Priesthood of Jesus – Hebrews 5

Read the Passage: Hebrews 5

Listen to the Redeemed Mind Podcast: Hebrews 5

Role of High Priest (5:1–4)

In the final verses of Hebrews 4 the author began to transition into a new section of this letter, which will run from Hebrews 5–10, in which he explains the superiority of Jesus’ priestly ministry over the sacrificial system. In this section the author will show that Christ is the fulfillment of Old Testament patterns of worship. Recall that in Heb. 4:14–16 the author had exhorted his readers to hold to Christ, because Jesus can sympathize with believers in their temptations. Indeed, Christians can come boldly before God’s throne to receive mercy and grace in a time of need. Next, in Heb. 5:1 the author notes that the mediatorial role of the high priest entails offering “both gifts and sacrifices for sins.” Furthermore, since the human high priest himself was sinful, he could identify with the plight of fallen mankind—even having to offer a regular sacrifice for his own sins (cf. Lev. 9:7; 16:6).

The author will explain over the coming chapters that Jesus is a better High Priest than the fallen men who filled the role of high priest. This is so, because Christ can identify with human beings regarding temptation (cf. Heb. 2:17–18; 4:15) and He never sinned; thus, Jesus had no need to offer sacrifices for His own sins. In Heb. 5:4 the author observes that “no man takes this honor [of being high priest] to himself, but he . . . is called by God, just as Aaron was.” Note that Exodus 28–29 and Leviticus 8–9 detail God’s call and consecration of Aaron and his sons into the priesthood. These chapters record that Aaron was appointed high priest by God, with the high priesthood being passed on through Aaron’s sons. Here in Heb. 5:4 the author’s point is that, like Aaron, Jesus was appointed by the Father to serve as High Priest. Christ’s mediatorial role, then, was the fulfillment of the office depicted by Aaron and is the means whereby God’s divine plan of redemption is enacted.

Appointment of Jesus (5:5–11)

In Heb. 5:5–6 the author continues his analysis of the Aaronic high priesthood and Jesus’ superior High Priesthood. Here the author cites two Old Testament passages that focus upon the appointment of Christ as High Priest. First, the author quotes Ps. 2:7, which does not mention Jesus’ priesthood, but rather His Sonship. The idea here is that Christ willingly submitted to the Father’s plan for His role as Son and Mediator (cf. John 5:19; 6:38; 7:16; 1 Cor. 11:3; 15:28). Second, the author cites Ps. 110:4, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Note that this is the first of eight references in Hebrews to the enigmatic Old Testament character of Melchizedek. Apart from this book, Melchizedek is only referred to by name at Gen. 14:18 and Ps. 110:4. The citation here emphasizes that it was God who appointed Jesus as a priest in the order of Melchizedek.

The author has been making two related arguments in this section: first, he teaches that there is a comforting solidarity between Jesus and mankind; and second, that Christ being High Priest is the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption. In Heb. 5:7–10 the author touches upon these same two themes. In Heb. 5:7–8 he refers to Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane (cf. Matt. 26:36–46). In the Garden of Gethsemane Christ’s prayer related to His role as mediator, including His awareness of His coming sacrificial death and His atonement for the sins of mankind. Next, the author teaches that because of Jesus’ role as High Priest, “He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:9). After quoting Ps. 110:4 once again in Heb. 5:10 the author notes that he cannot teach fully about Melchizedek because the readers had become “dull of hearing” (Heb. 5:11), that is, their sanctification had become stifled.

Immaturity of Readers (5:12–14)

Although the author desired to discuss Melchizedek further, between Heb. 5:12–6:20 he suspended his teaching on this enigmatic character to address the spiritual condition of his readers. Note that the author resumes his discussion of Melchizedek in Heb. 7:1–10. Of course, warnings about one’s spiritual condition are one of the emphases in this letter; thus, the author’s admonition here ought not to be surprising. In Heb. 5:12 the author bluntly states that his readers should be spiritually mature teachers—as all Christians are called to be (cf. Col. 3:16)—yet they were mere babes in Christ, needing milk and not solid food (cf. 1 Cor. 3:2; 1 Pet. 2:2). The way for these babes in Christ to reach spiritual maturity, writes the author, is “by reason of use, [to] have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14). Indeed, maturity comes by immersion in the Word of God (cf. Rom. 10:17).

Application Questions:

  1. What was the role of the High Priest under the Old Testament sacrificial system? How was someone redeemed prior to the atonement of Jesus?
  2. If the sacrifices of animals by high priests could not really provide forgiveness of sins, what was the purpose of such offerings?
  3. What difference does it make that “Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest” (Heb. 5:5)?
  4. What does is mean that Jesus “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8)?
  5. How do you reconcile Paul’s admonition to become teachers (cf. Heb. 5:12) with James’ teaching, “Let not many of you become teachers” (cf. Jas. 3:1)?