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The next four chapters deal with questions that must have been of great concern to many Jewish Christians in those early days as the Good News about Jesus won many Jews to a following of Him, while they were at the same time very much bound up in their Jewish religion. And the difference was not always clear. After all Jesus was a Jew and had observed the requirements of Judaism. So at some stage they had to face up to what the significance of Jesus was, and how it affected their current beliefs. Could they, they asked themselves, still go on being Jews as before, while at the same time honouring Jesus? Indeed the question was forced on them for many Jews were wanting to have nothing to do with them, and even persecuting them, and others were pressing them to ‘come back to the true faith’.
And it is this question that the writer is here seeking to answer. But it is equally important to us, not because of that, but because his answer brings out positively the glory of what Jesus has done and is doing for us. For if we are not careful we too can get caught up in church ritual. Thoughtless custom, regularly condemned in Scripture, may cause us to miss the immediacy of Heaven and dim the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ in our hearts.
These chapters then are especially important because they bring out that all religious ritual is but composed of types and shadows, even including baptism, laying on of hands, and the Lord’s Supper. They are valuable in pointing to what lies behind them, and in explaining in acted out form something of the real thing, and in testifying to others the way of life which we have chosen, but they are not in themselves the real thing. Without the inner working of the Lord they are pointless. It is sadly but unquestionably quite possible to be baptised, receive the laying on of hands and partake of the Lord’s Table and be totally untouched spiritually. And many die in such a condition.
We shall now consider some of the questions that would have arisen among such people. These were;
1) Is not the levitical priesthood the God-ordained priesthood through which we should approach God in His Temple even though we believe in Jesus as the Messiah?
We must remember that to Jews everywhere the Temple was the focal point of their approach to God. It was to them the earthly dwellingplace of God. They had been brought up to its centrality in worship and its importance for enabling them to receive atonement and forgiveness of sins. The question then was, once they had begun to believe in Jesus as the Messiah how much did this change things? (The levitical priesthood is that which was descended from Aaron, who was descended from Levi).
He gives his answer in chapter 7. His answer is that it is now revealed as secondary and indeed that its priesthood has now been replaced. For it is declared in Scripture that there is an older and more superior priesthood to that of Aaron, a priesthood like that of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:0), a priesthood of the house of David (Psalms 110:0), a priesthood contrasted with which the levitical priesthood fails by comparison, a priesthood that would take the ascendancy once Messiah had come, and that Jesus is the full representative of that priesthood. He is both priesthood and High Priest. And secondly that there is a heavenly equivalent of the Tabernacle in which ministers our great High Priest Who is of a superior status to the levitical High Priesthood. Thus, he will argue that with Jesus now acting on our behalf in Heaven we have no need of an earthly priesthood, nor of earthly ritual, which has thus become redundant.
2) Are we Jews not the people of the true God-given covenant, and does this not mean that we should seek to observe that covenant in all its requirements both ritual and moral, adding nothing and omitting nothing?
This question is dealt with in Chapter 8. He informs them that, the old covenant having proved unsatisfactory, the Scriptures themselves reveal that God has introduced a new covenant, a covenant which speaks of His working within the heart, and which contains not laws but promises,. And this because the old covenant had failed in its purpose. Thus they are no longer bound by the ritual requirements of the old covenant, and while still required to live out its moral teaching, are to do so under the new covenant, not as a legal duty, but because they have been made acceptable to God and because His Spirit is at work within them.
3) As Jews we look to the great Day of Atonement every year when God brings about full and final atonement for the sins of His people, whether near or far. How does this relate with the coming of Jesus and what He has done for us? How else can we find atonement?
This is dealt with in chapter 9. There Jesus is revealed as having accomplished the full and continual atonement of God’s people once and for all on what was an even greater Day of Atonement. This is an atonement which was ‘once and for ever’, not needing to be repeated, the blessing and effectiveness of which will continue until His return and then for ever. Through it His people have been made acceptable both in God’s sight, and in the light of their own consciences, and once they have been finally perfected, continuing atonement will no longer be required for what He has done will be eternally valid.
4) As Jews we have a system of God-given offerings and sacrifices which have dealt day by day for a thousand years with the everyday sins of the people, as well as their sins as a whole. How otherwise are we to find provision for and deliverance from the failures of life and our daily sins? How else are we to be prepared to meet God?
This is dealt with in chapter 10, where he declares that while their offerings and sacrifices have proved finally ineffective, the one sacrifice of Jesus for ever has dealt with all sin for all time. He has through His sacrifice of Himself in one stroke perfected those who believe in Him for ever before God (Hebrews 10:14), and will continue to sanctify them and make them holy as they look in faith and trust to Him so that it will be made an actuality. Thus all they need to do is walk in His light and then His blood will go on cleansing them from all sins (1 John 1:7)
When some Christians today look to glorious buildings, gorgeously apparelled priests, sacerdotal tendencies, and a willingness to submit to a hierarchy who claim to act on their behalf before God, as a means of salvation, (aping the failing levitical priesthood), and others look to men or organisations who seek to rule every detail of their individual lives, Christians need to study again the Letter to the Hebrews and learn what their true rights and privileges are. They need to look directly to Christ Who alone can direct their lives.
Chapter 7 The Superiority of Christ’s Priesthood After the Order of Melchizedek.
The teaching of this chapter is basically simple (although its outworking is complicated). It is that Scripture reveals two levels of priesthood, one that is ‘in the likeness of Melchizedek’, which is superior in every way, and one that is the levitical priesthood, the Jewish priesthood, which is proved to be a temporary and failing priesthood; there is one that deals in glorious reality and the other that deals in types and shadows.
Those who would continue to look to the Temple as central in their worship must inevitably look to the levitical priesthood with its symbols. But that is to live in the past and to look to something whose effectiveness has now ceased. But those who would look higher, to what is real, to Heaven itself, who recognise that God’s Messiah has come, must now in the light of what Jesus has done, turn to the superior priesthood ‘after the order of Melchizedek’, the eternal priesthood of which Jesus is now the sole representative. They must look to Him.
That is why in this chapter the priestly ‘order of Melchizedek’ is expanded on in order to bring out its superiority to that of Aaron and its application to Jesus. The basic argument is not difficult, even if the detail is more complicated. And that is that Scripture has always spoken of another priesthood, a priesthood other than that of the levitical priesthood, an older priesthood which was prior to it, and which was superior to it, a priesthood which had been allowed to drop into the background but would be revived on the coming of the Messiah. It is the priesthood which is the background to the High Priesthood of Jesus in Heaven. (Here read again the note on Mechizedek in the introduction to chapter 5). This priesthood is seen as doing away with all other priesthoods, because their ministries are thereby rendered no longer necessary, and its sole representative is seen as now in Heaven, high over all and active on behalf of His people.
It should be noted that Melchizedek is not to be thought of as important in himself. We are not intended to look to Melchizedek. Rather his importance lies in the type of priesthood that he reveals, and points forward to, a direct and eternal priesthood not mixed up with earthly paraphernalia. What the writer will seek to convey is not the idea of an unceasing Melchizedek, but of an unceasing, eternal and unique priesthood. It should, therefore, be noted in this regard that Jesus was not declared to be a Priest ‘ of the order of’ Melchizedek, which might have been seen as making Him one of a number in the line of succession, He is called a Priest ‘ after the order of’ (kata taxin) Melchizedek, that is, ‘in accordance with, connected with, of like pattern, of similar type to’. See Hebrews 7:15 where ‘after the likeness of’ is paralleled with ‘after the order of’. The idea is not to link Jesus directly with Melchizedek, but to link Him with his type of royal priesthood. Indeed to speculate about Melchizedek is to miss the whole point.
What we are called on to see is that, as High Priest ‘after the likeness of Melchizedek’ (not limited by time and not tied to earthly ordinances), Jesus Himself has ‘passed through the heavens’ into the very presence of God (Hebrews 4:14), and that His is no earthly priesthood but a heavenly one. We are in other words to see what He is and what He has done for us. This consists in the fact that:
1) He has ‘made cleansing for sins’ once and for ever, something never needing to be repeated (Hebrews 1:3);
2) He is a merciful and faithful High Priest in all matters connected with God, making propitiation for the sins of the people and succouring those who are subject to testing (Hebrews 2:17-18);
3) He is the faithful High Priest of our confession Who has called us with a heavenly calling (Hebrews 3:1);
4) He awaits our drawing near in order to show us mercy and give grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
Thus having such a High Priest we now have no need of priests on earth, for He has replaced them all (Hebrews 8:4). We now only need Jesus Christ through Whom we can approach God directly.
Important to observe here is that He can now never be replaced, for He was appointed to this position by God’s everlasting oath (Hebrews 7:21). There can thus be no other. And having suffered in order to perfect Himself for His role, He has become to all who obey Him the Author and Source of eternal salvation (Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 5:10). As such He has entered into the presence of God as our Forerunner, to prepare the way for us (Hebrews 6:20; see John 14:1-3). And all this as ‘a High Priest after the order of (in the likeness of) Melchizedek’, that is, as a priest unlimited by time and supreme, Whose priesthood preceded, and is far superior to, the levitical priesthood.
This looking back to the Melchizedek priesthood was not unique. There were around this time a number of widely differing speculations concerning Melchizedek. Once men begin to speculate on the unknown, anything can result! But to them it was Melchizedek who became important. In a document found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (11Q13) Melchizedek is presented as a future figure who will deliver the people. He is described in terms of "El" (God) and "Elohim" (elohim usually means ‘God’ but angels are also sometimes called ‘elohim’ to indicate heavenly status) and Isaiah 61:1-2 is quoted in reference to him. This redemption is also tied in with the Day of Atonement and the year of Jubilee, the year of liberty. Such speculation about Melchizedek seems to have been rife at the time for Philo, the Jewish philosopher in Egypt, also likened Melchizedek to the Logos, the eternal ‘reason’. There was thus a background at the time suggesting the continuing, almost divine, existence of Melchizedek, the priest-king. And some still follow that kind of speculation today.
But it should be carefully noted that the writer to the Hebrews does not follow this track. He does not see Melchizedek as a figure now active, nor point to him as someone now to be taken into account. His only concern with Melchizedek is simply to do with the fact that he helps to reveal the glory and superiority of the priesthood of Jesus. He is seen as background material. Nor does he identify Jesus with Melchizedek except as to His priesthood being ‘after the order of (of a similar type to) Melchizedek’.
So Jesus and Melchizedek are in no way seen by him as identical persons. Rather the mysterious Melchizedek is described in exalted terms in order to exalt Jesus. The writer makes quite clear that Melchizedek is very much an historical figure from the time of Abraham, and while admitting his mysteriousness and the longevity of his priesthood, quickly drops him from view in order to finally point to Jesus. Having been brought forward as an illustration of a type of priesthood Melchizedek himself is then thrust from sight. He is treated as history.
We may incidentally also note that the Qumran community believed in two Messiah's "the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel" (1Qs Hebrews 9:10-11), a priestly Messiah and a kingly Messiah, which confirms the idea of a priestly Messiah. So there was much speculation at the time around this subject. It recognised that we needed both a King and a Priest. But we must recognise in that case that king and priest were kept separate. They saw no way of combining the two because they were bound to earthly considerations and restricted by the idea of a sole levitical priesthood. This was indeed the problem that pointing to Melchizedek was intended to solve.
So the importance of this priesthood of Melchizedek from the writer’s point of view lies in what it demonstrates. It is difficult for us at this time to appreciate the deep-rooted sense among Jews, and among many Jewish Christians, that the levitical priesthood was the only possible legitimate priesthood. It was after all appointed by God and had existed ‘unchanged’ for over a thousand years. It was something which they had been brought up with and regarded with awe. None other could surely therefore be contemplated. And tied to it was the whole Jewish ritual and the temple of God established in Jerusalem. It was all God ordained. How then could they look to any other?
But now for those who had believed in Jesus there had come a huge conflict of interest. Their Scriptures asserted the validity of the levitical priesthood, and revealed the God-ordained way in which they could receive atonement as given by Moses. And yet now the Messiah had come, to Whom those same Scriptures pointed, and He too had brought atonement. To whom then should they look? How could they reconcile the two? And anyone involved with an hierarchical priesthood might well ask the same question.
The writer’s reply is not to point to the need for a new priesthood on earth, but to declare that all such priesthoods are now irrelevant because the only One suited to act for us as priest is now in Heaven. That is why, he says, we no longer need to come to earthly priests to mediate for us, because we can come directly to our perfect mediator in Heaven.
Thus the importance of the Melchizedek priesthood in the writer’s eyes was that it introduced the most ancient of priesthoods, a priesthood that was in existence long before the time of Moses. Yet it was a Scriptural priesthood, and one that could easily be shown to be superior to the levitical priesthood. It was indeed one that was recognised by God and was itself confirmed by Moses. It thus enabled Jesus, even though He was not of the house of Levi, to be revealed, in a manner recognised by Scripture, as the One legitimate and heavenly priest, a priest in a greater and far better Tabernacle (Hebrews 8:2), without having to be connected with the earthly levitical priesthood or the Temple in any way. Indeed it did more, it revealed that it was a ‘royal priesthood’, combining both king and priest, that it was older than that of Aaron and non-ceasing, and that it was connected by Scripture with the Messianic triumph (Psalms 110:4-5), .
To sum up, it demonstrated an eternally God-ordained priesthood of a superior and unceasing kind, validated by Scripture, and preparing the way for the priesthood of the Messiah.
We note also that this particular passage here is dealing specifically with the idea of priesthood as such, not with high priesthood. It is not just the High Priesthood but the priesthood as a whole that is in mind. It deals with the whole question of who should represent us before God. (The high priesthood is in fact not mentioned (until Hebrews 7:26), although it necessarily follows). And this is emphasised in that he quotes Psalms 110:4 in terms of ‘priest’ but makes no mention of High Priest, whereas when not quoting he refers to the order of Melchizedek in terms of ‘High Priest’ (Hebrews 5:10; Hebrews 6:20). The reason is that here his comparison is with the whole concept of levitical priesthood, not just with the high priesthood.
Yet it is not a change of subject from High Priest (chapter 6) to priest. It rather demonstrates that he sees the priesthood and the High Priest as all part of the same function. The High Priest sums up the levitical priesthood. The levitical priesthood expands the High Priesthood. The priesthood is as it were an extension of the High Priest. And Jesus is seen as replacing all in Himself. He is not only a new High Priest, He is a new priesthood altogether. He in Himself replaces all other priesthoods.
The method of argument may seem a little strange to us. But in it all we should note two things. Firstly that he makes quite clear that Melchizedek is an historical figure who lived in the time of Abraham, and to whom Abraham submitted, both by giving tithes and receiving an official blessing, so that here was a greater than Abraham because of his royal priesthood.
And secondly that it is this priesthood, and not directly himself, that is somehow seen as permanent, unchanging and not connected with dying, simply because that is how Scripture reveals it. He is looking at a concept of priesthood, and at Melchizedek’s royal priesthood, and not at Melchizedek the man. He is not concerned to rationalise the two.
We must now consider the detail.
A Brief History of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:1-3 ).
The writer begins by outlining who Melchizedek was. He wants us to know that he was not some outlandish heavenly figure, but a royal priest here on earth. And he then draws out significant features about him that reveal the similarities that there were between him and Jesus, while at the same time stressing that it was Melchizedek who was like Jesus, and pointed to Jesus, and not the other way round. Jesus the Son of God is the superior, and the One to Whom we should finally look. He preceded Melchizedek as ‘the Son’, and will exist eternally, long after Melchizedek has been forgotten. Indeed Melchizedek only comes into the reckoning at all because David inherited his priesthood, and it therefore became linked with the Davidic Messiah in Psalms 110:4. Had that not happened he would have remained as an obscure figure in Genesis. But as it is he appears as of crucial importance because of his Scriptural connection with the Messiah and His priesthood, that is, with Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 7:1-3, ‘For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of God Most High, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham divided a tenth part of all (being first, by interpretation, King of righteousness, and then also King of Salem, which is King of peace), without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like to the Son of God, abides a priest continually.’
The writer first makes clear how we are to see Melchizedek, who he was and what his attributes were.
1) He was the king of Salem, and as the king of ‘Salem’ (probably Jerusalem, which is sometimes called Salem - Psalms 76:2), a priest of the Most High God. He was thus a Royal Priest.
2) As a priest he met Abraham, the returning conqueror, when he was returning from his victory over the kings. (‘Slaughter of the kings’ is to be taken hyperbolically. There was slaughter and it was connected with the four foreign kings). And as priest of the Most High God Melchizedek both officially blessed the conqueror Abraham and received ‘tithes’ from him. This therefore confirms what a great priest he was, for he is depicted as greater than God’s chosen one, greater than the conqueror of ‘the nations’. All this is history as found in Genesis 14:0.
(From a historical point of view Melchizedek was, of course, a petty king of a small city state welcoming back a victorious petty tribal leader with whom he had a treaty, a tribal leader who occupied part of his territory and therefore owed him certain duties including a share in any spoils. But from a heavenly point of view the petty tribal leader in question was Abraham, the chosen of God, through whose seed the destiny of the world would be determined, and that therefore puts Melchizedek and his priesthood in a totally different light, and it is contrasted with Abraham to Melchizedek’s advantage. The writer is not interested in how secular history saw them, he is concerned with how Scripture and salvation history portrays them.
3) He then expands on that history bringing out a number of relevant points. This Melchizedek, he says, was like Jesus in that he was ‘king of righteousness’. This was so because his name loosely signifies that. Melchi-zedek equals ‘my king is Zedek’, and the root zdk means righteous. Thus we may translate ‘my king is righteous’. And as a man’s name was considered to reveal what he was, he could therefore be called ‘the king of righteousness’.
4) He was also king of Salem and slm means ‘peace’. Thus he could be seen not only as king of righteousness but also as king of peace (compareIsaiah 9:6; Isaiah 9:6; Isaiah 11:1-4). In this he was to be seen as a ‘type’, a pre-illustration, of Jesus, and as suitable to be a superior priest in the eyes of God (see Hebrews 1:8-9; Hebrews 13:20). So as a priest who was righteous and personified peace, he was a type of the perfect mediator, the One who is righteous, true and pure in every way, and thus totally pleasing to God, the One in Whom God delights, and the One who brings peace with God and peace from God. He was a type of the One Who reconciles God’s people to Himself.
5) He was ‘Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life.’ This is not intended to describe his pedigree, as though he was some supernatural figure, but to contrast him with the levitical priesthood. It is saying that there was nothing that tied his priesthood to earthly descent, or limited it in any way.
It was clearly significant to the writer that the background to his priesthood, although unquestionably accepted by God, did not depend on tracing descent, and was not time-limited. In other words Scripture when considering him was not concerned with the question of his descent, for his priesthood was not seen as depending on that. It was a God-allocated priesthood.
This was as different from the levitical priesthood as it could possibly be. In the levitical priesthood everything was seen to depend on descent. It was closely tied to earth and to history.
So as far as Scripture was concerned therefore, the Melchizedekian priesthood was not specifically tied down to earthly connections or earthly time, no information about its source, or beginning or end was made available in Scripture, and no one knew anything about its antecedents or of its end. Such things were clearly not considered important to that priesthood. It continued for ever, being as it were ‘manned’ by a royal house, by a succession of kings. So all that mattered was that ‘he is’ by virtue of his kingship. He lived on in his house. There it was and there it continued.
The importance of this lies in the fact that this was in complete contrast to the Levitical priesthood where all such requirements were emphasised and laid down and required to be known in great detail before a man could become a priest.
At this point therefore we should perhaps consider how the levitical priesthood contrasts with Melchizedek’s priesthood, so as to bring out the significance of this. Mechizedek’s priesthood was;
1) ‘Without father, without mother, without genealogy.’ The Melchizedekian priesthood was not expressed as being dependent on descent. The exact opposite was the case for a levitical priest. When his name was put forward to be a priest he was asked, ‘Who is your father, who is your mother, what is your descent? Produce your genealogy.’ For Scripture stated that the father of a levitical priest must be proved to be of the house of Aaron, of the tribe of Levi. His mother must be established as a true Israelite, and also pure (see Leviticus 21:7), and by the time of Jesus the priestly families were excessively rigid against unsatisfactory marriages by priests for this very reason. Prospective wives’ backgrounds had to be thoroughly examined.
In fact full genealogies had to be produced for every prospective priest. Their genealogy had to be traced and demonstrated, otherwise they could not be priests (Ezra 2:62-63; Nehemiah 7:63-65). They were very much tied to earthly descent.
2) ‘Having neither beginning of days.’ Furthermore no time limits were placed on the Melchizedekian priesthood. In contrast every levitical priest had a ‘beginning of days’, a time when he commenced his priesthood. Probably Levitical priests, like the Levites, "began their days" as priests/Levites at the age of twenty-five, when they were permitted to wait on their brethren (Numbers 8:24 and compare 1 Chronicles 23:27-28). Then at the age of thirty they began their regular priestly/levitical duties (Numbers 4:3; Numbers 4:23; Numbers 4:30; Numbers 4:35; Numbers 4:39; Numbers 4:43; Numbers 4:47).
3) ‘Nor end of life.’ No ending is predicated for the Melchizedekian priesthood. In contrast, assuming that the levitical priests were like the Levites, then at the age of fifty their priestly "life" ended. "From the age of fifty years they shall cease waiting on the service, and shall serve no more" (Numbers 8:25). As far as the priesthood was concerned their lives thus probably ended at fifty. So this priesthood was time-limited, and not a continual succession.
(This was also actually in contrast with the High Priesthood (often spoken of in terms of ‘the Priest’) which commenced on appointment and finished at death. Once a High Priest, always a High Priest. But even for him the beginning and ending of each High Priesthood was emphasised. His death was seen as the end of an era).
Thus the wording of this verse has the levitical priesthood in mind as being in contrast to that of Melchizedek.
As priest Melchizedek was in contrast to all this. He was a figure without an earthly identification priestwise. His descent was not important. He was simply there. He came on to the scene mysteriously and he went equally mysteriously. As spoken of in Scripture he had no known beginning and he had no known ending. He was not connected with any known genealogy, and thus not limited to any tribe. His priesthood went with his kingship. It was simply recognised. And yet in Scripture he was clearly greater than Abraham, God’s chosen one. It was the basis of a unique type of priesthood.
Had he not been spoken of in Scripture, Jews would have frowned on all this. To Jews such genealogical information as is mentioned here was considered vital for a priest. It established his credentials. How else could a person be seen as being of a God-ordained priesthood? they would have argued. Thus this priesthood by their standards seemed to be lacking credentials. And yet they could not refute the fact that it was acknowledged by God and by Scripture, and therefore could not be denied. Thus the priesthood of anyone connected with it must also be recognised by God.
And that is directly the writer’s point. Melchizedek was a true priest, yet not a levitical priest, and not limited like levitical priests were. He appeared as from God and as authorised by God, and as accepted by Abraham, no limits were put on his priesthood, and his priesthood continued on through the line of David until it reappeared in Psalms 110:4. Here was an accepted and genuine priesthood, a royal priesthood, that was acknowledged by God apparently from the beginning and yet was not levitical, and had no known restrictions with regard to its beginning or ending. It was unique, being ever there in the background, and was passed on to David when he became King in Jerusalem. And it was later, in the Psalms, spoken of as continuing in existence in the house of David, to finally flower in the coming of the Messiah.
So as we have seen the requirements for his priesthood are all in direct contrast with the levitical priests. In their case their father and mother had to be known and had to be strictly acceptable. Their case was rigidly scrutinised. If there was any doubt they could not be accepted. The father must be a priest of true descent, the mother an established Israelite. Their genealogy had to be traced, otherwise they could not be priests (Ezra 2:62-63; Nehemiah 7:63-65). And they had both ‘a beginning of days’ and ‘an end of life’. None of this was true of him or expected of him. He stood above it all.
‘Beginning of days.’ Whether this refers to birth, or the beginning of their priesthood, the main point is that the date had to be known so as to reckon when someone could be initiated as a levitical priest. His priesthood was limited and tied to earth and to time.
‘End of life.’ Again whether this refers either to the age of retirement from priesthood, the ‘end of his life’ as a priest, or to his actual death, either way there came a time when their priesthood identifiably ceased. All priests were temporary, and limited by time limits. It was a shared, and tightly regulated, and limited priesthood, constantly being replenished because of the passing of time as one set of priests followed another in the priestly service. It was an in-out priesthood.
Assuming that it followed the Levite pattern full priesthood lasted twenty years. Their period of priesthood was thus strictly limited. And we can see why they might have seen the end of their active priesthood as ‘the end of life’.
On the other hand the priesthood of Melchizedek was in complete contrast to the levitical priesthood. His appears to have had continuing permanence while theirs was merely temporary. His was not restricted by such rules. He was never time-barred. His priesthood went with his kingship and went on and on. It was permanent and never (in Scripture) linked with death.
But what was even more significant was that this same priesthood suddenly emerges in Scripture again, a second time, in Psalms 110:4, as continuing to exist, and there Melchizedek is mentioned, not as himself living, but as the one whose priesthood was the pattern of that of the coming king who would establish God’s everlasting rule (Psalms 110:5). It is not said in the Psalm that Melchizedek was at that time himself living. What it reveals is that the priesthood connected with him was seen as long lasting. It had long preceded the time of Aaron and would go on beyond the end of time, with no known interruptions, and no regulations as to genealogy. It had no known beginning or ending.
And another factor to be taken into account was that Melchizedek’s priesthood was not only more ancient than that of the Levites, but it was to be seen as superior to that of Abraham, the father of the Levites. This is demonstrated by the fact that he received tithes from Abraham and gave him an official blessing. This was not just a general blessing, but an official blessing such as a superior priest gives to an inferior. Something of the exceptional was therefore to be perceived about him as far as his priesthood was concerned. He was before the Law, outside the Law, superior to those who ministered in the Tabernacle, and even superior to the one who received the promises. How great then was the priesthood that was connected with him.
‘But made like to the Son of God, he abides a priest continually.’ And this is the final point. That as far as Scripture usage is concerned he was actually in Scripture ‘made like to the Son of God’, to Jesus Christ, in the way that his priesthood is presented and appears as unlimited, and as going on and on. He stands out, and was intended to stand out, as an example of eternal priesthood. His priesthood was pictured in the same way as that of the Son of God really is. No beginning or end is pointed to. It was seen as unceasing, not limited by time rules. It stretched from at least the time of Abraham to the time of the Psalmist, and then was to go onwards in the Davidic representative (not be it noted in Melchizedek himself), and on to the great day of God’s triumph, and therefore it was seen as being permanent and everlasting.
Here then, he says, is the picture revealed in Scripture by Melchizedek, the picture of an unceasing, continuing, eternal priesthood, not connected with Aaron, and in fact superior to that of Aaron. And that is why, he explains, we cannot doubt his greatness. It is necessary here, however, to emphasise that it is Melchizedek who is said to have been ‘made like to’ the Son of God, and not vice versa. He illustrates what the Son of God is like with regard to priesthood. He was there as an illustration on earth, as ‘a type’, as preparatory to the eternal Son of God revealing Himself. He was, preparatory and secondary.
For in Hebrews 1:1-3, where the essence of the Son of God is declared in all His eternal power and glory, Jesus also is depicted as being without beginning and without end in a much deeper sense. He is seen as appointed heir of all things and proceeds to create the world. He has no beginning. And then He proceeds to sitting at God’s right hand having accomplished His purposes. He has no ending.
So Melchizedek in his small way is portrayed precisely like this, as an illustration of this and as being ‘made’ for this very purpose. His sudden appearance in Scripture, says the writer, was not accidental. It was in order to illustrate the eternal High Priest, Who was already invisible in Heaven, and to demonstrate that there was such a priesthood, even before levitical priesthood was introduced.
Indeed we should carefully note another fact and that is that as far as Scripture is concerned Melchizedek was not only a unique priest but was a priest who preceded all other earthly priesthood. In Genesis, where all things began, there is no other priesthood mentioned than that of Melchizedek. As far as Genesis was concerned he was ‘the priest’. He did not appear as another priest, he was the only mentioned priest of God, a figure of the eternal priesthood. He was thus the prime example of such priesthood long predating Moses.
And, says the writer, his appearance in Scripture and his mention here is precisely because he was ‘made like to the Son of God’ as far as priesthood is concerned. That is why he is introduced and comes on the scene. For in the end this passage is not about Melchizedek but is demonstrating the unique Priesthood of the Son of God (Hebrews 7:11-28), which preceded, was superior to, and outlasted, the levitical priesthood.
It should be noted that using Jewish methodology the writer was not trying to give a true vignette of the man Melchizedek as he was. He was presenting a picture of his priesthood as it was seen to be from Scripture as the picture of an unceasing heavenly reality. It is his unlimited priesthood, not Melchizedek himself, that he is interested in, and it is that that the writer is really depicting as not beginning and not ending, revealing him as one ‘not having beginning of days or end of life’ (thus permanent and never time barred), and as not needing to be replaced.
So in the beginning, the writer is saying, before ever there was a Law, there was only one priesthood, and it is this priesthood which is depicted as a continual priesthood, never ceasing, never ending, for had it not been so, he reasoned, God would surely have drawn attention to such limits as He did with the levitical priesthood. For the Jews saw the Scriptures as the words of the Holy Spirit, and considered that what the Scriptures omitted was often as important as what they said.
So the man is in the end incidental. He quickly disappears from view, and is clearly in the past. What is seen as in being, and as continuing onwards, is his priesthood, ever there in the background, and especially as epitomised in the Son of God.
‘Now consider how great this one was, to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth out of the chief spoils.’
He now proves his case. Let them consider the details of the dealings of this unique priest with Abraham in Scripture. For there his greatness is fully revealed in that as priest of the Most High God he received tithes from Abraham. And yet no one would deny that Abraham was himself the mighty Patriarch, father of Israel (and therefore of Levi), the augmenter of God’s new purposes, the great victor over the nations. Thus this demonstrated Melchizedek’s greatness, and the superiority of his priesthood, to any that could be applied to Abraham, for it is those who are appointed as priests by God over others who receive tithes, especially the tithes which are from, literally, the very ‘top of the pile’ (the chief spoils), and it is they who are seen as ‘great’. So while Abraham as ‘family priest’ was great, there was clearly an even greater priesthood stated as being in existence, represented by Melchizedek the priest-king.
The Greatness Of Melchizedek and His Priesthood Compared With Abraham (Hebrews 7:4-10 ).
Now he emphasises, that while Scripture says nothing to limit his priesthood to time, it does very much reveal the superiority of this early priesthood in its relations with God’s people, for that is shown firstly, by the fact that he received tithes from Abraham, and by implication received them from his descendants; secondly in that he blesses Abraham, rather than being blessed by Abraham; and thirdly in that his priesthood is seen as continual. All these factors reveal the superiority of this priesthood which long pre-dated the levitical priesthood.
‘And they indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest's office have commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though these have come out of the loins of Abraham.’
This argument about tithes is now illustrated from the fact that the levitical priests, descended from Levi’s ‘sons’, themselves received tithes from the people by God’s commandment due to their status as God’s chosen priests, as great ones, even though they were described as subject to death. They received them by virtue of their office. And these were gathered for them by the Levites. And the reason they received them was that they had a divine right to receive such tithes according to the Law precisely because they were priests, even though humanly speaking they came from the same roots as the people, from the loins of Abraham. This receiving of tithes demonstrated their rights and uniqueness as priests, demonstrating that they were truly God’s chosen priests, that they were greater than the people.
However, while that was so, their being from the loins of Abraham shows that they were inferior to Melchizedek, and post-dated Melchizedek. For Abraham, their ‘father’, gave tithes to Melchizedek, and therefore being ‘in the loins of Abraham’ they also in Abraham gave Melchizedek tithes. So Melchizedek in his priesthood was greater than and anterior to them.
The picture is therefore clear. The people gave tithes to the Levites, the Levites gave tithes to the priests, and the priests (in Abraham) gave tithes to the priesthood of Melchizedek, all in ascending order. The Melchizedekian priesthood was thus greater than all.
Note the emphasis on ‘sons of Levi’. While this description may be strictly more historically correct, by custom he could normally have simply said ‘Levi’. However here he wished to indicate that Levi died, and his sons were born and they died, and so on. The family produced a priesthood that was subject to death, generation after generation, from a family that was subject to death. This in contrast to the priesthood of Melchizedek where there is no mention of death and the appointing of a new priest.
‘According to the Law.’ All their rights were based on the Law. They had no claims beyond what the Law gave them. Their appointment was by the Law. They taught the Law. They carried through the Law. They were subject to the Law. But Melchizedek was outside and above the Law.
‘But he whose genealogy is not counted from them has taken tithes of Abraham, and has blessed him who has the promises. But without any dispute the less is blessed of the better.’
Melchizedek’s right to be seen as a priest to Abraham, the ‘father’ of Levi, is demonstrated by his pre-dating the Law and by his receiving tithes from Abraham. His priesthood was thus ‘not counted from them’, for he was not of the tribe of Levi (as his lack of genealogy demonstrates), and pre-dated them. He was not tied down to a genealogy. And yet he not only took tithes from Abraham, but he also blessed him, long before the levitical priesthood appeared, at a time when the original promises were being given. So here was a twofold evidence of his superiority as priest to Abraham, the receiving of tithes and the giving of an official blessing to the one who was the recipient of ‘the promises’. The blessing is especially significant, for it again demonstrates his overall superiority as priest, because unquestionably (in those days) the one who gave an official blessing was the superior of the one who was blessed (compare Deuteronomy 21:5. See also Luke 24:50).
‘Abraham -- who has the promises.’ What a remarkable thing was this. Here was the man to whom God gave the initial promises by which God’s people (and God’s priesthood) were founded, and through whom He had established them, and yet instead of him blessing Melchizedek, Melchizedek, appearing as a priest already in existence, blessed him. How great then was Mechizedek’s priesthood! It came directly from God. For the specific point is made here that Abraham was living at the time of receiving the promises which long pre-dated the time of the Law. And yet he was still inferior to the priesthood of Melchizedek. Thus Melchizedek had a continually existing priesthood before the Law at the time of the prior promises, and was greater than Abraham and his priesthood and thus preceded and was superior to the levitical priesthood.
‘ And here men who die receive tithes, but there one, of whom it is witnessed that he lives.’
He then adds that here on earth the priests who receive tithes are mortal men, they are depicted as ‘men who die’ (the noun ‘men’ is specifically included for emphasis, they are all ‘as but men’), and yet they still receive tithes. For even though they are destined to die, and their deaths will be recorded (e.g. Numbers 20:24-29), within their limited priesthood they still receive tithes.
How much more then should that priest receive tithes whose beginning or ending is not recorded or stipulated, who is not spoken of as dying, who bears no taint of death in the description of him, who is simply described as ‘living’, and whose priesthood disappears into oblivion (as far as Scripture is concerned), but only for his priesthood to come out from that oblivion in a time to come, the time of the Psalmist in Psalms 110:0, so that he was then seen as living on in the Messianic priest. Thus, as far as the records go, he was, at least in as far as his priesthood was concerned, shown to be ‘still living’ on in some way. Had it not been so his priesthood could not be a pattern for the Davidic priesthood.
The point being made is that ageing and death are nowhere directly connected with his priesthood. It is simply there. That there is no record of beginnings or endings, which were clearly not important to his priesthood, and his priesthood (but not he himself) continues in the time of the Psalmist. And that there is therefore no suggestion in Scripture of the cessation of his priesthood. His priesthood is depicted as having been in existence from the beginning and to continue as an undying priesthood in quite the opposite way to the levitical priesthood which is very much connected with beginnings and endings, with living and dying, and as being earthly. He can therefore be seen as representing ‘a continually existing priesthood’ to whom no shadow of death is applied, a perfect ‘type’ of our everlasting High Priest.
‘Of whom it is witnessed that he lives.’ These words can be interpreted in different ways. Some see them as specifically indicating that Melchizedek never died. This seems unlikely to be the writer’s intention as otherwise he would surely have brought the fact out more clearly and emphasised it more. The passage as a whole does not give the impression of the eternity of Melchizedek. Indeed apart from his being an example of a unique priesthood he is not seen as over-important except in terms of Abraham’s day. All the emphasis is on the superiority of his priesthood, and once that is established he himself disappears, and just fades from the scene. It is his priesthood that is seen as still living on. And this is precisely because the writer is not primarily concerned with Melchizedek but with his priesthood. Indeed in context the Psalmist indicates that another is to arise in a like priesthood, ‘another priest’, taking up all priesthood into Himself, suggesting that Melchizedek is in fact then no longer around (Hebrews 7:11). He is of the past.
Others consider that it is intended to indicate that his priesthood is described (‘it is witnessed’) as continuing, as ‘living’, with no mention of death, so that death is not linked with his priesthood, and he lives on in his priesthood. Death is ignored. His priesthood lives on, even though unheralded in Scripture, until Psalms 110:4, until the perfect Priest comes. We often say of some great person, ‘he will never die, he lives on in his achievements (or his writings)’. Thus did the writer see Melchizedek as living on in his priesthood, just as David lived on in his sons.
And still others consider that it indicates that he had no retirement age at which he ‘died as a priest’ like the levitical priests did, and that in his case he ‘lived on’, his priesthood continued on until he literally died, and then he lived on in his successors. His priesthood was thus never brought to an abrupt halt as with the levitical priests who had a signing off date. (Although in that case ‘living on’ could also have been said to be true of the Aaronic High Priest. However, even their deaths were heavily emphasised. Their deaths brought in a new era - Numbers 35:25; Numbers 35:28).
In view of the importance in Israel of the idea of the ‘taint of death’ (which rendered unclean), and the general indication that Melchizedek himself is not otherwise seen as living on, the second seems the most likely meaning intended.
‘And, so to say, through Abraham even Levi, who receives tithes, has paid tithes, for he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchizedek met him.’
And to add to all this we must recognise that even Levi, himself the father of the Levites and of the levitical priesthood, paid tithes to Melchizedek. And this was because he was in the loins of Abraham when Abraham did so, as were his descendants. That means that not only did Abraham pay tithes to Melchizedek, but also, in him, so did Levi and Aaron and so did all the high priests and the levitical priesthood. They were always all inferior to the priesthood of Melchizedek.
Therefore speaking in Jewish terms a mass of evidence has demonstrated the superiority of Melchizedek’s priesthood to that of Aaron.
1) He pre-dated the levitical priesthood and is not depicted as having a beginning or ending.
2) He appears to have an unlimited, permanent, unceasing priesthood untainted by death. As priest he was not seen as caught up in a life-death scenario, or witnessed to as a stop-go priest; he was there without restriction at the time when ‘the promises’ were first given, long before the Law which resulted from them.
3) He received tithes from Abraham, and through him he therefore received tithes from the Levites and priests, and from Levi himself.
4) He gave an official blessing to Abraham.
5) He was the king of righteousness and the king of peace.
6) His priesthood was still around at the time of the writing of Psalms 110:0 as going forward into the future.
He was thus a true pattern of the Messiah (although not being the Messiah). Until the revealing of Christ’s unlimited priesthood, no priesthood was greater or more permanent than the priesthood of Melchizedek. It was superior in every way.
‘Now if there was perfection through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people have received the law), what further need was there that another priest should arise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be reckoned after the order of Aaron?’
What, he asks, does all this prove? It proves that the fact that another priest of a different order and likeness (‘after the order/likeness of Melchizedek’) had, according to the Psalmist, to arise, demonstrates the insufficiency of the levitical priesthood, and consequently of the Law. It demonstrates that it had not replaced the earlier priesthood. For had the levitical priesthood been perfect in accomplishing its purpose of bringing men eternally to God, and making them acceptable eternally to God, no other further priesthood would again have been needed and the Law would have been vindicated.
True, these priests gave people the Law, and they taught and instructed them, and they must not be denigrated, but the need for a further priest ‘after the likeness of Melchizedek’ is specifically indicated by the Psalmist when speaking by the Holy Spirit, and that could only mean therefore that another of the order of the levitical priesthood would have been insufficient. It is thus seen as significant that once God wanted to establish a new everlasting priesthood he did not look to the levitical priesthood, but to the Melchizedekian type of priesthood. This demonstrates the levitical priesthood to be lacking. Otherwise why the need for someone of another type of priesthood?
And as we have seen this other order is of a priesthood superior to Abraham, (and therefore to all who followed him and traced their descent to him). It pre-existed the levitical priesthood, and gives the appearance of being untainted by death. It blessed Abraham, who was in turn the one through whom the whole world was to be blessed. And as the Psalmist declared, this priesthood is the right and privilege of the continuing house of David and of the Messiah in particular. How great it then is, and how great is the Messiah.
‘If there was perfection.’ This is what it is all about, the search for a perfect High Priest Who can perfectly represent us and perfectly atone for us. And this was not found in the levitical priesthood, but it is found in the One Who is after the likeness of Melchizedek.
(It should possibly be noted here that had this been written after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, which resulted in the cessation of the priestly activity of the levitical priesthood, it seems quite inconceivable that the writer should not have seized on that fact when he is concentrating so much on the temporary nature of the levitical priesthood compared with the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, even though admittedly he was not concerned with recent priesthood. This is further confirmation that it was written earlier).
Comparison Between Christ’s Priesthood and the Levitical Priesthood (Hebrews 7:11-25 ).
Having established the superiority and permanence of the Melchizedekian priesthood, the writer now applies its superiority to Jesus as the Psalmist himself is seen as doing in Psalms 110:4. He has already cited Psalms 110:4 and applied it to Jesus as the One Who has ascended into Heaven as a High Priest after the likeness of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 5:10; Hebrews 6:20), because He was the Messiah Who was in view in Psalms 110:0. Now he draws from that fact the inevitable conclusions.
‘For the priesthood being changed, there becomes of necessity a change also of the law.’
But if the levitical priesthood is replaced by the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, as the Psalmist is basically declaring, huge consequences follow. The whole situation with regard to the Law changes. For it was the levitical priests who were appointed by the Law to supervise the Law, but the Melchizedekian priesthood precedes the Law, just as Abraham preceded the Law. It existed in the time of promise and was not subject to the Law, and does not have to act in accordance with the Law. Something greater has taken over. The way of the Law has been replaced by the way of the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. And this is the way of the promises given to Abraham.
‘For he of whom these things are said belongs to another tribe, from which no man has given attendance at the altar.’
And this is demonstrated by the fact that that High Priest of Whom these things are said, our Lord Himself, is from a different tribe than Levi, a tribe from which no man has given attendance at the altar (has directly offered sacrifices), nor has the right to under the Law. If then He became High Priest the Law must in some way have been superseded, it must be under a different Law, a prior Law, a different way of managing things, a different ‘household economy’, a different stewardship, for under the old He could not be a priest. Indeed even the altar must have been superseded (compare Hebrews 13:10).
‘For it is evident that our Lord has sprung (or ‘has risen’) out of Judah, as to which tribe Moses said nothing concerning priests.’
For, as is made abundantly clear, our Lord in his humanity sprang, not from the tribe of Levi but from the tribe of Judah, like a plant from its root (Isaiah 11:1), or like the sun arising and shining out in the morning. He has sprung up and is here. And yet Moses in his Law said nothing about the tribe of Judah having anything to do with priesthood. Thus by becoming High Priest He must be operating under a different Law, a different divine way of doing things, based on different principles. He is thus not under the Law. (It was in fact on the basis of the Melchizedekian priesthood, which long preceded the Law but which in its present representatives did spring out of Judah (Psalms 110:4), for the Davidic kings were of Judah).
Note carefully the introduction here of the term ‘our Lord’. Jesus has previously only appeared as ‘the Lord’ in Hebrews 2:3 when in direct contrast with, and as replacing, the old order. So here again He has sprung up as replacing the old order. In Him Judah has replaced Levi, and the royal priesthood has replaced the dying priesthood. He is not only our priest, He is our Lord.
(Connection of Melchizedek with a Davidic priesthood, a priesthood for the house of Judah, as in the Psalm, in fact came from an older Law, the law of succession in ancient Jerusalem once David had captured it (see the introduction to chapter 5). But the writer was not thinking in those terms. He was looking more at what Scripture actually revealed, either by word or by silence).
‘And it is yet more abundantly evident, if after the likeness of Melchizedek there arises another priest, who has been made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless (or ‘indissoluble’) life. For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”.’
And this fact of operating under a different way of divine management especially comes out in that this Priest, the Messiah, has arisen after the likeness of Melchizedek. And His arising was not as a result of following the principle of some fleshly commandment tied to earth, but as a result of possessing the power of an endless, indissoluble life. His source is heavenly not earthly. His appointment was not under the Law, for the Law of a fleshly (and therefore temporary and dying) commandment which can only say, ‘do this and you will live’, has been replaced by the power of indissoluble life, something clear from the words of His institution, “You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” . Note the contrasts. ‘Law’ (principle) is contrasted with ‘power’. Earthly intention is replaced by heavenly effectiveness. It is the contrast of a ‘fleshly (human, liable to decay, temporary) commandment’ with the idea of ‘indissoluble (spiritual, permanent, everlasting) life’. In the end it is a contrast of total death with total life. So the Mechizedekian priesthood has a further thing going for it, it is rooted in everlasting life, in unceasing life, in life which cannot cease or be destroyed, and not in death and earthiness and fleshliness and constant demands.
‘And it is yet more abundantly evident.’ What is? Probably he means that the law must necessarily change is more abundantly evident, or possibly he is referring to the superiority of the one priesthood over against the other. Both in fact go together.
‘After the likeness of Melchizedek.’ Confirming that ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ signifies ‘after the likeness of his priesthood’.
‘There arises.’ In accordance with the divine purpose.
‘For there is a disannulling of a foregoing commandment because of its weakness and unprofitability, (for the law made nothing perfect), and a bringing in, as a result, of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.’
As a result the ‘foregoing’ commandment, which was weak and unprofitable, is annulled, because it failed in its purpose of achieving perfection, and is replaced by a ‘better hope’, through which we can draw near to God. There is a contrast here between ‘the disannulling of a foregoing commandment’ looking back to the past, and ‘the bringing in of a better hope’ looking forward to the future.
For in all this the old commandment that was in control before is disannulled, cancelled, because of its weakness and unprofitability, that is, because the Law in fact made nothing perfect in connection with salvation. It was unable itself to save, for its ordinances could only waive sin in a temporary fashion, as is evident from its continual repetition, and its moral requirements could only condemn sinful man. It thus could not deliver from sin. For it could not finally bring men to God in permanent forgiveness and restoration.
And thus if a solution was to be found there necessarily had to arise, as a result, a better hope, something more reliable, no, rather, Someone more reliable, through Whom we may draw near to God. Our hope (confident certainty) is no longer to be fixed on a failing law and its fading ordinances, but on our better Hope which is sure and certain.
Here we have the parallel idea to Paul’s ‘works’ and ‘faith’. The one disbanded, the other confident and sure. It is the idea reflected in Hebrews 6:18-20.
‘And inasmuch as it is not without the taking of an oath, (for they indeed have been made priests without an oath; but he with an oath by him that says of him, The Lord swore and will not repent himself, You are a priest for ever), by so much also has Jesus become the surety of a better covenant.’
And the superiority of this coming dispensation, this new way of management, this new household economy, this new divine order, under a better covenant, is emphasised by the fact that with regard to it Jesus was instituted as High Priest by an oath, so that there was no possibility of a ‘change of mind’. It is guaranteed to be permanent and eternal, for this is sworn by God. It is a priesthood that cannot change.
Such an oath was something that never happened under the old priesthood. That was dependent on a breakable covenant. But this new institution was established under the oath of God precisely because it was intended to be eternal, and everlastingly guaranteed, as Psalms 110:4 demonstrates. The result is that the High Priesthood in question is a better and more permanent High Priesthood, and it indicates that Jesus has become the surety and guarantee of a better covenant, a new and superior covenant, an unfailing covenant. We no longer live under the old covenant but under a new, one that has been instituted under God’s personal oath. It is a covenant which along with our great High Priest is eternal. It is a covenant which will be expanded on shortly in chapter 8.
Under the old covenant agreement the old priesthood was given to the descendants of Aaron ‘under the covenant of an everlasting priesthood’ (Numbers 25:13). It was a priesthood promised for ever as long as there was faithfulness to the covenant. But there was not faithfulness to the covenant. The covenant was broken because of sin, failure and misuse, and because of the inadequacy of the priesthood, and the helplessness of the Law, and the priesthood therefore failed. However the new covenant is seen to be under God’s oath, and is guaranteed by Jesus through His incarnation as perfect representative man, and through His death, resurrection, exaltation and eternal priesthood. It is therefore sure for ever. (And thus no other covenant or different dispensation will ever be required).
‘And they indeed have been made priests many in number, because that by death they are hindered from continuing, but he, because he abides for ever, has his priesthood unchangeable.’
Again the point is drawn out that the levitical priests were numerous and constantly changing because death prevented them from continuing. There was constant fluctuation. But He on the other hand continues on permanently. He abides for ever. Therefore His priesthood is unchanging, and there can thus be no argument about the superiority of the new priesthood and the new covenant, for they are eternal.
‘Wherefore also he is able to save to the uttermost those who continually draw near to God through him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them.’
And as a result of the fact that He lives eternally (‘wherefore’) He is able to save utterly in every way, both to the uttermost length of time and to the uttermost extent, those who continually draw near to God through Him (compare Hebrews 4:16). And this is precisely because He lives continually, because He ever lives, for this very purpose of making intercession for them. He ever speaks for them. He ever pleads for them as their representative. He ever points to His sacrifice for them. He is an eternal priest Who when called upon can and does intercede for His own throughout all time and beyond.
An example of such intercession can be found in John 17:0 where Jesus interceded for His disciples in preparation for what they must shortly face, that they might be kept from evil and sanctified in the truth; and also in the case where He said to Peter, ‘I have prayed for you that your faith shall not fail’ (Luke 22:32). So does He now continually intercede for His own that our faith will not fail.
Note the clear contrasts given which reveal the superiority of Christ’s priesthood, revealing a better power, a better hope, a better covenant and a better priesthood.
1) Our new priest is made ‘not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless (or ‘indissoluble’) life’ (Hebrews 7:15-17). Thus He has the power of endless and vivifying life, rather than simply giving written commandments.
2) There is a disannulling of a foregoing commandment because of its weakness and unprofitability, and a bringing in as a result of a better hope by which we draw near to God (Hebrews 7:18-19). A new hope and better approach to God has been introduced.
3) Because the one superior priesthood was made with an oath while the other was not, ‘By so much also has Jesus become the surety of a better covenant’ (Hebrews 7:20-22). We have a better covenant guaranteed by the victorious representative Man Himself.
4) The levitical priests have indeed been made priests many in number, because that by death they are hindered from continuing, but He, because He abides for ever, has His priesthood unchangeable’ (23-24). Our one Priest is permanent and unchangeable.
‘For such a high priest became us, holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens, who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, (first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people), for this he did once for all, when he offered up himself.’
Summing up then he describes the superiority of Jesus to earthly High Priests. What He is in His very nature and in His continual behaviour shows that He is the kind of High Priest that we need, that He is ‘becoming’ to us. That He fits in with our requirements. And this is so for the following reasons.
1) He is holy (hosios). Completely godly, uniquely separated to God and pleasing to Him, untouched by sin, completely acceptable and perfect. See Acts 2:27; 1 Timothy 2:8; Titus 1:8, and compare 1 Peter 1:15 (although there the Greek is hagion);
2) He is guileless. Innocent, without deceit, without dissimulation, without guile, totally true.
3) He is undefiled. Untouched by the defilement of the world or of sin, having kept Himself from evil. Religiously and morally pure.
4) He is separated from sinners. Standing out on His own as uniquely different from and separated from us in behaviour, attitude and purpose, He has no part in man’s rebelliousness or failure. He is totally blameless. He is the perfect ‘second man’, crowned with glory and honour as man, and totally without sin.
In mind in the idea of separation from sinners may be the fact that the High Priest would separate himself from all possible taint preparatory to great feasts. So did Jesus separate Himself from all that could defile, but with the difference that Jesus was permanently separated from all taint from the beginning. He did it from birth. And He alone could not be rendered unclean, either by touching the dead (Luke 8:54 compare Luke 7:14), or touching the leper (Mark 1:41), for He was above death and above disease. They vanished at His touch.
5) He is made higher than the heavens (see Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 8:1). As Man He is exalted to the highest degree, raised above all angelic powers (compareEphesians 1:19-22; Ephesians 1:19-22), receiving the final glory and honour with which He had been crowned (Hebrews 2:9), set above all things with all subjected to Him (Hebrews 2:8). He has received as Man the unique place at God’s right hand as God’s viceroy and High Priest (Hebrews 8:1). His intercession for us is thus authoritative, personal and perfect and is by One Who sits there for us, awaiting the day when we share His throne (Revelation 3:21).
6) He is pure and sinless and therefore has no need to offer sacrifices for Himself. He needs no cleansing, no vindication, no defence (Hebrews 4:15; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5). He is totally acceptable to God in what He is as perfect man and perfect God and perfect sacrifice.
7) He has made a once-for-all sacrifice for sins, when He offered up Himself. He has made the totally acceptable offering of Himself which is sufficient to cover all sin, in all ways, for all time, for all who respond to Him (see Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 10:12-14).
Thus is He equipped in every way to act as our High Priest.
‘Who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people.’ For He does not have first to be concerned about His own sins. These words ‘to offer up sacrifices’ cover all offerings and sacrifices, from the regular daily offerings, and the voluntary daily offerings and sacrifices, through all the multitude of offerings and sacrifices throughout the year, to those of the great Day of Atonement. All were necessary to cover the sins of the High Priest and the sins of the people. The continual offering of ‘offerings and sacrifices’ was a never-ending round which unceasingly took up the services of the priesthood under the High Priest, in direct contrast to the once-for-all nature of Christ’s own sacrifice.
‘First for his own sins.’ This applies to each High Priest. Such an offering for the High Priest’s own sins was specifically required on the Day of Atonement but it was intrinsic in the daily offerings which were for all, including the High Priest. He represented the people, as having been drawn from among them, sinful as they were sinful. Thus the High Priest constantly had to offer sacrifices for himself, as he did also for the people. This whole statement thus covers all aspects of what the High Priest has to offer for both himself and the people. His offering for himself must logically come first, even if contained in one sacrifice for all, for without his being atoned for he could not offer sacrifices for others. Thus the daily sacrifices, which were for all, included him within them, and were seen as atoning for him first and then for them, something which found detailed expression on the Day of Atonement. He stood there on behalf of the whole people, which included himself.
‘To offer up sacrifices --- for this He did once for all, when He offered up Himself.’ But in contrast, rather than being sinful and needing atonement, Jesus Christ was so blameless, so perfect, that without needing to deal with the problem of His own sins because He was without sin, He was able to offer Himself up as a sacrifice, as the means of ‘atonement’ (putting them at one with God) for others. That is, He offered Himself up for the sins of the people, as a means of purification (Hebrews 1:3) so that they might be cleansed, and as a means of propitiation (Hebrews 2:17) so that God’s aversion to their sin might be removed. For Jesus’ one offering of Himself as the one total and complete offering and sacrifice for sin was sufficient once-for-all, for all time, in all circumstances, to cover all possible sin and defilement, on behalf of all who believed in Him.
This last was not a sacrifice contrary to Jewish Law, even though it was not offered by levitical priests, for it was a type of sacrifice not catered for by the Law, one requiring a unique priest. Nor was the blood to be presented in the Temple, or in any earthly sanctuary. It was to be presented in Heaven (Hebrews 8:3; Hebrews 9:11-12). It therefore had to be offered by a priest qualified for the purpose, and thus necessarily not of Aaronic descent, for they were only appointed to act on earth. It required an eternal High Priest, One Who was perfected (Hebrews 7:28), for it was not in fact an offering that a levitical priest was qualified to offer. It was not prescribed by the Law. (If we wanted to be pedantic we could point out that in fact the Aaronic priests did offer Him up, for they handed Him over to the Roman authorities to do just that, and spoke of Him as ‘dying for the nation’ (John 11:50-51). But that is not what is in mind).
A Final Description of Jesus In His Status As High Priest (Hebrews 7:26-28 ).
Having demonstrated that the priesthood of Jesus is older and of a higher level and of more value than that of Aaron the writer now caps his words by a description of Him as our great High Priest. He has previously established His greater priesthood. Now he applies the idea to Him as High Priest. He is a greater High Priest.
‘For the law appoints men high priests, having infirmity, but the word of the oath, which was after the law, appoints a Son, perfected for evermore.’
For the situation can be summed up in these words. The Law appoints men who are weak, and have blemishes and insufficiencies, and are mortal, to be their High Priests. It is an earthly Law. But the word of God’s oath, which is after (later than) the Law, appoints a Son, One totally perfect in every respect, everlasting, and perfected for the High Priestly work for evermore. The Law thus partially fails men, but God’s oath in Christ provides all that men need.
So does he demonstrate that the Aaronic priesthood, which was so revered by the Jews, is in fact, by the Old Testament itself, looked on as deficient and needing to be replaced, and along with it the old Law and the old covenant. And this, he has explained, is what Jesus Christ in fact came to do.
We may close this chapter by summarising the superiority of Christ’s High Priesthood.
1) Christ’s appointment as High Priest was on the basis of God’s oath, which guaranteed it for ever. This contrasts with the Aaronic appointment which was dependent for its continuation on faithfulness to the covenant. In the end it ceased because of faithlessness, and because it sought to destroy God’s High Priest.
2) Christ’s High Priesthood was on the basis of the ‘power of an indisolluble life’, while the Aaronic High Priesthood was on the basis of a ‘law of fleshly commandment’.
3) Christ’s High Priesthood is continual for ever, while the Aaronic High Priesthood changed on death, successor following successor, with never any certainty of the quality of the successor.
4) Christ’s High Priesthood is on the basis of a better covenant, while the Aaronic High Priesthood is on the basis of a failing covenant..
5) Christ is High Priest because He is the Son, chosen by God because of Whom He was and what He had come to do, and because He lives for ever, the Aaronic High Priests were so because they were weak and failing mortal men, of limited priesthood, cut off by death, nevertheless privileged by being chosen by God on the basis of descent from Aaron, who, however, himself miserably failed God and had to die.
6) Christ’s High Priesthood is based on the heavenly tabernacle and is conducted from the throne of God where He has permanent residence, the Aaronic High Priesthood was based on the earthly tabernacle/temple, and entry to its throne (the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies) was limited to once a year, and then only in a brief and obsequious visit. The daily priesthood was conducted from a distance.
7) Christ as High Priest offered a total and complete sacrifice once-for-all, never requiring to be repeated. The Aaronic High Priests offered sacrifices daily and continually, sacrifices which required constant repetition because they could never fully satisfy the requirements of God’s holiness.
Let them then choose which priesthoood they would prefer.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Hebrews 7". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29