Written by 12:18 pm Bible Studies, Hebrews • One Comment

High Priests | Hebrews 5:1-10

I ended the last article by saying this is the why of Christ’s priesthood. Now begins the lengthy discussion of the how. How is Jesus Christ our high priest? I say it’s lengthy because, although there will be a break in this discussion in the last half of chapter five and most of chapter six, the high priest discussion doesn’t cease until the end of chapter nine. In light of that, prepare yourself for some deeper content. Not mine, but the Bible’s. You don’t hear or see much of the content from here to chapter eight being quoted in social media memes or on calendars. For that matter, you don’t hear a lot of preaching about it either because we Gentile believers don’t have strong categories for high priests and Melchizedek and other such things. I hope that as we journey through these deeper waters, we can tread them together and find treasure. Let’s go.

1 For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3 Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
– Hebrews 5:1-4 (ESV)

Aaron Appointed

To be completely honest with you, I have spent a week trying to figure out where to go with this. I know where it ultimately goes, but if all Scripture is profitable for teaching and reproof, then I don’t want to just breeze through. Here’s where I’ve landed. The priests described here are Old Covenant priests, prescribed in the law of Moses. These men were selected by God. But the focus here narrows down to Aaron. For the Mosaic covenant, Aaron was the first high priest chosen to serve before the LORD for Israel. He and his descendants would have a monopoly on the priesthood. While the tribe of Levi, in general, was set apart as the priestly tribe, only Aaron and his descendants would be high priests (Exodus 28:1). So let’s ask the question: why Aaron?

If you track Aaron’s life through the Torah, he might be the last person you’d think the LORD would assign as high priest. If you recall, it was Aaron who made the golden calf and led the Israelites into idolatry!

1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
– Exodus 32:1 (ESV)

God knew this would happen. Yet, he chose Aaron. In fact, you could argue that He chose Aaron way before Aaron knew what God doing. Aaron wasn’t seeking an appointment to do anything. The LORD simply chose him.

14 Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart.
– Exodus 4:14 (ESV)

Moses was afraid because he was slow when he spoke. Some think that meant he stuttered. Regardless, at that moment, the LORD chose Aaron to be Moses’ spokesperson. So, why? Why not choose someone who would be a better leader? Why not choose a man who was closer to the LORD? Why not a more faithful man?

2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.

God doesn’t choose qualified people. He chooses people He can qualify. Friends, we must rid ourselves of this notion that to serve we must have our ducks in a row. Aaron committed one of the biggest failures of his life after he was appointed high priest. Did the LORD remove him from his position? Did God pick a different family to be the line of high priests? Not at all. He knew what He was getting when He appointed Aaron. He knew what kind of priests Aaron’s descendants would be. God designed this whole priest thing to be beset with weakness so that when the weak need ministry, they can help. This is one of the primary reasons the LORD had to become human. The Son of Man had to experience and, therefore, relate to human weakness. So let me make this practical for us.

Weakness is gain. If you never admit weakness, you’re losing. If you don’t see your weaknesses, you’re blind. If you hide your weaknesses, you’re fearful. The high priest periodically had to make sacrifices for his own sins just like he did for everyone else. Whether or not he addressed them out loud, there would come a day of public acknowledgment that he too was a sinner beset with weaknesses just like everyone else. And guess what. If he failed to deal with his own sins, he disqualified himself from serving as a high priest. Likewise, for us, the way up is down. We will never get anywhere in our spiritual lives if we bury, hide, or fail to acknowledge our beset weaknesses.

Jesus Appointed

5 So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”;
6 as he says also in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
after the order of Melchizedek.”
-Hebrews 5:5-6 (ESV)

In some ways we’ve already dipped in and out of this subject a few times. In the very first article of this study we began looking into Christ’s humility. Then again when we studied Hebrews 2:5-18. The author brought it up again. Christ did not exalt himself to be made high priest, but was appointed. He waited for the Father’s appointment. He didn’t presume to take the role for Himself, even though He was God. The author again quoted Psalm 2:7 and combined it with Psalm 110:4 to provide support for his claim.

Before I get to Melchizedek, there’s a principle at work here that every believer would do well to recognize. Christ waited for His appointment. We would do well to do as He did. The line between healthy aspiration and selfish-ambition can get hazy. Some people see every ministry position they obtain as a stepping stone to something bigger. They pursue advancement. They exalt themselves and grasp at promotion. Often, they end up crashing. It’s not always a moral failure, though sometimes it is. Many times they hit a ministry ceiling of sorts. Maybe they didn’t know the right people or live in the right area. Or perhaps they went as far as their personality, skill, and education could take them. Whatever the reason, they cannot or do not move upward because they’ve hit their ceiling. Then from boredom, they leave the ministry and find a different ladder to climb where they can advance upward.

Contrast that with those who wait upon the LORD. They wait for His appointment. They wait for Him to advance. They wait for Him to move. There is a verse about this.

31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
– Isaiah 40:31

Note it doesn’t say those who plan their next move shall renew their strength. Renewal is in the waiting, not the moving. Waiting on the LORD gives us strength for what is in front of us. I’m convinced that many ministers who serve in one place for decades learned the secret of waiting on the LORD and renewed their strength daily to keep serving until He determined the next move.

Why Melchizedek?

One hurdle that exists for Christ’s priesthood is that He is from the tribe of Judah. God established the tribe of Levi as the priests, not Judah.

8 At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD to stand before the LORD to minister to him and to bless in his name, to this day. 9 Therefore Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers. The LORD is his inheritance, as the LORD your God said to him.)
– Deuteronomy 10:8-9 (ESV)

Notice, the LORD set Levi apart. They did not choose their priesthood, but the LORD appointed them. In the case of Jesus, the LORD appointed Him as high priest, but to get around the whole Levite matter, He sourced a different lineage: Melchizedek. Who is Melchizedek? He’s mentioned briefly and only twice in the Old Testament, one of those in Psalm 110:4 which the author quoted. All other references are in this letter to the Hebrews.

17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
-Genesis 14:17-20 (ESV)

Melchizedek’s mention in Genesis is almost forgettable. Yet, he’s noteworthy for a few reasons. First, he is the evidence that the LORD had human priests prior to the Law of Moses.  Second, Abraham gave him a tenth of everything, evidence that the concept of a tithe also predated the Law and showing that Abram recognized him as the LORD’s priest. Third, he was both king and priest of Salem. Salem is an early name for the city of Jerusalem. Salem means peaceful or peace. Melchizedek was both the king and priest of peace. Some have concluded that the combination of these things means that Melchizedek was indeed a pre-incarnate Christ. This view is reinforced by Hebrews 7:3, which we will look at closely when we get there. Personally, I am undecided on this matter. Maybe I’ll get more decided when we look at it more deeply later.

I said all of that to say this. The LORD declares Melchizedek the lineage of Christ’s priesthood, eliminating the need for Him to be a descendant of Aaron. Like Melchizedek, Christ is both king and high priest. Interestingly, you get a glimpse of the transition to king-priest with King David. Look at what David did.

12 And it was told King David, “The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing. 13 And when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. 14 And David danced before the LORD with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting and with the sound of the horn.
– 2 Samuel 6:12-15 (ESV)

Two things. First, David was making sacrifices. Some argue that it wasn’t actually David making the sacrifices but rather that he was ordering them. That’s possible. But then, second, he’s wearing a linen ephod. The linen ephod was a simple garment worn by the priests. Even if David himself wasn’t making the sacrifices, he was dressing himself in a garment commonly worn by priests. Personally, I believe David was doing more than just ordering the sacrifices. The king was performing priestly duties as they entered… Jerusalem, the city of David.

It all seems to tie together nicely. Melchizedek, king and priest of Salem, David, king of Jerusalem doing priestly things, and Jesus, a descendant of David, King of kings, declared a priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Christ’s Priestly Work

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
– Hebrews 5:7-10 (ESV)

Because I covered this matter previously, I won’t rehash how Christ was perfected through his suffering in this article. As I close this article, let’s zoom in on His priestly work. His intercessory work began in the days of His flesh. I love how the author highlighted the emotional nature of Christ’s intercession. Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears. While this certainly has the garden of Gethsemane in mind, the author has the larger scope of Christ’s entire ministry. Jesus did not have a boring prayer life! While I agree that the volume of our prayers isn’t the point, it is good to know that Christ’s prayers had a direct connection with His feelings. He didn’t just pray rote, boring, dispassionate prayers. He prayed in the Spirit! He prayed from His heart! He poured Himself out in intercession for others!

His priestly work is directly connected to the LORD’s heart for us. He loves us. The Father loves us. If we love Jesus, they make their home with us through the Holy Spirit, and Jesus will manifest Himself to us. His prayers for us continue, and I would say they are still loud and full of passion.

One last thing. He was heard because of His reverence. I find that interesting. It wasn’t because He is the Son of God. It was because He revered His Father. What does reverence mean? Reverence means to give honor. Christ honored the Father through His obedience, of which verses 8-9 speak. His reverence inclined the Father to hear Him. Look, I don’t know how that works when you’re in a co-equal, co-eternal, co-powerful Trinity, but I don’t think the trinitarian mechanics is the point. The point is relationship. The father-son relationship at work between Jesus and the Father is beautiful. The Father’s love for us is manifested to us through Christ. Christ’s love for the Father manifested in obedience to His plan for redemption. The Father loves the Son and raises Him from the dead so that we can receive the Father’s love by faith in Son. The Holy Spirit fills us and serves as the divine Person who transforms us, grants us access to the Father through Christ, and works out the intercessions of Christ for us.

I am blown away by the relational aspects of the whole thing every time I consider it. It’s a divine tapestry of love, mutual submission, reverence, and glory. And Jesus welcomes us into this divine love triangle.

1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
– 1 John 3:1 (ESV)

We have much more to look at concerning Jesus, our high priest. It will be exciting!

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Last modified: July 5, 2023