The author of Hebrews is making the case that Jesus is a superior high priest to the Aaronic high priests in Judaism. He makes comparisons between the high priests in their religion with the kind of high priest Jesus is.
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. 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.” 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.
We were talking last time about verses 1-3 and saw their the high priest’s solidarity (that he was a man like them) and his sympathy (vv. 2-3, that he shared their weaknesses). We were discussing verses 2 and 3, showing that the Aaronic high priest had to offer sacrifices to pay for his own sins since he had sinned out of his weakness. This made him sympathetic so that he could “deal gently with the ignorant and wayward.”
F. F. Bruce suggests that the phrase “with the ignorant and wayward” should be taken as a hendiadyes, meaning “those who go astray through ignorance.”
It was for this type of person—the person who, because of moral weakness, has unintentionally wandered off the path of righteousness—that God had designed the Old Covenant sin offerings.
This is reflected in Numbers 15:28-29.
28 And the priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the person who makes a mistake, when he sins unintentionally, to make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven. 29 You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally, for him who is native among the people of Israel and for the stranger who sojourns among them.
The defiant sinner, however, blasphemes God and thus find no such provision. In all of the Old Testament there is absolutely no provision made for the unrepentant, deliberate, defiant law breaker. The following verses in Numbers 15 say…
30 But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person 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 utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.”
Likewise, the Psalmist says
12 Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. 13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
This is serious indeed.
Philip Hughes, in his commentary on Hebrews, reminds us that it was this kind of sin—open, defiant, high-handed sin which the readers of this epistle were in danger of committing. Thus, he passionately warns them.
Of course, God is still able to forgive, if He so chooses. Aaron himself, whose feeble yielding to the people’s demand for a visible symbol of deity is matched only by the ineptitude of his excuse to Moses:
So I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”
Wow, did you see that? I threw that gold jewelry into the fire and out came a golden calf. Amazing, isn’t it Moses?
In this case, Aaron was in no condition to make intercession for the people of God—to act in his priestly role—because of his rebellion; rather it was Moses who went into the presence of God and made atonement for their sin and procured their pardon (Exodus 32:11-14, 31ff).
Not only must the high priest be a man in solidarity with the people and not only must he sympathize with people who are weak, just like him, but he must also be selected by God.
The third and final qualification is straightforward—the high priestly position must spring from divine selection: “No one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was” (v. 4). All Israel’s priests were to come only through divine appointment (Exodus 28:1–3; cf. Leviticus 8:1ff.; Numbers 16:5; 20:23ff.; 25:10ff.).
In other words, the office of high priest is an office of immense dignity and you can’t just decide to have it. God has to call you to it like he called Aaron in the Old Testament.
The high priest served in that role only because he was “appointed” by God, not because of his own ambition or aspiration.
Attempts to do otherwise met with catastrophic judgment. Korah and his 250 followers were swallowed by the earth because they elevated themselves to the priestly office by burning unauthorized incense (Numbers 16:16–40). Saul lost his reign because he impatiently assumed Samuel’s priestly function (1 Samuel 13:8ff.). And Uzziah, wrongly utilizing a priestly censer, broke out with leprosy that lasted until his dying day (2 Chronicles 26:16–21).
It is possible that the writers of Hebrews is reminding them that in their own recent history—in the two centuries before Christ—the high priests had been appointed by political rulers and even in some cases by popular vote!
The High Priest was taken from the community of God’s people but was not chosen by God’s people. He was appointed by God for His people. Aaron did not say to himself one day, “I think that I shall go to priest school and obtain a degree in Priesthood and become a priest.” It did not even help that he had an “in” with his brother Moses. The only way that Aaron became a priest was because God chose him to be a priest.
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. The role of high priest derives from a divine rather than a human authority. God created the role of high priest, and any high priest thereafter must be called by God to be considered an authentic and authoritative representative of the people before God.
What an inviting picture the ideal human high priest was. He bore Israel on his shoulders and over his heart. He was crowned with holy intent for all—“Holy to the LORD.” He kept the bells ringing as he worked at intercession and atonement. He was in solidarity with his people—he was one of them. He was a real link between them and God. He was in such sympathy with them that he always could “deal gently” with them. He was the product of divine selection —free from ego and hubris. He was selected to serve. How appealing this was to the Hebrew mind, and quite frankly to us! The ideal high priest was a man of incomparable attractiveness.
When a human high priest completely fulfilled these principles, he was attractive to the Hebrew mind. Could anyone or anything ever exceed this ideal in attractiveness and efficacy? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”—Jesus Christ.
Our writer now turns from the universal principles that related to the Old Covenant high priesthood and applies them specifically to Jesus Christ. Just as Aaron was called by God (5:4), so Christ himself did not “take upon himself the glory” but was appointed to the position.
David Guzik points out:
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. Jesus 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.
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.”
The author establishes that Jesus Christ is our great high priest because first, He too was appointed by God.
The verb “exalt” or “glory” in verse 5 is used only here, but the cognate noun is sprinkled throughout Hebrews. We see Jesus as “the radiance of God’s glory” (1:3), “crowned with glory” (2:7, 9), “worthy of greater honor [glory] than Moses” (3:3), and the one to whom should be ascribed “glory for ever and ever” (13:21). In each instance the glory comes to Christ from another party or parties, he never seeks glory for himself. In fact, he takes the opposite path. He ”did not exalt himself” as we see in Philippians 2.
In 5:5-6 the author focuses on the glory bestowed by God the Father on the occasion of the son’s appointment to the high priesthood, finding evidence for that honor in Psalm 110:4.
The Son-who-was-King was also declared the Son-who-was-High-Priest, but not in the order of Aaron, rather in the order of Melchizedek.
Here the author quotes Psalm 2:7 (which he quoted before back in 1:5) and Psalm 110:4, two Psalms acknowledged by the Jews as Messianic. Psalm 2 declares him to be the “Son-who-was-King,” the heir of David whose destiny was to rule the nations (Psalm 2:8).
His royal office was prophesied in Psalm 2:7—“You are my Son; today I have begotten you” (cf. Hebrews 1:5), which in the mind of the writer of Hebrews refers to Christ’s enthronement as “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). This is an implicit statement that Jesus is eternal King!
Psalm 110 declares the Messiah to be the “Son-who-was-High-Priest.” He is a priest of a special order.
Here the author is likely refuting a Qumran interpretation in which the Messianic King and the Messianic Priest were two separate individuals—the king coming from the Davidic line and the priest from the Aaronic line.
Jesus’ priestly office was prophesied, says our writer, in Psalm 110:4—“You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” This was a bombshell statement to his hearers because, while Psalm 110:1 had been applied to Christ by others (and even in Hebrews 1:13), this is the first time Jesus was ever identified with the mysterious priesthood of Melchizedek! Not only that, but Psalm 110:4 now becomes the virtual theme-text of the heart of the letter to Hebrews (that text is quoted three times, in 5:6; 7:17, 21; and there are an additional eight allusions to it in chapters 5 and 6). It is especially important here to realize that Melchizedek, according to Genesis 14, was both king of Salem and priest of God Most High (Genesis 14:18; Hebrews 7:1).
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! Just as in eternity, he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6, 7), neither did he clutch the office of king and high priest. His only goal was to glorify God the Father.
So Christ has the dignity to be our High Priest and to become the source of eternal salvation. No one but the Son of God could do it. No other being in the universe has the dignity that was required to obtain an eternal salvation. It took an infinite dignity. No priest of Aaron’s line and no angel in heaven could do it. Only one could do it—the Son of God.
So the author is here using a rabbinic technique known as “verbal analogy,” coupling Psalm 2:7 and 110:4 by virtue of their common elements: Both psalms contain a pronouncement by God in the second person (“You are…”), thus making both of them statements from God the Father to His Son Jesus Christ. Linking his primary passage (Psalm 110:4) with Psalm 2:7 serves to infuse his priesthood with kingly authority from the beginning.
Melchizedek will be discussed in greater detail in Hebrews 7, but a brief introduction is important here.
Melchizedek is mentioned two times in the Old Testament (Genesis 14:18 and Psalm 110:4), that’s all. In Genesis he meets Abraham coming back from a military conquest and blesses him, and Abraham gives him tithes. The text simply says, “He was a priest of God Most High.” There is no information about his parents or his ethnic origin. He appears and disappears until a thousand years later in the time of David, who quotes God as saying that the Messiah is “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” And that’s it. Nothing more about Melchizedek until this writer mentions him here.
- He was a king-priest who lived at the time of Abraham, and whose ancestry is completely unknown.
- He was king of Salem (the ancient name for Jerusalem) and was a priest of the true God (Genesis 14:18).
- He lived many centuries before the Aaronic priesthood was established and his priesthood was never ending (Hebrews 7), unlike that of Aaron, which began in the days of Moses but ended in 70 A.D.
Melchizedek represented a “non-Jewish, universal priesthood” much like the role that Abraham played in relation to the covenant (B. F. Westcott).
The Melchizedekian priesthood was superior in two ways: First, Melchizedek was a king; Aaron was not. Second, his priesthood was perpetual; Aaron’s was temporary. The writer of Hebrews traced Jesus, from the tribe of Judah, not Levi, back to Melchizedek, a superior priest.
Thus, Jesus is a high priest of a better order than that of Aaron. He was appointed in this role by God. When did this happen? When the Son “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb. 1:3). This is affirmed in Acts 2:36.
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Melchizedek symbolizes in the Old Testament a priesthood different from the priesthood of Aaron and the tribe of Levi. Melchizedek became a kind of symbolic pointer to a priesthood with no beginning and no ending. That’s why Psalm 110 and Hebrews 5:6 stress the word “forever”—”You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Christ really is a High Priest, as Hebrews 7:3 says, “having neither beginning of days nor end of life.”
He did not act on His own initiative. His life was one of obedience to the Father.
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. (John 5:19)
“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 5:30)
The authority that Jesus acted upon was not His own authority. The miracles which He brought about were not by His own power. The message which He preached was not independently His own. Everything that He did was from a higher authority. Everything that He did was from the Father and the Spirit. When He was baptized by John, He did not say, “Look everyone, I’m the Son of God!” Instead, it was the Father’s voice from heaven who made this announcement. Jesus ALWAYS acted from the authority of God.
Jesus was not a rebel, usurping authority by himself or for himself. He was always submissive to the Father and to proper authorities on earth. And this will lead us into this Great High Priest’s submissive suffering that we will see next week in vv. 7-10.