We begin with a basic explanation of what a high priest’s role and necessary qualities were. Israel required an empathic representative, appointed by God, who could offer the required forgiveness-sacrifices for the sins of the nation and – crucially – for his own sins too.
The author then goes on to show how Jesus had almost the identical qualities and calling – thereby qualifying him to fulfil a high priestly role too. At this stage, the author wishes to emphasise similarities rather than differences, equality rather than superiority – which will come later in Chapter 7.
A fascinating couple of verses, at first reading, could be seen as implying some fault or imperfection in Jesus the man: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (vv8-9). However, the concept of perfection referred to here means the fully equipping of the Messiah to be our mediator and representative, by having experienced the full measure of suffering, temptation, and the human condition, when coupled with sinless obedience. In this respect, the Righteous One had to become perfect. Hebrews 2:10, 17, 18 all back this up.
Having done so, he was fully equipped to dispense free salvation to those of us who would willingly obey Him, by submitting their lives to his Lordship.
The author then interrupts his theme of Jesus’ priesthood to chastise some his readers for wilfully misunderstanding his previous teachings so as to avoid the charge of being outright disobedient. There are people in our churches today who disingenuously affect not to understand – and certainly not to obey – and yet who complain that they are being fed a boring, repetitive ‘milk diet’ in a spiritual sense. The Hebrews author would say to them, in fact to all of us, that a more elaborate and varied diet only comes to the mature, to those who are already practising the basic stuff, and whose obedience gives them the doctrinal discernment of the mature believer. It’s about time some of us stopped demanding regular feeds, grew up and started feeding others!
EZEKIEL 1, 2, 3 and 4
‘Ezekiel’ means ‘God is Strong’ or ‘God Strengthens’ and this prophet was called by the Lord in July 593 BC and had a 22-year ministry, ending in April 571. He prophesied for 7 years before the destruction of Jerusalem and for about 14 years afterwards. Many of the dates in this great book can easily be correlated with other parts of the bible, and with known historical dates in Middle Eastern archaeology and history. Ezekiel shows the power and sovereignty and glory of God, together with his holiness; it is a very ‘visual’ book, with highly unusual descriptions of the Lord, of heaven, of the angelic beings around God’s throne, and of the redemption of God’s people.
Ezekiel was a descendant of a priest and was himself eligible for the priesthood once he had turned thirty years of age. However, he had been taken into exile in 597 BC to Babylon with the first wave of refugees during Jehoiachin’s reign, so there was no priestly ministry available to him. God therefore converted him into a prophet and gave him amazing visions of his glory in 593 BC.
A mighty storm cloud concealed much of God’s fullness, but the focus was on the Four Living Creatures that were a composite of human, eagle, lion, and ox. They also had two pairs of giant wings and were completely controlled by God’s Holy Spirit. Later in Ezekiel they are called Cherubim (see chapter 10) and in Isaiah 6 they are Seraphim. They also feature in Revelation 4:7 where they spend their time guarding the throne of God and devoting themselves to worship of him, crying “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come!”. They moved in straight lines and in fixed orientation, rather like gyroscopes (but why?); they glowed like burning coals and lightening flashed between them as they darted back and forth.
If the Spirit directs the Four Living Creatures, then they directed the strange wheel-like shapes that lay underneath them. Each was a wheel interlocking with another wheel at ninety degrees to it. These wheels also had gyroscopic properties and were covered in what looked like eyes all over. Perhaps they symbolize the omnipresence and the omniscience of the Lord? The slightest movement of their wings created a great booming bass sound like an ocean tsunami crashing into a shoreline of immense rocks – or like a vast army thundering towards you. Yet the attention was then drawn to a massive ‘vault’ – like a ‘sky’ over these creatures, stretching up to the great throne of the Lord himself. And on that throne was ‘one like a man’, glowing like molten metal, radiating brilliant light, and shining like a stunning rainbow in the midst of comparative darkness surrounding him. Of course, it wasn’t really dark, but all things seem dark when contrasted with that light!
Ezekiel, full of reverence for the presence of the Mighty One, cannot quite bring himself to say that he has seen God; he therefore uses a string of ‘substitute’ words: “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord…” (1:28); and all he could do was to fall facedown.
The Holy Spirit then entered into him and raised him up again, ready to receive his instructions. “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me…”. God uses the term ‘Israel’ even though only Judah is left as a nation. And ‘Son of Man’ is used 93 times in this Book. Not until the New Testament did Jesus make the phrase popular again, taking it as referring to himself. God gives Ezekiel a strong message and then basically warns his prophet that the message will be rejected completely. He encourages him not to be afraid and to be as unyielding as the nation he is speaking to.
A scroll is written on both sides (unusual) and then Ezekiel had to eat it. Jeremiah had commented that “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, Lord God Almighty” (Jeremiah 15:16). Ezekiel’s scroll literally tasted sweet like honey! God then promises to make Ezekiel as hard and unyielding as flint – more resolute than the people are stubborn. The Spirit then lifted him up and transported him to the exiles near the Kebar River. There, Ezekiel took upon himself the feelings that God himself felt and began to identify with his lost people completely. From that point onward, a series of prophetic ‘dramas’ was enacted by Ezekiel, to make it crystal clear that God was very upset with his people.
First a symbolic siege, then a symbolic redemption, baring the sins of the nations of Israel and then Judah. This went on for 430 days, during which Ezekiel had to feed himself from a prone position on scanty rations, which symbolized the scarce provisions of a besieged city.