Hebrews 5:5-10 – Why Does Hebrews Call Jesus a Priest?

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.

Jesus PassionIn 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?

16 thoughts on “Hebrews 5:5-10 – Why Does Hebrews Call Jesus a Priest?

  1. One interesting aspect of this passage is that the priesthood in the time of Jesus was a corrupt group who hated Jesus. They were the ones who lead the charge to have Jesus crucified, and yet, Jesus is referred to as the high priest. Instead of simply joining the religious structure, he confronted it. I also liked the last point of your post, about Jesus being taught through suffering. Even through this, he always sought after the will of the Father. If even Jesus, high priest and son of God, was taught through suffering, we have no right to despise suffering in our own lives. Rather, we should follow the example that Christ laid out for us in these verses, and remind ourselves that the will of God takes precedence in our lives.

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  2. The humanity of Christ caused him to understand the many emotions and challenges of man. We learn of many of His experiences as we study His life, but looking deeper allows us to know Him more. He grieved, and He wept. He was tempted. He became tired.
    As our High Priest, Jesus has made atonement for our sins. He was able to do this because of the struggles and pain He endured and overcame. By submitting to God’s will, He became “a merciful and faithful high priest.” (Hebrews 2:14)

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  3. Melchizedek is a fascinating person (or concept)! His introduction here raises some important questions that don’t always fit easily with traditional concepts of what it means to be “God’s chosen people” (assuming this is a valid claim). Here was a non-Hebrew who is yet recognized as a priest of the same God as the later Hebrews… which group had NO priesthood till hundreds of years later. At the least, this passage suggests a couple things:

    It supports what probably a majority of OT scholars believe – that the Hebrew Scriptures were written and edited (later than Moses) to reflect a national solidarity and level of loyalty to Jehovah that only slowly evolved. Unified concepts of the nature and name of the singular “God” came only gradually.

    It certainly opens the door, even within orthodoxy, to support for broader ways of accessing God and/or “salvation” than just the “revelation” contained in our canonical scriptures. Tho it’s been many years (25+?) since reading it,
    Evangelical missionary, Don Richardson’s, “Eternity in Their Hearts” I recall referring to Mel. among other factors showing that God seems to communicate grace (or “salvation”) to people groups and individuals who have not had access to Jewish/Christian Scriptures or teachings. I’m not sure this was the intention of the author of Hebrews, but then no author can be expected to be 100% consistent or logically unimpeachable.

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  4. The interesting part about Hebrews is it’s distinctly Jewish language. The idea that Jesus is portrayed as a “high priest” in this book makes perfect sense when we understand the audience of Hebrews. Written to a Jewish audience, the question it answers is simple: Who is this Jesus and why must we follow him? With the mixed community presented in the New Testament of both greek philosophers and law abiding Jews, the elegant language it uses to explain Jesus is both intellectually and emotionally appealing. In chapter one of Hebrews the writer begins with the literary gem, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” Jesus’ role as both the action of God and his final WORD says a lot about who he is and how we see him. Jobes mentions in chapter 2 that the writer of Hebrews must have been an accomplished scholar to know the Old Testament so well. I have to say after reading it that I could not agree more. The book of Hebrews never looked quite so interesting until I took this class. Thanks for the good conversation.

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  5. Jesus being a high priest is an important aspect of his ministry. This is seen in chapter 3 of Jobes’ Letters to the Church. She says that Jesus must have been a high priest and the sacrifice itself to replace the need for blood sacrifices and being able to reach the Holy of Holies. I think that this is important because Jesus needed to complete the priestly work of the sacrifice himself so that he himself could be sacrificed and take his place next to the throne. As you stated above, Jesus did the priestly duties in the garden and other times throughout his ministry by humbling himself before the Father and praying on behalf of the people.

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  6. After learning about the context and audience of Hebrews, it makes sense that the writer would refer to him as the high priest. There was rarely a Jewish audience after Jesus died because not many Jews saw Jesus as the Messiah. According to Jobes, Hebrews is the only book that describes Jesus as the High Priest (Jobes, 107). The part of Jesus’ life that I often struggle with is mentioned in this post. It is in regard to Jesus asking God to take the cup. This scene forces us to separate Jesus from God because Jesus accepted his role as fully human. Jesus represents humanity because no human wants to die. Jesus knew that his death would bring him to heaven and he was still terrified. But he also had the will power to follow God’s way instead of his own and the will power to never sin while on earth. Jesus’ neglect and death was an example of the future persecution other Christians will be facing (Hebrews 10:32-3). Because he became fully human, he can sympathize and understand us.

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  7. To acknowledge that Christ was fully God and fully man reminds us that Jesus endured humanity like we do. He was tempted, tired, hungry, thirsty, and physically became weak. It is important for us not only to read but to know that Jesus endured pain and suffering and yet He still overcame the grave. He fought through more suffering than we ever will and yet still, because He surrendered to God’s Will, He became the faithful high priest. For Jesus Christ to sacrifice himself for the sake of all humanity, it declared His humility, faithfulness, and obedience to His Father.

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  8. The interesting thing about Hebrews is that it is the Jewish language and the way Jesus is portrayed as High Priest we will only know that it is written in the times of the Old Covenant. It is interesting to also note that in the time of Jesus’ priesthood was a group of individuals who despised him in every way. But instead Jesus was the one who humbled himself and took on the sins of us so that he could restore the humanity of the human race. As we learn in Hebrews that was his main goal in writing the book was for the atonement of our sins. It is seen in Revelation that Jesus Christ was the final revelation for the human race and that the sacrifice was finished as he is now seated at the right hand. (as seen in Heb. 12:2) Jobes makes it an effort to point this out to us too by expanding on this in further context. Instead of following religious structures, Jesus himself presented himself in a way that would take precedence of our lives, therefore, we should not be ashamed of our sins but rather learn from them as he is the final revelation.

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  9. It is interesting how being a priest played out in the life of Jesus. He was more of a priest to the people of Israel than were the priests themselves. The priests of His day were more interested it seems in profiting off of the people who came to worship at the temple rather than leading them and guiding them in the things of God. They forsook their role as shepherd and became profiteers which explain why Jesus was angry when He entered the temple. It also explains why he went after the religious elite like He did. Jesus was the True High Pries and came to earth as a man to help guide His people back to God.

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  10. Because Jesus was to make a profound impact upon the current Jewish society, taking on the symbolic role of the High Priest was essential. This incarnation of fully divine into a bodily human being was necessary because of the sacrifice that was needed to make in order to fully atone for the sins of all mankind. Because the general responsibility of the priest was to enter the Holy of Holies and offer up a sacrifice to atone for the sins of men, it would only be fitting that Christ Himself would take on that responsibility in the role of dying on the cross. But unlike the other priests, Jesus was tempted and had not sinned (Heb. 4:15), thus his sacrifice would negate any other sacrifice to be made. Of course Jesus was anxious and scared in doing so, but it was by these inherent human emotions themselves that we are able to identify the legitimacy of Jesus’ sacrifice; that He was indeed fully divine and fully human. Karen Jobes speaks on this when she says that “he had to overcome sin as a human being in order to fulfill his role as priest and, what’s more, as sacrifice” (Jobes 96). May we be able to remember the suffering that Jesus went through on the cross, showing His dedication, His heart, and His love for us all.

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  11. It seems pretty clear that Hebrews refers to Jesus as the High Priest because of the High Priest’s job to sacrifice and animal to atone for sins. Jesus atoned for all of our sins through His blood rather than an animals, which can’t actually absolve sins. At least that’s what I get out of reading Jobes. What I’m curious about is Jesus’ prayers and petitions at the Mount of Olives described in Luke 22:39-46. Although Jesus of coarse submits to the will of the Father, he seems to have a separate, conflicting will of his own for a time when asking to have the “cup” taken from him if it be the father’s will. In regards to the Doctrine of Trinity, from what I understand anyways, each person, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have their own wills but they still always will the same thing…or something along those lines. I guess what I would like to know is the nature of the trinity during Jesus’ time as a Human. I assumed the trinity functioned the same as ever considering Jesus was/is fully God while being fully human. Considering Jesus didn’t outright abandon His task but instead submitted, perhaps Jesus didn’t actually have a conflicting will after all..

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  12. I can see how He would be known as the high priest. Using Melchizedek as a line between Jesus and His position is an interesting idea. You essentially dispelled the idea that Jesus could not be the priest because he was not from the correct blood line.
    I can follow Collin’s line of thinking as well. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice as well as the high priest. Because he was the ultimate in both categories we do not have to have animal sacrifices today.
    One thing that makes me curious is how do hard core Judaism believers support not doing animal sacrifices? If Jesus Christ was not the saviour then they would still have to follow the old Law and have animal sacrifices.
    Anyway, it would be illogical to say that Jesus Christ was not the High Priest. To say that He was not a high priest would need more Biblical support than exists.

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  13. This post is very insightful, and required a lot of deep down thinking about my own life. I know I am quick to complain about little things, and after reading this post makes me realize if I want to be more like Jesus I can’t complain about every little thing. Suffering is going to be apart, of our lives until the day we did, we will have good days and bad days, but through the suffering we are able to grow closer to God and be taught just like Jesus was taught in his sufferings. Eventually we will come out of the suffering because it is not something that is going to be forever. Jobes makes some good points about Jesus being a high priest, she says in chapter three that Hebrews is the only book that describes Jesus as the High priest, and also that the book is for Christians who are being persecuted, this can still apply to our lives today. Jesus took the place of the blood sacrifices, he was the ultimate sacrifice, and Jobes says that is why Jesus must have been a high priest, because he sacrificed himself for all our sins.

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  14. Jesus’ act of Grace upon the cross should never be taken lightly. However, even though the object of the use of this metaphor is something trivial such as stress, it can still be used to signify that Christ is there to give grace and mercy when we need it the most. (Heb. 4:16) The author of Hebrews may have a different view on it, considering that the metaphor of Christ as High Priest was meant to signify that Jesus made the atoning sacrifice for our sins and that there is a new covenant written on the hearts of man, shaping their ways to follow the regulations of God. (Jobes, Pg. 100) The meaning of Christ as the High Priest shows that there is no longer a need to follow the sacrificial system. The law has been overwritten and changed. People no longer have to go through their sinful high priest to offer requests and have their sins forgiven. Christ is the perfect and blameless High Priest! (Heb. 7:26) The line of connection between believer and God has been created and there is nothing that will ever disconnect it. So although knowing Christ as your High Priest may be a good way to remind yourself that you have God on your side and that His grace is for you, there is a far deeper meaning that only those who experienced life under the old covenant would truly understand. The Jews understood the meaning behind the priesthood and what Christ becoming a High Priest really means. (Jobes, Pg. 108) It was the author’s intention to relate it the Jewish Christians and it definitely seemed to be effective.

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