Shadow and substance are before us in this chapter. In the earthly shadow of the human priest we trace the features of our Heavenly High Priest. We behold Aaron, appointed by God to sustain the people in the wilderness, but our eyes are directed from him to One who is greater, and a Priest of another order. The comparison drawn has contrasts as well. The picture is faulty, but in it we find the qualifications required to serve as a priest for the people before God. Christ combines in His Person every possible qualification to be our High Priest. We notice four of these in verses 1-4.
1. The High Priest Must Be Taken from Among Men (v. 1)
In order to have fellowship with us the High Priest must be one of us. To represent man, and minister to man, and sympathize with man, He must be Man. An angel would not do! Gabriel might deliver a message to us, but he could never sympathize with us. He neither understands our hearts nor God’s; he could never feel for struggling saints nor plead our cause before the throne of God. Listen to Job in his sufferings; he longs for one who could understand his case, one who could lay his hand upon both himself and God—a daysman. What Job desired, we have in Christ. He is the Son, and therefore competent from God’s side; He is Man, and therefore suited to us in our need.
Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea—
A great High Priest whose name is love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
2. The High Priest Must Represent Man in His Service to God (v. 1)
If His service is “to God,” it is “for men.” Israel could look at Aaron in his garments of beauty and say, “He is for us; God accepts us in him and the sacrifice he brings.” Entering into the presence of God, Aaron bore the names of all the children of Israel upon his shoulders and upon his breast. Thus they were represented before God, the priest’s services were on their behalf.
We see Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary, appearing in the presence of God in virtue of His finished work, and we may
… come with singing,
Because our great High Priest
Our names to Thee is bringing,
Nor e’er forgets the least.
Yes, He is there for us, and presents us to God in all the efficacy of His shed blood, and in all the fragrance of His Holy Person.
3. The High Priest Must Be Compassionate (v. 2)
One with the people, he must “bear their griefs and carry their sorrows,” plead for the weak, sympathize with the ignorant, and restore the wayward. But the very infirmity that gave the high priest his power of sympathy, made sacrifice necessary for his own sins. Nor was the sinful priest always sympathetic. Hannah, in the deep sorrow of her soul, while praying in the temple, was misjudged and misunderstood by Eli. And priests that were appointed to plead for weakness, accused and condemned our blessed Lord. Too often, where there was deep need, they “passed by on the other side.” But our High Priest is perfect in sympathy as well as holiness. Not His infirmities but His sufferings, not His sins but His sorrows, enable Him to be a compassionate High Priest.
4. The High Priest Must Be Vested with Divine Authority (v. 4)
All the qualifications we have noticed would not suffice to make one a high priest, apart from the divine call. No one could be self-elected to that office, he must be formally appointed by God Himself. The exercise of the priesthood, although for man, is in the line of the will of God. From among the children of Israel, God called Aaron to minister before Him in the priest’s office; so God called His own beloved Son, as One who took His place among the children of men.
5. Our Great High Priest Is Better Than Aaron
We leave the shadows now to gaze upon the more excellent glory of our High Priest (vv. 5-10). The glory of His Person and exalted position are brought into bright relief, as along with the earthly picture we hear the voice of God in the Old Testament Scriptures. It is the word uttered long ago that tells of His divine appointment as our incomparable High Priest, glorious in resurrection.
Aaron, in the presence of Moses and Eleazar, laid aside his priestly glory. He was stripped of his garments, and was lost sight of amid the gloom of the grave, while Israel mourned for him thirty days.
Out from death’s gloomy portals the Son of God rises, to be vested with robes of glory and beauty that distinguish Him as our exalted High Priest. There will be no laying aside of His garments; He is “a Priest forever after the order of Melchisedek.”
There are three panels in the picture presented here. We behold Him entering into the dignity of His office in verses 5 and 6. We see Him wearing the stainless robe in which alone the sanctuary could be entered (vv. 7-9). Then we behold Him in the garments of royal splendor and priestly grace, that adorn Him as God’s Anointed (v. 10).
6. The Foundation of Christ’s Priesthood Rests Upon the Divine Call (vv. 5, 6)
God calls His own Son into service; the call recognizes the glory of His Person and the dignity of His office. He was ever the Son of God, and God owns Him such in Incarnation. When the Babe lay in Bethlehem’s manger, the God of Heaven said, “Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee.” Jordan’s waters and Hermon’s glory-lit peak witness alike to His majesty. But resurrection called forth the brightest rays of His glory. The bands of death are loosed, the last mile of the road of suffering has been trodden, and He receives anew His divine commission. “He is appointed by God to look after us.”
7. The Preparation for the Exercise of His Priesthood
Was in His Experience as Man (vv. 7-9) Christ’s glory gives Him His place at the right hand of God, but that does not bring Him near to us in our miseries down here. “His sorrows and His cross record what makes us know Him near.”
As we trace His pathway, that led ever onward to the cross, “uncheered by earthly smiles,” we learn how competent He is to take part in all of our sorrows. There is not a bit of the road that He is not acquainted with, and He is ready to sustain us when it is our turn to tread the weary way. “The days of His flesh” were the school in which He, whose prerogative it was to command, learned “obedience.” It was a school of suffering. We are privileged to hear Him as He drew near the close of the pathway. The prayers, supplications, strong cryings and bitter tears of the Garden reveal the depths of the sorrows He endured. Dark Calvary looms up before Him with the clouds of wrath gathering round its brow. The path leads thither, and He knows what it means to go on. The full weight of the wrath He must endure presses upon His holy soul, yet He turns not back. He is perfect in obedience, submitting to everything, though with holy abhorrence of the sin whose judgment He is going on to bear.
Thus we are called to see Him in the white linen robe of the Day of Atonement. Having satisfied the claims of the altar, He ascends to His seat, and occupies the throne.
And now He is able to save those who obey Him from all the evil that is in the world. Present salvation is found in obeying Christ. “Fix your eyes on Jesus” is the theme of this Epistle.
8. The Glory of His Priesthood Is Witnessed by the Welcome He Received (v. 10)
“Called of God” is really publicly greeted or “saluted by God.” What a glorious climax to the story of His sorrows! Graduated in the school of suffering, He receives the honors due Him. To quote another, “The linen garments are now exchanged for the garments of glory and beauty, His priesthood now assumes the Melchizedek character.”
With what loud acclamations of praise the sanctuary received Him! What joy there must have been when the Man of Sorrows reached home! And now within the portals of heaven, He who is the Author of our eternal salvation presents Himself to every opened eye.
Human priests were as sinful as the people they served. The infirmity that gave sympathy made sacrifice necessary for the priest also. Hence there could be no forgiveness. Our Priest must of necessity be not only sinless but divine so as to impart forgiveness and blessing.
Standing to conduct both eucharistic and expiatory services before God He is there to conduct our interests with God in whatever form is needed.
He learned obedience to His commission by traveling from Gethsemane to Calvary, and now presents Himself to the eye of every sinner on earth as the Author of eternal salvation. The altar satisfied, the heavens received Him.
He whose prerogative it had been ever to command was pleased to become the obedient One on earth. Having obeyed in a world of self-will, ruled by Satan, He is qualified to now command us so that in obeying Him we find salvation from all that is evil here. Present salvation is found in obeying Christ.
V. 7. He crossed Jordan in reaching the land to which He brings us. He faced death in all its bitterness.
V. 5. The garments of beauty and glory (vv. 7,8). The garment of linen, spotlessly white.
He is our Priest because He has gone before us on every road of sorrow and loss and is ready to sustain us when our turn comes to tread it.
He is our Companion in sorrow and supplication. He is our Pattern in submissive reverence.
His glory gives Him His place in honor before God, but does not bring him near to the miseries of men. It is His history on earth which makes us feel how truly able He is to take part in them.
Verses 11-14 of chapter five belong to chapter six. We have the condition of the Hebrew Christians in relationship to the truth concerning Christ’s ministry on high. They were dull hearers, lacking in spiritual experience—aged babes. There is no greater hindrance to progress in spiritual life and intelligence than attachment to an ancient form of religion. Under the influence of such a system piety itself—expended in its form—makes a barrier between the soul and God. These forms which surround, pre-occupy and hold the affections captive, prevent the affections from enlarging, and become enlightened by means of divine intelligence.