The Authority of Christ, Our High Priest. Heb. 5, 1-10,

Christ competent to be our High Priest: V.1. For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; v.2. who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way, for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. V.3. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. v.4. And no man taketh this honor unto himself but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. The last paragraph of chapter 4 serves as an introduction to a long discourse on Christ’s office as our High Priest. As Christ was infinitely superior in person and office to the angels and to Moses, so also He is exalted far above Aaron and all the high priests of the Old Testament. It was necessary that this subject be treated at length because the Jewish Christians were still placing far too great an emphasis upon the Old Testament cult and worship, believing that such external forms were necessary for the proper attitude toward God. But wherever such an idea takes hold upon a community or a church-body, there is always danger that the doctrine of faith and salvation be relegated to the background, if not abrogated altogether. That Christ was competent, first of all, for the office of our High Priest is shown from the fact that He possessed the qualifications for the office. Of the first qualification the sacred writer states: For every high priest selected from men is appointed for men in things that concern God, that he may offer gifts as well as sacrifices for sins. The high priests of the Old Testament were taken or selected from men, from among their brethren, Lev. 21, 10, of the tribe of Levi and of the family of Aaron. The man selected was then inducted into his office, being ordained or appointed to have charge of those matters of worship which related to man's salvation. His office was in behalf of men, the people of his nation, in things relating to God; in other words, the fact that the high priest was a mediator between God and man was especially and primarily emphasized. In performing the work of his office, the high priest offered both gifts and sacrifices for sins. Both the offerings made without bloodshed and those which required the shedding of blood were made for the purpose of expiating the sins of the people; for this was the chief object of the high priest’s ministry.

It was significant that the high priest was selected from among his brethren, for this fact enabled him to be in hearty sympathy with all the people at all times: Able to deal gently with the ignorant and erring ones, since he himself is beset with weakness, and for this reason he is obliged, just as for the people, so also for himself to make offerings for sins. Since the high priest, as a sinful human being, was subject to the same weaknesses as the other people, since he knew how easily and quickly, under circumstances, a person may fall into sin, yield to some temptation, therefore he would be in a condition at all times to moderate his feeling, to control his righteous anger over the commission of sins, to deal with indulgence, gentleness, and moderation with the shortcomings of others, especially if it was evident from the outset that these were done from ignorance, by some lapse from the path of rectitude. For sins that were committed in a spirit of haughty violence and insolent defiance of the Law of God, the offender was summarily dealt with, being cut off from the congregation of the Lord. But for sins performed in error, without malice and meanness, expiation by sacrifice could be made. The high priest, then, being conscious of his own weakness and shortcomings, would not only be able to deal gently with offenders against the Law of God, but he would also be under the obligation of bringing sacrifices for his own sins, Lev. 16, 6, a fact which would naturally tend to keep him meek and humble in his office. Thus the first qualification of the high priest was that he, in the consciousness of his own weakness and sinfulness, might adopt the proper attitude of gentleness in his dealings with the other members of the congregation.

The second qualification of the high priest of the Old Testament was: And no one takes to himself this honorable office, but only when called by God, just as also Aaron was. Aaron was expressly and distinctly appointed and ordained by God as the first high priest of the Jewish people, Ex. 28. At the same time the Lord fixed the succession of this foremost office. The high priest thus did not assume his office to gratify his own ambition, but by the call of God, for the purpose of serving Him and restoring men to the proper fellowship with Him. Cp. Num. 3, 10; chap. 16-18. The same attitude toward the holy office should be observed at all times, and may even be expected of preachers in the New Testament: the divine call should regulate a man’s acceptance of a position in the Church, not personal choice and sordid ambition, aided by various shady schemes. That was the second qualification of the Old Testament high priest, that he held the honorable office by a call from God. Note: The Romish Church has attempted to use this paragraph to defend its doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass. But it is evident from the entire passage that the sacred writer is speaking of the Levitical priesthood only in so far as it was a type of the priesthood of Christ. 4)

The perfect salvation earned by Christ: V.5. So also Christ glorified not Himself to be made an high priest, but he that said unto Him, Thou art My Son, today have I begotten Thee. V.6. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. V.7. Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that he feared; v.8. though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; v.9. and being made perfect, he became the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him, v.10. called of God an High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. That the first qualification of a high priest was found in Christ, the writer had shown at the end of chapter 4, namely, that He was touched with the feeling of our infirmities. Here it is shown that also the second attribute of a high priest is not wanting in Christ, namely, that He was called to fulfill the office: So also Christ did not glorify Himself to be made a high priest, but He (took care of that) who said, Thou art My Son, I this day have begotten Thee; as also in another place He says, Thou art a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Christ did not attribute or arrogate to Himself the glory and honor of the high-priestly office which He administered. There was no personal ambition nor any sordid motive in Christ. He did not come in His own name, nor did He seek to glorify Himself. Cp. John 8, 54; 5, 31. 43; 17, 5. It was another who sought His honor and judged accordingly, namely, His heavenly Father, of whom the Messiah Himself says in Ps. 2, 7, that the Lord had distinctly called Him His eternal Son. This quotation shows what an immeasurably great and high person our High Priest is: God’s own eternal Son. The Messianic dignity included that of the priesthood. Certainly in one who held such an exalted position the fact that He became the great High Priest cannot be surprising. The second passage, Ps. 110, 4, exactly defines the priestly position and office of Jesus, already referred to in a general way. Christ has been called by God to be our Priest, our great High Priest. And the truest type of Christ in this capacity is not Aaron, the priest, but Melchizedek, as the writer later shows at length. His position, quality, kind, placed Jesus in a class with that singular Old Testament priest who lived at the time of Abraham.

The inspired author now proceeds to show how Jesus became obedient to the call of His Father: Who in the days of His flesh offered up prayers as well as supplications, with strong crying and tears, to Him who was able to deliver Him from death, and was heard on account of His godly reverence. When Christ was appointed to be our High Priest, He knew that this position involved an obedience which was altogether distasteful to flesh and blood, since it included also the necessity of becoming the sacrificial Lamb for the sins of the whole world. Yet in the days of His flesh, when He was in His state of humiliation, when He was like His brethren according to the flesh in capacity for suffering and temptation, He showed His obedience, even in the midst of His great Passion. In Gethsemane, on Calvary, He offered up to His heavenly Father not only quiet prayers, but also earnest, urgent entreaties. So deeply did the suffering affect Him that He added strong and bitter crying and tears. He cried to God, His heavenly Father, by whom He had been forsaken in the depth of the condemnation lying upon Him, to be delivered from the terrible experience of death, both temporal and eternal. The earnestness of Christ’s pleading for deliverance was intensified by the fact that He knew His heavenly Father to be able to deliver Him by the sending of twelve legions of angels or otherwise. It was in the very face of the fact that the Father possessed almighty power and infinite resources that He continued in His Passion. His obedience, therefore, was rewarded, His godly reverence, according to which He always kept before His eyes the necessity of carrying out the Counsel of God’s love to the end, was acknowledged in this way, that His Father heard Him. He passed through the terrible ordeal of gaining salvation for all men and was crowned with honor and glory, exalted to the right hand of God, Phil. 2, 9-11. Thus God gave His Son the best answer to His prayer of reverent submission by giving Him the cup to drink to the very dregs, thus to accomplish the great work for which He was appointed.

The greatness of the sacrificial obedience is further pointed out: Thus, although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered and, having been perfected, became to all who obey Him the Source of eternal salvation. Christ was the Son of God, in the bosom of the Father from eternity, the Possessor of perfect happiness and bliss, the object of the Father’s tender and solicitous love. He was, therefore, heard by His Father, the result being that He suffered, that He carried out the will of His heavenly Father. In this way He learned obedience, He acquired that perfect submission which was necessary and, at the same time, adequate for the-need of all men. “It is when the child is told to do something which pains him, and which he shrinks from, that he learns obedience, learns to submit to another will. And the things which Christ suffered in obeying God’s will taught Him perfect submission and at the same time perfect devotedness to man.” 5) in this way Christ was perfected, was perfectly equipped with all the qualifications needed for the great work of atonement. In this way eternal salvation was earned, Christ Himself becoming the Author and Source of this salvation. This redemption is now actually realized in those that obey Christ, that yield to Him the obedience of faith, 2 Cor. 10, 5. 6; Rom. 1, 5, that accept Him as their great High Priest and Sacrifice. Thus also He is now saluted by God as a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. As one commentator has it: “When the Son ascended and appeared in the sanctuary on high, God saluted Him or addressed Him as a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. This is a guarantee that the work of redemption is complete, that it lies ready before all men, that God Himself has acknowledged and accepted it.” We have here a wonderful source of comfort for our faith under all circumstances.

A Reproof of Spiritual Ignorance. Heb. 5, 11-14.

V.11. Of whom we have many things to say and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. V.12. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God, and are become such as have need of milk and not of strong meat. V.13. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the Word of Righteousness; for he is a babe. V.14. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. According to the tendency of the last passage, we might now expect a complete discussion of the high-priesthood of Christ to begin at this point. Instead, however, the sacred writer inserts here a reproof and an exhortation which is calculated to convey to his readers the necessity of giving proper heed to the doctrines included in this letter. The reason for the censure is first given: Concerning whom there is a great deal to say and difficult to explain, since you have become sluggish in your sense of hearing. The entire subject which has now been broached, that of Christ’s being a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, is a topic upon which one could write a great deal. The author intends, also, to discuss this important comparison at length, chap. 7, even though, on account of the difficulty of the subject, an explanation could not be given in an offhand manner. And the reason, in this case, is not to be found in the essential, inherent unreasonableness of the teaching, but in the fact that the readers have become sluggish in their hearing and understanding. The censure strikes the fact that the Jewish Christians to whom the letter is addressed had gone backward in knowledge, in the study, the understanding of doctrinal topics. This is the case in many a congregation or community where the Word of God has been preached for some time. There is always danger that men assume the self-satisfied, self-sufficient attitude toward instruction in spiritual matters which resents any implication as to their being in need of such teaching. Wherever this “know-it-all” attitude is assumed, a retrogression in spiritual knowledge and life is bound to follow.

This condition is pictured by the inspired writer: For, indeed, though on account of the length of time you should be teachers, you have need again of having some one to teach you the rudiments of the beginning of the oracles of God, and you have become as having need of milk and not of solid food. If one considered the length of time since the Gospel had first been preached in Judea, more than a generation before this, and the many opportunities which the Jewish Christians had had to become familiar with all the branches of Gospel teaching, it was by no means an unreasonable expectation that they should all have had the ability to teach others, to impart to them the wonderful truths of the Word of God, both the simple doctrines and those that required some measure of spiritual understanding. But the writer is obliged to censure his readers because it had become necessary once more to teach them the very rudiments of the Christian doctrine, the fundamental facts, whose knowledge was expected of the catechumens when being received into the Church. Then, as now, the central doctrines of Christianity constituted the basis of instruction and were expected to be mastered by the applicants for membership in the congregation. Therefore it was a disgrace, indeed, that these Jewish Christians, who should have been veterans in Christian knowledge, lacked the understanding demanded of the novices. They were, in the matter of spiritual knowledge, like infants unable to partake of solid food, dependent entirely upon milk. Cp. 1 Cor. 3, 2. “Instead of becoming adults, able to stand on their own feet, select and digest their own food, they had fallen into spiritual dotage, and entered a second childhood, and could receive only the simplest nourishment.” (Dods.) Mature Christians should be able to understand also the more advanced and complicated doctrines of the Christian faith, and to consider them with benefit to their faith.

The language of the sacred writer is not lacking in clearness at this point: For every one that still partakes of milk is inexperienced in the Word of Righteousness, for he is a babe. So long as a person is obliged, for want of a more thorough understanding, to rely upon the simplest exposition of the fundamental truths of Christianity as his sole diet, he is a spiritual babe and infant. He has no conception of the wonderful scope, of the manifold beauties contained in the Word of Righteousness, the Gospel, which teaches the righteousness that is accepted by God, being that righteousness of Christ which is imputed to men by God through faith. With the proper detailed study of the Word, a person will enter deeply and ever more deeply into the mysteries of God and constantly receive new nourishment for his faith.

Of this the inspired author says in conclusion: But solid food is for the mature, those who, by reason of their mental exercise, have their intellectual abilities exercised to discern good and evil. Christians that have reached some degree of spiritual maturity have done so by virtue of the habit which they have developed by constant exercise in the Word of God, the result finally being that their intellectual faculties, controlled by their faith and love in Christ, grasp the distinction between good and evil readily, between things that are beneficial and such as are harmful for their spiritual life. Their perception is so sharpened, their taste is so developed that the wholesome and the hurtful are readily discerned. Note: All Christians have the opportunity of growing in spiritual knowledge. If they actually study the Word of God day after day, if they take every thought into captivity under the obedience of Christ, then there will soon be evidence of maturity in the understanding of all the Scriptural doctrines, and a proper discrimination between the wholesome and the morbid and hurtful in doctrine and life. The censure probably applies just as sharply today as it ever did, and our humble acknowledgment of that fact may pave the way for needed improvement.

Summary. The inspired author shows that Christ has the necessary qualifications to be our High Priest, and that a perfect salvation was earned by virtue of His obedience; he inserts a sharp reproof on account of the spiritual immaturity of his readers.