Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with permission from Warren Vanhetloo’s newsletter “Cogitation.”
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews declared the superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ to other agents God has used in revealing Himself and His will to His people. Jesus was superior to Old Testament prophets who spoke for God, for He was the Son of God (1:1-3). Angels too have been divine messengers, but they ministered to and worshiped the Son (1:4-2:13). Jesus was born a descendant of Abraham (2:14-18) and was superior to him andalso to Aaron and Moses (3:1-4:13). He was superior both as to His person and also pertaining to His appointed tasks, both as a revealing Sent One (Apostle) and as the great High Priest who has functioned on our behalf in the true heaven above (3:1; 4:13).
The author exhorts, “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession” (4:14); for our High Priest, although truly God, lived a true, sinless human life, experiencing all the testings and temptations of mankind (4:15-16). Jesus of Nazareth, who lived acceptably as a man, can thus properly sympathize with our human needs. Hebrew high priests, who were chosen to offer to God gifts and sacrifices for sins, were as needy as those they represented (5:1-2). Each one needed to bring sacrifice for himself as well as for the people (5:3). Jesus through life and death was, in the evaluation of the perfect Judge, without sin (4:15).
Old Testament high priests did not merit or achieve their office; they were called by God (5:4). Similarly, the Messiah did not take this task for Himself; He was eternally so designated by God the Father, declaring, “Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (5:5-6; cf. Ps. 2:7; 110:4). Aaron and his descendants (not Moses, and not descendants of David) were chosen by God to serve as high priests. Under the Romans, the office of high priest was filled by a family who had purchased the privilege. Without question, Jesus was better than any high priest serving in Jerusalem.
The benefits of His priestly service are superior to the function of any human high priest (who as a sinner needed to offer sacrifices for himself). In His thirty some years, Jesus had experienced every kind of temptation a human can face and had done so without sinning (4:15). He can, therefore, be genuinely sympathetic with our human weaknesses. He will truly deal gently with the ignorant and misguided (5:2). He had experienced the agony which caused Him to plead in prayer, even with loud cries and tears, that He might be delivered from death (5:7; Matt. 26:39; 27:46).
Nothing hindered the prayer requests of Jesus. He was heard because of His piety (5:7). His plea that He might be delivered from physical death was heard, but was not granted. The request was followed immediately with willing submission: “Not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39). In every phase of His life here on earth, He learned obedience through things He experienced; and through it all, He remained unaffected by sin and thereby could serve acceptably as the source of eternal salvation for all who put their trust in Him (5:9).
All this was set forth by the author, not to promote admiration, but to encourage individual submission and loyalty. The burden of the author’s heart was repeatedly expressed: “Take heed … lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (3:12). “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” “Let us labour therefore to enter into [God’s] rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief” (4:11). “Let us hold fast our profession” (4:14). “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in time of need” (4:16). The example of Jesus when facing death should encourage us to follow in His path (5:9). Yea, we have a great High Priest who is sympathetic to our every need (4:14-15).
|Warren Vanhetloo has A.B., B.D., Th.M., Th.D., and D.D. degrees. He served three pastorates in Michigan, taught 20 years at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN), taught 23 years at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA), and is listed as adjunct faculty at Calvary. Retired, he lives in Holland, Michigan. At the urging of fellow faculty and former students, he sends an email newsletter called “Cogitations” to those who request it. You may send e-mail to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.