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Christ Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchisedech; and so, far more excellent than the priests of Aaron's order.
Anno Domini 63.
IN the preceding chapter, the apostle proposed to go on with the Hebrews to the perfectionofChristian knowledge and experience, demonstrated by arguments drawn from the ancient oracles of God; and accordingly in part he executed his purpose by shewing them, that in the covenant with Abraham God promised him a numerous seed, both by natural descent and by faith; that he promised to bless him and his seed by faith, with the pardon of their sins, with gracious foretastes of heaven here below, and with the inheritance of that heavenly country of which Canaan was the type; and that he confirmed these promises with an oath, to shew the immutability of his purpose to bestow on all those faithful saints the promised blessings. To this oath the apostle had appealed, chap. Heb 5:6 in proof that Jesus is a real High-priest; but its import he did not then fully explain. Wherefore in the last verse of ch. 6 having mentioned a second time, that Jesus was made an High-priest according to the similitude of Melchisedec, he, in this viith chapter, for the purpose of proceeding with the Hebrews still farther on toward the perfection of Christian knowledge, searched into the deep meaning of the oath, recorded Psalms 110:4. The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedec; and by accurately examining the particulars concerning Melchisedec related in the Mosaic history, he shewed that Melchisedec was a far more excellent priest than Aaron and all his sons; and consequently, that Jesus, whom God made an High-priest for ever according to the similitude of Melchisedec, exercises a priesthood infinitely more acceptable to God, and infinitely more effectual for procuring the pardon of sin, than the priesthood which the sons of Aaron exercised under the law.
The first particular concerning Melchisedec mentioned by Moses, and taken notice of by the apostle, is, that Melchisedec was a priest of the Most High God. This implies, that he was appointed to the office in such a public manner, that all the worshippers of the true God in Canaan knew him to be a priest of the Most High God. And seeing, at that time, there was no visible church of God erected in which Melchisedec could officiate, his designation to the priest's office by God, authorized him to officiate every where, for all the worshippers of the true God who applied to him. In this respect, therefore, Melchisedec was a greater priest than Aaron, and than any of his sons; their priesthood being confined to the single nation of the Israelites.—The second particular mentioned by Moses, and referred to by the apostle, is, that Melchisedec was a king as well as a priest; so had authority to make laws for regulating the morals of the people for whom he officiated as a priest, and power to punish them for their faults. Accordingly, by the righteous exercise of his power as a king, accompanied by divine grace, he trained his people to virtue and goodness so successfully, that by his neighbours he himself was called Melchisedec, which signifies king of righteousness; and the city in which his people lived, was, on account of their virtuous and peaceable disposition, called Salem; which signifies peace.—Whereas the sons of Aaron, being simply priests, had no authority to make laws, nor power to correct the vices of the Israelites, for whom they officiated. Besides, many of them, instead of being righteous, were persons of a vicious and turbulent disposition, Hebrews 7:2.—The third particular concerning Melchisedec which the apostle takes notice of, is, that neither his father, nor his mother, nor his genealogy, is mentioned by Moses. From this it follows, that Melchisedec did not derive either his priesthood, or his fitness for the priesthood, from his parents, but had the office conferred on him immediately by God himself, on account of the excellence of his character, which he manifested under the grace of God.—It was otherwise with the Levitical priests: for although Aaron himself was specially called of God, his sons were not made priests by any particular designation, or on account of the excellence of their character, and holiness of heart and life, but merely by their descending in a right manner from parents who were priests. Lev 7:14 and by their being free from bodily imperfections, Leviticus 21:17-21.—The fourth particular concerning Melchisedec taken notice of by the apostle is, that in the account given of him by Moses, he had neither beginning of days nor end of life as a priest, fixed by any law of God: so that he did not begin to exercise the priest's office at a determined age, nor cease to be a priest when superannuated, as was the case with the sons of Aaron; but exercised the priest's office all his life; in which respect his priesthood was well fitted to be a type of the perpetual priesthood of the Son of God, Hebrews 7:3.—This circumstance, that Melchisedec was a priest all his life, joined with the former, that he was made a priest by God on account of the excellence of his character, and the holiness of his heart and life, shews that his priesthood had for its object to purify the minds of hissubjects from sin through the aid and power of Divine grace; an office to which strength of body was not necessary, but maturityof judgment under the Spirit of God. Whereas the sons of Aaron, having for the object of their ministrations, to cleansethe bodies only, of the Israelites, from ceremonial pollution, by services which required great bodily strength, they were not permitted to begin their ministry till they were thirty years old, nor to continue therein beyond the age of fifty. See Numbers 4:3; Numbers 8:25.—The fifth particular concerning Melchisedec, mentioned by Moses, and taken notice of by the apostle, is, that Abraham gave him the tenth of all the spoils of the vanquished kings, notwithstanding he was himself both aprince and a priest. This is a proof from fact, that Melchisedec's priesthood was not confined to one family or nation; but, for any thing we know, being the only specially appointed priest of the Most High God then in the world, he was an universal priest, Hebrews 7:4.—The case was different with the sons of Aaron. For they could not tithe all the worshippers of the true God every where, nor even all the Israelites, by virtue of their being priests; but they took tithes from their brethren the Levites only, and that by virtue of a particular commandment mentioned, Num 18:24-30 and they did this, notwithstanding the Levites were descended from Abraham equally with themselves: all which shewed the limited nature of their priesthood, Hebrews 7:5.—But Melchisedec, having no relationto the ancestors of the Levitical priests, was not authorized by any connection which he had with Abraham, either naturalor political, to take tithes of him. Wherefore he received the tithes, merely because by the divine appointment he officiated as a priest for all the worshippers of God in Canaan, of whom Abraham was one.—The sixth particular concerning Melchisedec, mentioned by Moses, and taken notice of by the apostle, is, that Melchisedec, after receiving the tithes, blessed Abraham, notwithstanding he was at that time possessed of the promises, Hebrews 7:6.—And, as the less is blessed of the betterperson,Abraham,by receiving the blessing from Melchisedec, acknowledged him to be his superior, both as a priest and as a king, Hebrews 7:7.—Farther, to shew the superiority of Melchisedec to the Levitical priests, the apostle observes, that here, under the Mosaic economy, priests who die, that is, whose priesthood expires when they arrive at a certain time of life, receive tithes; but there, under the patriarchal economy, Melchisedec received tithes; of whom it is testified, that he lived a priest continually, Hebrews 7:8.—Likewise he observes, that Melchisedec's superiority to the Levitical priests was shewn by this, that Levi and hisdescendants may be said to have paid tithes to Melchisedec in Abraham, Hebrews 7:9.—because Levi was yet in the loins of his father when Melchisedecmet him. And since Levi derived all his dignity from his father Abraham, if by paying tithes and receiving the blessing Abraham himself was shewn to be inferior to Melchisedec, certainly his son Levi was in like manner shewn to be inferior to him, Hebrews 7:10.
Here the apostle ends his account of Melchisedec, without having pointed out any of the particulars in which he resembled the Son of God, except the one mentioned Hebrews 7:3.—that he was a priest all his life. Wherefore, that the reader may know in what respects Christ is a priest according to the similitude of Melchisedec, and be sensible of the propriety of God the Father's making the priesthood of Melchisedec the pattern of the priesthood of his Son, it will be fit in this place to compare the character of Christ with that of Melchisedec, as described by the apostle in this chapter.
And, 1. Like Melchisedec, Christ is a king as well as a priest. Being the eternal Son of God, and the Creator of the universe, he is the Heir or Lord of all: consequently he has a right to govern mankind by the laws of his gospel, and power to reward or punish every one according to his works.—2. Like Melchisedec, Christ exercises his government for promoting moral and spiritual righteousness among his subjects. Accordingly, by his gospel he has reformed and regenerated multitudes of his subjects; and will continue to reign till he make truth and righteousness prevail universally among them; and such as are irreclaimable he will destroy. Wherefore, as his government is founded on a better authority than Melchisedec's, and is carried on with infinitely more success, the title of king of righteousness belongs more properly to him than to Melchisedec: also he is well entitled to be called king of peace, as he came from heaven to produce peace on earth, by reconciling sinners to God and to one another; and to make thereconciled, if faithful unto death, live with God for ever, in a state of perfect peace in heaven.—3. Like Melchisedec, Christ was not descended from parents who were priests, but he was made a priest by the special designation of the Father. And his priesthood is of a nature soexcellent, that as he had no predecessor, so he can have no companion nor successor in his priesthood. Nor is any such needed; seeing that he ever liveth to execute the priest's office himself.—4. Christ's priesthood, like that of Melchisedec, not requiring bodily strength, but maturity of judgment, to execute it properly, it was not limited to the prime of his life; but, like Melchisedec, he is a priest for ever.—5. As Melchisedec was appointed to exercise his priesthood in behalf of all the worshippers of the true God in the countries where he lived, so Christ was appointed to exercise his priesthood, not for any particular nation or race of men, but for all mankind. He is an universal priest. And, having offered himself a sacrifice for the sin of the whole world, he has thereby procured pardon and eternal life for all who are faithful to his grace, and makes continual intercession for them in heaven upon the strength of that meritorious sacrifice.
The apostle, in the preceding fifth chapter, to shew that Jesus the great author of the gospel has made atonement for the sin of the world, which is the fourth fact on which the authority of the gospel revelation rests, having proved that Jesus is a priest; also in this seventh chapter having displayed his greatness as a priest, by describing the character and office of Melchisedec according to whose similitude he was made a priest, proceeds, in what follows, to answer the argument advanced by the doctors for proving the efficacy and perpetuity of the Levitical priesthood, together with the unalterableobligation of the law of Moses. They affirmed the Levitical sacrifices to be real atonements which never would be abolished; that the law was given principally for the purpose of establishing and regulating them; and consequently that the law itself would always remain in force. But to shew the fallacy of this argument, the apostle enters into the deep meaning of the oath whereby Messiah was made a priest, reasoning thereon in the following manner: If perfection, that is, the complete pardon of sin and holiness, is to be had through the services of the Levitical priesthood, and if these services are always to continue, together with the law by which they were established and regulated, what need was there that another priest should arise of the order of Melchisedec, and not of the order of Aaron, Hebrews 7:11.—Certainly the introduction of a priesthood of a different kind from that of Aaron, implies that the services of the sons of Aaron are ineffectual for procuring the pardon of sin, and on that account are to be abolished. But if the priesthood is to be changed, it necessarily follows that the law also is to be changed, since its primary use was to regulate the services of the priesthood, Hebrews 7:12.—Now, that God resolved to change the priesthood, which by the law was conferred on the sons of Aaron, cannot be doubted, seeing that the person to whom God said, Thou art a priest for ever, was of a tribe of which no one ever officiated at the altar, Hebrews 7:13.—For it is very plain from Psalms 110:0 that our Lord Messiah, to whom God said, Thou art a priest, being David's son, has sprung from Judah, to which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning the priesthood as belonging to it, Hebrews 7:14.—Farther, that the priesthood of the new priest who was to arise, was to be different from that of the sons of Aaron, is still more exceedingly plain from God's swearing, that, according to the similitude of Melchisedec, a different priest ariseth, Hebrews 7:15.—who is made a priest, not according to the carnal commandment of the law, which obliged the sons of Aaron to lay down their priesthood when fifty years old, because at that age they were not able to undergo those laborious services by which the bodies of the people were to be cleansed from ceremonial defilements; but who is made a priest according to the power of that endless life which is bestowed on him as a priest, because his ministrations being appointed for the purification of the minds of his people from the defilement of sin, required maturity of judgment and experience rather than bodily strength, Hebrews 7:16.—This God the Father himself testified, by saying to the Messiah, David's Lord, Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedec, Hebrews 7:17.—From these well-known facts, the apostle justly concluded, that it was always God's intention to abolish the law of Moses, after the weakness of its precepts to reform and regenerate mankind was made evident, and the unprofitableness of it, sacrifices for procuring the pardon of sin was shewn, Hebrews 7:18.—The truth is, the law made no one perfect in respect either of pardon or sanctification; but the introduction of a better law and priesthood makes the faithful perfect in both these respects: by which law and priesthood we have access to worship God acceptably, at all times and in all places, Hebrews 7:19.
Farther, to shew that the gospel with its priesthood is an infinitely better covenant than the law with its priesthood, and that it was justly substituted in place of the law, the apostle, entering still farther into the deep meaning of God's oath constituting Messiah a priest for ever, reasoned in the following manner: Inasmuch as Jesus was made a priest with an oath, importing that God the Father would never abolish his priesthood, Hebrews 7:20.—whereas the sons of Aaron being made priests withoutany such oath, their priesthood was liable to be abolished, Hebrews 7:21.—it is plain, that by the immutability of his priesthood, Jesus has become the Mediator or High-priest of an infinitely more excellent covenant than the law. For if the weakness and unprofitableness of the Levitical priesthood were manifested by God's declaring his intention to abolish it, certainly the greater excellence and efficacy of Christ's priesthood are shewed by God the Father's having declared it unchangeable, Hebrews 7:22.—This the apostle illustrates more fully, ch. 8 by comparing the two covenants together.—I have only to add, that the apostle's reasoning on this subject is of such a nature, that while it shews the excellence of the gospel covenant and priesthood, it removes an objection which might naturally occur to the reader; namely, that since the Levitical priesthood, which was as really of divine appointment as the gospel priesthood, has been abolished, what security is there that the latter shall not inits turn be abolished likewise? The greater security possible! With a solemn oath God declared, in the hearing of the angelic hosts, that he has made the priesthood of his Son unchangeable.
In what follows, the apostle observes, that as the weakness of the Levitical ordinary priesthood was shewn by the priests quitting their office and giving place to others after their bodily vigour was gone, so the weakness of the Levitical high-priesthood was shewn by the high-priests being many in number, because they were hindered by death from continuing in their office, Hebrews 7:23.—But Jesus, because he liveth for ever in the body, possesseth a priesthood which does not pass from him to any successor, Hebrews 7:24.—Hence he is for ever able to save all, from the beginning to the end of the world, who come to God through his mediation; ever living as an High-priest to make intercession for them with God, Hebrews 7:25.—Lastly, he is such an High priest as the character and circumstances of sinners required, who, being absolutely free from sin, Hebrews 7:26.—has no need annually to make atonement for his own sins, as the Levitical high priests were obliged to do, Hebrews 7:27.—For the law made men high-priests who were sinners; but the oathwhich was declared after the law was given, constituted the Son an High-priest, who is, in every respect, perfect for evermore, Hebrews 7:28.
These great discoveries concerning the dignity of Jesus as a king and a priest, and concerningthe power of his government and the efficacyof his priesthood, the apostle was directed by inspiration to make, that by the frequent recollection of them, we may through Divine grace gladden and strengthen our hearts, under all the trials to which we are exposed during our present probationary state.
Hebrews 7:1. For this Melchisedec,— The apostle had spoken of an high-priest after the order of Melchisedec thrice before, ch. Hebrews 5:6; Hebrews 5:10 Heb 6:20 and he had hinted, that he had many things to say of him, and hard to be understood; all therefore which has been said in the preceding chapter is a digression; from which he now returns, in order to explain what he meant by strong meat. He had proved before, that Christ was far more excellent than Moses; that he was as properly called of God an high-priest as was Aaron; and that the Christian rest was promised also to the Jews: and now he undertakes to shew the dignity and excellence of the Christian high-priest to be infinitely superior to and greater than that of Aaron, or the Levitical high-priests. The topics by which he proves this, are, that the same priest now abideth always, and does not die, as the Aaronical priests do; and that he has no sins of his own to offer for, as they had. Before he enters into this, Melchisedec and Christ are compared together, as being like each other in several circumstances. Both were kings of peace and righteousness, and neither of them deduced their right to their respective priesthood from any succession: both of them exercised the office of blessing, as priests, and neither of them deriving their office from parentage, it follows, that no objection can be raised against the priesthood of the one, which does not equally lie against the priesthood of the other. See the notes on Genesis 14:18; Genesis 14:24.
Hebrews 7:2. To whom also Abraham gave, &c.— Great as Abraham was, yet he gave tithes to, and was blessed by Melchisedec; and in consequence this priest was greater than Abraham; for, without dispute, he who receiveth the blessing, is inferior to him who giveth it. See Hebrews 7:7. Melchi signifies king, and Sedech, righteousness.
Hebrews 7:3. Without father, without mother,— No more is intended by this, in the opinion of most of the great expositors than to observe, that the father and mother of Melchisedec are no where mentioned, nor are they pretended to be known; nor is any hint of his family taken notice of in the scriptures which speak of him. He was indeed king of Salem, that is, king of Jerusalem, as the Jews and ancient fathers commonly understood it. But it is no where said from whom he descended, nor who his parents were; or that he was of any line or family to which priesthood was annexed, as was the case of the Aaronical priests. As we know nothing of his birth or death, his parentage or pedigree (for he is said to be αγενεαλογητος, without genealogy,—not enrolled, among the priests), it is certain that no particular succession was necessary either to constitute him a priest, or to continue him in that office: for had that been at all necessary, something of that sort would have been mentioned. The next clause [having neither beginning of days nor end of life] is expressed for the same reason as the former words, in opposition to the Levitical priests, who were obliged to be of a certain age before they were admitted to minister, and dismissed the service at a certain age again. Numbers 4:3-47. Had this been mentioned with any other view than to shew that succession was unnecessary to one who acted upon the footing that Melchisedec did, the apostle would not have said, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life, but would have mentioned some period for beginning or ending his ministry; but designing only to shew that succession was not in the priesthood of Melchisedec, he observes, that neither beginning nor end is mentioned at all; and consequently that the Melchisedechian priesthood had this advantage over the Aaronical, as not being liable to change. Lists of genealogies were always kept among the Jews, that it might appear how every one was descended: nor could any one be admitted to act as a priest, unless he could prove his descent not only from the tribe of Levi, but from the family of Aaron: but Melchisedec was a priest of God, like the Son of God in this respect, who had no genealogyfrom which his privilege of acting in the sacerdotal office was derived. Nor is there any mention of any alteration or change of his office by death, nor any successors to him specified; wherefore those that are priests as he was, abide priests for ever. Some would read this last clause, like unto the Son of God, who abideth a priest continually.
Hebrews 7:4. Now consider how great this man was,— How great he,—this person, was. Heylin. "He was superior to Abraham, for he blessed him; and he was superior to Levi, or any son of his, since (if I may be allowed so to say) they paid tithes in Abraham;" Hebrews 7:9. This is a severe stroke upon the Jews, not only as it proves the superior dignity of Christ above the Aaronical priesthood, but shews also that God had of old a people among the Gentiles, and that there was a person among them superior to Abraham himself.
Hebrews 7:5. To take tithes, &c.— According to the law, to take tithes of the people, that is, of their brethren. Our author's design is to magnify the priesthood of Melchisedec: in order whereto he magnifies the dignity of the Levitical priesthood, and then shews that the other, of Melchisedec, was to be preferred to it. Thus stands his argument: "It was a great honour conferred on theLevitical priesthood, that they were empowered to receive tithes of the whole nation who were their brethren; and this honour appears yet the greater, when it is considered that these their brethren came out of the loins of Abraham, the friend of God; for whom, and whose posterity, God had a particular regard, as appears by his promises; and who, therefore, it might be expected, should be exempted from such a burden. But Melchisedec appears to have had a yet much more honourable priesthood, because he received tithes of one who was not of his brethren, even of Abraham himself,—which shews him to be greater than Abraham, —and with a priestly authority blessed him: and hereby, in effect, he received tithes of Abraham's posterity, even of Levi, and that tribe which descended from him." This gives a satisfactory account of the word although, which at the first reading seems obscure.
Hebrews 7:6. But he whose descent is not counted from them— This sufficiently explains what is meant in the preceding verses by Melchisedec's being said to be without father or mother: his descent or genealogy was not derived either from Abraham's line, or from any other; but, such as he was, he exercised the priestly office, and blessed him that had the promises.
Hebrews 7:7. The less is blessed of the better.— That is, The inferior is blessed of the superior.
Hebrews 7:8. And here men that die, &c.— Here [according to the law] men that die take tithes; but there, [in the case of Melchisedec,] he, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth. As to the single point of taking tithes, the case was the same both with the Levitical priests and with Melchisedec: but the difference here considered, is that of men who die, and of one of whom it is witnessed that he liveth. Men that died had their successors, to whom tithes were regularly and constantly paid; but Melchisedec is not said to have any successor, but was himself to continue a priest for ever. So much then as a priesthood for ever is superior to a successive priesthood, so much must that of Melchisedec excel that of Aaron.
Hebrews 7:9. And as I may so say,— Elsner is of opinion, that this should be translated, to say the truth; and he produces some passages out of the classics to vindicate this version.
Hebrews 7:11. If therefore perfection, &c.— But if, or now if perfection had been. The Levitical priesthood was appointed, when the law was given to the Jews. But could perfection have been had by the priesthood appointed under the law, or had that been the design of it, the scriptures would have had no occasion to mention another priest. And yet we find in David's time, 400 years after the giving of that law, which was received under the Levitical priesthood, mention is made of a priest after the order of Melchisedec, who was to continue for ever. Why should this new priest be mentioned at all? Or why be said to be after the order of Melchisedec? or why not after the order established, if that had been intended to bring men to perfection? The truth is, the priesthood of the law was designed for a particular purpose during the law, and not to give remission of all sins, or to bringmen to perfect happiness. See ch. Hebrews 9:9 Hebrews 10:1.
Hebrews 7:12. For the priesthood being changed,— Another priest arising, there must be a change of the priesthood; but how does it follow that there must be a change of the law? For though the priesthood admitted an alteration, might not the law, as to other points, have continued the same? The truth is, so much of the law concerns the priesthoodimmediately,—alltheirsacrifices,oblations,purifications,theirgreatday of atonement, and in short all their temple service,—that, supposing those to have been abolished or set aside, their law itself might properly be said to be changed. But there is a still juster reason for this inference of the apostle: the law had promised temporal blessings to its observers, and had denounced as severe curses on such as disobeyed it; and as there could not, in the nature of things, but be frequent lapses and deviations from obedience, a priesthood was appointed, and a method of expiation by means thereof, to restore the offenders to what they had no right to, but by obedience. If therefore the priesthood was changed, the means of atonement were taken away; and the promises annexed only to obedience, or to propitiation, were void, or of no effect at all; and in consequence, the law itself was insignificant and useless, and must be either changed or abolished quite, the end of it in this respect being wholly lost. See the next notes and on Hebrews 7:15-17.
Hebrews 7:13. For he of whom these things are spoken— Namely, the Christ, who was to be of the order of Melchisedec. This is another reason why the law was to be changed; for the priesthood being designed,not to be in the tribe of Levi, to which the law of Moses had absolutely and entirely fixed it, the change of the priesthood to one of another tribe must necessarily make a change in the law. Now Christ being the person all along designed to be this new priest, and he descending from Judah, the law itself, which confines its precepts to priests of the family of Abraham, must of consequence be changed.
Hebrews 7:14. That our Lord sprang out of Judah;— It may be worth remembering here, that Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Chrysostom, refer to the table made at the taxation in proof of this; and it may be considered whether the apostle does not insinuate the same reference. Undoubtedly he would not have spoken in the manner that he does, if it had nor been generally allowed. Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood, as belonging or relating to that tribe of Judah.
Hebrews 7:15-17. And it is yet far more evident;— "And, independent on all genealogical controversywhich the most ingenious malice couldurge concerning Mary's family, it is yet more abundantly manifest that the law must be changed, from the least attention to that scripture alone, so frequently mentioned, That, or inasmuch as another priest ariseth according to the similitude of Melchisedec. For, let the priesthood be in any tribe, it can continue according to the legal establishment only for the natural life of a man: and then provision is made for a successor: but the priesthood according to the similitude of Melchisedec admits of no such thing as succession, but is for an indissoluble life. A carnal commandment here is opposed to a power of living for ever; a carnal commandment therefore is a law that concerneth the flesh which dies; whereas a priesthood for ever does not depend upon flesh, which, in the common course of things, soon comes to an end." The apostle, therefore, is not speaking, of the law as enjoining sacrifices, or any other external worship; but of the necessity of the law of Moses being changed, since a priest was to arise of a different sort, who was to live for ever;—as he infers from the words of the Psalmist, Thou art a priest FOR EVER, &c. Dr. Heylin renders the 16th and 17th verses thus: Who is not established according to the law of a carnal succession, but according to the power he has to live for ever: As the scripture testifieth in these words, Thou art a priest for ever, &c.
Hebrews 7:18-19. For there is verily a disannulling— "For there is an abrogation of the former commandment, concerning the Levitical priesthood, upon account of the weakness and unprofitableness of it: For the law made nothing perfect, and consequently could not make the priesthood so, or confer those advantages which were to be expected by that office; but there is the bringing in of a better hope, by a more perfect priest, through which we Christians draw nigh to God," See Hebrews 7:25.
Hebrews 7:20-22. And in as much, &c.— The apostle produces here another argument to prove the superior excellence of the new covenant above the law of Moses; or rather, the superior dignity of the priesthood of Christ, above that of the Levitical priesthood. The reasoning is this: "The more solemn and aweful the manner is, in which any one is appointed to his office, the more important in general is the office: now God engaged himself by oath, in constituting Christ a priest; which he did not in the case of making the Levitical priests. And then, as to the covenant itself, that covenant is generally the best, which is most solemnly engaged in by the party who makes it: but the covenant made by Jesus was more solemnly engaged in than the covenant made by Moses; therefore it was a better covenant. Jesus Christ is the Mediator between God and man, 1 Timothy 2:5. Here he is called the surety, sponsor, or engager, that the conditions shall be observed by him from whom they were brought. If God then enters into a covenant, and promises eternal life upon the conditions of repentance, faith, and holiness, and sendshis only-begotten Son to offer this salvation, and to ratify the whole by his atoning Blood, and to assure mankind of God the Father's gracious disposition to them, if they will yield to be saved by his free unmerited grace; and if we find by comparing what is contained in the Old Testament, that God had sworn by himself that he would send such a person;—one cannot but infer that the Christian dispensation is infinitely more excellent than that, which was given or made without these solemnities and most glorious accompaniments."
Heb 7:23-24 And they truly were many priests,— And as to those priests, there were many of them established successively, because death prevented their continuance; Hebrews 7:24. But he, eternal as he is, hath a priesthood, which cannot be transferred to others. By means of his continuance for ever, our High-priest exerciseth an unchangeable priesthood.
Hebrews 7:25. Wherefore, &c.— Whence, or on which account, he is able to save εις το παντελες, completely, perfectly. The apostle is speaking of a complete and perfect salvation, which is to last for ever, in opposition to what the Levitical priests could give by any annual expiation, which extended no further than the law promised. Christ living for ever himself, could save for ever them that come to God through him. The word εντυγχανειν, rendered to make intercession, signifies to go to, to meet, to converse with any one. When the phrase is εντυγχανειν υπερ, it signifies to speak for any one; as the phrase εντυγχανειν κατα is to speak against any one. Christ therefore ever living, and being in heaven in the presence of God the Father, can at all times interpose for us, and not as the Jewish high-priests, who had access to God's peculiar presence but once a year. St. Paul has made use of this same expression, Romans 8:34. We may observe further, that it is not only for the present generation of men who embrace the offers of his mercy, that our Saviour intercedes,—as it was only the offenders of the present year for whom the Jewish high-priest could intercede;—but it was for future generations, as well as present, that he could intercede, because he continueth for ever, and is able to save to the uttermost all that come to God through him.
Hebrews 7:26-28. For such an high priest became us,— "For such an high-priest suited us,—was proper for us,—as was perfectly holy; that is, in a life quite pure; free from all sin, unpolluted."—The high-priest who was polluted in a legal sense under the Mosaic law, could not officiate.—Separate from sinners: our Saviour conversed freely with sinners; Mat 9:10-13 and he professed it to be his business to bring them to repentance, by instructingthem in the doctrines of his divine religion. But then he did not partake with them in their sins;—he did no sin: 1 Peter 2:22. He kept himself separate from them in all such acts as gave men the denomination of sinners.—Made higher than the heavens, is a sublime expression, which seems to be taken from Psa 4:6 and implies that our blessed Lord was in his nature infinitely superior to the noblest angels, and consequently an high priest infinitely preferable to the Jewish high-priests; nay, infinitely preferable evento Aaron himself. See ch. Hebrews 8:1. The apostle is speaking of high-priests as acting in the course of the anniversary expiation; and his argument is, that our High-priest being made higher than the heavens, has no occasion continually to offer sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's sins; for this latter he did once for all, when he offered up himself a spotless and acceptable sacrifice to God. The word εφαπαξ, once, or free for all, is clearly set in opposition to once every year; and therefore the construction should seem most natural, that as the high-priest was obliged to repeat every year his oblation, Christ had no occasion to repeat his at all; but he did what was necessary once for all, when he offered up himself. The pronoun, this is not to be extended to the whole of what is said in the former part of this verse, but only to the words for the people's sins;for he himself was without sin, and therefore could not offer for his own sins, as the high-priest was obligedto do. Consider how the apostle's argument stands in these two verses. He here asserts two things, which Christ had no need to do, though they were done by the Jewish high-priests; first, to offer sacrifice from time to time for his own sins,—for he was holy, harmless, &c. and, secondly, to offer sacrifice from time to time for the sins of the people. The reason and evidence of the former he declares in Heb 7:28 for the law, &c. The for here must connect this with something that went before, which cannot be the last clause of Heb 7:27 it must therefore (as indeed the nature of the argument shews,) relate to his not needing to offer sacrifice for his own sins; for it is an assertion that he had none. The law made thosehigh-priests who have sinful infirmity, and consequently need to offer sacrifice for it; but the word of the oath which was in David's time, and so since the giving of the law, maketh the Son an High-priest, who is perfected for evermore, living for ever in heaven, and who must consequently be for ever free from all infirmities. This connection seems very clear, and the clause for this he did once, when he offered up himself, should be read in a parenthesis; for the apostle designing to treat again of his offering for the sinsof the people, passes it over more slightly: (see ch. Hebrews 9:12 Hebrews 10:10-14.) and when he says, this he did once, This refers entirely to the nearest antecedent;—the offering for the sins of the people. And as the word τετελειωμενον stands opposed to having infirmity, (that is, sinful infirmity, for which there was need to offer sacrifice,) it is much better rendered perfected, as in the margin,—or free from all infirmities; and the expression, in this view, is nervous and strong,—the Son who hath been perfected for ever; that is, "who is and was from all eternity the same divine, perfect, and holy person."
Inferences.—How transcendently excellent is the priesthood of Christ, as it is after the order of Melchisedec, and confirmed for ever by the oath of God himself! Melchisedec, as an extraordinary priest of the most high God, blessed Abraham, who paid tithes to the superior priest. But how much more eminent a Priest, as well as King of righteousness and peace, is the Son of God than Melchisedec! He was only in type what Christ is in reality, without beginning of days or end of life; without an earthly father according to the flesh, and without any mother according to his divine nature; and an eternal High-priest of such perpetual power and complete acceptance with his Heavenly Father, according to the energy of his immortal life, as supersedes the want of any other to make atonement either for believing Jews or Gentiles. And how different from, and incomparably more excellent is his priesthood, than that which was appointed by the law of a carnal commandment! He sprung, not from the tribe of Levi, but of Judah, which never had, by divine institution, any share in the high-priest's office after the order of Aaron, who, and his sons, were merely mortal men, and in their turns died out of their office, and were succeeded by others of their line; and they all had sins of their own to atone for, before they could offer a sacrifice for the sins of Israel. But Christ being holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners, could have no occasion to offer any propitiatory sacrifice on his own account. And, as he never died out of his office; so, being made higher than the heavens, he continually and completely exercises it alone by himself, without any predecessor or successor in it. This change of the priesthood naturally brought on an abolition of the law to which it belonged, on account of the insufficiency of that law and priesthood to perfect the worship and happiness of the church; and introduced the gospel-state, which depends upon, and derives the most substantial efficacy from, the priesthood of Christ. What infinitely better grounds of hope have we in him, and in the gospel of the grace of God through him, than ever could have been had by the law! And with what humble confidence, and happy success, may the believing sinner now approach God in Christ! He is the Surety of the new covenant, to undertake with God his Father, that all requirements should be answered in order to a secure accomplishment of its great and precious promises for all his faithful saints; and he is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him, since he ever lives as a righteous Advocate, to make intercession for them.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Thrice had the apostle quoted the testimony borne to the Son of God out of the Psalms, as an High-priest after the order of Melchisedec: of this remarkable person he here gives an account, and we may herein trace the resemblance that he bore to his great ante-type.
1. His name was Melchisedec, or king of righteousness, the figure of him on whose shoulders the universal government should rest, who, with the most distinguished rectitude, should administer the affairs of his kingdom, and is the author of everlasting righteousness to his faithful people.
2. He was king of Salem, that is of peace. So Christ is eminently the prince of Peace, having procured it for us by his blood, applying it by his Spirit, and setting up his throne of peace within our hearts.
3. He was said to be a priest of the most high God. So was Jesus consecrated to this office by his Father, and through his sacrifice alone can we obtain reconciliation and acceptance with God.
4. He blessed Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, as his superior. And as Abraham gave him a tenth of all, he must needs be a priest of a higher rank and order than Levi or Aaron who descended from this patriarch; and thus has our incarnate Lord a priesthood infinitely excelling the Aaronical, and of far more extensive influence, ministering in behalf of Gentiles as well as Jews.
5. Melchisedec's original is entirely concealed; no mention is made of his father or mother, of his birth or death, of the beginning or end of his priesthood, that he might more strikingly represent the Son of God, who abideth a priest continually, and everlastingly to exercise his office on the behalf of his faithful peoples, without predecessor, partner, or successor, alone appearing before the throne, and ever living to make intercession for them.
2nd, To guard the Hebrews from their attachment to the abolished priesthood of Levi, and lead them to the great High-priest of their profession, Christ Jesus, he shews his surpassing excellence above Aaron or his sons. (1.) Because they being in Abraham's loins, paid tithes to Melchisedec; and though commissioned afterwards to receive tithes of their brethren, yet virtually now, as included in their father, they paid tithes to this priest of God, and thereby acknowledged him as their superior who was but the type of our Lord. (2.) Because the less is blessed by the greater. And herein therefore Abraham himself, though favoured with such distinguished promises, was inferior to Melchisedec; and how much more must his sons that should descend from him be? and much more excellent still than they, must he then be, of whom Melchisedec was only the representative! (3.) They were all dying men, and the succession and descent of the sons of Levi are well known; but Melchisedec's generation is concealed; we only hear of him that he liveth, as the figure of him who really hath an unchangeable priesthood, and actually lives for ever to intercede on the behalf of his faithful people.
3rdly, Had perfection been by the Levitical priesthood, so that the consciences and hearts of the worshippers had hereby been fully purged from sin; and had the state of the church under the legal dispensation been complete, there could be no need that a new and higher priesthood should afterwards be instituted after the order of Melchisedec, and not after the order of Aaron; and such a change of the priesthood implied a change of the whole ceremonial law, which was inseparably interwoven therewith: both the law and priesthood therefore were to be abolished, in order to introduce another dispensation, more excellent and glorious than the former, even that of the gospel. What such a change of the priesthood is made, is evident,
1. Because our Lord, the priest who should arise after the order of Melchisedec, sprung from the tribe of Judah, not from Levi, and therefore, according to the law, was forbidden to officiate at the altar.
2. The priesthood of Christ was of an entirely different nature from that of the sons of Levi. They were made after the law of a carnal commandment, which settled their succession, and appointed the rites of their consecration; and those who filled the office were dying men; but Christ is made an High-priest of a more excellent kind, after the power of an endless life, acting without either partner or successor, living to discharge his office in the behalf of his faithful people for ever and ever.
3. The efficacy of the gospel priesthood was far superior to that under the law, which was abrogated because of its weakness and unprofitableness, being insufficient to purge the conscience from guilt, or to secure unto the sinner holiness and justification to life, making nothing perfect; and was designed merely to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified and sanctified by faith in him. But Christ has brought in a better hope; his own sacrifice and ever-abiding priesthood give boldness, and access to God, and sure hope of favour and acceptance before him, to every believer.
4. The superior excellence of Christ's priesthood appears in the manner of his consecration: the Levitical priests were made without an oath; but he, with an oath, to denote the immutability, efficacy, and eternity of his sacerdotal character. By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament, or covenant, having undertaken completely to answer all the divine requirements on the behalf of his faithful saints, that he might secure to them the accomplishment of all the promised blessings,—a covenant far better than the Mosaic, both in the clearness of the light which accompanies its administration, and the extensiveness of its efficacy, as reaching to Gentiles as well as Jews.
5. The Aaronical high-priests, as mortal men, were many, succeeding each other, as death removed them from their office; but this glorious Person, whom Melchisedec typified, hath an unchangeable priesthood, that never passes from him, because he liveth for ever to discharge his sacerdotal functions; wherefore we may assuredly conclude that Jesus is able to save them to the uttermost, that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them; and therefore they can be in no circumstances of distress or danger, from which he cannot deliver them; while coming to God by him, they receive pardon, grace, and strength.
6. Christ appears transcendently glorious above all other priests, in his moral qualifications. For such an high-priest became us, and no other could have stood us in any stead, but one who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, both in nature and practice, and made higher than the heavens, in dignity above the angelic hosts, or rather, in purity of nature, excelling them. Who needeth not daily, as those high-priests of the Levitical order, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins, and then for the people's, on the great day of atonement; for Christ, having no sin of his own to expiate, needed no sacrifice; and as to his faithful people's iniquities, his one sacrifice was completely available: for this he did once, when he offered up himself without spot to God, as their infinitely meritorious propitiation. For the law maketh men high-priests which have [sinful] infirmity, and, being sinners as well as others, must offer for themselves as well as the people; but the word of the oath which was since the law, maketh the Son High-priest, who is consecrated for evermore, or perfected; who being in nature sinless and impeccable, never could need a sacrifice for himself; but, having offered one of eternal efficacy on the behalf of his faithful saints, lives for ever to plead it in the presence of God, that they might reap the unutterably blessed fruits of it to all eternity.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Hebrews 7". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29