THE BROAD CONTEXT:
The author identified neither himself nor the people to whom he was writing. However, the content of the book, including the frequent references to the Hebrew Scriptures, makes it clear that he was writing to Jewish Christians who were sorely tempted to leave the Christian church and revert to Jewish worship.
The author spends the first ten and a half chapters of this thirteen chapter book (1:1 – 10:18) emphasizing the superiority of Christ and the new covenant to Moses and the old covenant.
THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT:
In chapter 4, the author has been emphasizing the superiority of the high priesthood of Jesus Christ over the high priesthood of Aaron (of the tribe of Levi). He said, “For we don’t have a high priest who can’t be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but one who has been in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin” (4:15).
He went on to say, “Let us therefore draw near with boldness to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy, and may find grace for help in time of need” (v. 16).
In verses 1-4, the author draws a parallel between the earthly high priests and Jesus. They both offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people, but Jesus is superior because (1) unlike the earthly high priest, Jesus wasn’t taken from among men (v. 1) and (2) he didn’t have to offer sacrifices for himself as well as the people (v. 3).
HEBREWS 5:5-6. YOU ARE MY SON
5 So also Christ didn’t glorify himself to be made a high priest, but it was he who said to him, “You are my Son. Today I have become your father.”
6 As he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”
“So also Christ didn’t glorify himself to be made a high priest, but it was he who said to him, ‘You are my Son. Today I have become your father'” (v. 5). Keep in mind that the author is interested in showing Jewish Christians that Jesus and the new covenant are superior to Moses and the old covenant. In this verse, (using the title Christ or Messiah instead of Jesus’ name), he notes that:
- Christ didn’t glorify himself to be a high priest. Just as Aaron submitted to a call by God, so also did Christ.
- God said to Christ, “You are my Son. Today I have become your father” (Psalm 2:7)––something that God never said to Aaron or Aaron’s descendants.
“As he says also in another place, ‘You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek'” (v. 6; see also v. 10; 6:20). This quotation comes from Psalm 110:4. Jesus interpreted this psalm as messianic in Matthew 22:44. Peter did the same in his Pentecostal sermon at Acts 2:34––and the author of Hebrews did so at Hebrews 1:13.
We first hear of Melchizedek in Genesis. A group of four kings led by Chedorlaomer waged battle against a group of five rebellious kings (to include the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah) who had served as their vassals. Chedorlaomer and his allies defeated Sodom, and took Lot (Abram’s nephew) captive. Abram took three hundred eighteen trained men to free Lot, and was successful, recovering Lot and his fellow captives along with their goods. The king of Sodom went out to meet Abram (Genesis 14:14-17). Then:
“Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine:
and he was priest of God Most High.
He blessed (Abram),
and said, ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
possessor of heaven and earth:
and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’
Abram gave him a tenth of all” (Genesis 14:18-20).
Salem, of which Melchizedek was king, is identified as Jerusalem in Psalm 76:2.
Later, the author of Hebrews will tell us that Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”––and that, as king of Salem, he is also “king of peace” (7:2) (the Hebrew word salem means “peaceful” or “secure”).
He will also tell us that Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually” (7:3).
Abram’s tithe to Melchizedek and Melchizedek’s blessing of Abram suggest that Melchizedek was superior to Abram, and that is how the author of Hebrews interprets it, saying, “the lesser is blessed by the greater” (7:4, 7).
The author notes that Jesus was of the tribe of Judah rather than Levi, the priestly tribe (7:14), and interprets Psalm 110:4 to mean that there has been an annulling of the commandment to appoint priests from the tribe of Levi “because of its weakness and uselessness” (7:18). He says:
“Jesus has become the collateral of a better covenant.
Many, indeed, have been made priests,
because they are hindered from continuing by death.
But (Jesus), because he lives forever,
has his priesthood unchangeable.
Therefore he is also able to save to the uttermost
those who draw near to God through him,
seeing that he lives forever
to make intercession for them” (7:22-25).
HEBREWS 5:7-10. A HIGH PRIEST AFTER THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK
7 He, in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and petitions with strong crying and tears to him who was able to save him from death, and having been heard for his godly fear, 8 though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered. 9 Having been made perfect, he became to all of those who obey him the author of eternal salvation, 10 named by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
“He, in the days of his flesh” (v. 7a). With these words, the author reminds us that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood historical figure.
“having offered up prayers and petitions with strong crying and tears to him who was able to save him from death, and having been heard for his godly fear” (Greek: eulabeia) (v. 7b). The Greek word eulabeia would better be translated “reverence” or “devotion” rather than “fear.” The word for fear is phobos.
At the Mount of Olives, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” An angel came to strengthen him, and Jesus, “in agony, prayed more earnestly. His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground” (Luke 22:42-43; see also Matthew 26:38-39; Mark 14:34-36).
If we might be inclined to interpret Jesus’ prayer and perspiration as weakness, we need to remember that he followed through with the cross to save the world from its sin. As an old First Sergeant once said to me, “Courage isn’t lack of fear, but doing what is needed in spite of fear.”
“though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered” (v. 8). We are surprised to see that Jesus “learned obedience.” Wasn’t he always obedient?
But Luke gives us a glimpse of Jesus as a boy, going with Mary and Joseph to Jerusalem, where he separated himself from Mary and Joseph to amaze the teachers in the temple with his understanding. Mary and Joseph went a day’s journey before they realized that he was missing––and then had to make the journey back to the city, worrying all the way.
When they found Jesus, Mary asked, “Son, why have you treated us this way? Behold, your father and I were anxiously looking for you”––and Jesus cheekily replied, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”––an answer that wouldn’t have passed muster with my earthly father, I can assure you. But then Luke tells us:
“And (Jesus) went down with them, and came to Nazareth.
He was subject to them,
and his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature,
and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:42-52).
So from the beginning, Jesus had to grow in four ways––in understanding and physique––and spiritually and socially.
But the growth that the author mentions in this verse is growth in obedience. Even though Jesus prayed that the Father might remove the cup of suffering from him, he did so knowing that the Father would not and could not do that without aborting the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation. As much as Jesus would have liked to avoid the cross, he did what was required––and grew in the process of overcoming his fear.
“Having been made perfect, he became to all of those who obey him the author of eternal salvation” (v. 9). Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8). In doing so, he ushered in the possibility of salvation for all mankind.
“named by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (v. 10). See the comments on verse 6 above.
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Copyright 2016, Richard Niell Donovan