Unit: Hebrews (Part 2)
Theme: High Priest
Lesson Text: Hebrews 5:1-10; 6:13-20
Supplemental Text: Exodus 29:1-9; Psalm 110
Aim: Follow God’s plan by submitting to the One he chose as High Priest.
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By Mark Scott
The Old Testament depicts at least three major streams that come together in the Messiah. The Messiah would be a kingly figure, a prophetic figure, and a priestly figure. Hebrews primarily zeroes in on the priestly figure (though the kingly emphasis will be evident in this lesson as well by virtue of some of the citations from the Old Testament).
The Chosen is a multi-season television drama about Jesus Christ and those chosen to follow him. But the New Testament doesn’t just tell of people who are chosen to meet the Messiah. God himself chose Jesus to be our High Priest.
Called by God
No one can simply decide they want to be a priest, let alone the high priest. God alone can do this. That was true from the time of Aaron (Moses’ brother). Not even Jesus just showed up and expected to serve in that office. He needed to be designated by God—and he was.
After the warning about disbelief and not entering God’s rest (Hebrews 4), the writer developed further the calling of Jesus as high priest. In the Old Testament, those who served God’s people as high priest were chosen from the people, acted on behalf of the people, and offered sacrifices for the people. Three words describe this designation: selected (to take by the hand), appointed (made to stand and be recognized), and called (marked out or named). Calling the priests from the people made sense because the high priest could deal gently (to act in moderation) with the ignorant (those not knowing) and those going astray (deceived). But there was an enormous difference between the average high priest and Jesus. The high priest had to offer sacrifices for his own sins. Jesus had no such need in his calling as high priest.
Jesus did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest (that is, he did not exalt himself). He relied on the Father’s calling. The writer places two very royal psalms side by side to make his point. Psalm 2 and Psalm 110 lend support to God’s designation of Jesus as the high priest. Jesus is uniquely God’s Son—in fact, he is similar to that strange kingly priest named Melchizedek, who is mentioned three times in our lesson text and later is identified as having no beginning of days or end of life (Hebrews 7:3).
Forged by Suffering
Forged can mean “falsified,” but in this heading it means “pressed” or “hammered out.” Another thing designating Jesus as the high priest was how he allowed suffering to forge or refine him. Like other priests, Jesus bore the burdens of the people to God and spoke to the people about God. While in his incarnate state, Jesus offered up prayers and petitions to his Father. The default setting is to think that this refers to Gethsemane, where Jesus’ sweat became as blood (Luke 22:44). But in light of the language reminiscent of Psalm 22, it most likely referred to his salvific experience on the cross. (After all, at least half of the seven famous statements from the cross are prayers.) Jesus’ prayer was heard because of his reverent (godly) submission.
Even though he was God’s Son, Jesus had to learn obedience in the kiln of suffering. Once the suffering was complete (Luke 23:46 and John 19:30), Jesus became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. The cross always precedes the crown. The recipients of this treatise would also endure suffering. They would be tempted to not mature and ultimately to cave in regarding the faith (Hebrews 5:11–6:12). Jesus’ suffering would encourage them not to give up.
Confirmed by an Oath
After a section about maturity and not falling away, the writer returned to his argument about Jesus being the high priest in the order of Melchizedek. It boils down to God keeping his word. God had made a promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:5-6; 17:1-8, 15-19). He swore to keep it based on his own character (i.e., he swore by himself). After all, it is impossible for God to lie. This oath idea is repeated five times in this section of Scripture. God’s character was on the line with this promise.
But God’s purpose was also on the line. God made Jesus’ high priesthood so sure so that believers could take hold of (grasp) the hope that leads to eternal life. Hope is metaphorically described as an anchor. And hope entered the Holy of Holies through the person of Jesus—a theme that will be explained later in the letter. Called, forged, and confirmed—that’s Jesus’ high priestly designation.