Hebrews 5:1–10 . . .
“Aaron and Melchizedek”
We'll see in today's ten-verse passage how the author's comparison of Jesus to Aaron follows his previous comparison of Jesus to Moses (3:2–5). Moses and Aaron performed leading roles by guiding the wilderness people forward toward Father God's promised land. Remember: In these Christ-specific comparisons, the author demonstrates that Jesus gets the job done better than anyone else because he's God and he can’t fail us. After all, since God’s very nature is perfect, we shouldn’t expect Lord Jesus to give in to temptation and sin. Instead he becomes our perfect and High Priest.
From this epistle's outset, after comparing Christ’s person to angels and Moses, the author begins his comparison of Christ to the priests who mediated the Law. Christ is our Great High Priest who performs superior intercession to the priests of the old covenant. This claim is supported as follows: (1) Jesus is a superior high priest because of his position in heaven; other priests worked in the temple, but Christ went directly into God's presence (4:14); (2) he's a greater high priest because he became a man who could sympathize with their weaknesses and understand their struggles so he could intercede for them (4:15); but unlike other priests, who had to offer sacrifices for their own sins (5:3), Jesus didn't; (3) he was appointed by God, as Aaron was (5:4), but his appointment was superior to Aaron's because he was appointed after the order of Melchizedek (5:6, 10).
In today's passage, high priests are clearly featured as being most compassionate. Aside from the responsibility to choose, cut, and prepare meat for approved animal sacrifices, every high priest also felt compassion for the unschooled who were oblivious to their sinful ways. With compassion, he'd minister the atoning sacrifices for his people with a loving heart because he understood that he too was subject to weakness.
The Requirements of an Empathetic High Priest (5:1–4)
So, what does it mean for Jesus to become our High Priest? This chapter begins with four verses that lay a foundation for the Aaronic priesthood.
5 1Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. 3This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. 4And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was (5:1–4).
In effect, a high priest was chosen from men to offer sacrifices for their sins (v. 1); being a sinful man, the earthy priest could identify with fellow sinners (v. 2); as a sinner, he's qualified to offer sacrifices for himself, as well as the people Israel (v. 3); and, as God called Aaron to become a high priest, so God selected his Son to be the honorable high priest for them and us today.
Incidentally, v. 2's word "weakness" in Greek is the word astheneo, which describes a person who feels the emotions related to being weak, distressed, unsettled, or needy. It's the same word used to describe the empathetic Christ in 4:15, whose experiences as a human enable him to identify with and appreciate our struggles, so he can mediate their most effective remedy (4:16). To presume that God’s Son required no education and became a ready-made Messiah is to miss the author’s point. The Son became one of us; like us, his suffering and temptations schooled him; he learned to obey his Father’s will (5:8) the same way we learn to obey God through the school of hard knocks.
What exactly is a lead priest, chief priest, or high priest? No matter the title, a high priest had to be able to identify with his congregation in a way that appropriately represented its members while interpreting their collective needs before God. These were the priest’s more public religious duties. But every high priest was also to have been an effective pastor who had the capability to personally guide those who'd become misled while teaching the ignorant (v. 2). The author then added this extraordinary caveat: The high priest can be that pastor only because he shares the same human "weakness" with every congregation member.
During Israel's ancient times, the high priest and all subordinate priests had to be selected from Aaron's family. Like us, he was just a man, but he played a special role in a Hebrew’s religion: He was to act honorably as God’s agent in behalf of men and women. Once a year only, he'd walk into the most holy part of the tabernacle or temple to meet with God in behalf of the people. Wearing prescribed clothing, he was to follow strict rules that God had assigned to Aaron while in the desert. He was to present appropriate gifts and sacrifices to God (v. 1) who'd then pardon the people for what they'd done wrong that year.
The high priest was a man just like other men. Being human, he was weak and had to confess his own sins, as well as the sins of others. He'd know peoples' feelings and needs. His attitude toward them had to be balanced. He was to be gentle to the naive, yet strict to those who knew they'd done wrong (v. 2). David Guzik writes this about the compassion felt and shown by high priests: "God made specific commands to help the high priest minister with compassion. On his breastplate were set twelve stones engraved with the names of the tribes of Israel; on the shoulder straps were stones engraved with the tribes' names. In this, the people were always on the heart and shoulders of the high priest (Exodus 28:4–30). The intent was to stir the compassion of the high priest."
A high priest not only offered sacrifices for sins as man's representative. Verse 2 tells us that he dealt gently with the ignorant and the misguided, since he himself also had weaknesses. The ignorant and erring were those falling into sin, which can be described as "sins of ignorance." Sacrifices were provided for such sins. But for the other class of sins, those done willfully and aimed against God's covenant, there was no acceptable sacrifice.
As a human, a high priest had man's frailties. This connects with last week's summary of 4:15, which referred to Christ: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin." So, Christ, being a man, had weaknesses: He got tired, hungry, experienced pain, etc. The high priest in v. 2 can deal gently, in a balanced way. He couldn't simply neglect one's sin or minimize it. As an earthly person, the high priest couldn't live a perfect life in God's view; he was likely to do wrong the way others had done, which is why he was required to first offer a sacrifice for himself, to receive his own pardon from God, before he could offer other peoples' sacrifices to God (v. 3).
It was a great honor to have been selected as a high priest. With it also came a great responsibility. No man had the ability, power, or right to take the high priest job for himself. He must be called by Father God, the only One who could choose or call a man to become his high priest. Father God appointed Aaron to be Israel's first high priest (Exod. 40:12). From then on, only Aaron's family members were eligible to be called high priest (v. 4). His family and their descendants became the priests and the high priest, those able to enter and serve in the tabernacle and temple itself and offer sacrifices to God.
Priesthood wasn't popularly elected; it was honorably chosen by God. The high priest in the Old Testament served by divine appointment. It was God who selected Aaron, his family, and his line to serve as high priest. No man outside of his family had the capability to become or appoint the high priest. Only Father God can make such a calling. And God made only Jesus our Mediator and High Priest today; Christ didn't appoint himself High Priest, it was the work of his and our Father.
Christ's Empathetic, Perfect Priesthood (vv. 5–10)
In the next six verses, Christ's appointment and high-priestly character fully correspond to what has just been said of his calling. Keep in mind that the author was interested in showing Jewish Christians that Jesus and the new covenant were superior to Moses and the old covenant.
5In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”
6And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” 7During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek (5:5–10).
God called his Son to the priesthood of Melchizedek (vv. 5–6), which preceded the order of Aaron's priesthood, so that Jesus might shroud himself in humanity’s weakness, learning the lessons of mortality and the human struggles of obeying Father God’s will. By doing so, the Son contributes to the triune God’s capacity to know us and love us with all of God’s heart, strength, soul, and mind. Moreover, for Lord Jesus to be an effective lead pastor of his multitude of congregations — so he could fully and empathetically understand why people become easily misled — he had to become a person like us so that we might become like him.
Starting in vv. 5 and 6, we're assured that Jesus didn't make himself High Priest. Just as Aaron submitted to God's calling, so did Christ. Within both quoted Scriptures that appear in these two verses, in the same way that Jesus was declared to be "my Son" (Psalm 2:7), which is something God never said to Aaron or Aaron’s descendants, he was also proclaimed Jesus to be "a priest forever" (Ps. 110:4). David Guzik adds this about Heb. 5:5–6: "It is easy to see why the priesthood of Jesus was difficult for early Jewish Christians to grasp. Jesus was not from the lineage of Aaron. He neither claimed nor practiced special ministry in the temple. He confronted the religious structure instead of joining it. In Jesus’ day, the priesthood became a corrupt institution. The office was gained through intrigue and politicking among corrupt leaders."
Having emphasized in v. 5 the relation of Christ's sonship, which made his appointment to be High Priest of men both natural and possible, the author quoted in v. 6 the passage describing his actual appointment (Ps. 110:4). We also see in v. 6 that God, the One who declared and appointed his Son to be the glorious High Priest also said, "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." So, the One who is Son is also the One who is high priest. He's is the priest of a new and superior order, the order of a unique person named Melchizedek.
Who was Melchizedek? Details about Melchizedek will soon unfold in chpt. 7, when the author tells us that Melchizedek means "king of righteousness" and that, as the"king of Salem," he was also "king of peace" (7:2). [Note: The Hebrew word salem means "peaceful" or "secure."] He'll also tell us that Melchizedek was "without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever" (7:3). And we'll see that Abram’s tithe to Melchizedek (7:4), as well as his blessing of Abram, suggest that he was superior to Abram. That's how the author of "Hebrews" interprets it, saying, "the lesser is blessed by the greater" (7:7).
We find more details about Melchizedek in Genesis 14. Abram, his nephew Lot, and his family resided in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. When those cities were conquered by kings, Lot and his family became captives. Abram marshaled his servants and the men of his household to rescue Lot; he defeated those kings and rescued Lot and his family. Returning home, Abram met with Melchizedek, king of Salem (referred to as "Jerusalem" in Ps. 76:2 TLB), who "then brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High" (Gen. 14:18). A most-unique person, Melchizedek was both a king and a high priest.
For all their similarities, there are blatant differences between Aaron and Jesus. Aaron sinned; Jesus didn't (4:15). Rather than offering a sin sacrifice to purify himself from sin’s contamination, as Aaron did (v. 3), Jesus offered a one-time sacrifice of worship to God in faithful devotion, while in the garden, prior to his crucifixion(v. 7). Jesus obeyed God rather than succumbing to temptation; he proceeded to his crucifixion to pay for the sins of mankind (v. 8). As a result, the author claims that he'd been "made perfect" and responsibly "became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him" (v. 9).
Looking at v. 9's "and, once made perfect," this states the result reached through the way described in vv. 7, 8. Points of contrast therein are: "to the one who could save him from death" (v. 7) with "the source of eternal salvation" v. 9; and "learned obedience" (v. 8) with "all who obey him" (v. 9). The words "once made perfect" therefore take up "learned obedience." This "perfection" refers mainly to that inward condition of the mind, which the Son had attained after taking on the features of his human experience, carrying in it the enduring lessons of his life with God in the flesh. Such divine perfection enabled Jesus to become the source and author of eternal salvation for those who obey God’s will.
But do you wonder at the author's phrase in v. 8: "Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered"? Wasn't Jesus — Father God's Son — always obedient?… It was in Gethsemane where Jesus learned what it felt to obey, when such obedience promised further pain. He did, however, add to his prayers, "yet not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42b). Thus, Jesus learned obedience when every fiber of his being longed to escape. He'd gladly obeyed the Father all his life. In Gethsemane it was excruciatingly hard for him to accept God's will. Nevertheless, even though he was the Son who loved to obey his Father, he learned obedience the hard way, through his personal experience.
In the Levitical system, there's a clear distinction made between the roles of a king and a priest. Remember what happened to Saul when he insisted on entering into the presence of the tabernacle, invading the priest's office, attempting to function as the high priest, thus showing his unfitness for his high office. As a result, he suffered devastating consequences. There's only one High Priest who provides that one-and-only access to God. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, the life. No one comes to the Father but by me" (John 14:6). As High Priest, Christ Jesus offered only one sacrifice for everyone's sins; that sacrifice would become the requisite sacrifice for all time.
Verses 9 and 10 take us to the cross. Having learned obedience in Gethsemane, Jesus was found to be perfectly qualified to then become both the sin offering for all people and the High Priest who offers it. This perfect sacrifice, offered by the perfect priest, entirely supersedes the Aaronic priesthood and is again designated by God as "in the order of Melchizedek" (v. 10). The phrase appears five times in "Hebrews" and becomes the subject of this epistle, from 5:6 to 7:28.
Finally, the author claims in v. 10 that Jesus perfects those superior, empathetic pastoral skills that enable him to become God's appointed, effective "high priest in the order of Melchizedek" for the people in the wilderness, moving toward God's promised land (v. 10). We disciples today also live in the wilderness and also need a Great High Priest.
Isn't it wonderful that God has made such provision for us believers? However, it's sad that many people continue to rebel against it, reject it, and fail to consider the dire consequence: "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God" (Heb. 10:26–27).
Let us go boldly and much more frequently to our High Priest — Jesus — who sits on the throne of grace, ready and able to help all who believe in him.
- Q. 1 Have you ever considered and declared Jesus to be your High Priest?
- Q. 2 What might prevent you from assigning that essential title to Jesus' name?