The author of Hebrews has methodically built his case for Jesus’ preeminence throughout the opening chapters of this book. He began by first demonstrating Jesus’ supremacy over angelic beings (1:5-14). He then continued with a look at Jesus’ superiority over human leaders such as Moses (3:1-6), and Joshua (4:8-10).
Having laid that foundation, our author will now turn his attention to a theme that will serve as his primary focus over the next several chapters: Jesus, our High Priest…
“For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins” (Hebrews 5:1).
A Jewish priest in the Old Testament era served as God’s representative to the people and the people’s representative before God. For instance, an Israelite who sought to offer a sacrifice for his or her sins could not approach God directly during that period. Instead, a priest presented that offering on his or her behalf.
The “gifts and sacrifices” mentioned here pertain to different types of offerings. For instance, a “gift” referred to an offering of grain, drink, or incense that was burned in God’s presence. A “sacrifice” took the life of an animal and served to atone (or make up for) the sins of the person who brought it.
Hebrews 5:1 draws our attention to another important aspect of this Biblical priesthood- a priest received his commission by appointment. Only those who descended through the ancient tribe of Levi were authorized to serve as priests. Those priestly offices were held exclusively by the Levites who traced their lineage through Moses’ brother Aaron. Finally, the high priest alone was permitted to enter God’s presence once a year on the annual day of atonement for the nation of Israel.
While the author of Hebrews points out the seemingly obvious fact that “every high Priest is taken from among men…” (GNV), it’s important to note that this is true of Jesus as well. However, there are some important differences that set Jesus apart from the High Priests who served within the Old Testament sacrificial system. We’ll consider those differences over the next few studies, beginning with the following preview…
“In this and following verses, the author of Hebrews analyzes the high priesthood of Christ in such a manner as to prove that the Christians who had given up the priesthood of Aaron and his successors had, in Christ, received far more than they had lost. In every conceivable comparison, as to rank, character, quality of sacrifice, or whatsoever, the marvelous superiority of Christ is emphatically demonstrated.” (1)
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on Hebrews 4”. “Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/hebrews-5.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.