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He Learned Obedience

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MacArthur - Hebrews

The Perfectly Qualified Priest

So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, “Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee”; just as He says also in another passage, “Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (5:5–6)

Verses 5–10 show how Jesus met all the qualifications for high priest mentioned in verses 1–4, and more.

Appointed by God

First of all, Jesus was chosen, sent, and honored by God the Father. Again the writer chooses quotations from the Old Testament-Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee (Ps. 2:7) and Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4)—to support his point. The Jewish readers of Hebrews knew that both passages referred to the Messiah. They knew that the Messiah was to be a great king and priest, appointed by God. Those Old Testament passages confirmed that.

Yet even though He was the divine Son, Jesus did not take the position for Himself or give honor to Himself. He told the Jewish leaders who questioned Him, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’ ” (John 8:54). God invested Jesus with the authority and honor of high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Melchizedek will be discussed in some detail under Hebrews 7, but a brief word here is necessary. He was a king-priest who lived in the time of Abraham, and whose ancestry is completely unknown. He was king of Salem (the ancient name for Jerusalem) and was a priest of the true God (Gen. 14:18). He lived many centuries before the Aaronic priesthood was established and his priesthood was unending (Heb. 7:3), unlike that of Aaron, which began in the time of Moses and ended in a.d. 70, when the Temple was destroyed. His priesthood, therefore, was superior to Aaron’s in two ways. Melchizedek was a king, whereas Aaron was not, and his priesthood was perpetual, whereas Aaron’s was temporary. Melchizedek’s priesthood, therefore, is a better picture of Christ’s than even that of Aaron.

Sympathetic with Men

In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. (5:7–8)

Second, Jesus Christ was sympathetic with men—He was identified with them, understood them, felt with them. He was Himself a man, just as surely as any high priest that served in the Tabernacle or Temple.

“The days of His flesh” were an interlude in the life of Jesus Christ, who existed before and after His earthly life. But they were an extremely important and necessary interlude. Among other things, “He offered up both prayers and supplications,” because of the anguish He faced in becoming sin for those who believed in Him. In the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed and agonized so intensely that He sweat great drops of blood. His heart was broken at the prospect of bearing sin. He felt the power of sin and He felt temptation. He cried. He shed tears. He hurt. He grieved. What He had always known in His omniscience, He learned in a new way on earth by experience. He could not have been a fully sympathetic high priest had He not experienced what we experience and felt what we feel.

When Jesus prayed to “the One able to save Him from death,” He was not hoping to escape either the cross or the grave. It was for this very purpose that He came to earth (John 12:27). A more accurate translation of Hebrews 5:7 is, “… save Him out of death.” Jesus was not asking to be saved from dying but to be saved out of death—that is, to be saved from remaining in death. He was not asking to avoid the cross but to be assured of the resurrection (cf. Ps. 16:8–11).

Jesus was heard by His Father because of His piety. The Greek word eulabeia, translated “piety,” can mean reverential fear or awe, as reflected in the King James. It carries the idea of being devoutly submissive. Jesus recognized God as sovereign and committed Himself to the Father.

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. (5:8)

Often the best, and sometimes the only, way to learn sympathy is by suffering ourselves what another is suffering. Suffering is a very skilled teacher. We can read about and hear about the pain of being burned. We can even see people being burned. But until we have been burned ourselves, we cannot completely sympathize with a burn victim. I had read about, and even seen, many automobile accidents; but only after I was involved in one that almost took my life did I realize how horrible they can be.

Jesus had to learn certain things by suffering. He was given no exemption from hardship and pain. Even though He was God’s Son, God in human flesh, He was called to suffer. He learned the full meaning of the cost of obedience, all the way to death, from the things which He suffered, and God therefore affirmed Him as a perfect High Priest.

That is the kind of high priest we need—one who knows and understands what we are going through. When we go to the Lord in prayer and fall on our knees before Him and say, “God, this problem, this loss, this pain is breaking my heart,” how wonderful to feel His arms around us and to sense in our hearts that He is saying, “I know. I know.”

Sacrificing for Men

And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.” (5:9)

In His suffering and death, Jesus fulfilled the third requirement for high priest. He offered the sacrifice of Himself and thereby became the perfect High Priest and the source of eternal salvation. Jesus went through everything He had to go through, and accomplished all He needed to, so He could be such a perfect High Priest. He was not, of course, made perfect in the sense of having His nature improved. He was eternally perfect in righteousness, holiness, wisdom, knowledge, truth, power, and in every other virtue and capability. Neither His nature nor His person changed. He became perfect in the sense that He completed His qualification course for becoming the eternal High Priest.

In offering His sacrifice, however, Jesus differed in two very important ways from other high priests. First, He did not have to make a sacrifice for Himself before He could offer it for others. Second, His sacrifice was once-and-for-all. It did not have to be repeated every day, or even every year or every century.

By His death, Jesus opened the way of eternal salvation. All the priests of all time could not provide eternal salvation. They could only provide momentary forgiveness. But by one act, one offering, one sacrifice, Jesus Christ perfected forever those who are His. The perfect High Priest makes perfect those who accept His perfect sacrifice, those who obey Him.

The obedience mentioned here of those who obey Him is not that regarding commandments, rules, and regulations. It is not obedience to the law. It is “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5). God wants us to obey Him by believing in Christ. True obedience, just as true works, is first of all true believing. “This is the work of God,” Jesus said, “that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:29). Trust in Jesus Christ is the work of faith and the obedience of faith.

Sadly and tragically, all people do not believe. And whoever does not believe does not truly obey, no matter how moral, well-meaning, religious, and sincere. In First and Second Thessalonians, Paul speaks of the two responses to the gospel—the only two possible responses. In the second letter he tells of God’s retribution on those who “do not know God” and who “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (1:8). In the first letter, by contrast, he praises the missionary work of the faithful Thessalonian Christians in Macedonia and Achaia (1:8). Their obedience in the faith brought others to obedience to the faith—and to the gift of eternal salvation.

[1]


Bible Knowledge Commentary

III.     Part II: God’s Priest-Son (chaps. 5-10).

In the first major movement of the epistle (1:5-4:16), the author set forth two major truths: (1) the exalted position and destiny of Him who is uniquely God’s King-Son and (2) the salvation-inheritance of those who cleave to Him by faith. Included in the consideration of these themes have been solemn warnings not to neglect or forfeit the inheritance that His exalted station makes so attainable. The Son’s future kingship has been at the center of all this discussion.

At the same time, it has been made clear that the King-Son is also a High Priest. The importance of this reality has already been briefly pointed out. Now, however, the Son’s priestly role would be considered in detail. In doing so the writer as usual interspersed sections of exposition with passages of exhortation and warning.

A.     Introduction: the qualified Priest (5:1-10).

Before enlarging on the ramifications of the priesthood of Christ, the writer took the logical step of showing Christ’s qualifications for that role. Though His priesthood has already been assumed, its validity must now be asserted if the admonitions based on it are to carry full weight.

1.     the general requirements for a high priest (5:1-4).

5:1. If it be asked what a high priest really is, the answer is easily drawn from the Old Testament institution with which the readers were familiar. Such a person is one of mankind’s own number: he is selected from among men and he is also their representative in matters related to God. These “matters” include the offering of both gifts (dōra) and sacrifices (thysias) for sins (cf. 8:3; 9:9).

5:2-3. The high priest must also be a man of compassion as the word metriopathein, which underlies the phrase deal gently, implies. This is the capacity to moderate one’s feelings to avoid the extremes of cold indifference and uncontrolled sadness. For an ordinary high priest of the Old Testament, this sympathy grew out of an awareness that he himself was subject to weakness, prone to failures of his own. Hence in his sacrificial activities he must make the necessary offerings for his own and the peoples’ sins. In this respect alone, as the author will show later (cf. 7:27), Christ did not exactly correspond to the characteristics described here, since He “was without sin” (4:15). But it is also possible that the writer thought of the compassion of the Son-Priest as being far richer than the moderate gentleness he ascribed to other high priests.

5:4. But one thing is certain. The high-priestly office was a divine appointment and could not simply be entered because one aspired to that honor. Just as Aaron was, this High Priest must also be called by God.

2.     the son’s call to priesthood (5:5-10).

5:5-6. No one is to suppose, the author insisted, that Christ began His priestly functions without the appropriate call from God. On the contrary, the same One who declared Christ to be the King-Son, declared Him also to be a Priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. In uniting as the author did here the text of Psalm 2:7, which he had quoted before (Heb. 1:5), and the text of Psalm 110:4, he skillfully joined the two great truths about the Messiah which lie at the heart of this epistle. The declaration of Psalm 2 had proclaimed Him the Davidic Heir whose destiny was to rule the nations (cf. Ps. 2:8). But Psalm 110 had also been earlier quoted to much the same effect (cf. Heb. 1:13). Now, however, a further statement of this latter psalm was cited to show that the future Conqueror is also a Priest of a special order. In this way the author united in the person of Christ the dual offices of Priest and King. In doing so the author was perhaps conscious of countering a sectarian position like that evidently current at Qumran, where both a lay, or kingly, Messiah and a priestly Messiah seem to have been anticipated. In any case the two quotations given here from Psalms 2:7 and 110:4 furnish the concentrated essence of the author’s thought about the Lord Jesus Christ. It is likely enough that the writer assigned the proclamations of both psalms to the moment when the Son “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb. 1:3).

5:7. But also in other respects Jesus is qualified for His priesthood. If it is a question of offerings (cf. v. 1), it can be pointed out that when Jesus was on earth He offered up prayers and petitions. In the expression “offered up” the writer employed the same verb (prospherō) he had used in verse 1. The added description, with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, has often been thought to refer to the experience of Gethsemane. But the Greek here seems to reflect the Septuagint rendering of Psalm 22:24. Since that psalm is messianic for this author (cf. Heb. 2:12), it is probable that he actually has the sufferings of the Cross in mind, as does the psalm. This would be appropriate since the cries of the Savior would then be linked directly with His sacrificial work.

That these “cries and tears” were accepted by God is evidenced by the observation, He was heard because of His reverent submission (eulabeias). To this also Psalm 22 bears reference in that its latter half are the words of One who has emerged from suffering in triumph and praises God for that (cf. Ps. 22:22-31). In fact the psalm’s first note of triumph has already been quoted (i.e., Ps. 22:22 in Heb. 2:12). Thus the “reverent” Sufferer was indeed saved from death, and this by means of rising from the dead. Hence too the Resurrection furnishes the decisive proof of God’s acceptance of Jesus’ sacrificial activity.

5:8-10. The whole experience just referred to was a form of education for Jesus before He served His suffering people. His unique relation to God notwithstanding (He was a Son), He had to experience the true meaning of obedience in terms of the suffering it entailed. Having done so, He was thereby made perfect for the role He would play as His people’s Captain and High Priest. That there is an element of mystery in all this need not be denied, but it is no greater than that found in Luke’s words: “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). In a real sense not fully comprehensible, the Incarnation gave the already infinitely wise and perfect Son of God the experiential acquisition of knowledge about the human condition. Suffering thus became a reality that He tasted and from it He can sympathize deeply with His followers. (The Gr. has an interesting play on words in the verbs He learned [emathen] and He suffered [epathen].)

This is what the writer had in mind when he affirmed that He became the Source (aitios) of eternal salvation for all who obey Him. The salvation here referred to cannot be distinguished from that which is termed an inheritance (Heb. 1:14). It is also to be identified with the “eternal inheritance” mentioned in 9:15. It should not be confused with the acquisition of eternal life which is conditioned not on obedience but on faith (cf. John 3:16, etc.). Once again the writer had in mind final deliverance from and victory over all enemies and the consequent enjoyment of the “glory” of the many sons and daughters. This kind of salvation is explicitly contingent on obedience and indeed on an obedience modeled after that of Jesus who also suffered. It is thus closely related to the saying of the Lord in which He declared, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).

The High Priest has become the “Source” of this kind of salvation experience for those who are willing to live obediently. In describing Him this way, the author was chiefly thinking of all the resources that flow from Christ’s priestly activities that make a Christian’s life of obedience possible. Whatever one’s suffering, the High Priest understands it, sympathizes, and makes available the “mercy” and “grace” which are needed to endure it successfully. As the writer will later say, “He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:25). With precisely this end in view Christ was designated by God to be High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

[2]


26:16 But once he became powerful, his pride destroyed him.21 He disobeyed22 the Lord his God. He entered the Lord’s temple to offer incense on the incense altar. 26:17 Azariah the priest and eighty other brave priests of the Lord followed him in. 26:18 They confronted23 King Uzziah and said to him, “It is not proper for you, Uzziah, to offer incense to the Lord. That is the responsibility of the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who are consecrated to offer incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have disobeyed24 and the Lord God will not honor you!” 26:19 Uzziah, who had an incense censer in his hand, became angry. While he was ranting and raving25 at the priests, a skin disease26 appeared on his forehead right there in front of the priests in the Lord’s temple near the incense altar. 26:20 When Azariah the high priest and the other priests looked at27 him, there was a skin disease on his forehead. They hurried him out of there; even the king28 himself wanted to leave quickly because the Lord had afflicted him. 26:21 King Uzziah suffered from a skin disease until the day he died. He lived in separate quarters,29 afflicted by a skin disease and banned from the Lord’s temple. His son Jotham was in charge of the palace and ruled over the people of the land.[3]


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a.d. Anno Domini (Lat.), Year of the Lord

cf. confer (Lat.), compare

[1]MacArthur, J. (1996, c1983). Hebrews. Includes index. (122). Chicago: Moody Press.

chaps. chapters

cf. confer, compare

v. verse

i.e. id est, that is

Gr. Greek

[2]Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (2:790). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

21 21 tn Heb “his heart was high [i.e., proud] to destroy.”

22 22 tn Or “was unfaithful to.”

23 23 tn Heb “stood against.”

24 24 tn Or “been unfaithful.”

25 25 tn Heb “angry.”

26 26 tn Traditionally “leprosy,” but this was probably a skin disorder of some type, not leprosy (technically known today as Hansen’s disease). See 2 Kgs 5:1.

27 27 tn Heb “turned toward.”

28 28 tn Heb “he”; the referent (the king) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

29 29 tn The precise meaning of בֵּית הַחָפְשִׁית (bet hakhafshiyt, “house of [?]”) is uncertain. NASB, NIV, NRSV all have “in a separate house”; NEB has “in his own house…relieved of all duties.” For a discussion of various proposals, see M. Cogan and H. Tadmor, II Kings (AB), 166-67.

[3]Biblical Studies Press. (2006; 2006). The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (2 Ch 26:16-21). Biblical Studies Press.

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