THE OBEDIENCE OF THE SON (Heb 5)
Successive generations of Israel since the days of Aaron had enjoyed the ministry of their high priest in a sanctuary of this world, albeit those priests were not suffered to continue by reason of death. This marvellous epistle was written to Hebrew Christians to tell them, amongst other things, of a wholly different, and infinitely greater, priestly ministry, and to give assurance of its abiding value for them.
The Great High Priest
The High Priest of this epistle is distinguished as merciful, faithful, and great. He is none other than Jesus the Son of God. He has passed through the heavens (4.14, JND), indeed set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens (8.1). He is after the order of Melchisedec, and because He continueth ever, hath an untransmissable priesthood. They would always be able to come boldly unto the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Thus the closing verses of ch.4 encouraged those hard pressed Hebrew believers; "Having therefore a great high priest let us hold fast the confession" (JND).
The first four verses of ch.5 refer to two vital matters relating to priesthood with application to Aaron and his sons. Firstly, they were appointed for men. It was to be for the good or benefit of their brethren, and therefore they required to show compassion or gentleness. The word "compassion" in v.2 is not the lovely familiar word of the Gospels describing those inward yearnings of pity and sympathy in Christ towards multitudes and individuals. It is a distinct word, from a root meaning comforted, and occurs only here in the New Testament. The sense is to moderate ones feelings, to have feelings in the right measure (Rienecker/Rogers), and in this context would suggest discretion in a controlled feeling of sympathy, not overlooking sin whilst showing gentleness towards those who have sinned. Such feelings of course were wholly appropriate in one "compassed with infirmity".
The appointment of the High Priest
Secondly, their appointment was in regard to things pertaining to God, so that divine calling was essential as explained in v.4. When Jeroboam the son of Nebat established a counterfeit religion, "he made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi" (1 Kings 12.31), and earned the solemn epithet that he "made Israel to sin" (1 Kings 14.14 etc). Our Lord Jesus Christ is, however, like Aaron, a priest by divine appointment: "Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec" (Heb 5.6), and the writer reminds us from Psalm 2 that Jehovah has also said unto Him, "Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee" ( Heb 5.5; Ps 2.7). The two quotations bring together His deity and His humanity. J N Darby commented on this portion: "We know He is God, and we know He is man perfect man, apart from sin; and if He is not God, what is He to me?". Could there be firmer assurance to our hearts of the efficacy of His priestly ministry for us, than to know that this blessed Man is the divine Son, equal with the Father, of the same essence, eternal, yet with the profound experience of "the days of his flesh" (v.7)?
The days of His flesh
"The days of his flesh" is a most suitable reference to the earthly life of the Lord Jesus, for while telling us of the entirety of His life, it also presents to our minds the preciousness of each day with the continual offering up of prayers and supplications evidencing the priestly character of Christ in holy, dependent manhood. The further words, "with strong crying and tears", draw our hearts reverently to Gethsemane and we remember the agony in which He prayed more earnestly. His strong crying was audible, His tears silent, and were heard and seen by the Father who was able to save Him from, or out from, death, for it was not that He prayed that He might be saved from dying. W.E. Vine comments upon the word "heard", that it means "to hear so as to answer". His death was determined, both in its manner and its moment, but He was "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom 1.4). The writer to the Hebrews adds this lovely thought: " in that he feared". A holy dependent Man, His being was suffused by an unique, reverential love of God.
But the writer continues, "though he were Son". Neither a definite nor an indefinite article occurs here because the emphasis is upon Sonship itself. Yes, all the glory and dignity of Sonship was His, yet He entered upon the circumstances of the days of His flesh and trod a path unshielded from the pain and grief of suffering. The burden of it He patiently bore, and "learned obedience from" (JND) the things which He suffered. Note that He did not learn to obey, He learned obedience. The distinction may be thought to be fine; rather it is of first importance. "Learning to obey" implies a nature in which obedience is not native, and such was never, could never, be true of Christ. We cling to the language of Scripture: "he learned obedience from the things which he suffered". In His pre-incarnate glory and majesty He directed and commanded, but "in the days of his flesh" obedience must ever mark the Son as He did the Fathers will. He learned "by use and practice" (W E Vine); it was a real thing. The sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ are a most holy and solemn subject that we feel must ever be entered upon reverently and carefully. "The things which he suffered", lead us to contemplate the varied aspects of His sufferings. The noblest Man who ever lived was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. The ravages of sin and death must have been a constant grief to Him. Twice in Marks Gospel, in successive chapters, we read that He sighed. In ch.7 a deaf man is brought with an impediment in his speech, and in the course of healing him He looked up to heaven and sighed (v.34). In ch.8 Pharisees are asking a sign and tempting Him, "and he sighed deeply in his spirit" (v.12). Psalms 22 and 69 tell us of His inward feelings as He suffers the pains inflicted by the violence of cruel men, and as He implores, "Be not far from me; for trouble is near". Jeremiah had lamented, "Mine eyes do fail with tears, my bowels are troubled, my liver is poured upon the earth, for the destruction of the daughter of my people" (Lam 2.11), and surely such deep sorrows foreshadow those of a suffering Messiah. "Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness" (Ps 69.20), is again the liver poured upon the earth, the burden of untold suffering. But beyond all this there was His suffering for sin at the hand of God, when He was forsaken, and when He drank the cup, and finally tasted death with all its bitterness. The dark shadow of awful suffering lay across Him in Gethsemane, yet, though in anguish, perfect obedience does not falter, as He prays, "Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done" (Lk 22.42). It was the obedience of the Son.
The effect on us of His obedience
As we ponder the obedience of the Saviour, of the Servant, and of the Son, our hearts are softened to feel more deeply the Spirits impress of Christ. The apostle Paul ever had great and lofty desires for the saints, and the Corinthian epistles are notable examples of his earnestness to recover the carnal and to restore harmony in the assembly. In ch.10 of the second epistle we discover that while most had accepted the spiritual guidance and correction of the first epistle, there were some (v.2) that remained obdurate and believed Paul to walk according to the flesh. This was untrue, for while Paul like us walked in the flesh, i.e. it was his bodily existence, he did not war after the flesh, for he knew that spiritual results will never be achieved by carnal means. Verse 5 of that chapter describes graphically what will be accomplished in warfare waged by spiritual weapons. The casting down, or destruction, of reasonings and the exalted thoughts of man, will result in every thought being brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. In this context "every thought" means every intent of the mind. It is not a matter of the intellect, but of the will. We have seen that our Lord Jesus Christ was perfectly obedient, every intent of His mind being subject to the will of God. Paul desires to bring the saints into that sphere of obedience where every intent of mind, every purpose of heart, will be subject to the will of God.
May it be that consideration of this subject will enhance our appreciation of the perfect obedience of Christ, and thus promote spiritual aspirations within us.
Oh, may it richly dwell within,
And mould our every thought;
And be each heart to Thy blest sway
In full subjection brought!