Hebrews 5 – 7
Hebrews 5 – 7. We now come to the primary doctrinal portion of the epistle which deals with the priesthood of Christ. We had Christ as Apostle in ch.3-4 where He was compared to Moses and Joshua. Now, actually beginning with the end of ch.4, we have Christ as High Priest in ch.5-7, where He is compared to Aaron! It is a continuation of the theme of the epistle, which is to separate the Hebrews from Judaism by showing the superior glories of Christ. A Jew that converts to Christianity loses nothing, and actually gains a great deal, because Christ fulfills and surpasses all the types and shadows of the Old Testament. The structure of this section is similar to the previous two: an opening treatise on the priesthood of Christ, followed by a digression in which apostasy is warned against (c.p. Heb. 2:1-4, 3:7-4:11, 5:11-6:20), followed by a fuller discussion of the priesthood of Christ. Throughout this section we have the features of Christ’s priesthood, but even more central is the personal dignity of the Priest and His qualifications for priesthood.
- Christ’s Priesthood Introduced (5:1-10)
- Warning to False-Professors, Encouragement for Believers (5:11 – 6:20)
- Christ’s Melchizedek Priesthood Greater than Aaron’s (7:1-28)
Christ’s Priesthood Introduced (5:1-10)
The Superiority of Christ’s Priesthood. The major point of these verses is to show that the earthly high priesthood Israel had pales in comparison with the heavenly priesthood of Christ!
The Qualifications of a Priest (vv.1-4)
4 And no one takes the honour to himself but as called by God, even as Aaron also. v.4 Called by God. Finally, it was required that a high priest be called by God. It was wrong for someone to appoint themselves to that place, like Korah and his associates (Num. 16:1-3), or Uzziah (2 Chron. 26:16). Nor was it right to be chosen by other men, like Jeroboam who “made of the lowest of the people priests” (1 Kings 13:33). A high priest had to be called by God Himself, as Aaron was! As the line of Aaron descended, we see God’s hand superintending, giving an everlasting covenant to Phinehas, excluding the line of Eli, thrusting out Abiathar when that line intruded, and guaranteeing the Millennial portion to Zadok.
How Christ Exceeds Every Qualification (vv.5-10)
7 Who in the days of his flesh, having offered up both supplications and entreaties to him who was able to save him out of death, with strong crying and tears; (and having been heard because of his piety;) v.7 Offered Supplications and Prayers. We had earlier that every priest offers gifts and sacrifices for sin (v.1). Here we have what Christ offered, which is of course in addition to the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:14; 9:26). Notice that this was “in the days of His flesh”, before He became High Priest. Even before being glorified as High Priest, Christ met the qualification by offering sacrifices. This passage has especially in view the Garden of Gethsemane, where the horror and immediacy of His death was before Him, and Christ poured out His soul in anguish and “offered up both supplications and entreaties”, asking His Father to remove the cup if possible, but above all submitting Himself to the Father’s will. He offered to God the sacrifices that God desired from man: dependence, submission, and obedience unto death. Why doesn’t the atoning sacrifice “of Himself” come into v.7? Surely it was the supreme offering of Christ! Perhaps the reason is that Heb. 5-7 focuses on the Priest, and we don’t have the sacrifice in view until Heb. 8-10 which is the next section. Whether that one sacrifice for sin or all through His life, Jesus was characterized by offering to God that which He desired from man. As He offered, Christ did so with more devotion than any other priest; with “strong crying with tears”. In Luke we read of His sweat, and His agony so intense that blood vessels burst, and His sweat mingled with blood falling to the ground. We see in these expressions how fully the Lord Jesus felt the weight of the cross, the power of Satan, and the reality of death (Heb. 2:14-15). As a perfect man, He prayed to His God, “who was able to save him out of death”. It says “out of death” not “from death”, “from the lion’s mouth”. The full answer to Christ’s prayer is seen in resurrection (Psa. 22:21)! On the cross Christ was forsaken by God, and there could be no answer at that time (“I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not”, Psa. 22:2). Yet after those hours of darkness, when the mighty work was complete, “from the horns of the buffaloes… Thou hast answered Me” (Psa. 22:21b). The reason is given, He was “heard because of his piety”. It is a different reason than the “answer” in John 13:32, when it is because He had glorified God in the work of atonement.
Warning to False-Professors, Encouragement for Believers (5:11 – 6:20)
Sad Need to Turn Aside to Less Spiritual Things (vv.11-14)
The Need for Spiritual Growth (vv.1-3)
- Repentance from dead works. Repentance means to change one’s thinking, but it goes deeper than the intellect. It involves a moral judgment, such that the soul takes God’s side in a matter. It results in a change in the life. Truly, repentance is one of the first principles of Christianity, but not the focus.
- Faith in God. Like repentance, faith is another vital element for every believer. Faith is implicit and complete trust in God, and is the condition for justification.
- The doctrine of washings. Turning now to external things, the “doctrine of washings” would be ceremonial washings such as the Hebrews were familiar with under the Old Covenant, and it may even include John’s baptism, but not Christian baptism.5
- Imposition of hands. Laying on of hands was a sign of conferring blessing, fellowship, or authority. It was an outward sign, practiced in both Old and New Testaments. But those things are not the focus in Christianity!
- Resurrection of the dead. The resurrection is another doctrine that is known and precious to Old and New Testament saints alike. Note that it is simple “resurrection from the dead” rather than “from among the dead”. The latter expression conveys the truth of the special or first resurrection, which Jesus introduced and Paul fully developed.
- Eternal judgment. Another weighty matter that is considered elementary is that of eternal judgment. This was known in the Old Testament and acknowledged in the New Testament. However, the New Testament brings out the hope of the Lord’s coming as the Christian’s hope, and this shows how sad it would be to never move beyond the basics!
The Folly of Apostasy (vv.4-12)
- First, they were “once enlightened” by the gospel shining the light of the knowledge of God on their minds. But knowledge is not equivalent to divine life.
- Second, they “have tasted of the heavenly gift” which refers to Christ glorified in heaven. This was an object far above this world. The professing Hebrews tasted this gift in that they were surrounded by those who were looking up, sustained by an object in heaven! But to taste the gift is not the same as receiving it.6
- Third, they had “been made partakers of the Holy Spirit”, not in the sense of indwelling them, but externally in the sense that they were part of God’s House by profession, in which the Holy Spirit dwells. False professors are part of God’s house, and they thus “partake” in a limited sense of the Spirit. The same word for “partakers” is translated “partners” in Luke 5:7. For example, an unbeliever who was attending a local assembly – Paul spoke of the assembly in Corinth; “…God is in you of a truth…” (1 Corinthians 14:25). But only true believers are individually indwelt by the Spirit.
- Fourth, they had “tasted the good word of God”. A person may hear and be attracted to the Word of God, and especially the offer of salvation – even witness the impact of the Word on consciences with power like Simon Magus (Acts 8) – and yet it not be “mixed with faith” (Heb. 4:2).
- Fifth, they had seen “the works of power of the age to come”. The “age to come” refers to the Millennium (Heb. 2:5), when the Spirit will be poured out on all flesh with great power in blessing on the earth. What was witnessed by the Hebrews near the Day of Pentecost displayed in miracles, tongues, and mighty acts of power (Heb. 2:4) was a foretaste of that same millennial power! But even with this testimony, some of the Hebrews would reject it.
7 For ground which drinks the rain which comes often upon it, and produces useful herbs for those for whose sakes also it is tilled, partakes of blessing from God; 8 but bringing forth thorns and briars, it is found worthless and nigh to a curse, whose end is to be burned. vv.7-8 An Example From Nature. The writer of Hebrews goes on to describe the condition and judgment of the Hebrew apostates with an example from nature. He uses the example of rain which falls on two kinds of ground. Both good and bad ground receive the same rain, but they produce different results. If the tilled land produces useful herbs, it proves that it really “partakes of blessing from God”. But if the ground brings forth thorns and briars, then it is “found worthless and nigh to a curse”. Useful growth manifests reality (Luke 8:15). Regression to a worthless state manifests a false profession only, and warrants severe judgment; “whose end is to be burned”. It is remarkable that rain is used as a picture of the blessing of the Spirit, and in the Millennium in a literal way, springs and rivers will be everywhere (Isa. 35:1,7; 41:18), even where there was once desert!
Encouragement for the Faithful (vv.9-12)
The three things mentioned - faith, love, and hope - are the three great moral principles of Christianity; without which there would be no Christianity. Many times in the New Testament faith, hope, and love are put together (1 Cor. 13:13; Gal. 5:5-6; Col. 1:4-5; 1 Thess. 1:3; 1 Thess. 5:8-10; Heb. 6:10-12). Faith is implicit and complete trust in God: a total contrast to the unbelief and skepticism in the world around us. Hope for the believer is a deferred certainly; whether it be the hope of the Lord's coming, or of being conformed to the image of Christ, or of enjoying the glory of God. Love is a settled disposition of favor: something God has toward us, and what we ought to have toward our brethren. These three principles "now abide" (1 Cor. 13:13), and are necessary for the pathway.But not all three will abide forever. Faith and hope are good companions for the pathway, but we will part company with them at door of heaven. Faith and hope are only needed because of the limitations of the human nature. When we get to heaven, we will see that which faith is the evidence or conviction of presently (Heb. 11:1). Our hope, being seen, will no longer be hope (Rom. 8:24). In other words, faith and hope will give way to sight. But love is the essential character of God, and it will never fade nor be replaced! Therefore, “the greater of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).
The Sureness of Our Hope (vv.13-20)
Christ’s Melchizedek Priesthood Greater than Aaron’s (7:1-28)
Hebrews 7. The writer of Hebrews is going to show that Christ’s priesthood is greater than Aaron’s, and the way he will do this is by turning to another Old Testament priest named Melchizedek, who was greater than Aaron, and then showing that Christ is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, and therefore far superior to Aaron. The aim of all this is to show the Hebrews that they lost nothing, and actually gained a great deal more, by leaving Judaism for Christianity. Two scriptures are referenced primarily, Genesis 14 in the first ten verses, and then Psalm 110 in the remainder of the chapter.
Melchizedek’s Personal Dignity in Contrast with the Greatest of Israel’s Ancestors (vv.1-10)
The Earthly Priesthood and Its System Would Be Changed (vv.11-28)
- In the Millennium Christ will still function in the Aaronic character for the saints on earth, but the additional function of His Melchisedec character will be added!
- But of the two the religious rival is the more dangerous, because it has more seeming devotedness and humility, and so appeals, however groundlessly, to conscience instead of to mere mind. – Kelly, W. The Epistle to the Hebrews.
- What is really meant here is “the word of the beginning of Christ,” that which was revealed in the days of His flesh and in due time recorded as His ministry in the Gospels. To limit the soul to this, perfect as it was in its season and in itself, is to do without that blessed use of His redemption and heavenly headship which the Holy Spirit inspired the apostles to preach and teach, and which we have permanently in the apostolic writings. His cross totally changed the standing of the believer. To ignore this is in fact to stop short of full and proper Christianity, to remain infants, where the Lord would have His own to reach their majority. Let us not slight the riches of His grace. – Kelly, W. An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
- … the weak notions of Christ which a Jew or a Pharisee could have understood and admitted, “let us go on to perfection,” receiving the testimony of God respecting the Christ whom He has raised to a heavenly glory. Why cleave to these Jewish notions when in possession of the precious revelations which belong to the heavenly calling? – Darby, J.N. Notes on the Epistle to the Hebrews.
- Take again yet lower things, “of doctrine of washings and imposition of hands.” These had their place, as we know, and many heed them much now as then, external though they are and in no way perfecting the worshipper as touching the conscience. The “washings” may include John’s baptism, or that of the disciples, though the word slightly differs in its form; and the laying on of hands was certainly an ancient sign of blessing, which we see practised in various ways even after the gospel. But those whose hearts dwell in such signs and set not their mind on things above betray the symptoms of their infantine condition. God has provided some better thing for us. They are among the things whatever their teaching might be, which the light of the glory now revealed in Christ leaves in the shade. – Kelly, W. An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
- Further, they had “tasted of the heavenly gift.” It is not the Messiah as He was preached when the disciples went about here below, but Christ after He went on high—not Christ after the flesh, but Christ risen and glorified above. – Kelly, W. Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
- What then, we ask again, was it that Abraham received? We think ver. 14 of our chapter clears that up. The sacred writer, it will be perceived, quotes only part of the angel’s words which were addressed to the patriarch on Mount Moriah, and stops at “multiplying I will multiply thee.” Was it simply for brevity’s sake that the Apostle stopped there? We think not. Of course, as we recall to mind that incident in Abraham’s history, we can never forget the rest of the angelic communication, interested as we all are in it. But may not our author have meant, by stopping at “multiply thee,” to draw attention to this one promise as apart from the rest? Now in measure Abraham did see this promise in process of fulfilment. For when he saw the twin children, Esau and Jacob, Isaac being then sixty years old, he could say that the multiplying had begun. Yet patiently had he to wait for many a year even for that. But those two then born were the earnest, as the prophetic announcement made to Rebekah before their birth declared, that nations would in time appear. Their birth was the earnest of all that was to follow. So he obtained the promise — the promise, let us mark, not promises. He obtained that after years of patient endurance. – Stuart, C.E. The Old Faith or the New — Which?
- Although not yet functioning in the character of Melchisedec (Millennial), He functions in the character of Aaron, but He Himself is after the order of Melchisedec.
- In Numbers 16:41-50 the people despised the priesthood and then had to find out that the priesthood was the only thing standing between them and death. In chapter 17 we find more positively the Lord showing the people by Aaron’s rod that budded, grew flowers, etc. that the one thing they ought to value and appreciate above all others was the priesthood.