Pastor David B. Curtis


Christ, Our High Priest

Hebrews 5:1-10

Delivered 01/14/2001

Let me just remind you as we begin this morning that this book is addressed to a group of Jewish Christians who had begun to drift from the Christian faith. They had lost all awareness of the relevancy of their faith to the daily affairs of life. They had begun to drift into outward formal religious performance, but to lose the inner reality. Doubts were creeping into their hearts, and some of them were about to abandon their faith in Christ because of persecution and pressure. They felt it was not worthwhile; they were losing too much; and that it was possible, just possible, that they had been deceived and the message of Christ was not true after all. It is to these conditions that the book of Hebrews was written. The author encourages believers to hold fast:

Hebrews 10:23 (NKJV) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

This is the theme of Hebrews - "let us hold fast." The very heart of Hebrews is a solemn plea to believers to hold fast their confidence in Jesus Christ. It's a call to Christian maturity, to steadfastness and endurance in the midst of trials and persecution. This book is majestic in its presentation of Christ and tremendously practical for daily life. Never give up! Keep your mind focused upon Jesus Christ and hold fast the profession of your faith.

This morning we begin a new section of the book with chapter 5. It is an exposition of the High Priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. This new section runs from 5:1 thru 10:39.

If we start at 5:1 and work our way through to 10:39, and if we get the impression that the Holy Spirit intended us to get, the main thought that will grip us will be; I have a great High Priest who, when looked to, will provide all I need to live a life of godliness.

Many have too small an idea of our Lord's high priesthood. Jesus is not only the Savior of sinners, but He is also the interceding High Priest for the endurance of the saints. We would all collapse under suffering and trials if we did not have a high priest who constantly intercedes for us.

If you don't understand a term, it can't have much meaning to you. If I told you that Christ was our beryllium sphere, what would that mean to you? What would you have to know for it to have some meaning? You would have to know what a beryllium sphere was wouldn't you? If you saw the movie Galaxy Quest, you might remember that a beryllium sphere was used to power the space ship. Without it, the ship had no power. This is true of our life apart from Christ; he is our source of strength and endurance.

Do you know what a High Priest's function was? Unless you understand the ministry of a High Priest, you won't understand the significance of this passage. As we come to our High Priest, we find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:15-16 (NKJV) For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

What the reign of Christ does is enable saints to obey. It empowers them to successfully resist the flesh and walk in the Spirit. Provisions are granted from this throne of grace that make the child of God equal to the rigors of living by faith.

The Spirit is addressing people that had, or were on the verge of, lapsing back into a Law-system. They were no longer satisfied with living by faith, but sought a liturgical, or procedural religion. They were drawing back from God, and stood in danger of coming under the judgement of God. Thus, a most powerful proclamation of the Son of God is employed to awaken lethargic souls, strengthen those whose hands were weary, and bolster the confidence of weary warriors.

Thus far, Jesus has been declared as God's only Spokesman to humanity. It is affirmed that He is superior to angels and Moses, the lawgiver. The necessity of listening to Him is asserted. The announcement of a rest for men is even declared. Now, the Holy Spirit is going to affirm with great effectiveness that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, IS our High Priest.

The writer closed the previous chapter with the statement that we have a high priest in the person of Jesus. The Jew would immediately object, "Hold it right there! It takes certain rigid qualifications to be a priest. Not just anyone can take that title to himself."The writer anticipates this objection, and so, in 5:1-10 he affirms the full qualification of Christ as a High Priest.

The author makes two points about the general qualifications which any High Priest must satisfy:

1. A High Priest must be able to sympathize with those whom he represents.

2. He must be divinely appointed to his office.

5:1-4 give us the qualifications:

1. He must be able to sympathize with those whom he represents.

Hebrews 5:1 (NKJV) For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.

He tells us that a High Priest must be, "...taken from among men..." - only one who is himself man is fitted to serve as the representative of his fellow men before God. No angel, for example, would be capable of assuming this role, he is not subject to their temptations and has no experience of suffering.

He also must be, "Appointed" or ordained - he does not appoint himself. " things pertaining to God...." - under the Law. The exclusive work of the high priest concerned man's relationship to God. The High Priest dealt exclusively with matters in which God had to do with men. He presided over them in the name of God, declaring His will to them, and blessing them in God's stead (Num 16:46-48 18:1-3). He also dealt with matters in which men had to do with God. He appeared before God in their name, representing their persons, and offering their sacrifices to God (Ex 28:29; Lev 9:7).

His job is to offer " and sacrifices...." - a primary function of the high priest, as he represents his fellow men before God, is the offering of gifts and sacrifices. This is best understood here as a general description of the offerings over which the high priest officiated.

These offerings were, "...for sins...." - the high priest's office was concerned, above all, with the radical problem of human sinfulness and the need of the people for reconciliation with God.

Hebrews 5:2 (NKJV) He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness.

The word "compassion" is the Greek word metriopatheo, which means: "to be moderate or tender in judgement toward another's errors." it speaks of a state of feeling toward the ignorant and those going astray which is neither too severe or too tolerant.

A good example would be in relation to grief or danger. A person who is either too sympathetic or too apathetic cannot help someone in trouble. The one who is too sympathetic will himself be engulfed by the problem, becoming too grief stricken or too scared to be of help. On the other hand, the one who is apathetic possibly will not even recognize a problem someone else is having, and in any case, will not be concerned about helping. In the middle is the person metriopatheo describes. He can fully identify with the person having a problem without losing his perspective and judgement.

The high priest is to show compassion on "those who are ignorant and going astray" - this expression recalls that the Old Testament sacrificial system made provision for the restoration only of sins of ignorance or human frailty. Deliberate willful sin was not provided for:

Numbers 15:22-36 (NKJV) 'If you sin unintentionally, and do not observe all these commandments which the LORD has spoken to Moses; 23 'all that the LORD has commanded you by the hand of Moses, from the day the LORD gave commandment and onward throughout your generations; 24 'then it will be, if it is unintentionally committed, without the knowledge of the congregation, that the whole congregation shall offer one young bull as a burnt offering, as a sweet aroma to the LORD, with its grain offering and its drink offering, according to the ordinance, and one kid of the goats as a sin offering. 25 'So the priest shall make atonement for the whole congregation of the children of Israel, and it shall be forgiven them, for it was unintentional; they shall bring their offering, an offering made by fire to the LORD, and their sin offering before the LORD, for their unintended sin. 26 'It shall be forgiven the whole congregation of the children of Israel and the stranger who dwells among them, because all the people did it unintentionally. 27 'And if a person sins unintentionally, then he shall bring a female goat in its first year as a sin offering. 28 'So the priest shall make atonement for the person who sins unintentionally, when he sins unintentionally before the LORD, to make atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him. 29 'You shall have one law for him who sins unintentionally, for him who is native-born among the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwells among them. 30 'But the person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on the LORD, and he shall be cut off from among his people. 31 'Because he has despised the word of the LORD, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him.'" 32 Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. 33 And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. 34 They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him. 35 Then the LORD said to Moses, "The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp." 36 So, as the LORD commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died.

The Hebrew word for "unintentionally" is shagag. It means: "to stray, a mistake." The word "presumptuously" is from the Hebrew word yad, which means: "defiant or deliberate."

The high priest was to be compassionate toward those who unintentionally sinned, and not toward willful sin. The writer of Hebrews makes use of this concept in:

Hebrews 10:26-27 (NKJV) For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.

Our text in Hebrews 5:2 goes on to say, "since he himself is also subject to weakness" - the word "subject" is from the Greek word perikeimai, which means: "to lie all around; i.e. inclose, encircle, hamper." The high priest has infirmity, sinful tendencies, lying all around him, he is completely encircled by sin. The cause of the Old Testament priests compassion was his own moral weakness.

Hebrews 5:3 (NKJV) Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sins.

The word "required" speaks of an obligation that is a necessity imposed either by law or duty. Here it is a moral obligation. Under the Law, the high priest had to present an offering for himself before offering one for the people. He must sacrifice for himself as well as for the people. For the day of Atonement it was prescribed that the high priest present a bull for his own sin offering.

Leviticus 16:11 (NKJV) "And Aaron shall bring the bull of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house, and shall kill the bull as the sin offering which is for himself.

So, one qualification in a high priest is his ability to sympathize with the people he represents. Another is his being called by God to this service:

2. He must be divinely appointed to his office.

Hebrews 5:4 (NKJV) And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.

Men did not volunteer for the office of high priest! It was by Divine appointment only. Man's choice was not the basis for becoming a high priest. That was by God's choice. This is the plain declaration of Scripture. God will not allow just anyone to represent Him to the people, or the people to Him. The office is too important to be tainted by pride and politics, which inevitably encroach upon purely human enterprises. The only way to be made high priest is by divine appointment, and the appointment of Aaron sets the pattern. In fact, no other call to be high priest is recorded in Scripture.

The high priesthood was like a hereditary monarchy. To be high priest you had first to belong to the correct tribe, Levi; and then you had to be a member of the right family within that tribe and physically descended by the right line of decent from the original high priest, Aaron.

The Bible records the disaster that fell on those who took it upon themselves to perform high priestly duties:

1 Samuel 13:8-14 (NKJV) Then he waited seven days, according to the time set by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. 9 So Saul said, "Bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me." And he offered the burnt offering. 10 Now it happened, as soon as he had finished presenting the burnt offering, that Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might greet him. 11 And Samuel said, "What have you done?" And Saul said, "When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, 12 "then I said, 'The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the LORD.' Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering." 13 And Samuel said to Saul, "You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you. For now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 "But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you."

We see the same thing with Korah in Numbers 16 and with Uzziah in 2 Chronicles:

2 Chronicles 26:16-18 (NKJV) But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the LORD his God by entering the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. 17 So Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him were eighty priests of the LORD; valiant men. 18 And they withstood King Uzziah, and said to him, "It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed! You shall have no honor from the LORD God."
2 Chronicles 26:21 (NKJV) King Uzziah was a leper until the day of his death. He dwelt in an isolated house, because he was a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the LORD. Then Jotham his son was over the king's house, judging the people of the land.

This office was only for those who were divinely called.

Having made clear what is required in high priests, the author now shows that Christ has these qualifications. He presents them in reverse order: 1. His divine appointment, and 2. His ability to sympathize with his people. In verses 5 & 6 we see His official appointment to High Priest.

Hebrews 5:5-6 (NKJV) So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: "You are My Son, Today I have begotten You." 6 As He also says in another place: "You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek"

Christ didn't take the office without the divine call. The same one who declared Christ to be the King-Son, declared Him also to be a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. In uniting Psalm 2:7 and the text of Psalm 110:4, he joined the two great truths about Messiah which lie at the heart of this epistle. The declaration of Psalm 2 had proclaimed Him the Davidic heir whose destiny was to rule the nations. But Psalm 110 had also been earlier quoted to much the same effect:

Hebrews 1:13 (NKJV) But to which of the angels has He ever said: "Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool"?

Now a further statement is cited to show that the future Conqueror is also a Priest of a special order:

Psalms 110:1-4 (NKJV) The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool." 2 The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies! 3 Your people shall be volunteers In the day of Your power; In the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning, You have the dew of Your youth. 4 The LORD has sworn And will not relent, "You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek."

The Palmiest united in the Person of Christ the duel offices of Priest and King.

How could Jesus of the tribe of Judah be High Priest? God appointed him to that office as is clear from Psalm 110:4. He is a High Priest not after the order of Aaron, but of Melchizedek who represented a non-Jewish, a universal priesthood. The significance of the priestly order of Melchizedek is developed at length in chapter 7.

God announces the kingship and the priesthood of his Son. The epistle of Hebrews stands alone among the New Testament books in calling Christ "priest."

The second qualification, His ability to sympathize with his people, is now seen in verses 7-9:

Hebrews 5:7 (NKJV) who, in the days of His flesh, when He had 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,

We have already been assured that Jesus is faithful and merciful as His people's High Priest because He was made like His brothers in every respect (Hebrews 4:16-18). He sympathizes with His people's weaknesses, because He was exposed to all the tests and trials that they have to endure. Now these statements are elaborated.

"In the days of His flesh" - designate the period during which Jesus Christ walked the earth as a man. When the "Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

He "... offered up prayers...." - the word "prayers" here is deesis, which means: "special, definite requests." The word "supplications" is from the Greek hiketeria. This word is used only here in the New Testament. It points to a dependence upon God. He prayed "...with vehement cries and tears...." - that is he prayed in a situation of extreme anguish. Furthermore, they were addressed to him who was "able to save Him from death" which implies a situation in which he was facing the prospect of death.

The situation sounds like the garden of Gethsemane, but the cry from the cross as described in Psalm 22 fits the picture here:

Psalms 22:1-2 (NKJV) My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, And from the words of My groaning? 2 O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; And in the night season, and am not silent.

This was Christ's prayer as he hung dying on the cross. For 21 verses that anguished prayer goes on, but look at how it ends, save me!

Psalms 22:21 (NKJV) Save Me from the lion's mouth And from the horns of the wild oxen! You have answered Me.

Hebrews 5:7 says, "and was heard because of His godly fear". How was he heard?

Psalms 22:22 (NKJV) I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You.

He has emerged from suffering in triumph. His salvation consisted of resurrection and exaltation. Hebrews 5:7 says, "from death" - ek thanatou - which means: "out of death". "...and was heard because of His godly fear" - the word "fear" is eulabeia, which means: "watchfulness over ourselves, so as to avoid whatever might displease God."

The response of God was due to his piety. How vital is piety or righteousness to prayer? It was on account of His godly fear that His prayer was heard.

James 5:16 (NKJV) Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

The righteous man's prayer avails much with God.

Hebrews 5:8 (NKJV) though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.

This literally reads, "Son though he was" that is to say "Son of God though he was, even he learned by suffering." "...he learned..." - points not to intellectual, but to experiential learning. He "learned" it like you do, except to a greater degree - in the crucible of conflict! Obedience is learned in times of stress, when strong inclinations to disobey are felt by the soul. There in Gethsemane he learned how it feels to obey when such obedience only promises further pain. He can sympathize with us!

Luke 22:42 (NKJV) saying, "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done."
Luke 22:44 (NKJV) And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

Jesus Christ came to die, he repeatedly informed his disciples that a violent death awaited him. The cross was the fulfillment of his mission and he moved toward it with an inflexible determination.

The agony of Christ at Gethsemane was occasioned by something other and deeper than the fear of physical death. He was about to face the judgement of a holy God against sin. He was going to be separated from the fellowship of the Father.

Jesus learned obedience when every fiber of His being longed to escape. He had gladly been obedient to the Father all his life. In Gethsemane it was hard, excruciatingly hard, for him to accept God's will, just as it often seems hard for us to obey. Jesus, our High Priest, knows how hard it can be to obey.

The Christians to whom this letter was written were finding it hard to obey, it was causing them great suffering. Our author urges them to hang on, they have a high priest who understands and can help.

Hebrews 5:9 (NKJV) And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him,

The word "perfected" here is the Greek word teleioo. The fundamental idea in this word is the bringing of a person or thing to the goal fixed by God. The term points to His being fully prepared and qualified to be High Priest.

It is suffering that perfects our High Priest. Implicit here is the sympathetic capacity of our High Priest to understand the difficulty of obedience, particularly when it entails suffering. He is fully equipped to assist us along that difficult pathway.

Now, notice that He is "...the author of eternal salvation to all that obey Him."- the word "author" means: "source." Whatever is needed for them to realize their salvation, He provides, hence He is the source.

This verse has been used to try to prove that obedience is necessary for eternal life. If Paul is using "salvation" here as justification or eternal life, than works are a condition. This would be teaching "salvation" by works. Does this fit with the Analogy of faith? No, the Scripture teaches that eternal life is a gift of grace.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Romans 4:5 (NKJV) But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,

Justification/eternal life is a gift received by faith alone! You don't work for it.

A true understanding of Hebrews 5:9 must begin with a definition of "salvation." The majority of English readers see this word and automatically think - eternal life, salvation from hell. But the Greek verb sozo - save, and the noun soteria - salvation, have a wide range of possible meanings. They can be referring to physical healing, rescue from danger, spiritual deliverance of various kinds, and to preservation from final judgement and hell. We must determine its meaning from its usage in the context. And the context here is not "eternal life" but endurance, deliverance - Hebrews 4:14-16:

Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV) Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Because we have a high priest, hang on, don't give up.

The word "obey" is from the Greek word hupakouo, which comes from two words; hupo meaning: "under"; and akouo meaning: "to hear." It means: "to obey something you've heard." It speaks of submitting to something you've heard. For this reason, I do not think he is using the word "salvation" in the sense of justification.

The burden of Hebrews is not the rescuing of sinners from Hell but it is the endurance of the saints through trials and suffering.

The "salvation" spoken of here is explicitly contingent on obedience and indeed on an obedience modeled after that of Jesus who also suffered. It is thus closely related to the saying of the Lord in:

Mark 8:34-35 (NKJV) When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 35 "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.

Our High Priest has become the source of this kind of salvation/deliverance for those who are willing to live obediently. In describing Him this way, the author was chiefly thinking of all the resources that flow from Christ's priestly activities that make a Christian's life of obedience possible.

Hebrews 5:10 (NKJV) called by God as High Priest "according to the order of Melchizedek,"

The grand summation of this glorious section of Scripture is that Jesus, because of His qualifying life, has been designated as our High priest. He is not a temporary High Priest, or a mere figurehead. He is a "High Priest according (or after) the order of Melchizedek." That means his ministry in this capacity is unchanging, and thoroughly effective for the completion of the process.

Believer, listen, whatever your suffering the High Priest understands it, sympathizes, and makes available the mercy and grace which are needed to endure it successfully.

Hebrews 7:25 (NKJV) Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

Think of the difference that is seen in the Apostles once He entered into heaven. You do not see them vacillating, denying, or being compulsive any longer. And why not? Because they had a "great High Priest" in heaven seated upon a throne of grace. Likewise, the effectiveness of our faith is underwritten by Jesus in heaven - NOW. In view of that, let us persevere in trials and persecution.

The power of our High Priest's ministry is also seen in the life of present day saints who are suffering for their faith. Marita lived in Costa Rica in the mid 80's. She was a widow and a refugee from El Salvador. She was a small woman, in her 50's.

She had lived most of her life in El Salvador in the same village. Her husband had been a labor organizer, which at that time was difficult and dangerous work. One night soldiers came to her home and took her husband away. She and her young teenage daughter were raped and tied to trees in their front yard to bleed to death in the night. Her two sons were murdered in front of her while she watched on in helpless horror. Her daughter died in the night next to her.

The next morning neighbors came and found them in the trees and nursed Marita back to health. After a time, she returned to her home. After she had been home only a few days, she was wakened by a knock at the door before dawn. When she went to the door, she found only a small cardboard box on the door step. In it was being returned to her a piece of her husband. Every day, for weeks, the same thing happened. And every day she took the box and with her friends and her priest she buried it. She did not leave until the boxes stopped coming.

A visiting pastor asked her how she could possibly have endured such an experience. In answer to his question she said, "Of course at first I thought that I could not endure. The first few mornings that the boxes arrived, I was sick with hurt and fear and I threw up beside my bed. But after a few days, I found that I would wake before the knock and I would stand next to my bed and calmly wait. And when the knock came, I would walk slowly to the door. It was the most amazing thing. As I walked it was as if I could feel Jesus' arms around me, cradling my head against his wounded side. And every morning as I made that little journey from my bed to the door, I prayed, "Thank you Lord Jesus, for allowing me to share your cross with you.'"

Marita endured great suffering by coming to the throne of grace and finding strength and comfort from her High Priest, Jesus Christ. And so can you.

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