Hebrews 5:1–11 (NKJV)
The discussion from our last passage concerned Jesus being our great High Priest, far greater than an earthly high priest. However, this passage today helps us understand the concept even more fully, beginning with the role and responsibilities of the earthly high priest.
1 For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness. 3 Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sins. 4 And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.Hebrews 5:1-4
The writer of Hebrews uses a very Jewish example of priesthood, speaking of priests that are “taken from among men.” This referred to the Levitical priesthood, members of the tribe of Levi who were taken to be priests and servants of the temple as a whole. They did not have a specific land inheritance along with the other tribes, but lived in and around the temple, given food and housing as their income. They were called of God to that purpose and were not soldiers or farmers or physicians. Instead, they served the Lord and the temple. This was their calling! They offered gifts to God and sacrifices for the sins of the people. Earthly priests had weaknesses whereby they could identify with other men and women and show compassion to them in their sufferings and sins. They were required to offer sacrifices for sins for themselves first, and then for all the people who would come for forgiveness and cleansing. An additional characteristic of the priest is that he does not choose to be a priest, but is called by God, just like Aaron was in the Mosaic era. To summarize: 1) priests are separated from others because of calling, 2) they are to have compassion upon and forgiveness toward others, knowing their frailty, 3) they are to offer sacrifices and prayers for the people, and 4) they do not choose this vocation, but are called to it.
5 So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him:
“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.”
6 As He also says in another place:
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek”;
7 who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, 8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. 9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, 10 called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,” 11 of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.Hebrews 5:5-11
The writer of Hebrews here explains the connection between the requirements of a priest and the life of Christ. Christ was called and separated for the purpose for which He came to earth. God sent Him to walk among men, understanding their weaknesses and frailty. Jesus interceded for Himself and for others, offerings prayers to the Father. He also offered the ultimate sacrifice for sins, His own flesh and blood, that man might be saved. In these areas, Jesus became the perfect, great High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek.” The discussion of this priest, Melchizedek, will be made in more detail later in the book of Hebrews. For now, let it suffice to say that Jesus became a priest whose work was much more vital and efficacious than that of the tribe of Levi. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah is the ultimate priest of the redeemed and works for us daily as we live in relationship with Him. He is a priest forever, called by God, and interceding for us for every need.