The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Hebrews 5

Heb 5:1

Vv 1-10: Jesus as high priest. The author now sets forth the qualifications of Jesus as high priest. This he does by first reviewing the role and the nature of the office according to the OT Scriptures, and then by showing how Jesus fulfills the same criteria.

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: This verse is virtually a dictionary definition of "high priest." The language is deliberately general and comprehensive (for the same terminology, see Heb 8:3). In view, as shall be seen, is the special work of the high priest on the Day of Atonement (Heb 9; 10).

Heb 5:2

HE IS ABLE TO DEAL GENTLY WITH THOSE WHO ARE IGNORANT AND ARE GOING ASTRAY: Possibly in view in the first place are the unwitting sins for which the priest makes atonement according to Num 15:28 (cp Lev 5:17-19) -- although other sins are not thereby to be ruled out in this consideration.

TO DEAL GENTLY: "The rare word to deal gently ('metriopatheo') occurs only here in the entire Greek Bible and has the connotation of moderation when circumstances otherwise might well provoke severity" (NIBC).

SINCE HE HIMSELF IS SUBJECT TO WEAKNESS: Cp Heb 4:15. Lit, "clothed with weakness". "The law appoints as high priests men who are weak" (Heb 7:28). Priests, in order to be effective, must experience and be aware of their humanity, and their weakness, which they hold in common with other men.

It was because of this very weakness that Jesus himself was crucified (Heb 2:14,15).

Heb 5:3

THIS IS WHY HE HAS TO OFFER SACRIFICES FOR HIS OWN SINS, AS WELL AS FOR THE SINS OF THE PEOPLE: The regular high priest, having committed his own sins, would need to offer sacrifice for those sins, as well as those of others (cp Heb 9:7; Lev 16:6). It is true that Jesus was "without sin" in the personal sense (Heb 4:15). Yet, nevertheless, he possessed a mortal, sin-prone, or sinful nature (Heb 2:14,15) -- and the removal of this nature required his perfect and obedient life and sacrifice. In this sense, then, Jesus also had his own "sin" for which to offer.

Heb 5:4

NO ONE TAKES THIS HONOR UPON HIMSELF; HE MUST BE CALLED BY GOD, JUST AS AARON WAS: The office of high priest is not entered into freely or by personal choice. God alone chooses a person for this honor. He must be called by God, as can be clearly seen in the case of Aaron (see Exo 28:1) and his descendants (Num 25:13).

"From the time of Antiochus IV and the cutting off of the Zadokite high priesthood, high priests had in fact been appointed by the whim of human rulers; legitimacy of descent and the call of God were no longer determinative. This is ignored by the author, who speaks idealistically of the high priesthood and continues to ascribe honor to it, although in the minds of the populace the office had long since been defiled" (NIBC).

Heb 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": If Christ qualifies to be a high priest by virtue of his humanity, he also qualifies by virtue of divine appointment; he could not "appoint" himself -- he must be "appointed" by God. The author now cites two OT passages to make his argument. The first quotation, Psa 2:7, has already been utilized at the beginning of the book (Heb 1:5). Although the point of the unique sonship of Jesus has already been made, here it must again be stressed from Psa 2:7 that Jesus is the messianic king by divine decree.

Heb 5:6

AND HE SAYS IN ANOTHER PLACE, "YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER, IN THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK": The second quotation is from Psa 110:4; the person addressed is the same as the one addressed in Psa 110:1 with the words "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." This verse, although not quoted here, is elsewhere cited as referring to Jesus (Heb 1:13; and several allusions) and here may be understood as the bridge between Psa 2:7 and Psa 110:4. Jesus is the Son of God by divine decree and therefore the one who has been raised to the right hand of God. He is thus at the same time the one appointed by God to be a priest forever in the lineage of Melchizedek. As the author will explain later (Heb 7), Melchizedek was both a king and a priest (Gen 14:18). Jesus is also king and priest, and thus corresponds to Melchizedek. There is for our author a vital connection between the unique sonship of Jesus and his role as high priest (cp Heb 1:2,3). He can be the ideal high priest in the last analysis only because of his identity as the Son (see Heb 7:28). Only as the Son can he perform the definitive atoning work that the author will describe in later chapters.

Heb 5:7

DURING THE DAYS OF JESUS' LIFE ON EARTH, HE OFFERED UP PRAYERS AND PETITIONS WITH LOUD CRIES AND TEARS TO THE ONE WHO COULD SAVE HIM FROM DEATH: This verse and the three verses that follow reveal briefly the essence of Christ's priestly work through the testing and suffering experienced by the Son of God because of his humanity. ("Offered up" suggests the priestly work of offering sacrifices.) Almost certainly the author has in mind the agony of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane (see Mat 26:36-46), where Jesus felt "overwhelmed to the point of death", and prayed that if possible the "cup" might pass from him.

THE ONE WHO COULD SAVE HIM FROM DEATH: "He [Jesus] was a sufferer from the hereditary effects of sin; for these effects are physical effects. Death is a physical law in our members implanted there through sin ages ago, and handed down from generation to generation. Consequently, partaking of our physical nature, he partook of this, and his own deliverance (as 'Christ the first fruits') was as necessary as that of his brethren. In fact, if Christ had not first been saved from death (Heb 5:7), if he had not first obtained eternal redemption (Heb 9:12), there would have been no hope for us, for we obtain salvation only through what he has accomplished in himself... " (RR).

FROM DEATH: The question might be asked: 'But Jesus wasn't saved FROM death, because he did die!' So it might be pointed out here that the Greek word for "from" in this verse is EK -- meaning something like "out of". In other words, Jesus prayed -- not to be saved from DYING, but rather to be saved OUT OF death! The purpose of God required that he MUST die (Mat 26:54), but the mercy and love of his Father saved him from the grave to a new and endless life.

AND HE WAS HEARD BECAUSE OF HIS REVERENT SUBMISSION: "His godly fear" (RV), or "devotion" (Diag). His submission to the Father's will is seen in: "Not my will, but Your will be done!" (Mat 26:39).

Heb 5:8

ALTHOUGH HE WAS A SON, HE LEARNED OBEDIENCE FROM WHAT HE SUFFERED: His obedience was not accomplished in ideal circumstances, but was learned "in the school of suffering" (as NEB translates). In this sense Jesus serves as a model for the readers. This achievement of faithfulness to the will of God in adverse circumstances is a kind of learning insofar as it means arriving at a new stage of experience.

"Jesus was of our nature, and the apostle Paul finds no incongruity in describing him as sent 'in the likeness of sinful flesh.' As long as that flesh remained un-humiliated, the possibility of sin remained, and the life of temptation continued. It was the seat of potential sin, and to cling to it would have been pride. The proper culmination of a life in which all had been done to the glory of God, was to repudiate that which, from its ancestry, bore the stamp of rebellion against God. This Jesus did in submitting to the Crucifixion... There was nothing glorious or beautiful about 'the wondrous Cross on which my Saviour died,' though it was wonderfully calculated to make us 'pour contempt on all our pride.' What hung there was put to shame" (NUB 76).

Heb 5:9

AND, ONCE MADE PERFECT, HE BECAME THE SOURCE OF ETERNAL SALVATION FOR ALL WHO OBEY HIM: The final stage of that experience is being made "perfect" (ie, fit, complete, mature, finished), that is, when he accomplished the greatest obedience at the cost of the greatest suffering, his death (cp Heb 2:10). For, as our author will argue eloquently in later chapters, it is by his death that he became the source of eternal salvation (cp Heb 9:12) for all who obey him. " And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross" (Phi 2:8). And as his obedience entailed suffering, so may the readers assume that obedience to him will mean the same for them.

ETERNAL SALVATION: Refers to the finality and definitive character of the saving work accomplished by Christ. Analogous to this expression are "eternal redemption" in Heb 9:12, "eternal inheritance" in Heb 9:15, and "eternal covenant" in Heb 13:20. For an OT parallel, see Isa 45:17.

Heb 5:10

AND WAS DESIGNATED BY GOD TO BE HIGH PRIEST IN THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK: As "the source of eternal salvation" Jesus has been declared high priest by God. The human Son of God possesses the qualifications needed to be high priest: divine appointment (esp through Psa 110:4) and ability to empathize with those whom he represents to God. He is thus a member of a unique priesthood -- of the order of Melchizedek.

At this point, however, the argument is interrupted by a long parenthetical warning, and is not resumed until Heb 7:1.

Heb 5:11

Heb 5:11 -- 6:3: The importance of Christian maturity: Before continuing his argument concerning Melchizedek, the author pauses for an exhortation to maturity which is followed by remarks on the seriousness of apostasy.

Heb 5:12

YOU NEED SOMEONE TO TEACH YOU THE ELEMENTARY TRUTHS OF GOD'S WORD ALL OVER AGAIN: The NEB translates somewhat more literally: "the ABC of God's oracles." This probably refers to the basics of the Christian gospel, but as contained in the OT. If the readers still need elementary Christian exegesis of the OT, how will they move to such exegesis at the more advanced level?

YOU NEED MILK, NOT SOLID FOOD: "Milk" = a superficial understanding of the first principles: 1Pe 2:2; 1Co 3:1,2.

"You are only young once", they say -- but you can stay immature indefinitely!

Heb 5:13

MILK: See v 12n.

Heb 5:14

SOLID FOOD IS FOR THE MATURE: Solid food is what the author is presenting in this epistle, and in this particular context it is the argument about Melchizedek -- to be resumed in Heb 7.

THE MATURE: The "perfect", ie, the fully-developed, in knowledge and wisdom: cp 1Co 14:20; Col 1:28.

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