Bible: What Does Hebrews 4-5 Teach Us About the Believer's Rest and about Christ as a Melchizedekian High Priest?
Melchizedek, the Great High Priest
Melchizedek and Christ
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Hebrews 4-5: Christ as Faithful Melchizedekian High Priest
Coming Short of and Enjoying the Promised Rest
Since God’s promise of “rest” still stands, the author exhorts his readers to be afraid just in case any person among them should seem to have “come short” of it (v. 1).
[One “comes short” of God’s rest by not placing saving faith in Jesus].
He acknowledges that both the ancient Israelites and the present generation heard good news (“the gospel”), but that the former failed to believe their prophet’s word.
Consequently, they did not benefit from its truth (v. 2).
Believers, on the other hand, enjoy the rest that God swore the disobedient would not experience; those who trust in Him can revel in the happiness that comes with completing a task, just as God did after He finished His works of creation (vv. 3-4; cf. Gen. 2:2).
People forfeit this kind of rest through unbelief (v. 5; cf. Ps. 95:11).
The author reiterates the point that despite the fall of disobedient Israel during Moses’ time, some believers must still enter into rest.
God, therefore, named another “Today”—four hundred years later during David’s time— for people to respond in faith (vv. 6-7).
He also needed to designate a future date, because Joshua could not bring about complete rest for Israel in Canaan (v. 8).
That “Today” remains, giving people an opportunity to heed the message and believe; those who trust in God enter His rest and cease working just as He has ceased His work (vv. 9-10).
[In what sense do believers stop working when they trust God completely?]
The Word of God
The Temptations of Christ
Obedience to God's Word
Having discussed the consequence of disobedience and the benefit of obedience, the author now encourages his readers to advance from fearing not to enter God’s rest (v. 1), to being diligent to enter it by not following Israel’s bad example (v. 11).
They should obey God’s word—the inspired Scripture that has the ability through the Holy Spirit’s internal operation to disclose to individuals the morality (or lack thereof) of their thoughts and intentions (v. 12).
God observes everything they think, say, and do, and will require them one day to testify how well they kept His word (v. 13).
Jesus, the Great High Priest
Again, the author directs his readers’ attention back to a precious possession of theirs—Jesus, the Son of God—whom he now designates as “a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens” (v. 14a; cf. 2:17-3:1).
[The phrase “passing through the heavens” points to Jesus’ ascension through Satan’s domain to His place of honor in Glory.]
Understanding that Christ has defeated His enemies should strengthen believers to remain faithful to their convictions (v. 14b).
Though he states his point negatively for effect, the writer reasons that since all believers do have Someone as their Representative before the Father, Someone Who has experienced every form of temptation (and thus knows how difficult trials are), yet has passed every test flawlessly, they should not hesitate to seek God’s aid.
Instead, they should confidently approach the King to obtain the mercy and grace they need to help them (vv. 15-16).
[Ryrie points out that Christ’s temptations fell into the same categories as ours (cf. 1 John 2:16), and that He acquired “the likeness of sinful flesh” at the Incarnation, but not the sinful nature (New Testament Study Bible, 404).
Why does the writer call it “sinful flesh”?
Has the fallen nature somehow contaminated the body?
In addition, the issue here seems to be that Christ met every temptation perfectly (that is, He maintained His sinlessness); this passage does not discuss the fact that He was born without sin; that is, without a sinful nature.]
The High Priest
The Task of the High Priest
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Qualifications for High Priesthood
The author now discusses the qualifications for the high priesthood in Israel (vv. 1-4).
First, the high priest is “taken from among men,” suggesting that the nation must choose this official from among the male population.
Second, he “is appointed for men in things pertaining to God.”
Originally commissioned by God to perform this service, the high priest offers “both gifts and sacrifices for sins” on behalf of all Israel (v. 1).
Third, knowing that he himself is capable of stumbling morally in many ways, the high priest should understand the failings of others and thus be able to deal gently with them (v. 2).
Fourth, he must offer sacrifices for sins for himself as well as for the people (v. 3).
Fifth, God calls the high priest to this office just as He did in Aaron’s case; a man neither volunteers his time nor usurps this honor to promote his own self-interest (v. 4).
According to the Order of Melchizedek
Even Christ, the only-begotten Son, did not appoint Himself High Priest, but was established as such by the Father at His installation (v. 5; cf. Ps. 2:7).
[When did this ceremony take place? Elsewhere, writers use this verse from Psalm 2 to refer to Christ’s ascension to Kingship (Heb. 1:5) and to His resurrection (Acts 13:33).]
The author cites another passage that shows that the Father (“the LORD”) declared solemnly that David’s Lord, the Messiah, is “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (v. 6; cf. Ps. 110:1, 4).
[In Genesis 14 Melchizedek (“king of righteousness”), the king of Salem (“peace”) and priest of God Most High, brought out bread and wine to Abram, and blessed both him and God Most High for defeating particular foes (vv. 18-20a).
Abram, in turn, gave this king a tenth part of the spoil (v. 20b).
Hebrews 7:1-10 shows that Melchizedek is a type of Christ who was nobler than Abraham, for he (the greater) received tithes from the lesser (Abraham).]
Christ, the Example of a High Priest
Next, he points to Christ as the High Priest Exemplar.
Praying fervently in the Garden of Gethsemane to One who could have rescued Him from dying on the cross, Jesus exercised His priestly ministry and “was heard because of His ‘godly fear’” (“piety,” NASB) [v. 7].
As man, the Son learned obedience through suffering (v. 8).
[Again, Christ’s obedience proved or demonstrated His perfection; it did not make Him perfect. See note on 2:10.]
Having passed the test, Jesus now qualified Himself to be the Source of eternal salvation for the obedient (v. 9); the Father had called Him as a Melchizedekian High Priest (v. 10).
[Ryrie provides an interesting comparison between Melchizedek and Jesus (New Testament Study Bible, 404).]
The author of Hebrews wishes to explain more facts about Melchizedek, but postpones the occasion, finding the subject matter difficult to explain to those who had become too obtuse (“dull of hearing”) to understand it [v. 11].
"Babes" and The "Mature"
Regarding his readers’ soporific and retarded spiritual status, the writer remarks that while they should be teaching Scripture by this time in their lives, they, in fact, needed a refresher course in the basics (“the first principles of the oracles of God”).
In other words, as spiritual infants, they could take in only spiritual “milk,” not “solid food” (v. 12).
He explains that “babes” (that is, believers unable to discern between right and wrong) can only ingest the fundamentals, while the “mature” (saints who constantly practice godly principles and can therefore distinguish truth from error) can consume the “meat” of the word of God (vv. 13-14).
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