – even by many who claim to believe in Him.
There are a couple of other things. Some who knock on your door will tell you that Jesus was only a creature of God. He wasn’t God. They misuse several Scriptures to try to prove that. Hebrews 5:8 disproves their claim: He learned obedience by the things He suffered. If He were just a creature in Heaven, wouldn’t He have “learned obedience” there, instead of having to learn it here?
Further, v. 7 says, in the days of His flesh,…He…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.
This is another of those things far beyond our understanding and experience. When was the last time you – or I – prayed with “vehement cries and tears”? I’m afraid that too often prayer is just part of some “liturgy” or a certain number of forms prescribed by a religious official. It isn’t real prayer at all.
I suppose part of the reason for that is the prevailing view that “God has done all He can do and now it’s up to” us. After all, if He’s already done all He can do, what’s the point is asking Him to do any more?
I think another reason the Lord prayed so fervently was that He missed His Father. After all, He had spent eternity in perfect fellowship with Him. Now that was hindered by the Lord’s humanity. I don’t understand the Incarnation at all, but it must have been difficult for our Lord – to get tired, hungry, to have to walk from here to there, to be around people, even His own family, who didn’t understand Him or His message. He no doubt had an awareness of the Father we know nothing about, but still, it wasn’t the same – and He missed it.
b. for His people, vs. 9, 10, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.
There’s quite the discussion about the place of “work” in our salvation. On the one hand, there are those who insist that we must have works in addition to our faith in order to be saved. We have to keep the Mosaic Law, or the edicts of some “church.” “Faith” seems almost optional in this view. We must have “works.”
On the other hand, there are those who insist that we’re “saved by faith alone.” Works has nothing to do with it. As long as you’ve made a profession of faith, that’s all that’s required.
The truth lies between these two extremes. Paul puts it quite clearly in Galatians 5:6: …in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. We might translate that last part: “faith energized by love”.
Make no mistake on this! Paul isn’t saying that we’re saved by faith and works. Neither are we. There is nothing to be added to faith: baptism, agreement with some statement of faith or catechism, as good as some of these may be, church membership, doing good works, etc. etc.
The issue lies around the character of faith: what is “saving faith.” There are those who deny that there are different “kinds” of faith, and say that all faith is the same. I believe this is incorrect. There is what may be called “a historical faith,” that is, it’s simply about the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord. There is a “doctrinal” faith, which simply agrees with a particular statement of doctrine. There is a “natural” faith, which I heard about a lot when I was in Fundamentalism. This is the faith that expects the car to start when you turn the key or push the button, or for a chair to hold you up when you sit on it. There is even a “devilish” faith, James 2:19. Are demons saved? Though they might have their place, except for the last one, none of these “faiths” saves us.
Saving faith doesn’t come from us. It isn’t just the “exercise of our wills.” It come from God’s grace, Ephesians 2:8: Acts 18:27. Saving faith “obeys” God. This is the whole essence of James, and it’s the essence of Hebrews 5:9.
3. Obstacles to the priesthood, vs. 11-14.
These verse start the introduction to 6:4-6, about which we’ll have more to say. According to the writer, there were two obstacles standing in the way of his readers understanding what he was saying.
a. their dullness, v. 11.
Even the OT lamented this. In Matthew 13:15, our Lord quoted Isaiah 6:9, “For the hearts of this people have become dull.” In our day, we might call it “Gospel-hardened,” that is, we’ve become so familiar with what we believe the Bible says that we don’t really think about it. As it were, we’ve gotten used to it. The readers of Hebrews had “gotten used” to Moses, and had a hard time learning something different.
b. their “immaturity,” v. 12-14.
They had been believers long enough that they should have been able to teach others, but they themselves hadn’t even mastered the basic principles of the faith. They still needed the “milk of the Word,” and couldn’t digest what Peter wrote of some of Paul’s writings: things hard to understand, 2 Peter 3:16. Sadly, many of their descendants are with us today.