5:9 — And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him .…
Does our obedience gain us a Savior? No. Nothing we do can ever earn our salvation. And yet, all those who truly believe will obey. If we habitually disobey Him, we should re-examine our connection to Him.
5:9 being made perfect. This does not mean that Jesus finally became sinless, since He was always without sin (4:15), but that He finished the course of suffering that was set before Him, including the sacrificial death. Having done this, He was “made perfect,” or completely qualified to serve as the uniquely effective High Priest. The language here may allude to the concept of priestly consecration.
eternal salvation. Jesus lives forever to intercede as our High Priest (7:24, 25).
5:9 perfected The Greek word used here might refer to Jesus’ perfect life of obedience, but the term appears elsewhere within Hebrews in reference to His suffering, death, and exaltation (2:10; 7:28; 10:14).
source of eternal salvation See 2:10; 8:1–10:18.
5:10 designated by Refers to God’s appointment of Jesus for His priestly role (see vv. 1, 5–6).
order of Melchizedek Paraphrases Psalm 110:4, adding in the detail of “high priest” (see Heb 5:8–9, 7).
5:9–10 being made perfect. During his childhood, Jesus was not lacking in any godly character quality, but he was lacking in the full experience of having lived a perfect human life, obeying the Father in everything, without sin. The lifelong perfect obedience of Jesus (v. 8; 7:26–28) provides the basis for eternal salvation (2:10; 9:23–28) and for the ultimate “perfection” of those who respond in faith and obedience (10:14; 11:40; 12:23; cf. 7:19; 9:9; 10:1). order of Melchizedek. See 5:6 and ch. 7.
5:9 perfect … source of eternal salvation. See notes on 2:10. Because of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ and His perfect sacrifice for sin, He became the cause of salvation. obey Him. True salvation evidences itself in obedience to Christ, from the initial obedience to the gospel command to repent and believe (cf. Ac 5:32; Ro 1:5; 2Th 1:8; 1Pe 1:2, 22; 4:17) to a life pattern of obedience to the Word (cf. Ro 6:16).
5:10 Referring to Ps 110:4 a second time (cf. v. 6), the writer mentions again the call of God to the priesthood (v. 4).
5:9 having been perfected: This phrase does not suggest that Jesus had not been perfect before. It means that He successfully carried out God’s plan for Him. He endured suffering and temptation so that He could truly function as our High Priest, understanding our weaknesses and interceding before God for us. Author means “cause” or “source.” Jesus’ obedience to the Father led to Calvary, His own death on the Cross. The sacrifice of this sinless One in our place makes Him the source of our salvation.
5:10 Called here means “designated” and introduces Christ’s formal title, High Priest.
5:9–10. Through His sufferings, Jesus was perfected (teleiōtheis). This cannot mean that Jesus became any more perfect in His nature, for as the Son of God He is eternally perfect. The Greek verb means to bring something to its intended goal. These sufferings served to complete the goal of preparing Him for His role as our High Priest (cf. 2:10).
This accomplished, He became the author (aitios, the responsible cause) of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. If we say that salvation in this verse means personal salvation (or redemption) that comes from believing the gospel, then we have a theological problem, in that the verse seems to condition this salvation on obedience. Yet the NT is elsewhere clear that one’s personal salvation can only be received as a free gift on the sole basis of faith in Christ and thus only by God’s grace (Rom 6:23; Eph 2:8–9; Titus 3:5). Neither does the text say that those who truly believe the gospel and are saved will assuredly go on to live obedient lives. Though one might argue that the obedience to eternal salvation is the obedience of faith spoken of in Rom 1:5, in the context of Hebrews 5 obedience is a reference to works.
The best view is that eternal salvation in this verse does not refer to redemption from sin based on Christ’s atonement. This is seen in several ways. First, of seven occurrences of “salvation” in Hebrews (1:14; 2:3, 10; 5:9; 6:9; 9:28; 11:7), not once does it clearly mean salvation from sin. In several cases (1:14; 9:28; 11:7), it clearly means something else, which should caution us from presuming a soterio-logical meaning in 5:9.
Second, Christ’s experience in 5:7–8 is meant to parallel that of believers. He suffered, cried out to the Father for help, and was “saved,” i.e., rescued through resurrection to share in glory. The “salvation” of Heb 5:9 cannot overlook the use of this word in regard to Christ’s own experience just mentioned in 5:7.
Third, the context has not been talking about a sinner’s need for salvation from sin. This unit (4:14–5:10) began with the exhortation for believers who already “have a great High Priest” to hold fast their confession and turn to the throne of grace for help.
Fourth, the obedience mentioned in 5:9 must be seen in light of the preceding verse. The verb “obey” in v 9 (from hupakouō) is clearly associated with the word “obedience” in v 8 (from the related noun, hupakoē). Thus the believer’s obedience in v 9 is meant to be seen in comparison with Christ’s obedience in v 8, namely, obedience connected with sufferings in the course of being faithful to God; not obedience in general. Furthermore this call for obedience to Christ stands in contrast to the disobedience that disqualified the wilderness generation from their rest (cf. 3:11; 4:11).
If these verses do not mean justification and personal salvation from sin, then what do they mean? The context has highlighted how Christ was perfected for His role by obedience through sufferings, after which he experienced “salvation.” Now He is in a position to help His “brethren”—those already sanctified—who are being brought to glory (2:10). Through Him, they can attain to eternal salvation (eternal, because it cannot be taken from them). In the context of Hebrews this means an eschatological salvation in which one shares in Christ’s inheritance and reigns with Him. This is not automatic for believers; it is for those who obey Him—not a self-reliant obedience, but one possible through reliance on Christ as High Priest. This includes the obedience of holding fast one’s confession and drawing near to God rather than rebelling (recall 4:14 and compare the issue of rebellion in 3:12).
5:9 And having been perfected. This cannot refer to His personal character because the Lord Jesus was absolutely perfect. His words, His works, and His ways were absolutely flawless. In what sense then was He perfected? The answer is in His office as our Savior. He could never have become our perfect Savior if He had remained in heaven. But through His incarnation, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, He completed the work that was necessary to save us from our sins, and now He has the acquired glory of being the perfect Savior of the world.
Having returned to heaven, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. He is the Source of salvation for all, but only those who obey Him are saved.
Here salvation is conditional on obeying Him. In many other passages salvation is conditional on faith. How do we reconcile this seeming contradiction? First of all, it is the obedience of faith (Rom. 1:5; 16:25–27): “the obedience which God requires is faith in His word.” But it is also true that saving faith is the kind that results in obedience. It is impossible to believe, in the true NT sense, without obeying.
5:10 Having gloriously accomplished the fundamental work of priesthood, the Lord Jesus was addressed by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek.”
It should be mentioned here that though Christ’s priesthood is of the Melchizedekan order, yet His priestly functions are similar to those carried on by the Aaronic priests. In fact, the ministry of the Jewish priests was a foreshadow or picture of the work that Christ would accomplish.
5:8–10. The whole experience just referred to was a form of education for Jesus before He served His suffering people. His unique relation to God notwithstanding (He was a Son), He had to experience the true meaning of obedience in terms of the suffering it entailed. Having done so, He was thereby made perfect for the role He would play as His people’s Captain and High Priest. That there is an element of mystery in all this need not be denied, but it is no greater than that found in Luke’s words: “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). In a real sense not fully comprehensible, the Incarnation gave the already infinitely wise and perfect Son of God the experiential acquisition of knowledge about the human condition. Suffering thus became a reality that He tasted and from it He can sympathize deeply with His followers. (The Gr. has an interesting play on words in the verbs He learned [emathen] and He suffered [epathen].)
This is what the writer had in mind when he affirmed that He became the Source (aitios) of eternal salvation for all who obey Him. The salvation here referred to cannot be distinguished from that which is termed an inheritance (Heb. 1:14). It is also to be identified with the “eternal inheritance” mentioned in 9:15. It should not be confused with the acquisition of eternal life which is conditioned not on obedience but on faith (cf. John 3:16, etc.). Once again the writer had in mind final deliverance from and victory over all enemies and the consequent enjoyment of the “glory” of the many sons and daughters. This kind of salvation is explicitly contingent on obedience and indeed on an obedience modeled after that of Jesus who also suffered. It is thus closely related to the saying of the Lord in which He declared, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34–35).
The High Priest has become the “Source” of this kind of salvation experience for those who are willing to live obediently. In describing Him this way, the author was chiefly thinking of all the resources that flow from Christ’s priestly activities that make a Christian’s life of obedience possible. Whatever one’s suffering, the High Priest understands it, sympathizes, and makes available the “mercy” and “grace” which are needed to endure it successfully. As the writer will later say, “He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:25). With precisely this end in view Christ was designated by God to be High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.
9–10 Learning obedience from what he suffered, Jesus was made perfect (‘perfected’) i.e. ‘qualified’ or ‘made completely adequate’ as the saviour of his people (cf. 2:10). More specifically, he was perfected as the source of eternal salvation. Every experience of testing prepared him for a final act of obedience to the Father in his sacrificial death (cf. 10:5–10). By this means he achieved a salvation from sin, death and the devil, enabling those who trust in him to share with him in the life of the world to come. The idea that Christ establishes a pattern of obedience for others to follow is suggested by the words for all who obey him. However, this expression does not indicate that salvation is to be earned by obedience. Salvation is God’s gift to us in Christ, but those who look to him as the unique source of eternal salvation will want to express their faith in ongoing obedience as he did (cf. 12:1–4). Faith in Christ commits us to share in his struggle against sin.
Jesus Christ Offered a Superior Sacrifice (Heb. 5:3, 9–10)
This topic has already been touched on, and the writer of Hebrews discusses it in detail in Hebrews 9–10. Two important matters are involved.
The first is that Jesus Christ did not need to offer any sacrifices for Himself. On the annual Day of Atonement, the high priest first had to sacrifice for himself; and then he could offer the sacrifices for his nation (Lev. 16). Since Jesus is the sinless Son of God, there was no need for Him to sacrifice for Himself. He was in perfect fellowship with the Father and needed no cleansing.
The second matter is that our Lord’s sacrifice was once and for all, whereas the Old Testament sacrifices had to be repeated. Furthermore, those sacrifices could only cover sins; they could never cleanse sins. It required the sacrifice of the spotless Lamb of God for sin to be cleansed and removed.
Because He is the sinless, eternal Son of God, and because He offered a perfect sacrifice, Jesus Christ is the “Author of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9). No Old Testament priest could offer eternal salvation to anyone, but that is exactly what we have in Jesus Christ. The phrase “being made perfect” does not suggest that Jesus was imperfect! The word means “made complete”; we described it in our study of Hebrews 2:10. By means of His earthly sufferings, Jesus Christ was equipped for His heavenly ministry as our High Priest. He is able to save, keep, and strengthen His people.
Does the phrase “them that obey Him” (Heb. 5:9) suggest that, if we do not obey Him, we may lose that eternal salvation? To “obey God” is the same as “to trust God,” as “them that obey Him” is a description of those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ. “A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). “But they have not all obeyed the Gospel” (Rom. 10:16). “Ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth” (1 Peter 1:22). Once we have put our faith in Jesus Christ, and thus obeyed His call, we experience His eternal salvation.
It is difficult to resist the four arguments presented in this section. We must conclude with the writer that Jesus Christ the great High Priest is superior to Aaron. It would be foolish for anyone to return to the inferiorities of the old Law when he could enjoy the superiorities of Jesus Christ. Then why were these Hebrew believers tempted to go back into legalism? Because they were not going on to maturity in Christ! For this reason the writer paused to exhort them to grow up in the Lord; and that is the theme for our next chapter.
5:9. The fact that Jesus learned obedience perfected him. Jesus was perfect in that he possessed every qualification to be our High Priest. He also was perfect in that God glorified him with exaltation to his right hand.
Made perfect (teleiotheis) describes perfection in the sense of completeness or fulfillment. Jesus was obedient to God’s will in that he endured suffering and death. In doing this Jesus brought God’s redemptive purposes to their fulfillment or completion. By enduring suffering Jesus attained the goal the Father had for him. This enabled him to become a perfectly equipped high priest.
To say that Jesus was perfect does not suggest that he was imperfect before he suffered. During his human life Jesus’ perfection endured severe testing. None of this testing blackened a single feature of his perfection. Jesus’ perfection was the completion of someone who had faced trials, endured them, and learned to trust God through them. Jesus’ perfection developed in an atmosphere in which he had his obedience tested and strengthened by the trials he faced.
After passing victoriously through suffering, Jesus became the source of eternal salvation. This phrase carries a meaning similar to author of their salvation in 2:10. Jesus’ salvation is eternal because Christ accomplished salvation through a sacrifice which was thorough, effective, permanently valid, and never to be repeated or superseded.
Jesus’ salvation applies only to those who obey him. The practice of obedience does not mean that only the morally perfect receive salvation. We obey the Lord when we accept his provisions for our salvation. Obedience is our acceptance of God’s will. This response to salvation allows the privilege to be available to rich and poor, important and unimportant, Jews and Gentiles, and learned and uneducated. God’s gift of salvation is open to all. The one who learned to obey made salvation available to all who obey.
5:10. This section closes with the announcement that God had designated Jesus to be a high priest in a new order, the order of Melchizedek. This statement added additional confirmation to the emphasis that Jesus served in this position through a divine appointment.
Several features of this order differed from the order of Aaron. First, the order of Melchizedek had no hereditary succession. This feature stood in contrast to the Aaronic order, which saw wave after wave of priests succeeding one another.
Second, it was a unique order because only Christ belonged to it. It was an order which was fit for Christ because it placed him in an entirely different order from that of Aaron.
We might expect the writer of Hebrews to plunge immediately into a discussion of the theme of Melchizedek, but instead he paused to consider some problems among his readers. Their spiritual immaturity was a serious concern to him, and he spent the final four verses of this chapter and most of the following chapter warning them of the dangers of their present attitude. When he finished this warning, he returned to explain more about the significance of Melchizedek in chapter 7.
8. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9. and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10. and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Verses 8–10 are closely connected with the preceding verse. Indeed, in the original Greek the main verb in verses 7 and 8 is “he learned.” That is where the emphasis falls in this passage. Therefore, numerous translations end verse 7 not with a period, but with a comma. This is correct, for the two verses are closely related and form a unit. Incidentally, the stress on the main verb, “he learned,” gives added support to the reading because of his reverent submission.
Consider these questions.
- Would Jesus have to learn obedience? The author introduces this subject by mentioning the divinity of Jesus first and stating this fact concessively: “although Jesus was the Son of God.” He does not say that because Jesus was divine he had to learn obedience. Jesus did not have to learn anything concerning obedience, for his will was the same as God’s will. However, in his humanity Jesus had to show full obedience; he had to become “obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:8). As one version has it: “son though he was, he learned obedience in the school of suffering.”
- What was the obedience Jesus had to learn? Translations, for reasons of style and diction, speak of obedience. In the original Greek, however, a definite article precedes the noun so that it reads “the obedience”; that is, the well-known obedience expected from the Lord.
When we interpret this verse we are not to think in terms of contrasts. It is true that sinful man needs to correct his ways by listening to God’s Word and turning from disobedience to obedience. But Christ, the sinless One, did not learn by unlearning. Rather, through his active and passive obedience, Christ provides eternal life for the sinner and a discharge of man’s debt of sin. Says Paul in Romans 5:19, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”
- How was Jesus made perfect? The question is legitimate, for Jesus, as the Son of God, is perfect from eternity. But in his humanity, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). We see his development in the school of obedience. As the burden becomes more taxing for Jesus, so his willingness to assume the task his Father has given him increases.
In the Garden of Gethsemane and on Calvary’s cross, he endured the ultimate tests. Jesus was made perfect through suffering. His perfection “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” The author of Hebrews in effect repeats the thought he expressed in Hebrews 2:10—Jesus, made perfect through suffering, leads many sons to glory. Perfection, therefore, must be seen as a completion of the task Jesus had to perform.
- What does the writer mean by “the source of eternal salvation”? The writer of Hebrews calls Jesus the “author” of salvation (Heb. 2:10) and the “source” of salvation. These two expressions are synonymous. Jesus is the captain, the chief, the originator, and the cause.
When the author uses the word source, he does not open a discussion on the primary cause of salvation; God the Father commissioned his Son to effectuate salvation. Instead the writer uses the term source in the context of his discussion about the high priesthood of Christ. By accomplishing his redemptive work, especially in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, Jesus is the source of eternal salvation (Isa. 45:17). Only those people who obey him will share in the salvation Jesus provides. F. F. Bruce describes the concept of obedience adequately when he writes, “The salvation which Jesus has procured, is granted ‘unto all them that obey him!’ There is something appropriate in the fact that the salvation which was procured by the obedience of the Redeemer should be made available to the obedience of the redeemed.”
- How does the author of Hebrews conclude his discussion about the priesthood of Christ? He states that God designated Jesus to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. That is significant, because this section about the high priesthood of Christ, beginning with Hebrews 4:14, is presented in terms of Aaron’s priesthood. The section continues and concludes with a clear reference to the priesthood of Melchizedek.
Note the following observations.
Not the writer of Hebrews but God designates Christ as high priest in the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4). The writer of Hebrews searches the Old Testament and shows that God addresses his Son as high priest.
The topic of the high priesthood of Christ is important to the author of Hebrews. He introduces the subject in Hebrews 2:17; after a discussion about Israel’s disobedience in the desert and the meaning of rest the author returns to the subject in Hebrews 4:14–5:10; and the theme eventually is fully treated in Hebrews 7.
We also note that Jesus fulfilled the priestly duties of Aaron when he, in his submission and suffering, brought the task God had given him to completion. Thus Jesus became “the source of salvation for all who obey him.” This could never be said of Aaron or any of the high priests who succeeded him.
The subject of Christ’s high priesthood in the order of Melchizedek is deep. In fact, the writer of Hebrews calls it “hard to explain” (Heb. 5:11), although after a pastoral word to his readers he does explain it fully.
An effective priesthood (5:9–10)
He was willing to suffer, and through the Gethsemane experience and what followed he demonstrated the greatest and most costly obedience. But what is meant by the writer’s assertion that being made perfect he became the source of our salvation? It certainly does not mean that before Gethsemane and the cross he was imperfect, any more than the preceding verse meant that prior to such experience he was disobedient. The word ‘perfect’ here obviously does not refer to his moral perfection. It repeats the idea found earlier (2:10) that by his life, death and exaltation Christ became ‘fully qualified’ as our saviour.
This epistle has already noted the six essential qualifications required of God’s Son in order for him to become man’s priest. He had to be appointed by God, identified with men and sensitive to human need, victorious over sin, obedient to the divine purpose and willing to die to effect man’s deliverance. His final qualification was that of his victorious exaltation to the right hand of God when he was ‘crowned with glory and honour’ (2:9). This is what our writer means when he says that ‘once perfected’ (neb) he became the author of eternal salvation. The obedient Son saves those who will respond to his redeeming message with obedient hearts and minds. Completely qualified, he is designated, clearly ‘named by God’ (neb), to all mankind as the high priest of our completely adequate and eternally relevant salvation.
Before we leave this passage with its moving description of Christ’s total submission, we need a further reminder that obedience was not only necessary for him; it is expected also of us. Salvation is for those who obey him. It is important for us to see that when Jesus surrendered himself entirely to God’s will, he obeyed not only in order to honour God but also to help us to see what obedience is all about. In his exposition of this passage, Calvin says: ‘He did this for our benefit, to give us the instance and the pattern of His own submission … If we want the obedience of Christ to be of advantage to us, we must copy it.’
These verses are particularly important at a time when some Christians may find themselves tempted to bypass the constant discipline Christ demands in favour of the ‘instant’ or ‘immediate’ holiness offered by some exponents of the Christian life. This is the ‘instant’ age; if a thing is to be had, it must be had now. The idea goes something like this: The promises are there, claim them at this very moment and the prize is yours, whether it is instant sanctification, instant power, or instant healing. We live in a impatient society and the idea of humble submission, patient waiting and steady perseverance does not make a ready appeal. But the way of Christ was the way of persistent obedience. All his life was given to it. He strongly resisted the temptation to have it effected in a spectacular and supernatural moment. He resolutely pursued the will and purpose of God. He knew that it could not be achieved in a magical minute.
Moreover, he made it clear to his followers that his way was to be their way. There was no other. The only possible route to holiness of life was by way of the cross. When the disciples expressed their horror about his cross, he told them about theirs. ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ The act of taking up the cross may well occur initially and decisively at a precise moment of time. In that sense there is a crisis. But following after Christ and denying oneself is a daily, painful, costly reality that cannot be achieved by a sudden crisis, but only by a lifetime of constantly renewed dedication and obedient responsiveness to all that God requires of his people and equips them to do.
Vers. 9, 10.—And being made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the Author of eternal salvation; called (or rather so addressed) of God a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. Here τελειωθεὶς (translated “being made perfect”) refers to the time of his resurrection, when the sufferings were over and the atonement complete (cf. Luke 13:32, τῇ τρίτῃ τελειοῦμαι). The word may be used in its general sense of perfected, i.e. “being made perfectly that which he was intended to become” (Delitzsch). In such sense St. Paul uses the word of himself, Οὐχ ὅτι ἤδη τετελείωμαι (Phil. 3:12). Or the specific sense of priestly consecration may be here, as well as in ch. 2:10 and 7:28, intended. In ch. 7:28 the A.V. renders εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα τετελειωμένον by “consecrated for evermore.” And this view is supported by passages in the LXX, where the word τελείωσις is used with special reference to the consecration of the high priest. Cf. ἔστι γὰρ τελείωσις αὕτη (Exod. 29:22); τοῦ κριοῦ τῆς τελειώσεως, ὅ ἐστιν Ἀαρών (vers. 26, 27, 31); τελειῶσαι τὰς χεῖρας αὐτῶν (vers. 29, 33, 35); τῆς θυσίας τῆς τελειώσεως (ver. 34); τὸν δεύτερον κριὸν τῆς τελειώσεως (Lev. 8:22, 29); ἀπὸ τοῦ κανοῦ τῆς τελειώσεως (ver. 26); τὸ ὁλοκαύτωμα τῆς τελειώσεως (ver. 28); ἕως ἡμέρα πληρωθῆ, ἡμέρα τελειώσεως ὑμῶν (ver. 33); also Lev. 21:10, where the high priest—ὁ ἱερεὺς ὁ μέγας ἀπὸ τῶν ἀδελφῶν αὑτοῦ—is described as τοῦ ἐπικεχυμένου ἐπὶ τῆν κεφαλὴν τοῦ ἐλαίου τοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ τετελειωμένου ἐνδύσασθαι τὰ ἱμάτια. See also Gesenius on the Hebrew word מלֻאיס. Hence, and in view of the drift of the passage before us, Jackson very decidedly regards τελειωθεὶς in ver. 9 as a verbum solenne, denoting specifically Christ’s consecration to his eternal office of High Priest. So also Hammond and Whitby. Being thus perfected, or consecrated, he became, for ever afterwards, the Author, not of mere ceremonial cleansing or temporary remission of guilt, but of eternal salvation; potentially to all mankind (cf. ὑπὲρ παντὸς, ch. 2:9), and effectively to “all them that obey him;” being addressed, in this his consummated position (the reference being to Ps. 110.) as “High Priest for ever,” etc. Here again we perceive that it is not till after the Resurrection that the prophetic ideal of the Son at God’s right hand, and of the eternal High Priest, are regarded as fully realized. If it be objected that his high priesthood must have begun before the Resurrection for his death upon the cross to be a true atonement, it may be replied that his one oblation of himself upon the cross at once consummated his consecration and effected the atonement. Doubtless, as a true High Priest on earth, he thus “offered one sacrifice for sins for ever” (ch. 10:12); all that is meant above is that it was not till after the Resurrection that he entered on his eternal office of mediation in virtue of that one accomplished sacrifice.
9. made perfect—completed, brought to His goal of learning and suffering through death (Heb 2:10) [Alford], namely, at His glorious resurrection and ascension.
eternal salvation—obtained for us in the short “days of Jesus’ flesh” (Heb 5:7; compare Heb 5:6, “for ever,” Is 45:17).
unto all … that obey him—As Christ obeyed the Father, so must we obey Him by faith.
10. Greek, rather, “Addressed by God (by the appellation) High Priest.” Being formally recognized by God as High Priest at the time of His being “made perfect” (Heb 5:9). He was High Priest already in the purpose of God before His passion; but after it, when perfected, He was formally addressed so.
9 “Having been perfected” describes the result of the Son’s obedience in vv. 7–8 as the cause of his becoming “the Source of eternal salvation” in v. 9. Yet the passive reminds the hearers that this perfecting is the work of God. His life of obedience unto death was the offering accepted by the God who “heard” (v. 7). It resulted in God’s invitation to sit at his right hand as the only effective Mediator of salvation. The pastor does not focus on the effectiveness of Christ’s sacrifice in itself. His concern is with what the Son has become through his life of obedience offered up to God on the cross. Salvation is not in a sacrifice but in a Savior. The eternal Son of God who was without defect has become “perfected” as the Savior of humankind.96 Thus this is a being perfected of vocation. We have already argued, however, that the Son enters into the fullness of his sonship as heir of all things through redemption (see on 1:1–3). Thus there is a sense in which his sonship is perfected through the earthly obedience, self-offering, and subsequent session by which he became the all-sufficient High Priest. Only thus does he enter into its full exercise and expression as the ultimate revelation of God as well as the “Source” of salvation. “Source” (NIV, NRSV, NASB) is a better translation than “author” (KJV) or “cause” because it encompasses both the past and present work of the Son. He not only brought this salvation into being, but as the exalted High Priest he is the “Source” from which it is continually received (4:14–16; 8:1; 10:19–25). Salvation cannot be separated from the Savior. As the one who “has been perfected” as Savior through obedience he has entered God’s presence and is thus able to “perfect” God’s people by cleansing them from sin so that they too can enter (cf. 7:18–19; 10:14)
The hearers are now in a better position to understand what the pastor meant in Heb 2:10 when he said that it was fitting for God to “perfect” the one who would bring God’s people to their ultimate destiny through “suffering.” It has now become clear that the role of suffering was to bring obedience to its completion. Only through the suffering that culminated in the cross could the Son’s submission to the Father be complete. Furthermore, this passage confirms what has already been said in the comments on 2:10 above: the pastor takes advantage of the various nuances available for the expression “having been perfected.” By what he has done culminating in his session, the Son has reached his goal. He did not achieve this goal through a process of growth in moral perfection, but he did achieve it through the consistent obedience of his earthly life. Finally, this “having been perfected” was achieved by his becoming the exalted High Priest. The pastor can hardly have been insensitive to the OT’s use of the term “to perfect” in relation to priestly consecration.98
The Son became the “Source of eternal salvation” only through his incarnate obedience. Yet this description is a strong affirmation of his deity, as evidenced by the fact that Philo can call God the “source of salvation.” As noted above, it is as exalted High Priest and Savior that the Son enters into the full exercise of his divine sonship. This salvation is “eternal,” ultimate, and fully effective because its “Source” is God. It has been provided by the eternal Son, who offered himself “by the eternal Spirit” (9:14) and who “remains forever,” exercising an inviolable high priesthood (7:24) that provides complete salvation (7:25). The Son provides permanent access to life in fellowship with God.
It is no surprise, however, that this salvation is for “those who obey him.” The Son has become this Savior through obedience and, as yet-to-be-explained but already affirmed (4:16), he provides access to God’s throne for the people of God and thus to the grace necessary for perseverance in obedience until final entrance into God’s presence (12:25–29). Such obedience is characteristic of those who live under the New Covenant (10:15–18). His salvation is not for those “ignorant and going astray” (v. 2). For this reason the pastor would awaken his hearers from lethargy (2:1–4, 5:11–6:20) and draw their full attention to Christ’s provision. This provision is both means and motivation for emulating the faithful (11:1–40) and shunning the example of the disobedient (3:7–4:11).
10 Verses 7–9 have been a description of the One God addressed as “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (v. 6, quoting Ps 110:4). Thus it is no surprise when v. 10 concludes this section by declaring that the Son has “been designated [by God] as high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” When quoting and expounding Ps 110:4 in 5:6 and 7:1–25, the pastor retains the simple “priest” of the psalm. However, he cannot refrain from using high priest at the climax of this description of fully sufficient priesthood. He will reintroduce this subject in 6:20 using the same expression. The one and only priest of Melchizedek’s order is, by his very nature, High Priest.
There is no reason to separate God’s public declaration of the Son’s Melchizedekian high priesthood in Ps 110:4 from the invitation to God’s right hand in Ps 110:1 (cf. 1:3; 1:13). God made open proclamation of both his sonship and high priesthood at the exaltation (Pss 110:4 and Ps 2:7 in Heb 5:5–6). As the following chapters will show, it is as “high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” exalted to the right hand of God that he will function as “the Source of eternal salvation.” By the sacrifice of his obedient life unto death the eternal Son has been consecrated as eternal High Priest. When the pastor returns to the subject of priesthood in chapter 7, he will show how divine sonship makes the difference between the high priest described in vv. 2–4 and the one portrayed in vv. 7–10. God’s declaration in Ps 110:4 justifies the end of the old priesthood and establishes the permanency and effectiveness of the new.
The pastor, then, is about to present a vision of salvation according to which the people of God are cleansed from sin and enabled to enter God’s presence through the work of their exalted High Priest seated at God’s right hand. He urges them to enter through prayer and worship on a regular basis both to enjoy what is theirs and to obtain the grace for perseverance. His great concern is that they persevere until ultimate entrance into the presence of God at Christ’s return (9:28; 12:26–29). Thus the obedience of the Son by which he became the adequate Savior not only atoned for their sin but provided for their obedience (9:14; 10:15–18). The pastor, however, is concerned that his hearers are condoning a certain spiritual lethargy and complacency that will prevent their appropriating the glorious significance of these truths and thus keep them from achieving the all-important perseverance necessary for final salvation. Thus before going further he must address this laxity in 5:11–6:20 so that they might truly grasp and appropriate what he has to say. He would not have them be “ignorant” of Christ’s sufficiency and thus “go astray” (v. 2a).
9–10 As we have already been told in 2:10, it was through sufferings that he was made perfect—fully qualified to be the Savior and High Priest of his people. To suffer death for God’s sake is itself described as the attainment of perfection, and the death of Christ is of course bound up with his being “made perfect” in the present context; but the essence of the perfection which our author has in mind consists in the twofold fact that by his suffering and death Christ (a) became to all who obey him “the source of eternal salvation” and (b) was “acclaimed by God as high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” One can clearly recognize the motif of humiliation and suffering followed by exaltation in glory which pervades the primitive kerygma.
The expression translated “the source [or ‘cause,’ or ‘author’] of salvation” is found in classical Greek;72 Philo also uses it—with regard to Noah, for example, and to the brazen serpent of wilderness days. Here it has practically the same meaning as “the pioneer of their salvation” in 2:10. The salvation which Jesus has procured is an “eternal” one. The phrase “eternal salvation” appears in the Old Testament: “Israel is saved by Yahweh with everlasting salvation” (Isa. 45:17). Here, however, the Christian salvation is eternal, like the “eternal redemption” of 9:12, the “eternal inheritance” of 9:15, and the “eternal covenant” of 13:20, because it is based on the sacrifice of Christ, once for all accomplished, never to be repeated, and permanently valid. The salvation which Jesus has procured, moreover, is granted “to all those who obey him.” There is something appropriate in the fact that the salvation which was procured by the obedience of the Redeemer should be made available to the obedience of the redeemed. Once again the readers are encouraged to persevere in their loyalty to Christ, in whom alone eternal salvation is to be found—in whom also they have a high priest designated for them by God himself, “after the order of Melchizedek.” Our author reverts to Melchizedek at the end of this section of his argument because he intends to go on now and elaborate the significance of his high-priestly order.
9 A further participle, “having been made perfect,” leads into a second main clause, “he became …,” which balances that of v. 8; his “learning [of] obedience” was thus not an end in itself but the means by which he was able to fulfill perfectly his saving mission. For “made perfect,” see above on 2:10 and the introduction, p. 32; the reference is not to attaining moral perfection but to being perfectly equipped to fulfill his saving mission. The verb teleioō, “make perfect” (GK 5457), has special resonance in this context as teleioō cheiras, “to perfect (or fill) the hands,” is often used in the LXX for consecration to priestly service (e.g., Ex 29:9, 29, 33, 35; NIV, “ordain”). Peterson, 103, sums up a lengthy discussion (96–103) by endorsing the verdict of O. Michel that the “perfecting” of Christ here involves “his proving in temptation, his fulfillment of the priestly requirements and his exaltation as Redeemer of the heavenly world.”
And just as Christ “learned obedience,” so those who are to benefit from his saving work must also “obey” him. For them, he is the “source” (lit., “cause,” the one responsible for) of salvation (cf. 2:10, “pioneer of their salvation”). Jesus in Gethsemane could not bypass physical death, and neither can we; but this is “eternal” salvation on a different level altogether from merely escaping death. Just how Jesus’ obedience to a mission of suffering would bring about salvation for others is not yet spelled out, but the theme will be richly developed in chs. 9–10, and already there is a strong pointer in the fact that the issue under discussion here is priesthood, with its connotations of sacrifice. We will also read there why the solution that Jesus has provided for sin is not temporary, like the sacrifices of the OT priests, but “eternal,” since it is secured by the one sacrifice offered once for all by the eternal Son.
10 A further participial clause (“having been designated …” [NIV, “and was designated …”] could be understood wrongly to speak of a subsequent designation rather than the prior calling the participle denotes) rounds off the sentence and grounds it again in the text from Psalm 110 that is the legitimation for Christ’s priestly office. The reason it was appropriate for Jesus to undergo all this human suffering was because he had a role to play in fulfillment of the divine calling to be a high priest in the order of Melchizedek. Thus, the time is now ripe for our author to explain what this special order of priesthood is all about—but that explanation must first be postponed while the author’s frustration with his readers finds expression in a remarkable digression.
9–10 In extremely concise style, Jesus’ redemptive accomplishment and exaltation are expressed in vv 9–10. The temporal clause καὶ τελειωθείς, “and once made perfect,” announces the validation by God of the perfect obedience that Jesus rendered as the priestly representative of the people. It reflects upon the sufferings by which he was brought to the goal appointed for him by God, through which he became a perfect high priest (cf. Vos, PTR 5  580, 588–89; Meeter, Heavenly High Priesthood, 89–94). The LXX translators of the Pentateuch gave to the verb τελειοῦν a special cultic sense of consecration to priestly service (cf. Exod 29:9, 29, 33, 35; Lev 4:5; 8:33; 16:32; 21:10; Num 3:3), and this official conception stands behind τελειωθείς in v 9. It signifies that Jesus has been fully equipped to come before God in priestly action (cf. Delling, TDNT 8.83). Through his sufferings and the accomplishment of his redemptive mission, Jesus has been perfected by God as the priest of his people and exalted to the divine presence (cf. Klappert, Eschatologie, 54–57, who calls attention to the pattern of suffering and perfection in 2:10; 7:28). The acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice asserted with the participle εἰσακουσθείς, “he was heard,” in v 7 is implied again in v 9 with the participle τελειωθείς (Maurer, “ ‘Erhört wegen der Gottesfurcht,’ ” 283–84).
The result of this action is expressed with the main verb in v 9. Jesus has become (ἐγένετο) the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. The description of the community of faith as those who obey Jesus is appropriate to the stress on the radical obedience of Jesus in v 8. As the one who experienced the meaning of obedience in the suffering of death in response to the will of God, Jesus recognizes obedience in his followers and on their behalf carries out his priestly ministry of intercession (cf. Vos, 586). This affirmation repeats the theme of “timely help” from 4:16 and relates it to the fact of Christ’s accomplished sacrifice. The salvation he provides is “eternal” not simply because it extends beyond time but because it is true, heavenly, and not human-made (9:23–24; cf. Williamson, Philo, 84–88).
The designation of Jesus by God as high priest like Melchizedek (v 10) was concomitant with the acceptance of his sacrifice. The divine acclamation confirms Jesus’ qualification for his office. The primary function of the allusion to Ps 110:4 in v 10 is to reaffirm God’s appointment of Jesus as high priest (vv 5–6). But the allusion also serves to connect Jesus’ priesthood with his saving work (Hay, Glory, 46).
In 4:15–5:10 the writer takes up the declaration that Jesus had to become “a merciful high priest in the service of God” (2:17). “Merciful” implies the capacity to understand and to help those dependent upon his ministry, and is related by the writer to Jesus’ redemptive accomplishment. The emphasis is placed on Jesus’ full humanity and his solidarity with those who are exposed to weakness and temptation (4:15). Because he was exposed to testing as they are, he knows experientially what humiliation entails. That the one who has this fellow-feeling with the people of God appears in the presence of God as their high priestly advocate invests his compassion and help with a quality that guarantees they will be able to endure their situation and obtain the salvation promised to them.
The orientation given to the exposition is intensely practical. The solidarity of the heavenly high priest with the community in its weakness provides a strong motivation for earnest prayer. The demand to draw near to the one who is thoroughly familiar with the human condition, who suffers with their suffering, and who is therefore qualified to mediate renewed strength (4:15–16) is an appeal to recognize the importance of prayer in the rhythm of Christian life. The writer knew the community was exposed to the pull of past loyalties and to the peril of renewed hostility (cf. 10:32–34; 12:1–4). To fulfill their Christian vocation they needed the different quality of experience provided by prayer. The depiction of prayer as priestly approach to the presence of God developed the insight that prayer creates a sanctuary in time when one may not be available in space. In the rhythm between exposure to pressure and tired resignation under spiritual conflict, they will find in prayer the refreshment that flows from openness to God’s invincible mercy and sustaining grace and will receive the help that arrives at the right time.
Although the title “high priest” was introduced in 2:17, the designation is not clarified until 4:15–5:10. The development is supported by the use of formal elements of the OT. For the first time the writer establishes the spiritual basis for his high priestly christology and begins to compare the Levitical high priesthood and the unique priesthood of Jesus. The description of the high priesthood in 5:1–4 does not constitute a general definition of the Levitical institution. On the contrary, it is oriented wholly in a particular sense determined by the preceding verses (4:15–16), that of the solidarity of the priest with the people. In the Pentateuch it is stressed that the high priest is appointed for God (Exod 28:1, 3; 29:1); in Heb 5:1 the high priest is appointed for men. The writer adopts the OT form in a positive fashion to establish a parallel between the Levitical high priest and Jesus.
Aaron and Jesus are brought into direct comparison in 5:4–6. The basis of the comparison is the humility which both displayed in refusing to exalt themselves to the office of high priest, which could be received only by divine appointment. The point is made that Jesus’ priestly ministry was effective because it was accomplished with authorization (5:5–6, 10).
The likeness of Jesus to Aaron, however, is shattered with the citation of Ps 110:4. The appeal to Melchizedek, who as the first priest mentioned in Scripture is the archetype of all priesthood, validates Jesus’ priesthood as different from and superior to the Levitical priesthood. Christ enjoys a preeminence that removes him from the sphere of comparison with Aaron. He was “without sin” (4:15), and he is summoned to be “a priest forever” (5:6). His priestly task is to create an order of salvation that is valid forever (5:9), which has the effect of rendering the Aaronic institution obsolete.
The parallel between Aaron and Christ is infringed most sharply in the description of their respective priestly functions. In reference to the Levitical high priest, the writer mentions the cultic ministry of sacrifice on the Day of Atonement (5:1) and the extension of forbearance to those who are weak (5:2–3). In contrast to this, Christ’s high priestly offering culminated in the surrender of his life to the suffering of death in perfect obedience to God’s revealed will. This self-sacrifice is not only superior to the OT prototype. It represents an incomparably deeper and more radical identification with men and women in their weakness than was ever envisioned in the case of the Levitical high priest. The acceptance of Jesus’ completed sacrifice is celebrated in the confessional affirmation that “he was heard” (5:7) and has been pronounced “qualified” to come before God in high priestly mediation (5:9). On this basis he has inaugurated a new, redemptive relationship between God and the human family that merits the perseverance of the community in faith and obedience.
9. And being made perfect, or sanctified, &c. Here is the ultimate or the remoter end, as they call it, why it was necessary for Christ to suffer: it was that he might thus become initiated into his priesthood, as though the Apostle had said that the enduring of the cross and death were to Christ a solemn kind of consecration, by which he intimates that all his sufferings had a regard to our salvation. It hence follows, that they are so far from being prejudicial to his dignity that they are on the contrary his glory; for if salvation be highly esteemed by us, how honourably ought we to think of its cause or author? for he speaks not here of Christ only as an example, but he ascends higher, even that he by his obedience has blotted out our transgressions. He became then the cause of salvation, because he obtained righteousness for us before God, having removed the disobedience of Adam by an act of an opposite kind, even obedience.
Sanctified suits the passage better than “made perfect.” The Greek word τελειωθεὶς means both; but as he speaks here of the priesthood, he fitly and suitably mentions sanctification. And so Christ himself speaks in another place, “For their sakes I sanctify myself.” (John 17:19.) It hence appears that this is to be properly applied to his human nature, in which he performed the office of a priest, and in which he also suffered.
To all them, that obey him. If then we desire that Christ’s obedience should be profitable to us, we must imitate him; for the Apostle means that its benefit shall come to none but to those who obey. But by saying this he recommends faith to us; for he becomes not ours, nor his blessings, except as far as we receive them and him by faith. He seems at the same time to have adopted a universal term, all, for this end, that he might shew that no one is precluded from salvation who is but teachable and becomes obedient to the Gospel of Christ.
10. Called of God, or named by God, &c. As it was necessary that he should pursue more at large the comparison between Christ and Melchisedec, on which he had briefly touched, and that the mind of the Jews should be stirred up to greater attention, he so passes to a digression that he still retains his argument.
The Source of Our Salvation
Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. (Heb. 5:8–9)
In the eleventh canon of the sixth session of the Council of Trent, written in January of 1547, the Roman Catholic Church officially condemned the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone. If anyone says, it reads, “that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins,” to the exclusion of the grace and charity that are at work within them, “let them be anathema.” This language, which grounds our justification on a righteousness in us, caused the Protestant Reformers to conclude that Rome had abandoned and even condemned the gospel. What the Council of Trent cursed was precisely what the Reformers taught as central to the whole Christian religion, the teaching that, as John Calvin put it, “it is entirely by the intervention of Christ’s righteousness that we obtain justification before God. This is equivalent to saying that man is not just in himself, but that the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him by imputation, while he is strictly deserving of punishment.”
What troubled the Roman Catholics, and other opponents of the Reformation, was the idea that people who are still sinners can be declared righteous by a God who is just. To say we are justified by faith in Christ alone, even while we are still actually sinful, they complained, amounts to a legal fiction. It is unworthy of God, they argued, and unreasonable for us to expect that God can or will declare us just until we actually are innocent and pure. It is for this reason that justification by faith alone, as taught by the Reformers, was pronounced accursed by Rome—an anathema that is still very much in force.
All this begs a question that is vital to our grasp of the gospel. On what basis does God declare someone just and accept him or her as worthy of fellowship with him? Or to put it differently, what is the ground of my standing with God; what is the source of my salvation? This is a vital issue, because for anyone who realizes that he is a sinner, that his guilt has placed him under God’s holy wrath, this is the question of all questions.
The Bible addresses this matter thoroughly and clearly. Our present text looks it squarely in the eye and gives us a straight answer. Speaking of Jesus Christ, it says, “He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb. 5:9). To understand this verse, we need to answer three questions: first, what does salvation require? second, how did Jesus become the source of what salvation requires? and finally, for whom is Jesus the source of eternal salvation?
What Salvation Requires
What does salvation require? Another way of asking this is to say, “What is necessary for someone to enjoy eternal fellowship with God?” The Bible’s answer is that to have fellowship with God one must possess perfect righteousness, attaining the perfect standards set forth in God’s law. We might consider this in both a positive and a negative sense. Positively, one must perfectly manifest the holiness set forth in God’s law. Negatively, one must not be blemished with any guilt or corruption, any transgression of that law.
Jesus often addressed this concern during his earthly ministry. When the rich young ruler approached Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus replied, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:16–17). An expert in the law asked Jesus the same question: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. The man answered: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:25–28).
The basis of salvation, then, is righteousness. And to be righteous before God is to perfectly keep his law, to uphold his standards, both in thought and deed, with hands and heart. Both the rich young ruler and the teacher of the law got this part right. Where they went wrong was in claiming they had actually achieved it. For that reason Jesus sternly rebuffed them both. Nonetheless, the clear standard is that given in the law and repeated in the New Testament: “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).
Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet makes this point quite clearly. A man who tried to infiltrate into the king’s feast was discovered and removed. “When the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ ” (Matt. 22:11–13).
God requires us to be clothed in perfect righteousness. This is a great problem for us, indeed, a worse one than we tend to recognize. Our problem is not merely that we are morally flawed, but that we are morally corrupt through and through; not that our garments are slightly less than pearly white, but that they are horribly soiled. People find this hard to stomach today, but the Scripture plainly teaches it. Paul states it clearly: “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10).
People don’t like to hear this, but when they stand before God they will not be able to deny it. This is exactly the picture we have in the Bible. Adam and Eve hid from God and tried to cover themselves after they had sinned. Job spoke boldly to God until the clouds parted and God appeared. Then he could only say: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5–6). The great prophet Isaiah cried, “Woe to me! For I am lost!” when he stood before the vision of God in his holiness (Isa. 6:5). The same was true for the apostle John: when he saw the risen and exalted Jesus Christ in Revelation 1:17, he fell down as though dead.
Man is unrighteous, and yet righteousness is required for salvation. We can see, therefore, what the complaint against the doctrine of justification by faith alone is all about. It is right to say that we cannot stand upon any legal fiction; without a solid righteousness before God, not just words but reality, we must surely be condemned.
Rome’s Teaching of Infused Righteousness
If righteousness is the requirement for salvation, the basis for fellowship with God, then where does our righteousness come from? This is the next and obvious question. What righteousness will commend us before the great white throne of God’s perfect justice? The Roman Catholic answer, and that of many others who deny justification by faith alone, is that it must be a righteousness within you. If asked, “Why should you be allowed to enter into God’s holy heaven?” they answer, “Because I have become righteous.”
I point out the Roman Catholic teaching not to engage in intramural sparring, but to throw light on this grave issue by means of a clear contrast. It is sometimes wrongly claimed that Catholicism teaches self-righteousness, but this too is anathematized by Rome. Roman Catholics are quick to admit that no one becomes righteous without God’s help through Jesus Christ. And yet that very way of putting it shows the difference between their teaching and justification by faith alone. God helps you to become righteous, without Christ you never could be righteous, and yet they nonetheless insist that the ground of your entrance into heaven is your own righteousness. Through a combination of the sacraments of baptism, penance, and the mass, your sins are removed and God’s grace is preserved and strengthened until you pass from this life and into death.
Of course, when you die you cannot go directly to heaven. The reason is that you are not yet righteous enough to please God, as you and especially those close to you know perfectly well. Thus there must be purgatory, a teaching that finds no support in the Scripture, but is made necessary by this system of doctrine. Since I must become perfectly righteous and pure, and since I know I do not attain this in life, then it is the fires of purgatory that I trust to burn away my remaining iniquity, perhaps over several hundred or maybe several thousand years.
This is the good news according to the Roman Catholic Church. Jesus is the source of salvation only in that his death makes this program possible. Were it not for him, there would be no hope at all for sinners. But now, by his grace, after a lifetime in the church and many lifetimes in the minihell of purgatory, you can hope to stand before God not on the basis of some legal fiction, but on the basis of your own personal righteousness. The technical theological term for this process is infused righteousness. Sinners get into heaven after they have achieved perfect holiness in purgatory, on the basis of the righteousness infused into them by Christ, through the church and its all-important priesthood and sacraments, and with the help of Mary and the saints.
According to Rome, the righteousness you need is found in you after the process of justification has finally tossed you onto heaven’s shore. This may be good news, but it is not very good news. Furthermore, it is a far cry from what the writer of Hebrews meant when he said that Jesus Christ, by his obedience, “became the source of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9).
The Righteousness of Christ
Hebrews says that Christ became the source of our salvation. The first thing we should notice is the verb “became.” Until something happened, until something was attained, Christ was not the source of our salvation, the basis for our entry into heaven. So what did Jesus do that enabled him to become the source of eternal salvation? The writer tells us: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb. 5:7–9).
These verses set forth Christ’s actual attainment of righteousness, his full achievement of the holiness expressed in the law of God, during his days in the flesh on this earth. In this respect, we need to understand the context in which Christ fulfilled the law, the obedience by which he fulfilled the law, and the result of his fulfilling the law in perfect righteousness.
What was the context for Jesus’ attainment of righteousness? Jesus attained righteousness “in the days of his flesh” (Heb. 5:7). One commentator observes, “These moving words express how intensely Jesus entered the human condition, which wrung from him his prayers and entreaties, cries and tears.”
“Flesh” is a fairly comprehensive term, depicting human weakness, subjection to danger and want and temptation, as well as obligation to the law of God. John tells us, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). In other words, the context in which Christ fulfilled all righteousness was no different from that in which you and I are compelled to live, except that Jesus was sinless and his pilgrimage through his world was if anything more arduous than ours.
This is the very point that is made in the opening scenes of Christ’s public ministry, starting with his baptism and then his temptation in the wilderness. John the Baptist had been calling sinners to be baptized for repentance. But when Jesus appeared, John was appalled at the idea of baptizing him, for here was One without sin, indeed, the One he had foretold who would be so much greater than himself. Matthew’s Gospel tells us: “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness’ ” (Matt. 3:13–15).
How important this was for our salvation! Jesus placed himself in the path where sinners walk; he was, as Isaiah foretold, “numbered with the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12), in order that he might fulfill all righteousness precisely where we have so miserably failed.
Immediately after Jesus was baptized, and then publicly acclaimed by the voice from heaven and the Spirit descending as a dove, he was led out into the wilderness to be tested. We have been talking about the wilderness throughout our studies of Hebrews. The wilderness is where we live, the place of testing before the Land of Promise. This is what it meant for Jesus to be in the flesh, that he was in the wilderness where Israel had so badly failed, and where you and I likewise struggle with sin. But in the desert, with pain and hunger and temptation, Jesus fulfilled all righteousness so that he might be the source of our salvation. This was the context of his obedience.
What can we say about the obedience by which Christ fulfilled the law? Our passage says Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears” (Heb. 5:7). In the desert Jesus ate nothing for forty days—the very number of years Israel was tested and failed, grumbling and revolting over the manna God sent them from heaven. But when the devil tempted Jesus over just this issue, our Lord replied, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Jesus stood up to all of Satan’s trials, no doubt often praying and crying out to God for help. He did not sin in thought, word, or deed, under temptations graver than any we will ever know. God heard him not merely because he was his only Son, but also “because of his reverence” (Heb. 5:7).
Back in verse 3 of this chapter we were told that the high priests of Israel offered sacrifices for their own sins. Only then did God hear their prayers and receive their ministry. But Jesus did not call to the Father on the basis of the blood of bulls and goats; his whole life, and especially his obedience in the events surrounding his terrible death, was the sacrificial offering that consecrated him as our high priest. William Lane writes, “Jesus learned experientially what obedience entails through his passion in order to achieve salvation and to become fully qualified for his office as eternal high priest.” His prayers and ministry are received by God because of his constant reverence and perfect obedience.
If there is one thing the New Testament emphasizes about the life of Jesus Christ, it is this: he obeyed God perfectly in all things, never entering into sin, never failing his Father and never falling under the condemnation of the law. This is what was prophesied before his coming. Isaiah said, “Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins” (Isa. 11:5). Jesus claimed this quite openly, demanding from his accusers: “Which of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46). They could not. Even when they brought him before Pontius Pilate, the callous despot was forced to admit his innocence: “I find no guilt in him” (John 18:38). Even in the hour of his death, those who looked on were stunned by what they saw: “When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!’ ” (Luke 23:47). Therefore Peter could say, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). The apostle Paul summed up his atoning death, writing: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Our passage emphasizes that it was in the midst of pain and struggle, in the shadow of death, that Jesus learned obedience. Two episodes especially come to mind: first, his anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he anticipated the wrath of God upon the cross, and second, his death by crucifixion. In the garden Jesus prayed with tears and great anguish. “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matt. 26:38), he said to the disciples. Great was his struggle on that dreadful night: “He fell on his face and prayed.” In the context of the greatest dread imaginable, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (v. 39). This was reverent submission like no other, and for it God has received Jesus as our high priest.
On the cross Jesus cried out to the One who could save him: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Jesus fulfilled all righteousness to the very end, crying out to the Father, trusting in him, and fulfilling the law once for all. His obedience opened up the way for sinners to enter into salvation, as was vividly represented when the veil separating the holy of holies was torn from top to bottom. “For their sake I consecrate myself,” he said, “that they also may be sanctified” (John 17:19). Thus he fulfilled all righteousness and became the source of our eternal salvation.
This is the result of Christ’s obedience: “Being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:9–10). We saw before that righteousness is the source of salvation, and by his perfect life and sacrificial death the words of the apostle Paul are abundantly true: Jesus Christ is “our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). Now the way to God that was closed by sin is opened by Christ’s righteousness. John Calvin writes, “He became the Author of our salvation because He made us just in the sight of God, when He remedied the disobedience of Adam by a contrary act of obedience.”
With this in mind, let me return to the questions I asked earlier. On what basis do you hope to stand before the throne of God? What will you give as an answer to God’s question, “Why should you enter my holy heaven?” Surely the answer is not your own righteousness—either now or hereafter. Surely the only answer we can give is the one put so well in the words of the hymn “Rock of Ages”:
Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the Fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.
This is what we mean by justification by faith alone. Our faith does not make us righteous; rather, faith lays hold of the righteousness of another, even our Lord Jesus Christ, who became perfect as our Savior and high priest, the source of our eternal life. Again, the hymn puts it well:
Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow;
All for sin could not atone;
thou must save and thou alone.
Is this a legal fiction? Is it dishonoring to God’s holy justice for us to say, “My only comfort in life and death is the righteousness of Christ alone”? It would be a legal fiction, I admit, were I to claim that faith itself justifies us. But what secures forgiveness and life eternal for sinners like us is Christ’s perfect righteousness, received by faith alone. And this is no breach of justice, but rather the gift of righteousness from the God of grace, and to him is all the glory. It is this righteousness of Christ, not infused into us after a tortuous process, but imputed to us by God’s decree through faith alone, of which the apostle Paul speaks in Philippians 3. Far from claiming any merits of his own, Paul said: “I … count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:8–9).
There will indeed be a time when believers are not merely reckoned righteous but are finally made perfectly holy. This is a work taking place now, through the process of our sanctification, by which those who have been justified by God are being made holy in practical ways. God will himself perfect this work through the resurrection and not through any flames of purgatory. I, for one, greatly look forward to that day, but for now I can stand before God, though I am myself a very great sinner, clothed in the righteous robes of Jesus Christ. This is no legal fraud, but the actual righteousness attained for us by our precious Savior, who has thus become the source of our eternal salvation.
Righteousness Received through Faith
One question remains: “For whom is Christ the source of salvation?” The answer is clear: “He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb. 5:9). What does it mean to obey Jesus Christ unto salvation? He himself gave the answer in John 6: “Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent’ ” (John 6:28–29).
If you do not trust in Jesus Christ, the good news is bad news for you. As Jesus himself taught, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). If you trust in his saving work, Christ will become your Savior. His sacrifice will pay the debt of your sins, and his will be the righteousness in which you are clothed before the throne of God.
But do not think all of this is easy. If you are to obey Jesus Christ, then you have to own up to some things and repudiate some others. You will have to confess that God is right to condemn you for your sins, and for your own total lack of righteousness. You will have to confess that you are not and cannot be righteous in and of yourself, because of the sin that is within you. Then you must reach out to Jesus Christ, by faith laying hold of his free offer of salvation, trusting his righteous life and sacrificial death for your only salvation.
Not only must you confess your need of Christ’s blood and righteousness, but you must also repudiate your works, stained with sin as they are and altogether unable to save. You will have to repudiate your religious attainments, your faith in church-going, your proper upbringing, or your status in the world—your trust in anything except the saving work of Jesus Christ. Indeed, you will have to repudiate the world and all its sinful pleasures, what the apostle John describes as “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions” (1 John 2:16). Turning from sin is not the means of your salvation, but it is a necessary result of it, for there is no fellowship between light and darkness.
But when you have let go of all these, you will have gained everything if your hands are gripped firmly to the cross of Jesus Christ, where the righteous Son of God died for sinners, and became the sure source of eternal salvation for all who trust in him.
Sacrificing For Men
And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.” (5:9)
In His suffering and death, Jesus fulfilled the third requirement for high priest. He offered the sacrifice of Himself and thereby became the perfect High Priest and the source of eternal salvation. Jesus went through everything He had to go through, and accomplished all He needed to, so He could be such a perfect High Priest. He was not, of course, made perfect in the sense of having His nature improved. He was eternally perfect in righteousness, holiness, wisdom, knowledge, truth, power, and in every other virtue and capability. Neither His nature nor His person changed. He became perfect in the sense that He completed His qualification course for becoming the eternal High Priest.
In offering His sacrifice, however, Jesus differed in two very important ways from other high priests. First, He did not have to make a sacrifice for Himself before He could offer it for others. Second, His sacrifice was once-and-for-all. It did not have to be repeated every day, or even every year or every century.
By His death, Jesus opened the way of eternal salvation. All the priests of all time could not provide eternal salvation. They could only provide momentary forgiveness. But by one act, one offering, one sacrifice, Jesus Christ perfected forever those who are His. The perfect High Priest makes perfect those who accept His perfect sacrifice, those who obey Him.
The obedience mentioned here of those who obey Him is not that regarding commandments, rules, and regulations. It is not obedience to the law. It is “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5). God wants us to obey Him by believing in Christ. True obedience, just as true works, is first of all true believing. “This is the work of God,” Jesus said, “that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:29). Trust in Jesus Christ is the work of faith and the obedience of faith.
Sadly and tragically, all people do not believe. And whoever does not believe does not truly obey, no matter how moral, well-meaning, religious, and sincere. In First and Second Thessalonians, Paul speaks of the two responses to the gospel—the only two possible responses. In the second letter he tells of God’s retribution on those who “do not know God” and who “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (1:8). In the first letter, by contrast, he praises the missionary work of the faithful Thessalonian Christians in Macedonia and Achaia (1:8). Their obedience in the faith brought others to obedience to the faith—and to the gift of eternal salvation.
 Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Heb 5:9). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.
 Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1783). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Heb 5:9–10). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2171–2172). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Peterson, D. G. (1994). Hebrews. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1333). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 452). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
 Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (pp. 124–125). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.