What is the difference between a Hebrew, an Israelite, and a Jew? All 3 of these names are used in Scripture to describe the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Their story makes up most of the historical narrative contained in the Bible. Although these names generally refer to the same group of people and are often used interchangeably, each has a unique origin.
The term “Hebrew” was first used to describe Abraham in Genesis 14:13. It is uncertain where the word originally came from. Some scholars believe that it refers to Eber, an ancestor of Abraham, and means “the sons of Eber”. Others argue that it comes from a Hebrew root-word meaning “to pass over”. Abraham was called out of Chaldea, passed over the Euphrates River, and eventually settled in the foreign land of Canaan. The natives referred to him as a Hebrew.
The name “Israel” was first used when God renamed Jacob in Genesis 32:28. This event took place at daybreak after they had wrestled throughout the night. Several different meanings have been suggested for this name and the proper interpretation remains uncertain. Israel had 12 sons who were recognized as the tribal leaders of God’s chosen people.
The word “Jew” originated much later. It first appears in 2 Kings 25:25, several centuries after the patriarchs lived. At first it referred specifically to the inhabitants of Judah or the Southern Kingdom. After the Babylonian captivity however, it was used more broadly to describe all of the exiles who had returned to Israel - including those from the Northern Kingdom.
The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish believers. Though the nation of Israel as a whole had rejected Jesus, many individual Jews accepted Him as the Messiah. But due to increasing persecution, some of these new Christians were beginning to second guess their commitment to the Lord and even renounce their faith.
This morning’s message marks the 9th installment of our current series. It is called “Better than Aaron”. As I sometimes do, I will present a few of the verses out of their written order in hopes that it will make them more easily understandable. Hang on, here we go...
I. EVEN AS AARON (Hebrews 5:1-4)
The high priest was the supreme religious leader of the Israelites. This office was originally established and defined by God in the Mosaic Law. Only direct descendants of Aaron were eligible to serve as high priest. The high priest had several specific responsibilities, but generally speaking he “offered both gifts and sacrifices for sin” on “behalf” of the Israelites.
Because the high priest was himself a man “beset with weakness”, he was “obligated” not only to offer sacrifices “for the people” but also “for himself”. It was imperative that he keep himself personally clean and upright before God so that he’d be an acceptable representative of his people. Even the high priest experienced temptation and committed sin, which enabled him to “deal gently” with those who struggled with confusion, doubt, and ignorance.
To serve as high priest was an “honor” not to be “taken” or assumed. The office was conferred only to those who were “called by God”. Aaron, who was from the tribe of Levi and was the older brother of Moses, was specifically chosen by the LORD as the first high priest. He assisted Moses as leader during the exodus. Those who followed him as high priest down through the years were not merely chosen because of heredity, but because God’s calling was upon them and their family. The catalyst is the calling, not the bloodline...
The high priest was a man just like everyone else. He was not exempt from the requirements of the Law. They applied to him in the same way as they did to others. This is an important principle - leaders (both spiritual and civil) should never be above the law. They should be subject to the same rules and face the same consequences as those whom they serve. In fact, in light of their calling to a higher office, arguably their scrutiny should be even greater and they should aspire to live beyond reproach.
II. DESIGNATED BY GOD (Hebrews 5:5-10)
Jesus did not “glorify Himself so as to become High Priest”. In other words, Jesus did not presume any claim on the office. Instead, He was “designated by God” to hold the position. Jesus was born in the tribe of Judah - not Levi - and was not a direct descendent of Aaron. That said, He was chosen by God to be the high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek was the King of Salem and high priest of God (Genesis 14:18-20) during the days of Abraham, centuries before the Aaronic Priesthood was even established.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus “offered prayers and supplications” to “the One able to save Him from death”. He asked the Father for strength to overcome the many obstacles that He faced, including the cross. Because of His “piety”, the LORD heard and answered Jesus’ prayers. Though He was God’s Son, Jesus was not shielded from or spared of suffering. Christ personally experienced the difficulties of manhood, and can thereby relate to people’s ups and downs. Through these many challenges “He learned obedience”.
Jesus faithfully did the will of His Father. He never faltered in His obedience and was completely without sin. After the resurrection, Jesus was restored to His previous place in Heaven ‘having been made perfect”. Similar to a human high priest who would secure temporary forgiveness for his people by offering a spotless sacrifice, Jesus Christ gave the perfect sacrifice and became “the source of eternal salvation” “to all those who obey Him”.
Jesus is the Perfect High Priest. At this point, the author is simply introducing this concept by showing how Jesus’ priestly service compared to and exceeded that of Aaron and his sons. This teaching on the high priest and priesthood will continue and be developed more thoroughly in the coming chapters.
III. SINCE WE HAVE (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Realizing that Jesus is “a great high priest who passed through the heavens” Christians should “hold fast” to their “confession”. Jesus is the head of the church, a Savior who is worthy of all honor and praise. The Jewish high priest would enter into God’s presence once a year in the Holy of Holies, but Jesus went to dwell perpetually in Heaven itself. He gave a perfect sacrifice and secured forgiveness for all who would receive it. Believers should boldly stand upon this remarkable truth.
Because Jesus was both fully God and fully man, He was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” His humanity subjected Him to worldly temptation while His deity enabled Him to overcome it. As such Jesus can “sympathize with our weakness”. He knows what it is like to be human, and can identify with the numerous trials and difficulties of life. People should find great comfort in this!
Finally, believers should “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace.” The High Priest, Jesus Christ, has cleared the way by forever tearing away the veil that once separated men from God. In His name, repentant sinners and regenerated disciples can come into the very presence of the Father through prayer and supplication. In His presence they “may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Similarities between Jesus and Aaron include…
- Both Jesus and Aaron were qualified to serve as high priests because God called them to that office.
- Both Jesus and Aaron were men who faced temptation and prayed regularly to God the Father, yet Jesus never sinned.
- Both Jesus and Aaron could identify with and relate to the sinful condition of men.
- Aaron’s offerings for sin were limited, temporal, and required repetition. Jesus’ offering for sin was unlimited, eternal, and not to be repeated.