At the end of chapter 4, the writer of Hebrews described Jesus as the great high priest, who passed through the heavens—through the veil that separates the spiritual realm from our view—making us able to hang onto our faith.

As high priest Jesus not only is in the true tabernacle in the spiritual realm, He is also sympathetic with our situation in the physical realm. He knows all of our frailties, faults, fragilities, and failures. He has been “tested in every way,” He knows what you and I face, how hard it is here, and His heart goes out to us.

Furthermore, He is as approachable to each of us today as God was to Moses, Aaron and Miriam in the wilderness, as God’s Shekinah hovered over the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. You and I will always find mercy and grace with Jesus as we enter that throne of grace in the heavenlies, with Jesus.

The Five Qualifications of High Priest

The importance of naming these qualifications is to show how Jesus meets every criterion:

The Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ (La Vie de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ) | James Tissot, French, 1836-1902, The Brooklyn Museum, CC0
  1. Jesus, as both fully God and fully human, presents a unique link between God and people.

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

First qualification of a high priest, Hebrews 5:1 (NRSV)
  1. Having lived as a human being and fully experienced all you and I face, Jesus is uniquely able to relate to those who come to Him.

He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness;

Second qualification of a high priest, Hebrews 5:2 (NRSV)
  1. Jesus presented Himself as sacrifice for all sin, having taken upon Himself the sins of the world.

and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people.

Third qualification of a high priest, Hebrews 5:3 (NRSV)
  1. Jesus did not take this for Himself, but was appointed by God. What is more, as God the Son, He has preeminence over anyone else.

And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,

You are my Son,
    today I have begotten you”;

Fourth qualification of a high priest, Hebrews 5:4-5 (NRSV)

The writer returned to the prophetic Psalm he had quoted from in the first chapter of Hebrews, in order to illustrate his point.

  1. Jesus’ preeminent eligibility for the high priesthood supersedes the Aaronic line, and will remain high priest forever.

as he says also in another place,

“You are a priest forever,
    according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Fifth qualification of a high priest, Hebrews 5:6 (NRSV)

Quoting another Psalm, the writer will, in a later chapter, elaborate on the meaning of this mysterious prophecy about Melchizedek.

Abraham before Melchizedek | James Tissot (1836-1902) The Jewish Museum, CC0

The Suffering of the Son

You and I have four gospels, four accounts of Jesus’ life. We can be confident these four testimonials were taken from those who were the closest to Jesus, who knew Him as few others did.

Yet it is the writer of Hebrews who gives us the most intimate glimpse into Jesus’ inner world as a human being.

Who, in the days of His flesh having offered both petitions and supplications with a strong outcry and tears to the One being able to save Him out of death, and having been heard because of His reverence,

Hebrews 5:7 (NRSV)

After exalting Jesus as God, the writer now showed us Jesus’ human experience, His mental and emotional life.

For his text, the writer turned to Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, when Jesus prayed about the agony of the cross—not so much even the agony of physical pain, but something that would hurt infinitely more, as God the Son became both the cancer of sin and drank to the dregs the cup of God’s wrath, the cleansing antidote to sin.

In this, Jesus would become not only the high priest, who alone could offer atonement, but He would also become the sacrificial lamb, the innocent one taking upon Himself all the sin of the world.

Matthew remembered Jesus during that time of prayer as grieved and distressed, saying to Peter, James, and John, “My soul is deeply-grieved, to the point of death.”

Mark described Jesus as throwing Himself to the ground to pray, clearly beside Himself in distress.

Luke added that Jesus knelt and was in such agony an angel came to strengthen Him. His sweat became like drops of blood—according to Luke’s meticulous medical observation—in so heavy a stream they fell all the way to the ground.

My Soul is Sorrowful unto Death (Mon âme est triste jusqu’à la mort) | James Tissot (1836 – 1902), The Brooklyn Museum, CC0

Jesus’ reverence was the evidence of His oneness with the Father, as John had remembered Jesus’ prayer,

“And I have given them the glory which You have given to Me in order that they may be one just as We are one, I in them and You in Me; in order that they may be perfected into one—in order that the world may be knowing that You sent Me forth, and loved them just as You loved Me.

“Father, as to what You have given to Me, I desire that those ones also may be with Me where I am, in order that they may be seeing My glory which You have given to Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”

Jesus’ Prayer, John 17:22-24 (DLNT)

The Father answered the prayer of the Son in full, for His disciples did see His glory—of His death, of His salvation in resurrection, of His ascension through the heavens.

The Perfection of the Son

As our example,

. . . although being a Son, learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the cause of eternal salvation to all the ones obeying Him.

Hebrews 5:8-9 (DLNT)

To help us understand what the writer might have meant through the phrase having been perfected, we turn first to the meaning of the word in Greek, and then to James, who also wrote to a Jewish audience.

τελειόω | teleio means to

  • bring to an end
  • finish
  • accomplish
  • fulfil
  • bring to maturity or completeness, [in this case] of persons, in ethical and spiritual sense
  • complete
  • perfect

Keeping all those definitions in mind, let us read what James wrote, to readers who were undergoing terrible trials of persecution.

Regard it all joy, my brothers [and sisters], whenever you fall-into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith is producing endurance. And let endurance be having its complete work in order that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4 (DLNT)

Greek writers often paired the words mathein (to learn) and pathein (to suffer) together, because not only did they sound alike, it was accepted in antiquity that learning came through suffering.

You and I might call it the School of Hard Knocks!

The lessons we really learn deep often come from unforgettable life experiences. That is the human condition, we are all like this, the world over, from time immemorial. To be human involves being perfected through learning and suffering, through mathein and pathein.

Jesus, God the Son, was willing to enter fully into being a human being. He was willing to suffer, and He demonstrated costly obedience. Through this, He became uniquely qualified to fulfill, to complete, His mission.

Image: allen watkin from London, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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