Theology of this Text
If ever there was a beautiful portrayal of the connection between the depth of the history of Israel’s faith and how that is fulfilled in Christ, Hebrews is possibly the best such depiction. Throughout the text, we see the language of priest, altar, sacrifice, atoning blood, and cleansing rituals, and how Christ fulfills all of these in his life, death, and resurrection. Hebrews takes the oft quoted Psalm 110 a step further than the rest of the New Testament and looks closely at verse 4 where we see that Christ is the priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. This truly is a rich Christological passage that shows just how and why Christ is the final high priest.
Context of this Text
Hebrews is one of the toughest letters or books to date in Scripture. It is often noted that perhaps the author was intentional about making it so difficult in an effort to allow the letter to characterize who it was intended for by itself, and then see if we the reader can locate just who those people are. As we do this, we see that Hebrews was intended for readers who are Christian. They are second generation believers who have received the faith from first-hand eyewitnesses of Jesus. These are people who have been baptized, fully instructed, and they’ve even had the chance to become teachers in the faith community themselves.
There’s an issue though, and that is their growth as a body has been stunted. They’ve had the privilege of hearing of Jesus, but are getting this whole, live-out-your-faith thing wrong. The Hebrews haven’t been attending church gatherings regularly, and their commitment to Christ and his mission is beginning to fall by the wayside. The reasons for this decline in all honesty are strong reasons: Christ hasn’t returned as soon as they were thinking he would. In addition to this, being a Christian isn’t easy in their world during the second half of the 1st century AD. Persecution occurred on several fronts. in the face of these two huge factors, their Christology was too weak to stand against the pressure, and thus they were showing signs of weakness as a body.
The Church today is struggling with some pretty severe growth-stunters as well. Most of us surely aren’t dealing with the severe persecution piece, though maybe some of our contexts are. We do however most definitely live 2,000 years after Christ left in his physical form, and so perhaps some are struggling with his physical absence, and don’t quite understand why he hasn’t returned as soon as we thought he would.
To put things more bluntly, just like the original audience of Hebrews, perhaps we have a weak Christology as well, where in the face of outside (or inside for the matter) factors, people’s faith and growth in Christ begins to wane. It’s to this context that we receive Hebrews again, and perhaps as we do, we can come again with fresh eyes, ears, and hearts to a rich text that will bind us closer to our high priest Savior once more.
In the first four verses of this chapter, the author of Hebrews shows us the qualities that make up a quality candidate for a high priest. The qualities that the author refers to come from the Aaronic priesthood tradition. Some of those qualities are that the priest offers gifts and sacrifices for sins, they represent the people they come from, they deal gently with the people, and most importantly, they are chosen by God. God is who ultimately gives those in the priesthood the ability to live out their calling with authority!
Notes on this Text
As we enter into our passage, we see the chiasm begun in verses 1-4 come to completion. The Aaronic priesthood is: of the people, and of God. Whereas in these verses, Christ’s priesthood is: of God, and of the people. The most important piece of Christ’s priesthood is that it is by divine appointment. God is the one who, as implied in the original Psalm 110, has granted this king a place above all other kings, presidents, and rulers. It is God who makes this appointment and it alone is sure and final.
In verse six, the uniqueness of Hebrews in comparison with the rest of New Testament is found as verse 4 from Ps 110 is quoted. This unites two characteristics of Jesus: his kingship and priesthood, which are vital aspects of Christology.
As this Christological, almost hymn-like passage continues we see here in verse 7 the second important characteristic needed for a high priest, and that is that they are from the people. Just like Moses and Aaron were humble in their service as priests of the people, so Jesus continues in that humility and here has deep reverence for God as evidenced through the depth of the prayers recalled by the author. We see the humanness of Jesus, as he prayed and suffering still took place.
Christ’s humanity meant that he didn’t have a golden ticket to save him from pain, suffering, learning, and obedience. He still had to live it out and practice it on the journey of holiness. This points to the important Christological claim that not only is Jesus our intercessor as a priest, but he’s also our model, since he is one of us and lives out this life of practicing holiness.
Through Christ’s exemplary model of completing to perfection the preparation involved in the priesthood, and through being consecrated in this way, we can find salvation through him. This eternal salvation comes through obeying and following his suffering and life of sacrifice.
This verse repeats what was introduced in verse 6, and prepares us for the further dialogue later in Hebrews.
Reflections on this Text
The richness of the Christological claims found in this passage cannot go unnoticed. In a world of competing narratives, our spiritually thirsty congregants must hear again the radical claim that God appointed Jesus above every other ruler, power, principality, and in this case high priest. He is the perfect picture of everything a high priest is supposed to be. He has every qualification needed to represent us to God! Jesus is the divine mediator between God and creation. As our priest, his sympathy flows out of the reality that he knows just what it means to live and die a human.
Jesus is also our model. He’s our model because he faced his own life, death, and struggles and conquered them. He didn’t live to be a model of how to live, meaning the end for Jesus wasn’t to be a model, no he lived in order to give us salvation! And as we now model our lives after him, we too can find salvation through him and his life and death! This is what the journey of holiness is all about. It’s the process of becoming more and more like Jesus, our high priest. And perhaps that journey will give us confidence as we, like the Hebrews face issues that seek to stunt our growth. In the face of those issues, the rich Christology here can bind us together.
Youth Pastor, Kansas City First Church of the Nazarene