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(Hebrews 7:1-3 )
In Hebrews 2:17 , the apostle announced that the Lord Jesus is "a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God", while in Hebrews 3:1 he calls on those who are partakers of the heavenly calling to "Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession". Having shown in Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 the superiority of Christianity’s Apostle over Judaism’s, viz. Moses, whose work was completed by Joshua, Paul then declared that "We have a great High Priest, that is passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God", an High Priest who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, seeing that He also was tempted in all points like us (in His spirit, His soul, and His body), sin excepted; for which reason we are bidden to "Come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:14-16 ).
In the opening verses of Hebrews 5:0 we are shown how Christ fulfilled the Aaronic type, and how that He possessed every necessary perfection to qualify Him for filling the sacerdotal office, see articles 19 to 21. But while the Holy Spirit there shows how Christ provided the substance of what was foreshadowed by the Levitical priests, He is also particular to exhibit how that Christ excelled them at every point. Finally, he declares that the Lord Jesus was, "Called of God an High Priest after the order of Melchizedek" (verse 10). We have previously called attention to it, but as this detail is so important and so little understood, we repeat: it is highly essential to observe that Christ is not there said to be "High Priest of the order of Melchizedek", but "alter the order of", etc. The difference between the two expressions is real and radical: "of" would have limited His priesthood to that particular order; "after" simply shows that there is a resemblance between them, as there also was between Aaron’s and Christ’s.
At Hebrews 5:11 the apostle declared, "Of whom we have many things to say and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing". The difficulty lay in the strong disinclination of man to relinquish that which has long been cherished, which nowhere appears more evident than in connection with religious things. To say that Christ was a High Priest "after the order of Melchizedek" was tantamount to affirming that the Aaronic order was Divinely set aside, and with it, all the ordinances and ceremonies of the Mosaic law. "This", as we said in an earlier article, "was the hardest thing of all for a Hebrew, even a converted one, to bow to, for it meant repudiating everything that was seen, and cleaving to that which was altogether invisible. It meant forsaking that which their fathers had honored for fifteen hundred years, and espousing that which the great majority of their brethren according to the flesh denounced as Satanic.
The Hebrews had become "dull of hearing". They were too slothful to make the effort needed for a proper understanding of the nature of Christ’s priestly office and work. In Hebrews 3:1 the apostle had called on them to, "Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession", and in Hebrews 7:4 he again says, "Now consider". The Greek word means to "ponder intensely" to "behold diligently", to "weigh thoroughly" the things proposed unto us. It is at this point so many fail: they imagine all that is required of them is to hear the Word of God expounded, and if anything appears to them hard to understand, they conclude it is not for them; hence, they make little progress in Divine things and fail to "increase in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:10 ). And this is not simply an "infirmity", it reveals a sad state of soul; it shows a lack of interest in spiritual things. This was the state of the Hebrews: they had gone back.
The condition of soul in which a Christian is has very much to do with his spiritual receptivity. He may hear the best of preaching and read the soundest of books, yet if his heart be not right with God, he will not be profited. His head knowledge of Truth may be increased and his pride puffed up, but his soul is not fed, nor is his walk influenced Godwards. It was thus with the Corinthians, therefore we find the apostle writing to them, "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as babes in Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:1 ). It was thus with the Hebrews: the spirit of the apostle was straitened. He longed to expound to them the excellency of the glories of Christ’s priesthood, but he had to pause and address himself to their sorrowful state of heart. In this he has left an example which all teachers do well to weigh and imitate.
As we have seen, at Hebrews 5:11 the apostle makes a digression, which is continued to the end of the 6th chapter. It is most instructive to observe the order he followed. The better to appreciate it, let us review the contents of this parenthetical section in their inverse order. In chapter 7, he sets forth the official glories of Christ. But what immediately precedes? This: at the close of Hebrews chapter 6 (verses 16-20) he presents the sure ground which true Christians occupy for having a "strong consolation". Thus, it is only as the heart is set at perfect rest before God, fully assured of His favor, of His unchanging grace, that the soul is in any condition to ponder, to appreciate, to revel in the glories of Christ. It is faith’s realization of the unceasing and effectual intercession of our great High Priest within the veil, which keeps the heart in peace. The contemplation of the essential Holiness of God would fill the soul with despair, but it is turned into hope and joy by seeing Jesus at His right hand "for us". The secret of victory is to be, in spirit, where our Forerunner is.
And what precedes the blessed assurance which the closing verses of Hebrews chapter 6 are designed to convey to the believer? This: a call to faithful perseverance in running the race set before us; a bidding of us "be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (verses 9-15). We are not entitled to the comfort which comes from resting upon the immutability of the Divine counsels while we are following a course of self-will and self-pleasing. Only those who are really walking with God have any right to the joy of His salvation. To talk of our certainty of reaching Heaven while out of the path of obedience, is nothing but a carnal presumption.
And what, in turn, precedes the call to a steady continuation in well-doing, to the exercise of faith and love? This: a solemn warning against the danger of apostasy (verses 4-7). The sluggards of Hebrews 5:11-14 must be aroused, the careless plainly told of what the final outcome would be were indifference to the righteous claims of God persisted in. There are some who refuse to allow that verses 4-7 contain a warning given to real Christians against the danger of apostasy. They say it would be quite inconsistent for the Holy Spirit to so warn them, while in verses 16-20 He gives the most absolute assurance of their security. Ah, but mark it well, the assurance in verses 16-20 is for "the heirs of promise", and not for all professing believers. The warning is to make us examine ourselves and make sure that we are "heirs". This, the truly regenerate will do; whereas the self-complacent and presumptuous will ignore it, to their own eternal undoing.
In confirmation of what has been pointed out above, we quote the following from John Owen: "As the minds of men are to be greatly prepared for the communication of spiritual mysteries unto them, so the best preparation is by the cure of their sinful and corrupt affections, with the removal of their barrenness under what they have already heard and been instructed in. It is to no purpose, yea, it is but the putting of new wine into old bottles to the loss of all, to be daily leading men into the knowledge of higher mysteries, whilst they live in a neglect of the practice of what they have been taught already".
At the close of his hortatory digression, the apostle returns to the precise point at which his orderly argument had been interrupted, as will immediately appear by comparing Hebrews 5:10 and Hebrews 6:20 . Jesus was, and is for ever, High Priest. This was an entirely new doctrine for the Hebrews. Our Lord Himself had made no specific reference to it during the days of His earthly ministry, nor is there any record of it in the preaching of the apostles. Yet the teaching of both One and the others was based upon and assumed this fundamental fact. But now the Holy Spirit was pleased to give a clear unfolding of this precious truth. It was "hard" for even converted Jews to receive. Their chief objection would be that, to assert Christ was High Priest, yea, the only High Priest of His Church, was affirming something inconsistent with and contrary to the Law, for He did not (according to the flesh) belong to the Levitical tribe, He was not in the line of the priests.
It is most important for us to take account of this difficulty which presented itself to the minds of the Hebrews, for unless we recognize that one of the chief objects before the apostle in chapter 7 was to remove this very difficulty, we are certain to err in our understanding of the details of his argument. It was not the design of the apostle to teach that the nature and functions of Christ’s priesthood had no resemblance to that of the Aaronic. Far from it. He could not now contradict all that he has so explicitly set forth in Hebrews 5:1-9 . There he had plainly shown that the Lord Jesus had fulfilled the Aaronic type by Himself offering to God a perfect and final Sacrifice for the sins of His people. To this he again returns in chapter 9, where he declares that Christ had (as Aaron foreshadowed) "by His own blood entered into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption" (verse 12). Let it not be forgotten that the atoning ministry of Israel’s high priest was consummated within the veil, Leviticus 16:12-14 .
In Hebrews 7:0 the apostle proves that so far from the priestly office and work of the Lord Jesus conflicting with what God had instituted through Moses, it was the fulfillment of His own counsels as made known in the Old Testament Scriptures. At the same time he takes occasion to submit the proof that the priesthood of Christ was far more glorious than that of Aaron’s. This he does by an appeal to an ancient oracle, the mystical meaning of which had been hidden from the Jews, yea, the very letter of which appears to have been quite forgotten by them. We refer to the 110th Psalm, which will come before us in the course of examining our present chapter.
"For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God" (verse 1). At the close of chapter 6 the Holy Spirit directs our gaze into the Holiest, whither for us the Forerunner hath entered, even Jesus our great High Priest. He now proceeds to emphasize the dignity of His priesthood, showing that it is accompanied by royal majesty, that it is intransmissible, and that it abideth forever. Thus our confidence in Him should be complete and entire, unwavering and unceasing. Thus too we may perceive again the immeasurable superiority of Christianity over Judaism by the super-excellency of its Priest.
"For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God". The opening "For" has, we believe, a double connection. More immediately, it forms the closest possible link between what is declared in Hebrews 6:20 , and what is to immediately follow. There it was affirmed that "Jesus is made an High Priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek"; here it will be shown that thus it was, mystically, with Melchizedek himself. This will be the more apparent if the second half of verse 2 and the whole of verse 3, saving its final clause, be placed in a parenthesis, reading it thus: "For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, abideth a priest continually". More remotely the opening "For" of the verse, looks back to Hebrews 5:10 , Hebrews 5:11 : he now brings forth the "many things" he had to say to him.
"For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God". Two things are here affirmed of Melchizedek: be was king, and he was priest. Almost endless conjectures have been made as to the identity of Melchizedek. Questions have been raised as to what order of beings he belonged to. Some have insisted that he was a Divine person, others that he was an angel, still others that he was Christ Himself in theophanic manifestation as when He appeared to Joshua (Joshua 5:14 ), or in Babylon’s furnace (Daniel 3:25 ), etc. Others, allowing that he was only a man, have speculated as to his nationality, family connections, and so on. But as the Holy Spirit has not seen fit to give us any information on these points, we deem it irreverence (Deuteronomy 29:29 ) to indulge in any surmises thereon.
The first time Melchizedek is brought before us on the pages of Holy Writ is in Genesis 14:0 . There he confronted Abraham, without introduction, in the land of Canaan. At that time all the world had fallen into the grossest of idolatry and the most awful immorality: Romans 1:19-31 . Even the progenitors of Abraham worshipped false gods: Joshua 24:2 . At that time Canaan was inhabited chiefly by the Sodomites on the one hand (Genesis 13:0 ), and by the Amorites (Genesis 15:16 ) on the other. Yet, in the very midst of these people who were sinners above others, God was pleased to raise up a man who was an illustrious type of Christ! A signal instance was this of the absolute sovereignty of God. He can raise up instruments for His service and unto His glory, when, where, and as it pleases Him. He can raise up the greatest light in the midst of the greatest darkness: Matthew 4:16 .
Melchizedek was "king of Salem": in the light of Psalms 76:2 there can be no doubt but what this was the earlier or original name for Jerusalem: "In Salem also is His tabernacle, and His dwelling-place in Zion". Only Jerusalem can there be intended. Further, Melchizedek was "priest of the most high God", and this in the days of Abraham! Thus, Jerusalem had a king many centuries before David, and God had a priest which He owned long ere Aaron was called! It has been rightly pointed out that, "The argument of the apostle, deducing and illustrating the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over the Aaronic, from and by the relation of Melchizedek to the Levitical priesthood, is in some respects analogous to the argument of the apostle with regard to the law, and its parenthetical and inferior position, as compared with the Gospel.... the Jews were shocked when the apostle Paul taught that it was not necessary for the Gentiles to observe the law; that for the new covenant church the law of Moses was no longer the rule and form of life. And therefore the apostle in his epistle to the Galatians, tells them that the law was given four hundred years after the promise had been made unto Abraham, and that therefore there was no injustice, and no inconsistency, in the bringing in of a new dispensation, which was in fact only a return in a fuller and more perfect manner to that which was from the beginning in the mind of God" (Adolph Saphir).
There is, indeed, a still closer analogy than has been pointed out by Mr. Saphir between Paul’s argument in Hebrews 7:0 and that which he used to the Galatians. Melchizedek was the king-priest of Jerusalem. Now in Galatians 4:26 , we are told that, "Jerusalem which is above, is free, which is the mother of us all". The word "above" there has misled almost all of the commentators. The primary reference is not to location, but to time, it is antithetical from "now is", not, from "below"! In the immediate context the apostle contrasts two covenants, each of which was associated with a city. Paul there calls attention to the fact that the "promise" which God made to Abraham both preceded and outlasted the law! so too does the "Jerusalem" of the promise. Melchizedek was connected with Jerusalem before the Law was first given, and it was a type of Heaven: Hebrews 11:10 , etc.
It is indeed striking to discover that God’s first priest was this king of Salem which signifies "peace", Jerusalem meaning "the foundation of peace". Jerusalem was to be the place where the incarnate Son of God was to begin the exercise of His sacerdotal office; moreover, it was to be the seat of His local church (Acts 1 15) until the significance of the type had been effected. In the history of that unique city we see the sovereign pleasure of God again exercised and exemplified, for He appoints various intervals of blessing unto places. Jerusalem was first privileged with the presence of this priest of the most high God. Afterwards, for a long season, it was given over to the idolatrous Jebusites: see Joshua 15:63 , 2 Samuel 5:6 , etc. Then, in process of time, it was again visited with Divine favor and made the headquarters of the solemn worship of Jehovah. Now, as for centuries past, it is "trodden down of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24 ). But in the future it will again be the center of Divine blessing on earth: Isaiah 2:1-4 . In like manner God hath dealt with many another place and city.
"Who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him" (verse 1). The historical reference is to Genesis 14:18 ,Genesis 14:19 . "Whether any intercourse had previously taken place between these two venerable men, or whether they afterwards continued to have occasional intercourse, we cannot tell; though the probability seems to be, that Melchizedek was not a stranger to Abraham when he came forth to meet him, and that, in an age when the worshippers of the true God were comparatively few, two such men as Abraham and Melchizedek did not live in the same district and country without forming a close intimacy" (Dr. J. Brown).
"And blessed him". This was a part of the priestly office as we learn from Deuteronomy 21:5 : "And the priests the sons of Levi shall come near for the Lord thy God hath chosen to minister unto Him, and to bless in the name of the Lord". The "blessing" Abraham received, is recorded in Genesis 14:19 : "Blessed be Abraham of the most high God, Possessor of heaven and earth". Absolutely, only God can either bless or curse, for He only has sovereign power over all good and evil. This power He exercises directly (Genesis 12:3 ): yet by a gracious concession and by His institution, God also allows men to invoke blessings on others. In the Old Testament we find parents blessing their children (Genesis 9:26 , Genesis 27:27 , Genesis 48:20 . etc.), and the priests blessing the people (Numbers 6:24-26 ).
In both instances it was Christ that was typically in view. "In the blessing of Abraham by Melchizedek, all believers are virtually blessed by Jesus Christ, Melchizedek was a type of Christ, and represented Him in what He was and did, as our apostle declares. And Abraham in all these things, bare the person of, or represented, all his posterity according to the faith. Therefore doth our apostle in the foregoing chapter entitle all believers, unto the promises made unto him, and the inheritance of them. There is, therefore, more than a bare story in this matter. A blessing is in it conveyed unto all believers in the way of an ordinance forever" (John Owen). It deserves to be noticed that the final act of Christ ere leaving this earth was that "He led them out as far as to Bethany, and He lifted up His hands, and blessed them" (Luke 24:50 ).
"To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all" (verse 2). Melchizedek’s "blessing" of Abraham was the exercise of his priesthood; Abraham’s paying him tithes was the recognition of it. Abraham had just obtained a most memorable victory over the kings of Canaan, and now in his making an offering to Melchizedek, he acknowledged that it was God who had given him the victory and owned that Melchizedek was His servant. Under the Mosaic dispensation we find the Levitical priests were supported by the tithes of the people: Numbers 18:24 . In like manner, God’s servants today ought to be so maintained: 1 Corinthians 9:9 , 1 Corinthians 9:10 . Melchizedek’s receiving of Abraham’s tithe was a sacerdotal act: it was given as to God, and received by His officer in this world. This comes out plainly in the apostle’s reasoning thereon in the later verses.
"First being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is King of peace" (verse 2). The Holy Spirit now gives us the mystical signification of the proper names used in the previous verse, which conveys more than a hint to us that there is nothing meaningless or superfluous in the perfect Word of God. Everything has an "interpretation". "In the Scripture everything is of importance; we cannot read and interpret the Scripture as any other book, since Scripture is not like any other book, even as no other book is like the Scripture. The Scripture is among books what the man Christ Jesus is among men.... These quotations and expositions of Scripture in Scripture are ‘grapes of Eshcol’, examples of, not exceptions to, the fruitful Carmel, whence they come. Thus who can fail to see the significance of the name Seth , who was given instead of Abel, one who was ‘firm and enduring’ in the place of him who ‘vanished’? or of the name of Joshua (God’s Savior), who brought Israel into the promised land"? (Adolph Saphir).
This 2nd verse of Hebrews 7:0 furnishes a clear and decisive proof of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. The revelation which God has given to us was not communicated in the rough, and then left to men to express it in their own words. No; so far from that being the case, every "jot and tittle" of the originals were given under the immediate superintendence of the Holy Spirit. "Hence the names of persons and places, the omissions of circumstances, the use of the singular or plural number, the application of a title all things are under the control of the all-wise and gracious Spirit of God. Compare Paul’s commentary on the word ‘all’ in Psalms 8:7 , and the important deductions from it in Hebrews 2:8 and 1 Corinthians 15:27 ; on the word ‘new’ Jeremiah 31:0 , Hebrews 8:13 ; the singular ‘seed’ Galatians 3:16 . What a wonderful superstructure is built on Psalms 110:4 ! Each word is full of most important and blessed meaning. In Psalms 32:1 , Psalms 32:2 no mention is made of works, hence Romans 4:6 ’ (Adolph Saphir).
Let us consider now the "interpretation" which is here given us. Melchizedek means "king of righteousness" and Salem "king of peace". But observe it well that the Holy Spirit has also emphasized the order of these two: "first" king of righteousness, "after that also" king of peace. This calls attention to another important and blessed detail in our type. Doubtless, the historical Melchizedek was both a righteous and peaceable king, but what the apostle here takes up is not the personal characteristics of this man, but how he represented Christ in His mediatorial office and work. Now the "King of righteousness" and "of peace" is the Author, Cause, and Dispenser of righteousness and peace. Christ is the Maker and Giver of peace because He is "the Lord our righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:6 ). Righteousness must go first, and then peace will follow after. This is the uniform order of Scripture wherever the two are mentioned together: peace never precedes righteousness. Mark well the following passages:
"Surely His salvation is nigh them that fear Him; that glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth are met together: righteousness and peace have kissed" (Psalms 85:9 , Psalms 85:10 ). "And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever" (Isaiah 32:17 ). "In His days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth" (Psalms 72:7 ). Jesus Christ is "the Righteous" One (1 John 2:1 ). He came here to "fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15 ), to "magnify the law and make it honorable" (Isaiah 42:21 ). He came here as the vicarious Representative of His people, being made under the law for them (Galatians 4:4 ), obeying the law for them (Matthew 5:17 ), and thus wrought out a perfect obedience for them (Romans 5:19 ). Therefore are they made "the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21 ). He also came here to pacify the wrath of God against His people’s sins (Ephesians 2:3 ) to be a propitiation (Romans 3:25 ), to "make peace through the blood of His cross" (Colossians 1:20 ). Hence we are told, "Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1 ).
How minutely accurate, then, how Divinely perfect was the type! The very word Melchizedek means "King of righteousness", while the name of his capitol signifies "peace". Well did John Owen remark: "I am persuaded that God Himself, by some providence of His, or other intimation of His mind, gave that name of ‘peace’ first unto that city, because there He designed not only to rest in His typical worship for a season, but also in the fullness of time, there to accomplish the great work of peace-making between Himself and mankind.... Wherefore our apostle doth justly argue from the signification of those names which were given, both to the person and place, by divine authority and guidance, that they might teach and fore-signify the things whereunto by him they are applied".
Christ is not only the Producer of righteousness and the Maker and Giver of peace, but He is also the King of both. All authority has been given to Him in heaven and in earth (Matthew 28:18 ). He is, even now, upholding all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3 ). He is expressly declared to be "the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and the Lord of lords" (1 Timothy 6:15 ). In the Millennium this will be openly demonstrated here upon earth. Then it will appear to all that He is a righteous Branch, for as King He shall "reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth" (Jeremiah 23:5 ), and, as Isaiah 9:7 tells us, "Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end". Meanwhile, faith views Him today as King, King of righteousness and King of peace.
"Without father, without mother, without pedigree, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God" (verse 3). Up to this point everything has been plain and simple, but here, judging from the laborious strugglings of most expositors, we enter deep water. Yet, in reality, it is not so. Men, as usual, have created their own difficulty; and, as is generally the case, they have done so through ignoring the immediate context. Had these statements in verse 3 referred to him as a man, it would surely be quite impossible to understand them. But it is not as man he is referred to, but as priest. Once this is clearly seen and firmly grasped little or no difficulty remains.
That Melchizedek was not a superhuman creature, a divine or angelic being, is unequivocally established by Hebrews 5:1 , where we are expressly told, "For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God". To be possessed of human nature is an essential prerequisite in order for one to occupy and exercise the sacerdotal office. The Son of God could not serve as Priest till He became incarnate. Observe carefully how that in verse 4 Melchizedek is expressly declared to be a "man". What, then, it may be asked, is the meaning of the strange statements about him in verse 3? We answer, their meaning is to be explained on the principle of the apostle’s subject in this passage.
"Without father, without mother, without descent". Now in connection with the Aaronic priesthood, personal genealogy was a vital prerequisite, hence the great care with which they preserved their pedigree: see Ezra 2:61 ,Ezra 2:62 . But, in contradistinction from them, Melchizedek was priest of an order where natural descent was not regarded, an order free from the restrictions of the Levitical, Numbers 3:10 , etc; therefore was he an accurate type of Christ, who belonged not to the tribe of Levi. Neither the book of Genesis, nor any of the later scriptures, say a word about Melchizedek’s parentage, and this silence was a part of the type.
"Having neither beginning of days nor end of life" is to be explained on the same principle. The Jewish priests "began" their "days" as priests at the age of twenty-five, when they were permitted to wait upon their brethren: Numbers 8:24 and cf. 1 Chronicles 23:27 , 1 Chronicles 23:28 . At the age of thirty they began their regular priestly duties: Numbers 4:3 . At the age of fifty their priestly "life" ended: "from the age of fifty years they shall cease waiting upon the service, and shall serve no more" (Numbers 8:25 ). But no such restriction was placed upon the sacerdotal ministry of Melchizedek: so, in this too, he was an eminent type of Christ.
"But made like unto the Son of God", or, more literally "but assimilated to the Son of God". It is very striking to note that it is not the Son of God who was "assimilated to Melchizedek", but vice versa. In the order of time Christ subsisted before Melchizedek; in the order of nature, Melchizedek was a priest before Christ was. The priesthood of the Son of God, ordained and appointed by the Eternal Three, was the original, and Melchizedek’s priesthood furnished the copy, and a copy given in advance is the same thing as the type. Melchizedek was "assimilated to the Son of God" as a type. First, as priest of the most high God. Second, as being a royal priest, possessing personal majesty and authority. Third, as being the king of righteousness. Fourth, as king of peace. Fifth, as the one who "blessed Abraham". Sixth, as the one who received the grateful gifts of God’s people represented by Abraham. Seventh, as not owing his priesthood to natural genealogy. Eighth, as abiding a priest beyond the bounds of the Levitical limitations.
"Abideth a priest continually" (verse 3). Note carefully it is not that the natural life of Melchizedek had no end, but that his priestly life did not cease at the age of fifty; in other words, he continued a priest to the very end of his earthly existence, which shows he had no vicar or successor, deriving a priesthood from his. "The expression ‘abideth a priest continually’, therefore, is the equivalent to saying that he had a perpetual priesthood in contradistinction from those whose office terminated at a definite period, or whose office passed over into the hands of others" (A. Barnes). In the verses that follow, the apostle reasons from these facts and shows the superiority of Melchizedek as a priest to Aaron and his sons. This, D.V. will come before us in our next article.
(Hebrews 7:4-10 )
The chief design of the apostle in this chapter was not to declare the nature of Christ’s priesthood, nor to describe the exercise thereof; instead, he dwells upon the excellency of it. The nature of Christ’s sacerdotal office had been treated of in the first half of Hebrews chapter 5 and is dealt with again, at length, in Hebrews chapter 9. But here he occupies us with the great dignity of it. His reason for so doing was to display the immeasurable superiority of Christianity’s High Priest over that of Judaism’s, and that, that the faith of the Hebrews might be established and their hearts drawn out in love and worship to Him. Unless the scope of the apostle’s theme in this chapter be clearly apprehended, it is well-nigh impossible to appreciate and understand the details of his argument.
The proof for the excellency of Christ’s priesthood is drawn from the Old Testament. In His written Word God had given hints of an alteration from the Levitical priesthood, and the introduction of another more efficacious and glorious. It is true that those hints were of such a character that their signification could not be perceived at the time, for it is "the glory of God to conceal a thing" (Proverbs 25:2 ), and this (in part) that His creatures may be taught their complete dependency upon Him, and that He may have the honor of revealing what they by mere searching cannot find out. He has chosen to make known His counsels gradually, so that "the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Proverbs 4:18 ).
As "life and immortality", so all spiritual truth, was brought to light by the Gospel (2 Timothy 1:10 ). Much truth was enfolded in the prophecies, promises, and institutions of the Old Testament, yet in such a way as that it was in a great measure incomprehensible until God’s time came to unfold them (1 Peter 1:10 ,1 Peter 1:11 ). The great secret of the manifold wisdom of God was hidden in Himself from the beginning of the world (Ephesians 3:9 , Ephesians 3:10 ), yet not so absolutely so, that no intimation of it had been given. But it had been given in such a way in the Scriptures that much was obscure to the understanding of the saints in all generations till it was interpreted and displayed by the Gospel. More than once we read of Israel’s chief seer and singer speaking of inclining his ear unto a "parable" and opening his "dark saying" upon the harp (Psalms 49:4 , Psalms 78:2 ). In sharp contrast therefrom, in the New Testament dispensation, "the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth" (1 John 2:8 ).
In consequence of the fuller revelation which God has made to us through the Gospel, all the glorious evidences of His grace which now appear unto us in the Old Testament Scriptures, is in consequence of a reflection of light upon them from the New Testament. This it is which supplies the key to our present Epistle. In Luke 24:27 , we read of how Christ began at Moses and the prophets, expounding unto the two disciples who were journeying to Emmaus, "the things concerning Himself", while in verse 45 we are told that He "opened the understanding" of the eleven "that they might understand the Scriptures". It has been thought by some (and we deem it quite probable) that in this very Hebrews’ Epistle the Holy Spirit has recorded for our instruction and joy the very things which the risen Savior communicated to those two favored disciples. Whether this be the case or no, certain it is that the leading design of the Spirit in this Epistle is to give us light on many Old Testament mysteries by means of the fuller revelation which God has now made by and through Jesus Christ.
A notable illustration and example of this principle appears in the case of Melchizedek, the priest-king. That strange and striking individual is first introduced to us in the sacred narrative in Genesis 14:0 . Then a single verbal reference is made to him again in the 110th Psalm, and nothing more is said of him in the Old Testament. Therefore we need not be surprised that the Jews appear to have given little or no consideration to him. It is not until he is contemplated in the light of the New Testament that we are able to discern in him an eminent type of Christ. This we sought to examine in our last article, all that we now emphasize is that the chief points which the apostle dwells upon are that Melchizedek had neither predecessor nor successor in his sacred office. Melchizedek did not belong to a line of priests as did Eleazar, Eli, etc. It was in this respect, more especially, that he was "made like unto the Son of God", our great High Priest.
The various appellations under which our Lord is referred to in this Epistle call for due attention. They are not used at haphazard, but with precision and design. In Hebrews 2:9 it is "Jesus" that faith beholds the humiliated but now glorified Savior. In Hebrews 3:6 it is "Christ", the Anointed One, who is over God’s house. But in Hebrews 7:3 , it is "the Son of God", as High Priest, unto whom Melchizedek was made a similitude. The Spirit here jealously guards the honor of Him whom it is His office and delight to glorify. He hereby intimates to the Hebrews that though Melchizedek were such an excellent person, yet he was infinitely beneath Him whom he represented. The typical person was but man; the antitype, Divine! Furthermore, one who was more than mortal was required in order to fulfill that which Melchizedek foreshadowed: he who should be capable of discharging an always-living, constant-abiding, uninterrupted priesthood, must be "the Son of God"!
In the first three verses of Hebrews 7:0 the apostle mentions those details in which Melchizedek resembled the great and glorious Priest of Christianity; in verses 4-10 he applies the type unto his immediate purpose and design. Having affirmed that Christ, the promised Messiah, was a Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:20 ), and having given a description of the person and office of that typical character from the inspired narrative of Moses (Genesis 14:0 :), he now dwells upon various details in the type in order to establish the argument which he has in hand. That which the apostle particularly designed to prove, was that a more excellent priesthood than that of Aaron’s, having been introduced according to the purpose and promise of God, it necessarily followed that the ceremonies and institutions connected with it had now been abolished.
"Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils" (verse 4). The apostle here calls upon the Hebrews to attentively mark and seriously ponder the official dignity of this ancient servant of God. The word "man" has been supplied by the translators, and should have been placed in italics. In the Greek it is simply "now consider how great this", i.e. royal priest. Think of how great he "must have been", seems preferable to "was". His exalted rank appears from the fact that none other than Abraham, the father and head of Israel, had shown him deference.
The force of the apostle’s reasoning here is easily perceived. To give tithes to another who is the servant of God is a token of official respect, it is the recognition and acknowledgement of his superior status. The value of such official tokens is measured by the dignity and rank of the person making them. Now Abraham was a person of very high dignity, both naturally and spiritually. Naturally he was the founder of the Jewish nation; spiritually he was the "father" of all believers (Romans 4:0 ). In his person was concentrated all the sacred dignity belonging to the people of God. How "great" then must be Melchizedek, seeing that Abraham himself owned his official superiority! And therefore how "great" must be that order of priesthood to which he belonged!
That upon which the Jews insisted as their chief and fundamental privilege, and which they were unwilling to forego, was the greatness of their ancestors, considered as the high favorites of God. They so gloried in Abraham and their being his children, that they opposed this to the person and doctrine of Christ Himself (John 8:33 , John 8:53 ). With regard to official dignity, they looked upon Aaron and his successors as to be preferred above all the world. Whilst they clung to such fleshly honors, the Gospel of Christ, which addressed them as lost sinners, could not be but distasteful to them. To disabuse their minds, to demonstrate that those in whom they trusted came far short in dignity, honor, and greatness, of the true High Priest, the apostle presses upon them the eminence of him who was a type of Christ, and shows that the greatest of all their ancestors paid obeisance to him.
Three proofs of the eminence of Melchizedek are found in the verse before us. First, in the nomination of the person that was subject unto him: "even Abraham". Second, in the dignity of Abraham; "the patriarch". Third, in that Abraham gave him a tenth of the spoils. Abraham was not only the root and stock of the Israelitish people, but he was the one who first received the promise of the covenant (Genesis 15:18 ); therefore they esteemed him next unto God Himself. A "patriarch" is a father, prince or ruler of a family. The sons of Jacob are thus denominated (Acts 7:8 , Acts 7:9 ), for the twelve tribes descended from them. None else is termed a "patriarch" except David (Acts 2:29 ), and he, because the royal family came from his loins. But David and Jacob’s sons, all sprang from Abraham, thus was he, pre-eminently, "the patriarch". Yet great as Abraham was, Melchizedek was still greater, for he was "priest of the most high God", and as such the father of the faithful owned him.
Let us not miss the practical lesson which the above facts teach us. Therein we learn of what true "greatness" consists. The Christian is to measure things by a different standard from that which worldlings employ. They look upon those who occupy prominent social and political positions as being the eminent of the earth. The vulgar mind esteems the wealthy and opulent as those who are most to be envied. But the anointed eye sees things in another light: the fashion of this world passeth away. Death levels all distinctions. Presidents and millionaires, kings and queens, are no more than the poorest beggar when their bodies are reduced to lifeless clay. And what of their souls? Ah, what concern have such after eternal interests? Learn, my reader, that true "greatness" consists in the favor of God and our nearness to Him. The meanest of His saints have been made "kings and priests unto God" (Revelation 1:6 ).
Ere leaving this verse, a few words need to be said upon the subject of tithing. There are few things on which many of the Lord’s people are more astray than the matter of giving to His cause and work. Are our offerings to be regulated by sentiment and impulse, or by principle and conscience? That is only another way of asking, Does God leave us to the promptings of gratitude and generosity, or has He definitely specified His mind and stated what portion of His gifts to us are due Him in return? Surely He has not left this important point undefined. He has given us His Word to be a lamp unto our feet, and therefore He cannot have left us in darkness concerning any obligation or privilege that pertains to our dealings with Him.
At a very early date the Lord made it known that a definite portion of the saints’ income should be devoted to Him who is the Giver of all. There was a period of twenty-five centuries from Adam until the time that God gave the law to Israel at Sinai, but it is a great mistake to suppose that His people were, at that time, without a definite communication from Him upon their several duties. A careful study of the book of Genesis reveals clear traces of a primitive revelation, which seems to have centered about these things: the offering of sacrifices to God, the observance of the Sabbath, and the giving of tithes. While we cannot today place our finger upon any positive enactment or command of God for any of those three things in those early days, nevertheless, from what is recorded we are compelled to assume that such must have been given.
No one can point to a "thus saith the Lord" requiring Noah to offer a sacrifice to Him, nor can we assign chapter and verse giving a command for the saints to tithe ere the law was given; yet is it impossible to account for either without presupposing a revelation of God’s mind on those points. The fact that Abraham did give a tithe or tenth to Melchizedek, intimates that he acted in accordance with God’s will. So too the words of Jacob in Genesis 28:22 suggests the same thing. This principle of recognizing God’s ownership and owning His goodness, was later incorporated into the Mosaic law: Leviticus 27:30 . Finally, it is taken note of here in Hebrews 7:0 , and in the humble judgment of the writer the passage which is before us presents an argument which admits of no refutation. Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, and Abraham is the father of all that believe (Romans 4:0 ; Galatians 3:0 ). He is the pattern man of faith. He is the outstanding exemplar of the stranger and pilgrim on earth whose Home is in Heaven. Melchizedek is the type of Christ. If then Abraham gave the tithe to Melchizedek, most assuredly every Christian should give tithes to Christ, our great High Priest.
"And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham; But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises" (verses 5, 6). In these verses the apostle strengthens the argument drawn from the important facts presented in verse 4, while at the same time he anticipates and obviates any counter argument which might be advanced against him. His argument consists of two parts: Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek, Abraham was blest by him. In response, the Jews might reply, That does not establish the superiority of Melchizedek over the Levitical order, for the Aaronic priesthood also received tithes. To this the apostle answers by pointing out that Aaron’s sons were all descended from Abraham, and therefore they, in their progenitor, paid tithes to the royal priest of Jerusalem, and by so doing owned his pre-eminence. Let us amplify this analysis.
In verse 5 the apostle acknowledges that God had granted the Levitical priests the right to receive tithes from His people (Numbers 18:21-24 ), and thus they were set above all other Israelites; nevertheless, they too had "come out of the loins of Abraham", and inasmuch as he had given a tenth to a priest of another order, his descendants were therefore inferior to that priest. Moreover, the Levites had "received" the priestly office, and accepted tithes by command "according to the law". Thus, the Aaronic priesthood was wholly derived in its functions and privileges. But not so Melchizedek’s. He was under no law. He was "king", as well as priest, and therefore belonged to a superior order. In this also he was a type of Christ, who, by virtue of His Divine nature, has authority in Himself, to receive and to bless. The words "take tithes... of their brethren" finds its counterpart in 1 Corinthians 9:11-14 . The Aaronic priesthood was not supported by a tax levied on the idolatrous Canaanites, but by the gifts of the Lord’s people!
The manner in which the apostle expresses himself in verse 5 deserves our closest notice, his language plainly intimating that his eye was on the high sovereignty of God. Observe that he did not simply say, "the priests have a commandment to take tithes", but "they that are of the sons of Levi". God distributed dignity and bestowed office in His Church (Acts 7:38 ) as it pleased Him. Not all the posterity of Abraham were set apart to receive tithes, and not all who belonged to the tribe of Levi; but only the family of Aaron was called to the priesthood. This appointment of His imperial will God required all to submit to: Numbers 16:9 ,Numbers 16:10 . It was something new to Israel to see the whole tribe of Levi taken into peculiar (official) nearness to Jehovah; yet to it they submitted. But when the "priests" were taken out of the tribe of Levi and exalted above all, some rebelled: Numbers 16:1-3 , etc.
The same principle holds good today. It is true, blessedly true, and God forbid that we should say a word to weaken it, that all believers enjoy equal nearness to God, that every one of them belongs to that "holy priesthood" who are to "offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5 ). Nevertheless, all believers are not called by God to occupy the same position of ministerial honor, all are not called to be preachers of His Gospel or teachers of His Word (James 3:1 ). God calls and equips whom He pleases to engage in His public service, and bids the rank and the of His people "obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves" (Hebrews 13:17 ). Yet, sad to say, in some circles the sin of Korah is repeated. They demand an ecclesiastical socialism, where any and all are allowed to speak. They "heap to themselves teachers" (2 Timothy 4:3 ). This ought not to be.
In verse 6 the apostle repeats the same thing he had said in verse 2. The Levitical priesthood received tithes from those descended from Abraham, and that was an evidence of official dignity conferred upon them by God’s appointment. But Melchizedek received tithes of Abraham himself, which not only manifested his superiority to Aaron but to him from whom Aaron sprang. The apostle’s insisting on this so particularly shows how difficult a matter it is to dispossess the minds of men of things which they have long held and in which they boast. The Jews clung tenaciously to their descent from Abraham, in fact rested upon it for salvation. Much patience is required in order to deal faithfully but lovingly with those in error. "In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves" (2 Timothy 2:25 ) is a needed word for every teacher.
Melchizedek not only received tithes from Abraham, but he actually pronounced blessing upon him, which was a further evidence of his official superiority to the patriarch. To make this detail the more emphatic, the apostle stresses the dignity of Abraham, for the more glorious he was, the more illustrious the dignity of the one qualified to pronounce a benediction upon him. Thus Abraham is here referred to as he who "had the promises". He was the first of the Israelitish race with whom God made the covenant of life. It was no ordinary honor which Jehovah conferred upon the father of the faithful. As the immediate result of his receiving the promises, Abraham "saw" the Day of Christ (John 8:56 ). Yet great as was the privilege and honor bestowed upon Abraham it did not hinder him from showing subjection to Melchizedek, God’s vicegerent.
There is an important practical lesson for us in verse 6. The one who had received the "promises" of God was now blest! Ah, we may have the promises of God stored in our minds and at our tongue’s end, but unless we also have the blessing of God, what do they avail us? Moreover, it is particularly, the blessing of Christ (typified by Melchizedek) which makes the promises of God effectual to us. Christ is Himself the great subject of the promises (2 Corinthians 1:20 ), and the whole blessing of them comes forth from Him alone (Ephesians 1:3 ). In Him, from Him, and by Him, are all blessings to be obtained. Apart from Christ all are under the curse. "And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better" (verse 7). This verse summarizes the argument contained in verses 4-6. "These words are plainly to be understood with limitations. It does not follow that, because a priest under the law blessed the king, he was in a civil capacity the king’s superior, any more than that a Christian minister instructing or even reproving a man of high civil rank who is a member of the church of which he is pastor, is civilly his superior. The apostle’s argument is: The person who accepts of priestly benediction from an individual acknowledges his spiritual superiority, just as the highest authority in the land, if he were becoming a member of a voluntary Christian society, would acknowledge that its pastor was ‘over him in the Lord’" (John Brown).
"Let us first know what the word blessed means here. It means indeed a solemn praying, by which he who is invested with some high and public honor, recommends to God men in private stations and under his ministry. Another way of blessing is when we pray for one another, which is commonly done by all the godly. But this blessing mentioned by the apostle was a symbol of greater authority. Thus Isaac blessed his son Jacob, and Jacob himself blessed his grandsons (Genesis 27:30 , Genesis 48:15 ). This was not done mutually, for the son could not do like the father; but a higher authority was required for such a blessing as this. And this appears more evident still from Numbers 6:23 , where a command is given to the priest to bless the people, and then a promise is immediately added, that they would be blessed whom they blessed. It hence appears that the blessing of the priest depended on this, that it was not so much man’s blessing as that of God. For as the priest in offering sacrifices represented Christ, so in blessing the people he was nothing more than a minister and legate of the supreme God" (John Calvin).
The application of the principles expressed by the above writers to the case in hand is apparent. The blessing of the priest in Old Testament times (type of Christ’s blessing His people now), though pronounced as the minister of God, was an evidence of high honor of the one uttering it. Though Abraham was more eminent than any of his descendants, yet he himself was indebted to the royal priest of Jerusalem.
"And here men that die receive tithes; but there he of whom it is witnessed that he liveth" (verse 8). Here the apostle advances a further argument to support his demonstration of the inferiority of the Aaronic order of priesthood to the Melchizedekean: the "here" referring to the former, the "there" to the latter as stated in Genesis 14:0 . The point singled out for notice is that, the Levitical order of office was but temporary, not so of that priest who blest Abraham. "The type is described as having no end; the order of priesthood which it represents is therefore eternal" (Calvin). The Scripture makes no mention of the death of Melchizedek when it relates that tithes were paid to him; so the authority of his priesthood is limited to no time, but on the contrary there is given an intimation of perpetuity.
Some have stumbled over the statement here made about Melchizedek: "it is witnessed that he liveth". These words have been appealed to in proof that he was a superhuman being. But if this statement be interpreted in the light of its context, there is no difficulty. It was not absolutely and personally that Melchizedek still lived, but typically and as a representation of Christ. Scripture frequently attributes to the type what is found alone in the and-type. Thus, the paschal lamb was expressly called God’s passover (Exodus 12:11 ), when in reality it was only a pledge and token thereof. So the emblems on the Lord’s table are denominated the body and blood of Christ, because they represent such. The blessedness of this detail will come before us, D.V., in the later verses.
"And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchizedek met him" (verses 9, 10). In these verses the apostle meets the last objection which a carping Jew could make upon the subject. Against what the apostle had been saying, it might be advanced: Granting that Abraham himself paid tithes to Melchizedek, it does not follow that Melchizedek was superior to all Abraham’s descendants. Abraham was, in some sense, a priest (Genesis 12:7 ), yet he was not so by virtue of any office which God had instituted in His Church. But in the days of Moses, Jehovah did institute an order and office of priesthood in the family of Aaron, and were not they, by Divine appointment, superior, because superceding the earlier order of Melchizedek? This the apostle makes reply to.
Many find it difficult to follow his line of thought, and that, because they are so ill-acquainted with the most important truth of headship and representation. Let us quote here from F.S. Sampson, "Abraham was truly the covenant-head of his posterity in the line of Isaac and Jacob, in whose descendants the promises made to him were fulfilled. It was in virtue of this covenant with Abraham, that the Jews inherited their distinguished privileges as a nation. It was the transaction with Abraham which brought them into the relation of a ‘peculiar people’ to Jehovah; and hence, in his patriarchal character and acts, he stood forth as the representative or federal head of the nation, so far as all the promises, privileges, and institutions of the Judaical were concerned. He was both their natural progenitor and their covenant-head, by the appointment of God. We must remember that He was concerned, through His providence and promises, in all this business. Therefore, when Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek as a priest of the most High God, and received a blessing from him, it was a historical fact intentionally introduced by God’s providence, with a view to its becoming a feature of the type (so to speak) which Melchizedek, in his history and functions, was foreordained to present, of the supreme and eternal High Priest. This providential incident prefigured and represented, by the Divine intention, the supremacy of the antitype; and in it Abraham acknowledged the official superiority of the type, not only over himself, but over his posterity then in his loins, represented by and acting in him".
The principle of federal representation lies at the very base of all God’s dealings with men, as a careful study of Romans 5:12-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:45-47 reveals. Adam stood for and transacted on the behalf of the whole human race, so that what he did, they legally did; hence his sin, guilt and death, are imputed to all his posterity, and God deals with them accordingly. So too Christ stood for and transacted on the behalf of all His seed, so that what He did, they legally did; hence, His meeting the demands of the law, His death and resurrection-life, are imputed to all who believe on Him. In like manner, Abraham stood for and transacted on the behalf of all his posterity, so that God’s covenanting with him, is to be regarded as His covenanting with them also. Proof of this is found in the title here (and nowhere else) given to Abraham, viz., "the patriarch" (verse 4), which means, head or father of a people.
Thus the apostle here brings to a head his argument by pointing out that, virtually and representatively (not personally and actually), Levi himself had paid tithes to Melchizedek. We repeat, that Abraham in Genesis is not to be considered only as a private individual, but also as the head and representative of all his children. When Abraham gave tithes he did so not only in his own name, but also in that of all his descendants. Abraham had been called of God and separated to His service as the head of His elect people. There was more than a natural relation between him and his descendants. Jehovah promised to be a God unto him and to his seed after him, and therefore Abraham covenanted with God in the name of and as the representative of his seed. What God gave unto Abraham He gave unto his children, but he received the grant of it as the representative of his children, who, four hundred years later, took possession of it.
The typical teaching of Genesis 14:0 is exceedingly rich, but difficult to apprehend through lack of familiarity with the leading principles which interpret it. In Melchizedek’s blessing of Abraham, we have a foreshadowing of Christ, as our great High Priest, blessing the whole election of grace (Luke 24:50 ). In Abraham’s owning Melchizedek as priest of the most high God by giving him tithes, we have prefigured the subjection to Christ of all His believing people. It lay outside the apostle’s scope to fully expound this type in Hebrews 7:0 (cf. Hebrews 9:5 ). Here he practically confines himself to a single point, viz., showing that the High Priest of Christianity far exceeded in honor and glory that of Judaism’s. His argument in verses 9, 10 is to the effect that Melchizedek had been as much and as truly honored by Abraham as though the whole Levitical priesthood had personally done him homage.
The all-important and inexpressibly blessed truth for us to lay hold of is that in verses 9, 10 we have an illustration of the most soul-satisfying truth revealed in Holy Writ. Just as Levi was "in Abraham", not only seminally but representatively, so every one of God’s children was "in Christ" when He wrought out that glorious work which has honored and pleased God high above everything else. When the death-sentence of the law fell upon Christ, it fell upon the believer, so that he can unhesitatingly say, "I was crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:20 ). So too when Christ arose in triumph from the tomb, all His people shared His victory (Ephesians 2:5 , Ephesians 2:6 ). When He ascended on high, they ascended too. Let all Christian readers pray earnestly that God may be pleased to reveal to them the meaning, blessedness, and fullness of those words "In Christ".
The Priesthood Changed
(Hebrews 7:11-16 )
In Hebrews 5:1-9 the apostle has shown (in part, for he returns to the same theme again in Hebrews chapter 9) how Christ fulfilled that which Aaron had foreshadowed of Him as the High Priest of His people. Then, in Hebrews 5:11 he declares Christ had been hailed by God as High Priest "after the order of Melchizedek". Immediately following, the apostle adds that, though he had "many things" to say of him, he was restrained through the Hebrews’ dullness. After a lengthy parenthesis in which he corrects their faulty condition, return is made to the subject of Christ’s priesthood in Hebrews 6:20 , which is amplified in Hebrews chapter 7. The main object now before him was to show that Christ is superior to the Jewish high priest, and, in proof, he appeals to the striking type of Melchizedek. Concerning that type he pointed out that not only was Melchizedek greater in his own person than Aaron, but that his superiority had been owned by the whole Levitical stock, inasmuch as they, represented by Abraham, had done homage to him.
In the second section of Hebrews chapter 7 which begins at verse 11, the apostle points out the inevitable inferences which must be drawn from and the certain corollaries which are involved in what had just been shown. The fact that the Messiah was Priest after the order of Melchizedek, necessarily set aside the Levitical order. The fact that God had sent His Son to perform a sacerdotal work, plainly signified that the ministry of Aaron and his successors was inadequate. The fact that "perfection" was not brought in till Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice to God, clearly showed that imperfection attached to those who preceded Him. To bring this out the more clearly was the great design of the apostle in the verses which are to be before us. He had now reached that which was the most difficult for the Jews to receive, viz., that what had been so long venerated by their fathers had now been set aside by God.
To announce that the Mosaic economy was temporary, inadequate, defective, was unbelievable to a pious but unregenerate Israelite, and it was something which was far from easy to prove to a regenerated Jew. They believed that the Levitical system of priesthood was "perfect". It had been instituted by Jehovah Himself, so surely it must be sufficient and permanent! If the whole Aaronic system was of Divine appointment how could it possibly be, in itself, so unsatisfactory that it must now be discarded? The apostle might have reasoned from the analogies supplied by Nature. Many things made by God such as chrysalis for the butterfly serve a temporary purpose and then become useless when a more perfect stage of development is reached. But the apostle takes much higher ground and proves by invincible logic that the Levitical system was imperfect, and therefore had been superceded by something else.
God had raised up a Priest who belonged not to the Levitical tribe. This the believing Hebrews freely granted: that Jesus Christ had by His sacrifice put away their sins and brought them nigh unto God, was the glorious truth they espoused when they received the Gospel. But they were slow to perceive and acknowledge the necessary implications of it. That the Lord Jesus was Priest "after the order of Melchizedek", intimated unequivocally that the priesthood which preceded His was incapable of producing "perfection", for there was no need of introducing something new if the old met all the requirements of God. But more: not only did Christ’s bringing in "perfection" presuppose the imperfection of the old order, but it necessarily involved a change of economy, i.e. all that was distinctly associated with the Levitical system was now effete, out of date. It is this which the apostle proceeds to show.
It was never the intention of God that the Levitical priesthood should remain forever, for in the Old Testament Scriptures He gave intimation of another Priest, of another order, rising to supercede the former. That intimation was to be found, first, in Genesis 14:0 , where the head and representative of the whole Jewish race had owned Melchizedek as the priest of the most High God. Still plainer was the prophecy which God gave to David. In the 110th Psalm He had greeted the Messiah with these words, "Sit Thou at My right hand" (verse 1), and then He had declared, "The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (verse 4). This the apostle here cites, and by so doing bases his argument on a ground which no pious Jew could gainsay: the inspired and infallible testimony of Holy Scripture. Therefore if Christ was Priest "after the order of Melchizedek", the Aaronic must be imperfect, or there had been no need for introducing this change.
"If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need that another priest should rise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron?" (verse 11). The apostle now points out some of the consequences of Christ’s being a Priest "after the order of Melchizedek". The first he mentions is that the Levitical was unable to bring in "perfection". This was evident. Had it done so there was no need for introducing another. But wherein was it that the Levitical system fell short? What was it that it failed to procure? To answer these questions we need to carefully weigh the expression "perfection".
The term "perfection" is one of the characteristic and key-words of this Epistle. It has a different shade of meaning than it has in the other Pauline Epistles. Unless careful attention be paid to its immediate connections, we are almost certain to fall into an erroneous conception of its force. It has to do more with relationship than experience, though as the relationship is spiritually apprehended a corresponding experience follows. It concerns the objective side of things rather than the subjective. It looks to the judicial and vital aspect rather than to the experimental and practical. Its first occurrences are in Hebrews 2:10 and Hebrews 5:9 , used of Christ Himself, where the obvious reference is what pertained to Him officially rather than personally. Then it is found in Hebrews 6:1 compare our comments thereon. In Hebrews 9:9 we are told that in Old Testament times the gifts and sacrifices offered "could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience". The same thing is affirmed in Hebrews 10:1 . But in blessed contrast therefrom we read, "For by one offering He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified" (Hebrews 10:14 ).
"Perfection" means the bringing of a thing to that completeness of condition designed for it. Doctrinally it refers to the producing of a satisfactory and final relation between God and men. It speaks of that unchangable standing in the favor and blessing of God which Christ has secured for His people. In Hebrews 12:23 we read of "the spirits of just men made perfect", which does not mean that the Old Testament saints had been perfected in holiness and happiness (though that, of course, was true of them), but that they had been "made perfect" as their title to heavenly glory. This did not take place till the sacrifice of Christ had been offered, though, in the certain prospect of its accomplishment, they had received the blessings which flow from it long before: cf. Hebrews 11:40 .
In our present section the apostle insists that "perfection" could not be produced by the Levites, and that a priesthood which did bring in perfection must be superior. It therefore remains for us to enquire next, What are the great ends of priesthood? What is it that the priest should effect? The priest was the mediator who drew near unto God on behalf of others. His work was to present to Him a sacrifice for the satisfying of Divine justice. It was to effect such a procuring of His favor and such a securing of a standing-ground before Him for those whom he represented, that their conscience might be at peace. It was to come forth from His presence that he might pronounce blessing. Had the Levitical priesthood been able to obtain these things? Had Aaron and his successors obtained God’s remission from all the consequences of sin and brought in a complete and abiding redemption? No, indeed.
The office and work of a priesthood may be considered two ways: first, as it respects God, who is the prime and immediate object of all the proper acts of that office; second, as it respects His people, who are the subject of its blessings and the beneficiaries of its administration. As priesthood respects God, its chief design was to make expiation of sin by means of an atoning sacrifice. But this the Levitical priesthood was unable to do. A typical, ceremonial, and temporary value attached to their sacerdotal ministrations; but an effectual, vital, and permanent did not. This is positively stated in Hebrews 10:4 , "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins". Why, then, were such appointed? To exhibit the holy claims of God and the requirements of His justice; to prefigure the great Sacrifice yet to come.
Let us next inquire, What was the "perfection" which Christ hath brought in? And here we cannot do better than give a summary of the most helpful exposition of John Owen. That which Christ hath produced to the glory of God and the blessing of His people is, First , righteousness. The introduction of all imperfection was by sin. This made the law weak (Romans 8:3 ) and sinners to be "without strength" (Romans 5:6 ). Therefore perfection must be introduced by righteousness. That was the fundamental of the new covenant: see Isaiah 60:21 , Psalms 72:7 , etc. Therefore do the saints speak of Christ as "The Lord our righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:6 ). Christ has brought in an "everlasting righteousness" (Daniel 9:24 ), and therefore are believers "made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21 ).
Second, peace is the next thing which belongs to the evangelical "perfection" of Christianity. As the High Priest of the covenant it pertained to the Lord Jesus to make peace between God and sinners. "When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son" (Romans 5:10 ). Therefore is He denominated "The Prince of peace" (Isaiah 9:6 ): He is such because He has "made peace through the blood of His cross" (Colossians 1:20 ). The result of this is that believers have "peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1 ). Thus the evangel we proclaim is "The Gospel of peace" (Ephesians 6:15 ).
Third, light. God designed for Christians a greater measure of spiritual light and knowledge of the mysteries of His wisdom and grace than were attainable under the law. God reserved for His Son the honor of making known the fullness of His counsels (John 1:18 , Hebrews 1:1 , Hebrews 1:2 ). There was under the Levitical priesthood but a "shadow of good things to come" (Hebrews 10:1 ), but the mystery of them remained hid in God (Ephesians 3:9 ). The prophets themselves perceived not the depths of their own predictions (1 Peter 1:11 , 1 Peter 1:12 ). Hence, the attitude of the Old Testament Church was a looking forward unto a fuller revelation: "till the day break, and the shadows flee away" (Song of Solomon 2:17 , Song of Solomon 4:6 ). The contrast between the two economies is seen in 1 John 2:8 , "The darkness is past, and the true light now shineth".
Fourth, access to God. There belongs to the "perfection" which Christ hath brought in, a liberty and boldness of approach unto the throne of grace that was not only unknown but expressly forbidden under the law. At Sinai the people were fenced off at the foot of the mount, when Jehovah appeared to Moses on its summit. In the tabernacle, none save the priests were suffered to go beyond the outer court, and they not at all into the holy of holies where God dwelt. How blessed is the contrast today. "For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (Ephesians 2:18 ). To us the word is, "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith" (Hebrews 10:19 , Hebrews 10:22 ).
Fifth, the unveiling of the future state. Christ hath "brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10 ). Whatever knowledge of resurrection and eternal blessedness individual saints enjoyed in Old Testament times, it was not conveyed to them by the ministrations of the Levitical priesthood. That which characterized the people under the Mosaic law was that they "through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:15 ). Nor could it be otherwise while the curse of the law hung over them. But now our great High Priest has endured the curse for us. He entered the devouring jaws of death. But He did not remain there. He triumphed over the grave, and in the resurrection of Christ His people have the evidence, guarantee, and pattern, of their own victory too. He has gone on High, and that as our "Forerunner" (Hebrews 6:20 ). And His request is, "Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am" (John 17:24 ).
Sixth, joy. "The kingdom of God is . . . righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17 ). True it is that many of the Old Testament saints rejoiced greatly in the Lord, yet it was not by virtue of the Levitical priesthood. The ground of their joy was that death would be swallowed up in victory (Isaiah 25:8 ), and that awaited the death and resurrection of Christ. Therefore did Abraham rejoice to see His day (John 8:56 ). But ordinarily their joy was mixed and allayed with a respect unto temporal things: see Leviticus 23:39-41 , Deuteronomy 12:11 , Deuteronomy 12:12 , Deuteronomy 12:18 , etc. But the Christian has a joy "unspeakable, and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8 ). It is that inexpressible satisfaction which is wrought in the love of God by Jesus Christ. This gives the soul a repose in all trials, refreshment when it is weary, peace in trouble, delight in tribulations: Romans 5:1-5 .
Seventh, glorying in the Lord. This is the fruit of joy. One chief design of the Gospel is to exclude all human boasting, to empty us of glorying in self (Romans 3:27 , Ephesians 2:9 ). God has so ordered things that no flesh should now glory in His presence, so that he that glorieth must glory in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:29 , 1 Corinthians 1:31 ). Thus it was promised of old: see Isaiah 45:25 . Glorying in the Lord is that high exultation of spirit which causes believers to esteem their interest in heavenly things high above things present, to despise and condemn all that is contrary thereto, to say with the apostle, "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ". If the reader desires to follow up more fully the contrast between the glory and excellency of the two economies, the Mosaic and the Christian, let him study 2 Corinthians 3:0 .
Ere leaving this blessed subject, let us make a brief practical application of what has been before us. To be a real Christian is to have a personal and vital interest in and be an actual participant of those blessings which the "perfection" of Christ has brought in. Multitudes make an outward profession of the same; few have an experimental acquaintance with them. Again; the pre-eminence of Christianity over Judaism is entirely spiritual and cannot be discerned by the carnal eye: wherein it excels has been pointed out above it consists of a clearer knowledge of God, a freer approach to Him, a fuller enjoyment of Him. Finally, let it be said that the attempts to find glory and satisfaction in outward forms and ceremonies is to prefer the Levitical priesthood before that of Christ’s. That is the outstanding sin of all ritualists.
A brief word needs to be added upon the parenthetic clause of verse 11: "For under it the people received the law". Its evident design was to strengthen the apostle’s argument. It is brought in as a subsidiary proof that "perfection" could not be by the Levitical priesthood. We are therefore disposed to regard "the law" here as referring to the whole system of the Mosaic economy. The passive "received the law" is a single word in the Greek, and really means "were legalized". The reference is not to bring to the actual giving of the law, but to the state of the people under it, their being brought beneath its power. The law demanded perfect righteousness, but fallen man was incapable of producing it (Romans 3:19 , Romans 3:20 ; Romans 8:3 ); nor could the Levitical priesthood effect it. Thus the only hope lay outside of themselves. "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Romans 10:4 ).
"For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law" (verse 12). Here the apostle names the second consequence which must be drawn from the facts stated in verses 1-10. First , the Levitical priesthood was inadequate, incapable of producing "perfection". Second , therefore it was but a temporary institution, and the whole economy connected with it must be set aside. In other words, Judaism as such, was now defunct. Thus "a change of the law" means a change of dispensation, a change of Divine administration. This at once fixes the meaning of "law" in the parenthetic clause of the previous verse. The reference is not to the ten commandments, but to the Mosaic system.
The "change also of the law" or setting aside of the Mosaic system was that to which the Jews were so strenuously opposed. They stoned Stephen (Acts 7:58 , Acts 7:59 ), and vented their rage upon Paul, on this very charge (Acts 21:28 ). Yea, many who professed the faith of the Gospel continued to obstinately contend that the Mosaic law remained in force (Acts 21:20 ). It was this same contention which caused so much trouble in the early churches, the Judaisers harassing the Gentile converts with their insistence upon circumcision and subjection to the ceremonial law. Difficult as it was for a pious Jew to believe that God should have set aside as dead and useless the whole solemn system of worship, which He had appointed in so glorious a manner and accepted for so many centuries, yet the proof that He had done so was abundant and clear. The law and the Gospel could not mix. Works and grace are antithetical. Moses must disappear when Christ was revealed: carefully compare Mark 9:5-8 ! So far from God’s people being the losers they are immeasurably the gainers by His bringing in the "better hope" (Hebrews 7:19 ).
"For He of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar" (verse 13). The argument of this verse, introduced by the "for" makes it plain that it is not the moral law which the apostle had reference to at the close of the preceding verse: the closing words of the next verse make this still more evident. We mention this because certain "Dispensationalists" have appealed to Hebrews 7:12 in their misguided efforts to show that Christians are, in no sense, under the ten commandments. The moral law is not at all under discussion in this passage. 1 Corinthians 9:21 , Matthew 5:18 , etc. are quite sufficient to prove that the moral law has not been (and never will be) repealed.
"For He of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar". The apostle’s object here is to give further proof that the Levitical priesthood, and the entire ceremonial law, has been set aside by God. He appeals to the fact that our Lord, according to the flesh, belonged not to the tribe of Levi, and therefore His sacerdotal office was not according to the Aaronic order. The expression "attendance at the altar" signifies, "exercising priestly functions". The "these things" looks back to what is said at the end of verse 11, which receives amplification in verses 17, 21.
The honor of the Aaronic order of priesthood continued, by Divine appointment and privilege, within the bounds of the Levitical tribe: Exodus 40:12-16 . None belonging to any other tribe in Israel was suffered to officiate at the altar or minister in the holy place. So strictly was this institution observed, that when one of Israel’s kings dared to violate it, the judgment of God fell immediately upon him (2 Chronicles 26:18-21 ). In smiting Uzziah with leprosy God maintained the sanctity of His law, and gave a most solemn warning against any obtruding into holy office who have received no Divine call to it. Furthermore, this exercise of God’s severity should have been more than a hint to Israelites that when He did introduce a priest of another tribe then the priesthood of the old order must have been Divinely set aside.
"For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood" (verse 14). The opening "for" at once denotes the apostle is here continuing his proof that the Levitical priesthood and economy was now a thing of the past so far as God’s recognition of it was concerned. His words here contain a double assertion: our Lord, according to His humanity, belonged to the tribe of Judah; of that tribe Moses revealed nothing concerning priesthood. All that was needed to complete the proof of his argument was that Christ was a Priest: this he shows in the ensuing verses. The appeal made to this verse by those who deny that the Lord Jesus entered upon His priestly office till after His ascension, proceeds from such gross ignorance or malice that it deserves no direct refutation.
First, it was "evident" that our Lord "sprang" as the "Rod" out of Jesse’s stem from Judah. This was included in the faith of believers that the Messiah was to come out of the royal tribe. Such prophecies as Genesis 49:8-10 , 2 Samuel 7:12 , Isaiah 11:1-5 , Micah 5:2 had made that very plain. The genealogy recorded in Matthew 1:0 established the same fact. Whoever therefore acknowledge the Lord Jesus to be the true Messiah, as all to whom the apostle was directly writing did, (though most of them still clung to the ceremonial law), granted that He was of the tribe of Judah. Nor did the unbelieving Jews deny it. In passing, we have noted that Judah signifies "praise": Christ still dwells in the midst of His people’s praises!
Second, about Judah Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. The apostle’s object is to render it conclusive that God’s raising up of a Priest out of the royal tribe, must necessarily exclude all the house of Aaron from sharing His office. Moses did specify that the priesthood should be exercised by those belonging to the tribe of Levi, but he nowhere intimated that a time would come when it should be transferred to the royal family. Again we may take note of the significance of the silences of Scripture, and the justification of arguing therefrom. As, for example, no mention is made of the month in which the Savior was born, intimating that God did not intend us to celebrate the anniversary of His birth: cf. Jeremiah 7:31 . Paul here reasons from the silence of Moses as being quite sufficient to show that the legal or Aaronic priesthood could not be transferred to the tribe of Judah.
"And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchizedek there ariseth another priest" (verse 15). In this and the next verse the apostle presents the third consequence which follows from the facts set forth in verses 1-10. First, he had pointed out from those facts that, it necessarily followed the Levitical priesthood was inadequate, for it was unable to bring in "perfection". Second, therefore it was evident that the Levitical priesthood could only be a temporary institution, and that the whole economy connected with and based upon it must be set aside. Third, he now insists that the priesthood of Christ must be radically different from and be immeasurably superior to the Levitical order. So much for the general scope of these two verses. Let us now attend to their details.
"And it is yet far more evident". What is it that was "far more evident"? What was the particular point to which the apostle was here calling the Hebrews’ attention? Not that Christ had sprung from the tribe of Judah, nor that He fulfilled the Melchizedek type, but that the Levitical priesthood and economy was now obsolete. The proof that this was so obvious is presented in what immediately follows. That proof may be expressed thus: the priesthood of Christ was no temporary expedient, brought in only to supply the deficiency of the Levitical order. No; it was a permanent office and abiding ministry. Therefore as God would not own two separate and different priesthoods, the former and inferior must give place to the latter. The second, "consequence" had been drawn from the tribal humanity of Christ; this third "consequence", from the character of His priesthood.
"And it is yet far more evident". It is to be carefully noted that the apostle did not say "it is far more certain". No, he was not absolutely comparing one thing with another, but comparing them only with respect to their evidential significance, the relative force of those facts to all who were capable of weighing them. The fact that God had caused our great "High Priest" to spring from the tribe of Judah rather than from that of Levi, made it obvious that the Aaronic order could no longer continue. But the further fact that He had been made "after the similitude of Melchizedek", rendered this still more obvious. The apostle is but adding argument to argument, in order to show how wrong it was for the Hebrews to still cling to Judaism.
"For that after the similitude of Melchizedek there ariseth another priest". The Greek word for "similitude" means "likeness" and occurs elsewhere only in Hebrews 4:15 . The emphatic here is "another priest". It is not "allos" which means another of the same species, but "heteros", another of a totally different order: one who was a stranger to the house of Aaron. Let the reader consult Exodus 29:33 , Leviticus 22:10 , Numbers 16:40 , and he will see how impossible it was for one from the tribe of Judah to perpetuate the Levitical priesthood. The word "ariseth" is also very emphatic. It means to be brought forth after an extraordinary manner: cf. Judges 5:7 , Deuteronomy 18:18 , Luke 1:69 . The arising of Christ in His priestly office put an end to the Aaronic, just as His arising in the hearts of His people (2 Peter 1:19 ) puts an end to their looking to anything or anyone else for salvation.
"Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life" (verse 16). This completes the sentence begun in verse 15. The apostle is still showing how manifest it was that the Levitical priesthood had been set aside, for one infinitely superior had now been set up by God. The contrast here made between the two is very striking. The Aaronic was constituted "according to the law of commandment fleshly". The same expression is used in Ephesians 2:15 to designate the whole system of worship under Judaism. This emphatic denomination may be accounted for by the fact that under it commandments were so multiplied, and because of the severity wherewith obedience was exacted. The Levitical priesthood was "carnal", First, inasmuch as the sacrifices offered at their consecration were the bodies of beasts. Second, inasmuch as the priesthood was by fleshly propagation, from father to son. Third, inasmuch as their ministration availed only to the "purifying of the flesh" (Hebrews 9:13 ). In sharp contrast, Christ was not dedicated to His office by the sacrifice of beasts, nor did He claim any right to it by His natural descent.
"Who is made . . . after the power of an endless life". Let the reader compare our remarks on Hebrews 5:5 . The Lord Christ did not merely on His own authority and power take the priestly office upon Himself, but by the appointment of His Father. The way or manner in which He was "made priest" is here stated: according to "the power of an indissoluable life". These words have been grossly wrested by those who seek to prove by them that Christ never entered upon the priestly office until after His resurrection. It is truly pitiable to find those who ought to know better echoing the errors of "annihilationists". Christ officiated as priest before His resurrection, or He could not have offered Himself as a sacrifice to God. As this will, D.V., come before us again in the 9th chapter we will say no more thereon at the present juncture.
Christ’s "indissoluable life" here has unquestionable reference to His life as the Son of God. Upon that depends His own mediatorial life forever, and His conferring eternal life upon His people: John 5:26 , John 5:27 . It was only by the Mediator being made priest "after the power of an indissoluable life" that He was qualified to discharge that office, whereby God was to redeem His church with His own blood (Acts 20:28 ) i.e., here called "His blood" because the humanity had been taken up into union with the second person in the Godhead. Should it be objected, But Christ died! True, yet his person still lived: though actually dead in His human nature, He was still alive in His indissoluable person, and therefore there was no interruption whatever to the discharge of His sacerdotal office; no, not for a moment. Thus the contrast between Aaron and Christ is that of a mortal man and "The King eternal, immortal, invisible" (1 Timothy 1:17 ).
How deeply thankful should every Christian be for such a Priest. The eternal Word became flesh. The Lord of glory stooped to become man. As the God-man He mediates between the ineffably holy God and sinful creatures. The Savior is none other than Immanuel (Matthew 1:21 , Matthew 1:23 ). In His humanity, He suffered, bled and died. But in His Divine-human person He Himself quickened that humanity (John 2:19 , John 10:18 ). We profess not to understand the mystery, but by grace, we believe what the Scriptures record concerning Him. The "life" that was given to Christ as the Mediator (unlike that of His humanity) was an indestructible one. Therefore He is "a Priest forever", and therefore "He ever liveth to make intercession" (Hebrews 7:25 ). Hallelujah!
Judaism Set Aside
(Hebrews 7:17-19 )
As stated in the opening paragraphs of the preceding article, the apostle had now reached (in the second section of Hebrews 7:0 ) the most difficult and delicate part of his task, namely, to satisfy believing Jews that God had set aside the entire system which He had Himself instituted in the days of Moses. It is exceedingly difficult for us to form any adequate estimate of what that meant to them; in truth, it was the severest test to which the faith of God’s people has ever been put. To be assured that God had discarded as dead and useless the entire order of solemn worship which He had appointed in so glorious a manner and which He had accepted for so many generations, was indeed a sore trial of faith. To acquiesce in His sovereign pleasure in this momentous matter called for no ordinary measure of grace. To establish the truth thereof Paul was led of the Spirit to enter into such detail that every valid objection was fairly met and clearly refuted.
There are many today who quite fail to appreciate the reason why the apostle should here pursue his argument so laboriously and enter into so many minute details. That these should strike anyone as "dry", uninteresting and unprofitable, is because he is insensible of the vast importance of what the apostle had before him. Rightly did John Owen affirm that "he hath the greatest argument in hand that was ever controverted in the church of God, and upon the determination whereof the salvation or ruin of the church did depend. The worship he treated of was immediately instituted by God Himself, and had now continued near fifteen hundred years in the church. All that while it had been the certain rule of God’s acceptance of the people, or of His anger toward them; for whilst they complied with it, His blessing was continually upon them, and the neglect of it was still punished with severity".
The final exhortation which God had given to Israel through the last of His prophets was, "Remember ye the law of Moses My servant . . . lest I come and smite the earth with a curse" (Malachi 4:4-6 ). Those are the closing words of the Old Testament! So highly did the Jews esteem their great and singular privileges above all other nations, that they would rather die than part with them. So high ran their feelings against those who pressed upon them the claims of Christ that, the charge preferred against the first Christian martyr was, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God . . . This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against the holy place and the law" (Acts 6:11 , Acts 6:13 ): and though he remonstrated so faithfully, earnestly, and tenderly with them, they "gnashed on him with their teeth" and "stoned" him (Acts 7:54 , Acts 7:59 ). It was therefore most necessary that Paul should proceed cautiously, carefully and slowly, omitting nothing that was of any force in favor of the cause he was pleading.
The truth of God requires no vindication from us, nor are we called upon to attempt any justification for what may strike some as being unnecessarily tedious. Yet, in addition to intimating the needs be for Paul to enter so microscopically into the signification and application of the details of the Melchizedek type, we may profitably observe how that he has left an example which servants of God today need to take to heart. The course here followed by this beloved teacher supplies a most helpful illustration of what is meant by believers being "established in the present truth" (2 Peter 1:12 ). All truth is eternal, and in itself is equally valuable and applicable to each age and generation. Yet portions of it are especially so from their timely pertinency to particular seasons, and that because of the opposition made against them. Thus Paul’s teaching here about the abolishing of the Mosaic ceremonies with the introduction of a new priesthood and new ordinances of worship was then the "present truth" in the knowledge and confirmation of which the people of God were vitally concerned. The same principle holds good continuously. Each portion of God’s truth may become of peculiar urgency by virtue of some special opposition thereto.
In His sovereign wisdom God is pleased to exercise and try the faith of His saints by various heresies which are fierce, persistent, and subtle oppositions to His Truth. None of the Devil’s agents, while posing as the champions of the Cause of Christ or as revealing new and fuller "light" from Heaven, reject all the Gospel or repudiate all the fundamentals of the faith. No, Satan is far too clever to show his hand so openly. Rather do his wolves, who aim at robbing God’s children of their inheritance, appear in sheep’s clothing, and pretend to great reverence for the Scriptures. Instead of repudiating the entire faith delivered to the saints, they insidiously direct their attack upon some single portion thereof; and thus a defense of what is directly opposed becomes the "present truth" for that day in which the saints need establishing, because of the Enemy’s attempt to overthrow them.
Though Satan hates all Truth, yet he is far too wary to send his satellites among the people of God and openly deny all that they hold dear. Nor can he gain any advantage over them while they are really walking with God, in humble, dependent, obedient submission to Him. No, he has to watch and wait until he discovers what professing Christians, because of their lust and prejudices, are most inclined to receive. As the spirit of worldliness increases among them, then he presses that which is most calculated to hide from their view the heavenly calling of God’s people and its inseparable consequence of walking down here as "strangers and pilgrims". As the spirit of egotism and pride is allowed a large place, then that which humbles and abases the flesh is withheld and a species of intellectualism which puffs up, is substituted.
It is indeed solemn and saddening to review the course which Christendom has followed during the last two or three generations in the light of the above principle. As the denying of self and the daily taking up of the cross declined, the heart was prepared for the Satanic delusion that because salvation is by grace alone, that therefore obedience to God, submission to His law, and the actual doing of His Word, are quite unnecessary; and thus Paul has been pitted against James, and the teaching of the latter ignored. That there is a Strait gate to be entered and a Narrow way to be traversed, before "life" is actually reached, is almost universally denied by those who pose as the servants of God; yet that only solemnly confirms our Lord’s words, "Few there be that find it" (Matthew 7:14 ).
Again; as the "professing Church" became more infected with the lawlessness abounding in the world, the teaching that the Sabbath is "Jewish" and that the Law of God has been totally abolished, became very acceptable to those intent on pleasing themselves. As the exalted standard of holiness which God has set before His people became lowered by those professing to speak in His name, the monstrous idea that repentance belongs only to the "Kingdom age" was readily espoused. As the masses of those who bore the name of Christ refused to take upon them His yoke and learn of Him who was "meek and lowly in heart", the horrible heresy that the searching precepts of the Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5:7 ) are not addressed to Christians living today, was greedily devoured. Ah, it is just these things which are now being opposed that have become the "present truth", in which numbers of God’s people most need to be "established". It is at these very points that God is now causing the faith of His people to be tested, and the true servants of the Lord will seek grace, wisdom and courage, to emulate the example here left by Paul, and spare no pains to root and ground the saints in what is most needful for them. Such is the practical application we need to make of the principle exemplified by the apostle in Hebrews 7:0 .
In the verses immediately preceding our present passage, the apostle had shown that the abolition of the Levitical order was inevitable. First, he pointed out that before Aaron had been called, God Himself had owned another priesthood which was far more excellent, namely, that of Melchizedek’s. Second, the introduction of that more excellent priesthood for a season, was designed to prefigure what was afterwards to be established, therefore another priesthood had to arise and be given unto the Church in answer to that ancient type. Third, the new priest after the order of Melchizedek could not consist side by side with that of Levi’s, for He belonged to another tribe, and His sacrifice was of another kind. Hence, inasmuch as the Aaronic priesthood could not take away sins nor make the worshipper perfect before God, and because Christ’s sacerdotal work effected these, therefore the former must give place to the latter. Still further reasons for the necessity of this the apostle continues to advance.
"For He testified, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (verse 17). This verse completes the sentence begun at verse 15, the design of the whole being to afford a demonstration of what had been said in verse 11. In verse 11 a deduction is drawn from the signification of the Melchizedek type. That type announced the rising of a Priest distinct from and superior to the order of Aaron. From that fact the apostle points out, first, that the Levitical order must be inadequate, imperfect, and therefore must give way before that which was more excellent; and second, that the revocation of the Aaronic order necessarily involved the setting aside of the whole dispensation or economy connected therewith.
Though the "logic" of his argument was perfect and could not be gainsaid, the apostle does not ask the Hebrews to rest their faith on mere reasoning, but proceeds to prove what he has said by an appeal to those Scriptures which they owned as the inspired and authoritative Word of God. He reminds them that not only had the Lord given them more than a hint in the historical narrative of Genesis, that One should arise and fulfill the priestly type recorded therein, but he points out that in one of the great Messianic Psalms Jehovah Himself addresses the Messiah as "A Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek". We cannot but marvel at the wondrous and perfect ways of our God. At the very time when the church of Israel was in the highest enjoyment of the Levitical priesthood, whose office depended wholly on their genealogy, the Holy Spirit deemed it well to inform them through David that a Priest was to come and be independent of any line of fleshly descent, namely, after the order of Melchizedek, who had none, Psalms 110:4 .
Well may we reverently ponder and admire the sovereign wisdom of the Holy Spirit in bringing forth truth unto light according as the state of God’s people require. Here again we see exemplified that basic principle in all God’s dealings with men: "first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear" (Mark 4:28 ). First, He inserted in Genesis a very brief account of a person who was a type of Christ. Second, almost a thousand years afterwards, when, it may be all understanding of the Genesis type had been lost, and the people of God were fully satisfied in a priesthood of quite another nature, the Holy Spirit in one word of prophecy intimated that, what Moses had recorded of him to whom Abraham paid tithes, was a foreshadowing of another Priest who was afterwards to arise. Thus God not only gave Israel light upon an important piece of ancient history, but also signified to them that the priesthood which they then enjoyed was not always to continue, but would be superceded by one of another and better nature.
But notwithstanding the plain prophecy recorded in the 110th Psalm, it is evident that at the coming of the Savior and the fulfillment of both type and prophecy, the Jews had lost all knowledge and understanding of the mystery of Genesis 14:0 and the promises renewed through David. They thought it strange that there should be a Priest that had no genealogy, no solemn consecration at the hands of man, and no formal investiture with His office. Therefore does the apostle proceed so slowly and carefully in the opening of this mystery, prefacing the same not only by the assertion of how hard it was to understand it aright (Hebrews 5:10 ), but also with a lengthy discourse (Hebrews 5:11-6:20 ) to prepare their hearts for a diligent attention thereto. The difficulty before him was not only because the true understanding of Genesis 14:0 and Psalms 110:0 had been lost, but because the carnality of those to whom he wrote made them reluctant to admit that the raising up of Christ as Priest after the order of Melchizedek necessarily involved the termination of the Levitical priesthood and the whole system of worship connected therewith.
Difficult as it was for the Jew to be weaned from that system in which he had been brought up and to which he was so deeply attached, nevertheless, his very salvation turned thereon. Therefore we are not to wonder at the apostle’s insisting so much on the setting aside of Judaism, for that was the very hinge on which the eternal salvation or destruction of the whole Nation did turn. If they would not forego their old priesthood and worship, their ruin was unavoidable. Christ would either be received by them, or "profit them nothing" (Galatians 5:2 ). Thus it was that it fell out with the great majority of them! turning away from the Lord Jesus, they clung tenaciously to their ancient institutions and perished in their unbelief.
Nor should we lose sight of the analogy and parallel furnished by the Jews in connection with salvation today. While it be true that salvation is wholly of grace, and in nowise obtained by any efforts or works of the creature, nevertheless, it is equally true that none can obtain that salvation until there be a complete break from the world and their old manner of life in it. Conversion is a turning to God, and to turn to God there must be a turning from all that is opposed to Him. None are saved till they "come" to Christ, and the very term "coming to Christ" implies a leaving of what is contrary to Him. The Lord Jesus does not save men in their sins, but from their sins, and before He saves them from their sins, there must be a repenting of sin (Luke 13:3 ), and no man savingly repents of his sins while he lives in and loves them. The wicked have to forsake their "way" before God will "pardon" (Isaiah 55:7 ). The sinner has to turn his back on the far country, yea, leave it behind him, before he can approach the Father and receive the "best robe" (Luke 15:0 )!
Should any object to what has just been said, But that is to make man, in part, his own savior! We reply, Not at all. There is nothing whatever meritorious about repentance, any more than there is about faith. Neither of them are virtues entitling a sinner to salvation, yet they are required qualifications, in the same way that an empty-handed beggar is qualified for my charity or a sick person is fit to receive the attention of a physician. Scripture does not teach that a man must reform his life in order to win God’s approval, but it does affirm "he that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13 ).
"For He testifieth, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." Note "He testifieth", not simply "He said". The words of the Holy Spirit through David are here appealed to by the apostle in support of what he had said. Brief as is that citation, it nevertheless substantiates all the principle points Paul had made: First, here was proof that there should be another priest not of the tribe of Levi, for Jehovah here affirms of Christ, who sprang from Judah. "Thou art a priest". Second, He was a priest "after the order of Melchizedek". Third, God Himself owned Him as such. Fourth, He was so "after the power of an endless life" (verse 16), for He is priest "forever".
Perhaps one more word needs to be added upon Christ’s being "a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek". The priesthood of Christ was, in the mind of God, the eternal idea and original exemplar. Accordingly, God called forth Melchizedek, and invested him with his office in such a manner that he might fitly foreshadow Christ. Hence he and his priesthood became an external adumbration of the priesthood of Christ, and therefore is He said to remain a priest "after" his "order", that is suitably unto the representation made thereof in him.
"For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before the weakness and unprofitableness thereof" (verse 18). In verse 12 the apostle had affirmed that the priesthood being changed, there was of necessity a change made of the law also. Having, in verses 15-17, proved the former, he now proceeds to confirm the unescapable inference from it, and this he does by showing that the Priesthood promised and now given, was in all things inconsistent with the Levitical. In verse 12 he had used the milder term "change"; now he insists that the old regime could not be altered and adjusted to the new order of things, but had been altogether "disannulled".
"For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before". The reference here is to the entire system of the Mosaic institutions. That system is here spoken of as "the commandment going before". It was of Divine appointment and authority, yet was it only designed "until the time of reformation" (Hebrews 9:10 ). The "going before" signifies the introduction of the new Priest in fulfillment of the promise in Psalms 110:0 . The commandment going before was that which regulated the worship of God and obedience to Him prior to the Christian dispensation; but this had now been cancelled and a new law of worship given.
It is indeed striking to note the warnings which God gave to Israel of the disannulling of the law. First, at the very beginning He gave a clear intimation that it had not a perpetuity annexed to it. Immediately after the giving of the law as a covenant to Israel, they broke the covenant by setting up the golden calf at Horeb; whereupon Moses breaks the tables of stone, whereon the law was given. Had God intended that that covenant should be perpetuated, He would not have suffered its first constitution to have been accompanied with an express emblem of its abolition. Second, Moses implicitly declared after the giving of the law that God would provoke Israel to jealousy by a foolish people (see Deuteronomy 33:21 ), which was by calling of the Gentiles (Romans 10:19 ); whereupon the law of commandments contained in ordinances, was of necessity to be taken out of the way! Third, through Jeremiah (chapter 31, etc.) Jehovah made known that, following the revocation of the old, a "new covenant" should be established with the Church! In these and other ways was Israel forewarned that the time would come when the whole Mosaic law, as to its covenant efficacy, would be repealed, unto the unspeakable advantage of God’s people.
If it be asked how and when the commandment respecting Judaism was "disannulled", the answer is, First, virtually and really by Christ Himself. He had fulfilled and accomplished it in His own person, and by so doing took away its obligatory power. Second, formerly, by the new ordinances which Christ instituted. The Lord’s supper (Matthew 26:26-29 ) and Christian baptism (Matthew 28:19 ) were altogether inconsistent with the ordinances of the law, for these declared that was passed and done, which they directed unto as future and yet to come. Third, declaratively by the revealed will of God: in Acts 15:0 we learn how the Holy Spirit through the apostles (verse 28) expressly declared that the Gentile converts were not under obligation to heed the Mosaic law (verse 24). Fourth, providentially, in A.D. 70, when God caused Jerusalem and the temple to be destroyed.
"For the weakness and unprofitableness thereof". Here the apostle assigns the reason why God had annulled the Mosaic law. In verse 11 the apostle had asked, If "perfection were obtainable by the Levitical priesthood what need was there for another priesthood to arise? Here he plainly declares that the whole system was, relatively speaking, worthless. This raises a difficulty of no small dimension, namely, in assigning such imperfections to a system which had been given by God Himself. How can it be supposed that the good and holy Jehovah should prescribe such a law unto His people as was always weak and unprofitable?
Absolutely considered no reflection can be made upon the Mosaic law, for it was the product of Divine wisdom, holiness and truth. But with respect unto the people to whom it was given, and the end for which it was given, imperfection did attach to it. It was given to sinners who were defiled and guilty, and therefore was the law "weak through the flesh" (Romans 8:3 ), its subject having no power to meet its high demands. Moreover, it was (in itself) incapable of meeting their deep needs; taking away their sins, bestowing life on them, conforming them to God’s holiness. Why, then, was it given? It was "added because of transgression, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made" (Galatians 3:19 ). It discovered the nature of sin, so that the conscience of man might be sensible thereof. It restrained sin by prohibitions and threatenings, so that it did not run out to an excess of riot. It represented, though obscurely, the ways and means by which sin could be expiated. Finally, it made known the imperative need for the coming of Christ to do for men what they could not do of and for themselves.
"For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God" (verse 19). There are three things for us to note in this verse. First, the apostle names a particular instance in which the law was "weak and unprofitable". Second, he specifies what had been introduced in the room of that which had been disannulled. Third, he mentions the design of the law was that it "made nothing perfect". "It did not make the church-state perfect, it did not make the worship of God perfect, it did not perfect the promises given to Abraham in their accomplishment, it did not make a perfect covenant between God and man; it had a shadow, an obscure representation, of all these things, but it made nothing perfect" (John Owen).
Above, we sought to answer to the question, Why should God have given His people a law which made nothing perfect? It may further be pointed out that in all things the sovereignty of God is to be submitted unto; and for humble souls there is beauty and blessedness in Divine sovereignty. When the Lord Jesus rejoiced in spirit and returned thanks because heavenly mysteries had been hid from the wise and prudent and revealed unto babes, He assigned no other reason than, "Even so Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight" (Luke 10:21 ). And until we recognize an excellency in all God’s dispensations, simply because they are His, who giveth no account of His matters, we shall never admire His ways.
Again, men have sinned, and apostatized from God, and therefore it was but just and equal that they should not be reinstated in their reparation at once. "As God left the generality of the world without the knowledge of what He intended, so He saw good to keep the Church in a state of expectancy, as to the condition of liberty and deliverance intended. He could have created the world in an hour or moment; but He chose to do so in the space of six days, that the glory of His works might be distinctly represented unto angels and men. And He could, immediately after the fall, have introduced the promised Seed, in whose advent the Church must of necessity enjoy all the perfection which it is capable of in this world. But to teach the Church the greatness of their sin and misery, and to work in them an acknowledgement of His unspeakable grace, God proceeded gradually in the very revelation of Him, and caused them to wait under earnest desires and expectations many ages for Christ’s coming" (John Owen).
Finally and primarily, God designed that the Lord Jesus should in all things have the pre-eminence. This was due Him because of the glory of His person and the transcendent excellency of His work. But if the law could have made anything perfect, it is evident that this could not have been. Christ is the center of all God’s counsels, the key to every problem. All things are being directed to His ultimate honor and praise. The system of Judaism, with its mysteries and shadows, served as a suitable background, from which might shine forth the more gloriously the full blaze of God’s perfections made manifest by His incarnate Son. "The darkness is past, and the true light now shineth" (1 John 2:8 ).
"But the bringing in of a better hope did". When a sufficient discovery had been made of the insufficiency of the law to make things "perfect", God introduced that which did. A parallel passage is found in Romans 8:3 , Romans 8:4 . There too we read of the law being "weak", and, that, through the faultiness of those to whom it was addressed. There too we read of the law being followed by God’s sending something "better", namely, His own Son. There too we read of the "perfection" which Christ has brought in for His people. The same thing will come before us again, D.V., when we arrive at Hebrews 10:1-10 .
"Hope" is used metonymically, that is to say, for the object itself, the thing hoped for. From the giving of the first promise in Genesis 3:15 , renewed in Genesis 12:3 and Genesis 17:8 , the coming of Christ unto this world was the great thing which believers longed for. Abraham rejoiced to see His day (John 8:56 ), as did the prophets search diligently concerning it (1 Peter 1:11 ,1 Peter 1:12 ). Hence, we read of Simeon "waiting for the Consolation of Israel" (Luke 2:25 ) and of aged Anna speaking of the newly-born Savior to "all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38 ). In like manner, the "blessed hope" set before God’s saints throughout this dispensation is the "appearing of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13 ).
By the introduction of the "better hope" believers now "draw nigh unto God". The verb here is a sacerdotal term, denoting the approach of priests to God in His worship. By nature we were unable so to do, for we were "alienated from the life of God" (Ephesians 4:18 ). Sin separated between us and the thrice Holy One. But now we who once were far off "are made nigh by the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:13 ), in consequence whereof both believing Jews and Gentiles "have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (Ephesians 2:18 ), for the whole election of grace have been made "a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5 ). The right and privilege of believers drawing nigh unto God Himself and the throne of His grace, is further opened in Hebrews 10:0 , particularly verses 19-22. Everything which kept us at a distance from God has been removed by the bringing in of the Better Hope.
In its complete realization and ultimate fulfillment, it is still the "better hope". Believers are yet here on earth; there is much within and without which mars and interrupts their communion with God. Their being "made perfect" in their state and experience (Hebrews 11:40 ), and their being actually conducted into the Father’s presence (John 14:1-3 ) is yet future. But blessed be God, our sins have been put away, we already have "access by faith into this grace wherein we stand" (Romans 5:2 ). The Forerunner has "for us entered" within the veil (Hebrews 10:19 , Hebrews 10:20 ). Then, in the meantime, "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16 ). The Lord grant it for His name’s sake.
Judaism Set Aside
(Hebrews 7:20-24 )
It may be well for us to recall the principal design of the apostle in this section of his epistle. This was twofold; first, to demonstrate that the great High Priest of Christianity is far more excellent than was the typical high priest of Judaism, and that, that the faith of the Hebrews might be established and their hearts drawn out in love and worship to Him. Second, to show that it necessarily followed God’s bringing in of the new order of priesthood, the old order was completely set aside. The method of proof which the Spirit moved the apostle to pursue was, an appeal to a notable Old Testament type, confirmed by the citation of a Messianic prophecy. From this there was no possible appeal by any who really bowed to the Divine authority of Holy Writ. Blessed it is to see how graciously God has always provided a sure foundation for the faith of His people to rest upon. Yet it is only as His Word is diligently searched that this foundation is fully discovered, and even that, by the directing and illuminating guidance of the Holy Spirit.
An analysis of our chapter reveals that Christ’s superiority over Aaron appears in the following points. First, Aaron was but a man; Christ was "the Son of God" (verse 3 and note the repetition of this item at the close of the argument in verse 28!). Second, Aaron belonged to the tribe of Levi; Christ, according to the flesh, sprang from the royal tribe (verse 14), and is the Priest-King. Third, Aaron was made "after the law of a carnal commandment"; Christ, "after the power of an endless life" (verse 16). Fourth, Aaron "made nothing perfect"; Christ did (verse 19). Fifth, Aaron was unable to bring the sinner, "nigh unto God" (verse 19); Christ has (verse 25). Sixth, Aaron was not inducted into his priestly office by a Divine oath; Christ was (verse 21). Seventh, Aaron had many successors (verse 23); Christ had none. Eighth, Aaron died (verse 23); Christ "ever liveth" (verse 25). Ninth, Aaron was a sinner (verse 27); Christ was "separate from sinners" (verse 26). Tenth, Aaron was only the priestly head of an earthly people; Christ has been "made higher than the heavens" (verse 26). Eleventh, Aaron had to offer sacrifice "daily" (verse 27); Christ’s sacrifice is "once for all". Twelfth, Aaron was filled with "infirmity" (verse 28); Christ is "perfected forevermore". Well may we praise God for "such a High Priest" (verse 26).
In view of the introduction of this Priest par excellent, what room was there for another? No longer was there any need of the type, for the Antitype had appeared. Symbols and shadows have served their purpose when the substance itself is manifested. The things of childhood are put away when manhood is reached. A crutch is dispensed with when the limb is restored. When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part is done away with. This is the unescapable inference which the apostle dwells upon here. "For there is verily of a truth which cannot be gainsaid, as a fact which cannot be controverted a disannulling of the commandment going before". And why? Because "the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law." The whole system of Judaism had been set aside by God.
One cannot read through the Old Testament without marveling at the long-suffering of the Lord. Notwithstanding the many and great provocations of Israel, He did not set Judaism aside until the end for which He had appointed it had actually been reached. When the promised Messiah appeared, the temple still stood in Jerusalem, its priesthood still functioned, the sacrifices were still offered. But now its purpose had been served, its mission accomplished. The antitype of the temple was seen in the person of God incarnate (John 2:21 ); that which Aaron foreshadowed was fulfilled in the great High Priest of Christianity; and all the sacrifices found their perfected sequel in the final offering of the Lord Jesus. Therefore did God take "the law of commandments contained in ordinances" and nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:14 ), where He left it completely accomplished.
In the verses which are to be before us the apostle dwells upon two things. First, he calls attention to a most significant and deeply important item in the prophecy given through David, and this, that Christ was constituted Priest by Divine oath, which exalts Him high above priesthood under the law. The profound meaning and inestimable value of this fact will come before us in what follows. Second, he affirms that Christ is Priest forever, and this in order to show that there should never more be any need of another priest, nor any possibility of a return of the Levitical priesthood. Marvelously full and comprehensive was that brief word in Psalms 110:0 , supplying for us an example of what unsearchable stores of wisdom and truth are laid up in every verse of Scripture, if we are given spiritual sight in their investigation. Signal proof also is this of the verbal inspiration of Scripture: every phrase, every word, was indited by Divine wisdom and has its own value and meaning.
"And inasmuch as not without an oath He was made priest" (verse 20). The opening word has the force of "Moreover": it is not that the apostle is here drawing a conclusion from a promise previously laid down; instead he moves forward in the argument before him. He here introduces a new consideration for the confirmation of the leading design before him. That the contents of the verse depend upon what follows was the conviction of the translators, as may be seen from the fact that they supply the ellipsis (the words in italics) from verse 21. That which the apostle now insisted upon was, that the dignity of Christ’s sacerdotal office was commensurate with the solemnity of His appointment to it.
Nothing was lacking on the part of God to give eminency and stability unto the priesthood of Christ: "Not without an oath". This was due unto the glory of His person. The Son of God, in infinite grace, condescending to take upon Him the priestly office and discharge all the duties of it, it was meet that any thing which would contribute unto the glory or efficacy of it, should accompany His undertakings. In this God showed how jealous He is for the honor of His Beloved; in all things He must have the pre-eminence. In everything that He undertook, He was preferred above all others who were ever employed in the service of God, or who ever shall be; and therefore was He made a Priest "not without an oath".
Moreover, God deemed it needful to encourage and secure the faith of His people. There were many things defective in the priesthood under the law, and it suited the design of God that it should be so. He never intended that the faith of the church should terminate in those priests. But upon the introduction of the priesthood of Christ God has exhibited all that faith is to look unto and lean upon, and therefore did He, in infinite wisdom and grace, grant the highest and most specific evidence of the everlasting continuation of His priesthood. In this manner has He shown that this appointment of His will and mercy is absolutely unchanging, so that if we comply not therewith we must perish forever. (Condensed from John Owen).
The priesthood of Aaron was not instituted with an oath; Christ’s was. Now that which is connected with an oath can never be changed, for God is immutable. "In the same way as He sware unto Abraham, ‘Surely blessing I will bless thee’, in order that by two immutable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have abundant assurance of hope; even thus is it that because the High Priesthood of Jesus can never be altered, because it is based upon the eternal decree and counsel of God, and because it is essentially connected with the very nature and purpose of God Himself, it is introduced with an oath. The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent" (Adolph Saphir).
"For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath, by Him that said unto Him, the Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (verse 21). It should be particularly noted that God never solemnly interposed Himself with an oath with respect unto privilege or mercy but that in each instance it had Christ in view. Thus, He sware by Himself unto Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed, whereby He announced the immutability of His counsel to send His Son to take His seed upon Him. So also He sware unto David by His holiness that his seed, Christ, should sit on his throne forever".
"For those priests were made without an oath, but this with an oath". Although there is never the slightest alteration in the internal acting of God’s will nor the least changing of His purpose, for with Him there is no "variableness or shadow of turning", yet, He frequently alters His works, His providences, and even some of the things which He appoints unto men at different times, unless they be confirmed with an oath. The Levitical priests were by Divine appointment, and therefore the people of Israel were obligated to obey them. But they did not enter their office by Divine oath, the absence of this intimating that God reserved to Himself the liberty to make an alteration when He saw good.
"But this with an oath, by Him that said unto Him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek". The person swearing is God the Father, the One unto whom He speaks is God the Son: "The Lord said unto my Lord" (Psalms 110:1 ). The oath of God is the open declaration of His eternal purpose and unchanging decree. Thus is the same act and counsel of God’s will spoken of in Psalms 2:7 . "I will declare the decree". Therefore when God is pleased to unveil His decree or reveal His purpose, testifying it to be absolute and unchanging, He does it by way of oath: see Hebrews 6:13 , Hebrews 6:14 , Hebrews 6:17 and our comments thereon.
Should it be asked, When did God thus sware unto Christ? We must distinguish between two things, or more accurately, two aspects of the same thing, namely: the Divine decree or purpose itself, and the revelation or declaration of it, for the "oath" includes both. As to the decree itself, that takes us back to those eternal federal transactions between the Father and the Son, when the "Everlasting Covenant" was entered into. As to the revelation of it, that was through David. Thus, the many modern commentators who regard this oath as being made with Christ upon His ascension into heaven are seriously mistaken, for that would completely invalidate the apostle’s argument here. Had Christ offered His sacrifice before God sware unto Him, He had no pre-eminence herein over the Aaronical priests. The oath must precede His entrance upon and discharge of His priestly office, or otherwise the force of the apostle’s reasoning here would utterly break down.
Not only did God’s oath to Christ make manifest the exalted dignity of Christianity’s High Priest, but it also denoted the great importance of the economy which He introduced and now administers. "No wise or good man interposes his oath in a matter of trivial consequence. If he voluntarily gives his oath, it is a plain proof that he considers that matter as one of importance. That economy must then be a high and holy one indeed with regard to which Jehovah swares; and this circumstance must elevate it far above every other economy, though Divine in its origin, that is not distinguished by this highest conceivable mark of its importance in the estimation of Him who alone hath wisdom. But the oath of God marks not only the importance, but the stability of the economy in reference to which it is made. God is never represented in Scripture as swearing to everything but what was fixed and immutable" (John Brown).
"By Him that said unto Him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek". As this is the final reference in Scripture to Melchizedek perhaps we had better summarize the cardinal features in which he foreshadowed Christ. First, Melchizedek was the only priest of his class or order, and thus pointed to the solitariness of Christ’s priesthood He shares it with none. Second, Melchizedek had no predecessor, and therefore his right to office depended not on fleshly descent; foreshadowing the fact that Christ’s priesthood was quite distinct from the Aaronic. Third, Melchizedek had no successor: typifying the fact that Christ’s priesthood is final and eternal. Once again we would stress the fact that it is not said Christ is priest of the order of Melchizedek, had He been so, the resemblance between them had been destroyed in a vital particular. Christ did not succeed Melchizedek, but was his Antitype. Unto those who object that nothing is said in the Old Testament about Melchizedek’s offering sacrifice to God, we would reply, Neither is there anything said of his making intercession.t It was not in those things that God designed him to prefigure Christ, but in the particulars pointed out above.
"By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament" (verse 22). The "by so much" answers to the "in as much" of verse 20, hence our present verse is in immediate connection with verse 20, thus: "And inasmuch as He was not made a priest without an oath, He is by so much made the surety of a better testament". Verse 21, though containing the confirmation or proof of the principal assertion, is rightly placed in a parenthesis. On the close connection between verses 20, 22, John Owen said:
"There may be a twofold design in the words. 1. That His being made a priest by an oath, made Him meet to be the surety of a better testament; or, 2. That the testament whereof He was the surety, must needs be better than the other; because He who was the surety of it was made a priest by an oath." In the one way, he proved the dignity of the priesthood of Christ from the new testament; and in the other, the dignity of the new testament from the priesthood of Christ. And we may reconcile both these verses by affirming that really and efficiently the priesthood gives dignity unto the new testament, and declaratively the new testament sets forth the dignity of the priesthood of Christ.
"By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament". These words clearly presuppose three things. First, that another covenant had existed between God and His people prior to the appearing of Christ. This is dealt with more expressly in Hebrews 8:0 , where the old and the new covenants are compared and contrasted. Second, that in some respect or respects the old covenant was good implied by the contrastive "better". The old covenant was good in itself, as the product of God’s wisdom and righteousness; it served a good purpose, for its statutes restrained sin and promoted godliness; its design was good, for it pointed forward to Christ. Third, that the old covenant had a "surety". Many have erred at this point through failing to distinguish between a "mediator" and a "surety". Moses was the typical mediator; Aaron, the typical surety, for he it was who offered solemn sacrifices in the name and on behalf of the people, making atonement for them according to the terms of the covenant.
"By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better covenant." Here for the first time in this chapter the apostle expressly names the person who had been referred to and described. Declaration had been made of the nature of the priesthood of Him who was to fill the office according to the Melchizedek type, but now definite application of the whole is made unto the Savior. Two questions had long engaged the attention of the Jews: the nature of the Messiah’s office, and who that person should be. The apostle had demonstrated from their own Scriptures that the Messiah was to be a Priest, yet not of the Levitical stock; as he had also shown the necessary consequences of this. Now he asserts that it was Jesus who is this Priest, for He alone has fulfilled the type and discharged the principal duty of that office. Concerning "Jesus" it is here affirmed that He was "made a Surety". He was "made so" or appointed so by the will and act of God the Father: compare 1:4, 3:2, 5:5 and our comments thereon for the force of this term "made". The whole undertaking of Christ, and the efficacy for the discharge of His office, depended entirely upon the appointment of God the Father.
"The Greek word for ‘surety’ properly means a bondsman: one who pledges his name, property or influence, that a certain thing shall be done. When a contract is made, a debt contracted, or a note given, a friend often becomes the surety in the case, and is himself responsible if the terms of the contract are not complied with" (A. Barnes). A "surety" is one who agrees to undertake for another who is lacking in ability to discharge his own obligations. Whatever undertaking the surety makes, whether in words of promise, or in the depositing of real security in the hands of the arbitrator, or by any other personal engagement of life of body, it implies the deject of the person for whom any one becomes surety. The surety is sponsor for another, standing in the room of and acting for one who is incompetent to act for himself: he represents that other person, and pledges to make good his engagements. Thus, Christ was not a Surety for God, for He needed none; but for His own poor, failing and deficient people, who were unable to meet their obligations, incapable of discharging their liabilities. In view of this, Christ agreed to undertake for them, fully pay all their debts, and completely satisfied every demand which God had against them.
A beautiful illustration of the "surety" is found in Genesis 43:8 , Genesis 43:9 , "And Judah said unto Israel his father, send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both me and thou, and also our little ones. I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame forever". Blessed is it to find how faithful Judah was to his agreement. Later, Joseph’s cup was found in Benjamin’s sack (Genesis 44:12 ), and on their return into Egypt and re-appearance before Joseph the governor, we hear him saying, "For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame, to my father forever. Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad, a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go with his brethren" (Genesis 44:32 , Genesis 44:33 ).
A blessed New Testament example is found in the case of Paul who volunteered to be surety for Onesimus: "If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay" (Philemon 1:18 , Philemon 1:19 ). In like manner Christ engaged Himself unto the Father for His elect, saying, Charge to My account whatsoever My people owe Thee, and I will fully discharge their debts. This is an office in which Christ sustains a representative character in relation to those sinners for whom He interposed. It was Christ pledging Himself, or making Himself responsible, for the fulfillment of all that the Everlasting Covenant required on the part of those who are to share its provisions. It is as the Surety of the Covenant that Christ is called the "Second Man", the "Last Adam" (1 Corinthians 15:47 ). This title, then, views Christ as identifying Himself with those whom the Father gave to Him, and on whose behalf He accomplished the great work assigned Him (see John 6:38 , John 6:39 , etc.) in their room and stead, making full satisfaction to God.
Let us now observe that Jesus was made "a Surety of a better testament", or "covenant", as the term should be rendered, for the word denotes an arrangement or constitution, a dispensation or economy. It signifies that order of things introduced by Christ, in contrast from the order of things which obtained under the Mosaic regime. The Mosaic covenant was administered by the instrumentality of the Levitical priesthood, but the better covenant by Jesus, the Son of God: that was transitory and changing; this is permanent and eternal. It is so because those who enjoy its blessings receive an enablement to comply with its terms, fulfill its conditions, and yield the obedience which God requires therein. For by the ordination of God, our Surety merited and procured for them the Holy Spirit, and all the needed supplies of grace to make them new creatures, and empower to yield obedience to God from a new principle of spiritual life, and that, faithfully to the end.
It is the Surety by the Divine oath which gives stability unto the covenant. God entered into a covenant with the first Adam (see Hosea 6:6 margin), but it had no "surety"! And therefore though our first parent had all the tremendous advantages of a sinless nature filled with holy inclinations, and free from all evil imaginations, desires and habits, yet he broke the covenant and forfeited all the benefits thereof. God made a covenant with Israel at Sinai (Exodus 19:0 and 24), and appointed the high priest to act as the typical surety of it; yet, as we have seen, that covenant and that surety, made nothing perfect. The purpose of that covenant was to demonstrate the need of another and better one. In contradistinction from these God has made with His elect, in Christ, a covenant "ordered in all things and sure", "for He laid help upon One that is mighty" (Psalms 89:19 ).
And what is the practical application to God’s children today of what has been before us? Surely this, that just so far as the new covenant surpasses the old, are we under greater obligations unto God, "for unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (Luke 12:48 ). That just so far as the Surety of the better covenant exceeds in dignity and glory the surety under the old regime, are we under higher obligation of rendering to Him more complete submission, deeper devotion, fuller obedience. O my brethren, what is due unto that blessed One who left heaven’s glory and came here to this sincurst world to discharge our obligations, pay our debts, suffer and die in our room and stead! May His love truly "constrain" us to gladsome and whole-hearted surrender to Him, no longer seeking to please ourselves, but living to and for His honor and praise. If we do not, that is certain proof that we are yet in our sins, strangers to the Surety of the better covenant.
"And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death" (verse 23). In this and the following verse the apostle advances his last argument from the consideration of Christ’s priesthood as represented by that of Melchizedek. His design is to present further proof of the excellency of it above the Levitical, and of His person above theirs. That Paul is still looking back to Melchizedek as a type of Christ, is evident from the description which he had given of him in the earlier verses, namely, that he "abideth a priest continually" (verse 3), and that "it is witnessed that he liveth" (verse 8), for his priesthood did not terminate at the age of fifty as did that of the Levitical. This is the particular detail of the type which is here seized and improved upon, for it was that which gives virtue and efficacy to everything else he had insisted upon. Set this aside and all the other advantages and excellencies he had named would be quite ineffectual to secure "perfection". What lasting profit could it be to the Church to have so glorious a Priest for a season, and then be deprived of Him by the expiration of His office?
Just as what the apostle declares of Christ in verse 24 hath respect to what he had before observed concerning Melchizedek, so what he affirms in verse 23 of the Levitical priests looks back to what he had before declared about them, namely, that they were all mortal men, and nothing more, for they actually died in their successive generations: see verse 8. The apostle expresses himself very emphatically "and truly". It was not a dubious point he was now handling, but one which was well known and could not be controverted. "They truly were many priests". It is of the high priest’s only, Aaron and his successors, of whom he speaks. Jewish records inform us that there were no fewer than eighty-three high priests from Aaron, the first, to Phinehas, who perished with the temple. Thirteen lived under the tabernacle prior to Solomon, eighteen under the first temple before its destruction by the Babylonians, the remainder under the second temple till A.D. 70.
The reason for this multiplication of priests was "because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death". Notwithstanding the great dignity of their office, and the solemnities with which they were installed in it, they were but men, subject to infirmity and dissolution, like those for whom they ministered. Mortality suffered them not to continue in the execution of their office. It forbade them so to do in the name of the great sovereign Lord of life and death. A signal instance of this was given in Aaron himself, the first of them. God, to show the nature of that priesthood unto the people, and to manifest that the everlasting Priest was yet to come, commanded Aaron to die in the sight of all the congregation: Numbers 20:25-29 ! In like manner, death seized upon each of his successors. Thereby did God intimate unto Israel that imperfection attached to that office which was so frequently interrupted in its administration.
"But this man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood" (verse 24). This is the final proof in our present passage for the immeasurable superiority of our great High Priest over the Levitical priests. The Surety of the better covenant has an unchanging priesthood. The reason for and the ground on which this rests is here stated: "because He continueth ever". The apostle is not here proving the absolute perpetuity of Christ’s sacerdotal office, but the continuous and uninterrupted administration of it. This was the faith of the Jews concerning the Messiah and His office: "We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth forever" (John 12:34 ), which was interposed as a difficulty and said by them in reply to our Lord’s declaration that He was to be lifted up in death. It was this perpetuity of office that was principally typed out in Melchizedek.
Against this it might be replied, But Jesus Christ died also, no less truly and really than did Aaron and his successors, and thus it would follow that He had no more an uninterrupted priesthood than they. To obviate this difficulty, many of our moderns have fallen back on the error of the Socinians, that Christ did not become a Priest at all until after His resurrection. But such a reply cuts the knot, instead of untying it. This figment we have already confuted in previous articles. Nor is there anything here in Hebrews 7:0 which warrants the idea that the administration of Christ’s priesthood is in heaven only. The whole context here shows plainly to all who are not blinded by prejudice that the apostle is treating of the whole of Christ’s sacerdotal office.
The death of Christ was a vastly different thing from the death of the Levitical priests, for His death did not prevent Him abiding a priest, as theirs did. First, He died as a Priest; they died from being priests; He died in His office, they died out of office. Second, personal death was no part of their work, whereas to die was the chief priestly duty incumbent upon the Lord Jesus. Third, when they fell under the power of death, they could not extricate themselves from it and return to life and the service of the sanctuary, but the Son of God had power to lay down His life and take it again. So far from death putting an end to His priesthood, it did not even interrupt the exercise of it. Christ died as a priest, because He was also the Sacrifice for sins, yet through the indissoluableness of His person, His soul and body still subsisting in the person of the Son of God. He abode active in His office without any break: "He continueth forever".
It necessarily follows from what has been pointed out above that Christ hath "an unchangeable priesthood", subject to no alteration, that cannot pass away. The entire office of the priesthood pertaining and belonging to the new covenant, with its administration, are strictly confirmed unto the person of Jesus, the Son of God. There are none that succeed, any more than any (except typically) preceded Him. This at once exposes and gives the lie to the abominable blasphemy of the Papists who call their ministers "priests", affirming that they perform the proper work of such by offering sacrifice. It is highly derogatory to the honor of Christ, and subversive of the whole teaching of Scripture, to maintain that any person is now invested with priestly office and performs its proper work. They who wickedly assume this character encroach upon Christ’s lone prerogative, and to suppose them to be what they pretend, would be to regard our Redeemer as a priest, not after the order of Melchizedek, but after the order of Aaron, which admitted of successors.
The abiding of Christ as Priest manifests the continuance of His care for His people. The same love which caused Him, as Priest, to lay down His life for them, remains unchanged within Him. Therefore each one may, with the same confidence, go unto Him with all their concerns, as poor and afflicted people went to Him while He was here upon earth. Again: it is upon the perpetuity of Christ’s priesthood that the security of His Church rests. "Do we meet with troubles, trials, difficulties, temptations, and distresses? Hath not the church done so in former ages? But was any one true believer ever lost forever? Did not Satan rage, and the world gnash their teeth, to see their power broken by the faith, patience, and suffering of them whom they hated? And was it from their own wisdom and courage that they were so preserved? Did they overcome the enemy by their own blood, or were they delivered by their own power? No; instead, all their preservation and success, their deliverance and eternal Salvation, depended solely on the care and power of their merciful High Priest". Blessed be His name, He is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever". Hallelujah, what a Savior! what a Surety! what a Priest!
The Perfect Priest
(Hebrews 7:25-28 )
The principal subject in the verses which are to be before us is the same as that which has engaged the apostle throughout this 7th chapter, namely, the pre-eminent excellency of the great High Priest of Christianity. That which he is setting forth is the superiority of our Lord’s High Priesthood over that of the Levitical. The various proofs may be expressed thus. First, because Christ is called of God after the order of Melchizedek, Hebrews 5:10 . In enlarging upon the fact, here in chapter 7, the apostle did three things: evidenced the superiority of Melchizedek over the order of Aaron, Hebrews 7:1-10 ; appealed to the Messianic prediction of Psalms 110:4 in proof that Christ had been called after the order of Melchizedek; shows that the fulfillment of this prophecy necessarily involved the setting aside of the Levitical order.
Second, The second proof of the superiority of Christ’s Priesthood over the Aaronic order was, the distinguishing solemnity of its institution, namely, by the Divine oath, Hebrews 7:20-22 . Third, it was proved by the perpetual permanency of His Priesthood, Hebrews 7:23 , Hebrews 7:24 . Fourth, it is proved by the saving efficacy of His priestly work, Hebrews 7:25 . Fifth, it is proved by the personal qualifications which He possesses to serve as Priest, Hebrews 7:26-28 . Sixth, it is proved by the Heavenly Sanctuary in which He now ministers, Hebrews 8:1-5 . Seventh, it is proved by the New Covenant with which it is connected, Hebrews 8:6-13 .
Or again, we may view the contents of Hebrews 7:0 as a setting forth of the results from God’s having brought in Christ as Priest after the order of Melchizedek. First, it necessarily follows that the Levitical order of priesthood has been abrogated, for that order could not possibly consist side by side with His, verse 11. Second, in consequence of this change of priesthood, the whole Mosaic ritual has been repealed, verse 12. The reason of this is obvious, the entire ceremonial law pre-supposed the Aaronic priesthood, to which it was adapted and on which it was based remove the foundation and the whole structure falls. Third, the introduction of of Christ as Priest ushered in an entirely new and immeasurably better economy, verses 19-24. Finally, the providing of such a great High Priest infallibly secures the salvation of all God’s people verses 25-28.
In the closing verses of our chapter the apostle brings the whole preceding discourse unto an issue, by making application of it unto the faith and comfort of the Church. His object was not only to open up mysterious Old Testament scriptures, nor only to demonstrate the glory and pre-eminence of Christianity over Judaism, by virtue of the priesthood of Christ; but his chief design was to make evident the efficacy and eternal advantages of all true believers by these things. The climax to which he had been leading up is before us in verse 25, which he enlarges upon in the end of the chapter. That which Christians ought to seek and what they should expect from the blessed and glorious priesthood of Christ is what he now undertakes to make known. In like manner, in all his epistles the apostle makes it clear that the purpose of God in the whole mystery of redemption by Jesus Christ and the institutions of the Gospel, is the salvation of His elect unto the praise of the glory of His grace.
"Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them" (verse 25). First, let us endeavor to ponder this inexpressibly precious word in the light of its context. The opening "Wherefore" denotes that an inference is here drawn from that which had previously been said. What then is the premise, or what are the premises, on which this conclusion rests? Or, in plainer language, Why is it that Christ is here said to be able to "save unto the uttermost"? "Wherefore" because of the oath of His consecration (verse 20), because of the immutability of the Father’s purpose (He "will not repent") verse 21, because of the better covenant of which He is "Surety" (verse 22), and because He "continueth ever" an unchanging Priest (verse 24) "He is able also to save them unto the uttermost". This we take it, is the connection between verse 25 and its context.
From the consideration of the glorious truth and office of Christ as Priest, the apostle, to strengthen the faith and increase the consolation of God’s people, points out the infallible corollary: "He is able". All power is His, abundant sufficiency of ability to accomplish His design of grace. This is the second time we are reminded of the capability of our High Priest. First, in Hebrews 2:18 it was said, "For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted", and see our comments thereon. That which is particularly in view is not the ability of His nature, but of His office. It is still the pre-eminency of Christ above the legal high priests which is chiefly intended. By reason of their personal infirmities and the limited tenure of their office, they were unable to effect that which those desiring to approach unto God most stood in need of. But our great High Priest, being free from all such imperfections, "is able". Because His priesthood is indissoluable and perpetual, His office is all-sufficient to meet every need of God’s people.
"Wherefore He is able to save them to the uttermost". It is no mere temporal or transcient deliverance which Christ effects for His people, but a supernatural, spiritual and eternal one. The word "save" denotes some evil and danger from which deliverance is secured. This is sin, with all its terrible consequences pollution, guilt, the curse of the law, the captivity of Satan, the wrath to come. Wherefore it is written of Christ that He saves His people "from their sins" (Matthew 1:21 ), "from the curse" (Galatians 3:13 ), "from the wrath to come" (1 Thessalonians 1:10 ). "He is able also to save". It was no easy matter to subdue Satan, fulfill the law, take away sin. placate God, procure pardon, purchase grace and glory, with all that belongs unto God’s great salvation. But God "laid help upon One that is mighty" (Psalms 89:19 ), and He who hath undertaken this work is able to accomplish it, and that by the means He hath designed to use and the way wherein He will proceed.
Now the way in which He has designed to save His people, is by the discharge of Christ’s priestly office. God has appointed no other means to that end. We must look for it therein, or go without it. Alas, multitudes are like those sons of Belial who said of Saul when God had anointed him king, "How shall this man save us? and despised him" (1 Samuel 10:27 ). They understand not (nor do they desire to know) how Christ is able to save sinners by His priestly work, and therefore, under various pretences, they trust to themselves, and despise Him. "All false religion is but a choice of other things for men to place their trust in with a neglect of Christ. And all superstition, instances of it, be they great or small" (John Owen).
"Wherefore He is able also to save unto the uttermost." The last word here may have a double sense: it may respect either the perfection of the work, or its duration, so it is variously rendered, completely and entirely or forevermore and forever. Take its first meaning: Christ will not effect part of our salvation and then leave what remains to ourselves or to others. "He does not relinquish it by reason of death, but He lives on as long as it is necessary that anything should be done for the salvation of His people (A. Barnes). Consider its second meaning: whatever hindrances and difficulties lie in the way of the salvation of believers, the Lord Jesus is fully competent, by virtue of the exercise of His priestly office, to carry out the work for them unto eternal perfection. No matter what oppositions may arise, He is more than sufficient to cope with and overcome them all. Combining the two meanings: a complete salvation is a never-ending one.
"Them that come unto God by Him". This clause defines who are the partakers of His salvation. Christ is able to save unto the uttermost, yet all are not saved by Him, yea, they are few indeed that are saved. Multitudes hear of Him, but, loving more the things of time and sense, refusing to forsake all and follow Him, they "will not come" to Him that they "might have life" (John 5:40 ). Only those who come unto God by Him, does He save. To come to God means, first, to believe on Him (Hebrews 11:6 ); second, to draw nigh to Him in worship (Hebrews 10:1 , Hebrews 10:22 ). It is the latter sense which is here principally in view, for the apostle is speaking of the state of the Church under the new covenant, and its advantage over that of Judaism, by virtue of its relation unto the priesthood of Christ. "They that come unto God by Christ are such, as believing in Him, do give up themselves in holy obedience to worship God in and by Him" (John Owen).
To come unto God by Jesus Christ is holy worship. So as to be therein interested in His saving power as the High Priest of His people is to come, First, in obedience unto His authority, as to the way or manner of it. There must be a bowing to His scepter and a practical owning of His lordship, otherwise we are rebels and idolators, not worshippers. Second, with reliance upon His mediation as to the acceptance of it, counting on the sufficiency of His sacrifice to atone for our sins and His intercession to procure the acceptance of our persons and offerings. Third, with faith in His person as the foundation of it; so to believe in Him as vested with His holy office that the discharge of it will save even to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him. Unless we are true believers, our worship will not be accepted.
First, the quickened sinner comes to Christ, is drawn to Him by the Father (John 6:44 ), and through Christ he comes unto God: cf. 1 Peter 3:18 . In His priestly office Christ saves from sin unto God. His righteousness carries them beyond Himself as Mediator unto God Himself: cf. Hebrews 10:22 . Thus "coming to God’ is the fruit and consequence of "coming to Christ". God is a just and holy God, yet may the believing sinner, in and through Christ, have communication with Him. Suppose I am under an awakening sense of the terrible majesty and consuming holiness of God: I tremble, and dare not approach unto Him alas, where are they these days who ever have such an experience? But, later, the Holy Spirit takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto me His compassion for sinners, His mediatory office, His all-sufficient love: then my fears are silenced, and I draw near unto God praising Him for His unspeakable gift. Nor does Christ’s "ability" to save depend upon my coming to Him, rather does it lie in His power to overcome the reluctance of "His own" and incline them to come: see John 17:20 .
"Seeing that He ever liveth to make intercession for them." These words express the reason why Christ is able to effectually save His people: that which secures them is His perpetual life "He ever liveth"; His perpetual work "to make intercession". This is what gives efficacy to the priesthood of Christ. The Lord Jesus lives a mediatorial life in Heaven for His people: as He died for them, so He lives for them, and therefore does He assure them "because I live, ye shall live also" (John 14:19 ). Comparatively few today either understand or appreciate this blessed fact. That Christ died for them, all who assent to the Gospel profess to believe; but that there is an equally vital necessity for Him to now live for and make intercession for them, is something which they perceive not. Nevertheless, Scripture is clear on this point: "If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:17 ).
"There are many Christians who dwell on the crucifixion of Jesus in a one-sided way. We cannot dwell too much on the glorious truth that Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins. Yet it is not on the crucifixion, but on Christ the Lord, that our faith rests; and not on Christ as He was on the cross do we dwell, but on Christ who was dead and is risen again, and liveth at the right hand of God, making intercession for us . . . When Jesus died upon the cross He put away our sins, but this was only removing an obstacle. The ultimate object of His death upon the cross was His resurrection and ascension, that through suffering He should enter into glory, that He should be the perfect Mediator between God and man, presenting us unto God and bestowing upon us all the blessings which He has purchased for us with His precious blood. He has obtained eternal redemption on the cross, He applies the blessings of eternal redemption from the holy of holies. If Christ was not risen we should still be in our sins; and if such a thing were possible, though we might be forgiven, we should be dead and without the Spirit" (Adolph Saphir).
So stupendous is the work of saving believers unto the uttermost, it is necessary for the Lord Jesus to live a mediatory life in heaven for the perfecting and accomplishing thereof. It is indeed generally acknowledged by professing Christians that sinners could not be saved without the death of Christ, but that believers could not be saved without the resurrection-ministry of Christ is not so freely owned or considered. Yet, Romans 5:10 is very explicit on the point: "For if, when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life". Let Romans 8:33-35 also be duly weighed. It is one thing to recognize that, by the once offering of Himself, Christ has "obtained eternal redemption for us" (Hebrews 9:12 ), it is quite another to perceive that His intercession is required in order to the fruits of His oblation being applied to those for whom it was made.
It appears to many that, seeing Christ fulfilled all righteousness for His people, redeemed them by His blood, made full atonement for their sins, nothing more was needed. But had Christ left us to build our eternal safety on the foundation which He laid, had He ascended on High to enjoy His reward without continuing to exercise His priestly office on our behalf, had He merely secured our right and title unto the heavenly inheritance and left us to press forward to it unaided by Him, everyone of us would quickly fall a prey to the powerful adversaries which constantly seek our destruction. When God "laid the foundations of the earth", the "morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God (angels) shouted for joy" (Job 38:4 , Job 38:7 ), yet were the continued actings of God’s creative power required unto the perfection of the earth. So the foundation of the new creation was laid gloriously in the death and resurrection of Christ, causing triumphant praise unto God (Colossians 2:15 , 1 Timothy 3:16 ), yet that praise is founded upon the guarantee of Christ’s unchanging love, care, and power, to complete the work He has undertaken.
Those for whom Christ died are not taken to Heaven the moment they believe, but are still left here in the Enemy’s country nor are they yet glorified, instead, the "flesh", with all its defiling influences, is still left within them. Therefore do they stand in urgent need of the priestly care of Christ, that, in answer to His intercession, God might send them His Spirit, grant them renewed supplies of grace, deliver them from their foes, keep them in communication with the Father, answer the accusations of Satan, preserve them unto the end of their earthly course, and, then receive them unto Himself and "present them faultless before the presence of His glory" (Jude 1:24 ). "Who can express the opposition that continues to be made unto this work of completing the salvation of believers? What power is able to conflict and conquer the remaining strength of sin, the opposition of Satan and the world? How innumerable are the temptations which every individual believer is exposed unto, each of them in its own nature pernicious and ruinous" (John Owen).
"The most glorious prospect that we can take into the things that are within the veil, into the remaining transactions of the work of our salvation in the most holy place, is in the representation that is made unto us of the intercession of Christ. Our High Priest has entered within the veil where no eye can pierce unto Him, yet is He there as High Priest, which makes Heaven itself to be a glorious temple. Herein we see Him by faith still vested with the office of the priesthood and continuing with the discharge of it. Hence, in His appearance to John, He was clothed with a garment down to the foot and girded about the paps with a golden girdle: both of which were sacerdotal vestments, Revelation 1:13 " (Condensed from John Owen).
"The intercession of Christ is the great evidence of the continuance of His love and care, His pity and compassion towards His Church . . . But how shall we know that the Lord Christ is thus tender, loving, compassionate, that He continueth so to be; what evidence or testimony have we of it? It is true, He was eminently so when He was upon the earth in the days of His flesh, and when He laid down His life for us. We know not what changes may be wrought in nature itself, by its investiture with glory; nor how inconsistent those affections which in us cannot be separated from some weakness and sorrow, are with His present state and dignity. But herein we have an infallible demonstration of it, that He yet continueth in the exercise of that office, with respect thereunto all those affections of love, pity and compassion are ascribed unto Him" (John Owen).
"For such an High Priest became us, holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens" (verse 26). In this verse the apostle shows that in order for sinners to come unto God, they have need of an High Priest to encourage and enable them so to do. Not only is a high priest necessary, but there must be one possessed of certain qualifications of excellencies, if ever we are to obtain access to the thrice Holy One. Such a Priest is here described; such a Priest "became us", was requisite for and suited to poor sinners. None other could expiate our sins, purge our conscience from dead works, procure acceptance with God for us, purchase eternal redemption, administer supplies of grace enabling us to live unto God in all the duties of faith, obedience and worship, comforting us in trials, delivering from temptations, preserving us unto eternal glory.
The only high priest fitted to officiate before God on the behalf of desperately-wicked sinners was one who was "holy". That which is here in view is the absolute purity of Christ’s nature. He was entirely free from the slightest spot or taint of our original defilement. Instead of being, as we were, "conceived in sin and shapen in iniquity", His humanity was "that holy thing" (Luke 1:35 ). His conception being miraculous, by the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit, and not derived to Him by natural generation, He was completely exempt from the pollutions which corrupts every one of Adam’s descendants. He could say, "the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me" (John 14:30 ): there was nothing within Him to which the Evil one could make a successful appeal. And such an High Priest "became us". Had His nature been defiled, He had been disqualified either to be Priest or Sacrifice. This holiness of His nature was imperative in order to answer for the unholiness of our nature.
Second, He was "harmless". "Holy" tells of what Christ was God-wards: perfectly conformed to the Divine will inwardly, evidenced by His perfect outward conduct. "Harmless" tells of what He was man-wards. He is the only one who has ever walked this earth who never contaminated, tempted, injured, those with whom He came into contact. As "holy", He loved the Lord His God with all His heart; as "harmless" He loved His neighbor as Himself. He lived not for self, but was ever at the disposal of others. He went about doing good. When reviled, He reviled not again. When ill-treated, He never retaliated. He was the Lamb in the midst of wolves. He was the Sun of righteousness with healing in His wings. How perfectly adapted was He, then, to serve as Priest and meet the exigencies of His people!
Third, "undefiled". He not only entered this world "holy" and "harmless", but He was so when He left it. Tabernacling for thirty-three years in a world under the curse, mingling daily with sinners, He contracted no defilement. Just as the rays of the sun may shine into the foulest stream without losing any of their purity, so Christ moved in and out amongst the vilest without the glory of His holiness being sullied in the slightest degree. Christ was "undefiled" morally, as the priests under the law were required to be ceremonially. He was never infected by the evils around Him. He touched the leper, and the leper was cleansed. He came into contact with death, and death was conquered. He was in the presence of the Devil for forty days, and was as spotless at the close as He was at the beginning of them.
Fourth, "separate from sinners". The position of this clause in our verse must govern its interpretation. It has a double force. It is intimately related to what precedes, as it is closely connected with the words immediately following. As it comes after the "holy, harmless, undefiled", it gives a summary of what Christ was in Himself, emphasizing His uniqueness and demonstrating His fitness to officiate as Priest. He was the "Blessed" Man of the first Psalm: He walked not in the counsel of the ungodly, stood not in the way of sinners, sat not in the seat of scorners. He was the true Nazarite of Numbers 6:0 . Though He lived amongst sinners, He was infinitely apart from them, in nature and character, motive and conduct. He was in the world, but not "of" it. Thus was He qualified to act as Mediator between God and sinners.
"Separate from sinners". As this clause prepares the way for "made higher than the heavens", it stands in sharp antithesis from "He was numbered with transgressors". On the cross, we behold Him in the place of sinners, but He occupies that place no longer. Death is for ever behind Him. He is now, in the absolute sense, "separate from sinners", that is, distinguished from those for whom He is interceding. He has been removed from their society unto another sphere. Thus, this clause points another contrast from the high priest under the law. Aaron offered atonement for sinners, and continued amongst them afterwards. Not so Christ.
"Made higher than the heavens". "This refers to the present place and state of our great High Priest. He was for a season made lower than the angels, and descended into the lower parts of the earth, and that, for the discharge of the principle part of His priestly office, namely, the offering of Himself for a sacrifice unto God. But He abode not in that state, nor would He discharge His whole office, and all the duties of it, therein. And therefore He was made higher than the heavens. He was not made higher than the heavens, that He might be a Priest; but being our High Priest, and as our High Priest, He was so made, for the discharge of that part of His office which yet remained to be perfected: for He was to live forever to make intercession for us" (John Owen).
"Absolute perfection of character is not the only requisite in a high priest suited to our circumstances; he must be possessed also of dignified station, or high authority, of unlimited power. He must be one ‘made higher than the heavens’. The phrase is peculiar. It nowhere else occurs in Scripture; but its meaning is obvious enough. He must occupy a place of the highest honor and power. And He must be ‘made higher than the heavens’. Those words plainly imply that His elevation above the heavens is something conferred on Him. It must be beneath the heavens in order to the discharge of some of the functions of His office, and that in consequence of the successful discharge of them, He must be exalted far above all heavens, for the discharge of other functions, and for gaining the grand object, the ultimate end, of His office" (John Brown).
"Jesus went into the holy of holies which was typified in the tabernacle. Above all created heavens, above angels and principalities, Jesus is now in the true Sanctuary, in the presence of God, and there He is enthroned as our perfect High Priest. His position in Heaven demonstrates that when He offered up Himself He put away sin forever, even as it sets forth His divine glory. For who but the Son of God can sit at the right hand of the Majesty on High? As it is written, ‘Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens’ (Psalms 57:5 )" (Adolph Saphir). "Made higher than the heavens" by God: this proves that complete expiation has already been made. It emphasizes the fact that Christ has entered the Heavenly Sanctuary on our behalf: see 4:14, 8:1, 2, 9:24 and Ephesians 1:20-23 . It announces that He has been exalted above every order of created things. It makes known how immeasurably superior is our High Priest over Aaron.
Ere passing from this verse let us take to heart its searching practical application. The perfections of our High Priest are what we ought to be conformable to. "If we give up ourselves to the conduct of this High Priest, if by Him alone we design to approach unto God, then conformity unto Him in holiness of nature and life, according to our measure, is indispensably required of us. None can more dishonor the Lord Christ, no more perniciously deceive and betray their own souls, than by professing Him to be their Priest, with their trust thereby to be saved by Him, and yet not endeavor to be holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, like unto Him" (John Owen).
"Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice (first for his own sins, and then for the people’s) for this He did once, when He offered Himself" (verse 27). Let the reader note carefully our punctuation of this verse: by placing the central clause in a parenthesis (as it obviously should be) we are relieved of a difficulty which has baffled most of the commentators. In this and the next verse the apostle names other instances in which our High Priest is pre-eminent over those of the order of Aaron. His perfections, described in verse 26 exempted Him from all the infirmities of the Levitical priests, which disqualified them from making personal atonement. The design of the apostle is to show that Christ was infinitely well-pleasing unto God, and because He was under no necessity to sacrifice for Himself, the offering which He made for His people is of eternal validity. "This he did once" announces there is no need of any further repetition.
The apostle is still contrasting Christ from the Levitical high priests. How could they pacify the declarative holiness of God which had been outraged by others, when God was justly displeased with them for their own sins? They were obliged to offer "daily" from time to time, "day by day" or again and again, by periodical repetition, for their own sins cf. "from year to year" (Hebrews 10:1 ), and note that the Hebrews of Exodus 13:10 "from year to year" is, literally, "days to days". Not only did the legal high priest have to sacrifice for his own sins, the offering which he presented on behalf of the people had no abiding efficacy, but had to be repeated annually. Whereas Christ, being perfect, needed no sacrifice for Himself; and His offering being perfect, there is no need for any further one. Christ’s sacrifice abides "a new and living one" (Hebrews 10:20 ).
"For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is perfected forevermore" (verse 28). In this verse the apostle sums up the whole of His preceding discourse, evidencing the true foundation on which he had built. Those who still adhered to the Mosaic institutions allowed that there must be a priest over God’s people, for without such there could be no approach unto Him. So it was under the law, and if the same order be not continued, then the Church must needs be under a great disadvantage. As Owen rightly said, "To lose the high priest of our religion, is to lose the Sun out of the firmament of the Church."
Now the apostle has granted that the high priests who officiated in the tabernacle and temple were appointed by God to that office. His opponents were persuaded that these priests would continue in the church without change or alteration. God has designed a time when they were to be removed, and a Priest of another order introduced in their room. This change so far from being regrettable, was to the great advantage, safety, blessedness, glory of the Church. First, the Levitical priests were appointed under, by "the law"; but the new and perfect Priest "since the law" (i.e., in Psalms 110:4 ), showing Christ had superceded them. Second, they were but "men"; Christ was the "Son of God." Third, they were "made" by "the law"; Christ by "the word of the oath". Fourth, they had "infirmity"; the Son had none. Fifth, they served only in their day and generation; He "for evermore".
"But the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is perfected for evermore". "The apostle turns again, in a most emphatic and conclusive manner, unto the key-note which he had struck at the beginning of the epistle. The law of Moses constitutes priests that were changing continually. But the Word which came with the oath after the law, consecrated forevermore as High Priest Him who is the Son: compare the same emphasis on ‘Son’ in Hebrews 1:1 ,Hebrews 1:2 . Only the Son could be the High Priest, and He became the High Priest. Through His incarnation, through all the experiences of His life of sorrow and of faith, through His death on the cross, through His resurrection and ascension, Jesus is perfected forevermore" (Adolph Saphir). Christ abides perpetually in His priestly office because of the validity of His perfect Sacrifice. Hallelujah.
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Pink, A.W. "Commentary on Hebrews 7". "A.W. Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29