THE PRIEST AFTER THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.
The exposition of Christ's heavenly priesthood is now at length taken up and carried out. It extends to Hebrews 10:19, forming the central part of the whole Epistle; and in the course of it is set forth also how the whole Jewish economy did in fact only prefigure and prepare for this one availing priesthood of the true High Priest of mankind. The peculiar thesis of Hebrews 7:1-28. is "after the order of Melchizedek," the question being—What is signified by this designation of the Messiah in the hundred and tenth psalm? The remarkable import of that psalm, in that it assigns priesthood as well as royalty to the Son, was noted under Hebrews 5:6. His being Priest at all implies a different order of royalty from that of the theocratic kings. But what further is meant by his priesthood being after the order, not of Aaron, but of Melchizedek? Is it that Melchizedek, being King of Salem as well as priest of the most high God, is therefore selected as the most suitable type of the great Priest-King to come? Yes; but there is more in it than this, as the writer goes on to show. To get at the full import of the expression in the psalm, he analyzes what we are told about Melchizedek in Genesis 14:1-24. (the only other passage from which anything is known of him), and considers what could be meant in the psalm by "a priest after his order," and that "for ever." Both the actual history and the ideal of the psalm are in his view together; and from the two combined he deduces the intended idea of "a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek."
Bearing this in mind, we shall have no need to understand anything implied as to Melchizedek himself beyond what we learn from Genesis. Some commentators, on the strength of what is here said of him, have supposed him to have been some superhuman being; and many theories have been propounded as to who and what he was. All such views have arisen from a misconception of our writer's drift; from regarding the representation of the ideal which Melchizedek typified as part of the account of what he actually was, the actual and the ideal being, in fact, somewhat blended in the exposition. That no more is implied about the man himself than what is recorded in Genesis may be concluded, not only from the purport (rightly understood) of the passage before us, but also from the analogy of the rest of the Epistle, throughout which the arguments are based on the contents of the Old Testament itself, as it was read and received by the Hebrew Christians. For example, neither David, nor Solomon, nor Isaiah are adduced as having been other than what the sacred record represents them to have been, though it is shown that what is said of them in the spirit of prophecy points to an ideal beyond them.
For this Melchizedek, King of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; to whom also Abraham divided a tenth part of all (this description belongs to the subject of the sentence, being merely a recapitulation of the facts recorded in Genesis, the language of the LXX. being used; what follows belongs properly to the predicate, being of the nature of a comment on the facts recorded); first, being by interpretation King of righteousness (which is the meaning of the name Melchizedek), and then also King of Salem, which is, King of peace (the very names of himself and his kingdom are significant (cf. Psalms 85:10; Psalms 72:3; Isaiah 32:17; Romans 5:1); where righteousness and peace are the characteristics of the Messiah's kingdom; this significance, however, is not afterwards made a point of, being merely noticed by the way); without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually. It is this language especially that has been supposed to involve something more than human about the historical Melchizedek. But we have only to enter into the mind of the writer to see that it is not so. For it is the ideal of the psalm, conceived as suggested by the historical type, that gives its color to the language used. And, indeed, how strangely suggestive is that fragment about the priestly king (Genesis 14:18-21) so unexpectedly interposed in the life of Abraham! In the midst of a history in which such a point is made of the parentage and descent of the patriarchs of Israel, at a time of peculiar glory of the first and greatest of them, one suddenly appears on the scene, a priest and king, not of the peculiar race at all, his parentage and ancestry unrecorded and unknown, who blesses and receives tithes from Abraham, and then as suddenly disappears from view. We hear no more of him; as about his origin, so about his end, Scripture is silent. And so he "abides" before the mind's eye, apart from any before or after, the type of an unchanging priesthood. For the meaning of the word ἀγενεαλόγητος (in itself denoting the absence, not of ancestors, but of a traced genealogy), cf. Hebrews 7:6, Hebrews 7:6 ὁ δὴ μὴ γενεαλογούμενος ἐξ αὐτῶν. That of ἀπάτωρ, ἀμήτωρ, is illustrated by the Latin expression, "Nullis majoribus ortus." On "made like ( ὁμοιούμενος) unto the Son of God," Chrysostom says, "We know of no beginning or end in either case; in the one, because none are recorded; in the other, because they do not exist." The idea seems to be that Melchizedek is thus assimilated to Christ in the sacred record, by what it leaves untold no less than by what it tells. It is not said that he is like him ( ὁμοίος), but made like ( ὁμοιούμενος); i.e. represented in such wise as to resemble him. It may be here remarked that, though the term "Son of God" is used in the Epistle generally to denote the Messiah as manifested in time, his essential eternal being is here, as elsewhere, distinctly intimated; also that "the Son of God" is regarded as the archetype of the comparison: "Non dicitur Filius DEI assimilatus Melchizedeko, sed contra; nam Filius DEI est antiquior et archetypus" (Bengel).
Now consider how great this man was, unto whom Abraham, the patriarch, even gave a tenth of the spoils. The typical significance of Melchizedek is now further seen in what passed between him and Abraham, in respect to tithe and blessing. Alford's inference, that πηλίκος οὕτος, referring as it does, not to the antitype, but to the man himself, implies some mysterious greatness beyond what appears in the original record, does not follow. Of one who simply blessed and received tithes from the great patriarch, the expression is not too strong. Observe the emphatic position, at the end of the Greek sentence, of ὁ παριάρχης, equivalent to "he, the patriarch." Abraham's being this, the father and representative of the chosen race, is what is shown in what follows to give peculiar significance to the transaction. The word ἀκροθίνια (properly, "the chief spoils"), which is not in the LXX., seems introduced to enhance the picture: "Quae Abrahami proprie fuerant, ut victoris" (Bengel).
And they indeed of the song of Levi who receive the office of priesthood have commandment to receive tithes of the people according to the Law, that is, of their brethren, though these have come out of the loins of Abraham: but he whose genealogy is not counted from them hath received tithes of Abraham. As much as to say, "Let it not be said that the tithing of Abraham by Melchizedek implies no higher priestly prerogative than the tithing of Abraham's descendants by the sons of Aaron; for there is this difference: They, in virtue only of a special ordinance of the Law, not of original right, were allowed to tithe their brethren, £ though descended from the same great ancestor; he, though not of them or of the race at all, in virtue of his own inherent dignity, tithes the whole race as represented in its patriarch." (We observe how, in place of the aorist ἔδωκε, used when the mere historical incident was referred to, we have here the perfect δεδεκάτωκε (as also εὐλόγηκε in what follows, and δεδεκάτωται in Hebrews 7:9), denoting a completed act, of which the effects and significance remain; Melchizedek, who represents the priesthood after his order, being viewed in permanent relation to Abraham, who represents the chosen race) And hath blessed him that hath (i.e. the holder of) the promises. But, without all controversy, the less is blessed of the better. The superiority evidenced by bestowal of blessing no less than by receiving of tithe having been thus noticed, the contrast with the Levitical priesthood is continued in the following verses.
And here (in the case of the Levitical priesthood) men that die (literally, dying men) receive tithes; but there (in the case of Melchizedek) one of whom it is witnessed that he liveth. The difference hero noted is between a succession of mortal priests and one perpetually living, who never loses his personal claim, which is inherent, in himself. But how so of Melchizedek? For it is to him, and not to Christ the Antitype, that the words evidently apply. Is it at length implied that he was more than mortal man? No, if only for this reason; that the witness appealed to ( μαρτυρούμενος) must be that of Scripture, which nowhere bears such witness of the historical Melchizedek. The words, μαρτυρούμενος ὅτε ζῇ, are, in fact, only a resumption of what was said in Hebrews 7:3 : "having neither beginning of days nor end of life;" and hear the same meaning; viz. (as above explained) that he passes before our view in Genesis with no mention of either death, birth, or ancestry, and thus presented the ideal of "a priest for ever" to the inspired psalmist. The witness referred to is that of the record in Genesis, viewed in the light of the idea of the psalm.
Hebrews 7:9, Hebrews 7:10
And, so to say, through Abraham even Levi, who receiveth tithes, hath paid tithes. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchizedek met him. Or, in other words, "Nay, further, Melchizedek may be said to have tithed Levi himself and his priestly tribe." For, inasmuch as the whole position of Levi and his tribe, in the old dispensation, came by inheritance from the great patriarch who received the promises, the subordination of the patriarch to one above himself involved that of all who so inherited, it is not simply the physical descent of Levi from Abraham, but the peculiar position of the latter as "the patriarch," that justifies the assertion that Levi paid tithes through him. And thus, while we remember how Abraham is elsewhere viewed in Scripture as the representative of the chosen people, and also how the lives of individual patriarchs (notably so in the case of Jacob and Esau) are so told and referred to as to prefigure the positions and fortunes of the races they represent, we may recognize in this assertion no mere rabbinical fancy, but an interpretation true to the spirit of the Old Testament. Be it further observed that the original significance of Abraham's action as bearing upon his descendants is enhanced by the fact that, while it was after the receiving of the promise, it was before the birth of Isaac. He, and consequently his descendant Levi, was yet ( ἔτι) in the loins of Abraham; on which point, "Proles e parenlis poteslate egressa in suam venit tutelain: sod quoad in parentis potestate, imo in lumbis est, illius conditionem sequitur" (Bengel).
Hebrews 7:11, Hebrews 7:12
If then perfection ( τελείωσις: cf. οὐδὲν γὰρ ἐτελείωσεν ὁ νόμος) were through the Levitical priesthood for under it (rather, upon it, on the ground of it) the people hath received the Law, what need was there that another (rather, a different) priest should rise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron. For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the Law. Here a further thought is introduced. So far the superiority of the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek to the Aaronic has been shown. The new thought is that the very mention in the psalm of a different order of priesthood implies that the old order, and with it the whole legal dispensation which depended on it, was imperfect and to be superseded. This is the general drift of Hebrews 7:11, Hebrews 7:12, though the sequence of thought in their several clauses is not easy to follow. Ideas in the writer's mind, not expressed, seem necessary to be understood. In the parenthetical clause of Hebrews 7:11, ἐπ αὐτὴς and νενομοθέτηται are decidedly to be preferred, on the ground of authority, to ἐπ αὐτῇ and νενομοθέτητο of the Textus Receptus. 'The meaning of the clause (whatever be the precise thought connecting it with the sentence in which it stands) is that the whole Law rested on the institution of the priesthood; not the priests only, but the whole people ( ὁ λαὸς), received their Law as grounded on it. On the same idea depends Hebrews 7:12, where it is said that a change of the priesthood involves of necessity a change of the Law.
The verses next following serve to remove all doubt that there is a complete change of the priesthood; the proofs being, not only the patent fact that the Messiah is of the tribe, not of Levi, but of Judah (Hebrews 7:13, Hebrews 7:14), but also, for mere abundant evidence of the Divine purpose, that significant utterance, again adduced, about his being after the order, not of Aaron, but of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:15, Hebrews 7:16, Hebrews 7:17).
Hebrews 7:13, Hebrews 7:14
For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to ( μετέσχηκεν: literally, hath partaken of; cf. μετέσχε, Hebrews 2:14, with reference, as there, to Christ's assumption of humanity) another tribe, of which no man hath (ever) given attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord hath sprung out of Judah; as to which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood (or priests; ἱερέων being a better-supported reading than the Textus Receptus ἱερωσύνης). This is spoken of as evident (i.e. plain to all, πρόδηλον), not only because of the well-known prophecies that the Messiah was to spring from David, but still more (as is shown by the perfect ἀνατέταλκεν, pointing to an accomplished fact, and by the expression, ὁ κύριος ἡμῶν) because Jesus, recognized by all Christians as the Messiah, was known to have so sprung. For it is to Christian believers, with whatever Jewish prejudices, not to unbelieving Jews, that the Epistle is addressed. It is important to observe that the Davidic descent of our Lord is spoken of as an acknowledged fact, not merely as an inference from prophecy. "We have here a most significant proof that the descent of Jesus from the tribe of Judah was a well and universally known fact before the destruction of Jerusalem" (Ebrard). "Illo igitur tempore nulla difficultate laborabat genealogia Jesu Christi: et hoc ipsum difficultatibus postea exortis abunde medetur" (Bengel). The verb ἀνατέταλκεν may have been specially suggested by the prophetic figure of the Branch from the root of Jesse (see Isaiah 11:1; and Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12, where the LXX. has ἀνατολὴ for 'Branch:' ἀνατολὴ ὄνομα αὐτῶ καὶ ὑποκάσωθεν αὐτοῦ ἀνατελεῖ); though the figure of the sunrise is more frequently meant by the word when applied to Christ's appearance (el. Numbers 24:17; Isaiah 9:1; Ma Isaiah 4:2; Luke 1:78).
And it is yet more abundantly evident (i.e. the proposition of Hebrews 7:12), if after the likeness of Melchizedek there ariseth another Priest, who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless (indissoluble) life. For it is testified (of him), Thou art a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. This is a resumption of what has been already seen, put so as to be effective for the present stage of the argument. The old priesthood, and consequently the Law, is changed and superseded, not only because the Priest of the new order of things is of the tribe of Judah, but still more evidently because his priesthood is witnessed to as being one of a different kind, and of a kind so much higher and diviner. It is evident that the Antitype of Melchizedek, the subject of the hundred and tenth psalm, rather than Melchizedek himself, suggests here the language used. (Observe the contrasts between νομόν and δύνμιν σαρκικῆς and ἀκαταλύτου, ἐντολῆς and ζωῆς. The idea of Hebrews 9:8-15 is in Chose few pregnant words briefly anticipated, after the manner of the Epistle)
Hebrews 7:18, Hebrews 7:19
For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof (for the Law made nothing perfect); but [there is on the other hand] a bringing in thereupon of a better hope, through which we draw nigh unto God. Such is certainly the construction of the sentence (not as in the A.V); οὐδεν γὰρ, etc., in Hebrews 7:19 being parenthetical, and ἐπεισαγωγὴ depending on γίνεται in Hebrews 7:18. We have here the conclusion of the argument of the Hebrews 7:11-18, with a further expression of the inherent insufficiency of the Law, given as the reason of its supersession; reminding us of similar views of what the Law was worth frequent in St. Paul's Epistles (of. Romans 8:3; Galatians 3:10, etc). The final clause, δἱ ἧς ἐγγίζομεν τῷ θεῷ, leads directly up to the main subject in the writer's view, viz. the exposition of Christ's eternal priesthood. But two proofs are first to be given of Christ's priesthood being, unlike the Aaronic, thus eternally availing to bring us near to God. These proofs are to be found in the Divine oath which established it, and the expression, "forever," in Psalms 90:1-17., once more adduced.
And inasmuch as not without an oath [properly, swearing of an oath, ὁρκωμοσίας] he was made priest: (for they indeed have been made priests without an oath; but he with an oath by him that saith unto him, Thou art a Priest for ever); by so much of a better covenant hath Jesus become surety. The significance of the Divine oath, in connection with the promise to Abraham, has been dwelt on above: the oath of Psalms 110:1-7. is here similarly referred to, as imitating a priesthood that rests on no mere temporary ordinance, but on the immutable Divine counsels. (Observe the first occurrence here of the word διαθήκη, introducing in the way of hint (as is usual in the Epistle) an idea to be afterwards expanded, as it is in Hebrews 8:1-13; Hebrews 9:1-28. The meaning of the word will be considered below)
Hebrews 7:23, Hebrews 7:24
And they indeed have been made priests many in number, because of being by death hindered from continuing. But he, because of his abiding forever, hath his priesthood unchangeable. This second point of contrast has already been twice touched on—Hebrews 7:8, with respect to the claim to tithe; and Hebrews 7:16, with respect to the order of priesthood: here it is with especial reference to the eternal personality, and hence the perpetual and complete efficiency, of our one Priest. The repetitions are not tautological, having each time different bearings. The contrast here, as before, is between mortal men who succeed each other in the office of priesthood, and One who has the office inherent in himself forever. The word ἀπαράβατον (translated "unchangeable") is taken by some in an intransitive sense, as in margin of the A.V., that doth not pass to another, equivalent to ἀδιάδοχον. This, however, is not the proper force of this late Greek word, nor does the sense of the passage of necessity require it.
Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. We again observe how, at the end of successive stages of the argument, thoughts to be enlarged on afterwards are brought in. Here it is the perpetual intercession of Christ before the heavenly mercy-seat. In the view of his office thus arrived at there is, in fact, a transition to the main subject set forth in the three chapters that follow; viz. the fulfillment in Christ of the ceremonial of the Law, and especially of the high priest's intercession on the Day of Atonement. And thus from Melchizedek the train of thought passes to the high priest. The type of the former has been sufficiently shown to be fulfilled in the higher order of Christ's priesthood; it is now to be shown how, being of such higher order, it is the antitype of the Aaronic priesthood too, accomplishing what it signified. Hence in Hebrews 7:26 the word "high priest" ( ἀρχιερεὺς) is for the first time introduced, as the key-note of what is coming.
Summary of the foregoing argument.
I. (Hebrews 7:1-11) What does the Melchizedek priesthood of Psalms 110:1-7. signify?
1. (Hebrews 7:1-4) One not depending on human ancestry, and one forever abiding.
2. (Hebrews 7:4-11) One of a higher order than that of Aaron; for:
(1) Melchizedek, being of a race apart, received tithe from Abraham the patriarch.
(2) This denotes a higher position than that of the Aaronic priests, who tithed their brethren of the same race with themselves, in virtue only of a special ordinance.
(3) The blessing of Abraham by Melchizedek is similarly significant.
(4) The idea of an ever-living priest with a right to tithe transcends that of the temporary claims of a succession of dying men.
(5) Levi himself virtually paid tithe to Melchizedek.
II. (Hebrews 7:11-18) The Aaronic priesthood, and with it the whole dispensation based upon it, is thus shown to have been imperfect and transitory; for:
1. Otherwise a priesthood of another order would not have been spoken of in Psalms 110:1-7.
2. Which priesthood is evidently distinct from the Aaronic, our Lord being of the tribe, not of Levi, but of Judah.
3. What has been seen (Psalms 110:5 and 8) as to the Melchizedek priesthood being not "after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life," makes this "more abundantly evident."
Conclusion (Hebrews 7:18-20). The Aaronic priesthood (being in itself unprofitable) is therefore now superseded by an availing one, "through which we draw nigh unto God."
III. (Hebrews 7:20-26) Christ's priesthood is thus availing; for:
1. The Divine oath (Psalms 110:1-7) established it, marking it as resting on the eternal Divine counsels.
2. It is (as shown by the same psalm) "unchangeable." The one Priest abides forever.
Conclusion (Hebrews 7:25). We have, therefore, in him at last, a perfectly availing and eternal interceding High Priest.
For such a High Priest became us, holy, harmless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens. Such a High Priest, it is said, for us was fitting. The same word ἔπρεπε was used in Hebrews 2:10, where the humiliation of Christ was spoken of. It was there said that to make the Captain of our salvation perfect through suffering "became" God—was befitting to what we conceive of the Divine nature. It is now said that our High Priest's being such as is here described "became" us—was befitting to our state and needs. That he should be both human and superhuman was in all respects fitting—the one that he might be our sympathizing brother; the other that his intercession might avail. The further description of him in this verse is suggested by the qualifications of the Aaronic high priest, what they typified being realized in Christ. The high priest was by his consecration a holy person, ἅγιος (Le 21:6, 8, etc); he bore on his miter "Holiness to the Lord" (Exodus 39:30); he must be without personal blemish (Le 21:17, etc); he must keep himself continually from all ceremonial pollution (Leviticus 21:1-24. and 22); he must purify himself by a sacrifice for himself and by special ablutions before entering the holy of holies (Leviticus 16:1-34); when there, he was conceived as in God's presence, apart from the world of sinners outside. Christ was not only ἅγιος, but ὅσιος, personally and inwardly holy (Christians in the New Testament are all called ἅγιος, but not all ὁσίοι: for the use of which word, el. Titus 1:8; Acts 2:27; Acts 13:34, where it is applied to Christ, τὸν ὅσιον σου: and Rev 15:4-16:5, where it is applied to God as his special attribute, ὅτι μόνος ὅσιος); Christ was actually free from evil ( ἄκακος) and undefiled ( ἀμίαντος). by any contact of sin; and as such he has passed to God's actual presence (cf. διελελύθοτα τοὺς οὐρανοὺς, Hebrews 4:14), separated forever from the world of sinners.
Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once for all, when he offered up himself. The expression "daily" ( καθ ἡμέραν) is not in strictness applicable to the high priest, who did not offer the daily sacrifice. The reference throughout what follows being to the high priest's peculiar functions on the Day of Atonement, κατ ἐνιαυτόν might have been expected. There are two tenable solutions:
(1) that the daily offerings of the priests are regarded as made by the high priest, who represented the whole priesthood, on the principle, qui facit per altos tacit per se;
(2) that καθ ἡμέραν (as is suggested by its position in the sentence) belongs not to οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς, but only to Christ: "who has no need daily, as the high priests have yearly:" for his intercession being perpetual, an offering on his part would be needed daily, if needed at all. This view is supported by the fact that the daily sacrifices are not spoken of in the Law as including a special one in the first place for the priest's own sin. "This he did." Did what? Offer for his own sins as well as for the people's? No; for, though it has been seen above (Hebrews 5:7) how the high priest's offering for himself might have its counterpart in the agony, the Sinless One cannot be said to have offered for sins of his own. And, besides, he having offered himself ( ἑαυτὸν ἀνενέγκας), the offering could not be for himself. We must, therefore, take "this he did" as referring only to the latter part of the preceding clause, while ἐαυτὸν, προσενέγκας answers to the former part; or as implying generally, "did all that was needed for atonement."
For the Law maketh men high priests, having infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was after the Law, maketh the Son, perfected for evermore. With men (i.e. a succession of men; cf. Hebrews 7:8) having infirmity is contrasted the one Son, for ever perfected. The absence of the article before υἱὸς does not imply the meaning "a son;" the title denotes here, as throughout the Epistle, the peculiar Son of prophecy (see under Hebrews 1:1). There is here no denial of his complete humanity, though he is plainly regarded as more than man. Nor is his participation In human ἀσθένεια, in the sense explained under Hebrews 5:1-14., denied. His implied freedom from it may mean either that he never had any inherent in himself, none due to personal imperfection, or that now, in his exalted state, he is altogether removed from it. In both these senses the implication is true; and both may be understood; but τετελειωμένον being here opposed to ἔχοντας ἀσθενείαν (as υἵον to ἀνθρώπους), the latter sense may be conceived to have been especially in the writer's mind. It is, in fact, our ever-living High Priest, interceding for us above, after passing through human experience, and after atonement completed, that is now being presented to our view. It is to be observed, lastly, that τετελειωμένον in this verse may be intended to bear, or at any rate to suggest, the special sense noted under Hebrews 5:9, and strenuously maintained by Jackson, and hence to be not incorrectly rendered by "consecrated" in the A.V and this notwithstanding Alford's protest against this rendering as "obliterating both sense anti analogy with Hebrews 2:10 and Hebrews 5:1."
The author here returns from his long digression, and enters upon the central theme of the treatise.
I. WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT MELCHIZEDEK. (Hebrews 7:1-3)
1. As a man.
Such omissions respecting a personage so exalted are contrary to Oriental custom. The points which the Holy Spirit has studiously concealed about Melchizedek are—his personal parentage, his priestly pedigree, and the dates of his birth and death.
2. As a type. (Hebrews 7:3) The brief notice of Melchizedek in the Book of Genesis has been framed so as to exhibit in him as striking as possible a prefiguration of Christ. Melchizedek was "made like unto the Son of God," at once in the events of his personal career, and in the shape given to the Bible narrative respecting him. The Lord Jesus Christ is both "King of righteousness" and "King of peace;" he dispenses spiritual peace upon a basis of righteousness. He is a royal Priest, wearing both the miter and the diadem. He had no predecessor in his office, and he shall have no successor. His priesthood is of older date, and of superior dignity to that of Levi. In all these respects Melchizedek was a type of Christ.
II. THE SUPERIORITY OF MELCHIZEDEK'S PRIESTHOOD TO THE LEVITICAL PRIESTHOOD. (Verses 4-10) "Consider" this, says the apostle. Although the theme is recondite, and "hard of interpretation" (Hebrews 5:11), it deserves careful study, since it concerns the dignity and glory of the Son of God (Psalms 110:4).
1. Melchizedek is superior to Abraham, the ancestor of the Levites. (Verses 4-7) No Old Testament name is more illustrious than that of "Abraham, the patriarch;" no heraldic escutcheon could boast marks of greater honor than that which bears the arms of "the father of the faithful"—"the friend of God." Yet we see this venerated founder of the Hebrew nation humbly acknowledging the superiority of Melchizedek.
2. The Levitical priests were dying men; Melchizedek appears only as a living priest. (Verse 8) Aaron's sons obtained the sacerdotal dignity by descent; they died and succeeded one another. But Melchizedek's priesthood was inherent and underived. He is exhibited on the inspired page only as a living priest, in order that his office may the more. suitably prefigure the intransferable priesthood of Christ.
3. The Levitical priests virtually paid tithes to Melchizedek. (Verses 9, 10) All the sacred honor with which Aaron and his sons were invested was derived from Abraham, as the head of the nation; and so, when Abraham confessed the religious superiority of Melchizedek, the long line of Aaronical priests may in a sense be said to have done so also.
Learn in conclusion:
1. The unparalleled majesty and glory of the Lord Jesus. Abraham was greater than Aaron; Melchizedek was greater than Abraham; but Christ is infinitely greater than Melchizedek.
2. Christ's priestly benediction is more efficacious than that of Melchizedek. He has been sent "to bless us, in turning away every one of us from our iniquities" (Acts 3:26).
3. If Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe of the spoils, should not we dedicate to the Lord Jesus Christ, not our tithes only, but our all?
Christ greater than Aaron.
This passage is really just a commentary on the Old Testament oracle contained in Psalms 110:4. There might appropriately be prefixed to it as a motto the words, "Behold, a greater than Aaron is here."
I. THE IMPERFECTION OF THE LEVITICAL PRIESTHOOD. (Verses 11-19) Aaron's mediation could not satisfy justice, or pacify conscience, or sanctify the heart. All that it could do was to exhibit a faint adumbration of the ideal priesthood. The words of Psalms 110:4 suggest this insufficiency, for they contain the promise of the Messianic priesthood.
1. Jesus was of other descent. (Verses 11-14) He belonged to the tribe of Judah; and not, like Aaron's sons, to the ecclesiastical tribe of Levi. The fact of this change in itself proves the inefficacy of the hereditary Hebrew priesthood.
2. His priesthood is of everlasting duration. (Verses 15-17) The Jewish priests one by one succumbed to death; but Jesus Christ is himself "the Life," Life resides essentially and originally in him. So his priesthood is abiding; his official dignity remains "forever." From this it follows (verses 18, 19) that the Levitical priesthood, and the entire ceremonial law which enshrined it, have been abrogated; and in their stead has come the introduction of "a better hope"—the hope of an efficient priesthood, of a dispensation both spiritual and permanent, and thus of immediate and perfect access to God.
II. THE SUPERIORITY OF CHRIST'S PRIESTHOOD TO THE LEVITICAL. (Verses 20-28) Jesus is the true Priest of mankind, for whom the nations have been waiting. He is the Apostle of God to men, and the prevailing Intercessor with God for men. This passage reminds us how infinitely exalted his priesthood is above that of Aaron.
1. He was consecrated with an oath. (Verses 20-22) No Levitical priest was installed thus solemnly. The Divine oath shows the certainty and importance and immutability of the thing sworn. It reminds us that the priesthood of our Lord enters into the very substance of the everlasting covenant.
2. His priesthood is intransferable. (Verses 23-25) The Levitical priesthood had this defect, that it required to be conveyed from one man to another. But, although Christ died, his death did not "hinder him from continuing;" it did not even temporarily interrupt the exercise of his priesthood. For he died voluntarily. He laid himself as Victim upon the altar. And, by dying, he conquered death, through the power of his indissoluble life. So, his mediatorial authority is intransferable.
3. His character is holy. (Verse 26) The Levitical priests had "infirmity," and needed to offer sacrifices first for their own sins. Even the most pious men among them had been, of course, morally imperfect; and some of the high priests—such as Caiaphas—who were not godly men, had been notorious for their wickedness. But "the High Priest of our confession" has a pure nature. He lived on earth a stainless life. He was "separated from sinners;" i.e. he showed on every side of his character that he belonged to another category than that of sinners. And his spotless holiness was in the fullest harmony with our spiritual need; it was, indeed, indispensably necessary, and in every way most "becoming" and beautiful, in relation to us.
4. His sacrifice is perfect. (Verses 27, 28) The Jewish priests had to offer up sacrifices "daily"—"the same sacrifices year by year"—with laborious and wearisome iteration. But the one sacrifice of Christ is in itself all-sufficient to expiate guilt, cleanse the conscience, and purify the soul. His blood has virtue to atone, for it is the blood of God.
5. He ministers in the real sanctuary. (Verses 26, 28) Aaron's ministry was carried on in a moving tent of curtain-work and wood-work—a tent, too, which seems to have had no pavement but the naked ground. His successors, likewise, served in what was at best a perishable "sanctuary of this world." But Jesus now ministers in "heaven itself," the most holy place of the new covenant. (The apostle emphasizes this point in Hebrews 8:1-6)
In conclusion, let us reflect upon this central thought of the passage—the immortal heavenly life of our High Priest. He is a Divine person; and his Divine nature is the basis of his "endless life." Hence the perfection of his power to save.
Salvation to the uttermost.
The chief point in this verse is our High Priest's ability to save, and the guarantee which his perpetual intercession affords regarding that ability. What does this continual intercession certify? Four things.
I. HE HAS THE ABILITY OF MERIT. The Savior's merit arises from what he is, from what he became, and from what he has done. His intercession is just a continual development of the exhaustless efficacy of his life-work. Our Priest is the eternal Son of God clothed in human nature. His work on earth was both active and passive: he obeyed and he suffered. He perfectly fulfilled the Law, and he fully endured the penalty due to our disobedience. Upon the union of this doing and dying the great structure of our Intercessor's ability of merit is sustained. The infinitude of his Divine nature invests his offering with boundless value. By his "obedience unto death" he sheathed the sword of justice in the heart of mercy. And, when he had done this, he went boldly up to heaven, sprinkled the golden altar there with his blood, and took his place in the midst of the throne. The fact of his intercession as our risen and glorified Savior shows that the satisfaction which he has made for sin is perfect.
II. HE HAS THE ABILITY OF RIGHT. A true priest must receive his appointment from God. So, our Lord's session at the right hand of the Father is in itself an evidence of the validity of his intercession. We know, however, that God appointed him to his office with a solemn oath (Psalms 110:4). He said to him, on the day when he constituted him Priest-King, "Ask of me" (Psalms 2:8), thus expressly authorizing his intercession. We cannot fathom the mystery of the atonement; but it is enough to know that Christ's sacred blood was shed for our salvation by Divine appointment; and we are persuaded that, had it not possessed merit enough for its purpose, it would never have been shed at all. Jesus sits upon his priestly throne, and does his priestly work, by Divine right.
III. HE HAS THE ABILITY OF INFLUENCE. He possesses not only merit and right, but also power. He is "a Priest upon his throne." And it was more than a mere external statute that set him there. Christ is our Intercessor in virtue of "the power of an endless life." These words are emphatic, "He ever liveth." He conducts our cause in heaven, as our Advocate, in the strength of the imperishable life which he has possessed from eternity. Enthroned in glory, he has yet power upon earth, for he has sent down to us his Holy Spirit. This gift is the direct fruit of his sacrifice and intercession. While the Savior intercedes without us, his Spirit intercedes within us. The work of the "other Paraclete" is complementary of that of the first. The Holy Ghost within our minds and hearts bestows all the communications of grace, and conducts all the preparations for glory; but he does so as the agent of the Lord Jesus, and his work is dependent upon our High Priest's constant pleadings at the bar of God.
IV. HE HAS THE ABILITY OF SYMPATHY. Even as God, the Savior can sympathize with us; for our nature was formed in the likeness of our Maker, so that man belongs to the same order of being as God himself. But our necessities demanded more than the sympathy of God. How sweet, then, to remember that our High Priest is also a man! He is a woman's Son, and therefore in a true sense one of ourselves. His earthly life was full of experiences substantially the same as ours; so that he knows our difficulties and sorrows and temptations. He is careful to adapt his perpetual intercessions to the currents of individual experience. Believers can approach him with confidence in the spirit of the exquisite lines—
"Thou our throbbing flesh hast worn,
Thou our mortal griefs hast borne,
Thou hast shed the human tear:
Gracious Son of Mary, hear!"
Amidst his unparalleled exaltation, the Man Christ Jesus does not forget the humblest of his people. Our High Priest has every name that is dear to him engraven upon his breastplate—written upon the imperishable tablet of his loving heart.
1. Let us retain Jesus as our Advocate.
2. Let us tell him our whole ease, and commit it unreservedly into his hands.
3. Let us be sure of his ability successfully to plead the cause of his clients.
Separated from sinners.
This verse exhibits in a strong clear light the moral purity of our High Priest, and its becomingness in relation to the necessities of his people.
I. THE HOLINESS OF CHRIST. He was born without; entail of birth-sin. His boyhood and youth were stainless. His manhood was one of sinless perfection. His friends regarded him as faultless. His enemies testified to his purity (Pilate, Judas, the devils whom he east out). Jesus himself claimed to be holy (John 8:46; John 14:30); and he never confessed sin, or begged forgiveness. The voice of his Father from heaven attested him, once and again, to be the Holy One of God. (Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5). Notice:
1. The elements of his holiness. Three adjectives are used, referring to three different departments of moral character.
2. The singularity of his holiness. "Separated from sinners." This phrase sustains a relation of contrast to the three adjectives. It indicates the unique character and the matchless harmony of the Savior's moral life. It expresses his solitariness in his holiness. If the human race be divided into two classes—the sinners and the holy—all the rest of mankind must take rank as sinners, while Jesus stands by himself as the one human being who was holy.
3. The reward of his holiness. "Made higher than the heavens." His supreme exaltation has set him more visibly apart from other men than before. It was conferred upon him as the reward of his pure, unworldly, self-sacrificing life. His mediatorial throne has been erected in the new heavens of the new covenant, and these are higher than any heavens formerly known to mankind.
II. THE NECESSITY OF CHRIST'S HOLINESS IN RELATION TO OUR SALVATION. "Such a High Priest became us." In Hebrews 2:10 we read of what in this connection "became" God; here, of what "became" man. The purity of the Redeemer was admirably adapted to the necessities of our condition.
1. That he might be a true manifestation of God. A priest is a mediator or middle-man between God and men; and it is indispensable that he should be in perfect sympathy with the purity of the Eternal. Holiness is the crown and flower of the Divine perfections; and it was needful that our priest should reflect that holiness in his own character.
2. That his sacrifice might be an adequate atonement for sin. He must be on the very best of terms with the God whom we have offended. His expiation must be satisfactory to Divine justice. It is impossible that Jesus could have atoned for us had he been himself morally infirm, like the Jewish high priest, tie could only purchase our reconciliation by offering himself as a Victim, without spot or blemish, upon the altar.
3. That he might leave us a perfect example. The Christian life consists in the imitation of Christ. Believers follow him in the three great departments of moral excellence in which he was so absolutely pure. We ought to copy him also in his separatedness from the world. Indeed, his people should already be in spirit, through their oneness of character with their risen Lord, "made higher than the heavens?
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
Melchizedek a type of Christ.
"For this Melchizedek, King of Salem," etc. The various extraordinary conjectures as to the personality of Melchizedek "we may safely treat as fanciful and unneeded. The typology connected with Melchizedek does not require that he himself should be regarded as any superhuman person, but merely exalts the human circumstances under which he appears into symbols of superhuman things. Everything combines to show that Melchizedek was a Canaanitish king who had retained the worship of the true God and combined in his own person the offices of king and priest." £ And the statements made concerning him in the third verse of our text need not cause us any difficulty. The Levitical priests held their office by virtue of their descent from Levi and Aaron. A clear and unquestionable genealogy was of the utmost importance to them. On the return of the Jews from captivity certain persons were excluded from the priesthood because they could not produce their pedigree (Ezra 2:61-63). Now, as for Melchizedek, the names of his parents were unknown, his name was not mentioned in the Hebrew genealogies, there was no record of his birth or of his death, and no mention of the termination of his priesthood. "He comes forth from the darkness like a streak of light, only to disappear immediately in the darkness again." He is mentioned in our text as a type of Jesus Christ.
I. IN HIS REGAL CHARACTER AND FUNCTIONS. "Melchizedek, King of Salem … by interpretation King of righteousness, and King of peace." In the reign of the Christ:
1. Righteousness is the firm basis of peace. It is true in government as in other things that "the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle." Stable peace is impossible apart from righteousness. Deep craft, subtle diplomacy, strong naval and military forces, are miserable guarantees for a nation's peace. The peace and the perpetuity of the reign of Messiah are founded upon its truth and righteousness. The witness of Scripture to this is most clear and conclusive (see Psalms 72:1-7; Isaiah 2:4; Isaiah 11:1-9; Isaiah 32:17).
2. Righteousness is joined with peace. Both these qualities characterize his administration. Righteousness is firm, inflexible, almost stern; peace is mild, merciful, gentle. In the kingdom of our Lord "mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other."
II. IN HIS SACERDOTAL CHARACTER AND FUNCTIONS. Here are several points of analogy.
1. In the authority of his priesthood. "Melchizedek, priest of God Most High … without father, without mother," etc. He was not a priest because he was descended from priests, like the sons of Aaron. He received his priesthood direct from God. It was based upon character, not upon pedigree. It was "an independent priesthood, having its root in his own person." Even so was the priesthood of our Lord and Savior (cf. Hebrews 7:13-17; Hebrews 5:4-6).
2. In the blessings which he bestowed. Melchizedek bestowed upon Abraham a double blessing, and in each portion of it he prefigures the Christ.
3. In the homage which he received. "To whom Abraham divided a tenth part of all … unto whom Abraham gave a tenth out of the chief spoils." He did this either as an act of homage to him as a king, and as placing himself under his authority and protection, or as an acknowledgment of his character and position as "priest of God Most High." To our Priest and King the mightiest and the weakest, the greatest and the smallest, high and low, rich and poor, shall pay heartiest and humblest homage (see Psalms 72:10, Psalms 72:11, Psalms 72:15, Psalms 72:17). "At the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow," etc. (Philippians 2:10, Philippians 2:11).
4. In the duration of his priesthood. "Abideth a Priest continually." This is not to be taken literally as to Melchizedek. Of him it is true in this way, there is no record of the termination of his priesthood by death or otherwise. As he did not receive it from his ancestors, it was not transmitted to his descendants: he yielded "up his priesthood to no one." But in a higher sense his great Antitype "abideth a Priest continually." He is "a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek." "He ever liveth to make intercession for them that draw near unto God through him."—W.J.
The constitution of our great High Priest.
"Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment," etc. In this verse there is a triple antithesis; law is antithetical to power, commandment to life, and carnal to indissoluble. This suggests the following observations concerning the priesthood of Jesus Christ. He became Priest—
I. NOT BY THE OPERATION OF LITERAL "LAW," BUT BECAUSE OF HIS SPIRITUAL "POWER." Law in the text is the Levitical Law, with the fulfillment of which the Jewish priests had so much to do. It was a thing of the letter—a written thing; it possessed no inherent power; it could impart no spiritual power. By this law the priests of the Judaic economy were constituted. But our Lord was constituted a priest, not by this law, but because of his own spiritual energy. He was in himself perfectly fitted for the high functions of this holy office. Because he was a Divine Being, he had power to represent God to man; because he was a human being, he had power to represent man to God. Inexhaustible spiritual strength is in him for the renewal of the lost moral power of those whose High Priest he is. Because he has power to redeem, sympathize with, succor, and save men, he was made the great High Priest for men.
II. NOT BY AN EXTERNAL "COMMANDMENT," BUT BY HIS INHERENT LIFE? The "commandment" is that part of the Levitical law which ordered the institution and succession of the priesthood. By this statute the descendants of Aaron were appointed priests, irrespective of their personal character and qualifications for the office. But Jesus was made a priest, not by that commandment, but contrary to it, seeing that he was not of the tribe of Levi, but of Judah. It was because of his inner life that he was constituted the High Priest of humanity. Being what he was and is, he could do no other than take up our cause, suffer for us, die for us, and appear as our Representative with the Father. This truth is forcibly expressed by Dr. Bushnell: "Vicarious sacrifice belongs to no office or undertaking outside of holy character, but to holy character itself. Such is love that it must insert itself into the conditions, burden itself with the wants, and woes, and losses, and even wrongs, of others. It waits for no atoning office, or any other kind of office. It undertakes because it is love, not because a project is raised or an office appointed. It goes into suffering and labor and painful sympathy, because its own everlasting instinct runs that way The true and simple account of Christ's suffering is, that he had such a heart as would not suffer him to be turned away from us, and that he suffered for us even as love must willingly suffer for its enemy. The beauty and power of his sacrifice is, that he suffers morally and because of his simple excellence, and not to fill a contrived place in a scheme of legal justification. He scarcely minds how much he suffers or how, if only he can do love's work." £ Because of his perfect purity, and infinite love and unspeakable compassion, he necessarily became the great High Priest of the human race.
III. NOT AS A TEMPORARY FUNCTION, BUT AS A PERMANENT RELATION. They who were made priests "after the law of a carnal commandment" were priests only for a time. One generation performed the duties of the office for a number of years, and then was succeeded in those duties by another generation, which in its turn would also pass away. "But after the power of an indissoluble life" our Savior was made a priest. He is "a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." By its nature his life is perpetual; and he continues forever as our Representative with God (cf. Hebrews 7:23-25). Because of the perfection of this priesthood, human salvation in glorious fullness is attainable. Laws and ceremonies alone could not work out for us any real deliverance from sin, or work in us any true and progressive spiritual life. We need vitality and power in any system or person who would render to us effective help. And in this aspect "the priesthood of Christ," as Bushnell says, "is graduated by the wants and measures of the human soul; the endless life in which he comes matches and measures the endless life in mankind whose fall he is to restore; providing a salvation as strong as their sin, and as long or lasting as the run of their immortality. He is able thus to save unto the uttermost." His life is reproductive. His power is communicable. He imparts spiritual energy to those who by faith are one with him. Apart from him we can do nothing. We can do all things in him that strengtheneth us.—W.J.
The inability and capability of the Law.
"For the Law made nothing perfect," etc. The Law spoken of is the ceremonial Law, as we see from the preceding verse. The moral Law is not disannulled in Christianity. Its authority is maintained, its sanctions are corroborated by our Lord. But the ceremonial Law was abrogated by Christ. It found its fulfillment, and so was done away in Christianity. Notice—
I. THE INABILITY OF THE LAW. It was weak and unprofitable; it made nothing perfect.
1. It awakened the consciousness of guilt, but it had no power to remove that consciousness. Its sacrifices proclaimed man a sinner and needing atonement with God; but they would not ease the conscience of its sad sense of sin, or inspire the peace of forgiveness in the troubled breast.
2. It showed the necessity of mediation between God and man, but it made no satisfactory provision for theft necessity. The people had to approach the Most High through the priests; the priests alone must offer their sacrifices; the priests alone had access to the holy place of the tabernacle and the temple. The office of the priesthood exhibited the need of mediation, but it was not an adequate answer to that need. The Judaic priests were themselves sinners; they needed to offer sacrifices for themselves; they were mortal and passed away by death, even as other men.
3. It presented a true ideal of life and conduct, but it afforded no help for the attainment of that ideal. The Law condemns sin; it commands righteousness. But how shall we obey its commands? "To will is present with me, but to do that which is good is not. For the good which I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I practice." Can the Law help us in this need? Can it inspire us with strength to do the true and the good? It has no power to convert, or strengthen, or sanctity the soul. It shows us our obligation, but it affords us no help to discharge it. "What the Law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh," etc. (Romans 8:3, Romans 8:4).
II. THE CAPABILITY OF THE Law. "The Law made nothing perfect, but it was the bringing in of a better hope, by which we draw nigh unto God." We adopt the rendering of the margin of the Authorized Version, and the interpretation of Calvin, Ebrard, et al., that the Law made nothing perfect, but it prepared the way for the better hope. £ This hope is the gospel hope; the hope which has been brought in by our great High Priest. The Law led the way to this. "The Law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ." "A large picture-book," as Dr. Binney says, "was put before the scholars in the splendid objects of the Levitical institute. The series of things included in this was like a series of prints arranged in order, bound and gilded, and spread before the young, wondering eyes of a number of children. The altar with its fire and blood; the laver with its purifying contents; the sacrifice with the penitent putting upon it his sin, or lifting his eyes and his hands to heaven; the priest in the garments expressive of humiliation, or in his gorgeous robes of 'glory and beauty; '-these things, with many others that might be specified, were all like so many significant objects, vividly portrayed on the several leaves of an immense picture-book. By familiarity with them the minds of the learners were gradually to open to the spiritual idea contained in each; or were to be prepared for apprehending it when, 'in the fullness of time,' it should be revealed With new views of the central figure, so much the theme of prophetic song, and the object of national desire, the whole of the Levitical system undergoes a change. It comes to have an intention, to be looked at as constructed for a purpose, which gives to it a deeper and diviner significance than was at first suspected. Priest and sacrifice, altar and propitiation, cease to be realities; they are understood to be only shadows and signs of what was to be found substantially in the person and work, the acts and offices of the great High Priest of our profession." This hope, for which the Law prepared the way, was better than any which the Law could inspire.
1. It is clearer as to its object. The Christian hopes for perfection of being; for holiness of heart and life here, and for heaven hereafter. These things are brought into clearer light in this gospel age than they were under the Law.
2. It is firmer in its foundation. It rests upon Jesus Christ. He is the Rock upon which our confidence and expectation are based. He has revealed God the Father unto us. He has rendered perfect obedience to the holy Law. He offered himself a Sacrifice for sin, of infinite and perpetual efficacy. He ever liveth to represent us in heaven, whither he has entered as our Forerunner. He is "a tried Stone, a sure Foundation" for the hopes of men to rest upon.
3. It is more blessed in its influence. "Through which we draw nigh unto God." The Judaic priesthood tended to make men feel their distance from God, and to keep them at a distance. The priesthood of Jesus Christ brings men near unto him. We need not now the human priest and the bleeding victim for our acceptable approach to the Divine Father. Through the Savior we may draw nigh unto him in our penitence for sin, and obtain forgiveness; in our consecration to him, and meet with gracious acceptance; in the presentation of our needs to him, and receive suitable and abundant supplies; and in hallowed communion with him, and find in it the foretaste and earnest of heaven.—W.J.
Christ's perfect power to save.
"Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost," etc. The text suggests the following observations:—
I. THAT CHRIST'S SAVING POWER IS INFINITE. "He is able to save them to the uttermost." Notice:
1. The nature of this salvation. It may be viewed:
2. The perfection of this salvation. "Able to save to the uttermost." The word rendered "uttermost' does not refer to the duration, but to the perfection, the completeness, of this salvation. Both by its etymology and by its place in the argument it is the exact antithesis of the first clause in Hebrews 7:19. "The Law made nothing perfect;" but "he is able to save perfectly," or to completeness, "them that come unto God by him." The perfection of his saving power authorizes the assertion that he is able to save:
II. THAT CHRIST'S SAVING POWER IS GUARANTEED BY THE PERPETUITY OF HIS PRIESTLY OFFICE. "Wherefore also he is able to save them to the uttermost … seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." The chief meaning of "to make intercession" is to appear as the representative of another, being moved to do so by feeling for him or with him. Our Savior's intercession for us does not mean that he is pleading our cause with One who is ill disposed toward us, and needs to be placated by him; or that he is supplicating blessings for us from One who is unwilling to bestow them (John 16:26, John 16:27). But he does represent us with the great Father, and he is deeply and tenderly identified with us in feeling. He represents us because he sympathizes with us. But in our text, as Alford points out, the intercession "implies the whole mediatorial work, which the exalted Savior performs for his own with his heavenly Father, either by reference to his past death of blood by which he has bought them for himself, or by continued intercession for them." Christ's perpetual intercession signifies that:
1. The efficacy of his work for men is perpetual. The great truths which he enunciated concerning life and duty, sin and salvation, holiness and God, are vital and powerful now as ever they were. His redemptive work accomplished upon earth is as efficacious now as ever it was. His atoning death for us has lost none of its ancient power to touch and subdue, to convert and sanctify, the soul of man. "The word of the cross is the power of God" still to save them that believe.
2. The efficacy of his work in men is perpetual. Our Savior makes intercession with us as well as for us. He speaks and works within us for our salvation. By his Holy Spirit he encourages and strengthens his people. The Spirit guards us from error and guides us into truth; he restrains us from the wrong and inspires us for the right, etc. Here, then, is the guarantee of the abiding perfection of Christ's saving power: he is our perpetual representative with the Divine Father; the efficacy of his redeeming work and the merit of his sacrificial death are unabated; and by his Spirit he is still a living presence and power amongst men.
III. THAT CHRIST'S SAVING POWER IS MADE AVAILABLE ON THE SIMPLEST CONDITION. "To save them … that draw near unto God through him." Moral approach to God through the mediation of Jesus Christ is the condition upon which this salvation is bestowed. It is implied that man is morally remote from God. "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God." "Ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ." If we would be saved we must draw near unto him.
1. The nature of this approach. It is not merely intellectual—the apprehension of the truth concerning him. It is a sympathetic and vital approach to him. It is coming to him in humble penitence for our sin that we may obtain forgiveness; in grateful affection to him for his great love towards us; and in earnest desire to obey and serve him.
2. The medium of this approach. "Through him," i.e. Jesus Christ; because
The High Priest in whom man's need is met.
"For such a High Priest became us, holy, harmless," etc. By way of introduction let us glance at three truths which are either expressed or implied in the text.
1. That man needs a high priest.
2. That the high priest who would satisfactorily meet man's need should possess certain qualities, Any priest will not do. There should be a fitness between the holder of the office and the duties of the office—between the priesthood and the human needs to which it would minister.
3. That these qualities are found in Jesus Christ. His priesthood answers to man's needs. "Such a High Priest became us," i.e. was suitable to us, was appropriate to our condition and need. Let us now look at the qualities which render our Savior the appropriate High Priest for man, as they are here specified. It is important to remember that some essential attributes of our great High Priest have already been mentioned in this Epistle (Hebrews 4:15).
I. HE IS PERFECT IN HIS CHARACTER. "For such a High Priest became us, holy, harmless, undefiled," etc.
1. Holy. Our Lord was truly and inwardly holy. His holiness did not consist merely in his consecration to his office, but in the perfect sanctification of his whole being. The Jewish high priest had "Holiness to the Lord" inscribed upon his miter; but in Christ it was interwoven with every fiber of his being, and stamped upon every expression of his life.
2. Harmless. The Jewish high priest was sinless only in this way, that he offered sacrifice for his own sin before offering for the sins of the people, and that he cleansed himself ceremonially before appearing before God on behalf of others. But Jesus was perfectly free from sin. In all his relations with men he was guileless. And no wrong was ever done by him in any way to any one.
3. Undefiled. Sin is a polluting thing. Ceremonial purity was required in the Jewish high priests. But our Lord was undefiled both legally and morally. In thought and feeling, in word and action, in inward heart and. outward life, he was stainless. The Jewish high priests needed to offer sacrifices for their own sins; but our great High Priest had no personal guilt to expiate, or sins to confess, or impurities to purge.
4. Separate from sinners. The Jewish high priest was required scrupulously to refrain from association with any person who was ceremonially unclean (Le 21:10-15). Our Lord was "separated from sinners." We do not regard this as meaning local separation. He did not shun association with sinners during his life upon earth. It was charged against him by the self-righteous religionists of his day, "This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them." "They murmured, saying, He is gone in to lodge with a man that is a sinner." "A friend of publicans and sinners." His separation from sinners was far higher and diviner than any merely local or physical isolation. "Christ in his intercourse with sinners," as Ebrard says, "remained inwardly free from all participation in their sinfulness, inwardly untouched by its contagion; notwithstanding that he mingled with men in all their varieties of character and situation, he yet never let drop, for a moment, that inner veil of chaste holiness which separated him from sinners. This is what is meant by the expression, 'separate from sinners.'" His moral health was so vigorous, his spiritual purity so intense, that he could associate with the morally corrupt and degraded without contracting even the slightest moral defilement. How sublime is our great High Priest in the perfection of his character! Of all the sons of men, of him alone can it be said that he was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separated from sinners." How immeasurably superior is he to Aaron and every other Jewish high priest! Their perfection was only ceremonial and symbolical; they were "men having infirmity;" they were liable to sin; they were subject to death, and to the termination of their priesthood. But our Savior had no moral infirmity. In his character and conduct, in his person and office, he was gloriously perfect. He is now "perfected for evermore."
II. HE IS PERFECT IN HIS POSITION. "And made higher than the heavens." This exalted position which our great Representative occupies has already engaged our attention (see on Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 2:9; and cf. Hebrews 8:1; Philippians 2:9; Revelation 5:12).
III. HE IS PERFECT IN HIS SACRIFICE. "He needeth not daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices," etc.
1. The value of the offering. "He offered up himself." Alford has pointed out that "this is the first place in the Epistle where mention is made of Christ's having offered himself. Henceforward it becomes more and more familiar to the reader: 'once struck, the note sounds on ever louder and louder' (Delitzsch)." The value of this offering is seen in two things:
2. The finality of the offering. "This he did once for all, when he offered up himself." His sacrifice will never be repeated.
HOMILIES BY C. NEW
Christ a Priest after the order of Melchizedek.
The writer now returns from the digression. So far he has established from their Scriptures the priesthood of Christ. But that is not enough; that is no reason why he should be preferred to Aaron. He proceeds, then, to show that, however great Aaron was, Christ was greater. But on what grounds can he establish this to the satisfaction of a Hebrew? He rests his proof entirely on those Scriptures which the Hebrew accepted as authoritative, and two passages (Psalms 110:1-7. and Genesis 14:1-24) supply him with all he needs. The first states that Christ was the Priest after the order of Melchizedek; the second that Abraham, from whom all Israel, Aaron included, derived their greatness, did homage to Melchizedek; and thus the point was proved, for Aaron, in the person of Abraham, acknowledged Melchizedek's superiority. That is the argument.
Subject—Christ a Priest after the order of Melchizedek.
I. THE OBJECT HERE IS TO SHOW THE SUPERIORITY OF CHRIST'S PRIESTHOOD TO THAT OF AARON.
1. We have the story of Melchizedek, the priest of Salem, to whom Abraham gave a tenth.
2. This story shows that Melchizedek was greater than Aaron. Abraham, the head of their nation, recognized Melchizedek as a divinely appointed priest—one who had a right to tithes from him, and the power to bless him. The reception of tithes by the Jewish priests was "the acknowledged symbol of their supremacy over their brethren" (Dale). But here was one who received tithes from Abraham himself! "And without contradiction the less is blessed by the greater." So that in Abraham kneeling before the righteous King of Salem, the whole Mosaic priesthood practically affirmed its inferiority to that of Melchizedek.
3. But Melchizedek is declared to be a type of Christ. (Note: Strange that for a thousand years this affirmation should have lain unnoticed in their sacred books till the inspired apostle throws this wondrous light upon it! How much is hidden in the Word of God to be revealed yet, to our surprise!)
II. OBSERVE THE POINTS IN WHICH, AS SEEN IN THE PRIESTHOOD OF MELCHIZEDEK, THE SUPERIORITY OF CHRIST'S PRIESTHOOD TO THAT OF AARON CONSISTS. Christ was not different to Aaron, but better; he was all that Aaron was, but he was more. We may learn from this ancient king-priest in what this more consisted.
1. Christ's priesthood is universal. Aaron's was for a limited circle—the seed of Abraham; but Melchizedek represented a priesthood which had a world-wide aspect, existing two thousand years before Aaron. Abel, Noah, Job, were priests of that order. So Christ is for all who will. His gospel is glad tidings, not for a few, nor for a section of the Church, nor for certain types of Christian character, but for all people.
2. Christ's priesthood is continuous. It is not meant that Melchizedek had no end of days, but that is true of him as far as the history is concerned. We do not read that he died, or that his priesthood terminated; and this serves to show the contrast between a continuous priesthood and one which, like the Aaronic, was continually changing; not begun till thirty years of age, nor continued after fifty, and only exercised at parts of the year. From the first, Jesus made intercession for the transgressors ("the Lamb slain before," etc), and ever liveth for this. We are always sure of him. He never sleeps, nor forgets, nor is weary, nor gives place to another.
3. Christ's priesthood is royal. Aaron was only priest; Levi was king. Melchizedek was both. So Jesus, even on the cross most truly fulfilling his priestly work, was "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," a Priest upon his throne. A priest or a king could never satisfy us. We need both—priestly sympathy and the resources of royalty; the law of the king proceeding from the love of the priest. Christ fulfils his priesthood royally; he is no vain friend to sinful man. Christ fulfils his kingship mediatorially, holding all his power on behalf of his redemptive work.
III. OBSERVE SOME OF THE INCIDENTAL LESSONS WHICH A COMPARISON OF CHRIST'S PRIESTHOOD WITH THAT OF MELCHIZEDEK SUGGESTS.
1. That righteousness and peace are the results of his priestly work. "Melchizedek"—king of righteousness; "King of Salem"—king of peace. Righteousness and peace are the end of the atoning, interceding work of the Son of God.
2. That he has a right to the priest's portion from his Church. The Jewish priesthood had a right to tithes from (not those who dissented from them, not idolaters, but) the sacred nation, but there was no such enactment binding on Abraham; his was a free-will offering. Christ has a right to our offerings—and "how much owest thou?"—but he only accepts the free offerings of a grateful heart.
3. That Christ's priestly benediction is granted to his weary people. The great Priest not simply goes to God for us in intercession, but comes forth from God to us in benediction. Christ is ever doing for us what Melchizedek did for Abraham when he came forth to greet him in his weariness with bread and wine.—C.N.
Further proofs of the superiority of Christ's priesthood involved in the symbol of Melchizedek.
Note: The word "Law" in Hebrews 7:11, Hebrews 7:12, Hebrews 7:19 must not be understood to refer to the Jewish system, but simply to the code of regulations by which the priesthood was appointed. The apostle is thinking throughout the chapter, not of the Jewish dispensation, but of the priesthood. The expression, "weak and unprofitable," does not imply that there was failure in God's former method. The regulations about the Jewish priesthood were intended to be "weak and unprofitable;" that was their benefit. Only thus could they lead on to the heavenly things they foreshadowed.
I. CONSIDER THE PROOFS IN THIS PASSAGE OF THE SUPERIORITY OF CHRIST'S PRIESTHOOD. They are all based on Psalms 110:4.
1. The Divine appointment of a second priesthood by a different mode proves its superiority to the former. (Verses 11-18) Their Scriptures declared that the Messiah did come from a different tribe to Aaron, and was appointed Priest on a different principle; not by a mere physical arrangement—sonship to another, a "carnal commandment," or regulation—but by his own inherent life. Since God could not remove what was perfect, or supersede a good arrangement by a worse, that which appeared to take the place of the old was necessarily superior to it.
2. The greater solemnity of the appointment of this second priesthood proves its superiority to the former. (Verses 20-22) Aaron and his sons were appointed by a simple revelation of the Divine will (Exodus 28:1). The terms of the appointment of Jesus are—"The Lord sware, and will not repent." When God purposed what was not to change he confirmed it by an oath, and probably the Jews understood that well. God is "never represented in Scripture as swearing to anything but what is fixed and immutable" (Dr. Brown). The fact that Christ was made priest not without an oath shows that his priesthood was of supreme importance.
3. The eternal permanence of this second priesthood Troves its superiority to the former. (Verses 23-25) The Jewish priests were subject to human frailties and imperfections; their term of service swiftly passed, and their place was taken by another. Indeed, the whole family might be exterminated (specially when at first, in the wilderness, it consisted of but five men) by pestilence, crime, or war, and Israel would find itself, as today, with no priest, no atonement, no mercy-seat, no mediator. That shows the inadequacy of that priesthood. But Christ is High Priest forever "according to the power of an indissoluble life." How superior to that which is according to the flesh! "All flesh is grass."
II. GLANCE AT SOME OF THE PRACTICAL TRUTHS INVOLVED IN THIS SUPERIORITY.
1. That the Aaronic priesthood is superseded by the priesthood of Christ. The Romish doctrine that an order of men, on the mythical ground that they can trace their succession to the apostles, are the appointed mediators between God and man, is a repetition of the Levitical system. But this priesthood is unnecessary, since Christ is in every point superior to it, and they who have Jesus do not need Aaron. Moreover, this carnal, genealogical priesthood is abolished by God, and shown to have been only a temporary expedient at the best.
2. That what the old dispensation did for a few, the Christian does for all. In the Old Testament the priests are those who draw nigh to God (e.g. Le Psalms 10:3) whilst the multitude stood without. Contrast verse 10. "We" who are not of Levi's tribe, but simply believers in Christ, may now enter the Holiest of all—that is, we are all priests. Christ's high priesthood involves the priesthood of all believers. "Those who draw nigh to God 'is the Christian name.
3. That what the ceremonial law could not do, Jesus can. Whilst the Levitical system was "weak and unprofitable," the priesthood of Jesus brought in a system that was perfect. The perfection of a priestly system consisted in its ability to bring men unto God. Men are crying, "Nearer, my God, to thee," in vain, because they seek it through human aid, religious ceremonies, legal observances; they have gone back to Judaism, which is dead and cannot help them. Now let them try Jesus. Where Aaron fails, Jesus succeeds. "He is able to save them to," etc.—C.N.
Christ's superiority in the infinite perfection of his personal character.
The second great argument for Christ's superiority to Aaron. The reason for the introduction of this argument here is probably that the writer is still thinking of Psalms 110:1-7. The psalm speaks of Christ exalted to the highest heavenly position, and as a Priest for ever. Of both these points the echo rings out here in verses 26 and 28. Here is sharply drawn the picture of our Lord's personal perfection in a few carefully moderate words (for it is a delicate subject), and the conclusion is apparent. (Note on word "daily" in verse 27. The high priest did not "daily" offer sin offerings; the morning and evening sacrifices were not offered by the high priest, nor were they sacrifices for sin but in a secondary sense, as they were burnt offerings. The great expiatory sacrifice offered by the high priest was on the Day of Atonement. The word "daily" here must mean day after day; one day of atonement after another)
I. THE PERSONAL PERFECTION OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. "Holy, harmless," etc.—so many aspects of the sinlessness of Jesus. The Hebrew probably saw here what was true of the high priest symbolically, spoken of Jesus literally. The one had inscribed on his forehead "Holiness unto the Lord," which he had in symbol; the other was "the Holy One of God." The one was harmless (literally, "without evil"), for he could not offer for others till his own sin was expiated, but that was only an imputed sinlessness; the other had no sins to offer for. The one was "undefiled," obliged to be ceremonially clean; the other was in himself "without blemish and without spot." The one was "separate from sinners," excluded for seven days before the Day of Atonement even from his own family, but this was only physical; the other was able to say," I am not of the world."
1. The personal perfection of Jesus as seen in his manifested purity. "Holy," etc., represents his purity from different standpoints. "Holy," as regards his relation to God; "harmless," his relation to man; "undefiled," his relation to himself; "separate," etc., the sum of the whole. In every direction Jesus was without sin. And so much was apparent to the men of his day. His enemies, his relatives, his disciples, all bear witness to this. He could ask of all, "Which of you convinceth me of sin?"
2. The perfection of Jesus is seen in his personal consciousness of sinlessness. "Who needeth not," etc. Christ offered no sacrifice for himself. He always distinguished between himself and sinners. "If ye [not 'we'], being evil;" "I do always those things which," etc; "I have glorified thee on the earth;" "Why hast thou forsaken me?" Christ knew he was holy, and that proves that he was; for confessedly he was, at least, the best of men, and the holier a man becomes the more sensible he is of failure.
3. The perfection of Jesus is seen in the Father's endorsement of it. "He was made higher than the heavens." Consider that in connection with Christ's claim to be sinless. His resurrection and ascension and enthronement are the highest pledge of the perfection he asserted for himself.
II. THIS PERSONAL PERFECTION WAS NECESSARY TO CONSTITUTE A PERFECT HIGH PRIEST. "Such a High Priest became us." Our needs are beyond the help of any one less.
1. The first function of the high priest was to offer sacrifice. Then observe how Christ's holiness perfects him as a Sacrifice. He could not have atoned for others if he had sins of his own; but the offering of the Holy One had an inestimable worth. That, at least, vindicates the Law, and pays the sinner's debt, however great.
2. The next function of the high priest was intercession. Then observe how Christ's holiness perfects him as an Intercessor. We can trust in no mediator till we know he is on good terms with the king. Because Christ is the Holy One of God, he has perpetual access to the Father; his will and the Father's are the same, and the Father delights in granting his request. Jesus can never be refused.
3. The third function of the high priest was to instruct. Then observe how Christ's holiness perfects him as a Teacher. It is in his holiness we learn what most of all we need to know—God's will about us. We look at Jesus, and there it is. Moreover, looking at him produces the same holiness in us, for looking we become like.
III. THUS PERFECTED, CHRIST IS DECLARED BY THE DIVINE OATH TO BE HIGH PRIEST FOREVER. "The word of the oath," etc. Notice how many perfect things are set forth here.
1. A perfect Sacrifice for sin. "By one offering he hath for ever," etc.
2. A perfect High Priest to impart the benefits of that Sacrifice. Our tendency is to dwell on Christ's earthly life, or on his death; but the Epistles dwell most on his present life. And that is the view of our Lord he desires us to keep most prominent: "I am he that liveth," etc; "Therefore he is able to save," etc.
3. A perfect promise that Christ will do all this. "Will," for all who will let him, for all "who come unto God by him," i.e. for all who take him to be their High Priest. God pledges his oath for that. How needlessly men are lost! They are not called to risk their soul on a trifle!—C. N.
HOMILIES BY J.S. BRIGHT
Melchizedek a typical priest.
The inspired writer now resumes his consideration of Melchizedek as a type of our Lord as Priest, and notes the fact that he stands in Old Testament Scripture quite alone, and has no genealogy which informs us from whom he sprang, and has no successor to whom he hands over his priestly office. As far as Scripture narrative is concerned, he "abideth a high priest continually." The typical resemblances between Melchizedek and our Lord are—
I. THE SUBLIME SOLITARINESS OF THIS PRIEST. He stands alone as the servant and minister of the most high God, and while the Jewish priests appear like the columns of a temple, Melchizedek rises as an obelisk, which by its loneliness attracts attention and awakens thought. Our Lord is, in his office, foreshadowed by this ancient priest; for he stands alone, and has had no predecessor, and will have no successor as High Priest over the house of God.
II. THE UNIVERSALITY OF HIS OFFICE FINDS ITS COUNTERPART IN JESUS CHRIST. Melchizedek was a priest for men as men, and before the separation of the race into the two classes of Jews and Gentiles. The successors of Aaron were limited in their ministrations to the twelve tribes of Israel; but the Redeemer is the Priest for the race of mankind: "for with him is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither bond nor free, and there is neither male nor female."
III. THE INTEREST DISPLAYED BY MELCHIZEDEK IN THE AFFAIRS OF WORSHIPPERS. Abraham had pursued the kings who had taken captive the family of Lot, and carried off much spoil from the inhabitants of Sodom. On his return the priest met him and his wearied troop with bread and wine, and blessed the patriarch in the Name of the most high God. In like manner our Lord has an abiding interest in his worshippers, whom he delivers from evil, maintains in spiritual vigor, and blesses with his refreshments and Divine approbation. As Melchizedek blessed Abraham, so our Lord at his departure from the world lifted up his hands and blessed his disciples, and has ever since blessed his followers with needful grace and supplies of spiritual power.
IV. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF MELCHIZEDEK'S NAMES IS REALIZED IN CHRIST.
1. Our Lord was "the King of righteousness." This was verified in his personal life, in which he fulfilled all righteousness, and
"In his life the Law appears
Drawn out in living characters."
He preached righteousness in the great congregation, and everywhere enforced it by the sanction and authority of his Father in heaven. He urged the claims of righteousness upon thought, word, and act; in the synagogue and the temple, and in all the intercourse of life. His death realized the idea of eternal righteousness in the condemnation of sin, and the provision of a way of salvation in which God could "be just, and the Justifier of him that believeth in Christ." All his subjects were to be righteous, and he led them to look for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness should forever dwell.
2. The next title which Melchizedek bore was" King of peace," and this was realized gloriously in the Savior. His Divine ministry produced peace by giving repentance, which is the rejection of unholy and rebellions thoughts, and our reconciliation to the thoughts of God. Then comes peace through his blood. There is peace from the constancy of his superintendence of his people, and the certainty of his efficient interest in their daily life, whereby he makes all things work together for their good. He will lead them forward until their peace shall be as a river, and their righteousness as the waves of the sea. He is our Peace, who brings men of all nations to the fold on the eternal hills, and there shall be one flock and. one Shepherd.—B.
Christ superior to Melchizedek.
I. THE GREATNESS OF OUR LORD IS FORESHADOWED BY MELCHIZEDEK'S RECEIVING TITHES FROM ABRAHAM. As the representative of Jehovah, Abraham paid tithes to this distinguished priest. There is here an instance of that corporate principle which appears in the writings of Paul, who affirms that by the sin of Adam there came upon the race spiritual loss and exposure to death; and by the appearance and glorious work of our Lord many are made righteous now, and obtain grace which reigns unto eternal life. Abraham here represents the Jewish people and the Jewish priesthood, who in the person of their illustrious ancestor acknowledges the authority of Melchizedek, who was the type of the Son of God. It was an impressive argument for the unrivalled glory of Christ as a Priest that the tribe of Levi paid tithes to him who foreshadowed him whose name is above every name. Reverting to the absence of all mention of Melchizedek's death on the sacred page, there is a contrast supplied between the Levites who receive tithes and die, but, as they pass through their ministry, pay tithes representatively to him of whom "it is witnessed that he liveth." Being once upon the right track, the writer discovers abundant proofs of the superiority of Christ to all the priesthood of the earthly temple, and finds the fulfillment of the words of him who promised the gift of the Holy Spirit in those memorable words, "He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you" (John 16:14).
II. THE SUPERIORITY OF CHRIST TYPIFIED BY MELCHIZEDEK'S OFFICIAL ACT OF BLESSING ABRAHAM. The object of this branch of the argument is to show the preeminence of the type, and consequently the glory of the Antitype. Melchizedek blessed Abraham (Genesis 14:19, Genesis 14:20) in an act of solemn prayer to the most high God. There is one ritual form of blessing which was pronounced by Aaron and his sons in these words: "The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace" (Numbers 6:24-26). The word "to bless," in Hebrew, is derived from a root which signifies" to bend the knee," and therefore to bow before him who invokes the blessing of Jehovah, which "maketh rich, and addeth no sorrow therewith." The less is blessed of the better in office, spiritual dignity, and connection with the resources of Heaven. The Hebrew Christians must see, as we may see, how arguments, illustrations, and typical events multiply to increase our confidence in him upon whose head are the many crowns of realized type, fulfilled prediction, and official glory. The last glimpse of our Lord's earthly life seems to give the finishing touch to this subject. "For it came to pass, while he blessed his disciples, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven" (Luke 24:51).—B.
A Divine priesthood.
I. THE DIVINE WISDOM JUSTIFIED BY THE APPOINTMENT OF A PRIEST AFTER THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK, The argument is, that if perfection had been realized by the Law of Moses there would have been no change in the methods of worship and the order of the ministry. It is not consistent with the wisdom of God to do and undo, and to repair imperfections and supply deficiencies by after-thoughts and supplementary arrangements. The true and Divine purpose of the Law of Moses was to prepare for something better. It was our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ. The Jews still cling to it as an unchangeable institution, and refuse to leave the wilderness of Sinai for the Canaan of gospel light and privilege. The prediction which referred to another Priest who should be after the order of Melchizedek was a proof that the Aaronic ministry was provisional, and therefore another order was necessary to harmonize with that reign of grace, unexampled wealth of privilege, and cheering prospects of eternal life which the gospel provides for sinful men. The change of dispensation is no proof of change in the mind of God, since the Jewish Law was a kind of parenthesis which gives meaning to revelations which went before and followed after; and the old tabernacle yields to the enduring fabric of grace against which "the gates of hell shall not prevail."
II. THE CHANGE OF PRIESTHOOD WAS NECESSARY FOR THE HARMONY AND CONSISTENCY OF DIVINE ARRANGEMENTS IN WORSHIP. It pleased God to act according to the counsel of his own will in the distribution of offices in the worship and national affairs of his ancient people Israel. No man was allowed to invade them who did not belong to the families and tribes which he chose to serve him. Hence the family of Levi was appointed to be priests, and members of the tribe of Judah were ordained to be kings over the nation. David, as a descendant from Judah, received many promises, and was permitted to enjoy prospects of the future dignity of his seed—in him who was "the Root and Offspring of David, and the bright and morning Star." But there is no word of promise that any of his tribe should minister at the altar and stand in the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement. Uzziah, one of the kings of the line of Judah, attempted to offer incense, and was in the presumptuous act smitten with leprosy, and was thrust, as an unclean person, from the temple courts (2 Chronicles 26:20). Moses laid down the law of the priesthood, and in none of the manifold details of priesthood, sacrifice, and worship, nor in any of the predictions of the future history of the tribes, is there any priestly appointment given to the family of Judah. The law must be changed. The new covenant must have its special and suitable ministry, and in the sphere of the gospels the dignity, sufficiency, and pre-eminence of Jesus Christ find their suitable exercise. It pleases God to put certain things together, and what "he hath joined, let no man put asunder."—B.
The increasing evidence of the appointment of our Lord to be an unchangeable Priest.
This is to be found in the Divine oracle proclaimed in the hundred and tenth psalm. The distinction of Christ's priesthood is seen in the difference which subsists in his Divine office from that which was held by men who were made priests after a carnal commandment, which had to do with ceremonials and material matters chiefly, and who were mortal, and resembled in the brevity of their life and earthly charge the institution of which they were ministers. Our Lord rises infinitely above the Jewish priesthood, because he is appointed "after the power of an endless life." St. John beheld him, in the visions of Patmos, in the splendor of his priestly office as the Shepherd and Bishop of souls, and heard him say, "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore." Amid all the changes of human affairs and the diversified experiences of his followers he is "the same yesterday, and today, and for ever."—B.
Hebrews 7:18, Hebrews 7:19
The weakness and unprofitableness of the commandment
was seen in its inability to cleanse the conscience from sin, and impart spiritual power to obey the moral Law. It was therefore removed and displaced, and publicly disannulled by the rending of the veil when our Lord died upon Calvary. The whole Law, priesthood, and sacrifices were treated as the brazen serpent in the wilderness when it had answered the end of its appointment in the healing of those who, through their murmuring, had been bitten and were exposed to death under the frown of Jehovah. It is not consistent with Divine wisdom and love to maintain a useless institution like Judaism when a better covenant, a nobler Priest, and a holier Sacrifice have been appointed for the salvation of mankind. While the Law made nothing perfect it had its uses, for it prepared the way for the introduction of a better hope than that which believers had before the appointment of Christ to be High Priest over the house of God. In the previous parts of this Epistle there are impressive allusions to the privilege of drawing near to the throne of grace, and the contrast is suggested between the remoteness in which worshippers stood in past days and the near and filial approach of those who draw nigh through Christ. Herein is the saying true, "The Law came by Moses; but grace and truth by Jesus Christ." To draw near to God now is for our dark and perplexed understandings to approach the Father of lights; and for our weak and faltering nature to lay hold of that strength which makes us mount up with wings as eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint.—B.
The Divine Priest.
I. THE PRE-EMINENCE OF OUR LORD'S PRIESTHOOD ATTESTED BY THE SOLEMNITY OF HIS APPOINTMENT. The priests of the Mosaic Law were placed in their office by an act of the Divine will, and the order of their consecration was prescribed by the lawgiver, who probably superintended the process which fitted them to enter upon their duties. There was no oath proclaimed on the occasion. When Christ was appointed there was an oath, which was conveyed to the knowledge of the Church by David, the royal prophet. This oath declared the fixed and unchangeable purpose of God, that whatever else might change, the office of the high priesthood of Christ should never be abrogated. "For ever his word is settled in heaven." It is only on occasions of special solemnity that oaths are takes by men when they assume weighty and important offices. They are used at coronations of monarchs, and the appointment of judges and others who undertake to administer faithfully the charges which they assume. God condescends to engage by oath for the permanence and glory of the priesthood of Christ that he shall be a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Here we see the loving care of God to invite and justify our trust in his dear Son. It is a vast and large confidence which he claims, and includes the rejection of all other confidences; our surrender to Christ of our understanding, will, and affections; our influence, time, and property; our present and the vast future; and, as the demand is large, there is all evidence and provision to make our trust in the High Priest a reasonable service. He is appointed by oath, and is the Surety of a better covenant; and so there is a proportion and harmony between the Surety and the covenant itself. In the scheme of redemption God hath abounded in all wisdom and prudence. The new wine is put into new bottles, and the consistency of all arrangements for our redemption proves that all things are of God.
II. THE AUTHORIZATION OF THE PRIESTHOOD. If any man had dared to approach Jehovah in the solemnities of worship without his express appointment, he would have been punished for his presumption. This is proved by the history of Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:16). It is said of this king that his heart was lifted up, and, against the remonstrances of the priests, he would offer incense, and so combine the dignity of the priesthood and royalty in himself. "Pride went before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall," and he was confined as a leper until the day of his death. The vocation and appointment of Aaron were disputed by the Reubenites who had lost the priesthood, and the Levites who were ambitious of higher dignity; and the case was decided by the punishment of the revolters, and the miraculous foliage, blossoms, and fruit of Aaron's rod. Jesus Christ has the high and supreme authority of Jehovah for his appointment, and the writer quotes the second psalm, which predicts the regal glory of the Son, who was "of the seed of David according to the flesh; but was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:3, Romans 1:4). Then follows a quotation from another Messianic psalm, which declares that he is a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. The order of Aaron was too narrow and too imperfect to shadow forth the unrivalled dignity and worth of him who is now set over the house of God. This latter type will reappear for further discussion, and therefore we rest upon this declaration of the eternal will which appoints the Redeemer to be the High Priest for the race of mankind. It is the will of God, which is declared in solemn prophecy; and if he speaks, it is done; "he commands, and it stands fast."
III. THE CONSECRATION OF CHRIST TO HIS DIVINE OFFICE AS A PRIEST. The consecration of Aaron and the priests of the Mosaic Law was very elaborate and impressive, but was unaccompanied with any distress of mind and suffering of the flesh. The sonship of our Lord was eternal, and as a Son he came from heaven to assume our nature and pass through a career of sorrow and bitter experience, that he might learn and prove his obedience to his Father. "He took upon him the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death." As he approached the close of his public ministry the agonies of his soul began to multiply in number and increase in intensity. His prayer in Gethsemane was probably present to the mind of the writer, where he was sorrowful even unto death, and implored, if it were possible, "that the cup might pass from him." He uttered his prayers with strong crying and tears. The usual manner of our Lord's teaching was quiet and gentle, for he did not lift up his voice nor cause it to be heard in the streets; but in the dire and inscrutable distress which came upon him, like Jacob in his mysterious wrestling, he wept and made supplication. He was heard on account of his godly fear or piety. It may be—for we would he cautious and reverential—that he was saved from death in Gethsemane, where he sweat "as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground," by the ministry of a mighty angel like Gabriel or Michael; or that he was delivered from the insupportable fear of the death of shame and agony which lay before him on Calvary. He was heard for his piety, and came off more than a conqueror. Whatever mystery surrounds this solemn fact, the lesson is obvious that disciples must learn obedience in imitation of their Master; that, having overcome, they may sit down with him in his throne. "Through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom." Having borne the sorrow, he has obtained the joy that was set before him, and being now consecrated by his sufferings and death, he is perfectly fitted for his mediatorial office, and becomes the Author of eternal salvation to all his obedient followers, and leads them onward to the glory of an immortal life. This is the highest and most glorious illustration of the methods of that grace which was seen in the life of Joseph, into whose soul the iron entered, whom the word of the Lord tried; but afterwards he shone in the light of wisdom, became the savior of millions from the pangs of famine and death, kept alive the chosen seed, and prepared for the higher revelations of Horeb and Calvary. To obviate any doubts which might arise from so profound a humiliation on the part of Jesus Christ, it is repeated that he was "called of God a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek."—B.
The immortal priesthood of Christ enhanced by weighty considerations.
The first is that the ancient priesthood passed through many hands, in which fact there were some obvious disadvantages. Some priests were so neglectful of their office that the prophet had to become a preacher of righteousness. All preachers had to pass through a process of education to gain fitness for their ministry; others were priests when there was no temple, no altar, and no holy of holies. Death came to them in turn, and lifted the miter from the brow, the breastplate from the breast, and closed the lips which pronounced the priestly benediction. The second consideration is that our Lord has an unchangeable appointment, because death has no power over him now that he has taken his life again. There is no death in the sublime sphere of his ministry. He can say, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" The value of this unfailing life is that it is devoted to the work of salvation. He is able to save to the uttermost by superintending the personal life of his followers, and supplying them with Christian peace and spiritual power, and by keeping before their minds his idea of salvation. He can infuse his own precious life through their souls, and lead through the paths of fellowship with God, evangelical obedience, and gracious discipline, until they are saved to the uttermost and attain to the resurrection of the dead. This is associated with his intercession, of which we have a sublime and affecting example in the seventeenth chapter of St. John's Gospel. If others condemn, he makes intercession. If others neglect or persecute, he is their friend in the presence of God. If his people are in the outer court engaged in prayer, he is within the veil to offer acceptable incense. By his undecaying life he quietly pursues his own plans; and by the constancy of his ministry he gives a unity to his people of various communions, places of abode, and ages of time, who thus become one in Christ Jesus.—B.
The two priesthoods: a contrast.
I. THE EXALTED AND PERFECT CHARACTER OF CHRIST IS CONTRASTED WITH THAT OF THE PRIESTS OF THE OLD LAW. There was a Divine fitness in the appointment of our Lord, because, as we learn from the evangelists, he was holy, and full of love to God; and so pure that the temptations of Satan and the wickedness of an" adulterous generation" never sullied his nature. He was harmless, and Pilate asked the question, "Why, what evil hath he done?" In our Lord there was no need of a sin offering to repair his relations to God. Angels who have never left their first estate need no sin offerings, for they have never transgressed the Divine Law. By the perfect purity of Christ's nature he was lifted above the level of the necessities of sinful men, and he consequently required no atonement for himself. Had he been imperfect, and his sacrifice of limited power, he must have suffered daily to remove the daily accumulation of sin. This is needless; for by one holy oblation, in which all the blessing redounds to men, he has provided an atonement which, like an inexhaustible fountain of grace, flows day and night, century after century, to wash away sin and produce Divine peace in the hearts of men.
II. ANOTHER IMPRESSIVE CONTRAST IS ADDUCED BETWEEN THE LORD JESUS AND THE PRIESTS OF THE LAW. The descendants of Aaron are described as having infirmity, which denotes the weakness, instability, and frailty of their nature. It points probably to something more serious, and may allude to the serious deficiencies and imperfections of their moral character. Some of them were grievously unmindful of the responsibility of their office, and allowed alien altars and idolatrous worship to defile the temple of Jehovah. The last traces of the priesthood in the pages of Holy Scripture present the unlovely portraits of Caiaphas, Annas, and others. To these men the writer does not allude by name, though the Christians who read the Epistle might feel the awful force of the reference, and say, "How is the fine gold changed!" The high priest delivered Christ to Pilate, and had the greater sin. The word of the oath appoints our Lord, who was consecrated and made perfect through sufferings; and therefore, over against the weak, sinful, and unworthy priesthood of mortal men, the Divine Son stands in the glory of his character and permanence and effects of ministry.—B.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The priesthood forever after the order of Melchizedek.
It is evident that the whole of this elaborate argument with respect to Melchizedek must be looked at in the light of the reference to Psalms 110:1-7. In quoting this psalm, the writer was on firm ground so far as his readers were concerned. They would not repudiate the significance of this utterance, that it must have some weighty, practical meaning; and it was his to show them what that meaning was, and so to cheer their hearts amid what so distressed them—the thought of having to give up entirely the ordinances of Judaism. There are the two orders of priesthood: the order of Aaron, and the order of Melchizedek. To the first of these the people attached great moment, and rightly so. The priest was a depositary of sacrificial commandments and practices, the temporary and defective nature of which were hidden by their long continuance. To use the common saying, "Possession was nine points of the law," and so it was needful to make them see very clearly how there was another order of priesthood, with more stability and power of service in it than anything the Aaronic priesthood could show. The Aaronic service, by showing its own insufficiency, was doing its best to prepare for the service after the order of Melchizedek. As to who Melchizedek really was, it is vain to inquire; and it is less needful to know because it is the office and not the man that is in question. Indeed, our very ignorance is part of the fitness of the type. Mysterious in his origin and his destiny, starting up all at once and as quickly disappearing, of whom we know nothing more than that he was a king and himself a priest, he becomes a very fitting type of that Priest who will never lay down his office while priesthood is needed. The abiding character of the priesthood of Jesus is the one great truth that we are to learn from all this comparison between Melchizedek and Aaron. The whole of this chapter was of supreme importance at the time, and it may still have a large part to play in the bringing of Jews to Jesus; but it can hardly be pretended that it has the same importance to us.—Y.
The power of an endless life.
We have here illustrated—
I. THE FEEBLENESS OF THAT WHICH DEPENDS UPON THE FLESH. Here the particular institution is that of priesthood; but the truth obtains with regard to all institutions dependent on the limits of fleshly human nature and the faculties of fallen human nature. The law of the Jewish priesthood was a law that had to take particular notice of the limitations of human life. The office was held by a man whose term of office at the longest was but brief, and his death had to be prepared for, and his successor duly initiated. That successor was a son, and who should say what sort of man he would turn out? There are certain things law can do and certain other things it cannot do. A law could be made setting apart a tribe for holy service, and a family for priestly service; but there the power stopped. No law can secure character. No law can secure willing, hearty, devoted service. Indeed, there might even be a show of fairness in men belonging to the tribe of Levi saying, "Why should we be tied down, willing or unwilling, to this work of the altar?" Note how power is contrasted in this verse with law, as much as to intimate the necessary feebleness of law. Its very strength in one direction helps to constitute its feebleness in another. It has nothing to fall back upon but the caprices and fluctuations of natural character. It brings to men knowledge, indeed; but, bringing that, brings only too often little but exasperation, irritation, depression. How many things there are in which the law of the fleshly commandment fails! The good king is succeeded by the bad one. The father uses his possession wisely; the son comes in to squander, neglect, and alienate. The father makes a fortune through frugality and industry; the son scatters it all to the winds.
II. THE CONTRASTED POWER OF THE ENDLESS LIFE. The Aaronic priest stands as the great representative of service limited by the necessary boundaries of human nature. Jesus stands forward as One whose service is unlimited save by the negligence or the unbelief of those whom he seeks to save. My fellow-man can only serve me as long as he is in the world, and even while in the world he may be cramped in many ways so that his service becomes an almost ineffectual thing. But Jesus has an endless, that is an indissoluble life. Duration is not the only thing to be thought of. There might be an immense duration of comparative uselessness. To say that the life is indissoluble means that its fullness continues unimpaired in the slightest degree. It is not a matter of ebbings and flowings; summer fullness of sap, and winter subsidence. Wherever we find death in the service of the brother man, we find life in the service of the Man Christ Jesus. It is so in his priesthood; so in his kingship; so in his teaching; so in his ministry.—Y.
Hebrews 7:18, Hebrews 7:19
The Law failing, the gospel succeeding.
It is very necessary here to turn from the ordinary version to the revised one, for the ordinary version utterly hides the antithesis which is the very essence of the meaning. On one side there is a disannulling of the Mosaic commandment with respect to priesthood, but on the other side there is the bringing in of a better hope. These two elements of the antithesis have, therefore, to be separately considered.
I. THE DISANNULLING OF THE FLESHLY COMMANDMENT. "The fleshly commandment," as it is called in Hebrews 7:16. A reason is given for the disannulling: The changes in the Divine economy are never arbitrary. Reasons are not always given for these changes; but when we can understand them they are given, and thus we are helped to believe in the wisdom of changes which we have not knowledge enough to understand. The reason has a twofold aspect. A general principle is stated, and there is a particular illustration of it. The general principle is that the Law makes nothing perfect, completes nothing; the particular illustration is found in the weakness and uselessness of the commandment which called into existence the Aaronic priesthood, No institution can plead a commandment of God for its existence when it has manifestly lost its use. The commandment was useless because it was weak; and then the uselessness reacted on the weakness and made it weaker still. Men ceased to look to the priesthood for any good and helpful thing, though the priesthood kept its formal place, because there was nothing as yet to act as a substitute. Then the question may be asked—Why give a commandment which was weak and useless? The answer lies in that word "foregoing." That which goes before implies something coming after. The Law was weak and useless for certain things, but not, therefore, weak and useless for all things. The Law came like light shining on human spiritual darkness, revealing dilapidation and corruption, and there it stopped; it showed the thing needing to be done, and in the very showing indicated how some agency would come in due time to do it.
II. THE INTRODUCTION OF THE BETTER HOPE. One notices a change of term here as in Hebrews 7:16. There we read of the former priest according to the law of a fleshly commandment, and the new abiding Priest according to the power of an indissoluble life. So here, that which is put away is a commandment; that which is brought in is a hope. The old commandment, weak and useless, left men in despair as far as their natural faculties were concerned. The new Priest steps upon the scene, needing no commandment. His functions are the appropriate outcome of the fullness of his life. And, coming among men, he comes as the visible immediate stimulator of hope. Manifestly he has relations with God, channels of connection with the Infinite Purity, such as not all the sum of Aaronic priests taken together had. As men drew near to some of the old priests, steeped in selfishness, pride, arrogance, they veritably drew nearer to the devil from whom it behooved them to flee; but drawing near to Jesus it was not possible that they should do anything else than in the same movement draw near to God.—Y.
The Priest made separate from sinners.
I. THE DIFFERENCE IN THIS RESPECT BETWEEN THE PRIESTHOOD OF JESUS AND THE PRIESTHOOD OF AARON. The Aaronic priest was also made separate from sinners; but he was only separated officially. The separation lay in nothing more than natural descent and the wearing of priestly vestments. The Aaronic priest indicated in a feeble symbolic way what a true priest ought to be. In course of time, indeed, he might become separated from sinners in a way not to be desired, fenced round by an artificial sanctity, and superstitiously regarded as if he had in him nothing less than the Power of heaven and hell. But Jesus comes separated by nature, character, and by many outward manifestations of these things. The nearness of Jesus to men has already been insisted on; how he is a partaker of flesh and blood; how he is in all points tempted as men are. And what is then stated, in a collateral way, so that it may not be forgotten, is now, at the proper place, brought out and put to the front. Jesus is nearer to the universal man than any priest could be; but while so near there is a separation that goes to the very depths of being. This is what gives him his unique power. Moving among men, he hears their cries and prayers, sees their need; but he receives no infection from their narrowness, selfishness, degrading thoughts. Evil passes before him, but only to stir up into greatest activity his sympathy with those who suffer from the evil; that evil prevails not in the least over his own affections.
II. THE PRACTICAL RESULTS TO US OF THIS DIFFERENCE.
1. His power to keep us is always manifest. It is impossible to read about Jesus, to contemplate him in any attribute whatever, without being struck with the two united aspects of his person: first, association with us; and secondly, difference from us. We are drawn close to him because of the manifold fullness of his humanity; and then being drawn, we are made to feel how strong his hand is, and what a perennial Fountain of assistance and blessedness he becomes.
2. We have always some one to look at, to lift us above cynical thoughts of mankind. How easy it is to get into a way of saying that human nature is a very poor thing at its best! We cannot get the flaws and meanness of even good men out of our recollection. Now here is the separated Man, the great High Priest, to show what a glorious thing human nature is when we can see it in its full purity. Jesus is not only pure himself, but he can purify the medium through which he is beheld. Those who come to see Jesus as he is, learn to think better and more hopefully both of themselves and others.
3. The ideal is given which we are to seek and to reach. The great High Priest stands in the midst of sinful men to whom he ministers, for the most practical purpose of making them like himself. He is separated from sinners in order that sinners, being transformed and perfected, may not be separated from him. When the ideal and real meet in one person, then the better hope is indeed brought in.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Hebrews 7". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany