One of the hardest ideas for many people to grasp is that Jesus – God in human form – CAN “relate to,” can “understand” the challenges, trials, and temptations we face every day. We read passages like 2 Corinthians 5:21 (“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”) and can be so overwhelmed by the idea that Jesus never sinned that we assume that He never experienced the temptations we do. This is simply NOT true, because passages like Matthew 4:1-11 and Hebrews 4:15 are very clear that He DID experience every temptation we do – “yet did no sin,” (1 Peter 2:22).
The fact that Jesus did experience trials and temptations just like we do becomes even more important when we begin to think about Jesus as the High Priest who intercedes with God on OUR behalf: Hebrews 5:1-3 makes it very plain that a high priest has to be able to “identify” with those for whom he offers sacrifices. Furthermore, in verses 4-6 the writer emphasizes that Jesus did not “campaign” for this role, or claim it for Himself but was appointed to it by the Father according to HIS eternal plan. (This is an especially important point in an era when many religious people claim for themselves roles and authority – “apostle; prophet; ‘priest’” – that God never authorized for them.). This fact about Jesus would also resonate loudly with the Jewish Christians of the first century, since during the time while He was on earth, there had been TWO living “high priests” in Judah (Annas and Caiaphas, Luke 2:3) due to the power and influence of the Roman authorities. During this time, the role of high priest in Judah had become a very political position, and those who filled this office depended on the favor of the Roman governor to both obtain and to maintain their place (they also “campaigned” shamelessly, according to some ancient authorities).
In contrast, Jesus is able to serve as our high priest because He did NOT “seek” this role; instead, He “learned obedience” (Hebrews 5:8) by enduring the experience of living just as we do. This allows Him to be equally able to relate to the purity and righteousness of God and still understand the severe intensity of humanity’s temptations. It is because of the things He experienced in our world that He was able to offer Himself as the perfect, sinless offering for OUR sins (vs. 9).
Perhaps “the” important lesson that Christians should take from Hebrews 5:1-11 comes in verses 12-14 – we are not supposed to “stand still” in our faith! As time passes, God intends Christians to grow, to increase in both knowledge and spiritual maturity (the practical application of the bible truths we learn), so that we can pass our faith along to others (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2). THIS was where some of the Jewish Christians who first read this letter had “fallen short,” according to verse 12 – instead of maturing and teaching others, they had stagnated as Christians, choosing to remain “spiritual babies” (vs. 13) instead of “growing up” in the faith. Peter’s last recorded words echo the importance of this point, as he wrote, “…but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”