“Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.” (Hebrew 5:1-4)
The concept of “high priests” is not as common in our modern society as it had been centuries ago; or as commonplace as it was in the time that the writer of Hebrews wrote this. The most likely parallel is a minister in a highly liturgical church. My religious and faith background does not “support” high priests; and in fact supports a “priesthood of all believers” that means that we do not need an intermediary or intercessor between ourselves and the Divine.
That does not mean we do not have religious leaders, ministers and preachers. But that no one makes a sacrifice for us (other than the sacrifice that Christ made) and that each of us is our “own priest.”
But the writer of Hebrews is setting up this description of “high priests” not because that is main topic. No, his agenda and purpose is to describe how Christ fulfilled the role of high priest.
“So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
“You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;
as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:5-10)
It would help, I imagine, to know who Melchizedek was. Melchizedek lived during the time of Abraham and blessed Abraham after Abraham had rescued his nephew Lot from those who had captured him and his household. (Genesis 14:17-24) The writer of Hebrews uses Melchizedek as the example of the highest and most royal person who was called by God.
It’s kind of a relative thing; it is believed that the book of Hebrews was a letter to the Christian Jews in Jerusalem for their encouragement in the face of persecution. It is also attributed to Paul, and many people read it as such.
But let us set aside authorship and purpose, and look at the question, “What does it mean for us?” in our modern day. We follow and believe in a great many people. We look up to many people and look to them for wisdom and comfort. We look for people that will, as the writer of Hebrews says “offer gifts and sacrifices for sins . . . . deal gently with the ignorant and wayward”. Someone who is like us, but does a better job of living than us. Someone who believes in and follows the same laws and guidelines for living as we do; but does a better job of following them. And deep in our souls, we search for such a person because we feel so lost and alone.
Some find such a person, and benefit from it. And others find people who mislead them and use them. And while it is good to find good people amongst us, if we truly want to find the best of leaders and examples, we have to look to Christ Jesus. The writer of Hebrews tells that to his audience; and tells that to us, his modern readers.
It is my hope and prayer, beloved reader, that you have found the High Priest that is spoken of in this passage. And that you follow that High Priest in all things. Selah!