Hebrews 5—The Superiority of Christ as High Priest
The author is Jewish writing to Jews who had professed faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. One question that first century Jews had about the New Covenant of Grace was “How can you claim that this New Covenant is superior to the Old Covenant when it leaves you alone without a High Priest?” They had not yet fully grasped that daily sacrifices were no longer needed since Christ’s sacrifice accomplished the atonement for all sins completely. Even today people expect ministers and priests to do all the religious stuff while they tend to their own business and personal agenda. People think they pay them to do that and that’s their job, but in one perfect sacrifice of infinite value Jesus accomplished what thousands of sacrifices by a thousand years of priests never accomplished. Therefore we have now a perfect exalted High Priest in Jesus who constantly intercedes for us, making the priests of the Old Testament outdated, and replaced by something far better.
Qualifications for the Old Testament Jewish High Priest
The priests were meant to be mediators between man and God. They did what was necessary to atone for sin according to God’s instruction given through Moses. The High Priest had to be a human being because only a man could be able to understand the temptations of men. They understood the suffering and fear of death so they could minister to the people with empathy. Because of sin, God was unapproachable, which was represented by the veil or thick tapestry that separated the Holy of Holies from sinful mankind in the Temple. God could only be approached by a contrite priest who had just made a sacrifice for his own sin. Therefore Christ had to be a human being without sin. Jesus Christ is a far superior High Priest because He was a human being without sin. As fully God and fully man He had come down from heaven to us in order to pick us up and bring us back to Himself. He was sympathetic to those He ministered to because He had lived a full life from birth to adulthood, and experienced everything that we have including pain, temptation, fear and desire, yet without sinning. Therefore He was able to “deal gently with the ignorant and misguided”. This is a polite way to describe most of the human race, which does not know which end is up. For instance, most of the sacrifices for sin made by the priests were made in behalf of unknown and unintentional sin. People are such sinners that they aren’t even aware of most of their sins. Even the priests had to make sacrifices for their own sins done in ignorance. High Priests had to be called and anointed by God just as the first one, Aaron was. Jesus met all the qualifications for a High Priest, but He was superior as the sinless King/ Priest.
Was Jesus really Tempted? Can God be Tempted?
How could a sinless person feel the weakness of the flesh? If Jesus could not sin, then was His temptation real? Jesus is the God Man, 100% God and 100% man in the same person. Therefore being fully human He could feel the desires, but being fully God He was 100% able to resist the desires and the temptations. Consider His experience in the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22:43-44. He experienced the excruciating fear and torment of His coming arrest, beatings, and crucifixion. He felt the desire to avoid this and disobey God’s will. Jesus even said, “Father, remove this cup from me”, but then added “but not my will but yours”. He confessed being very troubled in spirit and even sweated blood. God sent an angel to comfort Him. Jesus anticipated the time on the cross with the physical pain, separation from God, and having all the sins of the world dumped on his back. He definitely felt the temptation to avoid all this. Surely there must be a Plan B! But as God He was fully obedient to Gods will . He learned obedience the hard way by experience. Therefore, yes Jesus’ temptations were real, and He felt the desires, He experienced everything we go through, but as God He is fully able to resist and do God’s will perfectly. Having felt and experienced it all He has great sympathy for us and He is the best mediator we could have. The author’s summary statement of the superiority of Christ as a High Priest is given in v.9, “having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation”. The obedience we must have here is not regarding works or commandments, it is the obedience of believing the truth of the Gospel. We must believe that we have sinned, and we need a savior. Believe that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not die but have everlasting life”. It’s not enough to just acknowledge this intellectually as true, we must personally receive Jesus as our Savior and entrust our lives to Him. We obey God by believing in Jesus Christ as John wrote, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:29).
Hebrews 5:11-14 Spiritual Maturity
Apparently from the author’s comments, the audience is not spiritually mature enough to grasp his expectations of the superiority of Christ. Therefore in this section he gives a critique of their spiritual condition. The image he uses is a picture of adult infants who are still nursing. Imagine fully grown men in diapers sucking their thumbs and drinking infants’ milk. He intends this to be shocking and outrageous in order to get their attention. You can imagine the reaction in the first century when the church gathered and this letter was read. The point he tries to make is that if you have never grown and you have never changed, you should be concerned if you ever really whole heartedly believed. I like the illustration of the Niagara Falls tightrope walker. He asked an onlooker “Do you believe I can walk across on this tight rope?” The guy said he believed it. “Do you believe I could push a wheel barrow across?” The guy said he believed it. “Do you believe I could push a man in the wheel barrow across?” The guy said he believed it. Then the tightrope walker came up to him with the wheel barrow and said “Get in!” We must ask ourselves if we have that kind of belief/commitment to get in the wheel barrow that Jesus Christ is offering us.
The author uses the analogy of “solid food” as opposed to baby food. Solid food stands for a clear understanding of the Word of God that leads to practical changes to righteous living. Apparently they heard and professed belief in the Gospel some time before this letter, because he tells them in v.12 “by this time you ought to be teachers, instead you have need again for teaching on the elementary principles of the Word of God, and you have need of milk and not solid food.” They were still struggling with the basic Gospel of how to be saved, and haven’t advanced to righteous living. Solid food is for the mature who are living their faith, and revealing Christ through their active lifestyle. Biblical truths are hard concepts to get across when the spiritual condition of the audience is like babies dull of understanding. The author feels he has reached an impasse with some of his audience to hear the truth. Being Jewish, perhaps they are still practicing Judaism, and the old religion is the infancy they need to leave in order to move on to maturity by faith in the New Covenant introduced by Christ.
When a person receives Christ that is not the end of the story, it’s where the story of our faith begins. As we study God’s Word we grow spiritually. As we serve God we grow spiritually. As we grow and change we have evidence of our salvation. By showing up to study and serve, the Holy Spirit will change us from the inside out. Paul explains it well in Philippians 2:12-13, “Therefore my beloved as you have always obeyed…work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works within you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” By this Paul was saying there are two forces at work in your spiritual growth—your volition to work at it and God’s Spirit within you changing you according to His will. In Romans 12:2, he writes “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The evil lustful world we live in desires to control our minds, but we must resist that peer pressure, and allow God to transform us to His spiritual way of thinking. Jesus told His disciples “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19), and again “whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matt.10:38) The emphasis here is our volition to “follow” Jesus, and it is a process in which as we follow Him, He changes our desires, intentions, agenda, and our thinking. You may be thinking, “But what can I do? I’m not a minister or theologian or a speaker, so what can I do?” We need to realize that God has a place for each of us and has given a spiritual gift to every believer in Christ, just as Paul wrote in 1 Cor.12:7, “To each believer is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (of the church).” Some have speaking gifts, but others have gifts of administration, wisdom, knowledge, and service—just to name a few. We have to show up and work at discovering what our gifts are, and as we do God will work in us and through us. The end result will be that we can experience what Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”