April 22, 2018
This year, we’ve been in a study of Church History during our Wednesday night Chapel. Last week, we looked at the Reformation in England in the 16th Century. You see, the Protestant Reformation was sweeping western Europe. It was slow to come to England, largely because the King of England, Henry VIII, was an avowed Catholic. In fact, in 1521, the year of the Diet of Worms when Luther made his famous “Here I Stand” speech, young King Henry wrote a work defending the seven sacraments – for which he was given the title, Defender of the Faith, by Pope Leo X – the guy who was after Luther.
But then some things happened to change the direction of England – which eventually had a significant impact on the New World. Not discounting the sovereignty of God, we are largely Protestant because England and Scotland became so. What happened? Well, it’s a sordid story. King Henry was married to Catherine of Aragon, and she bore him no male heirs – which he desperately wanted. Oh, she did give him Mary – who later became known as Mary I and Bloody Mary – an avowed Catholic who persecuted and killed Protestants. You see, the problem was at this time in history, there had been no female monarchs in England who ascended the throne. Queens, yes, married to kings, but no queens ascending the throne.
So, in 1527, Henry decided to seek from the Pope an annulment of his marriage to Catherine so he could marry another – Anne Boleyn. But the Pope refused to grant the annulment. Long story short, the king said, no problem, I don’t like the Pope having so much power in England anyway – and through a series of pronouncements, broke from the Catholic Church and named himself the head of the church of England. This was called the Act of Supremacy, and said in part that the King was “the only Supreme Head of the Church of England.” Get rid of the Pope, name yourself head of the church, get your archbishop Thomas Cranmer to annul your marriage and marry you to Anne. By the way, Anne gave birth to a daughter name Elizabeth who later became Elizabeth I. It’s interesting to note these two heirs – Mary and then Elizabeth, ascended the throne later. But again, no male heir, so he had Anne executed on spurious charges so he could marry a third wife, Jane Seymour.
Finally, Jane bore him a boy named Edward – who followed his father Henry as king at the age of nine. He only ruled till he was 16, but he was an avowed Protestant. When he died, that’s when Mary became queen – an avowed Catholic – the whole thing was a mess. Here’s what I want you to see in that whole story. King Henry VIII broke from the Catholic Church, not because he wasn’t Catholic – but in doing so, became the supreme head of the church. He replaced the Pope. He was King, and highest priest, as it were.
Of course, you can’t really do that. As far as Protestants were concerned, that was one of the challenges with the Catholic Church – the Pope was supposedly the successor of Peter – and the highest priest of the priests. The Pope acted as Christ’s vicar or representative on earth. And the priests interceded for the people. The problem, you see, was there was already a high priest who interceded with God for the people – and His name was Jesus. There is only one mediator between God and man – Jesus. And by the way, Jesus did not take on the title of high priest Himself. He was named so by His Father. Oh, and Jesus did not have the sordid affairs and successive marriages and sinful life of Henry – and many of the Popes. No, Jesus was the perfect High Priest – the only and perfect one to represent His people to God.
And as such, we do not need imperfect priests to stand between us and God any longer. We do not need continued sacrifices to provide atonement for us – the perfect High Priest Jesus provided the perfect sacrifice once for all. And further, this is only one who is both Priest and King – well, I guess two if you count the priesthood order to which Jesus belonged. Look at the text with me in our continuing study of Hebrews – 5:1-10.
Last week, we saw that we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens – Jesus, the Son of God, who, having completed His work, sat down at the right hand of the Father. From there, He sympathizes with our weaknesses, having lived as man and having experienced every kind of temptation just like us – yet without sin. And so, we can go to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.
By that paragraph at the end of chapter 4, the author has transitioned to his third major section of the book. We’ve seen Jesus is greater than the angels in chapters 1 and 2. He’s greater than Moses and Joshua in chapters 3 and 4. And now, Jesus is greater than the high priest Aaron, and every high priest since then. He’s greater than the Levitical system, greater than every sacrifice because He is the fulfillment of everything the Old Covenant ever pointed to. Jesus is greater. This section will extend all the way to Hebrews 10, with a significant warning passage tucked in.
So, since he’s going to talk about OT priests, the high priest, the OT sacrifices, the author starts by introducing this position of high priest to us. You see, the high priest stood at the head of the Levitical system. He tells us what the requirements for a high priest are – and how Jesus perfectly met those requirements. As such, He becomes the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him – which we’ve seen in Hebrews begins with belief, and perseveres through a lifetime of faithful obedience. So today is a lot of information about the high priest, but it lays the necessary groundwork for Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of the role. Let me give you the outline of the text:
- The Qualifications and Duties of the OT High Priest (1-4)
- The Qualifications and Duties Fulfilled by Jesus as the NT High Priest (5-10) And in this second point, we’ll see how Jesus is both Priest and King – but most unlike Henry VIII.
In those first four verses, we see the qualifications and duties of the OT high priest. Three things to note. First, notice the High priest was appointed from among men on behalf of men. In other words, if the high priest was going to represent people, he must be a people – a person himself. He’s taken from among men on behalf of men. And we remember chapter 2 where the author said of Jesus, “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood [in other words, since they are human], He Himself also partook of the same…Therefore, He had to be made like His brothers in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God.” So, the high priest was taken from among men – that he might represent men in things pertaining to God, to God. So again, if Jesus was to represent us to God, He must be, He had to be made one like us.
Notice second, in addition to being one in solidarity with humanity, the high priest did not take the role on himself. Verse 1 says He was appointed to role. Verse 4 says, “And no one takes the honor to himself, but rather receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.” Now, who’s this Aaron? Aaron was the brother of Moses. When God delivered the Israelites from Egypt, He led them to Mount Sinai. There, He gave them the Law – often called the Law of Moses, summed up in the Ten Commandments.
But He also gave them plans for the Tabernacle, and the Levitical system. You see, when the Israelites would break the Law – and break the Law they would – they would need a system to find forgiveness. That system would include priests who would intercede for the people – and an entire system of sacrifices. The priests would come from one tribe – the tribe of Levi, of which Moses and Aaron were a part. Further, the priests would need a head priest – the high priest – who would represent all the people, to include the priests, before God. We talked about this last week. The high priest would go into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle to offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people. He only did it once a year – on the Day of Atonement.
Well, Aaron was the first high priest – chosen by God, as was the tribe of Levi. They didn’t take this honor upon themselves – they were appointed to the role. And the descendents of Aaron would serve in the role of high priest.
Now notice something else – the tribe of Levi was not the tribe from which the kings would come. The first king was Saul – of the tribe of Benjamin. But he and his tribe lost the kingship? How? Very interesting – among other things, Saul took on the role of a priest – he decided one day when he got tired of waiting for Samuel to offer sacrifices. So he did it, but he wasn’t a priest. He was the king – and the king was not of the tribe of Levi.
Well, Saul lost the kingship, and the role passed to David and the tribe of Judah. The kings, in the future, would be of the tribe of Judah – in fact, a descendent of David. So don’t miss it, in order to be king, you had to be of the tribe of Judah, and descendent of David. And in order to be a priest, you had to be of the tribe of Levi. And you couldn’t be both – from both tribes and be both priest and king – well, unless your priesthood came from another source.
Well, we’ll come back to that. So, to be the high priest, you had to be a man to represent people; to be a high priest, you had to be appointed by God. You couldn’t just take the honor of the position for yourself. Which leads to his duties. I’ve already said it – he was to act on behalf of people in things pertaining to or in relation to God – namely, in offering gifts and sacrifices for sins.
That’s what a priest did. He represented the people to God, acting as a mediator, to offer gifts – that speaks of all those non-animal gifts, like grain, meal, oil, incense offerings – and sacrifices for sins. Don’t miss that. People were sinners – they broke the Law of God – the Law of Moses God gave them at Mt. Sinai. Remember, those tablets of stone were in the golden box under the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies. And it was the priests’ job to offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin. We understand this – without the shedding of blood, there could be no forgiveness of sin. Notice the attitude with which the high priest was to approach the people – with gentleness for the ignorant and misguided or wayward. That’s what people are, generally speaking – sinners who disobey in misguided ignorance. But the high priest could and should deal gently with them, since he himself was also beset with or subject to similar weakness. Meaning, high priests were sinners, too.
That’s why verse 3 says he would offer sacrifices for the people, and also for himself. This is what would happen on the Day of Atonement – you can read all about it in Leviticus 16. He would first offer a sacrifice of a bull for himself and his family. Then, he would offer a goat for the sins of the people. He would take the blood of both bull and goat and offer it on the mercy seat within the Holy of Holies. Again, we talked about this last week. Those sacrifices were offered once a year on the Day of Atonement – for himself, his family, and the people. And the blood would be sprinkle on the lid of the golden box – below were the tablets of stone engraved with the Law – above was the glory of God – the blood covered the broken law.
Which brings us to our second point – the qualification and duties fulfilled perfectly by Jesus as the NT High Priest in verses 5-10. He has to meet these qualifications, and fulfill these duties outlined in those first verses if He is to be the faithful and merciful high priest.
Starting with verses 5 and 6 which demonstrate how Jesus was appointed high priest by God – just like He was supposed to be. “So also Christ did not glorify or exalt Himself so as to become a high priest” – by Himself, is the idea. Because as a man, He didn’t take that honor on Himself – He was appointed to the role by God. How so? The author quotes two OT passages, applying them to Jesus.
The first we’ve already seen back in chapter 1. He quotes Psalm 2, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You.” The author applies this messianic Psalm a little differently than he did in chapter 1. In chapter 1, he quoted the text to demonstrate that Jesus was greater the angels because He was the very Son of God. But here, he means it this way – He was appointed, if you will, the Son of God on the day He was begotten by God. When was that? Lots of discussion, but we can summarize it by saying Jesus became the exalted Son of God at His death, burial, resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand. Now to be clear, that doesn’t mean He was not already the Son of God – He was. But in His humanity, having completed His work, He was exalted to the highest degree – at the Father’s right, and received the name that is above every name – Jesus Christ our Lord. He was declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead.
Then, the author quotes a rather obscure passage from Psalm 110. Now, we know this Psalm – it is, after all, the most quoted in the NT. It’s a messianic Psalm and is applied to Jesus. Look at the first verse of Psalm 110, “The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” Oh yeah, we recognize that – he quoted that back in chapter 1, too.
But now, he quotes verse 4 of Psalm 110, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” What? Who is Melchizedek? Is that another name for Aaron? Not exactly. We first meet him way back in Genesis 14. Abraham was on his way back from rescuing his nephew Lot who had been captured by a group of kings. On the way back, Abraham was met by this Melchizedek – who we find out was both king and priest of Salem – that is, Jerusalem. To him, Abraham gave a tithe – that is, ten percent of all the spoils he gained from the battle when he recaptured Lot. We’ll come back to that in Hebrews 7. But for now, you should know that we don’t really know who this Melchizedek was other than king and priest of Salem. And he disappears in the OT, until Psalm 110, where we read the Son of God – the Messiah – would be a priest according the order of Melchizedek. Not Aaron, Melchizedek. By the way, Melchizedek doesn’t reappear until this passage in Hebrews.
Some things to notice. First, note that Melchizedek was both priest and king. He wasn’t an Israelite – but he was king and priest of Salem. Notice second that he was not of the tribe of Levi – which meant he could be a priest and a king. Third, notice Jesus was of the order of Melchizedek, which meant He, too, could be both priest and king – and that He is. He could be a priest of the priestly order of Melchizedek, and He could be king as a descendent of David, and of the tribe of Judah.
So, Jesus met the important qualifications. First, He didn’t take the honor of high priest upon Himself – no, He was appointed to the role. Second, He was able to serve as a priest – in fact, the high priest – since He was of a priestly order. Not just any order – but the order Psalm 110 said He would be. And third, as the Son of God, seated at His right hand – as per Psalm 2 – as David’s son, He is reigning as King of kings. Jesus is the High Priest of His people – and He is the King of His people.
But how does He meet the qualification of dealing gently with His people, since He Himself was also beset with weakness? Verse 7 – He suffered in His flesh, just like people do. “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One [that is, His Father] able to save Him from death.” We’ve talked about this verse already. This could be referring to many times of prayer as Jesus walked the earth – after all, He knew why He’d come. Over and over He told disciples He was going to Jerusalem – the same city where Melchizedek served as priest and king – to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. He would be mistreated, beaten and eventually killed – crucified. It’s why He had come – to give His life a ransom for many. But He also told them He would be raised from the dead on the third day.
So, He could have spoken to the Father about this many times. But surely, we know He did so in the Garden of Gethsemane when He prayed over and over, sweating great drops of blood, “Father, if it’s possible, let this cup pass from Me.” I don’t want to drink the cup of Your wrath. Beset with weakness.
You see, in His humanity, Jesus struggled. He suffered greatly – more than any man ever has. He knew He would bear in His body the sins of the world. He would bear the wrath of God. So He sought His Father – if there is any other way, let it be so. Look at verse 8, “Although He was a Son [not just any Son, the Son from Psalm 2], He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.” Again, this does not mean prior to this He was disobedient. Oh no. It means in His humanity, through great suffering and temptation, He learned obedience, and drank the cup of God’s wrath. Like every man, He learned obedience. But unlike any man, He learned it perfectly – because although He was tempted in all ways like we are – He was without sin.
Look at verse 9, “And having been made perfect [again, not that He was not already and always perfect – but in His humanity, having learned obedience, and perfectly lived obedience, He attained human perfection], He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.” Which brings us to the duty of the High Priest. Yes, He met the qualifications perfectly – He was a man, from among men, and therefore able to represent men to God. And as a man, having suffered and faced every temptation of humanity, He is able to deal gently with those ignorant, misguided people. Further, He was appointed to the role by the Father – He didn’t assume it for Himself. And yes, He was of the order of a priesthood – the order of Melchizedek.
Therefore, He was able to fulfill the duties of the priest in things pertaining to God – namely, in offering a sacrifice for sins. But unlike the former high priests, He didn’t have to offer a sacrifice for Himself – because He knew no sin. But He became sin for us. To be clear, there was no blood of bulls and goats – since later the author tells us the blood of bulls and goats could never forever deal with our sin. No, He offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice – with the shedding of His own blood. Because blood there must be, for without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sin.
Do you see the glorious picture the author is painting? And so, having been made perfect through perfect obedience, He came the perfect high priest, the perfect sacrifice, and the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey Him. Notice, this is eternal salvation – never ending. As I said earlier, that obedience is found in the obedience of faith and proven by the obedience of perseverance.
The author will now spend several chapters talking about how Jesus perfectly fulfills all the Old Covenant promises and types. But first comes another severe warning. If Jesus is the one and only perfect High Priest, if He is the one and only perfect sacrifice, don’t quit. Don’t leave Him – if you do, it will be impossible for you to find repentance anywhere else.
I did skip one phrase at the of verse 7 that I want to close with. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus offered both prayers and supplications with crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death. Father, if it’s possible, let this cup pass from Me. That was His prayer – and the end of verse 7 says, and He was heard because of His piety or reverence.
Now, that word heard implies not only that God heard the prayer, but answered the prayer. He gave Him what He asked for. Really, He did? This has led to all kinds of interpretations. For example, that He was praying that He would not drop dead right there in the Garden. After all, His soul was troubled to death, He was losing blood – Father, help Me make it to the cross. And God heard and answered that prayer.
Others have said He was praying that He not be left in the place of the dead. Father, don’t leave Me dead – don’t allow My body to see decay. And God heard and answered that prayer three days later when He raised Him from the dead.
Both of those are possible – the second more likely. But others point out that His prayer was, Father, if it’s possible, let this cup pass from Me. And it wasn’t possible – not if there was to be eternal salvation for His people. So God answered His prayer. Further, the Son prayed, but not My will, but Yours be done. God answered His prayer.
Every once in awhile, I hear someone say, when we pray – for healing, for example – that we should not pray, Your will be done. That such a prayer is a copout. Of course it’s His will to heal. And so by saying, Your will be done, you’re allowing yourself an out if He doesn’t heal. You’re demonstrating a lack of faith.
I do not believe that for a minute. I do believe God can heal and does heal. I do believe God is able to answer every one of my prayers. But I also believe that He does answer every one of my prayers. Because I close my prayers with, In Jesus’ name. Which means, for Jesus’ sake, according to His will. You see, that’s how I come to the throne of grace – through the One who sits at the Father’s right hand. And since God is altogether sovereign and good, I can trust that His answers, which are sometimes no, are altogether good – for His glory, for my good. Because whatever my God ordains is right. He will always hear and answer – according to His good and glorious purposes. Do you believe that?