Like human priests, Christ was divinely appointed to his office (5:5-6). The writer will deal with his points in reverse order, dealing first with the appointment of Jesus to the office of High Priest. The writer cites two Psalms which he already used in the first chapter. The first quote is from Psalm 2:7, and emphasizes the fact that God called Jesus to the role of High Priest as he called him his Son. The second quote is from Psalm 110, and calls Jesus a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek, the mysterious “priest of the most high God” in Genesis 14.
Melchizedek was a priest of the true God in Palestine at the time of Abraham, nothing is known of him from scripture other than Abraham’s tithe after the victory that liberated Sodom and his nephew Lot. More will be said about Melchizedek in chapter 7, for now it is sufficient to say that Melchizedek is a true priest of God, before the Law, and for that reason Christ can be said to be a true priest even though he is not directly in the priestly line.
Because Christ fully human, the writer of Hebrews says he was able to fully sympathize with our struggles (5:7-10). The humanity of Christ was mentioned in an earlier passage, making him a sympathetic high priest but now that humanity is shown to be the same humanity as ours because he submitted to the father.
In fact, Jesus “offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” “Offered” is the same word as the function of the high priest in verse one, the offering of sacrifices. Here it is “prayers and petitions. This verse is may related to the prayers in the garden, when Jesus prayed to the Lord concerning the death he was about to endure.
Since the wording is similar to Psalm 22:24, some think that this refers to the words spoken on the Cross. This fits better with the “loud cries” and tears, since the prayers in the Garden were not reported in this way.
Several theological issues converge here, concerning Jesus’ reason for even asking God to take the cup from his hand, and whether or not he really meant to have his death postponed. Many have pointed out that Jesus was probably praying for strength to endure the tortures awaiting him before the Cross. Whatever the case, it is also important to understand that Jesus was submitting himself to the will of God, just as every other human being must do, he fervently prayed that God’s will be done, not his own will; he made his will conform to that of the Father.
It is this submission to the will of God the writer of Hebrews wants to call to our attention. Jesus was “like us” to the point that he cried out to God. But rather than complaining about his suffering or begging for mercy, he humbly submitted to his Father’s will in all things.
Unfortunately the image of Jesus as a faithful high priest is presented in popular preaching and teaching only as a personal encouragement, something like “Jesus suffered this way too so stop complaining.” The theologically rich image of Jesus as a high priest should not be so quickly turned into pep-talk for dealing with normal daily stress. Does the writer of Hebrews think the image of Jesus as a High Priest should be used like this?