Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Heb. 5:4a “And no man taketh this honor unto himself,…”“Honor” refers to the position of High Priest. To transact with the Most High on behalf of others involves dealing with matters of highest importance. To stand between God and men is a great privilege.
The sheer awesomeness of the office would cause any rightly thinking man to be wary about entering it. Anyone fully aware of his own sinfulness would never think of taking unto himself such a sacred office. A man right with God would tend to shrink from it, not ambitiously clutch at it.
Unfortunately, this ideal view of the priesthood did not always hold sway. Many usurped the position, taking it by fraud or force. In the century before the Temple’s destruction, the High Priests were appointed by the wicked family of Herod (37 BC to 6 AD, and 41-66 AD) and by Roman Governors (6-41 AD). Would you like for men of this caliber to pick your next pastor? No wonder God put a safeguard on the priesthood…
Heb. 5:4b “…but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.”
The priesthood was not an office, which a man took. It was an honor to which he was called. To fill the position of Priests in Judaism, God Himself told Moses to set apart Aaron and his sons (EX 28:1). This family was commissioned by divine appointment.
No man could ever rightfully appoint himself or anyone else of his own choosing a priest. The priesthood had validity solely on the basis of whether or not God would accept the services of the one ministering. He established the priesthood, and He alone could choose the ones to fill that responsibility.
Priests were involved in holy work, and symbolized the ministry of a coming great High Priest. Therefore, their position was not to be tampered with, a lesson many had to learn the hard way.
In the wilderness (NB 16), Korah and his followers tried to become priests, but God stopped them publicly and solemnly by destruction without parallel in human history. The earth opened up and swallowed them. A plague then swept across the people, killing 14,700. The nation was spared solely due to the intervention of Aaron at the bidding of Moses. God forcefully said, “Your only protection is My High Priest. The man I appoint is your only hope. Don’t ever tamper with that office again.”
Two kings defied this warning at their own peril. King Saul invaded the priesthood and forfeited a dynasty (1 Samuel 13). King Uzziah tried to burn incense in the holy place, and was smitten by YHWH with leprosy (2 Chron. 26:16-21).
Learn an important lesson here. It is an honor to fill any position for Jesus, and you should not accept any task, position, or assignment unless you sense the call of God. Do not meddle with the sheep of a man unless he asks you to do it.
In no earthly kingdom would any man dare take a government position by his own authority. The same holds true in the kingdom of God. Jesus is king of the government, and He appoints the officers.
Jesus did not ask for twelve volunteers. He chose twelve disciples. He did not ask, “Who wants to be a missionary?” He appointed seventy men to precede Him (LK 10:1). If we want harvesters, we do not first of all call volunteers. We first pray to the Lord of the harvest, that He will “send forth laborers into His harvest” (MT 9:38).
When Jesus ascended on high, He did not leave the Church to chance. He “gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (EP 4:11). I am in the latter category, pastor-teacher. For me, the ministry is neither a job nor a career, it is a calling, and appointment. This sense of call has kept me in the ministry.
A true minister never says, “I chose this work,” but rather, “God chose me, and gave me this work.” Many enter the ministry without a call, but they do not survive long.
The reason a man leaves the ministry often reveals why he took it up in the first place. If one enters the ministry for glory, when the job is unpopular, he will quit. If one enters it to be a dictator and boss people, he will quit when the sheep quit following. If one gets in for the money, when the funds get low, he’ll bail out.
When ministering for Jesus, we are on holy ground. In the “nuts and bolts” of everyday church life, it is easy to lose sight of the Holy. Be careful. Never view the sacred as profane. Before undertaking a holy work of any kind, make sure you have a holy calling.
Heb. 5:5 “So also Christ glorified not himself to be made a high priest; but he that said unto him, THOU ART MY SON, TODAY HAVE I BEGOTTEN THEE.”
This quotation from Psalm 2 (v.7), universally considered as messianic, was used by the writer previously at 1:5. The Messiah is none other than God’s own Son, and important factor in considering the priesthood of Jesus.
If Jesus is not a legitimate priest, in the sense of being God-appointed, Christians have no contact with God. We must know for sure, is Jesus a rightful priest?
Since a man can be a priest only if he is called of God, our writer is careful to tell us Jesus received such a call. His having been emphasized in chapter one.
Being God’s Son, in and of itself, gave Jesus one of the main things needed in any priest. A priest is one who draws near to God. Who can draw nearer to a father than a son? Who could ever draw nearer to God than His only begotten Son? Being the Son automatically gave Jesus access to God, a prime requirement for a priest.
This does not, however, settle the matter. Some would say His priesthood could be legitimate only if He were a descendant of Aaron, which Jesus was not. The author with this objection next.
Heb. 5:6 “As He saith also in another place, THOU ART A PRIEST FOR EVER AFTER THE ORDER OF THE MELCHIZEDEK.”
This quotation is from Psalm 110 (v.4), another Psalm universally considered messianic. The family of Aaron was not the only priestly order sanctioned in the Old Testament. Before Aaron existed, and before the priesthood of Judaism was established, Abraham met a legitimate priest, a servant of the true God (GN 14:18-20). The priest’s name was Melchizedek.
Melchizedek was not only a priest, he was also a king. He ruled over Salem, later known as Jerusalem. When David later conquered Jerusalem, he assumed the throne of Melchizedek. When the Temple was built, the priests of Judaism found themselves ministering in the same city where Melchizedek had ministered. He had been king and priest in one. In Judaism, king and priest were separate.
The Psalmist, in contemplating Messiah, realized that king and priest would again be untied. The Messiah would be a priest like Melchizedek, which means He would also be a king. This was something a priest of Aaron’s family could not do.
This may seem like quibbling to us, but to the Jews it was serious business. The pomp and circumstance surrounding the High Priesthood was the crowning glory of Judaism. The High Priest was very prominent, a national leader. He was the center of Israel’s religious life.
The Jews, correct in their belief that a relationship with God is impossible apart from a High Priest, would be tempted to ask Christians, “Where is your priest?” Fortunately, we are not at a loss. The High Priest of Judaism was no better than ours. In fact, ours is better, because He is a king-priest.
Jesus is not only a priest who draws us night to God. He is also a king who submits us to Himself, and dispenses authority and power to help us be overcomers. The priests of Aaron could not do this. They could help men in their approach to God, but had no power to help the people live victorious lives.
Believers are blessed. Our High Priest is also King. He brings us to God, and brings power to us. Jesus has pre-eminence in all matters pertaining to God.