5:1 For every high priest is taken from among the people and appointed to represent them before God, to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. 5:2 He is able to deal compassionately with those who are ignorant and erring, since he also is subject to weakness, 5:3 and for this reason he is obligated to make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people. 5:4 And no one assumes this honor on his own initiative, but only when called to it by God, as in fact Aaron was.
Deal compassionately – (‘gently’, NIV). Gk. metriopathein. ‘The Greeks defined a virtue as the mean between two extremes. On either hand there was an extreme into which a man might fall; in between there was the right way. So the Greeks defined metriopatheia (the corresponding noun) as the mean between extravagant grief and utter indifference. It was feeling about men in the right way. W. M. Macgregor defined it as “the mid-course between explosions of anger and lazy indulgence.” Plutarch spoke of that patience which was the child of metriopatheia. He spoke of it as that sympathetic feeling which enabled a man to raise up and to save, to spare and to hear. Another Greek blames a man for having no metriopatheia and for therefore refusing to be reconciled with someone who had differed from him. It is a wonderful word. It means the ability to bear with people without getting irritated; it means the ability not to lose one’s temper with people when they are foolish and will not learn and do the same thing over and over again. It describes the attitude to others which does not issue in anger at their fault and which does not condone it, but which to the end of the day spends itself in a gentle yet powerful sympathy which by its very patience directs a man back to the right way. No man can ever deal with his fellow-men unless he has this strong and patient, God-given metriopatheia.’ (DSB)
v4 No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was.
5:5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming high priest, but the one who glorified him was God, who said to him, “You are my Son! Today I have fathered you,” 5:6 as also in another place God says, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”
Christ did not glorify himself – ‘It is noticeable that the title Christ is here used rather than Jesus (which is preferred in 4:14). This suggests that the writer is deeply impressed by the thought that the anointed one, the Messiah, in his office did not exalt himself as he might well have done.’ (Guthrie)
“You are my Son! Today I have fathered you” – Psa 2:7 has already been quoted in Heb 1:5, in connection with Christ’s superiority over the angels.
5:7 During his earthly life Christ offered both requests and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his devotion. 5:8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered. 5:9 And by being perfected in this way, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 5:10 and he was designated by God as high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears – ‘an undeniable allusion to the agony of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane [Matt. 26:36–46; Mark 14:32–42; Luke 22:40–46; see John 12:27–28], where his prayer was accompanied by sweat of blood, revealing the inner intensity of the struggle through which he passed. The accounts in the Gospels do not mention tears, but tears would not be out of keeping with those accounts. He who could weep at the grave of Lazarus would not be beyond expressing himself similarly on other occasions of deep emotion. Although tears are usually regarded as a sign of weakness, they nevertheless have healing properties. Our high priest was not so far above us that tears were beyond him at times when his mind was sorely distracted.’ (Guthrie, TNTC)
Able to save him from death, or ‘out of death’ (in which case, this would be a reference to the resurrection).
He was heard – Some Muslims appeal to this verse to prove that Jesus did not die on the cross. He had prayed (in the Garden of Gethsemane) to be delivered from death, and, (according to this verse) that prayer had been answered.
How was Christ heard?
John Cotton (in his commentary on 1 John) asks: ‘Did he not drink the cup he prayed against? True, but yet he was heard:-
- Christ’s will was that his Father’s will might be fulfilled, not his; in this he was heard.
- It is said that he was heard in that he feared; though he did drink of the cup, yet he was saved from those fears and terrors that overwhelmed him.
- The main end of Christ’s prayer was that his church might be redeemed, which God granted; so God granted the end of his petition, though not the thing itself.’
Reverent submission – Gk. eulabeia – could also be translated ‘godly fear’. In his moment of greatest testing, Jesus was heard, not because of the intensity or fervency of his praying, but because of his reverent submission.
He learned obedience by the things which he suffered – This learning was not theoretical, but experiential.
‘Cullmann noted that this statement, “he learned obedience,” is “the most important confirmation of Hebrews’ conception of Jesus’ full humanity,” in that it presupposes human development along the lines of Luke 2:52. This “learning” culminated in his obedience to death on the cross (cf. Phil 2:5–11).’
‘The obedience Jesus learned was the obedience of suffering. It is one thing to obey when there is no resistance; it is another thing to obey when that very obedience will bring you pain. Before the Incarnation who resisted the Son? Only in his life on earth did he suffer for his obedience. In other words, there are some things that even God can experience only by becoming a human being with all of our human limitations. Obedience in the face of suffering is one of them. This in turn brought Jesus to perfection, which has the sense of “maturity” or “fulfillment.” That is, through obedience in the face of intense suffering, Jesus was able to complete or fulfill his mission, namely to become the source or basis of eternal salvation (versus a temporal deliverance) to those who in turn obey him. This completed mission is the basis for his present high priesthood.
‘This whole passage, then, turns on obedience in the face of suffering. Jesus was the Son, heir of all and exalted above the angels (Heb 1). But as a good Son Jesus submitted to the will of the Father. God’s will for him included intense suffering, and yet he obeyed to the end. The result was that he was eternally delivered from death and so is now a high priest forever. The believers Hebrews is addressing are experiencing suffering, although so far no one has died. (Heb 12:4) They, like Jesus, will also obtain eternal salvation by obedience to the end, obedience to Christ.’ (HSB)
It is easy to obey when things are easy; but anyone who obeys in the face of such suffering has learned real obedience.
‘Here we are faced with the mystery of the nature of Christ. In considering the divine Son it may be difficult to attach any meaning to the learning process (he learned obedience), but in thinking of the Son as perfect man it becomes at once intelligible. When Luke says that Jesus advanced in learning (2:52), he means that by a progressive process he showed by his obedience to the Father’s will a continuous making of God’s will his own, reaching its climax in his approach to death. The cry of acceptance in the garden of Gethsemane was the concluding evidence of the Son’s obedience to the Father. No-one will deny that there is deep mystery here, but the fact of it makes our high priest’s understanding of us unquestionably more real.’ (Guthrie, TNTC)
So the order is, he suffered – he learned – he was perfected.
Made perfect – Gk teleioun. ‘Teleioun is the verb of the adjective teleios. Teleios can quite correctly be translated “perfect” so long as we remember what the Greek meant by that perfection. To him a thing was teleios if it perfectly carried out the purpose for which it was designed. When he used the word he was not thinking in terms of abstract and metaphysical perfection; he was thinking in terms of function. What the writer to the Hebrews is saying is that all the experiences of suffering through which Jesus passed perfectly fitted him to become the Saviour of men.’ (DSB)
The source of eternal salvation – Perhaps this is the nearest we can come to an interpretation of the Messianic title in Isa 9:6 – ‘Everlasting Father’ (or, ‘Father of Eternity’).
Christ is the source (or, ‘author’) of salvation. See Heb 2:10. Salvation originates in him, and him only.
An equivalent expression to eternal salvation occurs in Isa 45:17. Hebrews speaks of ‘eternal redemption’, Heb 9:12; ‘eternal inheritance’, Heb 9:15, and ‘eternal covenant’, Heb 13:20. The salvation is eternal because it is based on the once for all, never to be repeated, sacrifice of Christ.
This salvation is for all who obey him. This is consistent with the repeated concern of the writer that the obedience of his readers is wavering.
The Need to Move on to Maturity
5:11 On this topic we have much to say and it is difficult to explain, since you have become sluggish in hearing. 5:12 For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. 5:13 For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. 5:14 But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil.
The beginning elements – NIV ‘The elementary truths’; AV ‘The first principles’. Cf. Col 2:8n