“Christ did not confer upon Himself the honor of being a high priest, but God declared to Him, ‘You are my Son: this day have I begotten you.’ In another passage He adds, ‘You have been chosen as an eternal minister in the priesthood of Melchizedek.’ Jesus during His earthly life, having offered up prayers and entreaties with earnest grief and tears to the only One who could save Him from death, was heard because of His reverent submission. Although He was God’s Son, He learned obedience from the sufferings He endured, and when He became fully qualified through these experiences, He became the author of eternal salvation for all who obey Him, having been designated as God’s High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.” (paraphrased)
The writer affirms a priesthood is absolutely essential for man to be reconciled to God. The next six verses verify Jesus perfectly fulfilled all the qualifications for high-priestly ministry. We are informed of His Sonship (v. 5), priesthood (v. 6), prayers (v. 7), obedience (v. 8), eternal salvation (v. 9), and calling (v. 10). Levitical priests mediated between God and man. Although these men were limited by human deficiencies, God promised a perfect Priest would inevitably arrive (I Sam.2:35).
Like Aaronic priests, Christ did not presumptuously assume His own priesthood (5:4). He undertook only tasks mandated by God (Jn. 8:29 & 50). The Father honored Jesus at His baptism by stating, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Mt. 3:17). God reaffirmed this by repeating these words on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt. 17:5). The divine nature of the Son guarantees the effectiveness of His high-priestly ministry.
Jesus was not qualified to be a Levitical priest, for He was from the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5). His was a unique priesthood based on Sonship, not heredity or tribal affinity. Christ did not attain His position through a Levitical father, but through His Heavenly Father. God planned for the temporary Aaronic priesthood to be replaced by the permanent ministry of Christ. This is validated by a quote from Psalm 2:7. As a further verification of Jesus’ high-priestly office, the writer quotes Psalm 110:4. Taken together, these two quotations confirm both His Sonship and His role as our eternal Mediator.
The writer reminds his readers a greater priesthood has already been established. A priesthood superior to the Levitical system existed hundreds of years prior to Aaron’s birth: the Melchizedekian. The phrase the order of (Melchizedek) indicates rank or position. This initial mention of Melchizedek is like a flash of light, illuminating the writer’s argument. Only in the cases of Melchizedek and Christ are the functions of kingship and priesthood combined. Jewish kings were not priests and priests were not kings. Kings did not offer sacrifices and priests did not rule. The Messianic prophecy, “He shall be a priest upon His throne,” excludes all Aaronic priests (Zech. 6:13). To prove the superiority of Christ over Judaism, the author proceeds to show how and why His priesthood supersedes any other.
“In days of His flesh” refers to His thirty-three years of mortal life. Jesus was preeminently the “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). From His incarnation to His ascension, He was exposed to hunger, weariness, pain, and trials.
Twenty-nine times the word “offering” is used in the book of Hebrews. In every case, it refers to sacrificial victims. In Gethsemane, we see the Son of God agonizing in final preparation for His high-priestly work. Jesus had a keen sense of the wrath of God against sin that would be imputed to Him. His garden prayers were His inaugural priestly offerings. Jesus prayed in an agony (agonia), a word found only in Luke 22:44. The term suggests severe emotional strain, struggle and conflict, which grows in intensity. His anguish was so severe, blood came out through the pores of His skin. Sweating blood is a phenomenon that occurs very rarely and only when a person is under tremendous stress. That night in the garden, our High Priest had already begun to offer His own sacrificial blood. Sin offerings involve bloodshed—and Jesus sweat blood.
Thrice is it recorded that Jesus wept. He cried at Lazarus’ tomb, over the sins of Jerusalem, and in Gethsemane (Jn. 11:35; Lk. 19:41; 22:44). The phrase “strong crying” refers to the intensity of a voice elevated by suffering. Being in agony, “He prayed more earnestly” (Mt. 27:46). “Strong crying” points to cries wrung from a person undergoing acute distress. His unrestrained tears picture one in earnest intercession, in inexpressible anxiety, and facing imminent danger. The phrase indicates humble, yet loud pleadings. His were passionate lamentations and entreaties uttered with strong emotion. He entered into sufferings no one could experience except the Son of God. His agony was so physically decimating an angel was sent to strengthen Him (Lk. 22:43).
His pleadings in the garden prove His willingness to obey. Jesus’ prayer for deliverance contained an “if” clause. “If possible, take this cup of suffering from Me” (Mk. 14:36). “If this cup will not pass from me except I drink it, thy will be done” (Mt. 26:42). He informed His disciples He could call for more than 72,000 angels to rescue Him (Mt. 26:53). He surrendered His back to those who whipped Him and did not hide His face from shame, spit, brutality, slander, and ingratitude (Isa. 50:6). He obediently endured all His suffering until He could say, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30).
He did not pray to be delivered from the cross, for Jesus was not afraid to die. “What shall I pray to the Father, ‘Save me from this hour?’ No: it was for this hour I came into the world” (Jn. 12:23). When we are faced with some horrific trial, we can take solace in the fact the Son of God did not seek a way to avoid His cross.
Knowing the cross involved the curse for sin, Jesus temporarily recoiled in anticipation of the intense, hellish ordeal that awaited Him (Gal. 3:13). The tender and compassionate nature of the Son of God was repulsed by such close association with sin and its consequences. But He did not pray to be saved from the cross, but to be saved out of death via the resurrection. He commended His spirit into His Father’s hands, knowing He would live again (Lk. 23:46). He pled for empowerment and endurance concerning His assignment. Obedience demanded He follow the Father’s plan for our redemption. Jesus knew only His resurrection could make His priesthood effectual. He was confident of the ultimate triumph over death and the joy that would follow (Heb. 12:2).
The Father always heard the prayers of His Son (Jn. 11:42). “Fear” (eulabeia) does not mean the absence of courage, but godly respect and reverential submission. This is reminiscent of Paul’s prayer for the removal of his thorn in the flesh (II Cor. 12:7). It is natural to pray to avoid a severe trial or testing, but God often answers by giving us the grace to endure it.
Jesus’ Sonship did not exempt Him from the educative process of suffering. The Father provided special training in submission, tailored specifically for Him. Christ subsequently set before us the ideal standard for obedience, regardless of the cost.
The concept of “learning” here can be misleading. Christ did not “learn” to obey as humans do, but He had not experienced misery until He came to live on earth. He learned the full cost of obedience by becoming personally involved in human suffering. Obedience is best understood through self-renunciation and self-discipline. Through this process, the Lord was instructed for the specific purpose of becoming the Author of eternal salvation. He understood experientially what it means to obey, thus completing His priestly qualifications.
However, Jesus did not obey because He feared the consequences of disobedience. From the beginning of His ministry, Jesus determinately “set His face to go to Jerusalem” to die for our sins (Lk. 9:51). He voluntarily underwent unimaginable humiliation and shame in order to save fallen humanity. Jesus did not shoulder His cross ignorantly or reluctantly. Having learned the cost of obedience, He proceeded to pay the price to redeem the disobedient.
His life was the most amazing model of unquestioning obedience and submission this world will ever witness. The Father’s will, not His own, always determined His choices. Through His sufferings He has secured the confidence of Believers, for we tend to confide in those who have endured challenging situations. Submission is best learned through affliction. Had Christ not suffered, it would be difficult to believe He could relate to our struggles to obey God. He who learned obedience demands it of us. Believers can only mature by following His example.
The book of Hebrews lays great emphasis on the instructive purpose of the sufferings which Christ endured. Jesus was perfected – but not in the sense of improving Himself. “Made perfect” does not denote a change in personality, but the completion of His high-priestly qualifications required by God. The Romans who beat Him, the Sadducees who condemned Him, the disciple who betrayed Him, and those who spit in His face all played a part in the process of perfecting Christ for His redemptive work.
Jesus followed the path of obedience which led Him to Calvary (Phil. 2:8). The word “perfect” (teleioun) means to fully consecrate; to bring something to perfection; to make it ready for the task for which it was designed; to finish a process, or arrive at a goal. Because Christ’s preparation was complete, He achieved the purpose of His sufferings. Intercession is the school Christ attended (v. 7), obedience was the lesson He learned (v. 8), and perfection was the result of His education (v. 9).
Atonement made by Aaronic priests was effectual for only one year (Lev. 16:34). Christ’s priesthood offered eternal salvation, as contrasted with the temporal forgiveness provided through the Levitical system. He was “declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). “Eternal” is aionios and carries the same meaning as “everlasting.” Due to the timeless nature of His covenant (13:20), we enjoy eternal salvation (5:9), eternal redemption (9:12), and a perpetual inheritance (9:15). “Became” indicates a change that follows the process of perfecting. Through ignominy and reproach, Jesus became the Author of salvation for the entire human race.
“To those who obey Him” is a qualifying clause. “Obey” means to listen and then follow the instructions given. Jesus asks, “Why do you call me Lord, but do not do what I say?” “If a man love Me, He will keep My words” (Lk. 6:46 & Jn. 14:23). Only by obedience can we prove true allegiance to Christ.
This verse serves as the transition into the third warning of the book (5:11-6:20) which deals with the necessity of spiritual maturation. Christ’s perfection is evidenced by becoming the source of salvation (v. 9). He was appointed by God as a high priest, as was Melchizedek (v. 10). Jesus was qualified for His priesthood by His consistent obedient submission to His Father’s will. The word “called” means “to ordain or appoint.” “After the order of Melchizedek” means “after the manner or resemblance of.” The writer again briefly mentions this mysterious high priesthood – a subject he fully develops in chapter seven.
QUESTIONS: CHRIST – GOD’S APPOINTED HIGH PRIEST
1. According to the prophecy in I Samuel 2:35, what word is used to describe the Messianic Priest?
2. According to Matthew 3:17 and 17:5, what words are used to describe the Father’s attitude toward His Son?
3. Jesus was from which of the following tribes?
4. What Psalm is quoted in Hebrews 5:5?
5. What Psalm is quoted in Hebrews 5:6?
6. The phrase “He shall be a priest upon His throne” is found in:
7. The word “agony” (agonia) is found how many times in the Bible?
8. List the three occasions Jesus is known to have wept.
9. According to John 14:23, if someone truly loves Jesus, what will he/she do?
10. What are the last words of Matthew 26:42 that could be regarded at Jesus’ “motto?”
11. Write a statement concerning the importance and the cost of doing the will of God.