5:1-10:39-Our Great High Priest
He is Great Because of the Call to His Priesthood (5:1-10)
- He was Called from among Men (5:1-3)
Because Jesus became a man He can deal from personal experience with the responsibility to represent man before God. God didn’t call an angel to be the High Priest. If He had, then the angel would have no individual familiarity with the very ones that he was called to represent to God. That which so deeply affects the feelings and understanding of Jesus is His own "weakness" (:2). The reference here is to the fact that Jesus subjected Himself to all the weakness, all the limitations, all the trials and temptations of humanity. He was literally surrounded by His humanity…and could therefore related to us in a manner that no angel ever could.
Jesus can understand us in our human condition. He feels for us. He has compassion for us. He sympathizes with us. He knows that we are "ignorant". The word used here (agnoousi) is the word for "agnostic", meaning "having no knowledge". Humanly speaking, there was a time when Jesus did not understand what God, the Father, was doing. On the cross He cried out, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" He sympathizes with us when we don't understand what God is doing or why our life has taken a difficult and harsh direction. He also understands "misguided". This phrase translates a single Greek word (planomenois). It means "to wander, to be in error". However, in this instance it is in its passive form. So here the word means "to be deceived, to be seduced into error or sin, to be defrauded". Not only does Jesus understand those who have no knowledge, but He understands those who have been deceived by others. Those who have been given false information. Those who have been led astray. Some tried to convince Jesus that He was under the power of the devil. Some tried to persuade Him to become a military type of Messiah to set Israel free from Roman bondage. At times, there were those who sought to preserve His life by not being so confrontational with the Jewish religious leaders. There was an abundance of those who would have led Him astray, who would have caused Him to err, to wander away from His prime directive from the Father. He understands what it is like to have to carefully decipher truth from falsehood, the right objective from many worthy objectives, long-term victories from short-term accomplishments. He sympathizes with us.
God chose to send His Son, to become one like us, to share in our weakness and struggles. He did not send an angel. He did not create another being...neither human, nor angelic. But He sent His Son. Now, when the Son stands before Him to plead our case He does so as One Who has first-hand knowledge of what we are going through. When He speaks His voice rings with understanding. When He intercedes His words sound with sympathy. When He cries out His argument is weighted with experience. This is no stranger to the human condition. He is one with us. He understands.
- He was Called by God (5:4-6)
A High Priest does not decide to be the High Priest…he doesn’t call himself. Instead, God calls Him to serve in that capacity. Paul is aware that Jesus does not qualify to be a priest on the earthly level because He is not of the tribe of Levi and a direct descendent of Aaron. Jesus was a descendent of the tribe of Judah. However, Hebrews will show us that Jesus is not of the priestly order of Aaron, but of a priestly order that predated even Aaron, the order of Melchizedek. We will look at this more closely in Chapter 7. But, the author of Hebrews is here describing the characteristics that uniquely qualify Jesus to be our High Priest. Jesus is great because He was called by to His priesthood.
- He was Called to Learn Obedience (5:7-8)
What does it mean when Paul says that Jesus was made “perfect”? If God is perfect…and Jesus is God…then Jesus is perfect. How then could He be made perfect? This does not mean that the perfection was a matter of quality…being better than He was before. But, it is speaking of a matter of qualification…being different than He was before. Before Jesus came to earth He knew man’s circumstances from His position of deity. After coming to earth He knew man’s circumstances from his position of humanity. Before, He could sympathize (feel from a distance, a theoretical understanding) for man. But after, He could empathize (feel from personal experience, a practical understanding) for man. He had suffered…as man suffers (cf. 2:10).
To the Greek a thing was teleios (perfect) if it perfectly carried out the purpose for which it was made and designed. When he used the word he was not thinking in terms of abstract and metaphysical perfection; he was thinking in terms of function. What the writer to the Hebrews is saying is that all the experiences, the sufferings, through which Jesus passed perfectly fitted Him to become the Redeemer and the Saviour of men. He was able to save men because He came through every dark valley of life through which the human spirit must pass.
The Daily Study Bible, the Letter to the Hebrews, William Barclay, pp. 46-47
Because of what Jesus experienced in life as a human...He was perfectly suited to serve as the High Priest for humankind.
- He was Called to Provide Salvation (5:9-10)
It is extremely important for us to acknowledge that when God saves us…He saves us eternally. We are not saved until we sin again, and then we lose our salvation. We have “eternal salvation.” This passage is difficult for some people to interpret because they think that it suggests that a believer can lose his salvation. This is based on a couple of verses…
if they fall away (6:6)
in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (6:8)
However, two facts make it clear that this is not the case.
First, the testimony of the rest of Scripture establishes the eternal nature of salvation. Salvation does not rest on the works (either good or bad) of man but upon the covenant established and maintained by God. God saves us and only God could un-save us.
Psalm 3:8 (NASV)
Salvation belongs to the Lord…
Jude 24 (NASV)
- Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Second, when read in its context, this passage is a warning to believers not of losing their salvation, but of losing the blessing of salvation…
6:7 receives the blessing of God
Let me phrase it a couple of different ways..
- This passage is not speaking about the loss of salvation, but the life of salvation.
- It is not speaking of the believer’s security of salvation, but the believer’s security with salvation.
- It is not speaking of how to be saved. But how the saved shall be.
A person who is "saved" falls into sin soon afterward and, according to some, loses his salvation. Before he can be "saved again," he dies and goes to a lost eternity. What was he saved from? The penalty of sin? No, because he lost his salvation and is now eternally lost. Was he saved from the power of sin? Evidently not, because he sinned to such an extent that he lost his salvation. Was he saved from the presence of sin? No, because he is not in heaven but in hell, lost forever. He wasn't saved from anything, so he wasn't saved at all. The dire warning passages of Hebrews do not teach that a truly saved person can lose his salvation. Salvation, once accepted, is eternal.
Exploring Hebrews, John Phillips, p. 68
One may say, "I know somebody who used to be a deacon or a preacher in the church, but he bailed out on God and the church. He rebelled and laughed at God and declared that there was nothing to Christianity. What do you say about that?" I say exactly what John did: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us" (1 John 2:19). They never belonged to Christ.
God's salvation is perfect. Everything God does is perfect. His salvation is eternal, but there is an offer, a condition attached to it. He is the cause of eternal salvation "unto all them that obey him" (5:9). Our part is obedience, openness, repentance, confession. If we want God's best for our lives, we must obey him. If we want to lay hold on eternal salvation, we must obey God. As we obey him, he implants eternity into our souls. He implants his own eternal nature into our hearts. He calls us to himself and changes our lives. He redirects our days and he preserves us for eternity when we obey him. That is our part.
Obedience to God begins with faith-when we turn away from ourselves, when we give up on our own strength. That's how we come to God and enter into the kingdom. We come to God and present to him our failures, our despairs, our frustrations, our sins. When we bring that to him, he exchanges it and gives us hope, help, and eternal salvation.
Hebrews: The life that pleases God, James T. Draper, p. 121
A Warning Against Failing to Practice What Has Been Learned (5:11-6:20)
However, having established the fact that salvation is eternal and once established can never be lost…there is a dire warning. We find this passage, this group of verses tucked in the middle of a teaching about Jesus as our High Priest. It’s as if the writer is telling about the wonder and glory of salvation that comes from knowing Christ as our savior and suddenly decides to give a warning to his readers to not become complacent, lackadaisical, or satisfied in that salvation. In view of the eternal nature of salvation (5:9) it could be possible for someone to say, “Well, I’m eternally secure in my salvation…I’ll just coast.” But the author says that there is much more to do after initially being saved that continues through the end of life.
Why would Paul give such a warning? What is the problem that he foresees with a believer who does not follow through on what he has heard? A believer who is actively practicing the righteous life of salvation will have no question of his security in his relationship with God. However, the believer who has “fallen away” (6:6), and become “lazy” (6:12) in things regarding God will not experience “things that accompany salvation”. Instead, they will experience:
- the inability to determine right from wrong (5:14)
- having to start over again in the process of spiritually maturing (6:1)
- the inability to understand spiritual matters (6:1-3)
- the lack of recognition of God’s activity and presence in their life (6:4-5)
- a sense of the guilt of sin (6:6)
- the absence of the blessings that come from serving God (6:7)
- the discipline of God (6:8)
- a questioning of the justness of God concerning past service for God (6:10)
- doubt concerning the security or even reality of their salvation (6:11)
Hebrews 5:11-14-Paul says that there is much more that can be said concerning these matters...but the readers have not matured enough spiritually to be able to understand it. He compares spiritual growth and maturity to physical growth and maturity…saying that while a child’s body can only digest milk, an adult’s body can digest meat…and that in a similar way, the same thing is true spiritually. When we are newborn Christians we can only handle the milk, the basics of the faith (for an example of this “elementary teaching” cf. 6:1-2). However, as we grow and mature spiritually, we can handle the more in-depth truths and teachings. But there is a problem with these people. They have had more than adequate time to grow spiritually…and yet, they still can only digest the most basic of spiritual matters. What is the reason? Paul says it is because they have failed to “practice” what they already know. The word “practice” means, “a habit, whether of body or of mind…a power acquired by custom, practice, use.” These believers had not developed the ability to digest, to understand deeper spiritual truth…because they had not been faithful to practice the truth they already had. Faith is like a muscle…if it is not used it atrophies, becoming weak…if it is used it grows, becoming stronger. When we practice the truth that we have our faith grows and our “senses” (our spiritual understanding and apprehension) can “discern good and evil” (tell them apart).
Prayer: Holy Spirit, help me to remain faithful…no matter what difficulties, pressure, or temptations I face. And help me to grow spiritually...so that I might fully understand everything that You would teach me.