Jesus: A Better High Priest (Hebrews 4:14–5:11)
Jesus is referred to in the Bible by dozens of names, one of which appears late in the fourteenth chapter of Hebrews: “So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe” (Hebrews 4:14). In speaking of Jesus as a newer, better high priest, the writer of Hebrews is speaking the language of the Jews. The Jewish people understood that they just couldn';t walk into the tabernacle or temple and approach God. They needed to approach through the high priest, who was in their system of worship the only one through whom they could approach God and offer their prayers and offerings.
That all changed with this new high priesthood of Jesus Christ, the one Hebrews tells us is vastly superior to the old one, first, because he was like us in all ways except that he never sinned, and also because he gives us direct access to God: “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:15–16).
The apostle Peter pointed out that believers are to join Jesus as priests in this life and to this world: “You are royal priests, a holy nation, God';s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Hebrews 5 starts where chapter 4 left off, explaining to the reader the duties and qualifications of the high priesthood. It tells us that the office of high priest wasn';t one someone could have simply because he wanted it. Rather, it was an office to which God Himself had to call someone — just as He called and appointed Jesus to it (Hebrews 5:1–5).
But there is more to the superiority of Jesus'; priesthood. Hebrews tells us: “And in another passage God said to him, ‘You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek';” (Hebrews 5:6).
By that, God meant that Jesus wasn';t just priesthood but royal priesthood. Melchizedek was the king-priest mentioned in Genesis 14:18–20, and he came long before the Jewish priesthood had been established. His priesthood was considered timeless — without beginning and without end. Hebrews ends this section this way:
While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God';s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. (Hebrews 5:7–9)
In other words, this passage is saying that Jesus was a perfect example in all he did, including how to pray and how to live a life of perfect obedience to God. That is why he is a high priest who is not only better than any who came before him, but he is a perfect high priest.
What, according to Hebrews 5:1–3, were the duties of the high priest and how do they compare with what Jesus does for us today?
How should knowing Jesus as our high priest change how we approach God?