Selected From Among Men
Key Verse 5:5
“So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’”
The priesthood of Christ is a subject of great important in the letter to the Hebrews. It is hard for us to understand this because Christians come into the faith and one of the first things they learn in the faith is that every confessing Christian is himself or herself a priest in the sight of God. We ourselves are priests of God serving in the holy presence of God. But we are so not because of ourselves but because of our Lord Jesus who by his sacrifice has made us into a priesthood to serve the living God. That is a subject for anther time, although it is another subject of great importance as well. But for the Hebrews the subject of priesthood, as well as the high priest was essential to their very existence and relationship with God. So, in focusing on the priesthood, the author brings the Jewish Christians once again to a subject that was very close to their hearts. And in these verses he makes it very clear that whatever imperfections belonged to the high priests of old that are in the line of Aaron, are not to be found in Christ Jesus at all! But instead, that the Great High Priest Christ Jesus surpasses them all and with superior excellencies and even more!
In verses 1-4 we have a general description of the Levitical office of the high priest. Let’s see what are the requirements of the high priesthood. “Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was.” Let me summarize the qualifications into five. The high priest is (1) “selected from among men”, from among the people, since he must partake of the nature of those on whose behalf he acted. (2) He acted not as a private individual but as a public official, since he was “appointed to represent them.” (3) He did not come empty handed before God but came “To offer gifts and sacrifices for sins”. (4) He himself was “Subject to weakness” so that he might understand the sinner. And (5) He did not take this honor upon himself but was chosen for this honor by God. Now that we have summarized these qualifications, let us look at them closely.
First, It was necessary that the high priest and especially Christ to be taken from among men for many reasons. Since the fall of man, God promised that the Christ would come from the seed of a woman, that is, a human being like one of us, someone who could understand us and able to represent us. And so it was that one day an angel visited Mary and announced to her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35a). So our Lord Jesus, the Son of God is also the Son of Man because he took upon himself our humanity. And he lived among us the life we live, taking our very nature, and perfectly understanding our humanity in all its weaknesses and failings, in its limitations and pains and sorrows— as well as our joys. Jesus even understood our temptations because he was subject to all of them because there is no temptation known to us that he was not familiar with, yet he did not give in to any of them. Therefore in every way Jesus our Lord could relate to us. In that way he was perfectly qualified to become our high priest.
So when people say why would God have to become a man in order to save us, the answer is right here! He had to become a man, otherwise he could never become our high priest. It was one of the most important qualifications of the high priesthood which God himself instituted among his people, that he be chosen from among men. But as the Son of Man he was qualified to offer that sacrifice for the sins of his people which divine justice required. His humanity and incarnation were an imperative if salvation was to be secured for us.
Second, He was appointed to represent the people. This tells us the reason why and the purpose for which the high priest was chosen from among the people. It was so that he might act on their behalf. In what way, and before whom? Just as it says, in matters related to God. In other words in matters relating to God’s character of holiness and the requirements needed to meet God’s holiness.
After the fall, relationship with God was broken— non existent. Man was sinful and God was Holy. The gap was enormous and impossible to bridge. The only way to make a relationship with God was through faith. Then God created a nation through the faith of the man Abraham, and ransomed his descendants from slavery in Egypt through the faith of the man Moses. And God gave his people the law and established a sacrificial system for them to be purified from their sins in order to maintain a relationship with him. But they needed scribes to teach them the law and priests to offer sacrifices on their behalf for their sins. So God chose from among them such men to serve them in such matters. That way they could remain a holy people as befits a Holy God. But they failed to be a holy people time and again. Their sins always separated them from the Holy God. But one man, the high priest alone was chosen from among all of them to represent the whole nation. He alone was permitted to enter into the presence of God and only once a year in order to represent them before God and pray for their forgiveness. But he wasn’t perfect nor entirely qualified. The high priest needed to sacrifice offerings for his own sins first before he entered into the Holy presence of God. Only then could he represent the people before the Holy God and offer sacrifices for them.
Third, “to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins”. The high priest’s duty was represent the people in offering gifts and sacrifices to God on their behalf. Generally you cannot separate the high priest from the sacrifice. High Priests and sacrifices go together. And these words apply perfectly to person and work of Christ Jesus our Lord becasue he was chosen from among the people to represent them before God as their high priest bearing their sacrifices to God. The difference is that our Lord Jesus didn’t need to enter into God’s presence only once a year on behalf of the people to represent them. He entered once for all. He never sinned. So he never needed to sacrifice and offer for his own sins first. But as the high priest he did need to come before God with a sacrifice for their sins and ours as well. So what sacrifice did he use? He sacrificed himself— a sinless Lamb— and offered himself as the sacrifice for our sins at the tabernacle before the throne of God. At the cross of Calvary, the Lord Jesus was not only the lamb of God bearing the judgment of God for all our sins, but he was also God’s high priest presenting the offering as well at the altar. Now we can understand Jesus’ words on the cross such as “it is finished”, as if he were saying that the sacrifice had been offered— the life had been laid down. Therefore Jesus our high priest having sacrificed himself for our sins, no longer needed to make any more sacrifices as the ancient priests did year after year. So that is why Hebrews 7:27 says of him: “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.”
Fourth, The high priest himself was “Subject to weakness” so that he might understand the sinner. Here’s another qualification for the priesthood. Look at verse 2. He is able to deal gently with those with whom he is called to serve. The King James Version says “who have compassion on”. His qualification is to have compassion on those he is serving. He must bear with them. He must be able to deal gently with them. A high priest couldn’t be expected to serve those whom he represents if he couldn’t understand their weaknesses and failings— if their frequent mistakes angers him— if the ignorance of their sins rouses no pity in his heart for them— if their waywardness disgusts him. Unless he himself is familiar with all these things and he is compassionate at heart, he cannot possibly qualify to represent the people. The Jewish high priest was himself a sinner. He knew temptation, and the tendency to yield to sin. He knew the consequences of sin as well and needed to deal gently and compassionately with the sinner.
So why does the author tell us this point specifically of the high priest? Probably for many reasons. For one, the Jewish high priest was for the most part anything but gentle and compassionate. In the time of Jesus the high priest was a man pompous and arrogant, far removed from the people and utterly unfamiliar with their suffering. But the ultimate reason the author mentions this qualification is the truth that no one in all history but Jesus could fulfill this qualification. This compassionate loving considerate and tender regard for the sinner can exist only in one person— in one sinless Jesus. It’s amazing that it takes a sinless One among us to be the most compassionate of all towards us all. You’d think that a pure and holy one like Jesus would be the harshest judge of us all, seeing that the holy and pure must judge and condemn the unholy and sinful. But when he shared our humanity, he became familiar with all our sorrows and our sufferings and knew all our weaknesses, and his heart fully understood us. He alone was able to deal gently with us. He alone could have perfect compassion on us. We are the ones who are hard on each other. It’s our own sinfulness that makes us harsh and bitter towards one another’s failings. But Jesus our Lord alone our high priest— He shows us compassion— He deals gently with each of us. Yes, He rebukes our sin— because he died and had to shed his blood for them, because our sins contributed to his painful anguish. But at the same time he also forgives our sin— because he died and shed his blood for them, because our sins contributed to our own painful anguish.He is really our high priest who deals gently and compassionately with our failings.
Verse 2 goes on to say that “he deals gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray”. Who then are the ignorant and those who are going astray? Of course, they are the erring among God’s people. But in reality, they represent every human being who is still living in the darkness of sin and of this world. In this world people think that there are smart people and then there are not so smart people, intelligent educated people and then there are the not so intelligent educated people, and so on. But from God’s perspective this whole world is ignorant, sitting in deep darkness, ignorant of the terrible judgment coming on this whole world. People think that just because they are kind to animals, just because they are not terrorists, just because they love their children and give food to the homeless, that they’re heaven worthy people. But from God’s perspective they’re all going astray because they are far from the truth. The truth is that every human being who isn’t baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus and whose sins aren’t washed in his blood cannot possibly satisfy God’s standard of righteousness. For this reason Jesus came, the light from heaven to shine in the darkness. He came to lead us out of our ignorance and waywardness. He showed us the way of truth. He led us in the gospel way— In the way of faith. Finally he died and ascended the heaven to become our high priest. As our high priest he is still dealing gently with us even now. Sometimes in ignorance we are led astray here or there. We sin, we err, we stray from the path of light, we fail and miss the mark, we despair and sit in a dark room. But in a moment of repentance, a moment of confession and faith, the Lord is quick to refresh our hearts, to fill them with forgiveness, to lead us by the hand into the light of his love and peace and glory. He is our compassionate high priest forever. That never changes. We may change but he never changes.
Fifth, And now we come to the last qualification of the high priesthood, which is that no one takes such an honor upon himself. And I want us to read verses 4-6. “No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father. And he says in another place, ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’” This kind of honor cannot but bestowed by God. Just as God bestowed this honor himself on Aaron, the apostle is telling us that it was also bestowed on Christ long ago. It has been prophesied. Christ is so great, he is of a different glory than Aaron the first high priest, or any high priest for that matter. The Hebrew Christians having had the Scriptures should have known this already. For example in the days when Aaron’s priesthood failed through Eli and his sons’, God himself said: “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his house, and he will minister before my anointed one always.” (1 Samuel 2:35) The fulfillment of this can be found in no one else but in the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here in these verses 4-6, the author shows us how Christ the high priest is far superior than any priest who ever lived, and indeed the promised faithful priest who ministers before God always.
First of all, Christ did not take this honor of a high priest upon himself. Look at verse 5 again. As God said to him: “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” This verse has already been quoted by the author in 1:5 to emphasize Jesus’ deity. So, what is the significance of this quote in the author’s argument? It is to emphasize his high priesthood. First of all, while Aaron was a high priest chosen by God, and Christ was a high priest chosen by God in the same way, there is a huge difference in both high priests. Aaron was a servant like Moses in God’s house, while Christ Jesus was a Son. That’s primarily the apostle’s argument. The difference is enormous. The Son is not like the servant. The titles are different. The privileges are different. Therefore this high priest Jesus Christ, being a Son makes him far greater than Aaron by virtue of his Sonship. You have to remember that the author is still arguing with these Jewish Christians the superiority of Christ over all that they held dear in their religious system.
Now look at verse 6. “And he says in another place, ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’” God the Father didn’t only say “you are my son” in the quote from Palm 2:7. He also said “you are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek as quoted from Psalm 110:4. This Psalm was also quoted earlier in this letter in Hebrews 1:13 to affirm Jesus Christ’s final victory over all his enemies. When Aaron was ordained, God didn’t speak to him directly to declare his priesthood. But the Father made a special declaration regarding his son. He is a priest forever. He like Melchizedek is a Priest and a King. As a priest forever, he stands forever to defend us, and we can be certain that our salvation is forever because we have a priest who is both Son of God and priest forever and Christ and Savior, one we love and worship and honor and devote our lives to, who is worthy. But our humble Savior had been given an honor by God who appointed him himself. An honor more than we can imagine.
Note 1: [But the issue of Christ’s sonship, that in this prophetic Psalm God would say “You are my son, today I have become your Father”, may be confusing to some. Some might think how could God become a father to Jesus when he was already a father to him. And the answer here is simple. This prophesy is neither in reference to his deity as the second person in the trinity of the Godhead, nor in reference to his birth in Bethlehem as the Son of God. But this is in reference to his resurrection or rebirth from the dead as the Son of God and the Pioneer of a new humanity. This is the Son of God who recovered for us what the original son of God Adam lost for us in the Garden of Eden and plunged us into the misery of sin and death. In Acts 13:33-34 the apostle explains this word of prophesy from psalm 2:7. After his resurrection He ascended into heaven in a glorified body which God raised from the dead according to his promise, to become for us our high priest at the throne of God— at the throne of grace and mercy. And that’s very important for us to know. Why? Because when the high priest Aaron was ordained to priesthood he offered sacrifices of animals, for his own sins and the sins of the people. But as for Jesus Christ our Lord to become our high priest he offered the sacrifice of his sinless self— and because he was sinless, God raised him from the dead. And so he became both our sacrifice and our high priest at the same time.]
Note 2 [Two things make Christ’s ordination unique and therefore greater than Aaron’s. First of all he is a priest forever. No Old Testament priest ministered forever. They all served and died and passed it on to another high priest. But for Christ the priesthood is forever. And since he is a priest forever he gives his people salvation forever. The second factor that makes Christ’s ordination unique is that he belongs to a different order from the Old Testament priests. While they were from the order of Aaron he is from the order of Melchizedek. The author talks quite a bit about this in this letter, almost a whole chapter. So what does it mean that Jesus is from another order, that of Melchizedek? Melchizedek is mentioned only twice in the Old Testamemnt, in Genesis 14:17-24 And Psalm 110:4. His name means “King of righteousness” and he was also “King of Salem” or “King of peace”. (7:2) But what’s amazing about this Melchizedek is that he was both priest and king. (7:1) After the law was given, no one in God’s history had ever been king and priest at the same time. These offices were always clearly distinct and separate and no one ever dared mix them. But in Jesus Christ these offices were again combined into one. Christ was of the order of Melchizedek meaning that he was both high priest and king. Look at verse 6 again. Why is Jesus a priest forever? Because he is of the order of Melchizedek. The Bible doesn’t tell us anything about the origin nor the death of Melchizedek as if he never died. Of course he was a man and died at some point but there is no record of his birth or death. In a sense the bible likens Jesus to him as a priest forever in his order. But Jesus couldn’t have served as a priest while he was on earth because the old order of things was in place and only a high priest from the line of Levi could serve. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah not from Levi. But through his sacrifice of himself, he became the high priest in heaven according to God’s will and plan.]