1 For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3 Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
5 So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”;
6 as he says also in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
after the order of Melchizedek.”
7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. – Hebrews 5:1-10 ESV
In the early days of Israel, the high priest was an appointed position. Aaron was the original high priest, designated so by God Himself. His command to Moses to set aside Aaron and his sons as priests is recorded in the book of Exodus.
“Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.” – Exodus 28:1 ESV
God would later qualify the vital nature of their calling.
“I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” – Exodus 29:44-46 ESV
Aaron and his sons were set apart by God to serve as priests, offering sacrifices on behalf of the people. No one else could serve in this capacity. King Saul attempted to do so and lost his kingship because of it (1 Samuel 13:5-14). During the days of Israel’s wilderness wandering, Korah, a Levite, incited a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, demanding that he and his brothers be made priests. But Moses asked him, “would you seek the priesthood also? Therefore it is against the Lord that you and all your company have gathered. What is Aaron that you grumble against him?” (Numbers 16:10-11 ESV). As a result of their attempt to self-appoint themselves as priests, Korah, Dothan, Abiram, and all their families were literally swallowed alive by the earth.
The priesthood was a serious matter to God. The men whom God appointed for this role were responsible for the care and maintenance of the Tabernacle but also for administering the sacrificial system of Israel. But God also gave Aaron, the high priest, another directive that made their role pedagogic in nature. They were responsible for teaching the people the ways of God.
And the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying, “Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses.” – Leviticus 10:8-11 ESV
And so when we read of Jesus being appointed high priest “to act on behalf of men in relation to God” it should get our attention. Jesus was not a descendant of Aaron. He was a descendant of David, from the tribe of Judah. Technically, He was not qualified to be a priest, let alone the high priest. And the writer of Hebrews makes it perfectly clear that Jesus “did not exalt himself to be made high priest, but was appointed by him [God]” (Hebrews 5:5 ESV). So unlike Korah and his companions, Jesus was not guilty of trying to anoint Himself as high priest. He, like Aaron, was chosen by God to serve in this capacity.
Even in His humanity, Jesus served in His role as a priest, offering up “prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death” (Hebrews 5:7 ESV). Jesus prayed regularly during His time on earth, and He taught His disciples the importance of prayer in their own lives. And just hours before His death, He prayed what has become known as His High Priestly Prayer from the Garden of Olives. In that prayer, Jesus interceded on behalf of His disciples, declaring His love for them and expressing His desire that His Heavenly Father protect and preserve them so that they might one day enjoy the gift of eternal life.
“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!” – John 17:22-24 NLT
Jesus was of a different priesthood than that of Aaron. He was “designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:10 ESV). Melchizedek was an obscure figure mentioned in Genesis 14. In this story, Abraham has just rescued his nephew Lot and his family, who had been taken captive when the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah had been overrun by an alliance of kings. After having defeated the kings and rescued Lot, his family, and all their possessions, Abraham was met by Melchizedek, king of Salem. The text tells us that Melchizedek was also a priest of God Most High. This priest-king blessed Abraham and, in return, Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the plunder he had taken. That is the extent of the information we have about Melchizedek. But the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was appointed by God after the order of Melchizedek. In other words, He was of a different priesthood than that of Aaron and his sons.
In chapter seven of this letter, we are given more insight into who this man was and why Jesus was appointed high priest after his order and not that of Aaron:
He [Melchizedek] is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever. – Hebrews 7:2-3 ESV
This does not mean that Melchizedek was a divine being who was never born or died, but that there is no known record of his ancestry. He appears on the scene in the book of Genesis, then disappears. He serves as a foreshadowing of the future priest-king whom God would reveal. Melchizedek was the king of righteousness and the king of peace. Interestingly enough, his royal city, Salem, is the city that David would later make his capital and rename Jerusalem. And one day, Jesus will return and reign from the throne of David in Jerusalem when He establishes His millennial kingdom.
Unlike Aaron and his sons who served only as priests, Jesus was appointed both king and priest by God, and He received both titles when he ascended back to earth after His death and resurrection.
I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. – Ephesians 1:19-22 NLT
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. – 1 Timothy 2:5-6 ESV
Jesus now sits by His Father’s side in heaven, where He reigns over all that He has made. But at the present time, not all humanity recognizes Him as King and Lord. So, Jesus maintains His priestly role, offering all mankind the opportunity to be reconciled with God through faith in His substitutionary death on the cross. Jesus is both King and High Priest, and He received these two divine appointments because He was obedient, faithfully completing the assignment given to Him by God the Father. Jesus did not simply offer sacrifices on behalf of the people as Aaron and his sons had done. Jesus offered Himself. He made the ultimate sacrifice of His own life. And even though He was the divine Son of God, in His human state Jesus, “learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8 ESV). And while His obedience ultimately ended in death, it also resulted in His “perfection” or glorification. He was raised from the dead and restored to His rightful place at the side of God the Father. And “he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:9 ESV).
Jesus wasn’t just a different high priest than that of Aaron. He was a better high priest who offered a better sacrifice. He offered a permanent, once-for-all sacrifice that never has to be repeated. He was the sinless high priest who offered Himself as the unblemished Lamb of God that paid for the sins of humanity. And as a result, those who place their faith in His sacrifice can share in His righteousness and have peace with God. We can be justified or made right with God. That is why He is the great high priest.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.