Hebrews 5 – A Hard Left Turn into Weird Christology

Hebrews 5 Bible with Equal Exchange Panama Extra Dark Chocolate

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Today’s PassageHebrews 5

This chapter begins by talking about high priests offering sacrifices. You’d think the author’s purpose would be to write up “high priests” alongside “angels” and “Moses” on the list of things Jesus is better than, but strangely, he emphasizes Jesus’ similarities to his priestly predecessors. What’s his reason there? I don’t know, but here on Chocolate Book, we’re all about admitting our ignorance and trying to figure stuff out, so here we go.

The author of Hebrews begins the chapter by focusing on the high priest’s humility. He observes that the priest “can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness” (2) and also notes, “He is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself” (3). And after the high Christology of the first few chapters, this hard left turn is weird. It’s one thing to talk about the human limitations of priests, as Jesus Christ voluntarily subjected himself to the vast restrictions on his power entailed by being human. But it’s another thing to point out that the high priest must offer guilt offerings both for himself and others.

Jesus didn’t have any sins–that’s precisely why his sacrifice on the cross was able to pay for our sins. If anything, the writer’s words highlight the difference between Jesus and other high priests. What other high priest offers himself on the altar? But the writer drops this “obligated to offer sacrifices for himself” bit in the middle of a passage underscoring Jesus’ common humility with the high priesthood.

But, having set the stage in such a baffling way, the author of Hebrews comes to his point. He tells us, “And no one takes the honor [of the priesthood] to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify Himself” (4-5). Jesus doesn’t assume the priesthood on his own initiative to feed his ego or put himself on a pedestal. He receives his position from the Father, just like previous high priests did. But once again, as the second person of the Trinity, Jesus is God. How is he not appointing himself to the priesthood? The Trinity, too, is weird, and this passage throws that weirdness into stark relief.

And you’d think it’s about to get weirder when our Hebrew epistolarian suggests that Jesus Christ had to learn obedience through his sufferings, and that he became perfect as a result, rather than being perfect from the outset. But strangely enough, that bit I’m actually prepared to explain and make sense of. The author writes, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (8-9). The phrase “having been made perfect,” there? That’s a form of the verb τελειόω (teleioō). It doesn’t refer to moral perfection but rather to reaching an endpoint or goal. Part of being human is the process, the journey–and Jesus completed his. Learning obedience and being “made perfect” is just the “fully man” part of “fully God, fully man” in action.

Jesus Christ wasn’t morally deficient or lacking before he suffered in the flesh, suffering which culminated in his crucifixion. The suffering completed his Messiahship.

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