Christ is Our High Priest

Text: Hebrews 4:14-6:20

Christ is our high priest

(Hebrews 4:14-5:10)

In Hebrews 2:17, the writer mentioned that Jesus became a high priest to make propitiation for the people. He returns to the subject to emphasize that we must hold firm to our confession (Romans 10:5-10) because Jesus is our high priest who has gone to heaven.

Because of his humanity, Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses since he endured temptation like we do (Isaiah 53; 63:7-9; Matthew 4:1-11). However, unlike us, he did not yield to sin (I Peter 2:22).

Therefore, we can approach Jesus with confidence instead of dread (Ephesians 3:11-12). But it does require that we come to ask Jesus for help (Matthew 7:7-11). We are not strangers, we are known to God (Romans 5:1-2). Christ is offering mercy and grace to help in our time of need (Isaiah 55:6-7; I John 5:14-15). This is why Jesus is called our advocate (counselor or comforter). This is why Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as another comforter (John 14:16).

Hebrews 5:1-4 gives us a description of what is a high priest. He is first off appointed by God for the purpose of offering gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is gentle and able to deal with the ignorant and those straying from the truth. He understands the struggles of men because he also experiences weaknesses. That is why the high priest was selected from among men (Exodus 28:1). As a result, he offers sacrifices for both himself and for the people he serves (Leviticus 9:7). It is a position of honor, but it is not self-chosen but bestowed on the high priest by God (Numbers 16:40; II Chronicles 26:18).

Aaron and his descendants were selected for the office (Exodus 29:9). Interestingly, by the days of Christ, the high priest had become a political appointee of Rome. The law was being disregarded. In these ways, except for needing sacrifices for his own sins, Jesus is a high priest. He was appointed by God (John 8:54). To prove his point, the writer quotes Psalms 2:7 to show that God honored Jesus by calling him “son” and Psalms 110:4 to show that he was appointed to be a priest.

We also see Jesus acting as a priest in that he addressed God directly in his prayers and his tears (Matthew 26:38-39; Luke 19:41; 22:44; John 11:35-36, 41-42). By stating “in the days of his flesh,” the writer affirms that Jesus continues to live but no longer in human flesh.

In accepting his suffering, Jesus learned through experience what it was like to obey. As God, he was above all that existed in creation, but he chose to take on a lower state and place himself in obedience to the Father (Philippians 2:3-8). As a result, Jesus was made a complete Savior for men who would obey him (John 3:36; 14:15). It was for this reason that God designated him a high priest – not after Aaron but after the order of Melchizedek.

Warning: You are not growing

(Hebrews 5:11-6:3)

The writer had many things to say about Jesus, but those he is writing to are not listening carefully enough to understand his points. Their listening skills were sluggish and the topic at hand was difficult to explain.

There really was no excuse for this because they should have reached the point of being able to teach others, but instead, they need someone to explain the basics to them all over again. Staying with the basic topics means they remain immature Christians who are not accustomed to the Scriptures (II Timothy 2:15; Ezra 7:10; I Timothy 1:5-8). Teachers have to be mature Christians (II Timothy 2:2).

Mature Christians, through continual practice, are able to distinguish between right and wrong. This implies that immature Christians often make mistakes about the difference between good and evil (I Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 4:14). Thus, a lack of effort will lead to you forget what you’ve learned (James 1:22-25; II Timothy 3:6-7; II Peter 1:5-11).

We cannot grow if we never move on to more complex subjects. We cannot get caught in the trap of the past. Such growth requires a desire for the word of God (I Peter 2:1-2). Interestingly, the list of basic subjects ones that many spend a lot of time teaching. It isn’t that these subjects are unimportant, they are critical foundational material, but we can’t continually relay the foundation. If God permits us to live long enough, we will move on to other subjects.

Those first principles that they should have solidly known and gone on to other topics are:

  • Repentance from dead works and of faith toward God
  • The doctrine of baptisms
  • Laying on of hands
  • The resurrection of the dead
  • Eternal judgment

These are subjects that the writer believes every new Christian should be taught and understand well.

Repentance from dead works and of faith toward God

In order to become a Christian, a person must change; yet, this often seems to be a difficult concept to grasp. People often are sorry about their sins, but actually leaving those sins is hard to accomplish. "For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (II Corinthians 7:10-11). It is common to find new Christians slipping back into old ways. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1-2). Certainly, sinful works are dead works. "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Hebrews 9:14).

Remember that Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who thought salvation came by works of the Law of Moses. "We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified" (Galatians 2:15-16). The works of the Old Law could not save. No one by the works of the Law could earn salvation from God. These works were dead.

But change alone is not enough, we have to change to a new direction, specific direction. It is in the direction of faith toward God. "Testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). Without faith, we have nothing. "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).

Can anyone truly claim to be a faithful Christian and not understand the importance of repentance and faith?

The doctrine of baptisms

There is only one baptism applicable to Christians today (Ephesians 4:4-6), though the New Testament refers to several that had limited application and are no longer in effect. It is important that Christians understand the role the various baptisms played because many false doctrines are promoted in regards to baptism. For example, many groups teach that no baptism is necessary. Others say that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the one baptism or that it is needed in addition to Christ's baptism in water. Baptism is not a rite to be done to place a check mark on a list of requirements. Baptism has a significant and essential meaning for becoming a Christian. A faithful Christian needs to understand these things.

Some refer to Hebrews 9:10 where baptismos is used to refer to the cleansing rites used in Judaism. However, cleansing rites in Judaism is not an elementary teaching of Christ, so this interpretation does not fit the context.

Laying on of hands

Many see this phrase and assume that the writer is referring to the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. However, "laying on of hands" has a much broader application. "Laying on of hands" is at its core what you approve or who you fellowship. Much space is used in the New Testament concerning the need to have fellowship with Christians and avoid false teachers. For example, Timothy was told, "Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people's sins; keep yourself pure" (I Timothy 5:22). What you accept or reject is core to defining a person as a Christian.

The resurrection of the dead

As Paul pointed out: "For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable" (I Corinthians 15:16-20). Salvation is the offer of eternal life. Since we all die (Hebrews 9:27), then without the possibility of a resurrection, that offer would be meaningless. Every faithful Christian ought to understand that the dead will be one day raised.

Eternal judgment

Finally, we have to understand that how we live our lives matters. A faithful Christian understands that Judgment is real. "And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation" (Hebrews 9:27-28). We must face judgment regarding the things we have done. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (II Corinthians 5:10). The choices we make each day of our lives really do matter.

We never want to lose sight of these basic concepts, but the writer’s point is that we also don't need to continually rehash these same topics repeatedly. These topics are the foundations for other topics. When we discuss sin, we do so in the light of the fact that we know that we will be judged and that we were called to repent from dead works. When we discuss the treatment of our fellow Christians, we do so knowing why we are in fellowship.

Class Discussion:

  1. Are the oracles of God referring to only the Old Testament, only the New Testament or the entire Bible?

Warning: Impossible to convince to return

(Hebrews 6:4-8)

Remember that this warning is written to Christians who have remained faithful about the problem of dealing with fallen Christians, such as those in the prior warning who have become weak due to not growing. When a Christian falls due to weakness, a faithful Christian can encourage him and teach him using the word of God. But when a Christian purposely rejects Christianity and the Bible, the faithful Christian has nothing to use to help him. It is impossible for the faithful Christian to make the willfully sinning Christian come back. Notice in the parable of the Prodigal Son, when the younger son wanted to leave, the father did not stop him -- in truth, he would not be able to stop him. He didn't chase after the son because it would have made no difference. But the son chose to come back and that made all the difference in the world. Even the worse, most calloused sinner can come back if he wants too. The faithful Christian's hands are tied until the sinning Christian decides to return.

In addition, this warning tells us that a Christian can take a path into sin that will harden him to the point that he may refuse to return. It isn’t that God is unwilling to forgive (II Peter 3:9) or unable to forgive (I John 1:9), but that the sinner is unwilling to return.

The writer uses a farming illustration. In order for ground to be useful and to be able to absorb rain, it has to be tilled; that is, broken up into fine chunks. Only then can it receive the blessing of rain from God. In the context of the passage, “tilling” refers to a Christian’s preparations to learn and grow in the word of God. Ground that is not tilled becomes hard and the rain runs off before it can be absorbed. A Christian unwilling to learn will become hardened and the teachings of God won’t penetrate to his heart. Only sin (weeds) will be able to take root in him.

Warning: Do become sluggish

(Hebrews 6:9-12)

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews was concerned that Christians would abandon their hope during their struggles on earth. Part of the purpose of the letter to the Hebrews is to give confidence in the reality of God’s promise. To counter this very real possibility, the writer of Hebrews wants us to have confidence that heaven is really there waiting for us. If we truly believe it, then we will work hard to gain permission to enter it.

The writer wants us to know that even though he warned about falling away, he did not expect that to happen with those he is addressing. He is confident that they will gain things that are connected with salvation.

God is not going to overlook their labors in serving fellow Christians out of love (Matthew 10:42; 24:40; I John 3:10-18). That would be unjust and God is just. Each Christian needs to put in the same strenuous effort of service in order to have full confidence in the end. Confidence comes with knowing we are keeping God’s commandments (I John 2:3-5). This confidence is not in ourselves in earning salvation, but a confidence in God in granting the obedient salvation as He promised. Instead of getting sluggish, we need to be like those who have inherited the promise before us and imitate their faith and patience.

God’s promises are sure

(Hebrews 6:13-20)

However, to have such confidence, we must first have confidence in the one who made the promise. When God promised His servants a home in heaven, He did not just say “trust me.” He offers proof to you and me from His past dealings with men as evidence that His promises are sure.

Promises are usually bound by appealing to a higher power, but there is no higher power than God. Thus, to prove His trustworthiness, God placed His own reputation on the line by giving promises to Abraham that were bound by Himself (Genesis 22:16-18). Those promises did not come immediately to Abraham (John 8:56; Romans 4:20-21). His promised son did not come until 25 years later. Even at Abraham’s death, he only saw two grandchildren from Isaac. Yet, hundreds of years later, God fulfilled the promises He made (Joshua 21:45; 23:14).

Promises, like the one to Abraham, were not just done for the person, they also established a record for us regarding the unchangeable of God’s purpose. Thus, by two unchangeable things – God’s purpose and who God is – coupled with the fact that it is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1:2), we are strongly encouraged to have confidence in an eternity in heaven (Proverbs 18:10).

This hope of heaven becomes an anchor to hold us steady during the storms of life and will stay with us into death when we go before God (I Peter 1:3-9). Jesus has already gone before us into God’s presence as our High Priest. The veil refers to the veil between the Holy and Most Holy place in the tabernacle and in the temple (Leviticus 16:15). Here heaven is seen as the Most Holy place and we go through the veil after death to approach God.

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