So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.”
Hebrew Christians in the early church were under tremendous pressure to renounce Christianity and return to Judaism. Thus, the writer of Hebrews was inspired by God to basically make the case for Christianity over Judaism. One way he did this was to compare the priesthood of Christ to the priesthood of Aaron, Moses’ brother and the first high priest under Mosaic Law.
God had much good to say about Aaron’s priesthood in Hebrews. The high priests under Moses’ law were “chosen from among men” (5:1a), specifically from Aaron’s lineage in the Levitical tribe (Exodus 28). They were “appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God” (5:1b). This means they were appointed to officiate in religious matters and intercede for their fellow man to God by “offer(ing) gifts and sacrifices for sins” (5:1c).
The high priest was also to “deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness” (5:2). The Greek term refers to holding one’s passions or emotions in restraint to the point of dealing with others in a balanced way, neither overindulging in assisting their needs nor turning them away apathetically. He did this because he knew very well his own sins and shortcomings. Subsequently, he was “obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people” (5:3; cf. Leviticus 16:6-24). When we have a proper sense of our own sins and failures, we should be more compassionate and considerate of others who fall into sin (Galatians 6:1-2).
The Hebrew writer then said of high priests, “And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was” (5:4). Unlike the high priests during the early days of the church who were Jewish political appointees of the Roman government, high priests were supposed to be “called by God,” meaning that they were to meet the Old Testament scriptural requirements. In Moses’ day, men such as Korah tried to force the high priesthood upon themselves outside of God’s authority and were punished (Numbers 16-17). God has always required obedience to his laws.
Just as God appointed Aaron to be high priest rather than Aaron taking the position for himself, so also “Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’” (5:5). Citing the Messianic prophecy in Psalm 2:7, the Hebrew author showed that God appointed his Son to be the Christians’ high priest under the New Testament. He then quoted another Messianic prophecy from Psalm 110:4 in reference to Christ: “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek” (5:6). As will later be elaborated upon in Hebrews, the priesthood of Melchizedek, the high priest who blessed Abram and to whom Abram tithed his possessions (Genesis 14:17-21), was very different from the Aaronic priesthood ordained under the Law of Moses. The Hebrew writer will later show how Christ’s priesthood was more in line with Melchizedek’s than Aaron’s (5:10; cf. 6:20; 7:1-28).
The Hebrew author then spoke of how Jesus during “the days of his flesh…offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death…” (5:7a; cf. Luke 22:40-44). While Jesus lived as a human, he was both God and man (John 1:1, 14). During this time, he prayed regularly for the sins of his fellow man just as Aaron’s high priests had done. The difference which shows Christ’s superiority over Judaism’s priesthood is that he did so without sin (cf. 4:15). The “loud cries and tears” accompanying his prayers show his deep love and concern for us all. How often are our prayers for others accompanied by wailing and weeping?
Christ’s prayers were heard “because of his reverence” (5:7b). There’s a reason Jesus taught us to pray, “Hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). How much do we revere God? When we pray to and worship him, are we reverential? Do we honor him as holy and powerful? Do we give him the respect he deserves as our Creator and Sustainer?
Think on these things, friends.