14 Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to the confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time. (HCSB)
The writer declares that Jesus is our great high priest. Now the writer has not really proved that Jesus is our high priest up to this point. The writer asserted that Jesus became human so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest (2:17). In this section of scripture, the writer is going to prove that Jesus is capable of being our great high priest. In doing so, we are going to learn what makes Jesus great. We are going to learn what is so great about Jesus being our high priest.
First, Jesus is a great high priest because he has passed through the heavens. These seem to conjure a strange image to some. But this is not talking about Jesus flying through the sky. Rather, we learn that Jesus is operating as high priest in the heavenly realms, not on earth. Jesus is great because he is serving as high priest in God’s house in the heavenly realms, not on earth in a physical temple. The writer will have more to say about this later in the book.
Second, Jesus is a great high priest because he is the Son of God. He is not a mere person. He is someone who carries great authority and honor. He is the all-important, divine Son of God.
Third, Jesus is a great high priest because he is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. He knows what we are going through. He was tested in every way as we are. He knows what temptations are for he was exposed to the onslaught of Satan. He knows what it is like to endure great trials. His difficulties were so great that his sweat poured down from his head like blood from the intensity of his emotional pain.
Fourth, Jesus is a great high priest because in the face of all of the adversity and all of the temptations that came his way, he still remained without sin. Though he faced everything that we face, he is able to be a great high priest because he did not sin. More will be said about this later by the writer.
Because Jesus is our great high priest, the writer wants us to do two things:
Hold fast to the confession. As I pointed out at the beginning of this series, this point about holding fast to our confession is the key theme of the book. We have already seen the writer drive this point home a number of times (2:3; 3:6; 3:14; 4:1). We have a great high priest so do not give up. Do not let go of the faithful confession you made at the beginning of your walk with God. Do not throw it away now.
Ability to approach the throne of grace. The second thing we can do because Jesus is our great high priest is approach the throne of grace with boldness. The image reveals a personal relationship that we have with the Father because Jesus has made atonement giving us access to the Father. It seems there is an implied contrast to the Mosaic system where no one was allowed to enter into the tabernacle. No one had access to the Father. Therefore the bells on the hem of the high priest’s garment would indicate to the people where the priest was in the tabernacle as he performed sacrifices on behalf of the people. The people could not enter and seek restitution and forgiveness themselves. Therefore, these words are powerful and precious that we are able to approach the throne of grace.
Not only can we approach the throne of grace, but we can approach it with confidence. There is no need to enter with fear or timidity. As children of the Father and brothers and sisters with Christ, we can enter with confidence, not with fear, that we will receive grace and help in our time of need. Hebrews 4:13 told us that we are naked and exposed in the sight of God. He sees us for the awful sinners that we truly are. However, as we approach the throne, we do not find wrath but mercy and grace to help us in our time of need, even in our sinfulness. We do not need earthly priests anymore. We have full access to God the Father.
Qualifications For The High Priesthood (5:1-3)
1 For every high priest taken from men is appointed in service to God for the people, to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness. 3 Because of this, he must make a sin offering for himself as well as for the people. 4 No one takes this honor on himself; instead, a person is called by God, just as Aaron was. (HCSB)
Now the writer is going to describe the two key qualifications for a person to stand and function as a high priest before God.
The high priest must be able to sympathize with those he represents. Verse 2 points out that a high priest must be able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and those who are going astray. The high priest will not be harsh with the people he represents before God. He deals gently and kindly with them. The reason why this is possible is because he himself is subject to the same sins. The high priest is one with the people in need for atonement and forgiveness. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary says this about the day of atonement and the words of the high priest:
And in the first century, as he 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” (M Yoma 4:2).
The high priest must be called by God. No one decides to be high priest. People do not choose who is to be the high priest. Only God can select who can be the high priest, just like Aaron was selected. This point would likely have a sharp point against the current priesthood in Jerusalem. At the time the Romans were appointing the high priests, making those priests illegitimate in God’s sight. So these are the two qualifications required to be a high priest before God: he must be able to sympathize with those he represents and he must be called by God.
Jesus Meets These Qualifications (5:5-10)
5 In the same way, the Messiah did not exalt Himself to become a high priest, but the One who said to Him, You are My Son; today I have become Your Father, 6 also said in another passage, You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. 7 During His earthly life, He offered prayers and appeals, with loud cries and tears, to the One who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. 8 Though a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. 9 After He was perfected, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, 10 and He was declared by God a high priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” (HCSB)
The rest of this section describes how Jesus meets these qualifications. The writer takes the qualifications in reverse order. First, Jesus has been divinely appointed. He did not take up himself the honor of being high priest. To prove Jesus’ divine appointment, the writer uses two quotations from the Hebrew scriptures. The first quotation, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father” is from Psalm 2. The writer used this quotation previously in Hebrews 1:5. Recall that we learned this psalm and this quotation is the royal enthronement of a king. In Psalm 2:6 we read that God has installed his king on Zion and he will rule with a rod of iron (2:9). So the same one (God) who declared Jesus to be the king also declared Jesus to be priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.
This quotation comes from Psalm 110. This psalm also pictures the royal enthronement of Jesus as king. The first verse of Psalm 110 is quoted in Matthew 22:44 and was also used by the writer of Hebrews in 1:13. Remember that these were arguments to prove that Jesus is the superior son who is greater than the angels, seated on the throne. In speaking about this enthroned king, the Lord also said, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
Jesus’ calling to the high priesthood is special because he functions as priest forever. His priesthood is also unique because he is not called after the order of Aaron. Rather, Jesus is called after the order of Melchizedek. We will not dig into the details of these points here because the author will later address these points. So we will leave these points with it suffice to say that Jesus was divinely called to his priesthood just like his kingship. Therefore Jesus can function as king and as high priest.
The second qualification Jesus must meet is to be able to sympathize with those he represents. In verse 7 the writer takes us to the earthly life of Jesus and reminds us of what he endured. While the writer may be thinking of the whole of Jesus’ life, it seems that he more likely pinpointing the Gethsemane prayers and the cross. Jesus was praying and making appeals to the Father with loud cries and tears in Gethsemane just before his arrest and while on the cross. Notice that Jesus’ prayers and appeals were heard, but he still suffered. This qualifies Jesus all the more because he heard the answer “no” to his petitions.
Jesus was heard because of his reverent submission to the Father. This seems to stand in contrast to the nation of Israel described in chapter 3 who were filled with unbelief and disobedience and missed the promised rest. Jesus walked in complete submission to God and we are expected to travel the same path. Although he was a Son, he still suffered. His position of privilege did not interfere with him being our high priest because he suffered despite his sonship. The experience of suffering made Jesus ready to act as our high priest because he is able to sympathize with us.
The writer ends his thought on the concept of obedience. Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered. His obedience to the will of the Father made him the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. The obedience of the Redeemer made salvation available to the obedient redeemed.
- We have a great high priest who gives us access to the Father, who we can approach with confidence for help.
- Jesus is unlike any other high priest because he was sinless. But this does not mean that he does not understand our difficulties because he also suffered.
- Be obedient through suffering just as Jesus was obedient through his sufferings.