Summary: Jesus was called by His Father to be our High Priest, but He is also one of us.
There have already been three references in Hebrews to Christ as our high-priest in the preceding chapters:
- 2:17 in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High-priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
- 3:1 Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High-priest of our confession, Christ Jesus
- 4:14 Seeing then that we have a great High-priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High-priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
These references emphasise, as indeed does the rest of this book, the excellence and pre-eminence of the Lord Jesus. Never was there, never can there be, another who is so glorious, so worthy of love, honour and respect. As we have seen in the earlier chapters He is not only the Son of God (4:14), but became one of us, facing and overcoming the same trials and temptations that we face for He always remained pure, without sin (4:15) and holy (7:26).
The gorgeous priestly garments, the solemn ceremony, the grandeur of the temple with its dramatic rituals had a strong hold on the Jewish imagination. It resulted in a powerful prejudice against the simple, spiritual system which superseded it. This is not just a matter of historical interest because the same attitudes are still common in our society and hold a firm sway upon Catholics, not to mention most other religions with their emphasis on impressive ritual and physical splendour.
We need to understand that God cares infinitely more about the spiritual reality (our motives and our hearts) than pretty or dramatic ritual. Why do people imagine God to be so shallow as to be swayed by ritual? It is as absurd as a woman who cares much more about her wedding dress and the grandeur of the reception than about her bridegroom!
This book explains the relationship between the OT priesthood, sacrifices and tabernacle and the real spiritual truths that they portrayed. In doing so the writer makes it clear that Christ Jesus embodies everything needed by a high-priest without the failings and imperfections that belonged to Aaron and the priests that descended from him. We have a more dignified High-priest and the gospel of Christ in its spiritual reality utterly surpasses the Mosaic tabernacle, even with its physical splendour, sacrifices, priesthood and ritual.
Taken from among men v1&2
Chapter 5 begins by considering the qualifications and office of the earthly high-priest. First it reinforces the earlier lesson that He must be taken from among men so that he can sympathize with the weak or ignorant – as we saw a while ago. Having experienced such weakness for himself he can understand how we feel when we face similar problems. Angels can’t do this, for they can’t really understand our physical limitations because they have never shared them, but in Jesus Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses Mt 8:17
The Jewish high-priest was one of the people so he ought to be able to understand the weak and foolish; since he had the same human frailties and was, himself, a sinner. He had experienced temptation, his tendency to give in, sin, and its consequences.
Many years ago a man living in Wales was involved in a tragic mining accident which necessitated the amputation of his right leg. After a period in the hospital, he was given an artificial leg. After it was fitted, the attendant asked him to get up and walk across the floor. Awkwardly, the man struggled to his feet and staggered across the room. Then, dragging himself painfully back to his chair, he slumped into it, utterly exhausted and discouraged.
"That’s not how to do it," said the attendant. "Watch this!" Then he walked gracefully across the floor. "Ah," exclaimed the patient, "It’s all very easy for you because you don’t have any disability."
"Oh, haven’t I?" replied the attendant. "Look." Pulling up his trousers, he showed that he had not one artificial limb, but TWO!
Human leaders and counsellors can only function effectively while they remember their fallibility. When we begin to see ourselves as superior, and this happens all too easily, our usefulness evaporates and we tend to become dictators, rather than helpers. As Abraham Lincoln once said: “I am sorry for the man who can’t feel the whip when it is laid on the other man’s back.” We can’t get the speck out of someone else’s eye when they have to keep ducking to avoid the plank sticking out of our own eye, as Jesus made clear (Lk 6:42). To really help others we must be very conscious of our own fallibility.