As everyone who has been to our studies before, you will know that I like to do a bit of review before I dig into the chapter, and because we’ve had an unscheduled 3-week break, I think it’s even more appropriate.
In chapter 1, we saw that because God’s Son was a better everything, it gave Him a name better than the angels (especially one angel in particular that has designs of his own on how things will go). That Son mad propitiation, or atonement for us, and then sat down because that work was finished. As a result, we read in chapter 2 that we need to pay closer attention to the things we have heard about Jesus and the truth that He is God’s chosen method of communicating with us today so that we would not drift away from it. The picture used was that of a safe harbour, and a navigator that was not paying due attention, slipped past the harbour entrance and shipwrecked on the rocks.
Then we are treated by the author to an exposition on Psalm 8, and it is hinted that God has some grand design for humans to be His universal administrators in the age to come. There was a definite statement of how for a short period of time, humans were made lower than the angels, but that in the end we would be at least equal to the angels in status and power. This is a definite thing, according to the author, although for now we do not see that – but we DO see HIM. The Son. We see Jesus, made like a man – one who tasted death for everyone that would ever believe in Him, and who incidentally made everything, including the angels – and He is a kind of forerunner and leader of those coming administrators, the coming priest-kings of the universe that will have sovereignty of, for, and by God.
This makes Jesus our high priest, it says at the end, one who now because he was made like us in that he suffered death, can have mercy on us, and who is faithful to extend to us grace as we are sanctified, that is made holy, like He is holy. Now in chapter 3, the book turns to who this Son Jesus is, and it begins by telling us to consider Him, and compares Him to Moses. Moses gave the Law, the old Covenant. By comparison, Jesus gave the New Covenant. Both were written by the will and hand of God. Both required obedience. As a result, it compares the two covenants and what obedience and disobedience looked like and warranted under each.
Chapter 4 was a basic gospel presentation aimed at those who were intellectually attuned to the message, but had not yet made a commitment to follow the Lord into the redemption He secured by his high priestly sacrifice. The author of Hebrews very clearly showed that Jesus sacrificed Himself so that we could enter His rest for us, and that to enter, we needed to believe Him and what He said. The basic problem that people seem to have when we consider this is is that they all claim to be servants of the Master. But think about this what does it look like from the outside when people either do what they are told so they can be saved or believe and obey so that they are saved and then do the work to please the Master? It’s difficult to tell, because the work completed looks exactly the same, does it not? And yet only faith by grace will save us, not works, so that we can’t brag about how good we are – but if we truly are redeemed, then we can be bold in our approach to His throne and find mercy when we need it.
That brings us to Chapter 5, which begins what John MacArthur calls the heart of the book of Hebrews (chapters 5-9), where we see his better priesthood. I outline it roughly as follows:
1-6: The eternal Son receives an eternal priesthood
7-10: Perfected by obedience, He becomes salvation to those who obey Him
11-14: Maturity requires the constant practice of discernment
So let’s dig in!
1-6: The eternal Son receives an eternal priesthood
Were you aware that the Old Testament was full of types and shadows that can only be seen by the light given by the person and work of Christ in the New Testament? Here, the Levitical priesthood set up by God using Moses, is identified as one of those types or shadows of things to come in the New Testament. I’ll let the author explain.
1: For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins;
- The author here begins the thought by explaining the rationale behind a priesthood. He says several things of note:
- First, that the priest must be human. I find it interesting that no other creature on the planet has a priest in its organization. Even among the intelligent animals like dolphins, there seems to be no hierarchical structure like this. If we accept the premise for a moment that men are just apes, we can be compared to other simians like the monkey, the orangutan, or the great ape. In my years as a biologist, I paid loose attention to observations about these animals. None of them have ever exhibited any need for a priest either. I suggest that though they may be under the curse, it is MAN that sinned, and needs the priest to make atonement for him to God. I might further add that there were no female priest in the scripture. I’m not trying to cause a fight with feminists, but this is true. I’ve read the thing, and I can’t find any. And Jesus, God become human, was male. Again, I’m stating facts, not trying to be controversial.
- Second, that human is appointed on behalf of other humans. That makes me wonder – well who appointed them? We might look at the Old Testament again for a moment – who appointed Aaron? It wasn’t Moses, it was God. Samuel tells us in 1 Sam. 12:6 that it was the Lord that appointed him and Moses to their respective duties. Micah 6:4 tells us that it was the Lord that send Moses, Aaron, and Miriam before the nation of Israel as he rescued them from slavery in Egypt. It seems clear to me that the Lord appointed Aaron as the first High Priest of the Levitical priesthood, and it was the Lord that gave the rules about how it should be passed down through generations.
- Third, God tells us what the duty of the high priest was – it was to offer gifts, and to offer sacrifices for sins. I’ll start with the gifts. In the widest sense of it, these gifts included all of the jewelry, money, grains, fruits, and treasures that God had blessed the nation of Israel with – these were offered at the discretion of those who had them at a time they chose. Such an offering was made on special occasions, or it was offered as a thanksgiving, typically. There was also the Grain Offering, the only non-blood offering that could be offered, and it represented the dedication of the one making the offering and all his possessions to God in complete thanksgiving.
- Finally, we look at the sacrifices for sin, which we will consider in verse 3. Sins are violations of God’s law, and must be atoned for in some way. It would have been as obvious to them as it should be to us that the offended party decides what the acceptable atonement is, not the offender. Would it make sense that a bank robber, for example, would say to the Judge, “Your honour, I did rob that bank. I managed to get away with over $50K that I have already hidden, and I shot and injured two police officers as I did it. I am sorry, and I know I must pay a penalty. I will pay $1 to each man I wounded as a reparation, and I will only go on domestic vacations this year as a penalty.” Assuming the Judge is a good judge, when he could pick himself up from the floor, and remind the robber that not only had he not chosen an appropriate penalty for the crime, he had additionally copped to two additional counts of the attempted murder of a police officer before he imprisoned him UNDER the jail, right? An atonement for a sin is a serious thing. The wages of sin is death, it says in Romans 6:23. Atonement for sins demands a death on your behalf, and it’s the priest’s job to offer that life in exchange for yours.
2: he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness;
- Now that priest has to deal gently with people, described as ignorant [agnoeo, without knowledge] and misguided [planao, one who has wandered or gone astray]. The verse explains that the priest can do so because he is also beset with or subject to weakness [astheneia, without strength]. In the case of all Jewish high priests, they were sinful men like the rest of us, without the strength to resist the temptation to sin. In the case of our high priest Jesus, He became human. We’ll say more about this around verse 8.
3: and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.
- Paul is continuing the point – as such a priest from among men was also a sinner, not only was he required to offer sacrifices on behalf of others to make atonement for them, but was also obliged to make the same kind of sacrifice to atone for his own sins, and I would think before he made atonement for others.
4: And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.
- We already talked a little about this, how it was God who chose Aaron for this office, it was not Aaron choosing the office for himself. We can read about that in Exodus 28, in fact, and I encourage you to note that chapter and go through it as you have time. God may have used Moses to do the work, but it was clearly God that made the selection of Aaron.
5: So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, “You are MY Son, Today I have begotten You”;
- The author of Hebrews is now telling us about the selection of our high priest. It clearly says as a part of the text that Christ did not choose this honour for Himself, but rather it was the One who called Him Son. Wondering who that is? If you said God the Father, you got the right answer.
6: just as He says also in another passage, “You are A priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
- The author of Hebrews here quotes Psalm 110:4, which says in context, “ The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” The Lord will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of Your enemies.” Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power; In holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Your youth are to You as the dew. The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.””
- The language of Psalm 110 is messianic, and is even used by the Lord Jesus in His incarnation when he talks about how David called the Messiah his Lord, not his son, who He would also be. It also tells us that there is a priesthood apart from the Levitical priesthood that is an eternal priesthood – the priesthood of Melchizedek.
- Wait, what? Mel-whatcha-who? Melchizedek [my king is right, presumably before god]. He lived in the time of Abraham, and we can read about him in Genesis 14. He was one of the kings that helped Abraham rescue Lot from Chedorlaomer and his bunch of rogue kings of various city-states that had raided Sodom where Lot lived. What we know of him after this is scant, but we know he was king of Salem [peace], and that he was “priest of God Most High.” [El Elyon]. This is centuries before Moses and Aaron. There was a priesthood. It had symbols that are amazingly familiar, too – bread and wine. This priest blessed Abraham, too, and Abraham paid tithe to him – a tenth of all the spoils of war in that case. In all of my research for this, I also uncovered something I consider to be amazing – Salem is the ancient name of the city of Jerusalem. I don’t understand all this here, but I want to do a little more study before I get into all of what this may mean or speak of.
7-10: Perfected by obedience, He becomes salvation to those who obey Him
Here, the consideration clearly turns to that of Messiah, or Christ. It is clear to me that Christ, as the eternal Son of the eternal Father, did not need to learn what the word obedience meant. I think rather He was learning something else that I will explain momentarily.
7: In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.
- This verse is plainly now speaking of Jesus Christ, taking its context from verse 5. (that’s right, all that good stuff about Melchizedek was a parenthetical consideration. Don’t worry, we’ll say more about him in a future study.) We could go into detail about all the things that Jesus did in seeking the Father but it would be kind of a repetitive exercise. I think the thing to note here is first, that He was heard be God the Father. Second, He was heard because of His piety.
- The Greek word used for piety here is eulabeia, which first means “caution.” Then it means “reverence.” According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament words, it talks about how it generally means “apprehension, but most of all holy fear.” It goes on to state that that mingled fear and love which when mixed together make up the piety of man toward God. In the Old Testament, the word when used in the Septuagint, places its emphasis on fear, but in the New Testament, on the love, though there was love in the Saints in the Old and New Testaments, as we must have fear in our love for God now.
- Proverbs 9:10 tells us that the Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I think that kind of fear is best seen in Lewis’s allegory, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” One of the Pevensey children, on finding out that Aslan (the type of Christ in that story) was a lion says, “A Lion? Is he safe?” Mr. Beaver replies, “Of course he’s not safe – but he’s good.” To crunch it down into the motive thought, I put it like this: Jesus Christ, God Himself is nothing but Good. We are nothing but sinful by comparison. It is only wise to proceed with a healthy dose of caution – unless of course you have joined Him already. Modern Gospel preachers like to dumb this down. They say, “Jesus luvs yuh, an’ has a wunnerful plan fer yer life…” All that is true, but it implies that like that ancient Coca Cola commercial where things go better with Coke, that things go better with Jesus. And as we will read in the next verse, that isn’t the plan.
8: Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.
- Now I know I’m on a point about sanctification through suffering, but I’m going to pause that thought for a second to explain that Jesus went through suffering to perfect him, too. The text here plainly says that even though He was Son (there is no article in Greek, though “a Son” is not incorrect here, and I prefer to omit it), He learned obedience from the things He suffered. It isn’t like the Lord Jesus, Son of God didn’t know what it meant to be obedient, as Son, He is always obedient – but He learned, or rather experienced what it means for us to obey God. He learned the cost – and He paid the ultimate cost on our behalf. See the next verse!
9: And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation,
- Did you catch that? When He learned what it means for us to obey Him, He became the source of eternal salvation for those that will in turn obey Him. He is not asking us to do anything He has not done already. He died for us, and He asks that we live for Him. And as a result, he not only justifies us before God by clearing us of all wrongdoing in the eyes of God, He sanctifies us, that is makes us holy as He is holy so that we may live for Him, demonstrating that He has given us His new and divine nature. Unlike Justification, this is not an instant process, but we are perfected through our sufferings just as He was perfected through His.
10: being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
- This is the completion of the thought that began in verse 6. We can see reflected some of the things that we have already seen of the Levitical high priests here – Jesus was designated by God here from the text, no man chose Him. He had to be human, or He could not have been chosen. He became High Priest, and as such offered up a once-for-all sacrifice of Himself as a perfect Lamb, and became the source of eternal salvation both as High Priest and as Sacrifice.
- Notable here is that Jesus is named High Priest of a different order than that of Aaron and the rest of the sons of Levi. This ancient priesthood has been given the name “Order of Melchizedek” here. We know that it pre-existed the Levitical order. We know it has the symbols of bread and wine. Could this be the priesthood of which Jesus has made us members, by making us priests and kings to our God? That isn’t entirely clear, but I think it’s a likely possibility. We’ll encounter Melchizedek again later in the book of Hebrews, specifically chapter 7.
11-14: Maturity requires the constant practice of discernment
The author of the letter here starts to really harp on the subject of being able to tell the difference between what is right and what is not, and to explain the types and shadows that he has been discussing to this point. This is not possible for the unbelieving Jew, who is an intellectual and spiritual infant in the words of the writer. “Dull of hearing” is in fact a national characteristic if you follow the reasoning of the author.
11: Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.
- The “him” referred to here is Melchizedek from the context. Apparently there is much to say about him, and it is some pretty deep stuff, according to the author. He says it is hard to explain – because the hearers of the original sermon had become dull of hearing.
- Now is the time we should remind ourselves of the three groups of people in the audience for this. The first of those is believers, and I don’t think this line is addressed to them specifically. I think it is addressed to the second group of people – those that were perhaps intellectually convinced of the truth of Christ, but had not yet made a commitment to Him. The third group, basic unbelievers, would just have not been able to make sense of any of this.
- Why would the author say that these people had become dull of hearing? Well, remember that the Old Testament, the Scriptures of that day, said things in types and shadows. It was in fact a judgement from God on Israel. Look for a minute at Isaiah 28:11-13 – “For by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the Lord will speak to this people, to whom he has said, “This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose”; yet they would not hear. And the word of the Lord will be to them precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little, that they may go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.” Nothing was straightforward in the Old Testament until it all became crystal clear in Jesus Christ. Even the disciples before their conversion were dull of hearing – Look at Luke 9:43b-45 – “But while everyone was marveling at all that He was doing, He said to His disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this statement, and it was concealed from them so that they would not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this statement.”
- You see, the Old Testament cannot be understood properly without the lens of the New Testament, specifically the person and work of Jesus the Messiah or Christ. Types and shadows that crossed centuries in the making and then recording caused the prophets to look hard into these things, and they never got their answer while they lived. They had become dull of hearing as a nation.
- It can be like this for the Gentiles as well. We can preach the Gospel repeatedly to people, and they can hear it and even give mental assent to Jesus – but not make a commitment to repent of their sins and live for Christ like He died for us. The result of this behaviour is that your heart is hardened after each time you hear the gospel. That can only go on for so long before your heart will be permanently hardened, like Pharaoh’s was when Israel was leaving Egypt. That cost Pharaoh (and his army) his (and their) life (lives). The Gospel is an incredible offer of freedom from the sin that we hate ourselves for, but it is not a permanent offer, and the time it can be accepted is drawing to a close – in more than one way. Yes, the time of the Lord’s return is getting closer every day, or at least you are nearing the end of your life when He returns for YOU. And you only get so many times hearing it before you will not want to respond anymore. Don’t be in that number. Turn away from your wrong behaviour and repent, that is change your mind, about your sin and trust that Christ paid the price to redeem you to God.
12: For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.
- In my thinking, this is just further confirmation that the author is aiming squarely at those who give mental assent but have not made commitment. That commitment would open an understanding of the types and shadows through God the Holy Spirit found in those oracles of God. I need to say a word about “oracles of God.” That is what the Jews called the laws and standards that God gave Israel in the Old Testament. This is a direct reference to the Scriptures of the Day, the Old Testament. It is NOT an airy-fairy, belly-button-gazing attempt to hear some audible voice or discern some hidden extra-biblical knowledge – that’s a version of an old lie called Gnosticism. Don’t do that.
- Back to the point, these people were technically still unbelievers. All they had was that precept on precept, precept on precept, line on line, line on line, here a little, there a little – and without the help of the Holy Spirit that is given when a person comes to Christ, all of this would just sound like rambling prose. Like newborn babies, they need milk, and Jesus wants us all to come to maturity in Him. It starts by coming to Him, and it finishes by following Him – right to the end.
13: For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.
- And what is the milk here? In this analogy, I think it has to be the Gospel. Jesus died a substitutionary atoning death for us on the cross (that is, He died in our place to pay for our sins), and if we will repent and believe this, we will enter into personal relationship with Him. We will no longer be infants but children, and children that will grow into maturity.
14: But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
- And how do we mature in Christ? Well, in the words of Zach Efron in High School Musical, Get your head in the game! Solid food, it tells us, is for the mature. One matures because of PRACTICE! The Greek word here is hexis, and it means habit or practice. And just what are they practicing? Discernment, beloved, discernment between what is good and what is not. The Greek word is familiar to some of us, diakrisis, literally “a distinguishing” in this case between good and evil. It is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 14:10 – “and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.” that “distinguishing of spirits” is the same Greek word, diakrisis. Some have made the case that this is the Christian field of polemics, and I can see why they say that, and I agree. (Polemics, for the record, is what people are saying about what the bible teaches compared with what the bible ACTUALLY teaches, and it should be part of every pastor’s toolkit. If a pastor is NOT skilled at polemics, and you know who you are, there are people that ARE, and it is a matter of looking them up. These day’s they are in every corner of the internet.
- So knowing what the bible ACTUALLY teaches and distinguishing between good and evil by the Word of God is how a person comes to maturity in Christ.
The key theme that I identify in this text is that Jesus is present in the Old Testament, and those who have the Spirit of God living inside them will have a much easier time identifying him in all they various types and shadows of the Old Testament. You can disagree if you like, but you won’t be changing my mind. Dr. Sproul (Sr.), Dr. MacArthur, John Owen, J. C. Ryle, Dr. Steven Lawson, and a sheer litany of others have all given real light on these passages, and I would stand with these men in my hermeneutics and teaching. They have critically shaped my understanding of this chapter.
If you follow the logic of the author of the letter (sermon) to the Hebrews, and you have the Holy Spirit living in you to guide you, you will arrive at similar or the same conclusions as I did.
And that’s the chapter! Next time, Hebrews 6.