Continuing the brief introduction to Jesus as our High Priest, the author of Hebrews in today’s passage pivots from his emphasis on Jesus’ appointment to the priestly office to the experience of Jesus as High Priest “in the days of his flesh” (Heb. 5:7–10; see vv. 1–6). John Calvin notes that “the days of his flesh” refers to the earthly ministry of Jesus before His death, resurrection, and ascension. The author is not telling us that Jesus divested Himself of His humanity after the cross. After all, we know that the Son of God retains His human nature after being raised from the dead (Luke 24:36–43; John 20:27).
The stress on Jesus’ humanity is important because Christ could not have saved us unless He became like us, albeit without sin. A high priest, we have seen, can represent us only if he shares our humanity (Heb. 5:1). Moreover, without taking on a human nature, the Son of God could not have offered up “prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears” (v. 7). In the course of Jesus’ life, our Savior regularly devoted Himself to prayer (Mark 1:35; 6:46). However, Hebrews 5:7 emphasizes Jesus’ prayer for deliverance in Gethsemane, where He anguished in His humanity over His upcoming death under divine judgment against sinners (Luke 22:39–46). As Calvin notes in his commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), Jesus “had no horror at death, therefore, simply as a passage out of the world, but because he had before his eyes the dreadful tribunal of God, and the Judge himself armed with inconceivable vengeance; and because our sins, the load of which was laid upon him, pressed him down with their enormous weight.”
In particular, the suffering of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane as He anticipated the crucifixion and His death under God’s curse on the cross taught Jesus obedience (Heb. 5:8). Again, the author of Hebrews here speaks of Christ in His humanity. As our perfect High Priest, the incarnate Jesus, the God-man who represents us, had to obey God perfectly in all things, even when it was hardest to obey Him. And what could be more difficult than continuing to obey God on the cross while He bore the punishment for our sins in our place? But God actually answered Jesus’ prayer for deliverance, raising Him from the dead after perfect atonement had been made and appointing Him the source of eternal salvation for all who trust in Him alone (vv. 9–10).