The writer of Hebrews has established that we have a great high priest in Jesus who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because he became like us. Thus, rather than being in fear, we are able to approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we can receive mercy and find the grace we need to help in our time of need. Now the writer is going to explain how this works and why this is so important for us.
The Picture of a High Priest (5:1-3)
The writer must first show us a picture of a high priest so that we can appreciate what Jesus is doing for us. So here are the things that a high priest does. A high priest acts on behalf of the people in relation to God, offering gifts and sacrifices. A high priest works for the people. The high priest was the mediator, not only representing the sinful people before God, but actually bringing them back into fellowship with God through his work on their behalf. Notice verse 2. The high priest was not a person who scorned the people but was able to deal gently with sinful people because the high priest was in the same boat. The high priest can relate because he is subject to the same weaknesses. The emphasis the writer of Hebrews is making is on the sympathy the high priest has toward those who ignorantly went astray.
I want us to realize that we see the New Testament giving us this picture of Jesus while he walked the earth. The prophets said that when Christ came, “A bruised reed he would not break” (Isaiah 42:3). Jesus looked upon the crowds of people and had compassion for them in Matthew 9:36, Matthew 14:14, and Matthew 15:32. This was the point the writer of Hebrews made in Hebrews 4:14-16 as well as back in Hebrews 2:14-17. Since the children share in flesh and blood, he himself partook of the same things. Jesus has compassion for us because he was subjected to life just as we are subjected to it.
The Qualification of a High Priest (5:4-6)
Not only this, a high priest never made himself a high priest. A high priest was directly called by God (5:4). In the same way, Jesus did not exalt himself to the role of high priest. Jesus is not only qualified to be our high priest by what he experienced, he is also qualified to be our high priest because he was appointed directly by God to be our high priest. The writer of Hebrews proves that Jesus was directly called by God by quoting from Psalm 2:7 again and then adding a quote from Psalm 110. The writer first quoted Psalm 2:7 back in Hebrews 1:5 to prove that Jesus is the superior Son. Now the writer adds Psalm 110:4 to prove that Jesus is the superior high priest of God. This is the merging of the sonship of Jesus with the high priest role. The same God who called Jesus “Son” also called him “high priest.”
Now the writer of Hebrews is setting us up to understand something very important about Jesus. So we need to think about what he has declared about Jesus. Jesus is the powerful Son of God and he is a great high priest because of what he experienced, what he suffered, and because of his divine appointment. Now what do you expect to see in the superior Son and great high priest, Jesus? Listen to what the writer of Hebrews shows us is verses 7-10.
Reverent Submission (5:7-10)
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. (Hebrews 5:7 ESV)
Jesus experienced life just as we experience it. So what do we see Jesus doing as the Son and as our great high priest? He offered up prayers and petitions to the Father. What we see is the complete dependence of the Son on the Father while he is in the flesh. We see intensified expressions of his reliance on God. We should not read verse 7 and think of only in the garden when Jesus was praying intensely, though we certainly see this to be the case during the final hours before his crucifixion. We see this intensity of prayer in the whole life of Jesus. Jesus was always getting away from the crowds to pray to his Father. Jesus would go to the wilderness and pray. Notice the point that the writer makes at the end of verse 7. “He was heard because of his reverence.” He was not heard because he was the Son nor because he was the high priest. The point is not to show that his status makes his access to the Father different than our own. The point is to show that we have the same access when we come to the Father in the same way while on the earth. Jesus was heard because of his reverence submission to the Father. Despite his status and his intimate relationship with the Father, he submitted his will to the Father through suffering.
This is the point in verse 8. The status of Jesus did not change what he experienced. Now we might struggle with understanding what is meant in verse 8. But it is an amazing point. “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” Now this is different than how we think as humans. We think that as the Son he should not have to suffer at all. He is the Son and he is the great high priest appointed to serve by the Father. Here is the big point: his relationship as a son did not stop because of suffering. Rather, his sonship came through his suffering and his obedience and endurance through the suffering. This divine Son was called to walk the path of obedience through suffering and that is exactly what he did. This is further drawn out in verse 9. Perfecting, being made complete, comes through suffering. Jesus fulfills his role as Son and high priest, not by avoiding suffering, but going through his suffering with reverent submission. Thus, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God as high priest after the order of Melchizedek (5:9-10).
Now why did the author of Hebrews go through all of that? We know that Jesus is the Son and we know that he is the great high priest. What is the point of all of this? Let’s spend the final few moments of the lesson putting all the pieces together. These chapters have gone to great lengths to show our connection with Jesus. Recall in chapter 2 that Jesus is a son and we are also sons, with Jesus not being ashamed to call us “brothers.” We are in connection with Jesus as sons. He is a son and we are in the privileged position as sons also. Further, Jesus has experienced life as we experience it. His role as son did not mean that he could avoid suffering and difficulty. Rather, the Father led Jesus into suffering. It is through the suffering of Jesus, in particular, his faithful endurance and reverent submission through suffering, that allows for his success. Jesus became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him because he faithfully obeyed the Father and endured through his suffering. What we see in Jesus is that suffering has the purpose of bringing a person to completion. Suffering completes submission. Through suffering, Jesus became the source of eternal life. Through suffering, Jesus was declared to be the great high priest.
What are these Christians experiencing that have received this letter? Remember that the writer of Hebrews is writing to them a “word of exhortation” (13:22). Their lives are very difficult because they are followers of Jesus. They are being challenged in their faith because of the difficulties they are experiencing in trying to do what is right in a world that is reviling them. What is the point? Being a Christian does not mean avoiding suffering but going through suffering. Being a child of God and belonging to the Father in that privileged relationship does not mean that suffering will be avoided but that you will be put directly in the fire of suffering.
But we cannot stop there. What shows a person to truly be a child of God? What shows us to truly be children of God is our reverent submission and faithful obedience through suffering. We are being made perfect and being brought to spiritual completion through suffering when we surrender our lives to the Father. Just as Jesus learned obedience in his earthly suffering, he calls people to respond in obedience through their suffering. Just as Jesus persevered, reverently bending his will to that of the Father in spite of extreme suffering, so Christians are called to total abandonment to the divine will. Persecution and suffering does not change the call as a child of God. Persecution and suffering is the call to bring us to completion. Suffering completes our submission when we faithful endure.
Do we see what the writer has done? We look at our suffering and say that it is too much and that we cannot do it. But Jesus has experienced more suffering than you have experienced. He is our faithful high priest who understands what we are going through. Jesus is there in heaven before the throne of God making offerings on our behalf. The road to be a child of God is reverent submission to the Father in the face of all our suffering. We are to do as we see in verse 7: offer up prayers and petitions to the one who can help us.
Friends, we must not allow our suffering in this life to push us to disobedience. We must not allow our difficulties to cause us to think that something has gone wrong with our relationship with God. We must not think that sinning is acceptable because we are having a hard time. We have been put in the suffering that we are experiencing for the very purpose of perfecting us into the image of the Son. Therefore we are given another perspective for our suffering. It is not that something is going wrong but that this is God bringing us to spiritual maturity. We need to see our trials as an opportunity to grow through our difficulty by obeying God and continuing to surrender to God’s will. We will look at our trials as a way to show our faithful submission to the Father. Trials test our faith. Trials test our endurance. Trials test if we are truly children of God or if we are false because we refuse to obey when times get hard. We must learn obedience through what we suffer. It is a whole new way to look at suffering and trials. But here is the good news. You have the help you need. Jesus has suffered in the flesh so that he can help you through your trials. Look to him for strength and help.