What a sight the high priest must have been in the bright sunlight of Palestine as he approached the tabernacle – white linen, blue robe – the gold on his turban and the chains and in the fabrics he wore, gleaming yellow in the sun – the gems on his shoulders and over his heart lit to their full colors – golden bells ringing musically with each step!
The image of the high priest is a sanctifying picture when seriously contemplated – and it surely has served as such for pious Jews over the ages. But it is also sadly true that one could don the high priestly vestments and appear outwardly qualified, but fall tragically short of the inner qualifications so necessary to effective ministry. It is these inner qualifications with which our text deals in verses 1-4 before it goes on to demonstrate in verses 5-10 how Christ, our great High Priest, meets and supersedes every qualification – proving he is the priest who will get the stressed-out little church through its stormy seas. As we consider this matter of priestly qualifications, we will do well to keep the image of the Aaronic high priest before us – because Jesus is the fulfillment of everything he symbolized. The writer opens this section by asserting in verses 1-4 the three essential qualifications for one who would aspire to be high priest – namely, solidarity, sympathy, and selection.
Solidarity, oneness with humanity, was fundamental to priestly ministry and is explicitly stated in verse 1. No angel, no celestial being, no deceased soul could function as high priest. He had to be a living human being – a mortal like everyone else. The reason of course, is that his primary function was representative – “to act on behalf of men in relation to God.” The solidarity factor was essential to effective priestly ministry, as it is today in pastoral ministry, and the universal requirement is, as it has always been, a real man with a real link to God and a real bond to man.
Sympathy; this anticipates the next quality for the human priesthood, which is sympathy or compassion (vv. 2-3). The ideal high priest had an inner disposition that enabled him to “deal gently with the ignorant and wayward.” As to why he could be so gently disposed, our text suggests that it is because of two inner awarenesses. First he was aware that he, though high priest, was a sinner for he had “to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people” (v. 3). The other awareness was that he was himself “beset with weakness” (v. 2b). He shared in the universal “community of weakness” of all mankind. This of course, has primary reference to moral weakness, but it also means human weakness generally (body, intellect, emotion).
Selection; the third and final qualification is straightforward – the high priestly position must spring from divine selection (v. 4). All Israel’s priests were to come only through divine appointment. Attempts to do otherwise met with catastrophic judgment. No genuine priest ever arrogated himself to the high priestly office. All were sovereignly chosen. Therefore, a proper priest was filled with deep humility. His work was never a career. It was a divine calling. How appealing this was to the Hebrew mind, and quite frankly to us! The ideal high priest was a man of incomparable attractiveness.
Could anything or anyone ever exceed this ideal in attractiveness of efficacy? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” – Jesus Christ! He too was a product of divine selection (vv. 5-6). Not only was Christ divinely chosen, but He was chosen for two offices – the ultimate royal office and the ultimate priestly office, as shown by two Old Testament Scriptures (Ps. 2:7; Ps. 110:4). So our author gives us a stupendous truth: Jesus is both eternal King and eternal Priest. And it all came to Him by the ordaining word of God the Father. Jesus did not seek it! Neither did Jesus clutch the office of king and high priest. His only goal was to glorify God the Father. Jesus’ priesthood is therefore; far superior to that of Aaron. Aaron’s was temporal, but Jesus is a priest of the same kind as Melchizedek. There was no succession of priests and hence no “order” from Melchizedek. Jesus’ priesthood is without ending or beginning!
Not only is Jesus superior as to His divine selection to be king and priest – He is also superior in His solidarity with His people (vv. 7-9). Here we see that the prime example of Jesus’ solidarity (His participating fully in the human condition) was His agony in the garden of Gethsemane where “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death” (v. 7). Jesus placed the exercise of His omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence under the direction of God the Father when He came to earth in the Incarnation. This explains His flashes of supernatural knowledge and power while on earth.
So authentic was Jesus’ solidarity with human kind that He “learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect… (vv. 8-9). This “does not mean Jesus passed from disobedience to obedience.” Nor does it mean that He developed from imperfection to perfection. The idea is that He became complete in His human experience. Now, in His completeness, His perfection, He is “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (v. 9). His solidarity with us means He can save us to the uttermost. Christ is our triumphant, eternal Savior. His superior selection as both King and Priest, coupled with His superior solidarity with us, makes Him far superior in sympathy to the high priest of old. Can anyone miss the message to the little church on the high seas? This was their High Priest and our High Priest in life’s uncertain seas today as well. Jesus persevered in submissive prayer in Gethsemane and was heard, and our prayers will be heard also if we persevere. May we avail ourselves of Him day by day!
Hebrews 5:1-10 Reflection Questions:
What was Jesus’ response to the high priest during His time here on earth?
Why is it important for us to know about this today in the twenty first century (see 1Pet. 2:9)?
What message have you received from this study?