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Hebrews chapter 5 The Great High Priest

A few notes on Chapter 5: Christ the High Priest

"God having provided something better for us.." Hebrews 11:40

Part 1

Overall theme

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, Hebrews 4:14.

The earthy high priest has been set aside by the heavenly, more superior, high priest.

The section before us runs from 5:1 to 10:30 and deals with the priesthood, which is of utmost importance to a believer. It sets out to demonstrate that Christ was a high priest, and was always superior to Aaron (who was a type of Christ). It introduces another priesthood whose superiority also exceeds Aaron, hence proving the case that Aaron was in no way superior.

Context

Introduction to the superiority of Christ and the fact this letter underscores the Father's remark of His Son:

Matthew 17:5 (KJV) . This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.

Jesus is shown to be superior over:

  • the prophets 1:1-3
  • the Angels 1:4-2:18
  • Moses 3:1-19
  • Joshua 4:1-10

Note the author takes up the theme that Christ is the superior High Priest. Indeed, he is superior to all priests, remembering that all believers are priests (Revelation 1:6), and there is nothing that man can do, however grand the ceremony or robes he wears, that can place himself near the elevation position of Christ. Christ character as high priest has already been touched upon:

1. Hebrews 2:17 (NKJV) Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

Christ, through his life of humiliation and trial he can enter into our difficulties and temptations: at the end of his life, he enters death, and makes propitiation for our sins.

2. Hebrews 3:1 (NKJV) consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus.

Here we understand that Christ moved from earth to heaven to serve before God on behalf of men.

3. Hebrews 4:14 (NKJV) Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.

To help us day by day we need one who represents us, one who understands our wants, and needs and our weaknesses, who can sympathise with us: this is Christ who has trod the weary path on this earth, albeit resisting temptation, but being tempted. In our weaknesses, and in his strength he can support us.

Hence the sphere of operation of the priesthood of Christ is in the House of God (ie Chapter 3) whereas his people undertake the wilderness journey, from whence remains a rest (ie Chapter 4). Chapter 5 begins the explanation of the priestly office of Christ.

The Priest

1. At first every man was his own priest, and presented his own sacrifices before God - see Genesis, e.g. Able.

2. Afterwards that office devolved on the head of the family, as in the cases of

a. Noah Gen 8:20

b. Abraham Gen 12:7 13:4

c. Isaac Gen 26:25

d. Jacob Gen 31:54

e. Job Job 1:5

3. The position first occurs as applied to Melchizedek Genesis 14:18.

Many people are called priests:

  • The priest of Jupiter would have offered sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas as gods.
  • Jethro the Midianite was a priest (Exodus 3:1).
  • Melchizedek is spoken of in Hebrews - he being a king and priest.
  • Christ is spoken of as a priest.
  • Christians are spoken of as priests (1 Peter 2:5-9, Revelation 1:5,6, Rev 5:9)
  • Spoken of as priests of God and of Christ (Rev 20:6)
  • Alluded to in Hebrews 13:15

Our great High Priest has been taken to heaven, all other (New Testament) priests are priests spiritual and heavenly: for prayer and intercession (the sacrifice of praise to God, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name). The idea of a priesthood connects itself, in all its forms, pure or corrupted, with the consciousness of sin. Men feel that they have broken a law. The power above them is holier than they are, and they dare not approach it. They crave for the intervention of some one of whom they can think as likely to be more acceptable than themselves. He must offer up their prayers, thanksgivings, sacrifices. He becomes their representative in "things pertaining unto God and hence a priest [2].

Numbers 16:5 (NKJV) and he spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, "Tomorrow morning the LORD will show who is His and who is holy, and will cause him to come near to Him. That one whom He chooses He will cause to come near to Him.

However, the notion of a "kingdom of priests" - not just one, but a nation, comes from Exodus 19:6 to "come near to offer incense before the Lord"

The High Priest:

1) Taken from among men (not an angel, Revelation 5) - he was a representative of man.

2) Appointed as a Public Office - in all cases made by God, a divine appointment

3) Bring gifts and sacrifices - not empty handed for sins (Hebrews 8:3).

4) Being human is not exempt from infirmity.

5) Not presumptuous: chosen and approved by God (John 8:54; Philippians 2:6)

An ordinary priest

The elements of an ordinary priest of Israel were similar to the High Priest, excepting some functions of the office: in general they were to bring gifts and sacrifices for sins. However, this does not help explain the Christian as a priest, for we learn from Hebrews that there is no more sacrifice for sin - for Christ was sacrificed, once for all, then sat down (a position that no Aaronic priest could take). Essentially a priest is a person who draws near God, which is in comparison to the other class who are afar off:

Exodus 19:22 And let the priests also, which come near to the LORD, sanctify themselves,

The position of priest underscores that fact that worshippers of God cannot approach him directly or on their ground with gifts, sacrifices and prayers: they stay at a distance sometimes separated by multiple walls, and some special or elevated class of person approaches God. This clarifies the extent of holiness and is worthy for any seeking the truth to pursue. Indeed, none could approach God freely - this aspect being shut-up in what essentially was a box, being hidden by a veil - the most holy (i.e. the most holy of the temple). This characterises God and defines holiness. Under the Aaronic system, we learn that God is nearly un-approachable: except once a year, by one man, especially appointed and ceremonially prepared.

The priesthood of Christ

It is worthy to note that a Christian has the Word and the priesthood of Christ to sustain him through the wilderness, spoken of in Chapter 3. The Word of course detects and discerns - monitors - the thought and intents of the heart, being more powerful than a two edged sword. The priesthood of man clearly failed, because Israel who had an earthly high priest and an earthly abode never entered their rest. Indeed Aaron did not complete the role of the high priest - to bring Israel before God and maintain this presence.

Now, the un-approachableness of God was due to our part - sin, and it was God who then approached us - the light was made manifest, the word dwelt among men:

Titus 2:11 (NKJV) For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,

Indeed, Christ was a friend of publicans and sinners - essentially a tautology - for we all fit this class. However, although God could visit the sinner in grace, the sinner could not approach God, because of His holiness, and hence for this reason Christ, lived and died. At this point the veil is rent in two, that unapproachable is made approachable, the hidden is seen, our sins are borne away.

Hebrews 1:3 (KJV) .when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;

And therefore:

Hebrews 10:17-18 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. 18Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.

For this to occur, there had to be shedding of blood - a sacrifice for sin, therefore Christ must suffer.

Christ did this once: he was able to put away sin because he was not guilty of it.

God could not allow sin to enter His place - His holy habitation as it can be called - but due to His grace, the work wrought by Christ, we are able to, indeed are exhorted to boldly enter into the holiest by a new and living way. This is the position of a priest - hence we are called priests and are priests because we perform this action.

A Christian, indeed Christianity, is to reveal the councils of God, into which we can enter. The efficacy of Christs work is borne by the Christian that enters into the holiest by a new and living way. To say that we are not priests is to say that some other must enter for us and denies the efficacy of the cross. And anyway, the veil is rent - we can approach God - there is no barrier, hence no special class is needed to approach for us - Christ has done it all.

What does a priest do?

Hebrews 10:19 - 20 (NKJV) 19Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil.

The priest - Christians therefore approach God with their offerings which are spiritual offerings of praise to God's name.

Revelation 5:8 (NKJV) Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

A priest carries on irrespective of infirmity, where enjoyment is spiritual, and where communion is with God in the absence of the flesh (I die daily).

Hebrews 13:15 (KJV) By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.

Seven Things That Distinguish Christ from Aaron:

1) Dignity of Person (4:14) - the Son of God.

2) Purity of His Nature (4:15) - without sin. Holy (7:26)

3) Eminency of His Order (5:6) - Order of Melchizedek.

4) Solemnity of Ordination (7:20,21) - Oath (Ps 110:4).

5) Excellency of Sacrifice (9:14) - Himself without spot or blemish.

6) Perfection of Administration (7:11, 25) - He succeeded in gaining

divine approval, He had personal access to the throne of God.

7) Perpetuity of Office (7:24) - Jesus served for eternity.

There are two very important points about the High Priest - its origin and its sphere of influence. The appointment was of a divine nature - Aaron was appointed as was Christ, however Aaron was an earthly high priest, Christ was heavenly.

Christ not like Aaron[3]

Aron's character Christ's character
Aaron was a man. Jesus was the Son of God.
Aaron was of the Tribe of Levi. Jesus was of the royal tribe (Judah), and was priest and king.
Aaron was established after the Law of Carnal Commandments. Jesus was by the power of endless life.
The Aaronic Priesthood made nothing perfect. Jesus made everything perfect.
The Aaronic Priesthood was unable to bring a single sinner nigh unto God. Jesus did. Only Christ was inducted by Divine Oath.
Aaron had many successors. Christ had none.
Aaron died. Jesus ever liveth to make intercession for us.
Aaron was a sinner. Christ was separate from sin.
Aaron had to sacrifice daily. Christ died once for all.

Observation

Leviticus 10:6 notes that a high priest is not to tear his garments. Caiaphas, the high priest at Jesus' trial, tore his clothes, taking way the priesthood from Israel, further completed when Jerusalem was sacked.

 

Part 2

Overall theme

And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; Hebrews 5:9 (KJV)

In a general Bible study of Genesis I was quite amazed at the number of earnest Christians who dismissed the type that Melchizedek displays or and at those that could not understand the antitype displayed in Christ: being of the order of Melchizedek. In fact it was more than this. There was a general ambivalence to Christ as being our Great High Priest, with little understanding, or want of understanding, of the role of the High Priest.

However, it is interesting that the Holy Spirit places in the same chapter, as our introduction to Christ being of the order of Melchizedek, verse 11:

(NIV) We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.

(NKJV) of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.

It appears that even 2000 years ago, or thereabouts, the understanding of this concept, even to those that should have known better, being Jews, did not possess the gumption to press on - to put an effort into learning, having become "dull of hearing".

Context

The author of Hebrews introduces the most important comparison viz Christ is superior to the Aaronic order, being a King and Priest and being the Great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. He goes on to explore the attributes of this Great High Priest, after first mentioning this in Hebrews 4:

Hebrews 4:14 (KJV) Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

It is important to remember there are two very important points about the High Priest; (1) its origin and (2) its sphere of influence. The appointment was divine - Aaron was appointed as was Christ, however Aaron was an earthly high priest, Christ was heavenly.

Purpose of His Priesthood:

  • For (1) the sustaining of the divine system which has been brought into being, and (2) in order to sustain the people of God in relation to it.
  • Christ is a priest great enough not only to sustain us in the wilderness but to set us all in our places in the world to come. The preservation or sustenance of us takes three forms.
  1. Support/aid (Chapter 2)
  2. Sympathy (Chapter 4)
  3. Salvation (chapter 7)
  • This Aaron did partially: he was consecrated to bear the iniquity of the children of Israel, which meant that he represented each individual in every aspect of their life in relation to God. We too need to be constantly sustained by the Priest. That is, although God has fully revealed Himself, we could in no wise respond, apart from the priesthood of Christ. Hence we see in Hebrews 10 we are to "draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith".

Note that priest is not a fall back position - it has in its view the glorification of God: "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me" (Psalm 50:23).

Some notes on Chapter 5

1-3 The qualifications of Aaron

  • Taken from among men
  • Appointed for men by God - no man could do this himself.
  • Offered gifts and sacrifices
  • Has compassion on those who are ignorant - the role of the high priest - in that the priest himself had personal experience as did Christ.
  • Has to offer sacrifices for his own sins.

This priesthood failed. We see that Eli had sons that sinned dreadfully and King Uzziah (2 Chr 26:16-21) usurped the office of the priesthood.

4-6 Melchizedek

  • Aaron performed intercession
  • Melchizedek performed blessing : his action is seen in Genesis 14, where the authoritative priest blesses Abraham, who in turn pays him tithes.
  • Melchizedek came out from God to bring blessing to men - see Genesis 14:18-20.
  • Melchizedek was a king and priest. Personally, his name means "King of Righteousness", and after that "King of Salem", which means "King of Peace". We will learn more about him in Chapter 7 of Hebrews.
  • The kingship of Christ is still to come into view - at the moment he is in heaven, and Satan rules the world.
  • The priesthood and kingship was separated by tribe - Levi and Judah, however, here they are brought together.
  • Christ is called to be our great High Priest, is taken from among men to exercise His priesthood on behalf of men. Noting as Man he is recognized as Son. "Thou art my Son, today have I begotton thee".

7-8 The experiences of Christ or his suffering

  • Christ was a man, leaving his place on high, pouring himself out (Philippians 2).
  • Offered up prayers and supplications - entering the sorrows and difficulties of humanity, taking part in our infirmities, treading the path we tread, facing the temptations we face.
  • This is emphasised by using the word "with vehement cries and tears" with the author pondering the Garden of Gethsemane where Satan attempted to turn Him back. Here NJK uses vehement - in essence the word means forcefully, mightily, or powerfully - it was not some week plaintive cry.
  • He suffered.
  • He was saved out of death.
  • He was appointed, and learnt obedience, which means he experienced it, the same which is expressed in Philippians 2.
  • Note that we also learnt obedience because we have a wicked will - I wants to take control - but Christ learnt obedience in suffering, that is, the experience of it taught him the cost of obedience.
    As JND could write:
    "He submitted to everything, obeyed in everything and depended upon God for everything"
  • Became the author of eternal salvation. Having suffered he can support those who obtain salvation.

9-10 The Consequences of Christ obedience

  • He was perfected, and hence became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey.
  • Note that its sphere is eternal, which is nowhere near what Aaron could achieve. He is heard in suffering and he is heard in resurrection:

.Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. Luke 13:32 (KJV)

  • That is, having suffered, died, rose, having accomplished all the work of the Father, he is perfectly fitted to exercise His priestly service on behalf of the many sons on their way to glory.
  • Perfected, he was called by God High Priest. Hence at verse 5 we see him called to take the priesthood after the Melchizedek and in verse 10 he is called High Priest.

Seven Things That Distinguish Christ from Aaron:

1) Dignity of Person (4:14) - the Son of God.

2) Purity of His Nature (4:15) - without sin. Holy (7:26)

3) Eminency of His Order (5:6) - Order of Melchizedek.

4) Solemnity of Ordination (7:20,21) - Oath (Psalm 110:4).

5) Excellency of Sacrifice (9:14) - Himself without spot or blemish.

6) Perfection of Administration (7:11, 25) - He succeeded in gaining divine approval, He had personal access to the throne of God.

7) Perpetuity of Office (7:24) - Jesus served for eternity.

11-14 A Warning to Christians

The Author clearly wants to challenge us as to the importance of the role of High Priest, and Christs character as befitting this. However, he has a problem because, we the reader have a tendency to turn off - that is "becoming dull of hearing".

This is a state of mind, where hearing does not produce any corresponding impression or response, where warnings are not attended to, or are not understood. Indeed the whole sentence is a description of a mental listlessness.

Hearers need to progress - one needs to grow as one goes. The audience of the Letter to the Hebrews should have been teachers by this stage (verse 12) - not just hearers - but they were not. Note this is teacher not preacher - teaching takes place in many forums - teaching your neighbour, brother, sister, friend etc.

The failure was the failure to lay to heart what they had learnt. Their heart attitude especially their heart desires had not matured and hence had not grown to perfection.

As Peter could write (2 Peter 1:5-8).

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours.

Thus the end results is perfect Love.

This is only accomplished if we take solid food - this means reading and meditating on the Bible - all of it, not just the simple narratives, but the hard parts as well. It means mediating on the Word, praying about the Word, living the Word. It means having a mind preoccupied by the Word.


References

J. N. Darby. Brief analysis of the Epistle to the Hebrews in connection with the Priesthood of Christ: with reply to some tracts on the latter subject.

G. Davison. Hebrews - Priesthood. Reading with G. Davison extracted from "Precious Things" 1956-1990

[1] NOTE: The actual sermons was in two parts and deviated from the notes somewhat.

[2] Smith's Revised Bible Dictionary, 1999

[3] Missler, Chuck (2001) Hebrews, Koinonia House, Idaho, USA (there is a new version dated May 2008 <https://resources.khouse.org/hebrews/> accessed 5 August 2014

 

David L Simon (CCC May/June 2006, edited November 2008)
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