Jesus, Our Perfect High Priest
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, January 28, 2007
Copyright © 2007, P. G. Mathew
"Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him" - Hebrews 5:8-9 (author's translation)
Hebrews 5:1-10 speaks about Jesus, our perfect high priest, and his ability to deal with all our problems of sin, ignorance, and wandering away from God. As weak sinners, we need a perfect high priest as well as a perfect victim to be our substitute. We need a perfect mediator who is both perfect God and perfect man to reconcile weak and sinful people to a holy God.
We have such a perfect high priest in Jesus Christ, in whom we have eternal salvation. All our weaknesses are due to our sin. Through Adam we all became sinners and practice sin daily. For this reason, God must pour out his wrath against us. Only Jesus Christ, our perfect high priest, can save such hell-bound sinners from the wrath to come.
We cannot save ourselves; by God's grace alone are we saved. God instituted a sacrificial system and the Aaronic priesthood for sinners in the Old Testament, which pointed to Jesus Christ. He is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, a universal and eternal priesthood. Let us, then, examine the qualifications of our great high priest.
I. A Human High Priest
First, we are told that Christ is human: "Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God" (v. 1). As humans, we need a human priest, not an angel, to redeem us. Additionally, there is no plan of salvation for fallen angels: "Surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants" (Heb. 2:16). Jesus our human high priest is able to sympathize with ignorant and wandering sinners.
II. A Sympathizing High Priest
Jesus is a sympathizing high priest. Every Aaronic high priest was himself a sinner: "He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness" (Heb. 5:2). "Beset with weakness" is a better translation. Exodus 32:21 speaks about the sin of Aaron, and Zechariah 3:1-6 describes how God removed the sin of the high priest Joshua.
Concerning the high priests of New Testament times, Professor Leon Morris writes:
In the first century, as [the high priest] laid his hands on the head of the animal, he would say, 'O God, I have committed iniquity and transgressed and sinned before thee, I and my house and the children of Aaron, thy holy people. O God, forgive, I pray, the iniquities and transgressions and sins which I have committed and transgressed and sinned before thee, I and my house.' Only then was he able to minister on behalf of the people" (Leon Morris, Hebrews. Vol. 12 of Expositor's Bible Commentary: Hebrews-Revelation, edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, et al. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984], 47).
Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would first offer a bullock for his own sins and then sacrifice a goat for the sins of the people (cf. Lev. 16). The high priest would have to enter the Holy of Holies twice to sprinkle the blood of these sin offerings upon the mercy seat. Because he himself was a sinner, he was able to deal gently with those who were ignorant and erring from the way of the Lord.
There was no atonement for the defiant and rebellious (Num. 15:29-30). Atonement was available for sins committed out of ignorance, but no atonement was available for the one who sinned defiantly. Such a person had to be cut off from the people. Hebrews 10 speaks about this also: "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God" (vv. 26-27).
III. A High Priest Ordained by God
It was a great honor to be a high priest of Israel and mediate between God and man. Hebrews 5:4 says, "No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God." A high priest was ordained to his office by God himself.
Some people wanted to be priests and high priests, though God did not ordain them as such. God's response was to put such upstarts to death. Korah and his followers rebelled against Moses and Aaron and challenged Aaron's priesthood. After killing these rebels, God said, "I am going to put an end to this strife. Bring twelve staffs, and the staff that buds and blossoms and bears fruit will be that of the man I have chosen," and Aaron's staff sprouted and bore fruit (Num. 16 and 17). Second Chronicles 26 tells how King Uzziah wanted to become a priest to offer sacrifices in the temple. God struck him with leprosy.
God will not put up those who take the honor of ministry upon themselves. Pastor T. K. Thomas of India said there are three types of preachers: those who call themselves, those who are called by others, and those who are called by God. I say ten percent of ministers are called by others, eighty percent are called by themselves, and ten percent are called by God. A number of years ago the president of a seminary told his freshman class: "Unless the Lord has called you to study for the ministry, we do not want you to be here" (William Hendriksen and Simon Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: 1 & 2 Thessalonians, The Pastorals and Hebrews [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995], 134).
Like Aaron and his descendants, Jesus Christ was a human high priest so that he could help humans like us: "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil-and free us from the devil and from death" (Heb. 2:14). But unlike the Aaronic priests, Jesus Christ was sinless: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin" (Heb. 4:15). Though he was tempted he never yielded, but overcame temptation. So we read, "Such a high priest meets our need-one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself" (Heb. 7:26-27). Paul says the same thing: "He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:21, author's translation).
A sinful priest needs to make atonement for himself before he can sacrifice for others. A sinful priest cannot save anyone, for he himself needs a Savior. We needed a perfect, sinless high priest, and we have one in Jesus Christ. Yes, he was tempted in every way just like us, but he never yielded to temptation. He was victorious over every temptation. So he is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses and help us in our time of temptation. He will make a way out for us along with the temptation.
We needed a mediator who was both God and man, one person in two natures, to reconcile us to God and to understand and represent us. That his atonement may have infinite efficacy, this mediator had to be God. Additionally, the blood of bulls and goats cannot save anyone (Heb. 10:4), so we also needed a perfect victim to be sacrificed as our substitute. We have such a perfect victim in Jesus Christ, the God-man. He did not offer an animal; he offered himself in our place.
Jesus did not take this honor upon himself, but was ordained and appointed by God. To make this point, the author quotes Psalm 2:7: "You are my Son; today I have become your Father" and Psalm 110:4: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek" (Heb. 5:5). God the Father chose his eternal Son to be our eternal high priest. We already read that the Son is the king eternal (Heb. 1:13, Ps. 110:1), a descendant of David. But the writer to the Hebrews is the only person in the New Testament to bring out this idea that Christ is not only the king eternal, but also the high priest eternal.
In the history of Israel, priesthood and kingship were not combined in one person. In fact, the Qumran community of New Testament times expected two messiahs-a royal messiah of the Davidic line and a priestly messiah from the line of Aaron. They failed to realize that these two offices were united in Jesus Christ, who is eternal king and eternal high priest after the order of Melchizedek, which is an eternal and universal priesthood. Aaron only represented the Jewish people, but Jesus Christ represents all peoples, both Jew and Gentile.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us in chapter 1: "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through him he also made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven" (vv. 1-3). Here we see one person fulfilling, not only two but, in fact, three offices-prophet, priest and king.
Psalm 110 also declares that the Messiah will be both king and priest, as does Zechariah 6: "Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak. Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Here is the man whose name is the Branch,'" which is a messianic title, "'and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne, and there will be harmony between the two'" (vv. 11-13).
IV. A Suffering High Priest
Next, we learn that Jesus is a suffering high priest. The purpose of the Son's incarnation was to do what Adam failed to do as our representative head. Psalm 40:6-8 (quoted in Heb. 10:5-7), discloses this purpose: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, 'Here I am-it is written about me in the scroll-I have come to do your will, O God'" (italics added).
The Son came to do the will of God perfectly. Isaiah prophesied that "the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand" (Is. 53:10). This was accomplished specifically through the death of Jesus Christ for our sins. He came to John the Baptist to be baptized without confessing sins, for he had nothing to confess, but was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. He began his public life with baptism in water and finished it by the baptism of the death of the cross. Jesus Christ walked the way of the will of God, the narrow way of righteousness, the way of the cross, without yielding to temptation.
Isaiah 50 speaks about the Son's obedience while suffering: "The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame" (vv. 5-7).
Brothers and sisters, I hope we will reject the theology that a Christian should not suffer but always enjoy prosperity and health. Such teaching is the damnable doctrine of demons. Suffering is part of doing the will of God.
Jesus learned obedience in the school of suffering. In fact, he chose the way of suffering, learning what it was to obey when obeying meant suffering. Therefore his Father was pleased with him and said, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!" With all his frailties in this fallen world, Christ fully obeyed the will of his Father. PGM Living a life of dependence and prayer, he taught his disciples to pray, that they may not enter into temptation. He taught them to deny themselves daily, take up the cross, and follow him to death.
"He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears" (Heb. 5:7). The specific reference is likely to Gethsemane, where Christ experienced the intense agony of hell even to the point of sweating blood (cf. Mark 14:34; Luke 22:44). Jesus was not asking God to save him from physical death; many people experienced the physical death of crucifixion. But he was greatly troubled because of the eternal death he was about to die for the sin of the world. He who knew no sin became the worst sinner as the sins of the world were put on him. He was about to suffer what the book of Revelation calls the second death, to be forsaken by his Father and cut off from his cherished communion with him. He was about to go hell, so he prayed with loud cries and tears.
The theologian B. F. Westcott speaks about three kinds of prayer: silent prayer, crying prayer, and prayer with tears. Tears overcome all obstacles. There is no door through which tears do not pass. I say the prayer of tears goes directly to the throne of God.
We are told the Father heard the prayer of Jesus because of his eulabeia-his life surrendered to the will of God. I would translate it as "his obedience," for God does not hear the prayers of rebels.
The word eulabeia is also used in Hebrews 12: "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire'" (vv. 28-29, italics added). Contrast this with much of today's worship. It is pure entertainment for the assembled people and has nothing to do with worship. There is no consciousness of a holy God in the midst of the people.
Jesus cried out with loud shouts and tears, and the Lord heard him and sent an angel to strengthen him. We know his prayer was heard because God raised him from the dead on the third day. Jesus fulfilled God's will by actively obeying his Father in life and passively by his death on the cross. By his obedience, he accomplished redemption for us.
V. A Perfect High Priest
Jesus is a perfect high priest after the order of Melchizedek. When Adam became a sinner, he plunged the whole world into sin. The Aaronic priesthood was imperfect because of the sin of the high priests. We needed a high priest who was perfect, who would perfectly obey the Father.
Jesus said always, "Not my will but thine be done," in spite of any suffering he would experience. Through his perfect obedience, he became a perfect mediator as well as a perfect victim on our behalf. So he alone is completely qualified to be our high priest. Verse 8 says, "Son though he was. . . ." The author is emphasizing that Jesus is the eternal Son. The writer continues, "yet he learned obedience through suffering, and was made perfect" (author's translation). Hebrews 2:10 says, "In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering." There was no other way.
Jesus Christ did not move from disobedience to obedience like us, but moved from untested to tested and proven obedience. He did not move from imperfection to perfection, but from perfection to tested and proven perfection. He is our perfect high priest.
VI. The Source of Eternal Salvation
Verse 9 says that once made perfect, Christ became the source of eternal salvation. From the eternal Son comes eternal salvation. There is no other high priest, there is no other mediator between God and man, there is no other Savior. He alone is the well of salvation to which all must come and drink: "Come unto me and drink . . . and out of your innermost being shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:37-38, author's translation). He gave living water to the sinful Samaritan woman (John 4). He is our propitiation, the source of our eternal salvation. No one else! Paul writes, "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30).
When Jesus saves a sinner, he does so, not for a day, but for eternity; he is the source of eternal salvation. This is an Old Testament idea. Isaiah 45:17 says, "But Israel will be saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation." We find this idea repeated in Hebrews 9: "He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption . . . For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance" (vv. 12, 15). Hebrews 13:20 also speaks about the eternal covenant. Jesus Christ has no successor as high priest because his sacrifice once-for-all offered obtained eternal redemption. The eternal Son gives us eternal salvation in which we can be secure forever.
VII. The Savior of All Who Obey Him
If Jesus saves us by grace, we will obey him throughout our lives: "And once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him" (Heb. 5:9, italics added). "Obey" is in the present tense, meaning our obedience is continuous. To say we believe in Jesus and disobey him at the same time is anti-Christian. Yet we see this phenomenon especially in countries with material prosperity and political peace. If one habitually disobeys Jesus, we must conclude that Jesus did not save that person. He is making a false claim. All antinomians are antichrists.
The apostles did not know about the modern teaching that one could be an antinomian and yet a Christian. In his first epistle, John wrote, "If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth . . . The man who says, 'I know him,' but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 1:6; 2:4). In the beginning of Romans, Paul speaks about the commission he received from God: "Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience of faith" (Rom. 1:5, italics added). At the end of this epistle, he mentions the same idea: "so that all nations might believe and obey him" (Rom. 16:26). In Ephesians 2:10 Paul writes, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has foreordained that we should walk in them" (author's translation). And in Acts 5:32 the apostle Peter says: "We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him."
Finally, look at the words of Jesus in Matthew 7: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" (vv. 21-23). A good tree will produce good fruit, while a bad tree produces bad fruit. It is that simple. Theologian Philip Hughes says, "The eternal salvation of which he is the source is a reality in the experience of those who obey him" Then Hughes quotes B. F. Westcott: "Continuous active obedience is the sign of real faith" (Philip E. Hughes, The Epistle to the Hebrews [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977], 188).
Examine yourselves. If Jesus saved you by grace, you shall live an obedient life by grace. What God has united, no one shall put asunder. Jesus is both Lord and Savior, both Lord and High Priest. Even now he is saving all who obey him, whether Jew and Gentile, because his priesthood is the universal priesthood of the order of Melchizedek. He is not saving those who disobey him. We are to confess with our mouths, "Jesus is Lord," as an acknowledgment that we are his subjects and servants. Such people Jesus saves with eternal salvation and they are secure forever. If Jesus learned obedience by the things he suffered, we are not exempt. It is he who called us to discipleship, saying, "Deny yourself daily, take up the cross, and follow me to death." But do not worry about death. As Paul said, "To me to live is Christ and to die is gain."
Is Jesus Your Perfect High Priest?
Are you a sinner? If so, you have a Savior, a perfect high priest and perfect victim, whose sacrifice has been accepted by the Father. Jesus Christ alone accomplished eternal salvation. Surrender to him today and be saved forever.
Are you a saint? Have you been saved by Jesus, the great high priest and only Savior? If so, know that he is not only your high priest, but he is also your eternal king. In fact, he is the prophet, priest, and king. Therefore, ask yourself: Do I obey him gladly? If not, your profession is false. But if you are an obedient Christian, rejoice and proclaim this eternal salvation.
We were ignorant and erring hell-bound people of weakness and sin. But "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes on him shall not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). It is pure grace that saves us and pure grace that enables us to love and obey God and walk in the straight and narrow way to the end. May God save his people today, that they may rejoice in their eternal salvation.
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Copyright © 2007, P. G. Mathew
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