|Study of Hebrews|
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
Beginning with Hebrews 4:15, Paul introduces us to Christ as our Great High Priest. Before that he introduced us to Christ as the Saviour. To know Christ as a Saviour is not enough. We also need to know Him as our High Priest because we are still living in a hostile world and to survive in this hostile world we Christians need a high priest for at least three reasons:
In the first four verses of chapter five Paul gives us the four qualifications of a priest. This applies to any priest. There are four qualifications that a man must have in order to be a priest. Here they are. In verse one:
For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God.
Qualification #1: A priest has to be a man in order to represent man.
When my wife and I became [U.S.] citizens in l975, I think they have changed the law now but, at that time, they made it very clear to us that no naturalized American citizen could be the president of the United States. The reason is that an enemy of this country could become a citizen and work his way to be president and then use his position to overthrow the country. So a priest has to be somebody who belongs to the human race which needs a redeemer. Why is this so? Because a priest represents the people before God. Now please notice that there is a distinction between a priest and a prophet. A prophet is a person who represents God to the people. A priest is a person who represents the people to God, and he has to be one of them.
Now, the wonderful thing is that Christ was both. When He came to this world, He came as a prophet. When He went back to heaven He did not go as a prophet. He went there as a priest. So Christ is both a prophet and a priest. So we have a Representative who is sitting at the very right hand of God. That is comforting for us.
The second qualification is the second half of verse one.
Qualification #2: A priest must offer sacrifices in order to deal with the sin problem.
Turn to Isa.59:1,2:
Behold the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save nor is His ear heavy that He cannot hear but your iniquities have separated between you and your God and your sins have hid His face from you that He will not hear.
Remember, sin separates us from God. Without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission from sin (Heb. 9:22). Without the remission of sin there will always be a barrier. So a priest must be able to bring sacrifices to God that will remove the barrier between sinful man and a holy God. Remember, the problem is not God. The problem is us. Sin separates us from God. Heb. 5:1 says that a priest “must offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.”
The third qualification for a priest is found in verse two.
Qualification #3: “Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way;” or “those who make mistakes.”
He then must be a person who can have compassion on the ignorant (those who are weak) and on them that are out of the way or those who make mistakes. A priest must be able to have compassion on sinful, weak humans. The only way is that if he himself has had to put up with human weaknesses and frailties. That’s why we need to remember that Christ must not be separated from us in our struggles. These He experienced as a man. Look at Heb. 2:17,18:
Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest.
So He was made like one of us so that He could have compassion on us. There are Christians who have never had to struggle with drugs so they look at some of these Christians who are struggling and say, “I don’t know why you are struggling. I never had a problem.” I can tell you that if you were in their shoes you would have a problem. We thank God that Jesus Christ was a person like us and was tempted in all points like we are. He understands our struggles. We are not going to somebody who doesn’t understand. He has compassion. He understands our frailties and we thank God for that. I would like to remind you of the last part of the sixteenth verse of chapter four:
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and might find help in time of need.
He does not only have compassion but He is able to help us.
Now we come to the fourth qualification. Number one, a priest has to be a man to represent men. Number two, a priest must be able to offer sacrifices for our sins and number three, a priest must be able to have compassion on sinful, weak human beings. The only way of course is that He has understood our problems because He became one of us. Number four is an important point which is found in verse four of chapter five:
And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.
Qualification #4: A priest must be appointed by God.
He cannot be self-appointed. He cannot campaign and say, “Please choose me.” He cannot do that. He has to be appointed by God. These are the four qualifications of a priest. These are general qualifications for any priest.
Did Christ qualify in all these points? Yes. Is His qualification better than the earthly Levitical priests? Yes. As a man Christ was one of us. As God He was one with the Father. His humanity comes down to where we are. His divinity is where God is and He is the one that has bridged the gulf between earth and God. The earthly priests could not bridge the gap. That’s why they had to offer sacrifices for themselves. But Christ is both God and man and He has bridged the gap between us and God. We thank God for such a priest. None of the earthly priests had this qualification.
In Heb.5:5 Paul expounds on qualification #4, a priest must be appointed by God. He says:
So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest [in other words, Christ did not choose Himself to be made a high priest]; but He that said unto him, Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee.
Now the word “begotten” in English means “I have created” thee. That is not the Greek word. There are two words in the Greek. This first is “monoganes,” which means “somebody very special.” I have given him a very special assignment. The second is “monoganetos,” which means “I have begotten you” in the English sense. The word here is “monogenes,” which means, “I have set you aside, I have appointed you as something very special.” In verse six:
As he saith also in another place, thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedek.
This is a quotation from Ps. 110:4. It is God speaking to Christ and God is saying to His Son, “I have appointed you a priest forever.” Now the word “ever” needs to be explained because in English it means something that has no end. That’s not what this word means. It’s the same with “everlasting fire.” As long as we need a priest, He will be a priest. The word “ever” is as long as there is a need.
For example, let’s take “everlasting fire.” The fire burns as long as there is something to burn. When everything is burned then the fire goes out. Turn to Jude 7, this is a very good text to give those who believe in eternal torture:
Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
Sodom and Gomorrah are not still burning today. In fact when they excavated the area they found ash twelve feet deep. The soil was burned right down for twelve feet. So it took a pretty hot fire to do that.
Heb. 5:6 says:
God made Him a priest for ever.
That means, “He will not cease being a priest until He has vindicated us and defended us and has restored us back to the kingdom.” When that is over, when we go to heaven we will not need a priest. In fact, when probation closes, we will not need a priest, because the verdict will have been passed. The word “forever” doesn’t mean that He will be a priest eternally. When He comes the second time He will not come as a priest. What will He come as? King and Conqueror and Ruler.
Remember that as long as we are living in this sinful world, as long as we need a priest, we have a priest who will never come to an end. He will remain a priest until He has brought all enemies under His footstool. He has defended us. Verses seven and eight go to other qualifications:
Who in the days of His flesh [when He was on this earth, during His earthly ministry, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared....
When Christ was on this earth did He pray for strength, did He pray for God’s power? Yes. Sometimes all night long. So does He understand what it means to struggle with the flesh? Yes. Christ understood what it meant to wrestle with God all night long. So this verse seven is not only applying to Gethsemane. Of course the main event we have here is Gethsemane where He prayed and sweat great drops of blood. Now look in verses eight and nine:
Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which he suffered....
As a man He denied Himself. God did not say, “You are my Son. I will exempt you from the struggles of humanity.” No. “I want you to be one of them. I want you to struggle with them. I want you to understand so that you will be a faithful and merciful High Priest.”
There is one difference between Him and us. He never gave in. He was victorious at all times. He learned obedience by the things that He suffered. What did He suffer? In every believer there is a struggle. Here is a text that will help you understand what the struggle is. There are many Christians who think that when you become a Christian the desire for sinning should go. If it doesn’t go you begin to question whether or not you are converted. Turn to Ephesians chapter two, which describes a human being before conversion. He is telling those Ephesians what they were like before they were converted. In verse two, he’s describing the worldly people the unbelievers, those who are disobedient. Then in Eph.2:3, he says:
Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past [we all belong to the human race; in other words, we were all rascals] in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind....
In an unconverted person there is harmony between the human nature and the mind. Now turn to Gal.5:16:
This I say then, walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.
Now go to Rom. 7:25, the last phrase:
So then, with the mind, I, myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh, the law of sin.
When a person is converted, the only change that takes place in him is in the mind, never in the nature. The nature will remain one hundred percent sinful till your dying day. What has taken place is a change of mind. The mind was in harmony with the flesh before. Now it has made a complete turn around and is looking toward God. That’s what the word “repent” means. The Greek word “metanoia” means a change of mind.
So now a Christian has a mind that wants to serve God and a flesh that wants to serve Satan. Can the converted mind conquer the flesh? No. It can defy it. That’s why people with a strong will have more success in terms of willpower, like giving up smoking, and appear sometimes more successful. You have people in the world who give up smoking just by will power. It’s possible to defy sin with a strong will. It is very hard when you have strong-willed men all in one committee. Then you have headaches.
But the solution of the gospel is not the willpower. The willpower is only to put our mind on the side of God. The struggle is between the Spirit and the flesh. There you have victory. Rom. 8:2 says:
The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.
There are two forces. Can the Spirit conquer the flesh? Yes or No? Can God’s Spirit conquer our sinful flesh? Yes. But where is the battle? Does the Spirit of God deal directly with the flesh? No. The battle ground is the human mind. The flesh says to the mind, “I want to do this.” The spirit says to the mind, “No.” Which of the two is the mind going to listen to? That is why we must put our will on the side of God. It is the Spirit that says, “No.” But when the Spirit says “no,” it says “no” to the flesh. The flesh is deprived of what it wanted. If the flesh is deprived of what it wants, it is the flesh that suffers.
This is what Paul is saying. He is saying that Christ has suffered for us in the flesh. When Christ was obedient, He was obedient against the will of our flesh, which He assumed. Look at 1 Peter 4:1:
Forasmuch, then, as Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourself likewise with the same mind [a mind that is totally God-dependent]: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin....
So there is no victory over sin in this world without suffering. Don’t ask God, “Please change my nature so that I will not have to suffer when I overcome sin.” That will take place at the Second Coming of Christ when this corruption puts on incorruption. So in heaven we will not suffer, living righteously.
[Question from church member: “Why does God sometimes give the victory over drugs or other sins so that we don’t have a desire for it where we had it before?”]
Please remember, you must not confuse sin with a habit. You see, I can develop a smoking habit, and it becomes a sin; but it is a cultivated sin. There are people who have given up smoking and lost the desire for smoking. But don’t say that they have given up the desire for sinning. The sins comes in a different form. We have inherited sinful tendencies and we have cultivated tendencies.
Let me give you an example, I enjoyed smoking before I became an Adventist. Now even the smell of cigarette smoke turns me off. Have I become less of a sinner?
[Same church member: “To me, you would be less of a sinner if you don’t like that particular sin.”]
I’m not talking of desire here. Is my nature any better? Is my nature becoming better and better through victory? By the way, what happens to me when I get the victory? Is there a change in my nature or is there a change only in my character?
[Same church member: “I think there’s a change in both.”]
Give me one text, regarding nature.
[Same church Member: “The reason why is because you have righteousness by faith and works, and they go hand in hand, and that’s the physical and the spiritual.”]
Yes, righteousness by faith produces works.
[Church Member: “It would seem to me that if you’re going to have a change in the physical you are going to have a change in the spiritual.”]
Let me put it this way, sin in Romans 7 is a law, and the Greek word here is the same word here that we would use for gravity. Gravity is a law. The word law means “a constant force.” Does this force decrease in the Christian experience or does it always have to be subdued by the power of God? Does this force get less and less? If you say yes, then if that is eradicated you’ll end up with holy flesh. And that’s a heresy, Brother. Yes, this law never changes till you dying day.
[Same church Member: “I can see where you’d still have a desire to sin, but why can’t you get the victory?”]
We’re not talking of victory now. Victory over sin does not mean the desire is getting less. It means that God’s power is controlling you more. The pull is always there. The moment you relax, it’ll get you. Am I correct? Paul says in Romans 8, “We are groaning, waiting for the redemption of the body.” And I think that Paul had tremendous victories in his life. Or in Phil.3:20, he says, “We are looking forward to the coming of Christ, when He will change our vile body.”
Let me put it another way. A Christian who wants victory over sin is always groaning over his sinful nature. A Christian that is immature in his thinking is always looking to heaven in terms of golden streets, and walking riding a sabre-toothed tiger, living in mansions. Paul doesn’t dwell on that. He says, “I’m looking forward to the coming of Christ because I want redemption from this body.” Paul’s concern is living a life that is fully glorifying God.
God gives you the victory by subduing the flesh not by changing the flesh. Here are the words of Jesus Christ to Nicodemus, because Nicodemus was trying to change his flesh. John 3:6:
That which is born of the flesh is always flesh.
You can’t change it. But the more you behold Christ, the more you desire in the mind, not in the flesh, to serve Him and to live for Him. The sinful nature is unchangeable until the coming of Christ. Gal. 5:24:
They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
God’s answer to the flesh is the cross. Rom.13:14:
Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.
There is no change in the flesh but Christ can subdue the flesh.
Turn to Hebrews chapter two. I want to give you several texts that show that Christ became perfect through suffering. Heb.2:10:
For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
There will always be suffering as long as we have this sinful flesh. Hebrews 2:18 also says:
For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted [He suffered because He said no], he is able to succour them that are tempted.
In Heb. 5:8:
Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered.
Christ suffered all through His life. He put Himself in our shoes.
Now look at verses nine and ten:
And being made perfect, He became the author [the source] of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedek.
What Paul is saying here is that the only priest that was made perfect was Christ. By His doing and by His dying Christ is the only Man that is qualified to be the source of full salvation. No priest in the earthly sanctuary was successful. Christ was.
And this is the difference between the order of Melchisedek and the Levitical priesthood. The first is perfect. Christ was perfect and, therefore, everlasting. The second was imperfect and temporal. That’s the difference between Christ as a priest and the Levitical priesthood. Some of you try to get hold of me but you can’t find me at the office and you can’t find me at home and you say, “Where is he?” That is not true with Christ. He is available twenty-four hours a day for as long as the Christian needs a priest. Until probation closes. Then when He stands up and removes His priestly robes it is because His work as a priest is finished. So we have a perfect Priest and an everlasting Priest.
Why are we worried? Why are we discouraged when we have such a priest? Let’s go to Him boldly. Let us remember that He is at the right hand of God representing us. We can face the hardships of life. We can face the struggles of life. He is a priest who can have compassion and, of course, He is able to help those that are weak and, when we make mistakes, He is there to forgive us and to lift us up and say, “Come on. let’s go on. There is a battle to be won.” That’s the kind of priest we have. I thank God for such a priest!
So Christ is our Saviour and He is also our Priest. There are two phases of His saving activity. He saved us and He did not go to heaven until His work was finished. Now He has begun His heavenly ministry and He will not stop until it is finished. And the finished work of Christ as a Priest and as a Saviour is signified by the Sabbath. The Sabbath points to a perfect and finished work. So when we keep the Sabbath we are resting in a perfect Saviour and a perfect High Priest. That’s the kind of God we have. Thank God that we can face life in its hardships and problems like no other person can because the Christian has a hope which can give him peace such as the world can never give him. Never forget that we have a Priest!
Christ suffered until the very end, and we will have to suffer. By the way, will we suffer in the flesh after probation closes? Will we be agonizing? Yes. Will we feel sinful? I’m not saying we will be committing sins, but will we feel sinful? Why? Because our nature is still 100% sinful. And that is why we should never get the idea we will not need a Saviour after probation. We will not need an Advocate, we will not need a Priest because the verdict has made. But we will always need a Saviour until the coming of Christ. When He has put all enemies under His footstool we will become one with Him and share His throne. And we’ll have no more problems with the Devil.
Hebrews 2:9 states that Christ tasted death by the grace of God. Did Christ conquer the cross by Himself? No. Even though the Father had forsaken Him in terms of His feelings, it is by the grace of God that He tasted death for every man. Christ as a man could not do it by Himself; it took the grace of God. And so it’s by the grace of God that we will endure the Time of Trouble. Don’t think that you can ever do it by yourself.
Christ felt forsaken, but that feeling was real. He was not acting like some Hollywood star, when He cried, “Father, Father why hast Thou forsaken me?” He actually felt God abandonment.
[Member of Congregation: “My father was a very heavy smoker for many years, and when he accepted Christ he gave it up. Many times I’ve heard him say how much his body suffered after that with the desire to smoke. Only the power of God kept him.”]
We will suffer with any temptation. The moment the Spirit says no to a temptation we are suffering, because you are depriving the flesh of what it wants. When we were in the mission field and our children were still small, we had a rule at home that we would not eat between meals. There were some things that we take for granted in America that were a luxury there. For instance, bubblegum. I was watching a group of missionary kids once, and one of them had received a single packet of gum. And so she wanted to share it with her friends, she chewed it for five minutes and then her friend chewed it for five minutes, and they shared it around. Awful. But one day we were in Ethiopia, and one of the missionary kids got a package for Christmas which included some bubblegum and she gave a piece to my daughter. It was 11 o’clock in the morning, and my girl wanted to put it into her mouth. And she said, “Daddy, can I do it?”
And I said, “Jenny, you know the rule.” She wanted me to say yes so that she would pass the guilt from her to me. This is a common thing with adults. They’ll come to a Pastor and ask if it okay to do certain things. “What do you think about this?” And they want you to say, “It’s okay. I don’t see anything wrong with that.” Then they’ll go and do it and say, “But my Pastor said it’s okay.” It’s a common problem. And I have a very typical answer. The church is the body of Christ. Who is the head? Christ, never the pastor. There’s only one head. And so I say, “Why don’t you ask the Head. Because I may be the toe. You’re asking the wrong person, the part of the body.”
When your flesh want’s to sin, who does it ask? For example, if my stomach wants to drink a glass of wine does it say to the hands, “Please take that glass and put it in my mouth”? No. Who does the stomach ask? The mind. The mind has to say yes. Then the mind says to the hand, “Open the bottle and take a swig.” The head of the church is Jesus Christ. Please don’t come to your pastor and ask if it is okay. Because he’s not the head. There’s only one head in the church, Jesus Christ. And so I simply say, “You ask the Boss.”
And so when I answered my daughter, “You know the rules.”
She replied, “Only one time, this once only.”
I said, “If you want to break the rules that’s your problem. But don’t ask me to change the rule.”
And she responded, she was a very little girl, “Oh, bad Daddy!”
Why? Because she was suffering, she was deprived of what the flesh wanted. And every time your flesh is deprived, it suffers. But, please remember, Christ is glorified. And that is why the disciple said that they were willing to suffer with Christ that Christ may be glorified. And you can only do that when you have the assurance of salvation and you know that you are a child of God and you’re no longer worried, “Will I make it to heaven?” That is something that no longer should bother us. Our concern is, “For me to live is Christ.” And if I have to die it is profit Why? Because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Well may God bless us. Let us pray:
Loving Father, we thank you. We thank you for Jesus Christ. We thank you that He was willing to suffer that we might be saved, He was willing to suffer to the very end, even willing to suffer the terrible agony of the second death. And being made perfect through His suffering, we thank you for such a High Priest, Who is able to sympathize, to understand, and Who is able to give us the power and victory over the flesh as He gave victory when He was on this earth. May we be willing to suffer with Him so that He may be glorified and the world may catch a glimpse of Him once again through the church. This is our prayer in His precious name. Amen.