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6 The New Order of Priesthood
( Hebrews 7 )
Having given the word of warning and encouragement contained in the parenthetical portion from Heb_5:11 to the end of Hebrews 6 , the apostle resumes the great theme of Hebrews 5 . In that chapter he had brought before us the dignity of the priesthood of Christ by reminding us that, as risen, Christ is addressed as an High Priest after the order of Melchisedec. In Hebrews 7 the apostle proceeds to set forth the exalted character of this order of priesthood by showing its superiority over the Aaronic priesthood.
It is important to distinguish between the order of the priesthood and the exercise of the priestly functions. When it is a question of the order or rank of priesthood, Melchisedec is the fitting type of the priesthood of Christ. When it is a question of the exercise of His work as Priest on behalf of Christians, Aaron is the type that very largely prefigures the work of Christ. The Aaronic priesthood introduces sacrifice, intercession and the sanctuary furniture, of which we have no mention in connection with Melchisedec. Thus we are reminded that no single person can, even typically, set forth the glories of Christ.
(Vv. 1, 2). The apostle refers to the striking episode in the history of Abraham when, for a brief moment, the patriarch is met by Melchisedec, a greater person than himself. This man is purposely surrounded with an air of mystery in order that, being in certain respects “made like unto the Son of God”, he may fittingly prefigure our great High Priest, the Son Of God. The passage in Gen_14:17-24 , in which this scene is described, is typical of the Millennium. After the slaughter of the kings, by whom the people of God had been taken captive, Melchisedec comes forth to meet Abraham. His name and that of his country signify that he was King of righteousness and King of peace. Further, he was the “priest of the Most High God”, the God who, by the slaughter of the kings, had shown that He can deliver His people from their enemies and overthrow every rival power.
In position, Melchisedec was a king. His reign was marked by righteousness and peace, and in the exercise of his priesthood he stood between Abraham and God. As the representative of God before man, he blessed Abraham on behalf of God; as the representative of man before God, he blessed the Most High God on behalf of Abraham. He brings blessing from God to man, and leads the praise from man to God.
Thus, in coming millennial days, God will be known as the Most High God, who will deliver His earthly people and deal in judgment with every hostile power. Then indeed Christ will shine forth as King and Priest. As we are told by direct prophecy, “He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon His throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both” ( Zec_6:13 ). He will be the true King of Righteousness, King of Peace and the Priest of the Most High God.
(V. 3). Moreover, Melchisedec is purposely invested with mystery, inasmuch as no record is given of his descent, his birth or his death. As far as the story is concerned, he is “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life.” He comes upon the scene without any details of his origin, and passes off without any sequel to his story. As far as the record is concerned, he “abideth a priest continually”, in striking contrast with Aaron.
In all these ways he is made like unto the Son of God and therefore fittingly sets forth the dignity of the priesthood of the Son of God, who abides a Priest continually.
(Vv. 4-7). We are further asked to consider other incidents in this story which show the superiority of the Melchisedec priesthood over that of Aaron. Firstly, this king-priest is so great in dignity that even the patriarch Abraham gave him the tenth of the spoils. From Abraham, however, the sons of Levi are descended, who, in the exercise of their priesthood, “take tithes of the people.” But, though taking tithes, they themselves paid tithes to Melchisedec in the person of Abraham their father.
Further, not only did Melchisedec receive tithes from Abraham, but he blesses the one who is the recipient of the promises. The one of whom it was said he should be a blessing, and through his seed all the nations of the earth are to be blessed, is himself blessed, and without contradiction “the less is blessed of the greater.”
(Vv. 8-10). Moreover, in the case of Aaron and his sons, dying men receive tithes. But of Melchisedec we have no hint of his death. As far as the story goes, “it is witnessed that he liveth.”
Thus, in the person of their father Abraham, the priests after the Aaronic order paid tithes and received the blessing, instead of receiving tithes and dispensing blessing. Moreover, as dying men they paid tithes to one of whom it is witnessed that he lives. Clearly, then, the rank of the Melchisedec priesthood is far above that of Aaron.
(V. 11). If, however, the Melchisedec priesthood is superior to the Aaronic, it is clear proof of the imperfection of the Aaronic priesthood. It was transitory in its character and imperfect in its work. Later in the Epistle we learn that it gave no permanent relief to the conscience and did not enable the offerer to draw nigh to God. This very imperfection proved the need of another Priest to rise after the order of Melchisedec. This Priest is found in Christ in whom alone is perfection.
(Vv. 12-14). This change of the order of the priesthood necessitates a change of the law, for it is evident that Christ belonged to the tribe of Judah from which no man is called to priestly service under the law of Moses.
(Vv. 15-17). It is equally plain that though the Lord came from the tribe of Judah, He is called to be a priest. Being a priest after the similitude of Melchisedec, He is such, but not after any fleshly commandment, which recognises the priest as being in the flesh and therefore subject to death, for which provision has been made by a succession of priests. In contrast, the priesthood of Christ stands alone in all its solitary dignity, for it is after the power of an endless life. It is as risen in the power of a life beyond death that the Lord is called to be a Priest, and therefore not for a lifetime, but “for ever”.
(Vv. 18, 19). The commandment of Moses as to priesthood is therefore set aside because of its weakness and unprofitableness. It was weak because the priest, being subject to death, could not continue. It was unprofitable because it could not set the offerer in the presence of God with a conscience free from the fear of judgment. The law points to better things, but in itself made nothing perfect. With the priesthood of Christ there is the bringing in of a better hope. It has in view the believer being brought to glory, though before we reach the glory we can draw nigh to God through our High Priest. (Compare Heb_10:21 ; Heb_10:22 .)
(Vv. 20-22). We are further assured of the superiority of the priesthood of Christ over that of Aaron by the fact that, in contrast with Aaron, the call of Christ to the priesthood is confirmed with an oath. To prove this the apostle again quotes Psa_110:4 . The oath involves that there can be no revoking or setting aside of the priesthood of Christ, as in the case of the Levitical priesthood. The oath makes all the more sure the blessings of the New Covenant, which rest upon Jesus and His work.
(Vv. 23, 24). Under law men were appointed priests who were unable to continue their office by reason of death. A priest could in his measure sympathise with and succour those for whom he exercised his priestly function, but death cut him off and another priest arose who would be a stranger to the sorrows of those who had drawn near to his predecessors. With Christ how different! Having triumphed over death He continues ever in the exercise of unchangeable priesthood: “Thou remainest” and “Thou art the Same” ( Heb_1:11 ; Heb_1:12 ).
(V. 25). Having shown the superiority of the priesthood of Christ, the apostle sums up the blessings that flow to the believer through this priesthood. As we have such an High Priest who ever lives and never changes, we are assured that He is able to save to the uttermost point of our wilderness journey, while through Him we can approach to God while on the journey. He can save us from every enemy, bring us to God and intercede for us in all our infirmities.
(Vv. 26, 27). The apostle closes this portion of the Epistle by showing us that “such an High Priest” becomes us. In Heb_2:10 we learn that such an High Priest becomes God; here we learn that He “becomes us”. Because of who God is in all His holiness, none less than Christ as great High Priest would be suitable for God. Because of what we are in all our weakness, none less than Christ would avail for us. He becomes us because of His intrinsic holiness; because of the purity of His motives - He is harmless, without a single evil thought; because in passing through this scene He was undefiled - untainted by the corruptions of the world; because of His exaltation on high; above all, because of His finished work for sins, when He offered Himself up on the cross.
(V. 28). Thus the Son, consecrated to be a Priest for evermore by the word of the oath, is declared to be in striking contrast with the men, encompassed with infirmity, who were called to be priests by the law.
To sum up the teaching of the chapter, there passes before us:
Firstly, the dignity of the order of Christ's priesthood as typified by Melchisedec (verses 1-3);
Secondly, the greatness of Christ's priesthood, as evidenced by the superiority of the Melchisedec priesthood over the Levitical priesthood (verses 4-10);
Thirdly, the imperfection of the Levitical priesthood, necessitating a change of priesthood (verse 11);
Fourthly, the change of priesthood makes necessary a change of the law in relation to the earthly priesthood (verses 12-19);
Fifthly, the priesthood of Christ confirmed with an oath (verses 20-22);
Sixthly, the priesthood of Christ continuing and unchangeable (verses 23, 24);
Seventhly, Christ's perfect competency for His priestly work verse 25);
Eighthly, Christ's personal suitability for His priestly office (verses 26-28).
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Hebrews 7". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29