Throughout the devotions this week as we’ve explored the beginning of Hebrews, the author (unspecified) has used a lot of allusions to concepts that the Jewish people would be familiar with: they talk about angels and Moses and Sabbath, all to help articulate the point that Jesus is not just a prophet or a leader, nor is he just another heavenly being – He’s God manifest in the world, and came for our good.
Starting in chapter 5, the author lists another concept people would have been familiar with that would give people yet another concept to relate with. High priests had a specific role within the society that held an enormous amount of responsibility.
“Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” (Hebrews 5:1)
In my personal NIV Bible, the editor-inserted heading is “Jesus the Great High Priest,” and I think that is an apt description for the point the writer is making. Jesus does indeed serve the functions of a priest – they brought the sacrifices before God for the atonement of people’s sins. But, the writer points out that they had to bring sacrifices for their own sins as well since they themselves were morally flawed people (just like us all).
Jesus, on the other hand, didn’t have to do that. Because he was blameless, he is the Great High Priest, and to make a point of this, the author evokes the name of Melchizedek, who was a mysterious priest-king from ancient Israel. This is because the high priests of Israel were from the line of Aaron, but the Messiah was predicted earlier in the Scriptures to be from this mysterious line instead. Evoking this type of reference to this Jewish audience is pulling even more deeply from their tradition, and is getting to the heart of Jesus’ identity. In other words, this is a way for the author to say “This is the one you’ve been waiting for.”
This is all pretty intellectual study-type material, but this type of information would have gone far with this audience. The application for us is similar, even though we live in a very different time and place: Where has Jesus become just another version of something for you? Another voice, instead of the voice? Another item on the list instead of the item on the list? Another teaching to follow instead of the teaching? How might life look differently if Jesus is allowed to be the Lord of your life?