A Merciful and Faithful High Priest
The first two chapters of Hebrews have led to the climactic verses we read today: “Therefore, he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
The theme of Hebrews is the ministry of our Lord in his office and service unto the Father for our sakes as our faithful High Priest. And how does he do this? The first requirement of a priest is that he be like the people on whose behalf he ministers. The reason for this is that it is his task to bring them—to represent them—before God. The priest is the “go-between,” the “mediator” between God and the people. This was the Old Testament function of the priest: he was the one—the only one—to offer sacrifices unto God and minister on behalf of the people (1 Samuel 13:8-14; 2 Chronicles 26:16-21). To do this, he must be like the people on whose behalf he ministers so that he “can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness” (5:2).
And so our Lord was made like us in every respect, meaning that he too suffered temptation and experienced weakness. Now we must be specific. When we say that he experienced weakness, we mean that he was subject to every human weakness we suffer: hunger, thirst, needing rest, and suffering violence. More important, when we say he suffered temptation, we mean the temptation we suffer from outside ourselves, that is, from the world and the devil. Our Lord would not have felt temptation from within as he had not a sinful nature (which Scripture sometimes calls “the flesh”) by which to tempt himself as we have within ourselves. Jesus came to heal what Adam destroyed—the image of God within us—by doing what Adam was supposed to do—obey the divine command. By suffering, he becomes our merciful and faithful High Priest who understands us experientially; by conquering temptation, he becomes our propitiation satisfying God’s just penalty for our transgressions.
But it doesn’t end there; our Lord’s service as our faithful High Priest continues as he “helps those who are being tempted.” His work was not finished when he rose and ascended. No. His session at the Father’s Right Hand is his place of empowering his people when temptation strikes.