The subject of Hebrews chapter five is the superiority of Jesus’ priesthood over the Aaronic priesthood of the Old Testament. The chief priests of Israel were to deal “gently” with God’s people. That should not have been a problem for them because they were “one” of them. They were taken from among the people and shared all the same struggles as the people and what was even more important, they were sinners just like the people they offered sacrifices for. Hebrews 5:3 says, “Because of this, he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people.”

You would think this would lead to a “gentle” approach to dealing with sinners, being one yourself. I like the way Hughes put it, “When one is truly aware that he or she is a sinner, and couples this with the interior awareness of human weakness, this person will deal gently with others. Conversely, a harsh, judgmental, unsympathetic spirit is a telltale indication that one has outgrown his sense of weakness and awareness of sin. Many evangelicals fall into this syndrome after humbly coming to Christ at conversion, for their initial experience of sanctification deludes them into imagining they are better than others. Such arrogation however, actually disqualifies them from spiritual ministry.”[1] This is an important observation because this became the fate of the priests and religious leaders in Jesus’ day. They were able to blind themselves to their own sinfulness and focus their attention on demanding righteousness from others. Jesus often tried to bring the religious people to an understanding of their own sinfulness. It didn’t seem to work well.

Jesus, on the other hand, as Brown says, “certainly did not need to offer a sacrifice for his own sins as the Old Testament priests did, but because he went through so much bitter and hostile temptation, he can the more effectively meet our own deep spiritual needs.”[2] How can He be more effective than someone who sins in the same way as the people do? All the sacrifices offered at the hands of the priests of Israel were offered by the hands of sinful people. Their hearts, as Jeremiah said, “were desperately wicked and deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). All the sacrifices offered to God on behalf of the people were filtered through the sinful hands of the priests, no matter how accurate the offering was. Regardless of how sincere the sinner was in bringing his offering or how sincere the priest was, every sacrifice was filtered through sinful hands. Every offering of man is corrupt! But Jesus’ offering was pure in every way. There was no guile, no corruption, no deceit, nothing that defiled the offering. Jesus was both the sacrifice and the offeror! The sinfulness of the priests made it impossible for them to offer a pure sacrifice! Listen, all the sacrifices you and I make are corrupt! They all pass through sinful hands and hearts! The only sacrifice worth putting your faith and confidence in is the one that Jesus made for you.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul, vol. 1, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), 138–139.

[2] Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews: Christ above All, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 97–98.