The first half of chapter five addresses the appointment of the Son of God as a superior high priest. The Old Testament focus here is Psalm 110:4 which reveals that the Son would be a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. The author begins with high priests in general meaning earthly high priests. They were men, but also considered one of the people of God. Because of this, Jesus had to become human. There was a second requirement for high priests and that was they would represent other people by offering sacrifices on their behalf. Only the high priest could offer the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. A high priest was able to deal gently with those who sinned because he himself was also subject to the same weakness of sin. On the Day of Atonement the high priest was required to offer sacrifices for himself and his household before he could offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. The role of the high priests was not something you could sign up for. This office was by God’s appointment only. The author of Hebrews also referenced Psalm 2:7and 110:4 together based in their shared language. Both passages have God speaking to His Son. It was this exalted Son who came to earth as a human. He is the one God appointed to a unique high priesthood. Jesus’ suffering was a foundation for this superior priesthood. But the Son’s humiliation and suffering must come before His exaltation. The phrase “with a loud cry and tears” is most likely a reference to Christ’s suffering and struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane. God heard His prayers in the sense of affirming His righteousness and suitability for His role as high priest. Jesus’ faithful devotion is being presented as an example for the readers of this book.
Jesus was not disobedient before His suffering. In fact He was sinless, which made him the perfect and unblemished sacrifice for the sins of the people. Jesus walked His path of human existence, all the way to His death on the cross. All of His life was lived in complete submission to the Father’s will. We are expected to travel on the same path. God qualified Jesus as a perfect High Priest. Perfect here means complete or mature. Jesus through His sufferings was qualified to be he source of eternal salvation for all those who obey Him. The author is saying that just as the Son obeyed the Father’s will by completely submitting, so those who come to Him for salvation must obey Him. We will look at Melchizedek when we get to chapter seven. Once the author began discussing Jesus’ appointment as High Priest they confronted their audience with a series of exhortations. In ancient times a shift in direction was meant to refocus the hearers attention. This exhortation dealt with the listeners spiritual lethargy. The author calls them spiritually dull. The Greek work here is not at all complimentary. It means; sluggish, dim witted, negligent, and lazy. Their lack of spiritual vitality was shocking since they had been believers for so long. The author admonished them because they should have been spiritual leaders by now, leaders who were teaching others from their known and Christian experiences. Instead they still didn’t understand the basic spiritual things. They still needed to be bottle fed instead of being able to eat solid food. Milk and solid food were used to distinguish between basic and advanced learning and immature from mature students. They didn’t even seem to be able to distinguish between right and wrong.
In light if their immaturity the author urged them to move beyond the basic teachings. The six basic teachings were all foundational elements of Jewish instruction. Perhaps the authors urging was to get them to move beyond the basics to understanding about the person of Jesus Christ. The author is pushing them to move forward. There were some things they did not need further instruction about. This included things like baptisms, or washings. This is more than just Christian baptisms. Instructions about various washings was a hallmark of the teaching in first century Judaism. But the author might have also envisioned the cleaning rituals found in the Old Testament. Laying on of hands dealt with healing, ritual blessings, the reception of the Holy Spirit, and acknowledgement of a persons ministry. The author also points to the end times when the Lord will judge everyone of us. By verse three the author is nearly begging the people to move forward, to be more mature, and to gain understanding in everything. Verses 4-8 are some of themost difficult in the New Testament. We find a harsh warning about those who have left the Christian faith. Those who have fallen away from Christ and the church are like those who fell in the wilderness. The lack of faith shown in such apostasy results in devastating judgement. The Greek word for impossible begins the sentence in verse four. The author uses it for emphasis. This absolutely cannot happen. Once the people were enlightenedwhen they first learned about Christ. Now they were not at all confident in what they believed or thought. The reference to the “good things of heaven” may well refer to the manna God provided the Israelites in the wilderness. This was a picture of spiritual blessings. These people had heard the word of God preached and they had seen its effects in their lives and the lives of others. They had even witnesses signs and wonders when they first heard the Good News. And then they turned away. This is an Image of the Israelites who had seen all that God had done and still turned away from obeying God, falling in the wilderness without ever seeing the land God had promised them. Bringing people back from the brink like that was a challenge. These people had repented before but there had been no fruit from their repentance. When people turn their back on Jesus Christ and His superior sacrifice, it is impossible for them to find any other means of repentance. And, when they rejected Him again it was like nailing Him to the cross all over. Crucifixion was the ultimate instrument of rejection and humiliation in the Greco-Roman world and it carried with it public shame. Again, those who turned away from Christ were like those who stood before the cross shouting insults. They insisted that Jesus couldn’t possibly be the Messiah nor was He any resemblance to the Son of God. Never mind they had no idea what the Son of God might look like. They only knew this man Jesus was somehow worthy of shame.
The author reminded them that good and productive land was an image of blessing. This is in contrast to the curse of unproductive land that bears thorns and thistles. Burning this kind of a field was a picture of judgment. For eight verses the author has confronted the people with stern warnings. Now, inverse nine they soften the warning a bit by calling the peopledear friends. The author expressed confidence in them and gave them further encouragement. This was a common speaking tactic in the ancient world, designed to motivate those listening. The author is confident that the people’s lives showed evidence of a true relationship with the Lord and that they knew salvationmeant Christ’s saving work on the cross. Hebrews placed emphasis on the consummation of salvation at the end of the age. By showing that they loved God and His people, their works bore witness to their true relationship with God. God will acknowledge and remember those who are truly His. The people are called to keep on loving others, showing their commitment to the Lord. Loving others is a picture of genuine Christian faith. Through diligence and focused commitment the people can make their hope in Jesus Christ certain. The assurance of salvation comes through perseverance. A focused commitment to the Lord is the antidote to being spiritually dull and by loving God and others, we follow the example of great people of faith. This author puts much emphasis on both faith and endurance as normal requirements for God’s people.
The rest of chapter six focuses on the reliability of God’s faithfulness to His promises. The theme of God’s oath is developed with an illustration, followed by a general principle, followed by the main point. God has sworn a significant oath which gives us hope because it shows that Jesus is our permanent High Priest. The author cites Abraham as the prime example of faith. He continued to believe that God would give him a son and then he was willing to offer him up as a sacrificein obedience to God. In response to Abraham’s faith God took an oath, assuring Abraham that he would bless him and multiply his descendants. God kept that promise and through Isaac God made Abraham into a great nation. It is common knowledge that when we make an oath it binding. In human context if the oath gives assurance that something is true, how much more does an oath from God inspire confidence. God bound Himself with an oath, making it clear that He would never change His mind. And, it is impossible for God to lie. Fleeing to God in refuge is like going to one of the Old Testament cities of refuge when someone was accidentally killed. Jesus Christ is like a city of refuge where believers escape the wrath of God. This should bring us great confidence. The author also reminded theirreaders that Christian hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. In the first century, an anchor was an image of stability and safety. This sense of security can take us through the curtain to God’s inner sanctuary. If you remember there was a curtain that hung on the outside of the Holy of Holies. This separated everyone from God and only the high priest could enter into this place, and only once a year. The requirements were rigorous and this action on the Day of Atonement was fraught with danger, but because of Jesus’ extraordinary High Priesthood, He had already gone in there for us into the presence of God as our eternal High Priest. And He leads us in with Him.
Chapter seven is the extended discussion of Jesus being a priest in the order of Melchizedek. His priesthood was also superior to that of the earthly priests. Unlike the Hebrew kings, Melchizedek combined the offices of king and priest, foreshadowing the Messiah. Abraham was giving a tenth to the Lord by giving it to Melchizedek, His priest. This act anticipates the giving of tithes under the law, and it becomes a key point in the authors argument. The name Melchizedek comes from two Hebrew words: “melek” which means king, and “zedek” which means justice or righteousness. Salem, where Melchizedek was from is shalom in Hebrew and that means peace. It was common for rabbis to bring out the theological significance of a biblical figures name by making associations between the name and other Hebrew terms. There is no record of Melchizedek having father, mother or any other ancestors. This is significant in light of the Levitical requirements for being a priest. Melchizedek appears out of nowhere as though there is no beginning or end to his life. The author here is interpreting Genesis 14:17-20 in light of Psalm 110:4 which also understands Melchizedek as representing an eternal priesthood. The author stated that Melchizedek remains a priest forever. This is in contrast to a Levitical priest whose office ended when he died. Melchizedek was not an Old Testament appearance of Jesus. Rather, his priesthood and that of Jesus had characteristics in common, in light of Psalm 110:4. The point of this section is having the reader consider how great this Melchizedek was by comparing him to the descendants of Levi. Melchizedek was so great that Abraham gave him a tenth of the spoils of battle.
Collecting the tithe was a requirement and an honor for the priests under the law of Moses. This was collected from all the people of Israel. And although Melchizedek was not a descendant of Levi, he collected a tenth from Abraham, the ancestor of the Levites. This demonstrated Melchizedek’seminence over both Abraham and the priests. Melchizedek also placed a blessing upon Abraham, an example of the type of blessing a superior would give to a subordinate. This would be like a father blessing his son or a priest blessing the people. The power to give a blessing demonstrates Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, and his seeming immortality makes him superior over the Levites. The Levites are men who die while Melchizedek lives on. Abraham represented all of his descendants when he gave his tithe to Melchizedek. Levi was united with Abraham because the seed that Levi came from,came from Abraham’s body. All the people coming after Abraham were one with him so, his act could be considered their act.
The author argued for Melchizedek’s superiority to the Levites and now in the rest of the chapter he will argue that Jesus, our High Priest like Melchizedek, is also superior to the Levitical priests of the old covenant. The author uses the word perfection here but in Hebrew perfection does not mean flawless. It means reaching a desired goal. The priesthood under the old covenant could not achieve all that God intended for a covenant relationship with His people. This is why God needed to establish a different priesthood. According to the law given to Moses, the appointed priests were descendants of Aaron. The priesthood is changed because Jesus is now the High Priest. So, God Himself changed the law concerning priests. Under the old covenant the priests came from the tribe of Levi but Jesus, the High Priest came from the tribe of Judah. This change of howGod appoints priests has been made very clear by the appointment of Jesus as a different priest. He, like Melchizedek, is a priest forever. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead shows that He has the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. And because His priesthood is in the order of Melchizedek it is superior to that of the Levites. Jesus supersedes them as priest.
The old requirement about the priesthood being membership in Aaron’s family has been set aside. It was ultimately weak and useless. The weakness of the priesthood under the old covenant is highlighted in that those priests died and were themselves sinful. In contrast, Jesus, the new High Priest, never sinned and will never die. This made Him a much more effective and permanent High Priest. The law never made anything perfect nor did it accomplish what God had planned to do through the superior high priesthood of Jesus; namely completely removing sin and guaranteeing eternal salvation. This gives believers confidence in a better hope in relationship with God. Now we can draw near to God without feeling condemnation. The new system referred to here is God’s way of appointing a priest, done by solemn oath. Legally the one who guarantees the oath refers to the one who bears the risk of another persons investment or debt. But because of God’s oath, Jesus’ priesthood is unassailable. That means our covenant relationship with God is secure. Having Jesus as the guarantor makes the new covenant way better.
Out of necessity the old covenant had a succession of many priests because each of them died. In contrast, Jesus’ priesthood will last forever. It is literally permanent. This cannot be changed…ever. Since Jesus lives forever the salvation He brings also lasts forever. But to draw near to eternal God, we need an eternal priest. Jesus will intercede or appeal to God for us as our High Priest of the new covenant, and His intercession is never ending. Jesus is unstained by sin and age is set apart from sinners. That makes Him superior to the priests of the old covenant who had to deal with their own sins as well as the sins of the people. Jesus has been given the highest place of honor in heaven. This is an affirmation of his uniqueness as High Priest. He offered Himself once and for for the sins of the people. This does not mean once for all people but once, never to be repeated again. Verse 7:28 echos 5:1-3 and sums up the entire discussion of Christ’s appointment as High Priest. Jesus the Son, through His sacrificial death and resurrection has become completely qualified to serve as our eternal High Priest. And His priesthood lasts forever.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W