Introduction: These verses introduce the distinctive teaching of this book. Hebrews is the only New Testament book to call Jesus High Priest. The Jews believed that Messiah would be Prophet, King, and High Priest. Jesus fulfilled all three roles.
Heb. 2:17a “Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren,…”
“Behooved” denotes necessity. A person cannot serve as a priest unless he is one with the people he represents. That He might truly represent us before the Father, Jesus became one of us. He condescended to take our nature.
A Gallic lord being led to martyrdom in company with others, saw that, out of regard to his rank, the officers put on him no chains; upon which he cried, “Let me, I pray you, be clipped of none of my honors; I, too, for love of Jesus would wear chains!” (Coley). Even so Jesus set aside His rank and shared our lot. There was no other way for Him to become our High priest.
Heb. 2:17b “…that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest..
“Merciful” refers to relieving misery. “Faithful” means being reliable and unfailing. Such a High Priest would appeal to first century Jews. The office had become political. Rather than being a position of mercy and faithfulness, it had become one of intrigue, cruelty, insolence, and greed. This was not the case with Jesus. He is a High Priest of great compassion.
Heb. 2:17c “…in things pertaining to God, make reconciliation for the sins of the people.”
The principal work of a High Priest is to make provision whereby sinful men have fellowship with holy God. There is infinite distance between holy God and sinful man. The necessity for a Mediator keeps us mindful of this truth.
The High Priesthood was the focal point of Judaism. Once a year, he entered the Holy of Holies and sought God’s forgiveness for the people’s sins. Without this annual rite, Judaism was meaningless. If one is not right with God, nothing else matters.
What the High Priest of Judaism did annually, Jesus came to do once and for all. He made atonement for sin, appeasing the wrath of God by sacrificing His own life, thereby making it possible for sinners to be reconciled to God. Jesus accomplished what had to be done for men to have a personal relationship with God.
This “Godward” aspect of Christ’s work did not exhaust His work as High Priest. He has another task, a “man ward” work.
Heb. 2:18a “For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted,…”
To be perfectly holy was all that was necessary for Jesus to be a High Priest “Godward.” However, to relieve the misery of man, something more was needed. We not only need a High Priest who makes us right with God and assures us of future bliss, but also one who comforts us in this present hazardous world.
Being merciful and faithful, Jesus shared our sorrow experienced in temptation. His temptations were real, as the word “suffered” proves. What an ocean of comfort for weary hearts! Jesus put Himself as near to our level as He could. Knowing that He felt what we feel when tempted gives great consolation.
I want not only help, but help that is tender and compassionate. When my bones are broken, may my surgeon be one whose own bones have been broken. No patient wants to be treated as a broken watch. The sick need nursing with soft and tender hands. Every doctor or nurse needs two things: a cheery disposition and incision. We want helpers who have felt what we are feeling.
This is exactly what Jesus did for us. He suffered the painful stabs of temptation we feel. He never yielded to them, but did feel their agonizing pressures. Temptation did not make Jesus sin, but did make Him hurt. He never did succumb, but did allow Himself to feel what we feel when tempted.
You make a grave mistake if you think Jesus had no problems with temptation. His life was one constant temptation, even more so than ours is. He viewed His walk on earth as a time of temptation. He said to his disciples, “Ye are they which have continued with Me in My temptations: (LK 22:28).
Jesus did not suffer for you only on the cross. His whole Incarnation was a sorrow. His coming to earth required an emptying of Himself. It was painful for Him to live here. Holiness had to dwell in a place where it could be touched by temptation.
Temptation was an ongoing agony for Jesus. Beware of the idea that His sinlessness might have decreased His suffering in temptations. Many think temptations lessen in intensity as a person increases in holiness, but the opposite is true. “The wind blows strongest on the hill tops.” Jesus, higher than all others, suffered winds of temptation more horribly than anyone else.
His sinlessness made His suffering worse, for only he who does not sin ever realizes the full strength of temptation. The pain of temptation is in the opposing of it. Giving in to temptation relieves the pressure. Suffering inevitably follows sin, but in the moment of yielding to temptation there is pleasure for a season.
We do not suffer in temptation nearly as much as Jesus did. We have but a drop to drink. He drank the whole cup. We yield long before temptations reach their zenith, but Jesus never yielded. He suffered temptation’s full fury, and never forgets what it felt like.
Heb. 2:18b “…He is able to succor them that are tempted.”
“Succor” means to help, to relieve, and to run speedily to the cry of one in distress. We have been called to overcome temptation, but the battle is often more than we can handle. We are in a never-ending storm. Satan’s blasts come from every direction.
I fear failure will thwart my desires. Jesus became like me, I want to be like Him. He appears in Heaven for me, I want to appear on earth for Him. He walked on earth for me; I want to walk on earth for Him. He gave Himself for me; I want to give myself for Him. But how can I do these things when every moment is a struggle.
What shall we do? Our text has the clue. Since He comes to those who cry for help, I shall cry unto Him with all my might. Look nowhere else first for help. Consult Him immediately.
For those who love God, temptation is a painful thing, yea, even and agony. But there is double comfort in Jesus. He not only has experienced temptation and knows how hard it is not to sin, but also comes to be with me in my temptation. When I cry out to Jesus, “It hurts,” He not only comes, but also says, “I know, I’ve been there.”
Jesus felt what we feel. He could have known what we feel without actually suffering Himself. As God, He could have performed a “miracle of empathy.” But that would not console us as much as knowing that He actually hurt like we hurt. For our mental comfort, He exposed Himself to a life of suffering.
He yielded to no temptation, but suffered them all. He knows what it means to be hungry, thirsty, poor, homeless, and to suffer the temptations of impatience and murmuring. He was persecuted, reproached, despised, and suffered temptations of jealousy and wanting revenge. He knows what it means to be rejected by family, and the temptation to conform. “Links of love make iron chains for saints.” It is hard to overcome evil influences from kin. He knows what it means to be disappointed by friends—all His disciples forsook Him, one denied Him, one betrayed Him—yet he refused to yield to the temptation of bitterness. He knows bereavement, He openly wept for Lazarus, but refused to surrender to anger. He knows what it means to be exhausted; He fell asleep in a tossing boat one night, but refused to complain. He knows bodily pain. “On the cross, where all the rivers of human agony met in one deep lake within His heart, He bore all that it was possible for the human frame to bear” (Spurgeon). But He refused to charge God falsely. He knows what it means to be offered social advancement in return for compromise. He could have been an earthly King, but refused to be swayed from His duty.
He knows. He knows. Blessed thought! He knows. The dead body of a little child once washed ashore during a gale. Loving hands buried the child in a churchyard amidst the tears of compassionate strangers. There were no clues to the birth, name, or parentage of the child. The people put up a tombstone, but left it blank not knowing what to write on it. At last, two words became their consolation. They inscribed on the marble slab, “God knows.” That truth comforted these good and tender people.
The same truth can comfort you. You can never say, “Oh! I have to bear this alone. Jesus never knew anything like this.” He knows what it is like to suffer in temptation. He even knows, in a way what sin and its punishment feel like, for He took them into His own body on the cross that you might be saved.