Here’s what we’ve read about Jesus as the High Priest in the previous chapters.
For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. (Hebrews 2:16-18)
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
God appointed a man to represent the people because He knew that they couldn’t relate to Him –He was invisible. How could they know if He was truly listening to them –or if He cared about their troubles? However, He knew they could relate to a man that they saw –one who walked the same paths they walked –suffered the same problems they suffered –encountered the same hunger, thirst, threats, quarrels, disappointments and frustrations that they did. For the people to feel fairly represented, they needed a person that knew them and that physically heard their complaints and pleas.
For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself. (Hebrews 5:1-3)
The high priest was appointed to show the people their need for dependence upon God’s mercy. Their ways were naturally leading to destruction. But God could change that destination –if the perfect life was offered in their place. Through Him they could “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
The high priest and his aides –the other priests– had to be Levites; specifically, they all had to be from Aaron’s clan. No one else was allowed to serve in those roles. Numbers chapter 16 tells the story about Korah. He was a Levite –one of Moses and Aaron’s cousins– who didn’t like them being in charge. He maintained that everyone was equally qualified for the task so he attempted a coup to take over the role of high priest and establish his own priesthood. Korah and two Reubenites, Dathan and Abiram, led 250 “upstanding community leaders” in the rebellion.
The next morning the Lord chose which priests would serve Him –Korah’s or Aaron’s. The ground split open and swallowed up the three rebellious leaders along with their families and belongings. Then fire came down on the 250 would-be priests, leaving only their smoldering remains and their bronze incense holders. The next day the whole assembly converged on Moses and Aaron –angry with them for causing the deaths of such good men. In the ensuing moments God struck the people with a plague. At Moses’ direction, Aaron prayed for intervention and the plague was stopped –but 14,700 had already died. God’s priests –those from Aaron’s clan– hammered the bronze censers into an overlay for the altar of incense as a constant reminder. Only God sets apart a priesthood. Only He determines how His message is conveyed.
And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You”; just as He says also in another passage, “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:4-6)
There were two qualifications for being a high priest. First, he had to be a man –someone like the people he represented. Second, he had to be from the right order –one authorized by God. The quote, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You”, comes from . It’s directly followed by “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek” from . In this Hebrews chapter five passage, God fused them together in His Son.
In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:7-10)
As to the first qualification, Psalm 2 says that Jesus would be born (“begotten”) –He would live as a man. And poignantly predicted that He would become familiar with life –especially the troubles– like of those He would represent. He would be vulnerable, unattractive, despised, rejected, disrespected and unjustly mistreated. He would be familiar with all of man’s sufferings. And this passage brings out His dread as the crucifixion approached. “He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death.” These all came to pass –and no one has experienced human troubles more fully.
The quote from Psalm 110 points to His meeting the second qualification. It says that He was chosen by God to be a priest forever –in a priesthood that was established long before Levi was born (what’s more Aaron). The implication is that although God chose Aaron’s priesthood (unlike Korah’s), Melchizedek’s priesthood is preeminent. Furthermore, the psalm says that the Son will reign forever over all creation.
Little is written about Melchizedek –he is only mentioned in three books of the Bible. The first is in Genesis 14 where Abraham acknowledged him as a priest of God and submissively gave him a tenth of the spoils after a battle. The next is in Psalm 110 –quoted above. The third is in this book of Hebrews. (We’re going to look more closely at him in chapter seven.)
God selected the Hebrew people to be His lamp (ambassadors) in the world –to show that the reward for trusting Him was a new life. Over time, the lamp grew dim and their rich relationship with God –through faith– digressed into little more than observing religious traditions. Then God sent His Son into the world to redeem and restore mankind.
Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)
These Hebrews heard God’s message of salvation many times and in many ways –it was only achievable through faith in the Son –their Messiah. We’ve read some of the same Old Testament prophecies that they heard –and there are hundreds more. They were told accounts by those that personally met Jesus. Yet, most of them, like the generations before, refused to accept Him. In that way, they also refused to become heirs of the promised eternal life.
This passage above compares them to infants that hadn’t grown up. Their lives were based on what was visible –traditions expressed through the Levitical Priesthood– like babes on milk. God’s desire for them was to become mature –to know what is truly valuable and truly worthless. He wanted them to trust Him.