Hebrews 4:14-5:10 - Jesus Has All Of the Older Functions Plus Brilliant New Ones
Someone who buys a new device will wonder if it has all the old features, after all you do not want to lose them. However, as you switch you also want to move up, and so the question is: does the new device also have some new functionalities? In several places in the letter to the Hebrews a comparison is made between Jesus and the (high) priests of Israel. In each case, Jesus stands out as the better priest who accomplishes a more reliable atonement. In this chapter I list these advantages from chapter 4:14 – 5:10. Jesus shows to have all the old functions, but also brilliant new ones.
The Old Functions
As high priest:
- Jesus is appointed by God;
- Jesus can sympathize with human weaknesses.
Jesus is Appointed by God
I can be brief about this after the previous chapter. Hebrews 5:6 quotes Psalm 110:4. Just before this (5:4, 5) Psalm 2 is added, where the author of the letter says: Christ did not confer the honour of becoming high priest upon himself, but this was done by the One who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” God the Father proclaimed him to be high priest (5:10). That makes him trustworthy: God will listen to him. Reconciliation is guaranteed!
Jesus Can Sympathize with our Human Weaknesses
How can and do you stand before the priest? On the one hand, there is distance; after all, he is a man of God. Being consecrated in the holy place he may continue where you have to stop: he may enter the sanctuary. On the other hand, you may remember that every priest is just like you. He too is a human being who sins, and who has to deal with trials and temptations. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest had to make atonement for his own sins first, and only then for those of the people. Hebrews 5:2 uses a beautiful word for “being able to sympathize with the weak”. [N]KJV: “He can have compassion”; ESV/NIV: “He is able to deal gently”. The high priest can “sympathize” with the Israelites who come to him with their sins. In the Greek there is a word that you only encounter at this place in the Bible: metrio-pathein. Think of the word sym-pathy, which means the ability to empathize with another person. Someone who is sympathetic is kind and empathetic. This makes you feel a certain kinship. Literally, sympathy means to suffer with (sym = with, pathos = to suffer). By analogy, the word “metriopathy” can be rendered as: the ability to show moderation in one’s feelings. The high priest knows how to control his feelings towards the Israelite who stands before him with his sins. The high priest controls his feelings of outrage at sin, and has himself an understanding of sin. The high priest loves the people in their sins (not because of their sins), the sins evoke indignation, but the high priest controls his reaction because he loves the people. That is metriopathy (as opposed to apathy). Jesus is said to have both: sympathy (4:15—he literally took our suffering upon himself) and metriopathy. Because Jesus became human, he is able to sympathize with our weaknesses just like the high priest of Israel, because he was tested just like us, except that he did not fall into sin (5:2). Jesus may indeed be God’s Son, yet he feels for us from the inside out. Jesus loves us in our sins, and at the same time his indignation with sin moves him to take those sins upon himself.
The New Functions
Jesus is the High Priest who:
- lives forever;
- is with God in heaven;
- pleads on the merit of his own blood.
Jesus Lives Forever
In Hebrews 4:14 a term is used for Jesus that could be translated “a mega high priest”, or “the one and only”. He is greater than the priests of Israel in three respects, and that makes the atonement he brings about stronger and more widely accessible. The first is that Jesus lives forever. What will be more broadly developed in Hebrews 7 (discussed in chapter 3 of this book) is already briefly addressed in 5:6: Jesus is an eternal high priest, because he lives forever. In this way he can be high priest to the Jewish Christians in 68-69 AD and at the same time to you today.
Jesus is With God in Heaven
Unlike the priests of Israel, there is no time limit on Jesus’ service in the sanctuary. He no longer has to leave the sanctuary. One day he will come out of it, but then to actually give shape to the reconciled life of God and man (9:28). Until then he lives with God in heaven, as Hebrews 5:9 tells us. There Jesus is the source of salvation: “And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him”. Jesus’ ascension is like the entry of the high priest into the most holy place. In 4:14 it said that Jesus “passed through the heavens”. Some exegetes say: think of the high priest who first went through the holy place and only then entered the most holy place. You can also imagine that Jesus passed through the throne room of heaven and approached the throne of the Merciful God. To us, that would be endlessly exciting. Consider the description given in Revelation 4 of God’s throne room, which is certainly impressive. We are allowed to go behind Jesus’ broad back into that imposing throne room. The scars on his back from the whips of the soldiers give us the confidence to do so (4:16).
Jesus Pleads on the Merit of His Own Blood
Jesus is the priest who entered the sanctuary with his own blood. This is not the blood of animals, which does not suffice (Ps. 50:13). Therefore, the throne of God is now a throne of grace (4:16), which means that when you go to that throne in your prayer, you will find and receive God’s mercy. The priests begged for mercy at the altar; Jesus makes God’s throne a source of mercy. It is a sure source of the love of God’s heart. A sacrifice “is something you dedicate”. That points to the destination of the sacrifice: it is dedicated to God. It also reflects how it was done: the priest carries a bowl of blood with him. What Jesus dedicates and offers is his own blood. That is what he takes to his Father. That is what he pours out at the heavenly throne: “the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28).
From Within and From Above
Jesus can stand a comparison with the high priest of Israel brilliantly, and at the same time his glory shines more brightly than that of all the priests put together. He helps from within and from above. Therefore the Hebrews are to hold fast to the faith they profess, which is that Jesus is God’s Son. They would be foolish if they now went back to
Phannias ben Samuel, the high priest serving in Jerusalem at that time. Do not think now of returning to the old system! Sometimes it is said that the Jewish Christians were in danger of reverting to legalism. I do not think that is what it was all about. It is about reverting back to Judaism with the Jewish system of sacrificial service. Once God himself had prescribed it, but now that Jesus has come, that old system of temple service in Jerusalem is past. Legalism is rather a phenomenon of our time. Our old system is that of doing it and earning it by ourselves. That fits seamlessly into our performance culture; it is a system that seems custom-made for us. When I am in danger of falling back, I might well be caught in the system of self-redemption. Deep down I am therefore my own high priest because I approach God without a mediator. I try to mediate and negotiate with God myself. I ask myself: how am I actually doing before God, or: would the Lord regard me in grace? But then I am ignoring Jesus. Often our search for help and our tendency toward self-redemption are on a collision course. Hebrews 4:16 gets us all excited: there is help for us. We experience that we need help and we also pray to God for help. Next, we still start trying to solve things ourselves anyway and we find it difficult to trust in God and his grace. We do not have the patience or the faith to wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises.
Those who seek to be self-sufficient come to God empty-handed—with closed fists. Jesus helps from within and from above. He does so from above because he lives eternally with God in heaven, and that is the deciding factor. Those who call on Jesus ask God to look at the hands of Jesus that contain the scars of his crucifixion. For those who go to God through Jesus as the high priest, the throne of God is by definition a throne where you find mercy and grace. At the same time, Jesus knows you from the inside: he loves you, even in your sins. And his indignation at sin leads him to take this upon himself. When you pray, picture Jesus in your mind as the high priest with God in heaven. For me it helps to imagine Jesus as high priest in heaven with God: I am here while Jesus is there: Jesus, who knows me from the inside and helps me from above. I can fully trust him.
Questions for Discussion
- Which touches you more: Jesus’ sympathy or his metriopathy? Can you explain why?
- Do you recognize (something of) an attempt at self-redemption in your life? How might you get rid of it?
- How can the role of Jesus as your high priest become more significant in your life?