Christ is Superior to Aaron Part 2 “Our Perfect High Priest” – Hebrews 5:1-10
Pastor Mark Hardy May 31, 2015
A few centuries before Christ, Alexander the Great conquered almost the entire known world with his military strength, cleverness and diplomacy. One day Alexander and a small company of soldiers approached a strongly defended, walled city. Alexander, standing outside the walls, raised his voice and demanded to see the king. The king came to the top of the wall above the invading army and agreed to hear Alexander’s demands.
“Surrender to me immediately,” commanded Alexander. The king laughed and called down, “Why should I surrender to you? We have you far outnumbered. You are no threat to us!”
Ready to answer the challenge, Alexander replied, “Allow me to demonstrate why you should surrender.” He then ordered his men to line up single file and start marching. He marched them straight toward a sheer cliff that dropped hundreds of feet to rocks below.
The king and his soldiers watched in shocked disbelief as, one by one, Alexander’s soldiers marched without hesitation right off the cliff to their deaths. After ten soldiers had died, Alexander ordered the rest of his men to stop and return to his side.
Realizing that nothing would stop the eventual victory of men who were so absolutely obedient to their leader that they would actually give their lives for him, the king surrendered to Alexander the Great on the spot.
Not that I agree with Alexander’s method’s, but when I think about wholehearted obedience regardless of the cost the example of his soldiers is often what comes to my mind. Is that the kind of obedience that we have toward our Leader, Jesus Christ? He gave us the supreme example of obedience, and that is what we will be looking at this morning.
Having shown the greatness of Jesus’ high-priestly ministry by contrasting it with the ministry of the Levitical high priest in 4:14-16, the author of Hebrews now reveals His superior qualifications for the office of High Priest. Turn in your Bible to Hebrews 5.
In Hebrews 5:1-10 we see two lists of identical qualifications whereby Jesus Christ is compared and contrasted with the Jewish high priests and shown how He has fulfilled and superseded all of their qualifications. As we discuss these qualifications there are principles that apply to our own lives.
The first list of qualifications is for:
I. The Earthly High Priests
A. In vv. 1-4 we see four basic qualifications for Jewish high priests. The first qualification is his genuine humanity. Look at the very first part of v. 1: For every high priest taken from among men… (Stop there)
1. In order to be a high priest in Israel one had to be “taken from among men.” In other words, he had to be a man, be a genuine human being.
2. God did not choose angels to serve as priests, only men. As we saw last time, these men could only be the descendants of Aaron of the tribe of Levi.
3. Whereas the “priests” were the official ministers in the nation of Israel, the high priest was considered the highest religious authority.
B. The second qualification of the earthly high priest is his representative offerings. Look again at v. 1: For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins;
1. As a man the high priest ministered “on behalf of men” or as the peoples’ representative before God. He was their mediator and acted on their behalf “in things pertaining to God.”
2. Since man’s core problem in his relationship with a holy and just God is sin, the “things pertaining to God” that the high priest primarily dealt with was “offer(ing) both gifts and sacrifices for sins” to God on behalf of the people.
3. The very existence of a “priesthood” and a system of sacrifices in the Theocratic nation of Israel gave evidence to man’s estrangement from God. It was an act of grace on God’s part that He instituted the whole Levitical sacrificial system.
4. All of the sacrifices day in and day out, year after year, were under the high priest’s direction. But once a year on the Day of Atonement it was he alone that would enter behind the veil into the Holy of Holies to sprinkle the blood of atonement on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant to symbolically atone for the sins of the whole nation (Lev. 16).
5. The offerings that the high priest offered to God as the peoples’ representative are called “gifts and sacrifices.” “Gifts” were usually voluntary grain offerings for thanksgiving and dedication and “sacrifices” were the bloody offerings for sins atonement.
6. However since the word “gifts” is used 8:4 to refer to all of the various sacrifices, there should be no distinction made between “gifts and sacrifices.” And the words “for sins” should be taken with both.
7. Therefore, the high priest was primarily concerned with the problem of human sinfulness and peoples’ need for reconciliation with God.
C. The third qualification of the earthly high priest is his sympathetic gentleness. Look at vv. 2-3: he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weaknesses; and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.
1. The earthly high priest not only represented sinners before God, but also he needed to be able to “deal gently with the ignorant and misguided.”
2. The “ignorant and misguided” speaks of those who were without proper understanding of God’s truth and had sinned by wandering away from it. They ignorantly and unintentionally went astray (Num. 15:28).
3. These are the ones for whom the high priest offered “gifts and sacrifices for sins.” God made no provision but judgment for those who committed intentional, high-handed sins of rebellion (Ex. 21:12-14; Num. 15:30-31).
4. Now to “deal gently” with sinners speaks of having a compassionate, non-judgmental and sympathetic gentleness toward them. Such a quality avoids the emotional extremes of apathy and indifference on the one hand or harshness and disgust on the other regarding someone’s sin.
5. The high priest was not to condone people’s sin nor act as if he was above it. He was to have a proper balance between leniency and severity, between encouragement and rebuke. This is how we should be as well!
6. The sympathetic gentleness of a good high priest flowed out of a deep awareness of two realities about himself: First, his own personal weakness—“he himself also is beset with weakness.”
7. He was no different than the one’s he represented and served, sharing the same human “weakness,”—frailties, infirmities and limitations, as they did.
8. Second, his own personal sin—“he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.”
9. He had a sinful nature like they did. This is why on the Day of Atonement before killing the goat of the sin offering on behalf of the people and sprinkling its blood on the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies, he first entered with the blood of a bullock which was a sin offering for himself and his household (Lev. 4:3-12; 9:7; 16:6-14, 17).
10. This is why a self-righteous, “holier-than-thou” attitude that looks down upon others is always wrong and flows from an ignorance of the depth of sin in one’s own heart. Like the high priest, only by recognizing our own sin will we be able to be sympathetically gentle in addressing it in other’s lives (Matt. 7:1; Gal. 6:2).
11. Homer Kent, Jr. accurately states, “Here lay one of the weaknesses of the Aaronic system. The priest himself needed a priest. A further weakness was that sinfulness in the priest often prevented him from being perfectly sensitive or aware of the needs of others.” (p. 94)
D. The fourth qualification of the earthly high priest is his divine appointment. Look at v. 4: And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.
1. No man could legitimately appoint himself high priest, and to try to do so was a sign of arrogance and selfish ambition. In v. 1 we saw that the high priest is “appointed on behalf of men,” the word “appointed” being in the passive voice, which indicates someone else does this, not himself.
2. And here in v. 4 we see who that is—“he is called by God, even as Aaron was,” which should bring about a deep sense of humility not pride.
3. John MacArthur says that “The use of the present tense in these verses would seem to indicate that the Levitical system still was being practiced at the time of this epistle.” (Mac Study Bible p. 1872) However, it ceased in A.D. 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
4. When the priestly system was established under Moses, God called and appointed Aaron, Moses brother, as the first high priest (Ex. 28:1-3; Lev. 8:1ff; Num. 3:10; 16:5; 17:5; 18:1ff; 20:23ff; 25:10ff; Ps. 105:26). And all succeeding priests were to be not only Levites, but also descendants of Aaron (Num. 16:40; 18:1-7).
5. Any exceptions to this required the explicit command of God, such as in the case of Samuel (1 Sam. 16:1-13). And those who attempted to attain this honored position on their own received God’s judgment.
6. For example, when Korah and his fellow rebels, Da-than and A-bi-ram, tried to make themselves priests, the Lord caused the earth to swallow them up (Num. 16:16-40).
7. When King Saul, a Benjamite, impatiently assumed Samuel’s priestly role, God took away his kingdom (1 Sam. 13:5-14). And when Uzziah, king of Judah, intruded into the temple to burn incense in spite of the efforts of the priests to stop him, God smote him with leprosy (2 Chron. 26:16-23).
8. No genuine priest ever elevated himself to the high-priestly office. All were sovereignly chosen by God.
9. These are the four qualifications for the earthly high priest. The second set of qualifications is for:
II. The Eternal High Priest
A. In vv. 5-10 the author of Hebrews now shows how Jesus fulfilled and superseded these four qualifications, although he gives them in a different order. First, Christ was divinely appointed. Look at vv. 5-6: So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, “YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU;” just as He says also in another passage, “YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.”
1. Jesus Christ did not assume the office of high priest by His own initiative. Although the official title “Christ,” meaning “Messiah, the Anointed One,” affirms the fact of His divine appointment, the author proves this in saying “He (God the Father) who said to Him (Christ),” which corresponds to the statement in v. 4 that every high priest is “called by God.”
2. The author then quotes two passages from the Psalms as proof that Christ’s high-priestly office is clearly not from Himself but from God.
3. The first quotation is from Psalm 2:7, which was already cited in 1:5 to demonstrate Christ’s Sonship—“YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU.”
4. In this passage God the Father addresses Messiah in His capacity as the duly installed and authoritative messianic King, and acknowledges Him as “My Son.” No Jewish high priest was ever described like this!
5. The second quotation is from Psalm 110:4, “YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.”
6. Notice how God addresses Messiah and calls Him “a priest forever.” Here we see that one of the important functions of the messianic King is His eternal priesthood.
7. Whereas the Levitical priests belonged to the order of Aaron, Christ’s eternal priesthood is “according to the order of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek is seen in Genesis 14:18-20, where he is called “king of Salem” and “a priest of God Most High” (v. 18) in the time of Abraham.
8. In the Levitical system the offices of king and priest were carefully distinguished and allocated to different tribes. However, since Melchizedek was both a king and a priest, these two quotations fully substantiate Christ’s qualifications as a Melchizedek-type priest.
9. The Messiah is both king and priest forever. His royal priesthood is by divine appointment, which reveals that Christ superior to Aaron and the Levitical priesthood.
B. Second, Christ is genuinely human. Look at the first part of v. 7: In the days of His flesh… (Stop there)
1. When the author speaks of Christ’s “flesh” he is referring to the human nature that He took to Himself in the incarnation. The phrase “In the days of His flesh” designate the period during which “…the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14).
2. As we have already seen 2:14-17 and 4:15, Jesus was a real man with a real human nature just like us, the only exception being that He didn’t have a sin nature. He was the God-Man: 100% God and 100% man without a diminishing or a mixture of His divine and human natures.
3. And it was only because Jesus identified Himself completely with us as a man, that He was able to fulfill the next two qualifications.
C. Third and fourth, Christ is sympathetically gentle and our Representative Offering. I put these together because they are so intertwined in vv. 7-10. Look again at v. 7: In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.
1. Throughout His time on earth, Jesus maintained constant fellowship with His Father and expressed His dependence on Him by means of prayer (Mk. 1:35; 6:46; Lk. 5:16; 6:12; Jn. 17:1ff; etc.). However, the situation here where “…He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears” is no doubt the time of Jesus’ agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
2. Although in His humanity, because of what lay before Him, Jesus was extremely tempted to abandon His messianic mission and prayed so fervently that “His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground” (Lk. 22:44), to attribute His distress to merely the fear of a painful execution is woefully inadequate.
3. Jesus clearly knew the reason for which He came. He came to die; this was the supreme purpose of the incarnation.
4. He was to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). The cross was the fulfillment of His mission, and He moved onward to it with an inflexible determination (Matt. 16:21ff; 17:22f; 20:17ff; Mk. 8:31-34; 10:45; Lk. 22-23; Jn. 10:11, 17f; 11:7f, 16; 16:32f).
5. Therefore, the agony of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane was due to something much greater than the fear of physical death. It was because He would take upon Himself the holy wrath of God against sin that we deserved and experience for the first time in eternity past separation from His Father.
6. For 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “He (God the Father) made Him (God the Son) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” What a deal! Jesus endured the penalty of our hell, so that we might experience the pleasure of His heaven.
7. This is why He prayed with “loud crying and tears” in the Garden of Gethsemane. And this is why He cried out on the cross in Matthew 27:46, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
8. Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf was Himself as our Substitute. He is our Representative Offering.
9. Jesus’ sacrifice differed in three significant ways from the Jewish high priests: 1) His sacrifice was not produce, birds and animals, but Himself. 2) He didn’t have to make a sacrifice for Himself because He was sinless (Heb. 4:15). 3). His sacrifice was once for all time not like those of the high priests who had to offer them every day and every year.
10. Notice that Christ’s prayers and supplications at Gethsemane were offered to “the One able to save Him from death.” Obviously, this didn’t mean God the Father would save Him from physical death, because He didn’t.
11. This was a prayer that His Father would save Him from death, in the sense of raising Him from the dead. His prayer was about His resurrection, which Jesus had prophesied.
12. The author goes on to say, “and He was heard because of His piety.” The word “piety” refers to Christ’s reverent dependence on God and total submission to the will of His Father.
13. This was seen most clearly in the garden when Jesus prayed in Luke 22:42, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”
14. It was Christ’s total submission to His Father’s will that manifested itself in “obedience.” And His obedience, regardless of the cost, led Him to experience the suffering of the cross.
D. Look at v. 8: Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.
1. Just because He was the Son of God didn’t mean that Jesus would have an easy life. He was granted no exemption from “learning obedience” which comes by suffering.
2. Jesus didn’t suffer in order to correct any disobedience, since He was always perfectly obedient. But He “learned obedience” by experiencing the suffering of “death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8) to confirm His humanity and experience its suffering to the fullest extent, so that He would be the perfect sacrifice to take the place of sinners and be able to perfectly sympathize with us in our every temptation and trial.
E. Look at v. 9: And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
1. Now Christ being “made perfect” doesn’t mean that He was ever morally imperfect, because He was always “without sin” (4:15). The word “perfect” means “complete,” in that, He was completely equipped for His high-priestly ministry by the sufferings He experienced that culminated at the cross.
2. Jesus victoriously endured all of His sufferings, which He dramatically declared by His triumphant utterance on the cross, “It is finished!” (Jn. 19:30).
3. And because He of His perfect righteousness and perfect obedient sacrifice on our behalf, “He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.” To “obey” Christ is first of all to believe in Him.
4. Jesus said in John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” And John said in 1 John 3:23, “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ…”
5. Again John MacArthur states, “True salvation evidences itself in obedience to Christ, from the initial obedience to the gospel command to repent and believe (Acts 5:32; Rom. 1:5; 2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:2, 22; 4:17) to the life pattern of obedience to the Word (Rom. 6:16). (Mac. Study Bible p. 1873)
F. And because Jesus Christ is the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey Him, the author says about Him in v. 10, “being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.”
1. Again referring to Psalm 110:4, the author again shows how Christ is the eternal High priest who is called by God “according to the order of Melchizedek,” which is discussed in detail in chapter 7.
2. Therefore, because Christ fulfills and supersedes all the qualifications of the Jewish high priests He is superior to Aaron and the Levitical priesthood. His one perfect sacrifice accomplished what all the priest’s together could never do with their millions of sacrifices—entrance into God’s very presence.
Now because our perfect High Priest has endured and perfectly obeyed the ultimate suffering of the cross for us, we need never doubt that He fully sympathizes with what we are going through and will help us obey Him, like He obeyed the Father, regardless of the cost. But it will require our commitment?
Are we as committed to wholeheartedly obey Jesus, as Alexander’s soldiers were committed to obey him? We should be! And if not, there is something seriously wrong in our relationship with Him. This was a problem with the recipients of this letter, and so we will see how the author addresses this next time.