Hebrews 5:1-10 – The Great High Priesthood

In my last post on Hebrews I looked at Hebrews 4 as a part of the author’s argument that Jesus is superior to Moses and the priesthood of the Hebrew Bible.  This is the theme which will continue through chapter 10.  In fact the book of Hebrews is interested in Jesus as a priest more than any other book in the New Testament.  Jesus is called a priest and high priest only in this letter.  Since the argument of the next few chapters is based on the idea that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek, it is critically important to understand what these offices meant in the first century.

Two words of caution here.  First, the high priesthood of Jesus is based on the ideal forms found in the Bible, not in the high priesthood as it actually functioned in the first century.  By way of analogy, we could study the office of president of the United States as it is described in the constitution, or by the way various presidents have functioned as president over the more than two centuries.  James Buchanan, for example, usually is ranked at the bottom of the list of presidents by historians, mostly for his handling of the issues which erupted into the Civil War.

We would not, therefore, want to describe the office of president using Buchanan as our example!  In the same way, the high priests who held office in the first century were politically motivated and not particularly good examples of the way a priest ought to behave in his office. What is remarkable is that the book of Hebrews does not condemn the current High Priest as corrupt, nor does he say anything negative about the worship of the Temple other than it has been completed in Jesus.

Secondly, the word “priest” has connotations in English which are not present in the function of a Jewish priest.  We are not describing a Catholic or Orthodox priest, but rather the Jewish priest.  This modern sense of the word is not particularly helpful in understanding the priesthood in the Hebrew Bible.  The priest in the Jewish Temple was the mediator between God and man. As such, the office of priest foreshadowed the ministry of Jesus who was provides access to the throne of God for those who have entered into new life through him.

The original intention of a priest in the Hebrew Bible was to be an intermediary between God and Man.  The High Priest chosen to enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement.  He represented the nation and did his duty on that Day on behalf of the nation.  If the High Priest performed his function right, then the sin of the nation was covered.  Since he was a fallible human, there was always the possibility that the atonement was imperfect.

Not so with Jesus as the ultimate High Priest.  He is the perfect intermediary between God and man because (Hebrews argues) he was true human – untainted by sin.  Therefore he preformed his duties in the real sanctuary properly, providing real atonement to the whole world, once and for all!

13 thoughts on “Hebrews 5:1-10 – The Great High Priesthood

  1. It is always very interesting to read about the Priest Melchizedek in the book of Hebrews because as we know there is hardly any mention of him in the rest of the Bible. This fact could really highlight just how much stories were passed down within the Jewish people. There is only two real mentions of him in the Old Testament. Could this man have been highlighted quite a bit in the Jewish mindset causing the importance of Jesus jump of the page to Jewish readers? Another aspect about Melchizedek was the point that he was a King as well as being the high priest. Going along with the presidential examples could he have been a been something like a favorite president that people always look back on like a Reagan. Moses could be like the Lincoln of our times and Washington the Moses of our country. This is a stretch but, it is cool to think about. Melchizedek was a ruler, it sounds like he was a ruler of a whole area but, he was also known as “king of peace (7:2).” Melchizedek had to be active in government because he led the government. Jesus did not come to control the government when He came to save. Could this tie to Melchizedek shows the importance of Jesus when he returns because he is going to reign on earth in the 1,000 year kingdom?

  2. I could not agree more with the conclusion of the post. Jesus was the perfect human so he was the perfect person to be the high priest for the humanity. There is another reason why Jesus was known as the high priest of God. According to Jobes, “the author of Hebrews explains that Jesus did not enter the temple in Jerusalem with the blood of an animal but entered into the Most Holy Place of heaven itself by his own blood” (Jobes 98). Jesus could enter the temple like any other person, but he did not need to. He could enter into the innermost Tabernacle of heaven itself; a Tabernacle so great that no one else could see it or feel it except for Jesus. With this ability Jesus becomes, according to Hebrews 9:15, “the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people; so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant” (NLT 1417). Jesus was the perfect human, but he could also enter places no person could ever enter and have an experience no one else could ever have. He went through all this for one reason, to save humanity for its sins.

  3. I think that since God was a perfect human and died for our sins he would be the highest priest for us. He did so much for us that by dying for our sins to be able to be declared the high priest is almost a given. He sacrificed so much in order for us to be saved that by having him as the high priest is good. I like to think that by God being a perfect human he would be the highest priest and show people today how they should be and act towards each other.

  4. I like the comparison of political leaders to high priests in this blog post. It reminds me of how many high political officials I have seen in office and not support the way they are living and running things. But I look up to Jesus in the sense of how he ran things and represented Himself, holy and flawless. No political leader could come close to this image, then again I have never heard of them in any speeches announce their devotion to God as well as our country. I am glad I have Him to look up to and strive for.

  5. It is intiresting to think of Christ in his role as the High Priest that reconciled all of humanity to God. He had to be human so that he could stand as the mediator between people and God. Hebrews 2:17 says that it was completely neccesary for him to be human in every way,so that he could be,“a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” He knew what it was like to be human, to be tempted and to struggle, yet he never sinned. P. Long points out, in the blog, that the former Jewish priests who had been called to do the sacrifices for the people’s sins, were still sinful people themselves, so there was always the possiblity that they performed their duties imperfectly. Jobes goes along with that thought, in stating that Jesus as High Priest achieved what not even God’s greatest servants of the past like, Moses and Abraham and David could do. As “great” as they were, they were not perfect as Christ Jesus was/is the perfect Son of God, and therefore his sacrifice was the proper and perfect one, that redeemed humanity once and for all.

  6. P. Long’s blog post on the High Priesthood of Jesus helps us to understand culturally what it meant, during the historical time period, to have the role of High Priest. Interestingly enough, Jobes states that Jesus had to become human so He could fulfil the role of being perfect, resisting temptation, and thus be able to perform the ultimate atonement (Jobes, Pg. 96). P. Long makes a point to state the difference between our thinking of a priest and what it truly meant to be a priest back in Jesus’ time. This is a good distinction to understand that our way of thinking is not always the accurate way to understand Biblical passages because meanings and connotations with words change very much throughout time periods. Within American Christianity, that I have witnessed, there is a huge error of often reading our motivations, meanings, and answers into scripture. This is counter to how to properly read scripture, in which we read Scripture normally, seeking out context, culture, and multiple other background issues within the text.
    The analogy of Jesus as a High Priest making an ultimate atonement for all of humanity is helpful, to me at least, in understanding what Jesus did for me personally as a Christian. Understanding the cultural context of Jesus being the Most High Priest brings enlightenment to His work even more so than just understanding Jesus died on the cross. While that is a huge part of Jesus’ work as Most High Priest, it is not the only part, understanding the role of High Priest and how Jesus fulfills that role is increasingly beneficial.

  7. Understanding the cultural connotations of terms in the bible is necessary in order to properly understand what the author is trying to say. We have all of these different ideas in our heads about what things like priesthood should be, when it could be something totally different in reality. As mentioned, we may think of priests in the world today, or even priests in Jesus’ time who functioned as political figures (Long, 48), both of which do not encapsulate the point the author of Hebrews is trying to make.
    The author of Hebrews clearly points to the Old Testament for their definition of a high priest. Jesus is the one who intercedes on behalf of humanity, offering a sacrifice for us to atone for our sins, just like priests in the Old Testament. The author brings up Melchizedek multiple times, a priest that has a similar priesthood to that of Jesus, one not from the line of Aaron. But Jesus even exceeds the priesthood of Melchizedek, being the perfect high priest for all humanity. Jesus is the only one that can be the perfect priest, and we need to understand that in light of the Old Testament priesthood, much like the original Jewish audience who “understood the temple, priesthood, and animal sacrifice” (Jobes, 107).

  8. The writer of Hebrews symbolizes Jesus Christ’s higher priesthood through the example of a mysterious Old Testament figured named Melchizedek. Genesis introduces Melchizedekian as the king of Salem and the priest of the Most High God. Here is the Hebrews, Melchizedek is mentioned in chapter 5 through 7 and we see what this strange man signified: Melchizedek’s characteristics were those of the priesthood Christ has today. Like Christ, Melchizedek was instantly available when Abraham’s defeat of the five kings, Melchizedek suddenly appeared. Like Chris Melchizedek was a king without father or without mother (Hebrews 7:3). Melchizedek symbolize Christ in His eternal relationship to God. Like Christ, Melchizedek provided the strength of Christ to Abraham, symbolized by the elements of communion. Melchizedek strengthened Abraham with bread and wine; likewise, Jesus Christ strengthens us with his one life. The bread and wine, after all, are symbols of Christ’ body and blood that is the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. As the author of Hebrews says, Melchizedek was both a priest and a king (Hebrews 7:1). In the same way, Jesus holds the dual role of king and priest. A priest is a mediator between God and man. Within the Old Testament, the priests would make sacrifices on behalf of the nation of Israel. Those sacrifice had to be repeated over and over. Jesus, our High Priest is not only our mediator but also our sacrifice. Because of his resurrection, death does not interrupt his wok; Jesus Christ remains our eternal High Priest. Here in Hebrews, the image of Melchizedek is summoned to represent the priestly ministry of Jesus Christ. The priesthood of Christ is far superior to any other priesthood because Jesus Christ is instantly available, he is eternal, and he provides to us his own infinite power and strength.

  9. Humanity is drenched with the imperfections of sin from the time of Moses, Jesus, and now our time today. However, our modern priests are quite different from what Hebrews 5:1-10 describes. The idea of high priesthood was a role in which there is a mediator between the nation of Israel and God. This was required so that the priest could communicate to God on the Day of Atonement—if the priest performed this function right in accordance with the original Hebrew text—the sins of the people would be forgiven. However, just like most roles God gives to humans, we ultimately fail at our given duties. This is why Jesus was sent to be the “The Great High Priest.” Just like Jesus was the ultimate sacrificial lamb for our sins, he was also the perfect mediator between God and His people. He is the only one that could ask for forgiveness in the right manner all of the time and therefore give his people successful atonement. I also found it interesting that we cannot use the connotation of the word “priest” in the same context as we would describe a priest today in English. The word “priest” in this context, refers to the Jewish Priest. This helps to understand that the roles of a priest today, as in being a teacher to a congregation of people and sharing the Gospel with others is quite different to a priest in the Hebrew Bible where they are more focused on mediating between God and the nation as I mentioned earlier in the blog post.

  10. As Jobes, 2011, points out Jesus played double duty in his role as both high priest and as sacrifice. Jesus was not only the ultimate and perfect high priest, but he was also the ultimate and perfect sacrifice that was needed to restore people to God. As mentioned above, the Jewish high priest was often the mediator between God and man, Jesus being both God and man in one fulfilled that role according to Hebrews. Looking at this from a Jewish perspective must be really interesting. Due to the fact the priest and sacrifices were such an integrated part of their lives, I wonder how it felt to be learning that Jesus death fulfilled both of those roles permanently in one go, talk about a lifestyle change. Jobes also mentioned that Jesus’ priesthood did not just fulfill the covenant, but it replaced it (2011). I think that is a crucial part to understand. To fulfill something or to fix something, is very different than replacing the entity as a whole. That is what Jesus’ sacrifice did on the cross, he replaced the old covenant with the new.


    Jobes, K. H. (2011). Letters to the Church: A Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles. Zondervan.

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