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Hebrews 5

March 11th, 2012 by Vic

Hebrews 5

“Our Great High Priest”

March 11, 2012


We pick up the thought that the writer mentioned last week in 4:14, “Therefore we have a great high priest…”  We’ve seen that Jesus is greater than the angels.  We’ve seen that Jesus was like Moses but greater.  We’ve seen that Jesus was like Joshua but greater.  Jesus was identified by King David and the prophets as God’s plan to free mankind from the slavery of sin.


Hebrews 5 explains God’s plan for Jesus to be our great high priest.  Those that want to come to God must trust Jesus like worshippers trusted their high priest in the OT.


This letter was written to Christian Jews.  They knew what a high priest was supposed to do.  Comparing Jesus to a high priest helped them better understand what Jesus had done and will continue to do for them.

We live in a culture that is not real familiar with all the functions of a priest.  We are more comfortable comparing Jesus to a good Shepherd rather than a priest.  We speak more frequently about Jesus as the living bread, the door, the bridegroom, the vine, living water, head of the body, the light of the world, our healer, our provider, but seldom do we talk about Jesus as our great high priest.


Why do we need to compare Jesus to a priest?  To help us understand that we cannot take care of our sin problem on our own.  The OT high priest took care of the sin problem.


This letter was probably written after the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans.  There was no longer a place for the high priest to offer the sacrifice for forgiveness of sins.  The Romans had humbled the Jewish nation.  The readers of this sermon may have wondered about the old Temple rituals and traditions that they were raised with.  What is their relation to God now that the Temple is gone?  They knew the importance of a high priest.  So this writer assures them that they still have a great high priest, better than any priest that had come before.


The Jews had never thought of their Messiah as being a high priest.  All high priests had to be descendents of the tribe Levi.  The Messiah was not to be a descendent of Levi, but he was from the family of David, the tribe of Judah.  This is a new thought for Jewish Christians and this thought is expanded in the next few chapters.


How is Jesus our Messiah like a high priest?  He came to take care of our sin problem.


The first high priest in the OT was Aaron.  God commanded Moses to anoint Aaron as high priest among his brethren.  The position was for a lifetime.  When Aaron died, his eldest son became high priest.  When the high priest died, the whole nation mourned and all offenders in the cities of refuge were free to leave and return to their families.  The high priest’s death was a national event.  His death brought freedom to those who had accidently killed someone.


The high priest had special clothes that were ritually cleansed and passed on to the eldest son.  His garments consisted of 7 parts: 1) the ephod was a linen blend with wool and gold.  It was the outer shirt. 2) the robe was worn under the ephod.  It was sleeveless.  The fringe around the bottom was blue, purple and scarlet pomegranates and gold bells.  3) The breastplate was a 10 in. sq.  piece of embroidered linen adorned with 12 precious stones.  4) The turban was 8 yards of fine linen with a gold plate on the front saying, “holiness unto the Lord”.  5) the coat was embroidered linen, seamless, often woven in a diamond or checkerboard pattern and nearly covered the feet.  6) The girdle of the high priest was wound around the body several times from the breast downwards.  7) The breeches were the undergarment that preserved the priest’s modesty when he climbed steps and ministered at the altar.


The high priest had special functions.  His most important function was to preside on the Day of Atonement.  On that day he could enter the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle and sprinkle the mercy seat with the blood of a spotless sacrifice.  By doing this, he atoned for the unintentional sins for himself, his family and for all the people of Israel.  He also sprinkled the blood before the veil of the sanctuary and on the horns of the altar in the Holy of Holies.


As spiritual leader, the high priest was required to have a greater degree of ceremonial purity, greater than the other priests.  On the Day of Atonement he had to atone for his own sin first.  Because any sin he had committed was a curse on the whole nation until that sin had been forgiven.  He had to offer a bull as atonement for his sin.


Another feature of the day was when the high priest laid his hands on a goat and symbolically transferred the sins of the people onto the goat, a scapegoat.  The high priest would lay his hands on the head of the goat, confess the people’s sins, then the goat was led into the wilderness and abandoned.


The day of atonement was a day to fast.  It was set aside for repentance and the cleansing of sins.  You were not to work or eat.  When the day ended there was dancing, rejoicing, and celebrating because all were declared free from sin.


On other days the high priests offered the daily meal offering and participated in the general duties of the priesthood.  They could give a blessing.  They could call the people to war.  They were the medical advisors.


In verses 1-10 there is a literary chiastic structure that has humility for the key stone.

A  The old high priest was appointed (1)

B  The old high priest was part of the people (2-3)

C  The humility of the high priest (4)

C  The humility of Christ (5-6)

B  The new high priest was part of the people (7-8)

A  The new high priest was appointed (9-10)


5:1  Now the writer wants us to understand that Jesus is not just a high priest, but the new GREAT high priest.  Just like Aaron, Jesus was appointed by God and taken from among men (not angels) on men’s behalf to deal with man’s relationship with God.  The focus of the high priest’s ministry was the Day of Atonement.  The high priest did not slay the animals, but he brought the blood of the sacrifice into God’s presence.


5:2   The word for ‘deal gently with’ is only used here in the NT.  Virtue to the Greek was a balance between 2 extremes.  This word describes an attitude between devastating grief and utter indifference, between zeal and apathy.  It’s a balance between explosive anger and lazy indulgence.  It’s being patient with people when they do the same thing over and over and do not learn from their mistakes.  It is a gentle yet powerful sympathy.  It is the restraint of unkindly feelings.  It is remembering that except for the grace of God, I would be doing the same thing.


5:3  The old high priest was not sinless.  He offered 3 prayers on the day of Atonement: the first for his own sins and those of his household, the second for his own sins, those of his household and those of all the priests, and third for the sins of the house of Israel.  The high priest must stand forgiven before God himself before he can present the needs of the people.


5:4  The high priest does not receive his office from men, but from the call of God.  During NT times Rome appointed the high priest even before the old one had died.  That was not the way it was supposed to be but Paul still respected the office even when the person was corrupt and the directions of Moses were not followed.  The God appointed high priest was humble.  He knew he was just a man who had been called by God to serve the people.


5:5-6  Both Aaron and Jesus were appointed but Jesus was greater.  The priesthood of Aaron was temporary, but Christ is eternal.  The title Christ means anointed one.  Jesus was anointed and appointed Son and priest forever at His ascension in the order of Melchizedek.

We will hear about Melchizedek more in chapter 7.  Melchizedek appeared to Abraham in the OT as a priest who had neither predecessor nor successor.  He did not offer animal sacrifices but bread and wine.


5:7  Jesus entered the human condition.  Jesus was always obedient.  He said, “I delight to do Your will, O my God.”  But He learned how difficult it is to obey sometimes.  Being human wrung from Him prayers, petitions, cries and tears.  He chose to obey and suffer rather than disobey and avoid suffering.  His obedience thus completed God’s plan for our eternal salvation.


Jesus offered up prayers.  Jesus’ prayers were a sacrificial offering and He was heard because of His godly fear.  Jesus was not kept from the experience of death, but His sinless life had dominion over death.


As the obedience of Christ led to death, so also our obedience to Him requires the death of our carnal selfishness.  Metaphorically we are to be crucified with Christ.  Our hands are to be so nailed to the Cross that they do only the will of Christ our Lord.  Our feet are to be nailed so that they no longer walk in our own ways.  Our hearts are to be pierced so the love of God flows out of us.


5:8  Jesus is eternally the Son of God.  This fact is not directly connected with his experience of suffering.  He entered a new dimension of sonship in His incarnation (becoming human) and sacrificial death on the cross.  He learned obedience from what he suffered.  We learn from our suffering.  Our kids learn from suffering.  Do we learn obedience to the revealed will of God from suffering?


5:9-10  His obedience made Him perfectly qualified to be our high priest.  He is greater than Aaron because He passed through the heavens to the very throne of God.  Aaron and the rest of the high priests only went through the blue and purple veil of the Holy and Holies once a year.  Aaron brought a sacrifice, but Jesus offered up Himself as a sinless sacrifice.


And in addition to all that, Jesus is a high priest following the line of Melchizedek not Aaron.  Not only is Jesus greater than Aaron, He is greater than Melchizedek.  Jesus is a priest forever.


5:11  As soon as the writer said that, his mind started spinning with all the implications.  Now he wants to explain to the readers the majesty of this truth.  He really wants us to know how great is the love of Jesus as our Great High Priest.  He senses the many parallels between the ministry of Melchizedek and Jesus.  He is throbbing with a desire to share the implications of this truth.  He is anxious to explore the thought and meditate on the comparisons.


But he hesitates.  He expresses frustration with the apathy of his readers.  They have not sharpened their study skills enough to really understand what the writer wants to say.  They have not been comparing the OT truths with the life and teachings of Jesus.


The strong rebuke in 5:11-6:8 is followed by encouragement in 6:9-20.  They were a highly literate audience.  The writer uses many unique words.  He has a big vocabulary and does not speak down to his readers.


The phrase “there is much to say” is a common idiom of Greek scholars used to draw attention to the subject about to be treated.


The adjective “hard to explain” is only used here in the Bible.  The Greeks used it to describe the difficulty of explaining a common subject like dreams, colors, flavors, the nature of the soul, the course of the stars, or the creation of the world.


The word for dull or sluggish (literally, no push) is used in the Bible only here and in 6:12.  They had no inner zeal or discipline to hear more truth.  They had lost their ‘push of hearing’.  They have deviated from their earlier commitment and become spiritually lethargic.  Dullness is a dangerous condition for those called to radical obedience.


5:12  The elementary principles are listed in 6:1-2.  There is some irony in this paragraph.  The writer warns them of just wanting to be taught rather than being teachers.  But he writes to them as mature Christians who can understand the nuances of Jesus being their high priest.  He says they prefer milk and not solid food because they have lost their teeth or they have quit chewing, but he uses some scholarly words and protocol in his writing.  He knew they were not stupid.  They were not as sharp as they could be.  But he does not insult their intelligence by talking down to them.


Do you take time to chew on the truth?  Do you enjoy chewing on the truth?  Do you like ripping off a piece here and ripping off another there and seeing how their taste compares?


5:13  The reader is called a baby.  At one point he was growing and learning, but now he has stopped growing and quit chewing.


A baby is without experience.  He has not been tested.  Can he identify cranberry juice, blackberry juice, raspberry juice, apple juice, pineapple juice, guava juice, loganberry juice, grape juice?  He is not able to compare one truth with another because this is the first truth he has heard.  It is all just juice to him.  He has not had to fix his own drink.  He has not had to face conflict.  He has not had to endure temptations.  The baby lives in a sheltered world.  The mentally retarded return to that world and so do some Christians.


A baby’s diet is limited.  They do not have a big variety of food.  The baby lives in a world of routine.  The routine is their security.  The readers of Hebrews are about to eat solid food.  Solid food includes what the writer is about to tell them regarding Christ as our high priest.


There is no reference in the text to intermediate stages of growth.  The writer says you are either an infant or an adult.  He is exaggerating his point.


“The teaching about righteousness” was a phrase directly linked with martyrdom.  Polycarp points to Jesus’ example of endurance and exhorted his readers to obey the word of righteousness.  The adult Christian will hold himself in readiness for martyrdom.


5:14  The adult is filled with the Spirit and growing from faith to faith.  His heart is being purified by obedience.  He habitually chooses to live a holy life.  He has pushed himself enough to find out what things are good and what helps him grow and what things hinder his growth.


There are some teachings that are necessary for babies.  The writer lists those in 6:1-8.  Then he complements the reader for the love they have demonstrated and reminds them of God’s promises to bless the faithful.


The writer is going to dish up some solid food.  What he is about to share is not milk.  He wants you to scoot up to the table and get ready to chew on some good stuff.  He wants you to practice being a connoisseur of good food.  You must practice discerning.  There is more to life than what you are now experiencing.  Jesus came that you might have life and have it abundantly.  Continue to grow in grace.  Live abundantly in the variegated beauty of God’s grace.



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