The Task of the High Priest
“Every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people” (vv. 1–3).- Hebrews 5:1–4
Leaving Judaism behind to trust in Jesus means leaving behind a physical temple, the Jewish priesthood, and other things. However, it does not mean that one is without a high priest. In fact, to come to Jesus is to gain a better High Priest, the Savior who can actually offer a sacrifice that atones perfectly for sin. The author of Hebrews spends most of chapters 5–10 making this argument, and he begins to lay the foundation for it in today’s passage.
Hebrews 5:1–4 sets up Jesus’ appointment as our superior High Priest by considering the means by which the old covenant high priest was appointed and by looking at some of that high priest’s duties. First, we see that “every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God” (v. 1). Fundamental to the work of the high priest is that he must be able to “act on behalf of men,” that he must be able to represent the community whom he is called to represent. The idea is that the high priest must be part of the community, despite being set apart for his work, because he will stand in for the community in the presence of God. Thus, the old covenant priest came from Aaron’s family (v. 4; see Ex. 28:1). Aaron could represent the Israelites because he was an Israelite, so the greater High Priest must be chosen from among those whom He will represent.
The duties of the old covenant high priest involved offering sacrifices for sin and ministering gently to the people. These sacrifices were for the sins of the Jews but for his sins as well, since he, too, was a sinner (Heb. 5:2–3). The author of Hebrews emphasizes that the old covenant priest, because he shared the weaknesses of the people, could sympathize with the people and minister to them effectively. Of course, we have seen that Jesus can also sympathize with our weaknesses and thus minister effectively to us (4:14–16). However, Hebrews has also stressed that while Jesus, according to His human nature, shares with us the common limitations and weaknesses of creatureliness, He does not share with us the moral weakness of sin (v. 15). Yet that in no way makes Jesus less effective as a High Priest. In fact, because Jesus alone resisted every temptation successfully, He felt the full force of every temptation in a way that we never will because we so often give in at the first opportunity. Consequently, Jesus can help us better than a sinful high priest, for He alone knows what it takes to fully resist all wickedness.
When the weight of temptation feels particularly heavy and intense, we must turn to Christ, who will strengthen us to resist it. He can sympathize with our weaknesses, and He can give us exactly what we need to persevere. He will not turn us away when we confess the intensity of our struggle, but He will deal with us gently, enabling us to say no to sin and yes to His glory.
Passages for Further Study