Reading through Hebrews this morning I was struck by this passage addressing the work of Christ, our great High priest whose ministry supersedes and fulfills that of the OT Levitical priests. In order to do so he outlines various functions of the OT priests in order to compare and contrast the two. I consulted Calvin, as I’ve been wont to do of late, to see what light he could shed on the matter.
Careful reader that he is, Calvin notes at least 5 truths about priests to be noted in the passage:
- He first says that the priests were taken from among men;
- secondly, that they did not act a private part but for the whole people;
- thirdly, that they were not to come empty to appease God, but furnished with sacrifices;
- fourthly, that they were not to be exempt from human infirmities, that they might more readily succor the distressed;
- and lastly, that they were not presumptuously to rush into this office, and that then only was the honor legitimate when they were chosen and approved by God.
–John Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews 5:1-4
Building on these observations, he goes on to point out 5 truths this passage teaches us about Christ’s priestly ministry on our behalf:
- Christ is a True Man“Taken from among men, etc. This he says of the priests. It hence follows that it was necessary for Christ to be a real man; for as we are very far from God, we stand in a manner before him in the person of our priest, which could not be, were he not one of us. Hence, that the Son of God has a nature in common with us, does not diminish his dignity, but commends it the more to us; for he is fitted to reconcile us to God, because he is man..”
- Christ is a Man for Others “For men, etc…the priest was not privately a minister for himself, but was appointed for the common good of the people. But it is of great consequence to notice this, so that we may know that the salvation of us all is connected with and revolves on the priesthood of Christ. The benefit is expressed in these words, ordains those things which pertain to God…what the Apostle had in view is the same, namely, that we have no intercourse with God, except there be a priest; for, as we are unholy, what have we to do with holy things? We are in a word alienated from God and his service until a priest interposes and undertakes our cause.”
- Christ is a Man for Others Offering Gifts “That he may offer both gifts, etc. The third thing he mentions respecting a priest is the offering of gifts. There are however here two things, gifts and sacrifices; the first word includes, as I think, various kinds of sacrifices, and is therefore a general term; but the second denotes especially the sacrifices of expiation. Still the meaning is, that the priest without a sacrifice is no peacemaker between God and man, for without a sacrifice sins are not atoned for, nor is the wrath of God pacified. Hence, whenever reconciliation between God and man takes place, this pledge must ever necessarily precede. Thus we see that angels are by no means capable of obtaining for us God’s favor, because they have no sacrifice. The same must be thought of Prophets and Apostles. Christ alone then is he, who having taken away sins by his own sacrifice, can reconcile God to us.”
- Christ, Though Free from Sin, is a Man who Can Sympathize “Who can, etc….the Apostle before taught us that mankind are united to God in the person of one man…but now he refers to another thing…that the priest ought to be kind and gentle to sinners, because he partakes of their infirmities. The word…simply means one capable of sympathy. All the things which are here said of the Levitical priests do not indeed apply to Christ; for Christ we know was exempt from every contagion of sin; he therefore differed from others in this respect, that he had no necessity of offering a sacrifice for himself. But it is enough for us to know that he bare our infirmities, though free from sin and undefiled. Then, as to the ancient and Levitical priests, the Apostle says, that they were subject to human infirmity, and that they made atonement also for their own sins, that they might not only be kind to others when gone astray, but also condole or sympathize with them…At the same time, though ever free from sin, yet that experience of infirmities before described is alone abundantly sufficient to incline him to help us, to make him merciful and ready to pardon, to render him solicitous for us in our miseries. The sum of what is said is, that Christ is a brother to us, not only on account of unity as to flesh and nature, but also by becoming a partaker of our infirmities, so that he is led, and as it were formed, to show forbearance and kindness…
- Christ is a Man by the Call of God – And no man, etc. There is to be noticed in this verse partly a likeness and partly a difference. What makes an office lawful is the call of God; so that no one can rightly and orderly perform it without being made fit for it by God. Christ and Aaron had this in common, that God called them both; but they differed in this, that Christ succeeded by a new and different way and was made a perpetual priest. It is hence evident that Aaron’s priesthood was temporary, for it was to cease. We see the object of the Apostle; it was to defend the right of Christ’s priesthood; and he did this by showing that God was its author…Christ then is a lawful priest, for he was appointed by God’s authority…”
ibid, Commentary 5:1-4
According to Hebrews then, this is the Christ who is our Priest. He is the truly human one; the one who comes for us, not for himself alone; the one who has offered up a sacrifice for us; the one sympathizes with us in our weaknesses and infirmities; the one who comes by the call of God the Father, in the power of the Spirit. This Christ is indeed worthy of all our praise and worship.