Hebrews Chapter 5: Jesus Our High Priest, Milk and Strong Meat of the Word

Jan 6th, 2010 | By | Category: Hebrews, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Hebrews Chapter 5: Jesus Our High Priest, Milk and Strong Meat of the Word

Heb. 5:1 For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins:

“For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men.” What is the thought here?

Comment: In Old Testament times, the high priest was ordained to perform sacrifices through the seven-day ceremony of the consecration of the priesthood, as set forth in Leviticus 8.

Reply: The Levites knew in advance who the high priest would be; that is, his selection had to be determined prior to the ceremony. Not only did the high priest have to be a son of Aaron, but also he had to pass the test of being blameless and without blemish (Lev. 21:17-21). The oldest living son of Aaron was probably examined first, and if he passed the test, the ceremony was started whereby he was ordained into office. If he did not pass the test, the next oldest son was examined, and on down the line if necessary.

Q: Is the thought continuing from verses 14-16 of the previous chapter? Paul had explained that Jesus was the High Priest, and he talked about heavenly things. Now he was comparing the high priest in the type, who was ordained of men and did things in an earthly manner.

A: Yes. Paul spoke of Jesus as High Priest back in chapter 3: “Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.” Now he was considering the high priest from the standpoint of the Aaronic priesthood, not the Melchisedec priesthood. Instead of discussing the present spiritual situation, Paul went back to how a high priest was selected from among natural men, thus indicating that Jesus would have to be identified with the human race before he could be ordained by God for the office for which the priesthood is to be exercised. Jesus is now our (the Church’s) High Priest. He was High Priest during his earthly ministry, but after his death, resurrection, and ascension, there was a change to the Melchisedec priesthood. From that point (and throughout the Gospel Age), he has reigned as King and Priest over his Church, being the only one of the order of Melchisedec. Paul was going back to the historical aspect of the introduction of Christ on the scene.

The high priest in the type was ordained for the purpose of offering “gifts [freewill offerings] and [mandatory] sacrifices for sins.” An example of a “gift” was to offer the firstfruits of one’s land or a thank offering. In other words, a gift was voluntary, and a sacrifice was involuntary.

Generally speaking, the sacrifices of the Book of Leviticus were for sins of ignorance, the principle being that when a person became apprised of the fact that he had done wrong, he was required to offer a sacrifice to atone for his sin. Thus there was a difference between (1) the annual sacrifice on the Day of Atonement for national sin, for the sin of the nation, picturing Adamic sin, and (2) offerings for individual sins on other days of the year when a person became aware of his sin.

Heb. 5:2 Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.

As High Priest, Jesus has “compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way.”

This new thought is God’s thinking, for when we read the cold letter of the Law, we do not necessarily see the compassion aspect. Paul was saying that Jesus is a sympathetic High Priest because his experiences will enable him, when he is set in office, to have compassion for those in need of instruction and on those who had erred in their walk in life. The Book of Hebrews beautifully brings out this facet of Jesus’ character.

“For that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.” Speaking from the natural standpoint, all of Aaron’s successors, being of Adamic stock, were in need of forgiveness of sin. Therefore, not only were they compassionate toward others, but also they wanted compassion to be exercised on their own behalf. Paul would go on to show that in no sense was Jesus afflicted with any infirmity having to do with sin. From his standpoint then, this verse means that he was surrounded with sinners. “For that he himself also is compassed about with infirmity.”

Thus when we think of Jesus personally, we read verse 2 as meaning that he was surrounded with infirmity—that his environment was infirmity. When we think of the natural succession of the high priest, we think from the other standpoint, namely, that he was in need of atonement as well.

When Jesus finished his earthly ministry, he entered a different situation as the risen Lord. His earthly ministry, the Aaronic priesthood, was designed of God so that he would be sympathetic to the problems of fallen humanity and not be too severe with or too critical of those he judges in the Kingdom Age. Here Paul seemed to be emphasizing the necessity for Jesus to experience being identified with the Aaronic priesthood, yet now, as the risen Lord, he is of the Melchisedec priesthood as an individual. Certainly if the perfect Jesus had to go through suffering experiences in order to be sympathetic, then it is logical that those of fallen mankind who are called to be identified with Christ are already afflicted with problems. The purpose of a priest is to help the infirm and the ignorant, whereas a king, who has a different type of role, demands obedience. We sometimes call Jesus our Prophet, Priest, and King, and each of these roles has a distinct characteristic that is reflected in a strong way. A prophet is a teacher, a priest forgives sin, and a king expects obedience. Jesus occupies these three roles during the Gospel Age, and then, in the Kingdom Age, these same three roles will be resumed on behalf of the remainder of mankind, who were not called in this age.

We are reading about the selection of the high priest, his qualifications, and having compassion. A blind man is dealt with differently than a person who has clear eyesight. If one has a broken leg, he is not expected to run as swiftly as a person with a whole leg. Accordingly, the High Priest is to have compassion on the sinner commensurate with the problems or difficulties that encompass him in his effort to serve God.

Heb. 5:3 And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.

“And by reason hereof he [the high priest in the type] ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.” Leviticus 4:3-12 deals with the priest who sinned. Paul was still giving introductory information on the Aaronic priesthood, his intention being to lead to the Melchisedec priesthood. Later he showed emphatically that Jesus was not contaminated with sin. Here Paul was giving the ABC’s of the qualifications for a high priest under the Law. When it came to Jesus, Paul would go to a higher level.

Heb. 5:4 And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.

Heb. 5:5 So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee.

Aaron, the first high priest, did not presume to take that office. Rather, God ordained the office.

Being “called of God,” Aaron was the beginner of the natural priesthood, and Jesus, the antitype of Aaron, is the first of the spiritual priesthood. Just as Aaron and his sons after him were selected by God for the office, so Jesus is the High Priest.

“Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest,” for God said to him, “Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee.” The “today” of this statement was after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. The statement “Thou art my Son” is a lot different than Jesus’ creation as the Logos. He was invited to be the High Priest, but his actual selection was not confirmed until he had successfully passed the test.

The picture would now switch from the Aaronic priesthood to the Melchisedec priesthood. That change could not take place in the antitype until after Jesus’ ascension, for to get the crown and be installed as a King, he first had to suffer. In other words, when Christ was resurrected, indicating approval, and ascended on high, the new Melchisedec priesthood began.

The question then becomes, What about the risen saints? The Christ has to be complete before the installation of the Melchisedec priesthood. Even though many have already made their calling and election sure and the resurrection of the sleeping saints took place in 1878, the risen saints are not in the Melchisedec priesthood, for the remaining body parts underneath the Head have to be in the priesthood before that cognition is given.

Later in the Book of Hebrews, Paul told about Abraham’s meeting one whom he respected so highly that he did homage to him. Although purposely unnamed in the account to preserve the type, this mysterious personage was Shem. Since Abraham reverenced him, that individual had to be someone greater than Abraham. And only two individuals were greater than Abraham at that time: Noah and Shem. Noah was not on the scene very long.

Heb. 5:6 As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

In addition to saying of Jesus, “Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee,” God also said, “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” Both declarations were made at the same time—that is, when Jesus ascended to the Father after his resurrection. Just as there was an installation service with the Aaronic priesthood, so when Jesus ascended on high, there was a formal declaration of some kind. The declaration may have been only a short and sweet statement, as recorded. Possibly it was made just before Pentecost and after the ten days of adulation: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Rev. 5:12). No doubt the statement was made publicly to the angels in heaven.

Heb. 5:7 Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears” to his Father, who was able to save him from Second Death. Jesus “was heard in that he feared.” His Gethsemane experience was very sobering. At that time, he searched his heart and reviewed his ministry to see if anything had been done amiss that had to be accounted for. His being “heard” indicates that he was given an assurance in some fashion, that his prayers were answered. He received some kind of acknowledgment that up to that point, he had fit the role perfectly, but he still had to die.

Jesus first had to qualify for the Aaronic priesthood, that is, before he could become “a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” He first had to agree to the conditions that the Father suggested to him—he had to come down here, be made flesh, begin his ministry at age 30, and die faithfully 3 1/2 years later. Just as Aaron was called of God earlier, so Jesus was also called. His agreeing to the conditions set forth by the Father constituted his initial call. Being the High Priest of the Melchisedec priesthood is Jesus’ reward for having been the faithful High Priest in the Aaronic priesthood. Little is said about Melchisedec in the Old Testament except for a brief statement about how Abraham paid tithes to this mysterious person (Gen. 14:18-20). The name Melchisedec (spelled Melchizedek in the Old Testament) is significant because it is composed of two words, “melchi” (meaning “king”) and “zedek” (meaning “priest”). The gold plate on the linen turban that was on the forehead of the high priest in the Aaronic priesthood provided a nebulous suggestion of the possibility of being a future king, but the kingship was not crystallized with the Melchisedec priesthood until Jesus’ ascension, when the full stamp of approval was placed on him in the sight of angels. In addition to the mention of Melchisedec in Genesis, Psalm 110:4 prophesied of Jesus, “The LORD [Jehovah] hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.”

Heb. 5:8 Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;

As the Logos in heaven, Jesus was always obedient in everything he did, but no suffering was involved. In the honorable office of Logos, he always pleased the Father, but God was looking for obedience under suffering, which is quite different. The basic difference in the calling of the Kingdom Age, when the people will walk up the highway of holiness, is that they will be given every help. The obstructions will be removed, and assistance will be given. Moreover, no one will be ignorant; there will be no excuse for not being informed. However, obedience under suffering is quite different from obedience that is rewarded right away. Paul gave one clue earlier as to the reason for Jesus’ suffering—that he might become a sympathetic High Priest— but there are additional reasons.

Heb. 5:9 And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;

Jesus was “made perfect” after he successfully passed the test of his earthly ministry. Not until he said, “It is finished,” did he seal his course and reward. Thus the word “perfect” sometimes indicates a form of completion, which is more than just maturity. The completion occurred when Jesus died on the Cross, and the approval came when God raised him out of death. Paul was saying that the forgiveness of sins was predicated not only on the death but also on the resurrection of Jesus. In other words, in connection with the forgiveness of sin and salvation, his resurrection was just as vital as his death on the Cross. Jesus did all he could, and then a silence followed while he was in the tomb.

Imagine being an angel in heaven and seeing Jesus’ suffering and death! The angels knew that death was the cessation of life and that Jesus had been the great Logos, yet now there was a silence. However, silence and waiting are important in order to impress lessons more deeply.

Going too fast causes one to lose a lot, whereas time allows lessons to sink down into the heart and mind. We can imagine the expectation with regard to Jesus. The disciples were deeply concerned to see the one they had followed for 3 1/2 years being crucified and buried—and then there was silence. Although they were given some clues with the earthquake and the dark day, the fact that there was no immediate resurrection was a problem. It was one thing for God to be disturbed and to show signs in nature, but then, presumably, nothing happened.

However, as soon as Jesus arose from the grave, the disciples were delirious with joy and happiness. If they were overjoyed with the resuscitation of Lazarus, we can understand how they would have felt with regard to the resurrection of the Master. (Jesus received a true resurrection, not just an awakening from death.)

Jesus “became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” Jesus is the “author of eternal salvation” during the Gospel Age, and he will be the “author of eternal salvation” in the Kingdom Age and beyond (the details of which we are not given). But first, he had to be raised from death, ascend on high, and be given approval to indicate that he had successfully completed his course. Then, at that point, he was in a different role as the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Q: If the word “author” is improper and should be “beginner” in Hebrews 12:2, “Looking unto Jesus the author [beginner] and finisher of our faith,” should the same change be made here?

A: Yes. God is the Author of eternal salvation, and Jesus is the beginner of eternal salvation.

Jesus was the manifestation of salvation in that salvation was first made known in a recognized sense with his resurrection from death. The chapter in the Second Volume entitled “The Manner of Our Lord’s Return and Appearing” gives a solid basis for faith; its simplicity and beauty honor God and Jesus and furnish a blessed assurance of the reality. Thus Jesus is the beginner; he is the “firstfruits of them that slept,” that is, of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20). The emphasis of verse 9 is on the Gospel Age calling, even though it also applies to the

Kingdom Age. Jesus is the Apostle and High Priest of our profession.

Heb. 5:10 Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.

Verse 10 reiterates the declaration of verse 6: “As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” When Jesus ascended on high, God ordained him in this office, the Melchisedec order being in contradistinction to the Aaronic order.

Heb. 5:11 Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.

Paul had many things to say that were “hard to be uttered” because the Jews were “dull of hearing.” However, he then started to tell some of those things.

Comment: The Diaglott renders part of this verse, “We have much to say, and of difficult interpretation, since you have become sluggish hearers.” In view of the reprimand Paul gave, it seems that there had been a slipping back, rather than that the Jews were so dull of hearing to begin with. These were Jewish Christians; hence they were already consecrated.

Reply: That thought would probably be more accurate because this epistle was written at the end of Paul’s ministry. He said to the Galatians, who had slipped back in understanding, “I am not responsible for what has happened to you. In trying to obey the Law and the gospel at the same time, you are mixing works with the gospel of faith.” That same serious error applied to many others. The proselytizing Jews were responsible, and those who were influenced by them became ardent advocates of the false doctrine that the Christian has to obey the Law.

Heb. 5:12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.

The Christianized Jews who were being hindered in various ways were slipping and sliding in their belief, and Paul wanted to correct the situation. For the length of time many had been Christians, they should have been teachers of correct doctrine. This same admonition is good today for making progress.

Comment: The Apostle Peter wrote, “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:15,16).

Reply: The word “destruction” shows the seriousness of not following through and the necessity of being faithful to the Word. The Christian walk is a fight of faith and of maintaining the integrity of the faith.

Paul was describing a rather pitiful condition, for to say that some needed to be taught again “the first principles of the oracles of God” was a strong condemnation. They had “become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.” Of course the “milk” stage is very important.

Newborn babes should “desire the sincere milk of the word” so that they will grow (1 Pet. 2:2). The babe’s longing to get milk from the mother’s breast is a part of growing, but the object is to progress in development from a babe up to manhood. To go backwards in understanding is unfavorable.

Sadly, some who have been in present truth and were quite deep in understanding have deteriorated, whereby the light that formerly was in them darkened in various stages. (We are not talking about those who deteriorate with a disease such as Alzheimer’s.) The quicker the deterioration is nipped in the bud through obedience, the greater the possibility of being reclaimed. However, there can come a point of no return in the slipping.

Heb. 5:13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.

“For every one that useth milk [only] is unskilful in the word of righteousness.” In many places in the Greek, the word “only” should be inserted for the proper thought. Although not actually in the Greek, “only” is implied by the context.

The danger with the continual use of milk seems to be more prevalent among those who are evangelistic by nature. For their entire life, they place a disproportionate importance on such things as the number of people we witness to or how many books we sell. Consequently, they go no deeper in understanding. In the professed Church, their message is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” Instead of presenting a skimpy gospel of salvation, they should urge others to hunger to know more so that they can serve God more acceptably.

Comment: Isaiah 28:9 expresses the principle: “Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.”

Reply: To be “weaned from the milk” means to be separated from that baby stage. A time period is involved. In ancient times, the weaning sometimes took seven years. Under present circumstances, the time period is much shorter, but the babe should become a child, the child should become a youth, and the youth should become an adult. If we dwell and feed on the same simplified message, we will remain a spiritual dwarf. Paul’s reasoning is very logical.

Heb. 5:14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Although “strong meat” belongs to those who are of “full age,” the meat can be cut into little pieces. If a steak is given to a babe, the babe will choke to death, but as the babe develops from the milk and goes through the weaning process, the meat is puréed so that it is more digestible.

Then comes more substantial food. Thus strong meat belongs to those who are of fuller age and to “those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

If one does not feed on more developed, adult-like foods, he will suffer not only doctrinally but also morally. And so it is rather pitiful to remain as a babe.

Since this admonition was not addressed to any particular individual, no one should have been offended. Paul spoke strong words but to the Hebrews (plural). Therefore, one’s natural pride or self-opinion was minimized.

Q: Is the thought that the stronger the meat, the more one should be able to discern between good and evil, and that the understanding should be reflected in his actions and reactions?

A: Yes. Strong meat should be desired, eaten, and used in the Christian walk. Paul said that the Bereans were “more noble than those in Thessalonica” because “they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily” to see whether the things preached to them were really true (Acts 17:11). The exercise of diligently familiarizing ourselves with God’s Word and instruction helps us not only to mentally discern but also, more importantly, to discern the necessity for change in the inner man. But the inner man has to feed on the right type of doctrine.

Q: Is the understanding of prophecy equated with eating strong meat?

A: Not in this context. Of course since prophecy is gradually understood throughout the Gospel Age, more understanding is required at the end of the age, and we should make use of what is available. However, here Paul was talking about discerning between good and evil.

One may be developed in knowledge but not in the exercise of discerning between good and evil. It would be like opening a chest, looking at all the nice silverware, and continually polishing the silverware rather than using it. The “senses” (plural) are to be exercised, both in the mental sense and in the sense of using the understanding in conduct. Seeing what is required and making the effort to conform to the commandment makes us stronger—and thereby we profit and are able to help someone else make more progress. A maturity has to be involved.

With a babe, the change from milk to meat is gradual. Solid foods are slowly introduced. The doctrine of baptism is one of the first things a person learns—that the baptism (or burying) of our will into Christ’s will signifies a way of sacrifice and death. But in going from milk to strong meat, a person needs puréed food in the interim. An individual may be using puréed meat, but for strong meat, he has to be an adult. God is looking for the full stature of a man in Christ Jesus, so it is not enough for the Christian to dwell on just the basic doctrines.

Stephen, who was martyred shortly after Jesus’ death, was like a meteor. Consider the fearless witness he gave before established, exalted peers in the religious world. Another example is Martin Luther. Some of the descriptions of the setting when he gave his confession before the Diet at Worms tell about such things as the number of individuals and the way they looked, their clothing, and the chairs they sat on. In such a climate, a feeling of inadequacy can easily creep in, so great courage is required, and courage can be obtained only through prayer and previous faithfulness. Evidently, Stephen developed very quickly, but the Lord chose Paul, perhaps because Paul was a step further in his background and training.

The design of the truth is for a brother to develop to eldership. To aspire to be an elder is a good motive—that is, if one develops properly and sufficiently, with humility, to be able to help not only himself but also others to make their calling and election sure. It must be difficult for sisters who are developed in knowledge to be quiet and submissive in connection with their service. Fortunately, sisters can speak quite boldly and have a good deal of liberty in their private conversations with others, but they can certainly experience frustrations if they are under teachers who do not have much understanding and should not have been elected to that office in the first place.

Paul was saying that if one does not understand about the Melchisedec priesthood, he is a babe in intellectual understanding—although not necessarily in experience. We need two things: understanding and experience. Obtaining both will result in wisdom, the final product being to have God’s thinking and principles instilled in our minds. Therefore, we are to desire to grow in the understanding of God’s Word, not just the understanding of the Volumes, much of which are self-explanatory. With the Bible, it is here a little and there a little, and discretion has to be used to piece things together (Isa. 28:10). Explanations given in the Volumes are already pieced together for us. Therefore, to understand the Word of God itself is a lot different than reading a book about the Word of God. There is no substitute for the Bible.

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