A great high priest (archierea megan). The author now takes up the main argument of the Epistle, already alluded to in Heb_1:3; Heb_2:17.; Heb_3:1, the priestly work of Jesus as superior to that of the Levitical line (4:14-12:3). Jesus is superior to the prophets (Heb_1:1-3), to angels (1:4-2:18), to Moses (3:1-4:13), he has already shown. Here he only terms Jesus “great” as high priest (a frequent adjective with high priest in Philo) but the superiority comes out as he proceeds.
Who hath passed through the heavens (dielēluthota tous ouranous). Perfect active participle of dierchomai, state of completion. Jesus has passed through the upper heavens up to the throne of God (Heb_1:3) where he performs his function as our high priest. This idea will be developed later (Heb_6:19.; Heb_7:26-28; Heb_9:11., and Heb_9:24.).
Jesus the Son of God (Iēsoun ton huion tou theou). The human name linked with his deity, clinching the argument already made (1:1-4:13).
Let us hold fast our confession (kratōmen tēs homologias). Present active volitive subjunctive of krateō, old verb (from kratos, power), with genitive to cling to tenaciously as here and Heb_6:18 and also with the accusative (2Th_2:15; Col_2:19). “Let us keep on holding fast.” This keynote runs all through the Epistle, the exhortation to the Jewish Christians to hold on to the confession (Heb_3:1) of Christ already made. Before making the five points of Christ’s superior priestly work (better priest than Aaron, 5:1-7:25; under a better covenant, Heb_8:1-13; in a better sanctuary, Heb_9:1-12; offering a better sacrifice, 9:13-10:18; based on better promises, 10:19-12:3), the author gives a double exhortation (Heb_4:14-16) like that in Heb_2:1-4 to hold fast to the high priest (Heb_4:14.) and to make use of him (Heb_4:16).
To the interposed minatory warning of the three preceding verses now succeeds encouragement, based on the view, which has been now a second time led up to, of Christ being our great High Priest, who can both sympathize and succor. The passage answers closely in thought to the conclusion of Heb_2:1-18., and might naturally have followed there; but that, before taking up the subject of Christ’s priesthood, the writer had another line of thought to pursue, leading up (as has been explained) to the same conclusion. The οὖν at the beginning of Heb_2:14 either connects κρατῶμεν (“let us hold fast”) with the verses immediately preceding in the sense, “The Word of God being so searching and resistless, let us therefore hold fast,” etc.,—in which ease the participial clause ἔχοντες, etc., is a confirmation of this exhortation (so Delitzsch); or is connected logically with the participial clause as a resumption of the whole preceding argument. Certainly the idea of the participial clause is the prominent one in the writer’s mind, what follows being an expansion of it. And the position of οὖν suggests this connection. It is to be observed that, after the manner of the Epistle, this concluding exhortation serves also as a transition to the subject of the following chapters, and anticipates in some degree what is to be set forth, though all the expressions used have some ground in what has gone before. Having then a great High Priest who hath passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. The rendering of διεληλυθότα τοὺς οὐρανοὺς in the A.V. (“is passed into the heavens”) is evidently wrong. The idea is that Christ has passed through the intermediate heavens to the immediate presence of God—to the sphere of the eternal σαββατισμὸς. In his use of the plural, τοὺς οὐρανοὺς, the writer may have had in his mind the Jewish view of an ascending series of created heavens. Clemens Alexandrinus, e.g. speaks of seven: Επτὰ οὐρανοὺς οὕς τινὲς ἀρι ́θμουσι κατ ἐπανα ́βασιν. Cf. also “the heaven and the heaven of heavens” (Deu_10:14; 2Ch_6:18; Neh_9:6), and “who hast set thy glory above the heavens” (Psa_8:1), also “the third heaven,” into which St. Paul was rapt (2Co_12:2). Cf. also Eph_4:10, Ὁ ἀναβα ̀ς ὑπερανω πάντων τῶν οὐρανῶν ἵνα πληρώσῃ τὰ πάντα. The conception of the phrase is that, whatever spheres of created heavens intervene between our earth and the eternal uncreated, beyond them to it Christ has gone,—into “heaven itself (αὐτὸν τὸν οὐρανὸν);” “before the face of God” (Heb_9:24). From this expression, together with Eph_4:10 (above quoted), is rightly deduced the doctrine of Christ s ubiquity even in his human nature. For, carrying that nature with him and still retaining it, he is spoken of as having passed to the region which admits no idea of limitation, and so as to “fill all things.” The obvious bearing of this doctrine on that of the presence in the Eucharist may be noted in passing. (It is to be observed that “the heavens” in the plural is used (Heb_8:1) of the seat of the Divine majesty itself to which Christ has gone. It is the word διεληλυθότα that determines the meaning here) The designation, “Jesus the Son of God,” draws attention first to the man Jesus who was known by that name in the flesh, and secondly to the “more excellent name,” above expatiated on, in virtue of which he “hath passed through the heavens.” The conclusion follows that it is the human Jesus, with his humanity, who, being also the Son of God, has so “passed through.” There may possibly (as some think) be an intention of contrasting him with Joshua (Ιησοῦς, verse 8), who won the entrance into the typical rest. But it is not necessary to suppose this; verses 8 and 14 are at too great a distance from each other to suggest a connection of thought between them; and besides Ἰησοῦν occurred similarly at the end of Heb_3:1, before any mention of Joshua. The epithet μέγαν after ἀρχιερεα distinguishes Christ from all other high priests (cf. Heb_13:20, Τὸν ποιμένα τῶν προβάτων τὸν μέγαν). The high priest of the Law passed through the veil to the earthly symbol of the eternal glory; the “great High Priest” has passed through the heavens to the eternal glory itself. As to ὁμολογι ́ας, cf. on Heb_3:1. In consideration of having such a High Priest, who, as is expressed in what follows, can both sympathize and succor, the readers are exhorted to “hold fast,” not only their inward faith, but their “confession” of it before men. A besetting danger of the Hebrew Christians was that of shrinking from a full and open confession under the influence of gainsaying or persecution.
That cannot be touched with the feeling (mē dunamenon sunpathēsai). “Not able to sympathize with.” First aorist passive infinitive of sunpatheō, late compound verb from the late adjective sunpathos (Rom_12:15), both from sunpaschō, to suffer with (1Co_12:26; Rom_8:17), occurring in Aristotle and Plutarch, in N.T. only in Hebrews (here and Heb_10:34).
One that hath been tempted (pepeirasmenon). Perfect passive participle of peirazō, as already shown in Heb_2:17.
Without sin (chōris hamartias). This is the outstanding difference that must never be overlooked in considering the actual humanity of Jesus. He did not yield to sin. But more than this is true. There was no latent sin in Jesus to be stirred by temptation and no habits of sin to be overcome. But he did have “weaknesses” (astheneiai) common to our human nature (hunger, thirst, weariness, etc.). Satan used his strongest weapons against Jesus, did it repeatedly, and failed. Jesus remained “undefiled” (amiantos) in a world of sin (Joh_8:46). This is our ground of hope, the sinlessness of Jesus and his real sympathy.
For] He gives the reason for holding fast our confession; [we may do so with confidence], for Christ can sympathise with us in our weaknesses, since He has suffered with us (συμπάσχειν). Rom_8:17; 1Co_12:26.
with the feeling of our infirmities] Even the heathen could feel the force and beauty of this appeal, for they intensely admired the famous line of Terence,
“I am a man; I feel an interest in everything which is human;” at the utterance of which, when the play was first acted, it is said that the whole of the audience rose to their feet; and the exquisite words which Virgil puts into the mouth of Dido,
“Haud ignara mali, miseris succerrere disco.”
tempted] “Tempted” (πεπειρασμένον) is the best-supported reading, not πεπειραμένον, “having made trial of,” “experienced in.” It refers alike to the trials of life, which are in themselves indirect temptations—sometimes to sin, always to murmuring and discontent; and to the direct temptations to sin which are life’s severest trials. From both of these our Lord suffered (Joh_11:33-35; “ye are they who have continued with me in my temptations” Luk_22:28; Luk_4:2, &c).
like as we are] Lit. “after the likeness;” a stronger way of expressing the resemblance of Christ’s “temptations” to ours than if an adverb had been used.
yet without sin] Lit. “apart from sin.” Philo had already spoken of the Logos as sinless (De Profug. 20; Opp. i. 562). His words are “the High Priest is not Man but the Divine Word, free from all share, not only in willing but even in involuntary wrongdoing.” Christ’s sinlessness is one of the irrefragable proofs of His divinity. It was both asserted by Himself (Joh_14:30) and by the Apostles (2Co_5:21; 1Pe_2:22; 1Jn_3:5, &c). Being tempted, Christ could sympathize with us; being sinless, he could plead for us.
Let us therefore come boldly] Rather, “let us then approach with confidence.” The notion of “approach” to God (προσέρχεσθαι) in the Levitical service (Lev_21:17; Lev_22:3) is prominent in this Epistle (Heb_7:25, Heb_10:1; Heb_10:22, Heb_11:6, Heb_12:18-22). In St Paul it only occurs once (1Ti_6:13), and then in a different sense. His ideal of the Christian life is not “access to God” (though he does also allude to this in one Epistle, Eph_2:18; Eph_3:12) but “oneness with Christ” “Boldly,” literally, “with confidence” (Heb_3:6).
throne of grace] Comp. Heb_8:1. This throne was typified in the mercy-seat above the Ark (Exo_25:21), over which the Shechinah shone between the wings of the cherubim.
obtain mercy, and find grace] Mercy in our wretchedness, and free favour, though it is undeserved.
to help in time of need] Lit. “for a seasonable succour.” Seasonable because “it is still called to-day” (Heb_3:17), and because the help is so deeply needed (Heb_2:18),
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace – “The throne of grace!” What a beautiful expression. A throne is the seat of a sovereign; a throne of grace is designed to represent a sovereign seated to dispense mercy and pardon. The illustration or comparison here may have been derived from the temple service. In that service God is represented as seated in the most holy place on the mercy seat. The high priest approaches that seat or throne of the divine majesty with the blood of the atonement to make intercession for the people, and to plead for pardon; see the notes on Heb_9:7-8. That scene was emblematic of heaven. God is seated on a throne of mercy. The great High Priest of the Christian calling, having shed his own blood to make expiation, is represented as approaching, God and pleading for the pardon of people. To a God willing to show mercy he comes with the merits of a sacrifice sufficient for all, and pleads for their salvation. We may, therefore, come with boldness and look for pardon. We come not depending on our own merits, but we come where a sufficient sacrifice has been offered for human guilt; and where we are assured that God is merciful. We may, therefore, come without hesitancy, or trembling, and ask for all the mercy that we need.
That we may obtain mercy – This is what we want first. We need pardon – as the first thing when we come to God. We are guilty and self-condemned – and our first cry should be for “mercy” – “mercy.” A man who comes to God not feeling his need of mercy must fail of obtaining the divine favor; and he will be best prepared to obtain that favor who has the deepest sense of his need of forgiveness.
And find grace – Favor – strength, help, counsel, direction, support, for the various duties and trials of life. This is what we next need – we all need – we always need. Even when pardoned, we need grace to keep us from sin, to aid us in duty, to preserve us in the day of temptation. And feeling our need of this, we may come and ask of God “all” that we want for this purpose. Such is the assurance given us; and to this bold approach to the throne of grace all are freely invited. In view of it, let us,
(1) Rejoice that there “is” a throne of grace. What a world would this be if God sat on a throne of “justice” only, and if no mercy were ever to be shown to people! Who is there who would not be overwhelmed with despair? But it is not so. He is on a throne of grace. By day and by night; from year to year; from generation to generation; he is on such a throne. In every land he may be approached, and in as many different languages as people speak, may they plead for mercy. In all times of our trial and temptation we may be assured that he is seated on that throne, and wherever we are, we may approach him with acceptance.
(2) We “need” the privilege of coming before such a throne. We are sinful – and need mercy; we are feeble, and need grace to help us. There is not a day of our lives in which we do not need pardon; not an hour in which we do not need grace.
(3) How obvious are the propriety and necessity of prayer! Every man is a sinner – and should pray for pardon; every man is weak, feeble, dependent, and should pray for grace. Not until a man can prove that he has never done any sin, should he maintain that he has no need of pardon; not until he can show that he is able alone to meet the storms and temptations of life, should he feel that he has no need to ask for grace. Yet who can feel this? And how strange it is that all people do not pray!
(4) It is easy to be forgiven. All that needs to be done is to plead the merits of our Great High Priest, and God is ready to pardon. Who would not be glad to be able to pay a debt in a manner so easy? Yet how few there are who are willing to pay the debt to justice thus!
(5) It is easy to obtain all the grace that we need. We have only to “ask for it” – and it is done. How easy then to meet temptation if we would! How strange that any should rely on their own strength, when they may lean on the arm of God!
(6) If people are not pardoned, and if they fall into sin and ruin, they alone are to blame. There is a throne of grace. It is always accessible. There is A God. He is always ready to pardon. There is A Redeemer. He is the Great High Priest of people. He is always interceding. His merits may always be pleaded as the ground of our salvation. Why then, O why, should any remain unforgiven and perish? On them alone the blame must lie. In their own bosoms is the reason why they are not saved.
For every high priest taken from among men] Rather, “being taken,” or “chosen as he is” (comp. Exo_28:1). The writer now enters on his proof that in order to fit Him for the functions of a High Priest for men it was necessary that Christ should become Man. He has already called attention to the subject in a marked manner in Heb_2:7, Heb_3:1, Heb_4:14-15.
is ordained for men] “Is appointed on men’s behalf.”
in things pertaining to God] Heb_2:17. It is his part to act as man’s representative in the performance of the duties of worship and sacrifice.
both gifts and sacrifices] We have the same phrase in Heb_8:3, Heb_9:9. In O. T. usage no distinction is maintained between “gifts” and “sacrifices,” for in Gen_4:4, Lev_1:2-3, “gifts” is used for animal sacrifices; and in Gen_4:3; Gen_4:5, “sacrifices” is used (as in Heb_11:4) for bloodless gifts. When, however, the words are used together the distinction between them is that which holds in classical Greek, where “sacrifices” is never used except to mean “slain beasts.” The word “offer” is generally applied to expiatory sacrifices, and though “gifts” in the strict sense—e.g. “freewill offerings” and “meat offerings”—were not expiatory, yet the “gift” of incense offered by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement had some expiatory significance.
for sins] To make atonement for sins (Heb_2:17).
For every high priest – That is, among the Jews, for the remarks relate to the Jewish system. The Jews had one high priest who was regarded as the successor of Aaron. The word “high priest” means “chief priest;” that is, a priest of higher rank and office than others. By the original regulation the Jewish high priest was to be of the family of Aaron Exo_29:9, though in later times the office was frequently conferred on others. In the time of the Romans it had become venal, and the Mosaic regulation was disregarded; 2 Macc. 4:7; Josephus, Ant. xv. 3. 1. It was no longer held for life, so that there were several persons at one time to whom was given the title of high priest. The high priest was at the head of religious affairs, and was the ordinary judge of all that pertained to religion, and even of the general justice of the Hebrew commonwealth; Deu_17:8-12; Deu_19:17; Deu_21:5; Deu_27:9-10.
He only had the privilege of entering the most holy place once a year, on the great day of atonement, to make expiation for the sins of the people; Lev. 16. He was to be the son of one who had married a virgin, and was to be free from any corporeal defect; Lev_21:13. The “dress” of the high priest was much more costly and magnificent than that of the inferior order of priests; Exo_39:1-7. He wore a mantle or robe – מציל me ̀iyl – of blue, with the borders embroidered with pomegranates in purple and scarlet; an “ephod” – אפוד ‛ephowd – made of cotton, with crimson, purple, and blue, and ornamented with gold worn over the robe or mantle, without sleeves, and divided below the arm-pits into two parts or halves, of which one was in front covering the breast, and the other behind covering the back. In the ephod was a breastplate of curious workmanship, and on the head a mitre. The breastplate was a piece of broidered work about ten inches square, and was made double, so as to answer the purpose of a pouch or bag. It was adorned with twelve precious stones, each one having the name of one of the tribes of Israel. The two upper corners of the breastplate were fastened to the ephod, and the two lower to the girdle.
Taken from among men – There maybe an allusion here to the fact that the great High Priest of the Christian dispensation had a higher than human origin, and was selected from a rank far above people. Or it may be that the meaning is, that every high priest on earth – including all under the old dispensation and the great high priest of the new – is ordained with reference to the welfare of people, and to bring some valuable offering forman to God.
Is ordained for men – Is set apart or consecrated for the welfare of people. The Jewish high priest was set apart to his office with great solemnity; see Exo. 29:
In things pertaining to God – In religious matters, or with reference to the worship and service of God. He was not to be a civil ruler, nor a teacher of science, nor a military leader, but his business was to superintend the affairs of religion.
That he may offer both gifts – That is, thank-offerings, or oblations which would be the expressions of gratitude. Many such offerings were made by the Jews under the laws of Moses, and the high priest was the medium by whom they were to be presented to God.
And sacrifices for sin – Bloody offerings; offerings made of slain beasts. The blood of expiation was sprinkled by him on the mercyseat, and he was the appointed medium by which such sacrifices were to be presented to God; see the notes at Heb_9:6-10. We may remark here:
(1) That the proper office of a priest is to present a “sacrifice” for sin.
(2) It is “improper” to give the name “priest” to a minister of the gospel. The reason is, that he offers no sacrifice; he sprinkles no blood. He is appointed to “preach the word,” and to lead the devotions of the church, but not to offer sacrifice. Accordingly the New Testament preserves entire consistency on this point, for the name “priest” is never once given to the apostles, or to any other minister of the gospel.
have compassion on] Rather, “deal gently with” The word metriopathein means properly “to shew moderate emotions.” All men are liable to emotions and passions (pathç). The Stoics held that these should be absolutely crushed and that “apathy” (ἀπάθεια) was the only fit condition for a Philosopher. The Peripatetics on the other hand—the school of Aristotle—held that the philosopher should not aim at apathy, because no man can be absolutely passionless without doing extreme violence to nature; but that he should acquire metriopathy that is a spirit of “moderated emotion” and self-control. The word is found both in Philo and Josephus. In common usage it meant “moderate compassion;” since the Stoics held “pity” to be not only a weakness but a vice. The Stoic apatheia would have utterly disqualified any one for true Priesthood. Our Lord yielded to human emotions such as pity, sorrow, and just anger; and that He did so and could do so, “yet without sin,” is expressly recorded for our instruction.
on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way] Highhanded sinners, willing sinners, those who, in the Hebrew phrase, sin “with upraised hand” (Num_15:30; Deu_17:12), cannot always be treated with compassionate tenderness (Heb_10:26); but the ignorant and the erring (1Ti_1:13)—those who sin “inadvertently,” “involuntarily” (Lev_4:2; Lev_4:13, &c.)—and even those who under sudden stress of passion and temptation sin wilfully—need pity (Lev_5:1; Lev_19:20-22), and Christ’s prayer on the cross was for those “who know not what they do.” No untempted Angel, no Being removed from the possibility of such falls, could have had the personal sympathy which is an indispensable requisite for perfect Priesthood.
is compassed with infirmity] Moral weakness is part of the very nature which, he wears, and which makes him bear reasonably with those who are like himself. The same Greek phrase (perikeimai with an accusative) occurs in Act_28:20 (“I am bound with this chain”), “Under the gorgeous robes of office there were still the galling chains of flesh.” Kay.
Pop Comm Bible Schaff
Heb_5:2. Who; rather, being one able to have compassion; literally, to be reasonably compassionate towards—a word found in the New Testament only here. The Stoic prided himself on being apathetic in relation to sin and misery, as he held the gods were. A sympathetic or emotional nature rejoices with those that rejoice, and weeps with those that weep. The true position of a priest in relation to those who are not only suffering, but are also guilty, is between the two. His is a blended feeling of sorrow and blame. Were there no sorrow, there would be no fitness for the office manward; were there no blame, there would be no holiness, and so no fitness for the office Godward. As standing between man and God, he feels (we may say it with reverence) for both; and herein consists His noblest quality.
With the ignorant and the erring. The persons for whom the priest acts are not innocent, or the function would cease; they are sinners, and are described as ignorant and out of the way (erring or, it may be, led out of the way). The first word is milder than the second, and describes an ignorance that may be without sin, though it is oftener an ignorance that is more or less sinful (see Lev_4:13; Lev_5:18). There is generally sin in it, though not the sin of a wilful perverseness (‘I did it ignorantly in unbelief,’ 1Ti_1:13). The second word, though stronger than the first, is milder than is consistent with wilful conscious sin; it is going astray, or (in the passive voice) being led astray (see 1Co_6:9; Gal_6:7; 2Ti_3:13). Possibly these words describe the feeling of the priest, who is supposed to be a man and himself a sinner (see next clause) towards those who are sinners, and who he may say are after all ‘ignorant and deluded.’ More probably, however, the words describe the real character of those for whom he is to act. All men are blameably ignorant, and are out of the way; every sin is want of knowledge, as well as want of wisdom; we all have gone astray, and for all the priest acts; those being excepted who are presumptuous and defiant sinners for whom no sacrifice could be accepted. The very office of the priest implies some desire to be forgiven, or at all events the cessation of perverse persistence in sin. Sympathy for all such is the duty and the qualification of the true priest; made the more easy that he is himself beset with infirmity, and the more obligatory that he himself needs the same treatment. The infirmity here spoken of is clearly moral weakness, which makes men capable of sin, and leads to it.
Pop Comm Bible Schaff
Heb_5:3. And by reason hereof (the true reading, though requiring no change in the English Version), i.e the infirmity with which he is himself compassed.
He ought (under a double obligation, ethical and legal, with special reference in this instance to the first).
As for the people even, so also for himself. The reasoning applies to the Aaronic Priesthood, and also to all human priests. The provisions of the Jewish law in this respect are very clear (Lev_4:3-12), and especially for the service of the great day of Atonement, when the priest confessed for himself and his house, then for the priesthood in general, and then for all Israel (Leviticus 16). Whether all this applies to Christ has been much discussed. Some have regarded it as spoken of human priests as distinguished from Christ; but it is more natural to regard it as true of all high priests in general, and then to allow the writer himself to show how far the Priesthood of Christ is like others, and how far it is unique; this he does as his argument proceeds (Heb_5:7-8, and chap. Heb_7:28).
And by reason hereof] i.e. because of this moral weakness.
he ought] He is bound not merely as a legal duty, but as a moral necessity.
so also for himself] The Law assumed that this would be necessary for every High Priest (Lev_4:3-12). In the High Priest’s prayer of intercession he said, “Oh do thou expiate the misdeeds, the crimes, and the sins, wherewith I have done evil, and have sinned before Thee I and my house!” Until he had thus made atonement for himself, he was regarded as guilty, and so could not offer any atonement for others who were guilty (Lev_4:3; Lev_9:7; Lev_16:6, and comp. Heb_7:27).
to offer for sins] The word “offer” may be used absolutely for “to offer sacrifices” (Luk_5:14); but the words “for sins” are often an equivalent for “sin-offerings” (see Heb_10:6; Lev_6:23; Num_8:8, &c).
this honour] i.e. this honourable office. We have here the second Qualification for Priesthood. A man’s own caprice must not be the Bishop which ordains him. He must be conscious of a divine call.
but he that is called of God] Rather, “but on being called by God,” or “when he is called by God.” Great stress is laid on this point in Scripture (Exo_28:1). Any “stranger that cometh nigh”—i.e. that intruded unbidden into the Priesthood—was to be put to death (Num_3:10). The fate of Korah and his company (Num_16:40), and of Uzziah, king though he was (2Ch_26:18-21), served as a terrible warning, and it was recorded as a special aggravation of Jeroboam’s impiety that “he made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi” (1Ki_12:31). In one of the Jewish Midra-shim, Moses says to Korah “if Aaron, my brother, had taken upon himself the priesthood, ye would be excusable for murmuring against him; “but God gave it to him.” Some have supposed that the writer here reflects obliquely upon the High Priests of that day—alien Saddu-cees, not descended from Aaron (Jos. Antt. xx. 10) who had been introduced into the Priesthood from Babylonian families by Herod the Great, and who kept the highest office, with frequent changes, as a sort of apanage of their own families—the Boethusim, the Kantheras, the Kamhits, the Beni-Hanan. For the characteristics of these Priests, who completely degraded the dignity in the eyes of the people, see my Life of Christy ii. 330, 342. In the energetic maledictions pronounced upon them in more than one passage of the Talmud, they are taunted with not being true sons of Aaron. But it is unlikely that the writer should make this oblique allusion. He was an Alexandrian; he was not writing to the Hebrews of Jerusalem; and these High Priests had been in possession of the office for more than half a century.
as was Aaron] The original is more emphatic “exactly as even Aaron was” (Numbers 16-18). The true Priest must be a divinely-appointed Aaron, not a self-constituted Korah.
And no man taketh this honor to himself – No one has a right to enter on this office unless he has the qualifications which God has prescribed. There were fixed and definite laws in regard to the succession in the office of the high priest, and to the qualifications of him who should hold the office.
But he that is called of God as was Aaron – Aaron was designated by name. It was necessary that his successors should have as clear evidence that they were called of God to the office, as though they had been mentioned by name. The manner in which the high priest was to succeed to the office was designated in the Law of Moses, but in the time of Paul these rules were little regarded. The office had become venal, and was conferred at pleasure by the Roman rulers. Still it was true that according to the Law, to which alone Paul here refers, no one might hold this office but he who had the qualifications which Moses prescribed, and which showed that he was called of God. We may remark here:
(1) That this does not refer so much to an internal, as to an “external” call. He was to have the qualifications prescribed in the Law – but it is not specified that he should be conscious of an internal call to the office, or be influenced by the Holy Spirit to it. Such a call was, doubtless, in the highest degree desirable, but it was not prescribed as an essential qualification.
(2) This has no reference to the call to the work of the Christian ministry, and should not be applied to it. It should not be urged as a proof-text to show that a minister of the gospel should have a “call” directly from God, or that he should be called according to a certain order of succession. The object of Paul is not to state this – whatever may be the truth on this point. His object is, to show that the Jewish high priest was called of God to “his” office in a certain way, showing that he held the appointment from God, and that “therefore” it was necessary that the Great High Priest of the Christian profession should be called in a similar manner. To this alone the comparison should be understood as applicable.
So Christ also (houtōs kai ho Christos). Just as with Aaron. Jesus had divine appointment as high priest also.
To be made (genēthēnai). First aorist passive infinitive of ginomai.
High priest (archierea). Predicate accusative agreeing with heauton (himself) object of edoxasen.
But he that spake unto him (all’ ho lalēsas pros auton). Ellipsis of edoxasen to be supplied from preceding clause. God did glorify Jesus in appointing him priest as we see in Psa_2:7 quoted already as Messianic (Heb_1:5). Jesus himself repeatedly claimed that the Father sent him on his mission to the world (Joh_5:30, Joh_5:43; Joh_8:54; Joh_17:5, etc.). Bruce holds that Christ’s priesthood is co-eval with his Sonship. Davidson thinks it is merely suitable because he is Son. Clearly the Father nominated (Dods) the Son to the Messianic priesthood (Joh_3:16).
So also Christ glorified not himself to be made a High Priest. Here begins the proof that Christ fulfils the two requirements, that mentioned second in the previous statement being taken first in the proof—chiastically, as is usual in this Epistle. The expression, ἑαυτο ̀ν ἐδο ́ξασε, rather than τὴν τιμὴν ἔλαβε, may have reference to the glory wherewith Christ is crowned in his exalted position as Priest-King (cf. Heb_2:9). But he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place, Thou art a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. These two texts (Psa_2:7; Psa_110:4) must be taken together for the proof required. The first (commented on under Heb_1:5) shows the Loire’s appointment of Christ to his kingly office as Son; the second shows that this kingly office carries with it, also by Divine appointment, an eternal priesthood. Christ’s entry into this kingly priesthood is best conceived as inaugurated by his resurrection, after accomplishment of human obedience, whereby he fitted himself for priesthood. Before this he was the destined High Priest, but not the “perfected” High Priest, “ever living to make intercession for us.” It is not during his life on earth, but after his exaltation, that he is spoken of as the High Priest of mankind. In his sufferings and death he was consecrated to his eternal office. This appears from Heb_5:9, Heb_5:10, and also from Psa_110:1-7., quoted in this verse, where the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek and the exaltation to the right hand of God are regarded together. See also what was said under Heb_1:5, of the application to Christ of the other text quoted, “This day have I begotten thee.” The Messianic reference and general drift of Psa_110:1-7. has been considered under Heb_1:13. It was there seen to be more than a typical prophecy, David having in it a distinct view of One far greater than himself—of the Son to come, whom he calls his LORD. But even had it, like other Messianic psalms, a primary reference to some theocratic king, the remarkable import of Heb_1:4 would in itself point beyond one. For, though David organized and controlled the priesthood and the services of the sanctuary, though both he and Solomon took a prominent part in solemn acts of worship, yet neither they nor any other king assumed the priestly office, which, in its essential functions, was scrupulously confined to the sons of Aaron. The judgment on Uzziah (2Ch_26:16-22) is a notable evidence of the importance attached to this principle. Yet the verse before us assigns a true priesthood to the future King. For Melchizedek, as he appears in Genesis, is evidently a true priest, though prior to the Aaronic priesthood, uniting in himself, according to the system of the patriarchal age, the royalty and the priesthood of his race: as a true priest, he blessed Abraham, and received tithes from him. But of him, historically and symbolically regarded, the consideration must be reserved for Heb_7:1-28., where the subject is taken up. Enough here to observe that in Psa_110:1-7. a true and everlasting priesthood is assigned to the SON in union with his exalted royalty at the LORD’s right hand, and this by Divine appointment, by the “voice” or “oracle” of the Load (Psa_110:1), confirmed by the LORD’s oath (Psa_110:4).
As he saith also in another place – Psa_110:4. “Thou art a priest forever.” It is evident here that the apostle means to be understood as saying that the Psalm referred to Christ, and this is one of the instances of quotation from the Old Testament respecting which there can be no doubt. Paul makes much of this argument in a subsequent part of this Epistle, Heb. 7 and reasons as if no one would deny that the Psalm had a reference to the Messiah. It is clear from this that the Psalm was understood by the Jews at that time to have such a reference, and that it was so universally admitted that no one would call it in question. That the Psalm refers to the Messiah has been the opinion of nearly all Christian commentators, and has been admitted by the Jewish Rabbis in general also. The “evidence” that it refers to the Messiah is such as the following:
(1) It is a Psalm of David, and yet is spoken of one who was superior to him, and whom he calls his “Lord;” Heb_5:1.
(2) It cannot be referred to Jehovah himself, for he is expressly Heb_5:1 distinguished from him who is here addressed.
(3) It cannot be referred to anyone in the time of David, for there was no one to whom he would attribute this character of superiority but God.
(4) For the same reason there was no one among his posterity, except the Messiah, to whom he would apply this language.
(5) It is expressly ascribed by the Lord Jesus to himself; Mat_22:43-44.
(6) The scope of the Psalm is such as to be applicable to the Messiah, and there is no part of it which would be inconsistent with such a reference. Indeed, there is no passage of the Old Testament of which it would be more universally conceded that there was a reference to the Messiah, than this Psalm.
Thou art a priest – He is not here called a “high priest,” for Melchizedek did not bear that title, nor was the Lord Jesus to be a high priest exactly in the sense in which the name was given to Aaron and his successors. A word is used, therefore, in a general sense to denote that he would be a “priest” simply, or would sustain the priestly office. This was all that was needful to the present argument which was, that he was “designated by God” to the priestly office, and that he had not intruded himself into it.
For ever – This was an important circumstance, of which the apostle makes much use in another part of the Epistle; see the notes at Heb_7:8, Heb_7:23-24. The priesthood of the Messiah was not to change from hand to hand; it was not to be laid down at death; it was to remain unchangeably the same.
After the order – The word rendered “order” – τάξις taxis – means “a setting in order – hence, “arrangement” or “disposition.” It may be applied to ranks of soldiers; to the gradations of office; or to any rank which men sustain in society. To say that he was of the same “order” with Melchizedek, was to say that he was of the same “rank” or “stations.” He was like him in his designation to the office. In what respects he was like him the apostle shows more fully in Heb. 7. “One” particular in which there was a striking resemblance, which did not exist between Christ and any other high priest, was, that Melchizedek was both a “priest” and a “king.” None of the kings of the Jews were priests; nor were any of the priests ever elevated to the office of king. But in Melchizedek these offices were united, and this fact constituted a striking resemblance between him and the Lord Jesus. It was on this principle that there was such pertinency in quoting here the passage from the second Psalm; see Heb_5:5. The meaning is, that Melchizedek was of a special rank or order; that he was not numbered with the Levitical priests, and that there were important features in his office which differed from theirs. In those features it was distinctly predicted that the Messiah would resemble him.
Melchisedek – see the notes on Heb_7:1 ff.