The Letter to the Hebrews: a commentary & meditation
"Jesus, our true High Priest"

Scripture: Hebrews 4:14 - 5:10
4:14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

5:1 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 bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4 And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is 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, "Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee"; 6 as he says also in another place, "Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchiz'edek." 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 for his Godly fear. 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 Melchiz'edek.

Meditation: Jesus Christ is the perfect High Priest whose task is to bring the voice of God to us and to usher us into God's presence. Priests can only function the way they do because they are appointed by God. "One does not take the honor upon himself" (Hebrews 5:4). According to Hebrews, Jesus was appointed by God. We can see that fact in Psalm 110, where God speaks to his Son and says, "You are a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek." The "order of Melchizedek" indicates that Jesus was not appointed to the Aaronic priesthood of the old covenant but to a priesthood that would replace it and would be greater--just as Melchizedek himself was greater than Aaron and even Abraham himself.

Like the head of a family or a nation, a priest is a representative who can perform certain actions on behalf of others, actions that cannot be successfully carried out by anyone not in the priesthood. The priest was the only one who could make a sacrificial offering to God (Hebrews 5:1). As a minister of God, the priest had special access to God‘s presence and could approach more closely than ordinary worshipers. He was the one appointed to make the actual presentation of the sacrificial gifts.

The priest also presented petitions. The priestly minister was an intermediary between God and the people. He represented the people to God and God to the people. He was able to do so because of his appointment by God.

Christ's position as the great High Priest enabled him to play a special role in our redemption. As a Priest, he had an access to God that allowed him to mediate between God and the human race. Christ saves the human race because he has first atoned for the race and made redemption possible for them. And on that basis he intercedes for them. When we speak about something happening "through" Christ, we give expression to our need of Christ's work as Priest and Mediator. Because he was appointed Priest, Christ was able to offer his death as a sacrifice for others. His actions counted for others because a high priest is able to offer atoning sacrifices for sin to God on behalf of those he represents.

Hebrews states that Jesus "learned obedience through what he suffered" (Heb. 5: 8). He was the obedient Son who underwent the suffering of the cross for our redemption. He is both priest and sacrificial victim at the same time. He was a priest who understood that animal sacrifices would not be enough. He therefore voluntarily "offered himself unblemished to God" (Hebrews 9:14). He let himself be given up to death on earth so that his blood might be shed for the sins of the world. He then entered the true holy of holies in heaven to present himself in a priestly way as the Lamb who had been slain--the acceptable sacrifice for the sins of the world.

"Lord Jesus Christ, you are the true Passover Lamb and our great High Priest. Through your death on the cross you have delivered me from slavery to freedom, from anguish to joy, from sorrow to festivity, and from darkness to light. May I walk in freedom and joy as I celebrate your victory over sin and death."

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(c) 1999 Don Schwager