Hebrews: Obedience Learned Through Suffering (5:1-10)

So far the author of Hebrews has pointed out that God’s revelation through Jesus surpasses that of the Old Testament prophets. And that Jesus is superior to the angels and to Moses. Now he turns his attention to Jesus as our great high priest. A priesthood that surpasses that of the Aaronic priesthood. And a high priest who learned obedience through what he suffered.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Selection of the High Priest

Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.

Hebrews 5:1-3 NIV

Representing the People

The Jewish high priests were all descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses. But, as the author points out here, they were fully human. There was nothing supernatural about them. Aaron and his family were selected by God in order to represent the rest of the community before God.

God is holy. And anyone or anything that comes into his presence must also be holy. The whole nation was expected to practice holiness. But not to the level required of the priests. And especially the high priests. The priests who offered the sacrifices required a level of holiness beyond that of the common people. And even more so for the High Priest who would enter into the most holy place on an annual basis to offer the sacrifice of atonement.

Subject to Weakness

The priest were subject to weakness. In other words they had the same temptations we do. And they fell short of moral perfection. That they experienced the same temptations allowed them to sympathize with the people they were representing before God. People who did not have a good grasp of God’s expectations for themselves, and frequently fell short. This allowed them to be more effective as priests since they truly understood those they represented.

And the second thing that resulted from their subjection to weakness is that they did not always resist the temptations that came their way. And, as a result, they had to offer sacrifices. Not just for the sin of the people. But for their own sin as well.

Compare this against what the author has already said about Jesus. In 4:15 he said that Jesus, as our great high priest, was tempted just like we are, yet was without sin. So, like the Aaronic priest, he is able to sympathize with our weakness. Yet, unlike the Aaronic priests, he did not sin, and had no need to offer a sacrifice for himself.

Received at God’s Call

And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was.

In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,
“You are my Son;
today I have become your Father.” (Ps. 2:7)
And he says in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.” (Ps. 110:4)

Hebrews 5:4-6 NIV

The Jewish high priests did not take it upon themselves to become priests. Rather it was God’s special appointment that Aaron, and his descendants after him, become priests and high priests. In other cultures that was not always the case. For example after the kingdom of Israel split after Solomon’s death, Jeroboam appointed priests who were not of the linage of Aaron to serve at the golden calves he had created (1 Kings 12:31).

You Are My Son

Psalm 2 is a psalm about an anointed king that God will establish to rule over the nations. And as a part of this psalm, God declared this anointed king to be his son and that God would be a father to him. This is reminiscent of 2 Samuel 7:14 where the prophet Nathan told David that his son Solomon would be the one to build the temple. And that God would be his father and Solomon would be his son. Solomon was not God’s son in the sense that Jesus was. But it was common in that day to see a special relationship between king and God.

The author of Hebrews understood this second psalm to be about a coming messianic king would would rule over the nations. And so he saw it as being about Jesus. And in it the identification of Jesus as, not just a son of God, but the Son of God.

Some see in this that Jesus at some point in time became the Son of God, and that previously he was not the Son. But Scripture elsewhere affirms the eternal nature of Jesus as well as his eternal Son-ship. It seems best to be to see this passage as referring to his revelation as the Son of God rather than his becoming the Son of God. Or potentially as his coronation as King.

The Order of Melchizedek

The second quotation from this passage comes from Psalm 110. This is another look ahead to a messianic king that God would use to crush the enemies of Israel and judge the nations. But this king will be more than just a ruler. He is also declared to be a priest after the order, not of Aaron, but of Melchizedek.

The author of Hebrews will have much more to say concerning the Melchizedek priesthood in a future chapter. Suffice it to say for now that this priesthood is superior to that of Aaron. This coming priest-king will be unlike any priest or king that came before him. And the author here identifies this priest-king as being Jesus.

In both of these references we see that it is God who is appointing Jesus as Son and Priest. It is not an honor he took upon himself. As will be seen in the author’s coming arguments, Jesus humbled himself to become our atoning sacrifice, dying on a cross. His exaltation was not self-exaltation. Rather it was at the declaration of God the Father.

Offering Up Prayers and Petitions

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

Hebrews 5:7 NIV

This would seem to be a look back to Jesus prayer in the garden shortly before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. In Luke 22:39-44 Jesus had gone to the Mount of Olives and moved away from his disciples. And there he prayed about what was coming. His prayer was that this cup, his upcoming crucifixion, be taken away from him. Yet he submitted himself, not to his own will, but to the Father’s.

And this passage described the agony of that time as he struggled with what was to come. Luke says that he was in anguish, and that his sweat fell like drops of blood. I cannot begin to image what it would be like to face the suffering and death that Jesus faced. Much less bearing the sin of the whole world. But that is what Jesus faced and agonized through as he submitted his will to the Father’s will.

And, as our author here says, he was heard because of that submission. Jesus did go to the cross and suffer death for all of us. But in his death, he conquered death and free us from our fear of death (Heb. 2:14-15).

Learned Obedience Through Suffering

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 5:8-10 NIV

Obedience Learned Through Suffering

This is a passage that long puzzled me. Jesus learned obedience through his suffering. It is clear that Jesus suffered on the cross, as well as in the hours leading up to it. And that, in the garden, he was obedient to the Father’s will. But in what way did he learn obedience through his suffering? What does it even mean to learn obedience?

The author starts with “Son though he was.” He was the exalted Son of God, the prime agent in creation. Far above the angels in glory and majesty. Yet he humbled himself to become human, lower than the angels. And gave his life as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity.

And the Son learned obedience through his suffering. I believe this parallels Paul in Philippians 2:6-8 when he says of Jesus that “being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” For Jesus, suffering on the cross became more than just a thought or concept. It became personal experience. He learned firsthand what it was to suffer. To obey the Father’s will, regardless the personal cost. He learned, through experience, what it was to suffer in obedience to the Father.

Once Made Perfect

How could Jesus, the divine Son of God, be made perfect? Was he not always perfect? This is really looking back to an earlier passage, Hebrews 2:10, where it says that God, in bringing us to glory, “should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.”

I discussed this already when covering that passage, but it is worth repeating here. We most commonly think of perfect as being without flaw. And it certainly can mean that. But perfect can also mean that something is perfectly fitted for a specific task. The perfect tool for tightening the screws on my glasses is a small jewelers screwdriver. In the same way Jesus, after his suffering and death, was the perfect savior and high priest that we needed.

The Source of Eternal Salvation

And once perfected through his suffering and death on the cross, he “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Jesus is the source of our salvation. Salvation is more than a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Salvation does indeed include deliverance from the judgement to come. But it also includes coming into relationship with God. Not the relationship of a subject to a ruler. But the relationship of a child to their parent.

This salvation is made available to me through Christ alone. He is the source. As he says in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” There is no source of salvation apart from Jesus. And the salvation he offers to us is an eternal one. When we enter into that salvation, we will be with him forever.

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The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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