Hebrews 4:15 – 5:10

David H. Linden, University Presbyterian Church, Las Cruces, NM USA

imputed@gmail.com    revised December, 2010


The change of focus:   The earlier section had in it very sobering words, frightening words!  It even exhorted us to fear lest with hard hearts we miss God’s salvation. Now Hebrews makes a strong turn to the comforts we have with Christ as our Great High Priest, a Savior Who knows our weaknesses and welcomes our coming to God’s throne with our needs.   


In the beginning of Hebrews the emphasis was that Jesus is God the Son. The subject of His priesthood was touched upon slightly in 1:3 but by the end of chapter 4 this role has become the central topic. He is the faithful priest (2:17), the high priest we confess (3:1); and now He is shown again in 4:15 as the merciful Priest of 2:17. Since Jesus experienced real temptation, He has mercy for the weaknesses of His people. Since He is an effective Priest – because His offering has been accepted – He has brought us access to God in prayer. 


Chapter 5 shows what is required of all high priests, and then what is unique about Christ. Other priests offered sacrifices for their own sins – not so with Christ. Every priest must represent sinners before God, and must be appointed by God to do so.  This is also true of Christ. Jesus did not appoint Himself.


His appointment was to be a King as well. Psalms 2 & 110 taught the King/Priest combination with “You are My Son” and “You are a priest”. Jesus, like Melchizedek, is both king and priest. In 5:6 & 10 Melchizedek’s name appears for the first time in the New Testament. Aaron, the first high priest of Israel, appears in 5:4. His chief likeness to Jesus is that both he and our Lord were men appointed by God to serve as high priests offering for sin.


This text stresses that Christ is sinless and adds a word on something the Bible hardly mentions, Jesus’ development in obedience, obedience He learned by suffering. Then, when perfected by God, Jesus was qualified to be the effective Priest, the true source of eternal salvation. His priestly work entails His offering in the past, plus His current intercession for His people. Jesus did not need to make an offering for Himself; He came to put away the sin of others.  


This section begins the concentrated attention to the major theme of the Book of Hebrews.  This doctrine requires attention and understanding, so laziness and no zeal to learn are threats to a mature grasp of vital truth. This essential truth is the unique priesthood of Jesus, a truth that is foundational to understanding God and our salvation. That anyone could treat such matters lightly is deserving of rebuke. Thus a parenthesis (5:11 – 6:12) interrupts the discussion of Jesus, the Priest in the order of Melchizedek.


4:15   The preceding words cause us to examine our hearts. When we do so honestly, we will always have an awareness of sin in us, evidence of unbelief, and contradiction of the confession we make of Christ.  Because our sin is real and destroys fellowship, we need a priest to help us. God has provided us with such a Priest, and His offering was necessary to save us. Hebrews conveys the message that we have a Priest, but only one!  Hebrews will emphasize:  1) we have a Priest, so let us come to God’s throne, and  2) our Priest is from God, so we must not turn from Him. To do so is to trample underfoot the Son of God (10:29).


Hebrews now stresses how much Jesus’ experience was like ours, and how different. Had He sinned – an impossibility! – He would need a priest to plead for Him! He has not sinned, so He can plead for us. We should not look at the priestly ministry of Jesus as limited to His death on the cross in the past; He continues now to intercede for us before the Father (7:25). Christ is like a lawyer arguing for His client before the Judge! (1 John 2:1,2). Our sin is real, but so is His intervention and defense for us in heaven. This is an activity of Christ that would be totally unnecessary, if it were not true that we have sin. 


4:14,15   We have; we do not have.   In v.15 the denial, “we do not have,” is related to His sympathy, we do not have a priest Who cannot feel what we face, because we have One Who does. No one can ever say of the Lord Jesus, Who resisted every sin He faced, that He does not know what our temptation is like. The one who keeps resisting sin knows more of its pressure than one who gives in to it. Feeling the attraction is not the sin; that is the temptation. It is not a sin to be tempted. Jesus was tempted. It is a sin to give in to the temptation, and that is what He did not do. See below Appendix D, Could Jesus Sin?


The Lord Jesus has sympathy for us, but the word sympathy in Greek is not limited to a feeling. It includes taking action, by helping the one for whom there is sympathy. Jesus’ going to the cross for His people was more than feeling; it was action – full sympathy.


The Love our Priest Has for Us      In ancient times, some thought a priest would be a better priest if he had no feeling for the people. He would just do his job and make his offerings. Christ not only represents people, He cared for us in self-sacrificing action. He loves us, prays for us, and died for us. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).  "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). “I pray for them” (John 17:9, also vv.15,20, and Luke 22:31,32).  He did this for us while we were ungodly (Romans 5:6-8). The high priest of Israel was clothed with special robes with engraved stones with the names of the tribes of Israel (Exodus 28:9-21). That priest could never know every one of his people; our Shepherd knows us and calls each of us by name (John 10:3).


4:16   Here is an encouragement to prayer and an assurance of God’s kindness to His people. The element of approach to God’s presence is unique. Throughout Scripture there is much prayer to and much blessing from God. What is a tremendous change since the cross is the matter of approach to God. In the OT only the high priest could enter God’s Most Holy Place. “Appoint Aaron and his sons to serve as priests; anyone else who approaches the sanctuary must be put to death" (Numbers 3:10). The people could enter His courts with praise, but never the inner sanctuary (Psalm 100:4). Those praising the Lord inside the sanctuary were priests (Psalm 134), but even they could not enter the Most Holy Place, except for the high priest once a year (9:7).


We know Jesus is the Son of God Who came from heaven and that He is sinless. It makes sense that He can approach His holy Father (Psalm 15 & 24:3-5). That is not a surprise when we know Who Jesus is. He approaches God in His own righteousness; we cannot. With us it is different; we have sin, so on our own we cannot approach the One Whose eyes are too pure to look on evil” and Who “cannot tolerate wrong” (Habakkuk 1:13). 


But now our Priest has gone ahead of us (6:20) into that holy Presence when He passed through the heavens (4:14). Christ “entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption” (9:12). This means the offering He made (or in other words, the blood presented to God for us) has been accepted. Eternal redemption has been obtained. Nothing more needs to be done to propitiate God (2:17). He has been satisfied by the blood presented to Him. (See the later lesson on Hebrews 9). The condemnation that would have brought the wrath of God on sinners has been withdrawn from believers. The blood that secures justification (the removal of condemnation) has been offered and accepted. This means we come before God in Christ, not in our sins (John 8:21,24) but represented by Christ, covered with His blood. As a result, we do not come as condemned sinners, but as forgiven people, no longer accused of the sin removed from our record by the blood of Christ. The curtain to keep us back has been torn open (Matthew 27:51).


Our salvation is incomplete. Much purification is needed still. We come in need of personal cleansing. We are weak and need His gracious help. We come to the throne of grace for holiness and constant cleansing till the sanctifying process is completed at the Second Coming of Christ (1 John 3:2). This is the way we pray. Access to God has been purchased in blood; it is now open to us in Christ. Redemption has been accomplished for us; access is granted to us, but the need of final redemption continues in us and the world around us.


Christ “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself” [This has been accomplished]. “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people;” [finished!] “And he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, [because the offering for sin has been made] but to bring salvation [i.e., to completed the application of salvation] to those who are waiting for him. [So salvation is yet to be completed at the Second Coming.] (9:27,28).


Help comes to us in our time of need; this help is found as the people the Priest represented pray. What we find is called grace. If it is grace, then it cannot be based on any worthiness in us (Romans 11:6). Help at God’s throne is graciously given while undeserved. This grace is not merited by us, but by our Priest. Hebrews exhorts us to appraoch God to be heard and helped. We may come with confidence, since we have God’s sincere invitation, and because Christ has taken away our sin. “Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God” (2 Corinthians 3:4). The throne of grace is a welcome place for us. The One seated at the right hand of the Majesty is the One Who has shown the ultimate sympathy for us. No one can match His love for us.  The Bible never says we approach God through the sympathy of Mary. The One who has us on His heart is the only Mediator (12:24; 1 Timothy 2:5) through Whom we come. The welcome given us to pray is granted through the merits of the One at the Father’s right hand. And what does He do for us now?  He makes intercession for us (Isaiah 53:12; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25).  


5:1-3   What should be true of all high priests     Hebrews will dwell on many differences, but it begins by making a comparison of the priesthood of Aaron (5:4) and Christ. What do they have in common?  (In  3:1-6, the writer began by giving the likenesses of Moses and Jesus before any contrast.)  


§  Priests must be human. They must be what they represent. Jesus cannot represent angels because He never became one (2:16). Priests sacrifice on behalf of others. The principle of representation is very important. Without it, one cannot understand the death of Christ, nor that His obedience is also imputed to His own. Christ represented us in His death and His life, and in His intercession continues to do so.

§  Priests must be appointed. They must not assume such a position on their own. It was God who decided who His priests would be. He chose the tribe of Levi and then Aaron, and a succession of Aaron’s sons to be high priest.

§  Compassion for the ones represented is a quality of a good priest. The reasons for compassion are not the same, but the divine standard that a priest should care for his people is apparent. Other high priests could have compassion because they too sinned just as their people did. Christ experienced sin only by facing its temptation, accepting our guilt, and suffering its penalty.

§  Priests offer sacrifices for sin. Another difference is obvious: The old high priest had to offer for his own sin because he too was a sinner. The similarity is that a sacrifice required by God was made to God by a man appointed to do so. 


We conclude that a priest is a man of compassion, called by God to represent people by sacrificing to God for their sins.


5:4,5   Before Hebrews was written, King Herod, the same Herod who tried to kill Jesus as a baby (Matthew 2:1-12), decided for political reasons who would be high priest. Men could pay bribes to have that position, and Herod would choose. They were taking an honor on themselves and violating God’s law, which stipulated the succession of the high priest (Leviticus 16:32).


No man could take the honor on himself to be a priest. Some could try, but only God decided Who His priests will be, what they will offer, and for whom. God recognizes only His own appointment.  Anything else is rejected. That truth is one that makes the rejection of Christ and His offering, the central danger raised by the Book of Hebrews. Hebrews will prove God’s appointment of Jesus as priest by quoting Psalm 110, words written 1000 years before His birth. The words used are not the declaration of Jesus speaking about Himself, but the declaration of the Father concerning Him.


5:5,6   The double declaration    Here are the two words taken from Psalms 2 & 110: “You are My Son;” “You are a priest.” This is the language of installing a person to office. The Greek in v.5 is not just Christ but “the” Christ, so the words of installation are of one man. 


At this point in the development of Hebrews we come to its central thesis. The discussion moved from Jesus not appointing Himself to God appointing Him. The writer immediately turns to what Jesus was appointed to, but this cannot be stated without reference to Who Jesus is. He is God and now priest as well.  God is King  (1 Samuel 12:12) without being a man. To be the Son of David, Christ had to become a man. One cannot be a priest to represent men unless one is a man. Hebrews had laid this groundwork of the humanity of Christ in chapter 2. Now the writer is ready to show that Jesus is the king-priest and there is no better example than Melchizedek. The Father has pronounced Jesus a priest on the model of Melchizedek.



As the Christ, the Chosen Anointed One, He did not come on His own mission but was sent by His Father

As Prophet and Teacher Christ did not speak His own words but what His Father gave Him to say.

As King He did not seize His kingdom, but was declared by the Father to be His King (Psalm 2) and has been seated by the Father at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Psalm 110). 

As Priest He did not appoint Himself but, like Aaron, was called by God. And to this Lord God He made His offering. 

As a Person He did not glorify Himself but His Father.


The central motivation of the Son was to do the will of His Father (John 4:34), to bring us to Him (1 Peter 3:18), and deliver to the Father the kingdom after destroying all resistance to it (1 Corinthians 15:24). Christ has not acted independently from His Father and cannot do so. His ministry as our Mediator has been God-centered and God-initiated. “I and the Father are One” is a deep and wonderful mystery. And it is no wonder at all that the Father’s great delight is in His Son, Who is the full and perfect reflection of Himself (1:1-3).   



5:7-10   When we read this, we recognize the situation of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is not clear from the text if the writer has in mind that the “loud crying and tears” were part of the rest of Jesus’ life as a man on earth. A number of instances reveal His suffering all through His ministry. The evil spoken of Him and to Him, the rejection by His own people, and even the unbelief of His family, are examples. He was a Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:1-4). The point of Hebrews was that Christ did not seize His office or His mission. He was sent which shows the submission of the Son to the Father. No part of the Bible makes the role of the Father sending the Son clearer than the Gospel of John (John 8:16, 26-30,42). He was not merely sent; Christ obeyed in coming. That coming was in submission to His Father.


The Qualification of Christ to Serve as our Priest   The text is headed to a crucial and sensitive point. There is a tension this text does not avoid.  He was God the Son, yet He learned obedience as a man. The obedience was necessary to qualify Him as a priest. This priest was one without sin. Sinlessness requires testing to prove He will not disobey, and also a lifetime to show that He did obey. He did not fail in the prohibitions, or come short in the positive requirements. (Note James 1:22-25; 2:10; 4:17.) It is not enough to avoid wrong; He had to be One who obeys without exception from His heart to fulfill the prophecy about Him in Psalm 40:8, I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart."


As the Son,[1] He needed to learn nothing. His righteousness was full and perfect; it always had been. There is no maturing or improvement possible in God. However, as a real human being, the Son, now human as well, developed not only in body, but in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). This included spiritual development, as He learned obedience through suffering. (To despise suffering is to hate what God uses in all His children to produce the likeness of Christ, according to Romans 5:3-5.) Since Jesus was perfect in obedience, it means that He was perfect in righteousness. Thus we do not have a Priest Who was less than perfect in His conduct under the law (Galatians 4:4). His divine perfection was an eternal constant, but His human perfection was perfected over time. Only when perfected He was qualified to approach the Presence of God for us with the sacrifice of Himself (7:27). He offered precious blood (1 Peter 1:18,19). We are made holy through the priestly service of a holy Person, Who offered that holy body prepared for that purpose and provided by the Father. This was the will of the Father, accomplished by Christ (Hebrews 10:5-10). There is no such thing as a holy human body for acceptable sacrifice unless there is perfection in that person to the satisfaction of God. For Jesus to be our Priest, He must have this requisite obedience, not as a child but as a mature man. In Isaiah 50:4,5, the perfection of Christ as a man was developed as He was wakened every morning to be taught by His Father.  


5:9   The source of eternal salvation     Because Jesus is an eternal priest, the salvation He brings is eternal. In 5:9 it is for those who obey. This text does not say we gain God’s acceptance on the condition of our obedience. The point of this paragraph is the necessity of Jesus’ obedience to be the source of salvation to us. The salvation our Savior brings has its distinct and definite result – those who are saved by His obedience are described as those who obey. It is a terrible mistake to confuse the result of salvation (obedience) as the instrument by which we are saved (faith). It is also a terrible oversight to miss that Christians may be described by the result of salvation, as this verse shows. We are those who obey, or we are not saved.


5:10   Designated by God to be High Priest    This is the truth Hebrews has been moving to. Psalm 110:4 is especially in the writer’s mind. This even shows up at the beginning of the letter when he used the word “sat” (1:3). The writer is at the point of a great elaboration on this verse, but for some reason he stops. There is a very serious problem; the people are not ready to learn; they are hard to teach because they are sluggish in their growth and not ready for the meat of God’s word. They must be fed milk as babies. This has serious consequences. The writer will deal with their lethargy first, and then resume His central teaching on Christ as our Great High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.





Appendix D:   Could Jesus Sin?


Could Jesus Sin?  Many make a terrible blunder here. They argue that since Jesus was human, and humans can sin, that Jesus would be less than truly human if it were impossible for Him to sin. They add to that argument a second one: that if Jesus could not sin, His temptation was not real.


Jesus came in the full likeness of our weak sinful human flesh (Romans 8:3), but He was the man from heaven, a new and different man, the product of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin mother. Thus we must make an important distinction. He, unlike us, had no predisposition to sin. Sin is natural to us because we are fallen and have had our nature corrupted. We are the abnormal humans and Jesus’ coming was the appearance on earth again of a truly normal man, just as Adam was prior to his fall.  


Just as Adam could be corrupted, it would be possible for the human nature of Jesus to be corrupted as well. The difference in the case of Jesus is that He was a Person before He became a man. He was and is God. Thus Adam had one nature, his human nature, whereas Jesus has two, a human nature and the divine nature He always had. These two natures are both active in one Person. So as a man He could not know some information, yet as God He knew all things.  As a human baby He needed Mary to hold up his weak neck in her arms; as God He sustained her life and held her up! These are not contradictions but part of the great mystery of God in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16). So as a man Jesus could feel all the temptation that cannot be temptation to God. God feels no attraction in sin!  As a man, Jesus could feel it deeply. Yet His godly human nature, filled with the Spirit He had received without limit (John 3:34), would resist sin in a way beyond the ability of Adam. And if we wonder how Jesus could resist temptation for 40 days in the wilderness, it was because God ministered to Him in His weakness. At all times the divine nature was active in the Son to resist sin. It is impossible for God to sin, and Jesus was at all times God. To this, one might add an eternity of life and experience in loving His Father and never acting contrary to Him. It would be unlike Jesus for Him to sin, no matter what pressure was upon Him.  



[1]  It is awkward to translate “He was Son” in English. Greek has no indefinite article. It does not say “a Son”. 5:8 is more like “though Jesus being Son, he learned …”.  Hebrews certainly is not suggesting that He is a Son among other sons.