Hebrews 5:1-10 speaks about Jesus, our ideal High Priest, and his ability to deal with all our problems of sin, ignorance, and wandering away from God. As weak sinners, we need an ideal High Priest as well as an ideal victim to be our substitute. We need a perfect mediator who is both perfect God and perfect man to reconcile weak and sinful people to a holy God.
We have such an ideal High Priest in Jesus Christ, in whom we have eternal salvation. All our weaknesses are due to our sin. Through Adam we all became sinners and practice sin daily. For this reason, God must pour out his wrath against us. Only Jesus Christ, our ideal High Priest, can save such hell-bound sinners from the wrath to come.
We cannot save ourselves; by God’s grace alone are we saved. God instituted a sacrificial system and the Aaronic Priesthood for sinners in the Old Testament, which pointed to Jesus Christ. He is a Priest after the order of Melchizedek, a universal and eternal Priesthood. This essay with textual evidence will identify all the characteristics of Jesus as the ideal High Priest namely: a permanent High Priest, a Human High Priest, A Sympathizing High Priest, A High Priest Ordained by God on oath, A Suffering High Priest, A Perfect High Priest, The Savior of All Who Obey Him,
His Priesthood Is Permanent
“Furthermore, the former Priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7: 23-25)
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews discovered a citation which until then had gone unnoticed: Psalm 110(109):4 (cf: 7: 15-17) “You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” This means that not only does Jesus fulfill the Davidic promise, the expectation of the true king of Israel and of the world, but also makes the promise of a real priest come true. In a part of the Old Testament and especially in Qumran there are two separate lines of expectation: of a king and of a priest. In discovering this verse, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews realized that the two promises are united in Christ: Christ is the true King, the Son of God in accordance with Psalm 2:7, from which he quotes but he is also the true priest.
A Human High Priest
First, we are told that Christ is human: “Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God” (v. 1). As humans, we need a human Priest, not an angel, to redeem us. Additionally, there is no plan of salvation for fallen angels: “Surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants” (Heb. 2:16). Jesus our human High Priest is able to sympathize with ignorant and wandering sinners. Hebrews 2:17-18: “Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people for, because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted. He was human and he was chosen (Acts 5:1). The Priest must be a man, human in all senses. That is, he must live true humanity, true humanism; he must be educated, have a human formation, human virtues; he must develop his intelligence, his will, his sentiments, his affection; he must be a true man, a man according to the will of the creator, of the Redeemer. Again, “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.” (Hebrews 5:7). This is not only in reference to the hour of anguish on the Mount of Olives, but at the Tomb of Lazarus because he was deeply moved by the terror and mystery of death that wounds love and destroys relationships. Jesus is put to the test and he confronts this mystery in the very depths of his soul; in the sorrow that is his death and weeps. He weeps before Jerusalem, seeing the destruction of the beautiful city because of disobedience.
A Sympathizing High Priest
Jesus is a sympathizing high priest. Every Aaronic high priest was himself a sinner: “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness” (Heb. 5:2). “Beset with weakness” is a better translation. Exodus 32:21 speaks about the sin of Aaron, and Zechariah 3:1-6 describes how God removed the sin of the high priest Joshua.
Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would first offer a bullock for his own sins and then sacrifice a goat for the sins of the people (cf. Lev. 16). The high priest would have to enter the Holy of Holies twice to sprinkle the blood of these sin offerings upon the mercy seat.
Because he himself was a sinner, he was able to deal gently with those who were ignorant and erring from the way of the Lord.
A High Priest Ordained by God on oath
His priesthood was based on an oath (Hebrews 7: 21) It was a great honor to be a high priest of Israel and mediate between God and man. Hebrews 5:4 says, “No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God.” A high priest was ordained to his office by God himself.
God will not put up with those who take the honor of ministry upon themselves. Like Aaron and his descendants, Jesus Christ was a human high priest so that he could help humans like us: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free us from the devil and from death” (Heb. 2:14). But unlike the Aaronic priests, Jesus Christ was sinless: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Though he was tempted he never yielded, but overcame temptation. So we read, “Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Heb. 7:26-27).
However, a sinful priest needs to make atonement for himself before he can sacrifice for others. A sinful priest cannot save anyone, for he himself needs a Savior. We needed a perfect, sinless high priest, and we have one in Jesus Christ. Yes, he was tempted in every way just like us, but he never yielded to temptation. He was victorious over every temptation. So he is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses and help us in our time of temptation. He will make a way out for us along with the temptation.
We needed a mediator who was both God and man, one person in two natures, to reconcile us to God and to understand and represent us. That his atonement may have infinite efficacy, this mediator had to be God. Additionally, the blood of bulls and goats cannot save anyone (Heb. 10:4), so we also needed a perfect victim to be sacrificed as our substitute. We have such a perfect victim in Jesus Christ, the God-man. He did not offer an animal; he offered himself in our place.
Jesus did not take this honor upon himself, but was ordained and appointed by God. To make this point, the author quotes Psalm 2:7: “You are my Son; today I have become your Father” and Psalm 110:4: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:5). God the Father chose his eternal Son to be our eternal high priest. We already read that the Son is the king eternal (Heb. 1:13, Ps. 110:1), a descendant of David. But the writer to the Hebrews is the only person in the New Testament to bring out this idea that Christ is not only the king eternal, but also the high priest eternal.
In the history of Israel, priesthood and kingship were not combined in one person. In fact, the Qumran community of New Testament times expected two messiahs—a royal messiah of the Davidic line and a priestly messiah from the line of Aaron. They failed to realize that these two offices were united in Jesus Christ, who is eternal king and eternal high priest after the order of Melchizedek, which is an eternal and universal priesthood. Aaron only represented the Jewish people, but Jesus Christ represents all peoples, both Jew and Gentile.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us in chapter 1: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through him he also made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (vv. 1-3). Here we see one person fulfilling, not only two but, in fact, three offices—prophet, priest and king.
A Suffering High Priest
Next, we learn that Jesus is a suffering high priest. The purpose of the Son’s incarnation was to do what Adam failed to do as our representative head. Psalm 40:6-8 (quoted in Heb. 10:5-7), discloses this purpose: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, O God’” (italics added).
Jesus learned obedience in the school of suffering. In fact, he chose the way of suffering, learning what it was to obey when obeying meant suffering. Therefore his Father was pleased with him and said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!” With all his frailties in this fallen world, Christ fully obeyed the will of his Father.
“He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears” (Heb. 5:7). The specific reference is likely to Gethsemane, where Christ experienced the intense agony of hell even to the point of sweating blood (cf. Mark 14:34; Luke 22:44). Jesus was not asking God to save him from physical death; many people experienced the physical death of crucifixion. But he was greatly troubled because of the eternal death he was about to die for the sin of the world. He who knew no sin became the worst sinner as the sins of the world were put on him. He was about to suffer what the book of Revelation calls the second death, to be forsaken by his Father and cut off from his cherished communion with him. He was about to go hell, so he prayed with loud cries and tears. Jesus cried out with loud shouts and tears, and the Lord heard him and sent an angel to strengthen him. We know his prayer was heard because God raised him from the dead on the third day. Jesus fulfilled God’s will by actively obeying his Father in life and passively by his death on the cross. By his obedience, he accomplished redemption for us. He is the victim, the priest and the altar of sacrifice (Acts 7: 27-28).
A Perfect High Priest
Jesus is a perfect high priest after the order of Melchizedek. When Adam became a sinner, he plunged the whole world into sin. The Aaronic priesthood was imperfect because of the sin of the high priests. We needed a high priest who was perfect, who would perfectly obey the Father.
Jesus said always, “Not my will but thine be done,” in spite of any suffering he would experience. Through his perfect obedience, he became a perfect mediator as well as a perfect victim on our behalf. So he alone is completely qualified to be our high priest. Verse 8 says, “Son though he was. . . .” The author is emphasizing that Jesus is the eternal Son. The writer continues, “yet he learned obedience through suffering, and was made perfect” (author’s translation). Hebrews 2:10 says, “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.” There was no other way.
Jesus Christ did not move from disobedience to obedience like us, but moved from untested to tested and proven obedience. He did not move from imperfection to perfection, but from perfection to tested and proven perfection. He is our perfect high priest.
The Savior of All Who Obey Him
If Jesus saves us by grace, we will obey him throughout our lives: “And once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb. 5:9, italics added). “Obey” is in the present tense, meaning our obedience is continuous. To say we believe in Jesus and disobey him at the same time is anti-Christian. Yet we see this phenomenon especially in countries with material prosperity and political peace. If one habitually disobeys Jesus, we must conclude that Jesus did not save that person. He is making a false claim. All antinomians are antichrists.
What can we bring to offer as our gift to the God, except the sacrifice of his only son, Jesus Christ, the perfect and ideal sacrifice. We were ignorant and erring hell-bound people of weakness and sin. But “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes on him shall not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). It is pure grace that saves us and pure grace that enables us to love and obey God and walk in the straight and narrow way to the end. May God save his people today, that they may rejoice in their eternal salvation.