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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
Bible Study Resources
Nave's Topical Bible - Blood; Inheritance; Jesus, the Christ; Law; Suffering; Testament; Will; The Topic Concordance - Sacrifice; Torrey's Topical Textbook - Covenant, the;
Verse 16. For where a testament is — A learned and judicious friend furnishes me with the following translation of this and the 17th verse:-
"For where there is a covenant, it is necessary that the death of the appointed victim should be exhibited, because a covenant is confirmed over dead victims, since it is not at all valid while the appointed victim is alive."
He observes, "There is no word signifying testator, or men, in the original. διαθεμενος is not a substantive, but a participle, or a participial adjective, derived from the same root as διατηκη, and must have a substantive understood. I therefore render it the disposed or appointed victim, alluding to the manner of disposing or setting apart the pieces of the victim, when they were going to ratify a covenant; and you know well the old custom of ratifying a covenant, to which the apostle alludes. I refer to your own notes on Genesis 6:18, and Genesis 15:10.-J. C."
Mr. Wakefield has translated the passage nearly in the same way.
"For where a covenant is, there must be necessarily introduced the death of that which establisheth the covenant; because a covenant is confirmed over dead things, and is of no force at all whilst that which establisheth the covenant is alive." This is undoubtedly the meaning of this passage; and we should endeavour to forget that testament and testator were ever introduced, as they totally change the apostle's meaning. See the observations at the end of this chapter.
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:16". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/hebrews-9.html. 1832.
Sacrifice under the old covenant (9:15-22)
Under the old covenant, repentant sinners offered sacrifices for their sins, but the sacrifices themselves could not bring forgiveness. They brought no more than ceremonial cleansing. The actual cleansing of those sins depended on the sacrifice of Christ. Whether sins were committed before the time of Christ or after, the death of Christ is the basis on which God forgives them. Through Christ, God has made a new covenant, and the inheritance he promises under this covenant is one of total and eternal forgiveness (15).
An inheritance can be received only after the death of the person who promised it. So also people can receive forgiveness of sins only through the death of Christ (16-17). Events at the making of the old covenant point to the necessity of Christ’s death for the making of the new covenant. The old covenant was established with sacrifices, though the ritual of killing animals and sprinkling blood was more than just a dramatic way of swearing to keep the covenant. It signified also the removal of past sin, so that Israel entered the covenant cleansed (18-21; cf. Exodus 24:3,Exodus 24:6-8). The principle of cleansing through sacrifice was basic to the old covenant (22).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:16". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/hebrews-9.html. 2005.
For where a testament is, there must of necessity be the death of him that made it. For a testament is of force where there hath been death: for it doth never avail while he that made it liveth.
THE TESTAMENT (WILL) OF CHRIST
The word "testament" in these two verses comes from the same word translated "covenant" everywhere else in Hebrews; and since there are some facts related to wills that do not relate to covenants, the commentators have generally been at a loss to know how to treat this interjection of a drastically new thought. Of course, the Greek word from which both of these renditions comes means either; and the author of Hebrews is well within his rights to make a digression of the kind noted here. His doing so strongly reminds one of Paul and his custom of seizing upon a word or a phrase for a parenthetical development of it apart from his main line of thought. This appears to be exactly the case here. The parenthetical thought that flashed upon the author's mind came as a result of that other meaning of the word for "covenant" which he had been using; and it was suggested by the mention of a death that had "taken place" for the redemption of the sins under the law. Then, departing for the moment from his main argument, and seizing upon the alternate meaning of the word, which is "testament," he made an independent argument for the absolute necessity of Christ's death within the framework of the alternate meaning.
Since Christ is the heir of all things (Hebrews 1:2), people may inherit, therefore, only if Christ died; but he did die. And think of the benefits that accrue to people in this. Lenski has a perceptive paragraph on this subject, as follows:
It becomes still clearer here why Christ is called the mediator of a testament. God made him the Heir, and thus through him alone who owns everything, through him and through his death as the testator, do we inherit as heirs. Although all comes from God, none of it reaches us save through Christ as the medium (Mediator), the middle link, the testator for us, whose death gives to us, his heirs, the great eternal inheritance ... It is misleading to press these human terms, which convey the divine facts, so that these facts become blurred and distorted. The human testator dies and remains dead, his property is conveyed to heirs who in turn die; successive generations of heirs step into the shoes of their predecessors. Our Mediator-Testator died and thereby made us joint-heirs with him, heirs who never die so that their inheritance might be lost to them. The word "eternal" which is used in verses Hebrews 9:2,4 and Hebrews 9:15 is not repeated and emphasized for naught.
The use of the word "testament" in these verses is the source of an incidental revelation for which people may be truly thankful. It furnishes an independent view of the entire concept of eternal life in Christ, a view which makes the eternal inheritance to be, in a sense, on a parity with receiving a bequest from some person who has left it in his will for another. Such is the import of the word "testament" as used here. The terms of any will become binding only upon the death of the person making it; and they do not limit or impede in any way the free use of the testator's property BEFORE his death. This sublime fact is precisely the reason why no person may claim forgiveness of his sins through a mere act of faith, as did a certain woman (Luke 7:50), or like the thief on the cross, for example. The testator had not then died; and the conditions under which it was prescribed how all people might inherit were not announced as yet. The value of this in understanding the preconditions of salvation is past all calculation. If people would inherit through Christ, who is the heir of all things, let them discover what his plenary representatives, the apostles of Christ, announced after his death as the binding terms of the testament, and obey them, meet those conditions; nor should they rely upon isolated and individual instances of Christ's redemptive favor in which, prior to his death, salvation was conferred upon persons such as the thief on the cross and the certain woman already mentioned. To make such prior examples (prior to his death) any solid basis for determining how people are saved now, after Christ's death, is a very hurtful error.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:16". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/hebrews-9.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
For where a testament is - This is the same word - διαθήκη diathēkē - which in Hebrews 8:6, is rendered “covenant.” For the general signification of the word, see note on that verse. There is so much depending, however, on the meaning of the word, not only in the interpretation of this passage, but also of other parts of the Bible, that it may be proper to explain it here more at length. The word - διαθήκη diathēkē - occurs in the New Testament thirty-three times. It is translated “covenant” in the common version, in Luke 1:72; Acts 3:25; Acts 7:8; Romans 9:4; Romans 11:27; Galatians 3:15, Galatians 3:17; Galatians 4:24; Ephesians 2:12; Hebrews 8:6, Hebrews 8:9, “twice,” Hebrews 8:10; Hebrews 9:4, “twice,” Hebrews 10:16; Hebrews 12:24; Hebrews 13:20. In the remaining places it is rendered “testament;” Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2Co 3:6, 2 Corinthians 3:14; Hebrews 7:22; Hebrews 9:15-17, Hebrews 9:20; Revelation 11:19. In four of those instances (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20, and 1 Corinthians 11:25), it is used with reference to the institution or celebration of the Lord’s Supper. In the Septuagint it occurs not far from 300 times, in considerably more than 200 times of which it is the translation of the Hebrew word בּרית beriyt.
In one instance Zechariah 11:14 it is the translation of the word “brotherhood;” once Deuteronomy 9:5, of דּבר daabaar - “word;” once Jeremiah 11:2, of “words of the covenant;” once Leviticus 26:11), of “tabernacle;” once Exodus 31:7, of “testimony;” it occurs once Ezekiel 20:37, where the reading of the Greek and Hebrew text is doubtful; and it occurs three times 1Sa 11:2; 1 Samuel 20:8; 1 Kings 8:9, where there is no corresponding word in the Hebrew text. From this use of the word by the authors of the Septuagint, it is evident that they regarded it as the proper translation of the Hebrew - בּרית beriyt, and as conveying the same sense which that word does. It cannot be reasonably doubted that the writers of the New Testament were led to the use of the word, in part, at least, by the fact that they found it occurring so frequently in the version in common use, but it cannot be doubted also that they regarded it as fairly conveying the sense of the word בּרית beriyt. On no principle can it be supposed that inspired and honest people would use a word in referring to transactions in the Old Testament which did not “fairly” convey the idea which the writers of the Old Testament meant to express. The use being thus regarded as settled, there are some “facts” in reference to it which are of great importance in interpreting the New Testament, and in understanding the nature of the “covenant” which God makes with man. These facts are the following:
(1) The word διαθήκη diathēkē - “diatheke” - is not what properly denotes “compact, agreement,” or “covenant.” That word is συνθήκη sunthēkē - “syntheke” or in other forms σύνθεσις sunthesis and συνθεσίας sunthesias; or if the word “diatheke” is used in that signification it is only remotely, and as a secondary meaning; see “Passow;” compare the Septuagint in Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 30:1; Daniel 11:6, and Wisdom Daniel 1:16; Daniel 1:0 Macc. 10:26; 2 Macc. 13:25; 14:26. It is not the word which a “Greek” would have employed to denote a “compact” or “covenant.” He would have employed it to denote a “disposition, ordering,” or “arrangement” of things, whether of religious rites, civil customs, or property; or if used with reference to a compact, it would have been with the idea of an “arrangement,” or “ordering” of matters, not with the primary notion of an agreement with another.
(2) The word properly expressive of a “covenant” or “compact” - συνθήκη sunthēkē - is “never” used in the New Testament. In all the allusions to the transactions between God and man, this word never occurs. From some cause, the writers and speakers in the New Testament seem to have supposed that the word would leave an impression which they did not wish to leave. Though it might have been supposed that in speaking of the various transactions between God and man they would have selected this word, yet with entire uniformity they have avoided it. No one of them - though the word διαθήκη diathēkē - “diatheke” - has been used by no less than six of them - has been betrayed in a single instance into the use of the word συνθήκη sunthēkē - “syntheke,” or has differed from the other writers in the language employed. This cannot be supposed to be the result of concert or collusion, but it must have been founded on some reason which operated equally on all their minds.
(3) In like manner, and with like remarkable uniformity, the word συνθήκη sunthēkē - syntheke - is “never” used in the Septuagint with reference to any arrangement or “covenant” between God and man. Once indeed in the Apocrypha, and but once, it is used in that sense. In the three only other instances in which it occurs in the Septuagint, it is with reference to compacts between man and man; Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 30:1; Daniel 11:6. This remarkable fact that the authors of that version never use the word to denote any transaction between God and man, shows that there must have been some reason for it which acted on their minds with entire uniformity.
(4) It is no less remarkable that neither in the Septuagint nor the New Testament is the word διαθήκη diathēkē - “diatheke” - “ever” used in the sense of “will” or “testament,” unless it be in the case before us. This is conceded on all hands, and is expressly admitted by Prof. Stuart; (Com. on Heb. p. 439), though he defends this use of the word in this passage. - A very important inquiry presents itself here, which has never received a solution generally regarded as satisfactory. It is, why the word διαθήκη diathēkē - “diatheke” - was selected by the writers of the New Testament to express the nature of the transaction between God and man in the plan of salvation. It might be said indeed that they found this word uniformly used in the Septuagint, and that they employed it as expressing the idea which they wished to convey, with sufficient accuracy. But this is only removing the difficulty one step further back.
Why did the Septuagint adopt this word? Why did they not rather use the common and appropriate Greek word to express the notion of a covenant? A suggestion on this subject has already been made in the notes on Hebrews 8:6; compare Bib. Repository vol. xx. p. 55. Another reason may, however, be suggested for this remarkable fact which is liable to no objection. It is, that in the apprehension of the authors of the Septuagint, and of the writers of the New Testament, the word διαθήκη diathēkē - “diatheke” - in its original and proper signification “fairly” conveyed the sense of the Hebrew word בּרית beriyt, and that the word συνθήκη sunthēkē - or “compact, agreement,” would “not” express that; and “that they never meant to be understood as conveying the idea either that God entered into a compact or covenant with man, or that he made a will.” They meant to represent; him as making “an arrangement, a disposition, an ordering” of things, by which his service might be kept up among his people, and by which people might be saved; but they were equally remote from representing him as making a “compact,” or a “will.” In support of this there may be alleged.
(1) The remarkable uniformity in which the word διαθήκη diathēkē - “diatheke” - is used, showing that there was some “settled principle” from which they never departed; and,
(2) It is used mainly as the meaning of the word itself. Prof. Stuart has, undoubtedly, given the accurate original sense of the word. “The real, genuine, and original meaning of διαθήκη diathēkē (diatheke) is, “arrangement, disposition,” or “disposal” of a thing.” P. 440. The word from which it is derived - διατίθημι diatithēmi - means to place apart or asunder; and then to set, arrange, dispose in a certain order. “Passow.” From this original signification is derived the use which the word has with singular uniformity in the Scriptures. It denotes the “arrangment, disposition,” or “ordering” of things which God made in relation to mankind, by which he designed to keep up his worship on earth, and to save the soul. It means neither covenant nor will; neither compact nor legacy; neither agreement nor testament. It is an “arrangement” of an entirely different order from either of them, and the sacred writers with an uniformity which could have been secured only by the presiding influence of the One Eternal Spirit, have avoided the suggestion that God made with man either a “compact” or a “will.”
We have no word which precisely expresses this idea, and hence, our conceptions are constantly floating between a “compact” and a “will,” and the views which we have are as unsettled as they are. unscriptural. The simple idea is, that God has made an “arrangement” by which his worship may be celebrated and souls saved. Under the Jewish economy this arrangement assumed one form; under the Christian another. In neither was it a compact or covenant between two parties in such a sense that one party would be at liberty to reject the terms proposed; in neither was it a testament or will, as if God had left a legacy to man, but in both there were some things in regard to the arrangement such as are found in a covenant or compact. One of those things - equally appropriate to a compact between man and man and to this arrangement, the apostle refers to here - that it implied in all cases the death of the victim.
If these remarks are well-founded, they should be allowed materially to shape our views in the interpretation of the Bible. Whole treatises of divinity have been written on a mistaken view of the meaning of this word - understood as meaning “covenant.” Volumes of angry controversy have been published on the nature of the “covenant” with Adam, and on its influence on his posterity. The only literal “covenant” which can he supposed in the plan of redemption is that between the Father and the Son - though even the existence of such a covenant is rather the result of devout and learned imagining than of any distinct statement in the volume of inspiration. The simple statement there is, that God has made an arrangement for salvation, the execution of which he has entrusted to his Son, and has proposed it to man to be accepted as the only arrangement by which man can be saved, and which he is not at liberty to disregard.
There has been much difference of opinion in reference to the meaning of the passage here, and to the design of the illustration introduced. If the word used - διαθήκη diathēkē - means “testament,” in the sense of a “will,” then the sense of that passage is that “a will is of force only when he who made it dies, for it relates to a disposition of his property after his death.” The force of the remark of the apostle then would be, that the fact that the Lord Jesus made or expressed his “will” to mankind, implied that he would die to confirm it; or that since in the ordinary mode of making a will, it was of force only when he who made it was dead, therefore it was necessary that the Redeemer should die, in order to confirm and ratify what he made. But the objections to this, which appears to have been the view of our translators, seem to me to be insuperable. They are these:
(1)The word διαθήκη diathēkē - “diatheke” - is not used in this sense in the New Testament elsewhere; see the remarks above.
(2)The Lord Jesus made no such will. He had no property, and the commandments and instructions which he gave to his disciples were not of the nature of a will or testament.
(3)Such an illustration would not be pertinent to the design of the apostle, or in keeping with his argument.
He is comparing the Jewish and Christian dispensations, and the point of comparison in this chapter relates to the question about the efficacy of sacrifice in the two arrangements. He showed that the arrangement for blood-shedding by sacrifice entered into both; that the high priest of both offered blood as an expiation; that the holy place was entered with blood, and that consequently there was death in both the arrangements, or dispensations. The former arrangement or dispensation was ratified with blood, and it was equally proper that the new arrangement should be also. The point of comparison is not that Moses made a will or testament which could be of force only when he died, and that the same thing was required in the new dispensation, but it is that the former covenant was “ratified by blood,” or “by the death of a victim,” and that it might be expected that the new dispensation would be confirmed, and that it was in fact confirmed in the same manner. In this view of the argument, what pertinency would there be in introducing an illustration respecting a will, and the manner in which it became efficient; compare notes on Hebrews 9:18. It seems clear, therefore, to me, that the word rendered “testament” here is to be taken in the sense in which it is ordinarily used in the New Testament. The opinion that the word here means such a divine arrangement as is commonly denoted a “covenant,” and not testament, is sanctioned by not a few names of eminence in criticism, such as Pierce, Doddridge, Michaelis, Steudel, and the late Dr. John P. Wilson. Bloomfield says that the connection here demands this. The principal objections to this view are:
(1)That it is not proved that no covenants or compacts were valid except such as were made by the intervention of sacrifices.
(2)That the word rendered “testator” - διαθεμενος diathemenos - cannot refer to the death of an animal slain for the purpose of ratifying a covenant, but must mean either a “testator,” or a “contractor,” that is, one of two contracting parties.
(3)That the word rendered “dead” Hebrews 9:17 - νεκροῖς nekrois - means only “dead men,” and never is applied to the dead bodies of animals; (see Stuart on the Hebrew, p. 442.)
These objections to the supposition that the passage refers to a covenant or compact, Prof. Stuart says are in his view insuperable, and they are certainly entitled to grave consideration. Whether the view above presented is one which can be sustained, we may be better able to determine after an examination of the words and phrases which the apostle uses. Those objections which depend wholly on the “philological” argument derived from the words used, will be considered of course in such an examination. It is to be remembered at the outset:
(1)That the word διαθήκη diathēkē - “diatheke” - is never used in the New Testament in the sense of “testament,” or “will,” unless in this place;
(2)That it is never used in this sense in the Septuagint; and,
(3)That the Hebrew word בּרית beriyt - “never” has this signification. This is admitted; see Stuart on the Heb. pp. 439, 440. It must require very strong reasons to prove that it has this meaning here, and that Paul has employed the word in a sense differing from its uniform signification elsewhere in the Bible; compare, however, the remarks of Prof. Stuart in Bib. Repos. vol. xx. p. 364.
There must also of necessity be - ἀνάγκη anagkē - That is, it is necessary in order to confirm the covenant, or it would not be binding in cases where this did not occur. The “necessity” in the case is simply to make it valid or obligatory. So we say now there must “necessarily” be a “seal,” or a deed would not be valid. The fair interpretation of this is, that this was the common and established custom in making a “covenant” with God, or confirming the arrangement with him in regard to salvation. To this it is objected (see the first objection above), that “it is yet to be made out that no covenants were valid execpt those by the intervention of sacrifices.” In reply to this, we may observe:
(1) That the point to be made out is not that this was a custom in compacts between “man and man,” but between “man and his Maker.” There is no evidence, as it seems to me, that the apostle alludes to a compact between man and man. The mistake on this subject has arisen partly from the use of the word “testament” by our translators, in the sense of “will” - supposing that it must refer to some transaction relating to man only; and partly from the insertion of the word “men” in Hebrews 9:17, in the translation of the phrase - ἐπὶ νεκροῖς epi nekrois - “upon the dead,” or” over the dead.” But it is not necessary to suppose that there is a reference here to any transaction between man and man at all, as the whole force of the illustration introduced by the apostle will be retained if we suppose him speaking “only” of a covenant between man and God. Then his assertion will be simply that in the arrangement between God and man there was a “necessity” of the death of something, or of the shedding of blood in order to ratify it. This view will save the necessity of proof that the custom of ratifying compacts between man and man by sacrifice prevailed. Whether that can be made out or not, the assertion of the apostle may be true, that in the arrangement which God makes with man, sacrifice was necessary in order to confirm or ratify it.
(2) The point to be made out is, not that such a custom is or was universal among all nations, but that it was the known and regular opinion among the Hebrews that a sacrifice was necessary in a “covenant” with God, in the same way as if we should say that a deed was not valid without a seal, it would not be necessary to show this in regard to all nations, but only that it is the law or the custom in the nation where the writer lived, and at the time when he lived. Other nations may have very different modes of confirming or ratifying a deed, and the same nation may have different methods at various times. The fact or custom to which I suppose there is allusion here, is that of sacrificing an animal to ratify the arrangement between man and his Maker, commonly called a “covenant.” In regard to the existence of such a custom, particularly among the Hebrews, we may make the following observations.
It was the common mode of ratifying the “covenant” between God and man. That was done over a sacrifice, or by the shedding of blood. So the covenant with Abraham was ratified by slaying an heifer, a she-goat, a ram, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon. The animals were divided and a burning lamp passed between them; Genesis 15:9, Genesis 15:18. So the covenant made with the Hebrews in the wilderness was ratified in the same manner; Exodus 24:6, seq. Thus, in Jeremiah 34:18, God speaks of the “men that had transgressed his covenant which they had made before him when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof;” see also Zechariah 9:11. Indeed all the Jewish sacrifices were regarded as a ratification of the covenant. It was never supposed that it was ratified or confirmed in a proper manner without such a sacrifice. Instances occur, indeed, in which there was no sacrifice offered when a covenant was made between man and man (see Genesis 23:16; Genesis 24:9; Deuteronomy 25:7, Deuteronomy 25:9; Ruth 4:7), but these cases do not establish the point that the custom did not prevail of ratifying a covenant with God by the blood of sacrifice.
Further; the terms used in the Hebrew in regard to making a covenant with God, prove that it was understood to be ratified by sacrifice, or that the death of a victim was necessary כּרת ברית kaarat beriyt, “to cut a covenant” - the word כרת kaarat meaning “to cut; to cut off; to cut down,” and the allusion being to the victims offered in sacrifice, and “cut in pieces” on occasion of entering into a covenant; see Genesis 15:10; Jeremiah 34:18-19. The same idea is expressed in the Greek phrases ὅρκια τέμνειν, τέμνειν σπονδάς horkia temnein, temnein spondas, and in the Latin “icere foedus;” compare Virgil, Aeneid viii. 941.
Et caesa jungebant foedera porca.
These considerations show that it was the common sentiment, alike among the Hebrews and the pagan, that a covenant with God was to be ratified or sanctioned by sacrifice; and the statement of Paul here is, that the death of a sacrificial victim was needful to confirm or ratify such a covenant with God. It was not secure, or confirmed, until blood was thus shed. This was well understood among the Hebrews, that all their covenant transactions with God were to be ratified by a sacrifice; and Paul says that the same principle must apply to any arrangement between God and human beings. Hence, he goes on to show that it was “necessary” that a sacrificial victim should die in the new covenant which God established by man through the Mediator; see Hebrews 9:23. This I understand to be the sum of the argument here. It is not that every contract made between man and man was to be ratified or confirmed by a sacrifice - for the apostle is not discussing that point; but it is that every similar transaction with God must be based on such a sacrifice, and that no covenant with him could be complete without such a sacrifice. This was provided for in the ancient dispensation by the sacrifices which were constantly offered in their worship; in the new, by the one great sacrifice offered on the cross. Hence, all our approaches to God are based on the supposition of such a sacrifice, and are, as it were, ratified over it. We ratify or confirm such a covenant arrangement, not by offering the sacrifice anew, but by recalling it in a proper manner when we celebrate the death of Christ, and when in view of his cross we solemnly pledge ourselves to be the Lord’s.
The death of the testator - According to our common version, “the death of him who makes a will.” But if the views above expressed are correct, this should be rendered the “covenanter,” or “the victim set apart to be slain.” The Greek will admit of the translation of the word διαθέμενος diathemenos, “diathemenos,” by the word “covenanter,” if the word διαθήκη diathēkē - “diatheke” - is rendered “covenant.” To such a translation here as would make the word refer “to a victim slain in order to ratify a covenant,” it is objected that the “word has no such meaning anywhere else. It must either mean a “testator,” or a “contractor,” that is, one of two covenanting parties. But where is the death of a person covenanting made necessary in order to confirm the covenant?” Prof. Stuart, in loc. To this objection I remark respectfully:
(1) That the word is never used in the sense of “testator” either in the New Testament or the Old, unless it be here. It is admitted of the word διαθήκη diathēkē - by Prof. Stuart himself, that it never means “will,” or “testament,” unless it be here, and it is equally true of the word used here that it never means one “who makes a will.” If, therefore, it should be that a meaning quite uncommon, or wholly unknown in the usage of the Scriptures, is to be assigned to the use of the word here, why should it be “assumed” that that unusual meaning should be that of “making a will,” and not that of confirming a covenant?
(2) If the apostle used the word διαθήκη diathēkē - “diatheke” - in the sense of “a covenant” in this passage, nothing is more natural than that he should use the corresponding word διαθέμενος diathemenos - “diathemenos” - in the sense of that by which a covenant was ratified. He wished to express the idea that the covenant was always ratified by the death of a victim - a sacrifice of an animal under the Law, and the sacrifice of the Redeemer under the gospel - and no word would so naturally convey that idea as the one from which the word “covenant” was derived. It is to be remembered also that there was no word to express that thought. Neither the Hebrew nor the Greek furnished such a word; nor have we now any word to express that thought, but are obliged to use circumlocution to convey the idea. The word “covenanter” would not do it; nor the words “victim,” or “sacrifice.” We can express the idea only by some phrase like this - “the victim set apart to be slain to ratify the covenant.” But it was not an unusual thing for the apostle Paul to make use of a word in a sense quite unique to himself; compare 2 Corinthians 4:17.
(3) The word διατίθημι diatithēmi - properly means, “to place apart, to set in order, to arrange.” It is rendered “appoint” in Luke 22:29; “made,” and “make,” with reference to a covenant, Acts 3:25; Hebrews 8:10; Hebrews 10:16. It occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, except in the passage before us. The idea of “placing, laying, disposing, arranging,” etc., enters into the word - as to place wares or merchandise for sale, to arrange a contract, &c; see “Passow.” The fair meaning of the word here may be, whatever goes to arrange, dispose, or settle the covenant, or to make the covenant secure and firm. If the reference be to a compact, it cannot relate to one of the contracting parties, because the death of neither is necessary to confirm it. But it may refer to that which was well-known as an established opinion, that a covenant with God was ratified only by a sacrifice. Still, it must be admitted that this use of the word is not found elsewhere, and the only material question is, whether it is to be presumed that the apostle would employ a word in a single instance in a special signification, where the connection would not render it difficult to be understood. This must be admitted, that he might, whichever view is taken of the meaning of this passage, for on the supposition that he refers here to a will, it is conceded that he uses the word in a sense which does not once occur elsewhere either in the Old Testament or the New. It seems to me, therefore, that the word here may, without impropriety, be regarded as referring to “the victim that was slain in order to ratify a covenant with God,” and that the meaning is, that such a covenant was not regarded as confirmed until the victim was slain. It may be added that the authority of Michaelis, Macknight, Doddridge, Bloomfield, and Dr. JohnP. Wilson, is a proof that such an interpretation cannot be a very serious departure from the proper use of a Greek word.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:16". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/hebrews-9.html. 1870.
16. For where a testament is, etc. Even this one passage is a sufficient proof, that this Epistle was not written in Hebrew; for ברית means in Hebrew a covenant, but not a testament; but in Greek, διαθήκη, includes both ideas; and the Apostle, alluding to its secondary meaning, holds that the promises should not have been otherwise ratified and valid, had they not been sealed by the death of Christ. And this he proves by referring to what is usually the case as to wills or testaments, the effect of which is suspended until the death of those whose wills they are.
The Apostle may yet seem to rest on too weak an argument, so that what he says may be easily disproved. For it may be said, that God made no testament or will under the Law; but it was a covenant that he made with the ancient people. Thus, neither from the fact nor from the name, can it be concluded that Christ’s death was necessary. For if he infers from the fact, that Christ ought to have died, because a testament is not ratified except by the death of the testator, the answer may be this, that |berit|, the word ever used by Moses, is a covenant made between those who are alive, and we cannot think otherwise of the fact itself. Now, as to the word used, he simply alluded, as I have already said, to the two meanings it has in Greek; he therefore dwells chiefly on the thing in itself. Nor is it any objection to say, that it was a covenant that God made with his people; for that very covenant bore some likeness to a testament, for it was ratified by blood. (152)
We must ever hold this truth, that no symbols have ever been adopted by God unnecessarily or unsuitably. And God in establishing the covenant of the law made use of blood. Then it was not such a contract, as they say, between the living, as did not require death. Besides, what rightly belongs to a testament is, that it begins to take effect after death. If we consider that the Apostle reasons from the thing itself, and not from the word, and if we bear in mind that he avowedly takes as granted what I have already stated, that nothing has been instituted in vain by God, there will be no great difficulty.
If anyone objects and says, that the heathens ratified covenants according to the other meaning by sacrifices; this indeed I admit to be true; but God did not borrow the rite of sacrificing from the practice of the heathens; on the contrary, all the heathen sacrifices were corruptions, which had derived their origin from the institutions of God. We must then return to the same point, that the covenant of God which was made with blood, may be fitly compared to a testament, as it is of the same kind and character.
(152) See Appendix H 2.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:16". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/hebrews-9.html. 1840-57.
Hebrews chapter 9.
In the eighth chapter of the book of Hebrews, he makes mention of the prophecy in Jeremiah where God said that in those days He was going to make a new covenant with the people, not like the old covenant which was written on the tables of stone. He was going to write His law on the fleshly tablets of their hearts. Now, in the declaration that God is going to make this new covenant, it means that the first covenant would be set aside in order that He might establish the new covenant.
When Jesus took the emblems of Passover, He said, "This cup is a new covenant in my blood which is shed for the remission of sins" ( Matthew 26:28 ). So, the old covenant had the remission of sins through the offering of sacrifices by the priests and on the Day of Atonement by the high priest. But God has established a new covenant, not written on the tables of stone, but God writes His law right on the fleshly tablets of our hearts. So the first covenant has been set aside that God might inaugurate this new covenant through Jesus Christ.
So going on still in chapter 9, carrying over the thought of chapter 8, he is still talking about this new covenant relationship that we have with God and contrasting it with that first covenant that was under the law. Remember the covenant under the law, God said, "And if they will do them, they shall live by them." The first covenant of the law was, "If you will obey Me and all of these statutes, then I will be your God." And the first covenant was established on man's obedience and man's faithfulness. The new covenant is established on God's faithfulness, the work that God has wrought for us through Jesus Christ. The old covenant failed, not because it was not good, not because it did not declare the truth, but it failed because man was weak and did not live by it. The new covenant is established forever, because it is the covenant that is predicated upon God's faithfulness, and surely God is faithful.
Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary ( Hebrews 9:1 ).
So in that first covenant God established with Moses, he was to build the tabernacle, and they were to have sacrifices offered within the tabernacle, and there was to be the worship of God there within the tabernacle by the priests.
For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the showbread; which is called the sanctuary [or often called the holy place in the Old Testament] ( Hebrews 9:2 ).
So, first of all, in this tabernacle, this tent that was made, it was forty-five feet long, and thirty feet wide, and fifteen feet tall, sort of a box-shaped tent, not a pitched tent like we usually think of, more box-shaped, fifteen feet from the corners tall and forty-five feet long and thirty feet wide.
Now, the inner part of the tent was divided into two sections. As you first entered into the tent from the veil that faced towards the east, the first thing that you would come upon in this room, it was thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide, over on your right-hand side would be a table, the table of showbread. On the table were twelve loaves of bread. One loaf representing each of the tribes of Israel.
Before you, and in front of the veil that went into the next room in the tent, there was the altar of incense where the priest would come and offer the incense, which was representative of the prayers of the people. He would offer them unto God.
On the left-hand side, as you came in the veil of the first tent, or the first room within the tent, there was this lamp stand with seven branches out of it. It was lit. There were little cups of oil and they would put the wicks in the oil and it was the light in this portion of the tent. These things are all representative of things that are in heaven. So in the menorah, or the lamp stand, with seven cups coming out of the one branch, you have the symbol of the seven-fold or complete working of the Holy Spirit. You have, of course, the altar of incense. So he talks here that in the first part of it the candlestick, the table with the showbread, which is called the sanctuary or the holy place.
Now after then you went into the second veil, it was called [the Holy of Holies, or translated here] the holiest of all; it had a golden censer, and the ark of the covenant that was overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant ( Hebrews 9:3-4 );
This Ark of the Covenant surely would be an interesting artifact to find. I don't know if I'd want to touch it if I found it. But within it they preserved a jar of the manna that God fed their fathers with in the wilderness. They also preserved Aaron's rod that budded, whereby God affirmed Aaron's family to be the high priestly family, the Aaronic order established. Then also (and this is what I would absolutely love to see) the two tables of stone upon which God put the Ten Commandments. Oh, wouldn't that be an exciting thing to behold? And so this was in the Ark of the Covenant, and it was the basis of the covenant of God with the nation; their obedience to the law and to the priesthood service under Aaron the High Priest.
Over this were the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercy seat ( Hebrews 9:5 );
Now again, these are all a model of what the throne of God in heaven is like, surrounded by the cherubims.
And he said,
we cannot speak at this particular time about these things. Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God ( Hebrews 9:5-6 ).
Daily the priests would go into this first part of the tent. Once a week they would change the loaves of bread on the table of showbread. Daily they would change and fill the oil in the cups and trim the wicks, and so forth, because God wanted that this light should burn before Him continually. Then they would come and offer the prayers of the people, these little golden bowls that they would have incense in. And when they had lit the fires and all for the sacrifices outside, they would take live coals, or burning coals out of the fire, put them in these little bowls of incense. And then they would go in, and these little bowls were on chains and they would go in and they would swing this incense before the altar there. It was a symbol of the prayers of the people ascending before God. And this they did daily.
There were a certain number of sacrifices and types of sacrifices that had to be offered every day. And then, of course, during the day the hundreds of people that would come with their various types of sacrifices to offer unto God. So the priest was kept busy all day long in these offerings unto the Lord, as well as the regular times of prayer when he would go before the Lord and all.
You remember in the gospel of Luke, it tells how that the father of John the Baptist, Zacharias, was a priest after the course of Abia. It was his duty at this particular time to offer the prayers and the incense before the altar of the Lord. Usually the priest would serve one month out of the year. They had a good thing going. Then the rest of the year they would go back to their homes and be with their families. While Zacharias was offering the incense before the altar of the Lord, Gabriel appeared unto him and informed him that his wife, Elizabeth, in her old age, was to bear a son. He was to be the forerunner of the Messiah.
So you can read a little bit about the service of God there within this holy place which was outside of the Holy of Holies.
But into the second [that is the holiest of all, or the Holy of Holies] went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people ( Hebrews 9:7 ):
The Holy of Holies where man met God was off limits to everyone except the high priest. He went in there only one day a year, the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. Which happened to be yesterday. However, with no tabernacle or no temple, they have changed Yom Kippur from the Day of Atonement to the Day of Reflection. But the high priest would go in only this one day and he would go in twice in the one day.
He would, first of all, have to bathe. And then he would offer an ox for his own sins as a sacrifice for his sins, and he would go into the Holy of Holies with the blood of the ox that he had sacrificed for his own sins. And he was to sprinkle, then, the blood on the mercy seat in a special order. Seven times in front of the mercy seat and put it on the corner and all, and there was a regular routine. The sixteenth chapter of Leviticus tells about the Day of Atonement and the things that the high priest had to do on that day. Having offered, then, the blood of the ox for his own sins, he would go back outside, bathe, change clothes, and then they would take two goats and they would cast lots on the two goats. The one upon which the lot fell was to be slain and offered before God for the sins of the nation. The other goat was to be led by one of the priests out into the wilderness area and turned loose.
They would confess the sins of the nation on these two goats. The one would then be slain and the high priest, for the second time, would go into the Holy of Holies and he would offer, then, for the sins of the nation on this one day the first goat upon which the lot had fallen. The other goat being led into the wilderness having the sins confessed upon it, led into the wilderness turned loose to run free. To get lost, really. The idea is the sacrifice for sins, the putting away of sins by the sacrifice. But then, actually, the separation from our sins, the goat being turned loose and disappearing into the wilderness. God has put away our sins and they're not to be remembered again. And so the two goats, the one being slain, and the other being turned loose into the wilderness.
"Now into the second, the Holy of Holies, went the high priest alone once every year and not without blood which he offered first for himself and then the second time for the sins of the people."
The Holy Spirit was thus signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was still standing ( Hebrews 9:8 ):
As long as the tabernacle was there and standing, the approach to God directly by man was impossible. This bore witness to the fact that man just could not come directly to God. There was this heavy veil that separated man from God.
It is significant that when Jesus was crucified, we read that this veil in the temple was torn from the top to the bottom. God ripped the thing. Had man ripped it, it would have been from the bottom to the top. But God ripped the veil at the death of Jesus Christ, signifying that the way into the presence of God is now available for all man. You and I can come now into the presence of God through Jesus Christ, this glorious sacrifice for our sins. And we can enter ourselves right into the very presence of God through His work on our behalf. And so as long as the first tabernacle stood, the Holy Spirit was signifying that the way into the holiest, into the very presence of God, was not yet manifested or open to man.
Which was a figure [that is the tabernacle] for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; Which stood only in meats and drinks, and in divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of [the change] the reformation [that is that was wrought by Jesus Christ]. But Christ being come a high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us ( Hebrews 9:9-12 ).
The contrast is the high priest had to go in every year to offer first the offerings for his own sin, and then to offer for the sins of the people. And every year he had to do this. But Jesus once went into not the tabernacle made with hands, but entered into heaven itself, of which the earthly tabernacle was just a model. He entered into heaven itself and not with the blood of goats or of calves, but with His own blood He entered into that presence of God, having obtained eternal redemption for us. And so with His own blood He was then both the sacrifice and the sacrificer. He was both the offering and the one who offered.
Now you would bring your offering to the priest, he would offer it for you. Jesus became both; the offering itself, and the one who offered the offering unto God in entering into the presence of God with His own blood, and thus, redeemed man.
For if the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, would sanctify it to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? ( Hebrews 9:13-14 ).
As he points out the weakness of the sacrifices made by the priests is that they could not really give us a clear conscience. They were a reminder of our sins. And the fact that they had to do it every year made us constantly conscious of our guilt. But Jesus Christ has now purified our consciences in that He has once and for all entered in to make an atonement for us with His blood, thus having offered Himself without spot.
When they brought a lamb to God, God wouldn't accept the castoffs. Here is an old cow. It's about ready to die. Let's see if we can get some good out of it. Let's give it to God. It is tragic, really, that so many times man wants to give the castoffs to God. "I can't use it anymore. I might as well give it to God. It's no good around here."
I read of a farmer one time who came in to breakfast and announced to his wife that their cow had twin calves. He said, "I'm so excited about it. I want to give one to the Lord and keep one for myself." She said, "Oh, I think that is a great idea." And so as the calves were growing up he kept announcing that when they were old enough to sell one belonged to God and one belonged to him. She said, "Well, which one's the Lord's?" He said, "It doesn't make any difference. One is the Lord's and one's mine." So he would never put the finger on one of them being the Lord's and one his. They just both were the same. But one morning he came in and said, "Terrible thing happened--God's calf died."
God wouldn't accept the castoffs. He said when you offer a lamb it has to be without spot. Now a spot was an inherent defect in the lamb. It also had to be without blemish. A blemish was an acquired defect. The lamb born with spots was a genetic thing. A lamb with blemishes that was the result of an encounter with a wolf, or falling down a cliff or some getting caught and blemished. The lamb that was offered had to be both without the inherent defects and without acquired defects; without spot and blemish. Peter said, "For we are redeemed not with corruptible things, such as silver and gold, from our empty manner of life, but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, who was a lamb without spot and without blemish" ( 1 Peter 1:18-19 ). It can really only be said of Jesus that He was without spot. He was born without the sinful nature. He had no inherent sin in Him.
It is an interesting thing that they have discovered that the gene factors that make up the blood in a child come basically from the father. Therefore, the gene factors creating the blood in Jesus Christ, coming from the Father, came directly from God and was not spotted by the inherent defectiveness in man. Jesus not only was born pure, but He remained pure. He was without blemish. And so He only could qualify as a sacrificial lamb. You see, you could never qualify as a sacrificial lamb before God. We were born with spots, but even if we weren't, we have acquired blemishes, and thus, we would not be fit to be a sacrifice for sin. But Jesus, without spot or blemish, offered Himself to God that He might cleanse your conscience from the dead works that you might serve the living God.
Now there are people who are still trying to please God with their works. They are still seeking to offer God the works of their hands. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the Jews are doing today. Yesterday, the Day of Atonement, there were no sacrifices for sins. There were no offerings. There were no lambs that were slain. There were no goats or bulls. But what they did was sit in their homes and reflect upon their lives and upon all of their good works. And they reflected also on their evil connivings. But as they reflected, they prayed that God would accept their good works and overlook their evil. And as long as their good works could overbalance their evil, they felt comfortable. Of course, many of them were racing around this past week trying to do a lot of good works so that it would be a comfortable day for them yesterday. Jesus Christ has purged us from these dead works that we might serve the living God.
And for this cause he is the mediator of the new covenant ( Hebrews 9:15 ),
Now the high priest was the one who was the mediator in the Old Covenant, but Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant.
that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance ( Hebrews 9:15 ).
So Christ has become the mediator. "This cup is the new covenant in my blood shed for the remission of sins," the New Testament. That by His death He has made the redemption for our transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, under the law. That we who have been called then might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. Now back in verse Hebrews 9:12 , we had eternal redemption, and now the eternal inheritance for those who are eternally redeemed. How glorious it is, this eternal inheritance. Peter said, "Thanks be unto God who has caused us to be born again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. To an inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and fades not away that is reserved in heaven for you. Who are kept by the power of God through faith" ( 1 Peter 1:3-5 ). So this eternal inheritance that is ours in Christ.
Paul the apostle prayed for the Ephesians that they might know what is the hope of their calling. If you only knew the glories that God has in store for you in His eternal kingdom as you are the heirs of this eternal inheritance.
Now where a testament is [or where there is a will], there must of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth ( Hebrews 9:16-17 ).
So a person who makes out a will, the will does not come into force until they die. They've made out their last will and testament. This is what I want done with my things after I'm gone. But that will does not come into effect, it does not have any force until after the person who has made it is dead. Then it comes into force. Jesus established the covenant, but by His death the covenant came into force, so that we are now in that glorious covenant. Christ having died, the covenant now comes in force. It is something that we now benefit from because of the death of Christ.
Now neither the first covenant was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and he sprinkled both the book and all the people, saying, This is the blood of the testament which God has enjoined unto you. Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged [or cleansed] with blood; and without the shedding of blood is no remission ( Hebrews 9:18-22 ).
What an important declaration! When Moses established the whole thing, he killed the blood, and he killed the goats. He mixed it with water the blood, sprinkled the people, and he sprinkled the book, and he sprinkled the whole place to set it apart. "This is God's testament." It is now enforced, and enforced by the blood that has been shed, a blood covenant. It was through the blood that everything was cleansed. The Bible speaks about the blood of Jesus Christ cleansing us from all sin. So these things, the testament then being enforced, the shedding of blood, it now comes in force. He said, "For without the shedding of blood there is no remission." That is, no remission of sins.
That is where I have great difficulty with the very devout Jews of the present day. I have no doubt or question of their sincerity. I believe that they do love God and I believe that they are very sincere in their worship of God. However, I cannot agree that by their works they can atone for their sins. That is totally against the scripture. So as I view it, they have one great problem. And that's the great problem that plagues all men, the problem of sin. What do I do about my guilt? If there is no temple, if there are no sacrifices, if there is no shedding of blood, then how are their sins remitted? Or how can they be remitted if without the shedding of blood there is no remission? So that, to me, is the great problem that every Jew would have to face, because they are not keeping God's first covenant that He established with them. Of course, they reject the second covenant, but they're not keeping the first. Thus, having set aside the law of God, they teach the traditions of men for doctrine, just as they were doing in Jesus' day. He said, "And you teach for doctrine the traditions of man," and the traditions of man is that your good works should atone for your evil. Just be better than you are evil, gooder than you are bad, and you'll be all right. But that is not what the scripture says. God established the ways by which their sins could be covered, and it was through the offerings.
I think it's extremely significant that there have been no offerings for almost 2,000 years. Since shortly after the death of Christ, they ceased and have not begun again. They will apparently begin again in that seven-year period after the church has been taken out and God begins to work again with Israel. It would appear that their offerings and sacrifices will begin again, for the antichrist is going to come in the middle of that seven-year period and cause the daily oblations and sacrifices to cease. So they will establish a place of worship, and they will institute sacrifices again during that final seven-year cycle, which God has yet to accomplish on the nation of Israel. But right now they do not have a basis, scripturally, for the putting away of their sins.
It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these ( Hebrews 9:23 ).
In other words, this pattern down here, this model, it was important that it be cleansed in this manner; purified. But the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than that of calves or goats or lambs.
For Christ did not enter into the holy places that were made with hands ( Hebrews 9:24 ),
He didn't enter into temple, into the Holy of Holies there.
for these are only figures [or models] of the true; but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us ( Hebrews 9:24 ):
Our great High Priest there in presence of God representing us.
Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entered into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation ( Hebrews 9:25-28 ).
And so Jesus came and He offered Himself as a sacrifice and then He entered into heaven itself that He might appear before God for us. His sacrifice was complete. That is why it only needed to happen once; once and for all. And so it's been appointed unto man once to die after that the judgment; so Christ once offered to bear our sins.
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:16". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/hebrews-9.html. 2014.
For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.
Paul asserts the “testator” (diatithemai) (Jesus Christ in this context) must die for the testament to be in effect. The term “necessity” is something “imposed either by the eternal condition of things, or by the law of duty” (Thayer 36). Paul reaffirms an axiomatic truth.
The term “testament” (diatheke) is used more in the sense of a will than a covenant; however, Paul uses it as a substitute for the term covenant. He shows that in both cases death must take place. Thayer says the word “testament”:
…substitutes for the meaning covenant which diatheke bears elsewhere in the epistle that of testament and likens Christ to a testator, - not only because the author regards eternal blessedness as an inheritance bequeathed by Christ, but also because he is endeavoring to show, both that the attainment of eternal salvation is made possible for the disciples of Christ by his death (137).
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Hebrews 9:16". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ctf/hebrews-9.html. 1993-2022.
The final purging of sin 9:11-28
The writer now focused on the issue of sacrifice.
"The argument moves a stage further as the author turns specifically to what Christ has done. The sacrifices of the old covenant were ineffectual. But in strong contrast Christ made an offering that secures a redemption valid for all eternity. In the sacrifices, a good deal pertained to the use of blood. So in accord with this, the author considers the significance of the blood of animals and that of Christ." [Note: Morris, p. 85.]
"Blood" in Scripture is frequently a metonym (a figure of speech in which one thing stands for another) for "death," particularly violent death involving bloodshed. There was nothing magical about Jesus’ blood that made it a cleansing agent for sin. It was the death of Christ that saves us, not something special about His blood.
In Hebrews 9:11-14 the writer introduced Christ’s high priestly ministry, which climaxes in Hebrews 9:15. Hebrews 9:16-22 are parenthetical explaining Hebrews 9:15. Then Hebrews 9:23-28 resume the discussion of Jesus’ priestly ministry in heaven.
"The conception of Christ’s death as a liturgical high priestly action is developed as a major argument in Hebrews 9:11-28. Prior to this point in the homily, the high priesthood tended to be linked with Christ’s present activity as heavenly intercessor (cf. Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15-16; Hebrews 7:25; Hebrews 8:1-2)." [Note: Lane, Hebrews 9-13, p. 235.]
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In certain respects the covenants God made with humankind are similar to wills. With all wills, the person who made the will must die before the beneficiaries experience any effects of the will.
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The superior sacrifice for sin 9:16-28
"The author has made it clear that Christ’s death has instituted a better covenant (Hebrews 9:11-15) which is superior to animal offerings (Hebrews 9:12-14). But the need for such a sacrifice has yet to be explored. So a key word in this subunit [Hebrews 9:16-28] is ’necessary’ (ananke, Hebrews 9:16; Hebrews 9:23). In the process of exploring this point, the author clearly underscored the measureless superiority of the sacrificial death of Christ." [Note: Hodges, "Hebrews," p. 802.]
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THE GLORY OF THE TABERNACLE ( Hebrews 9:1-5 )
9:1-5 So, then, the first tabernacle, too, had its ordinances of worship and its holy place, which was an earthly symbol of the divine realities. For the first tabernacle was constructed and in it there was the lampstand and the table with the shewbread, and it was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain there was that part of the tabernacle which was called the Holy of Holies. It was approached by means of the golden altar of incense, and it had in it the ark of the covenant, which was covered all over with gold. In the ark there was the golden pot with the manna and Aaron's rod which budded and the tables of the covenant. Above it there were the cherubim of glory, overshadowing the mercy seat; but this is not the place to speak about all these things in detail.
The writer to the Hebrews has just been thinking of Jesus as the one who leads us into reality. He has been using the idea that in this world we have only pale copies of what is truly real. The worship that men can offer is only a ghost-like shadow of the real worship which Jesus, the real High Priest, alone can offer. But even as he thinks of that his mind goes back to the Tabernacle (the Tabernacle, remember, not the Temple). Lovingly he remembers its beauty; lovingly he lingers on its priceless possessions. And the thought in his mind is this--if earthly worship was as beautiful as this, what must the true worship be like? If all the loveliness of the Tabernacle was only a shadow of reality, how surpassingly lovely the reality must be. He does not tell of the Tabernacle in detail; he only alludes to certain of its treasures. This was all he needed to do because his readers knew its glories and had them printed on their memories. But we do not know them; therefore, let us see what the beauty of the earthly Tabernacle was like, always remembering that it was only a pale copy of reality.
The main description of the Tabernacle in the wilderness is in Exodus 25:1-40; Exodus 26:1-37; Exodus 27:1-21; Exodus 28:1-43; Exodus 29:1-46; Exodus 30:1-38; Exodus 31:1-18 and Exodus 35:1-35; Exodus 36:1-38; Exodus 37:1-29; Exodus 38:1-31; Exodus 39:1-43; Exodus 40:1-38. God said to Moses: "Make me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst" ( Exodus 25:8). It was constructed out of the freewill offerings of the people ( Exodus 25:1-7), who gave with such lavish generosity that a halt had to be called to their giving ( Exodus 36:5-7).
The Court of the Tabernacle was 150 feet long and 75 feet wide. It was surrounded by a curtain-like fence of fine, twined linen 7 1/2 feet high. The white linen stood for the wall of holiness that surrounds the presence of God. The curtain was supported by twenty pillars on the north and south sides, and by ten on the east and west sides; and the pillars were set in sockets of brass and had tops of silver. There was only one gate. It was on the east side and it was 30 feet wide and 7 1/2 feet high. It was made of fine, twined linen wrought with blue and purple and scarlet. In the court there were two things. There was the Brazen Altar, 7 1/2 feet square and 4 1/2 feet high and made of acacia wood sheathed in brass. Its top was a brazen grating on which the sacrifice was laid; and it had four horns to which the offering was bound. There was The Laver. The laver was made from the brass mirrors of the women (glass mirrors did not exist at that time) but its dimensions are not given. The priests bathed themselves in the water in it before they carried out their sacred duties.
The Tabernacle itself was constructed of forty-eight acacia beams, 15 feet high and 2 feet 3 inches wide. They were overlaid with pure gold and rested in sockets of silver. They were bound together by outside connecting rods and by a wooden tie-beam which ran through their centre. The Tabernacle was divided into two parts. The first--two-thirds of the whole--was The Holy Place; the inner part--one-third of the whole--a cube 15 feet on each side, was The Holy of Holies. The curtain which hung in front of The Holy Place was supported on five brass pillars and made of fine linen wrought in blue, purple and scarlet.
The Holy Place contained three things. (i) There was The Golden Lampstand. It stood on the south side; it was beaten out of a talent of solid gold; the lamps were fed with pure olive oil, and were always lit. (ii) On the north side stood The Table of the Shewbread. It was made of acacia wood covered with gold; it was 3 feet long, 1 1/2 feet wide and 2 feet 3 inches high. On it there were laid every Sabbath twelve loaves made of the finest flour, in two rows of six. Only the priests could eat these loaves when they were removed. They were changed every Sabbath. (iii) There was The Altar of Incense. It was of acacia wood sheathed in gold; it was 1 1/2 feet square and 3 feet high. On it incense, symbolising the prayers of the people rising to God, was burned every morning and evening.
In front of The Holy of Holies there was The Veil which was made of fine, twined linen, embroidered in scarlet and purple and blue, and with the cherubim upon it. Into The Holy of Holies no one but the High Priest might enter, and he only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, and only after the most elaborate preparations. Within The Holy of Holies stood The Ark of the Covenant. It contained three things--the golden pot of the manna, Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the law. It was made of acacia wood sheathed outside and lined inside with gold. It was 3 feet 9 inches long, 2 feet 3 inches wide, and 2 feet 3 inches high. Its lid was called The Mercy Seat. On The Mercy Seat there were two cherubim of solid gold with overarching wings. It was there that the very presence of God rested, for he had said: "There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the testimony" ( Exodus 25:22).
It was of all this beauty that the writer to the Hebrews was thinking--and yet it was only a shadow of reality. In his mind there was another thing of which he was to speak again--the ordinary Israelite could come only to the gate of the Tabernacle court; the priests and the Levites might enter the court; the priests alone might enter the Holy Place; and none but the High Priest might enter the Holy of Holies. There was beauty but it was a beauty in which the common man was barred from the inner presence of God. Jesus Christ took the barrier away and opened wide the way to God's presence for every man.
THE ONLY ENTRY TO THE PRESENCE OF GOD ( Hebrews 9:6-10 )
9:6-10 Since these preparations have been made, the priests continually enter into the first tabernacle as they perform the various acts of worship. But into the second tabernacle the High Priest alone enters, and that once a year and not without blood, which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people. By this the Holy Spirit is showing that the way into the Holy Place was not yet opened up so long as the first tabernacle stood. Now the first tabernacle stands for this present age, and according to its services sacrifices are offered which cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper but which, since they are based on food and drink and various kinds of washings, are human regulations, laid down until the time of the new order should come.
Only the High Priest could enter into the Holy of Holies and that only on The Day of Atonement. It is of the ceremonies of that day that the writer to the Hebrews is here thinking. He did not need to describe them to his readers for they knew them. To them they were the most sacred religious ceremonies in all the world. If we are to understand the thought of the writer to the Hebrews we must have a picture of them in our minds. The main description is in Leviticus 16:1-34.
First, we must ask, what was the idea behind The Day of Atonement? As we have seen, the relationship between Israel and God was a covenant relationship. Sin on Israel's part broke that relationship, and the whole system of sacrifice existed to make atonement for sin and to restore the broken relationship. But what if there were some sins still not atoned for? What if there were some sins of which a man was not conscious? What if by some chance the altar itself had become defiled? That is to say, what if the sacrificial system was not performing the function it should?
The summary of the Day of Atonement is given in Leviticus 16:33:
And he shall make atonement for the sanctuary; and he shall
make atonement for the tent of meeting, and for the altar,
and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the
people of the assembly.
It was one great comprehensive act of atonement for all sin. It was one grand day in which all things and all people were cleansed, so that the relationship between Israel and God should continue unbroken. To that end it was a day of humiliation. "You shall afflict yourselves" ( Leviticus 16:29). It was not a feast but a fast. The whole nation fasted all day, even the boys and girls; and the really devout Jew prepared himself for it by fasting for the ten days which went before. The Day of Atonement comes ten days after the opening of the Jewish New Year, about the beginning of September in our calendar. It was the greatest of all days in the life of the High Priest.
Let us then see what happened. Very early in the morning the High Priest cleansed himself by washing. He donned his gorgeous robes of office, worn only on that day. There were the white linen breeches and the long white undergarment reaching down to the feet, woven in one piece. There was The Robe of the Ephod. It was dark blue and was a long robe with at the foot a fringe of blue, purple and scarlet tassels made in the form of pomegranates, interspersed with an equal number of little golden bells. Over this robe he put The Ephod itself The Ephod was probably a kind of linen tunic, embroidered in scarlet and purple and gold, with an elaborate girdle. On its shoulders were two onyx stones. The names of six of the tribes were engraved on one and six on the other. On the tunic was The Breastplate, a span square. On it were twelve precious stones with the names of the twelve tribes engraved upon them. So the High Priest carried the people to God on his shoulders and on his heart. In the breastplate there was the Urim and the Thummim, which means lights and perfections ( Exodus 28:30). What exactly the Urim and the Thummim was is not known. It is known that the High Priest consulted it when he wished to know the will of God. It may be that it was a precious diamond inscribed with the consonants Y-H-W-H which are the consonants of Yahweh ( H3068 and H3069) , the name of God. On his head the High Priest put the tall mitre, of fine linen; and on the mitre there was a gold plate bound by a band of blue ribbon, and on the plate were the words: "Holiness unto the Lord." It is easy to imagine what a dazzling figure the High Priest must have presented on this his greatest day.
The High Priest began by doing the things that were done every day. He burned the morning incense, made the morning sacrifice, and attended to the trimming of the lamps on the seven-branched lampstand. Then came the first part of the special ritual of the day. Still dressed in his gorgeous robes, he sacrificed a bullock and seven lambs and one ram ( Numbers 29:7). Then he removed his gorgeous robes, cleansed himself again in water, and dressed himself in the simple purity of white linen. There was brought to him a bullock bought with his own resources. He placed his hands on its head and, standing there in the full sight of the people, confessed his own sin and the sin of his house:
"Ah, Lord God, I have committed iniquity: I have transgressed: I have sinned--I and my house. O Lord, I entreat thee, cover over (atone for) the iniquities, the transgressions, and the sins, which I have committed, transgressed, and sinned before thee, I and my house, even as it is written in the law of Moses, thy servant, 'For in that day, he will cover over (atone) for you to make you clean. From all your transgressions before the Lord you shall be cleansed.'"
For the moment the bullock was left before the altar. And then followed one of the unique ceremonies of the Day of Atonement. Two goats were standing by, and beside the goats an urn with two lots in it. One lot was marked For Jehovah; the other was marked For Azazel, which is the phrase the King James Version translates The Scapegoat. The lots were drawn and laid one on the head of each goat. A tongue-shaped piece of scarlet was tied to the horn of the scapegoat. And for the moment the goats were left. Then the High Priest turned to the bullock which was beside the altar and killed it. its throat was slit and the blood caught by a priest in a basin. The basin was kept in motion so that the blood would not coagulate for soon it was to be used. Then came the first of the great moments. The High Priest took coals from the altar and put them in a censer; he took incense and put it in a special dish; and then he walked into the Holy of Holies to burn incense in the very presence of God. It was laid down that he must not stay too long "lest he put Israel in terror." The people literally watched with bated breath; and when he came out from the presence of God still alive, there went up a sigh of relief like a gust of wind.
When the High Priest came out from the Holy of Holies, he took the basin of the bullock's blood, went back into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled it seven times up and seven times down. He came out, killed the goat that was marked For Jehovah, with its blood re-entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled again. Then he came out and mingled together the blood of the bullock and the goat and seven times sprinkled the horns of the altar of the incense and the altar itself. What remained of the blood was laid at the foot of the altar of the burnt offering. Thus the Holy of Holies and the altar were cleansed by blood from any defilement that might be on them.
Then came the most vivid ceremony. The scapegoat was brought forward. The High Priest laid his hands on it and confessed his own sin and the sin of the people; and the goat was led forth into the desert, "into a land not inhabited," laden with the sins of the people and there it was killed.
The priest turned to the slain bullock and goat and prepared them for sacrifice. Still in his linen garments he read scripture-- Leviticus 16:1-34; Leviticus 23:27-32, and repeated by heart Numbers 29:7-11. He then prayed for the priesthood and the people. Once again he cleansed himself in water and rearrayed himself in his gorgeous robes. He sacrificed, first, a kid of the goats for the sins of the people; then he made the normal evening sacrifice; then he sacrificed the already prepared parts of the bullock and the goat. Then once again he cleansed himself, took off his robes, and put on the white linen; and for the fourth and last time he entered the Holy of Holies to remove the censer of incense which still burned there. Once again he cleansed himself in water; once again he put on his vivid robes; then he burned the evening offering of incense, trimmed the lamps on the golden lampstand, and his work was done. In the evening he held a feast because he had been in the presence of God and had come out alive.
Such was the ritual of the Day of Atonement, the day designed to cleanse all things and all people from sin. That was the picture in the mind of the writer to the Hebrews and he was to make much of it. But there were certain things of which he was thinking at the moment.
Every year this ceremony had to be gone through again. Everyone but the High Priest was barred from the presence and even he entered in terror. The cleansing was a purely external one by baths of water. The sacrifice was that of bulls and goats and animal blood. The whole thing failed because such things cannot atone for sin. In it all the writer to the Hebrews sees a pale copy of the reality, a ghostly pattern of the one true sacrifice--the sacrifice of Christ. It was a noble ritual, a thing of dignity and beauty; but it was only an unavailing shadow. The only priest and the only sacrifice which can open the way to God for all men is Jesus Christ.
THE SACRIFICE WHICH OPENS THE WAY TO GOD ( Hebrews 9:11-14 )
9:11-14 But when Christ arrived upon the scene, a high priest of the good things which are to come, by means of a tabernacle which was greater and better able to produce the results for which it was meant, a tabernacle not made by the hands of men--that is, a tabernacle which did not belong to this world order--and not by the blood of goats and bullocks but by his own blood, he entered once and for all into the Holy Place because he had secured for us an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could by sprinkling cleanse those that were unclean so that their bodies became pure, how much more will the blood of Christ who, through the eternal Spirit offered himself spotless to God, cleanse your conscience so that you will be able to leave the deeds that make for death in order to become the servants of the living God?
When we try to understand this passage, we must remember three things which are basic to the thought of the writer to the Hebrews. (i) Religion is access to God. Its function is to bring a man into God's presence. (ii) This is a world of pale shadows and imperfect copies; beyond is the world of realities. The function of all worship is to bring men into contact with the eternal realities. That was what the worship of the Tabernacle was meant to do; but the earthly Tabernacle and its worship are pale copies of the real Tabernacle and its worship; and only the real Tabernacle and the real worship can give access to reality. (iii) There can be no religion without sacrifice. Purity is a costly thing; access to God demands purity; somehow man's sin must be atoned for and his uncleanness cleansed. With these ideas in his mind the writer to the Hebrews goes on to show that Jesus is the only High Priest who brings a sacrifice that can open the way to God and that that sacrifice is himself.
To begin with, he refers to certain of the great sacrifices which the Jews were in the habit of making under the old covenant with God. (i) There was the sacrifice of bullocks and of goats. In this he is referring to two of the great sacrifices on The Day of Atonement--of the bullock which the High Priest offered for his own sins and of the scapegoat which was led away to the wilderness bearing the sins of the people ( Leviticus 16:15; Leviticus 16:21-22). (ii) There was the sacrifice of the red heifer. This strange ritual is described in Numbers 19:1-22. Under Jewish ceremonial law, if a man touched a dead body, he was unclean. He was barred from the worship of God, and everything and everyone he touched also became unclean. To deal with this there was a prescribed method of cleansing. A red heifer was slaughtered outside the camp. The priest sprinkled the blood of the heifer before the Tabernacle seven times. The body of the beast was then burned, together with cedar and hyssop and a piece of red cloth. The resulting ashes were laid up outside the camp in a clean place and constituted a purification for sin. This ritual must have been very ancient for both its origin and its meaning are wrapped in obscurity. The Jews themselves told that once a Gentile questioned Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai on the meaning of this rite, declaring that it sounded like pure superstition. The Rabbi's answer was that it had been appointed by the Holy One and that men must not enquire into his reasons but should leave the matter there without explanation. In any event, the fact remains that it was one of the great rites of the Jews.
The writer to the Hebrews tells of these sacrifices and then declares that the sacrifice that Jesus brings is far greater and far more effective. We must first ask what he means by the greater and more effective tabernacle not made with hands? That is a question to which no one can give an answer which is beyond dispute. But the ancient scholars nearly all took it in one way and said that this new tabernacle which brought men into the very presence of God was nothing else than the body of Jesus. It would be another way of saying what John said: "He who has seen me has seen the Father" ( John 14:9). The worship of the ancient tabernacle was designed to bring men into the presence of God. That it could do only in the most shadowy and imperfect way. The coming of Jesus really brought men into the presence of God, because in him God entered this world of space and time in a human form and to see Jesus is to see what God is like.
The great superiority of the sacrifice Jesus brought lay in three things. (i) The ancient sacrifices cleansed a man's body from ceremonial uncleanness; the sacrifice of Jesus cleansed his soul. We must always remember this--in theory all sacrifice cleansed from transgressions of the ritual law; it did not cleanse from sins of the presumptuous heart and the high hand. Take the case of the red heifer. It was not moral uncleanness that its sacrifice wiped out but the ceremonial uncleanness consequent upon touching a dead body. A man's body might be clean ceremonially and yet his heart be torn with remorse. He might feel able to enter the tabernacle and yet far away from the presence of God. The sacrifice of Jesus takes the load of guilt from a man's conscience. The animal sacrifices of the old covenant might well leave a man in estrangement from God; the sacrifice of Jesus shows us a God whose arms are always outstretched and in whose heart is only love.
(ii) The sacrifice of Jesus brought eternal redemption. The idea was that men were under the dominion of sin; and just as the purchase price had to be paid to free a man from slavery, so the purchase price had to be paid to free a man from sin.
(iii) The sacrifice of Christ enabled a man to leave the deeds of death and to become the servant of the living God. That is to say, he did not only win forgiveness for a man's past sin, he enabled him in the future to live a godly life. The sacrifice of Jesus was not only the paying of a debt; it was the giving of a victory. What Jesus did puts a man right with God and what he does enables a man to stay right with God. The act of the Cross brings to men the love of God in a way that takes their terror of him away; the presence of the living Christ brings to them the power of God so that they can win a daily victory over sin.
Westcott outlines four ways in which Jesus' sacrifice of himself differs from the animal sacrifices of the old covenant.
(i) The sacrifice of Jesus was voluntary. The animal's life was taken from it; Jesus gave his life. He willingly laid it down for his friends.
(ii) The sacrifice of Jesus was spontaneous. Animal sacrifice was entirely the product of law; the sacrifice of Jesus was entirely the product of love. We pay our debts to a tradesman because we have to; we give a gift to our loved ones because we want to. It was not law but love that lay behind the sacrifice of Christ.
(iii) The sacrifice of Jesus was rational. The animal victim did not know what was happening; Jesus all the time knew what he was doing. He died, not as an ignorant victim caught up in circumstances over which he had no control and did not understand but with eyes wide open.
(iv) The sacrifice of Jesus was moral. Animal sacrifice was mechanical; but Jesus' sacrifice was made, through the eternal Spirit. This thing on Calvary was not a matter of prescribed ritual mechanically carried out; it was a matter of Jesus obeying the will of God for the sake of men. Behind it there was not the mechanism of law but the choice of love.
THE ONLY WAY IN WHICH SINS CAN BE FORGIVEN ( Hebrews 9:15-22 )
9:15-22 It is through him that there emerges a new covenant between God and man; and the purpose behind this new covenant is that those who have been called might receive the eternal inheritance which has been promised to them; but this could happen only after a death had taken place, the purpose of which was to rescue them from the consequences of the transgressions which had been committed under the conditions of the old covenant. For where there is a will, it is necessary that there should be evidence of the death of the testator before the will is valid. It is in the case of dead people that a will is confirmed, since surely it cannot be operative when the testator is still alive. That is why even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. For, after every commandment which the law lays down had been announced by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, together with water and scarlet and hyssop, and sprinkled the book itself and all the people. And as he did so, he said: "This is the blood of the covenant whose conditions God commanded you to observe." In like manner he sprinkled with blood the tabernacle also and all the instruments used in its worship. Under the conditions which the law lays down it is true to say that almost everything is cleansed by blood. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
This is one of the most difficult passages in the whole letter, although it would not be difficult to those who read the letter for the first time, for its methods of argument and expression and categories of thought would be familiar to them.
As we have seen, the idea of the covenant is basic to the thought of the writer, by which he meant a relationship between God and man. The first covenant was dependent on man's keeping of the law; as soon as he broke the law the covenant became ineffective. Let us remember that to our writer religion means access to God. Therefore, the basic meaning of the new covenant, which Jesus inaugurated, is that men should have access to God or, to put it another way, have fellowship with him. But here is the difficulty. Men come to the new covenant already stained with the sins committed under the old covenant, for which the old sacrificial system was powerless to atone. So, the writer to the Hebrews has a tremendous thought and says that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is retroactive. That is to say, it is effective to wipe out the sins of men committed under the old covenant and to inaugurate the fellowship promised under the new.
All that seems very complicated but at the back of it there are two great eternal truths. First, the sacrifice of Jesus gains forgiveness for past sins. We ought to be punished for what we have done and shut out from God; but because of what Jesus did the debt is wiped out, the breach is forgiven and the barrier is taken away. Second, the sacrifice of Jesus opens a new life for the future. It opens the way to fellowship with God. The God whom our sins had made a stranger, the sacrifice of Christ has made a friend. Because of what he did the burden of the past is rolled away and life becomes life with God.
It is the next step in the argument which appears to us a fantastic way in which to argue. The question in the mind of the writer is why this new relationship with God should involve the death of Christ. He answers it in two ways.
(i) His first answer is--to us almost incredibly--founded on nothing other than a play on words. We have seen that the use of the word diatheke ( G1242) in the sense of covenant is characteristically Christian, and that its normal secular use was in the sense of will or testament. Up to Hebrews 9:16 the writer to the Hebrews has been using diatheke ( G1242) in the normal Christian sense of covenant; then, suddenly and without warning or explanation, he switches to the sense of will. Now a will does not become operative until the testator dies; so the writer to the Hebrews says that no diatheke ( G1242) , will, can be operative until the death of the testator so that the new diatheke ( G1242) , covenant, cannot become operative apart from the death of Christ. That is a merely verbal argument and is quite unconvincing to a modern mind; but it must be remembered that this founding of an argument on a play between two meanings of a word was a favourite method of the Alexandrian scholars in the time when this letter was written. In fact this very argument would have been considered in the days when the letter to the Hebrews was written an exceedingly clever piece of exposition.
(ii) His second answer goes back to the Hebrew sacrificial system and to Leviticus 17:11: "The life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement." "Without the shedding of blood there can be no atonement for sin," was actually a well-known Hebrew principle. So the writer to the Hebrews goes back to the inauguration of the first covenant under Moses, the occasion when the people accepted the law as the condition of their special relationship with God. We are told how sacrifice was made and how Moses "took half of the blood and put it in basins; and half of the blood he threw against the altar." After the book of the law had been read and the people had signified their acceptance of it, Moses "took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, 'Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words'" ( Exodus 24:1-8). It is true that the memory of the writer to the Hebrews of that passage is not strictly accurate. He introduces calves and goats and scarlet and hyssop which come from the ritual of The Day of Atonement and he talks about the sprinkling of the Tabernacle, which at that time had not yet been built; but the reason is that these things are so much in his mind. His basic idea is that there can be no cleansing and no ratification of any covenant without the shedding of blood. Why that should be so he does not need to know. Scripture says it is so and that is enough for him. The probable reason is that blood is life, as the Hebrew saw it, and life is the most precious thing in the world; and man must offer his most precious thing to God.
All that goes back to a ritual which is only of antiquarian interest. But behind it there is an eternal principle--Forgiveness is a costly thing. Human forgiveness is costly. A son or a daughter may go wrong and a father or a mother may forgive; but that forgiveness brings tears, whiteness to the hair, lines to the face, a cutting anguish and then a long dull ache to the heart. It does not cost nothing. Divine forgiveness is costly. God is love but he is also holiness. He least of all can break the great moral laws on which the universe is built. Sin must have its punishment or the very structure of life disintegrates. And God alone can pay the terrible price that is necessary before men can be forgiven. Forgiveness is never a case of saying: "It's all right; it doesn't matter." It is the most costly thing in the world. Without the shedding of heart's blood there can be no forgiveness of sins. Nothing brings a man to his senses with such arresting violence as to see the effect of his sin on someone who loves him in this world or on the God who loves him for ever, and to say to himself: "It cost that to forgive my sin." Where there is forgiveness someone must be crucified.
THE PERFECT PURIFICATION ( Hebrews 9:23-28 )
9:23-28 So, then, if it was necessary that the things which are copies of the heavenly realities should be cleansed by processes like these, it is necessary that the heavenly realities themselves should be cleansed by finer sacrifices than those of which we have been thinking. It is not into a man-made sanctuary that Christ has entered--that would be a mere symbol of the things which are real. It is into heaven itself that he entered, now to appear on our behalf before the presence of God. It is not that he has to offer himself repeatedly, as the High Priest year by year enters into the Holy Place with a blood that is not his own. Were that so he would have had to suffer again and again since the world was founded. But now, as things are, once and for all, at the end of the ages, he has appeared with his sacrifice of himself so that our sins should be cancelled. And just as it is laid down for men to die once and for kill and then to face the judgment, so Christ, after being once and for all sacrificed to bear the burden of the sins of many, will appear a second time, not this time to deal with sin, but for the salvation of those who are waiting for him.
The writer to the Hebrews, still thinking of the supreme efficacy of the sacrifice which Jesus made, begins with a flight of thought which, even for so adventurous a writer as he, is amazing. Let us remember again the letter's basic thought that the worship of this world is a pale copy of the real worship. The writer to the Hebrews says that in this world the Levitical sacrifices were designed to purify the means of worship. For instance, the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement purified the tabernacle and the altar and the Holy Place. Now he goes on to say that the work of Christ purifies not only earth but heaven. He has the tremendous thought of a kind of cosmic redemption that purified the whole universe, seen and unseen.
So he goes on to stress again the way in which the work and the sacrifice of Christ are supreme.
(i) Christ entered into no man-made Holy Place; he entered into the presence of God. We are to think of Christianity not in terms of Church membership but in terms of intimate fellowship with God.
(ii) Christ entered into the presence of God not only for his own sake but for ours. It was to open the way for us and plead our cause. In Christ there is the greatest paradox in the world, the paradox of the greatest glory and the greatest service, the paradox of one for whom the world exists and who exists for the world, the paradox of the eternal King and the eternal Servant.
(iii) The sacrifice of Christ never needs to be made again. Year after year the ritual of the Day of Atonement had to go on and the things that blocked the road to God had to be atoned for; but through Christ's sacrifice the road to God is for ever open. Men were always sinners and always will be but that does not mean that Christ must go on offering himself again and again. The road is open once and for all. We can have a faint analogy of that. For long a certain surgical operation may be impossible. Then some surgeon finds a way round the difficulties. From that day that same road is open to all surgeons. We may put it this way--nothing need ever be added to what Jesus Christ has done to keep open the way to God's love for sinning men.
Finally, the writer to the Hebrews draws a parallel between the life of man and the life of Christ.
(i) Man dies and then comes the judgment. That itself was a shock to the Greek for he tended to believe that death was final. "When earth once drinks the blood of a man," said Aeschylus, "there is death once and for all and there is no resurrection." Euripides says: "It cannot be the dead to light shall come." "For the one loss is this that never mortal maketh good again the life of man--though wealth may be re-won." Homer makes Achilles say when he reaches the shades: "Rather would I live upon the soil as the hireling of another, with a landless man whose livelihood was small, than bear sway among all the dead who are no more." Mimnermus writes with a kind of despair:
"O Golden love, what life, what joy but thine?
Come death, when thou art gone, and make an end!"
There is a simple Greek epitaph:
"Farewell, tomb of Melite; the best of women lies here, who loved
her loving husband, Onesimus; thou wert most excellent, wherefore
he longs for thee after thy death, for thou wert the best of
wives. Farewell thou too, dearest husband, only love my children."
As G. Lowes Dickinson points out, in the Greek, the first and the last word of that epitaph is "Farewell!" Death was the end. When Tacitus is writing the tribute of biography to the great Agricola all he can finish with is an "if."
"If there be any habitation for the spirits of just men, if, as the
sages will have it, great souls perish not with the body, mayest
thou rest in peace."
"If" is the only word. Marcus Aurelius can say that when a man dies and his spark goes back to be lost in God, all that is left is "dust, ashes, bones, and stench." The significant thing about this passage of Hebrews is its basic assumption that a man will rise again. That is part of the certainty of the Christian creed; and the basic warning is that he rises to judgment.
(ii) With Christ it is different--he dies and rises and comes again, and he comes not to be judged but to judge. The early Church never forgot the hope of the Second Coming. It throbbed through their belief. But for the unbeliever that was a day of terror. As Enoch had it of the Day of the Lord, before Christ came: "For all you who are sinners there is no salvation, but upon you all will come destruction and a curse." In some way the consummation must come. If in that day Christ comes as a friend, it can be only a day of glory; if he comes as a stranger or as one whom we have regarded as an enemy, it can be only a day of judgment. A man may look to the end of things with joyous expectation or with shuddering terror. What makes the difference is how his heart is with Christ.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Barclay, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:16". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/hebrews-9.html. 1956-1959.
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Gann, Windell. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:16". Gann's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gbc/hebrews-9.html. 2021.
For where a testament is,.... The covenant of grace, as administered under the Gospel dispensation, is a testament or will. The Jews have adopted the Greek word, here used, into their language, and pronounce it דייתיקי, and by it understand a dying man's last will and testament d. Some of them make it to be of Hebrew derivation; as if it was said, דא תהי למיקם, "this shall be to confirm" e, or this shall be stable and firm; though others own it to be the same with this Greek word διαθηκη f. The covenant of grace, is properly a covenant to Christ, and a testament or will to his people: it is his and their Father's will, concerning giving them both grace and glory; it consists of many gifts and legacies; in it Christ is made heir of all things, and his people are made joint heirs with him; they are given to him as his portion; and they have all things pertaining to life and godliness bequeathed to them, even all spiritual blessings; the witnesses of it are Father, Son, and Spirit; and the seals of it are the blood of Christ, and the grace of the Spirit; and this is registered in the Scriptures by holy men as notaries; and is unalterable and immutable: and this being made,
there must also of necessity be the death of the testator; who is Christ; he has various parts in this will or testament; he is the surety and Mediator of it; and he is the executor of it; what is given in it, is first given to him, in order to be given to others; all things are put into his hands, and he has a power to give them to as many as the Father has given him; and here he is called the "testator": Christ, as God, has an equal right to dispose of the inheritance, both of grace and glory; and as Mediator, nothing is given without his consent; and whatever is given, is given with a view to his "death", and comes through it, and by virtue of it: hence there is a "necessity" of that, and that on the account of the divine perfections; particularly for the declaration of God's righteousness, or by reason of his justice; and also because of his purposes and decrees, which have fixed it, and of his promises, which are yea and amen in Christ, and are ratified by his blood, called therefore the blood of the covenant; and likewise on account of the engagements of Christ to suffer and die; as well as for the accomplishment of Scripture prophecies concerning it; and moreover, on account of the blessings which were to come to the saints through it, as a justifying righteousness, pardon of sin, peace and reconciliation, adoption and eternal life.
d T. Hieros. Peah, fol. 17. 4. & T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 152. 2. e T. Bab. Bava Metzia, fol. 19. 1. Maimon & Bartenora in Misn. Moed Katon, c. 3. sect. 3. & in Bava Metzia, c. 1. sect. 7. & in Bava Bathra, c. 8. sect. 6. f Cohen de Lara Ir David, p. 30.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:16". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/hebrews-9.html. 1999.
|The Priesthood of Christ.||A. D. 62.|
15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. 16 For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17 For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. 18 Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood. 19 For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, 20 Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. 21 Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. 22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.
In these verses the apostle considers the gospel under the notion of a will or testament, the new or last will and testament of Christ, and shows the necessity and efficacy of the blood of Christ to make this testament valid and effectual.
I. The gospel is here considered as a testament, the new and last will and testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is observable that the solemn transactions that pass between God and man are sometimes called a covenant, here a testament. A covenant is an agreement between two or more parties about things that are in their own power, or may be so, and this either with or without a mediator; this agreement takes effect at such time and in such manner as therein declared. A testament is a voluntary act and deed of a single person, duly executed and witnessed, bestowing legacies on such legatees as are described and characterized by the testator, and which can only take effect upon his death. Now observe, Christ is the Mediator of a New Testament (Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 9:15); and he is so for several ends and purposes here mentioned. 1. To redeem persons from their transgressions committed against the law or first testament, which makes every transgression a forfeiture of liberty, and makes men debtors, and slaves or prisoners, who need to be redeemed. 2. To qualify all those that are effectually called to receive the promise of an eternal inheritance. These are the great legacies that Christ by his last will and testament has bequeathed to the truly characterized legatees.
II. To make this New Testament effectual, it was necessary that Christ should die; the legacies accrue by means of death. This he proves by two arguments:-- 1. From the general nature of every will or testamentary disposition, Hebrews 9:16; Hebrews 9:16. Where a testament is, where it acts and operates, there must of necessity by the death of the testator; till then the property is still in the testator's hand, and he has power to revoke, cancel, or alter, his will as he pleases; so that no estate, no right, is conveyed by will, till the testator's death has made it unalterable and effectual. 2. From the particular method that was taken by Moses in the ratification of the first testament, which was not done without blood, Hebrews 9:18; Hebrews 9:19, c. All men by sin had become guilty before God, had forfeited their inheritance, their liberties, and their very lives, into the hands of divine justice but God, being willing to show the greatness of his mercy, proclaimed a covenant of grace, and ordered it to be typically administered under the Old Testament, but not without the blood and life of the creature; and God accepted the blood of bulls and goats, as typifying the blood of Christ; and by these means the covenant of grace was ratified under the former dispensation. The method taken by Moses, according to the direction he had received from God, is here particularly related (1.) Moses spoke every precept to all the people, according to the law, Hebrews 9:19; Hebrews 9:19. He published to them the tenour of the covenant, the duties required, the rewards promised to those who did their duty, and the punishment threatened against the transgressors, and he called for their consent to the terms of the covenant; and this in an express manner. (2.) Then he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and applied this blood by sprinkling it. This blood and water signified the blood and water that came out of our Saviour's pierced side, for justification and sanctification, and also shadowed forth the two sacraments of the New Testament, baptism and the Lord's supper, with scarlet wool, signifying the righteousness of Christ with which we must be clothed, the hyssop signifying that faith by which we must apply all. Now with these Moses sprinkled, [1.] The book of the law and covenant, to show that the covenant of grace is confirmed by the blood of Christ and made effectual to our good. [2.] The people, intimating that the shedding of the blood of Christ will be no advantage to us if it be not applied to us. And the sprinkling of both the book and the people signified the mutual consent of both parties, God and man, and their mutual engagements to each other in this covenant through Christ, Moses at the same time using these words, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. This blood, typifying the blood of Christ, is the ratification of the covenant of grace to all true believers. [3.] He sprinkled the tabernacle and all the utensils of it, intimating that all the sacrifices offered up and services performed there were accepted only through the blood of Christ, which procures the remission of that iniquity that cleaves to our holy things, which could not have been remitted but by that atoning blood.
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Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Hebrews 9:16". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/hebrews-9.html. 1706.
The apostle now resumes his great theme, Christ called a Priest of God for ever after the order of Melchisedec. He alludes, in the beginning of our chapter, to the historical facts of Genesis. We must bear in mind that Melchisedec was a man like any other. There, is no ground, in my judgment, for the thought of anything mysterious in the facts as to his person. The manner in which scripture introduces him is such as to furnish a very striking type of Christ. There is no necessity for considering anything else, but that the Spirit of God, forecasting the future, was pleased to conceal the line of Melchisedec's parentage, or descendants if any, of their birth or death. He is suddenly ushered upon the scene. He has not been of by the reader before; he is never heard of again in history. Thus the only time when he comes into notice he is acting in the double capacity here spoken of: King of righteousness as to his name, King of Salem as to his place, blessing Abraham on his return from the victory over the kings of the Gentiles in the name of the Most High God, and blessing the Most High God the possessor of heaven earth in the name of Abraham.
The apostle does not dwell on the detailed application of His Melchisedec priesthood, as to the object and character of its exercise. He does not draw attention here to the account, that there was only blessing from man to God, and from God to man. He does not reason from the singular circumstance that there was no incense, any more than sacrifice. He alludes to several facts, but leaves them. The point to which he directs the reader is the evident and surpassing dignity of the case the unity too of the Priest and the priesthood; and this for an obvious reason.
The time for the proper exercise of the Melchisedec priesthood of Christ is not yet arrived. The millennial day will see this. The battle which Abraham fought, the first recorded one in scripture, is the type of the last battle of this age. It is the conflict which introduces the reign of peace founded on righteousness, when God will manifest Himself as the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth. This is, as is well known, the special characteristic of the millennium. Heaven and earth have not been united, nor have they been in fact possessed for the blessing of man by the power of God, since sin severed between the earth and that which is above it, and the prince of the power of the air perverted all, so that what should have been, according to God's nature and counsels, the source of every blessing, became rather the point from which the guilty conscience of man cannot but look for judgment. Heaven, therefore, by man's own conviction, must be arrayed in justice against earth because of sin, But the day is coming when Israel shall be no more rebellious, and the nations shall be no longer deceived, and Satan shall be dethroned from his bad eminence, and all idols shall flee apace, and God shall be left the undisputed and evidently Most High, the possessor of heaven and earth. In that day it will be the joy of Him who is the true Melchisedec, to bring out not the mere signs, but the reality of all that can be the stay and comfort of man, and all that sustains and cheers, the patent proof of the beneficent might of God, when "no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly."
But meanwhile, confessedly, the Spirit of God directs attention, not to the exercise, but to the order of the Melchisedec Priest. If we have to wait for the exercise at a future day, the order is as true and plain now as it ever can be. Indeed, at no time will its order be more apparent than at present; for I think there can be little doubt to any unbiassed Christian who enters with intelligence into the Old Testament prophecies, that there is yet to be an earthly sanctuary, and, consequently, earthly priests and sacrifices for Israel in their own land; that the sons of Zadok, as Ezekiel lets us know, will perpetuate the line at the time when the Lord shall be owned to be there, in the person of the true David their King, blessing His people long distressed but now joyful on earth. But this time is not yet come. There is nothing to divert the heart from Christ, the great High Priest in the heavens. No doubt all will be good and right in its due season then. Meanwhile Christianity gives the utmost force to every type and truth of God. The undivided place of Christ is more fully witnessed now, when there are no others to occupy the thought or to distract the heart from Him as seen by faith in glory on high.
Hence the apostle applies the type distinctly now, as far as the "order" of the priesthood goes. We hear first of Melchisedec (King of righteousness), next of Salem or peace; without father, without mother, without genealogy. Unlike others in Genesis, neither parents are recorded, nor is there any hint of descent from him. In short, there is. no mention of family or ancestors, "having neither beginning of days, nor end of life" neither is recorded in scripture; "but made like unto the Son of God, abideth a priest continually."
The next point proved is the indisputable superiority of the Melchisedec priesthood to that of Aaron, of which the Jews naturally boasted. After all, the telling fact was before them that, whoever wrote the epistle to the Hebrews, it was not a Christian who wrote the book of Genesis, but Moses; and Moses bears witness to the homage which Abram rendered to Melchisedec by the payment of tithes. On the other hand, the priests, Aaron's family, among the sons of Levi, "have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham." Thus Melchisedec, "whose descent is not of Aaron nor of Levi," like Jesus, "received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises!" "And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better." No argument could be more distinct or conclusive. The other descendants of Abraham honoured the house of Aaron as Levitical priests; but Abraham himself, and so Levi himself, and of course Aaron, in his loins honoured Melchisedec. Thus another and a higher priesthood was incontestably acknowledged by the father of the faithful. "And, as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him."
This leads to another point; for the change of the priesthood imports a change of the law. "If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?" This change was clearly taught in the book of Psalms. It was not only that there had been at the beginning such a priest, but that fact became the form of a glorious anticipation which the Holy Ghost holds out for the latter day. Psalms 110:1-7, which, as all the Jews owned, spoke., throughout its greater part at least, of the Messiah and His times, shows us Jehovah Himself by an oath, which is afterwards reasoned on signifying that another priest should arise after a different order from that of Aaron. "The priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest." Thus the Pentateuch and the Psalms bore their double testimony to a Priest superior to the Aaronic.
Further, that this Priest was to be a living one, in some most singular manner to be an undying Priest, was made evident beyond question, because in that Psalm it is said, "He testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec." This was also a grand point of distinction. Where could they find such a Priest? where one competent to take up that word "for ever"? Such was the Priest of whom God spoke. "For," says he, "there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof (for the law made nothing perfect)." He uses in the most skilful manner the change of the priest, in order to bring along with it a change of the law, the whole Levitical system passing away "but [there is] the bringing in of a better hope." Such is the true sense of the passage. "For the law made nothing perfect" is a parenthesis. By that hope, then, "we draw nigh unto God."
But again the solemn notice of Jehovah's oath is enlarged on. "Inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest: (for those priests were made without an oath" no oath ushers in the sons of Aaron "but he with an oath by him that said as to him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:) by so much was Jesus made a surety of a better covenant."
And, finally, he sums up the superiority of Christ in this, that "they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: but he, because of his continuing for ever, hath the priesthood intransmissible." There was but one such Priest.
In every point of view, therefore, the superiority of the Melchisedec priest was demonstrated over the line of Aaron. The fulfilment of the Melchisedec Order is found in Christ, and in Him alone. The Jews themselves acknowledge that Psalms 110:1-7 must be fulfilled in Christ, in His quality of Messiah. Nothing but stupid, obstinate, unbelieving prejudice, after the appearance of the Lord Jesus, could have suggested any other application of the Psalm. Before Jesus came, there was no question of it among the Jews. So little was it a question, that our Lord could appeal to its acknowledged meaning, and press the difficulty His person created for unbelief. By their own confession the application of that Psalm was to the Messiah, and the very point that Jesus urged upon the Jews of His day was this how, if He were David's Son, as they agreed, could He be his Lord, as the Psalmist David confesses? This shows that, beyond question, among the Jews of that day, Psalms 110:1-7 was understood to refer to the Christ alone. But if so, He was the Priest after the order of Melchisedec, as well as seated at Jehovah's right hand a cardinal truth of Christianity, the import of which the Jews did not receive in their conception of the Messiah. Hence throughout this epistle the utmost stress is laid on His being exalted in heaven Yet there was no excuse for a difficulty on this score. Their own Psalm, in its grand prophetic sweep, and looking back on the law, pointed to the place in which Christ is now seated above; and where it is of necessity He should be, in order to give Christianity its heavenly character.
The doctrine follows: "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost." He does not mean by this the worst of sinners, but saving believers to the uttermost, bringing through every difficulty those "that come unto God by him." A priest is always in connection with the people of God, never as such with those that are outside, but a positive known relation with God "seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens." This statement is so much the more remarkable, because in the beginning of this epistle he had pointed out what became God. It 'became Him that Christ should suffer. It became us to have a Priest, "holy, harmless, undefiled, made higher than the heavens."
What infinite thoughts are those that God's word gives; as glorifying for Himself as elevating for our souls! Yet who beforehand would have anticipated either? It became God that Christ should go down to the uttermost; it became us that He should be exalted to the highest. And why? Because Christians are a heavenly people, and none but a heavenly Priest would suit them. It became God to give Him to die; for such was our estate by sin that nothing short of His atoning death could deliver us; but, having delivered us, God would make us to be heavenly. None but a heavenly Priest would suffice for the counsels He has in hand. "Who needeth not daily," therefore says He, "as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's." He always keeps up the evidence of the utter inferiority of the Jewish priest, as well as of the accompanying state of things, to that of Christianity. "For this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath which was since the law, a Son perfected (or consecrated) for ever." This was the very difficulty that the Jew pleaded; but now, in point of fact, it was only what the Psalm of Messiah insisted on, the law itself bearing witness of a priest superior to any under the law. Holy Scripture then demanded that a man should sit down at the right hand of God. It was accomplished in Christ, exalted as the great Melchisedec in heaven. If they were Abraham's children, and not his seed only, surely they would honour Him.
Hence, in Hebrews 8:1-13, the apostle draws his conclusion. "Now of the things that are being spoken of this is a summary: We have such an high priest, who is set down on [the] right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the holies, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man." InHebrews 1:1-14; Hebrews 1:1-14 it is written, that "having by himself made purification of our sins, he sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." The point there is personal glory. No other seat was suitable to such a One. He sat down there as of His own right and title, but nevertheless making a part of His divine glory to be witnessed in, as indeed His person was necessary to make His blood efficacious to the purging of our sins. But in chapter 8. He sits there not merely as the proof of the perfectness with which He has purged our sins by Himself alone, but as the Priest; and accordingly it is not merely said "on high," but "in the heavens." Such is the emphasis. Accordingly observe the change of expression. He has been proved to be a divine person, and the true royal priest of whom not Aaron only but Melchisedec was the type. Hence the right hand of the throne is introduced, but, besides, "of the Majesty in the heavens." So that, let the Jews say what they might, there was only found what answered to their own scriptures, and what proved the incontestable superiority of the great Priest whom Melchisedec shadowed out, and of whom it was now for the Christian justly to boast. He is "minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not of man." Now the tone becomes bolder with them, and shows clearly that the Jew had but an empty form, a foreshadow of value once, but now superseded by the true antitype in the heavens.
Here, too, he begins to introduce what a. priest does, that is, the exercise of his functions. "For every high priest is constituted to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. For if he were on earth, he should not even be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: who serve the representation and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was oracularly told when about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern that was shown to thee in the mountain. But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant." Thus, before he enters on the subject of the sacrifices at length, he takes notice of the covenants, and thence he draws a conclusion from the well-known prophecy in Jeremiah, where God declares that the days were coming when He would make a new covenant. What is the inference from that? He presses the fact of a new principle, as well as an institution established on better promises, upon the Jews. For why should there be a new covenant, unless because the first was faulty or ineffectual! What was the necessity for a new covenant if the old one would do as well? According, to the Jews it was quite impossible, if God had once established a covenant, He could ever change; but the apostle replies that their own prophet is against their theory. Jeremiah positively declares that God will make a new covenant. He argues that the word "new" puts the other out of date, and this to make room for a better. A new covenant shows that the other must have thereby become old, and therefore is decaying and ready to vanish away.
All this is a gradual undermining the wall until the whole structure is overthrown. He is labouring for this, and with divine skill accomplishes it, by the testimonies of their own law and prophets. He does not require to add more to the person and facts of Christ than the Old Testament furnishes, to prove the certainty of Christianity and all its characteristic truths with which he occupies himself in this epistle. I say not absolutely all its great truths. Were it a question of the mystery of Christ the Head, and of the church His body, this would not be proved from the Old Testament, which does not reveal it at all. It was hid in God from ages and generations. There are types that suit the mystery when it is revealed, but of themselves they never could make it known, though illustrating particular parts when it is. But whether we look at the heavenly supremacy of Christ over the universe, which is the highest part of the mystery, or at the church associated with Him as His body, composed of both Jew and Gentile, where all distinction is gone, no wit of man ever did or could possibly draw this beforehand from the Old Testament. Indeed, not being revealed of old, according to the apostle, it is altogether a mistake to go to the Old Testament for that truth.
Hence in Hebrews we never find the body of Christ as such referred to. We have the church, but even when the expression "church" occurs, it is the church altogether vaguely, as inHebrews 2:12; Hebrews 2:12, or viewed in the units that compose it not at all in its unity. It is the assembly composed of certain individuals that make it up, regarded either as brethren, as in the second chapter ("In the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee"), or as the church of the first-born ones, as in Hebrews 12:1-29, persons who drew their title from Christ the first-born Heir. There we have those that compose the church, in allusion to Christ, contrasted with the position of Israel as a nation, because of the nearness which they possess by the grace of Christ known on high.
It may be observed, too, that the Holy Ghost appears but little in this epistle. Not of course that one denies that He has His own proper place, for all is perfect as to each person of the Trinity and all else, but never to this end. For a similar reason we never find life treated in the epistle, nor righteousness. It is not a question of justification here. We hear of sanctification often, but even what is thus spoken of throughout is rather in connection with separation to God and the work of Christ, than the continuous energy of the Holy Ghost, except, as far as I remember, in one practical passage "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." In other cases the epistle to the Hebrews speaks of sanctification by God's call, and Christ's blood. I refer to the fact just to exemplify on the one hand the true bearing of the epistle, and what I believe will be discovered in it, and on the other hand to guard against the mistake of importing into it, or trying to extract from it, what is not there.
Hebrews 9:1-28 brings us into the types of the Levitical ritual, priesthood and sacrifice. Before developing these, the apostle refers to the tabernacle itself in which these sacrifices were offered. "There was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the showbread; which is called holy. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called holy of holies; which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold." Carefully observe that it is the tabernacle, never the temple. The latter is not referred to, because it represents the millennial glory; the former is, because it finds its proper fulfilment in that which is made good in the Christian scheme now. This supposes the people of God not actually settled in the land, but still pilgrims and strangers on the earth; and the epistle to the Hebrews, we have already seen, looks emphatically and exclusively at the people of God as not yet passed out of the wilderness; never as brought into the land, though it might be on the verge; just entering, but not actually entered. There remains, therefore, a sabbath-keeping for the people of God. Thither they are to be brought, and there are means for the road to keep us moving onward. But meanwhile we have not yet entered on the rest of God. It remains. Such is a main point, not ofHebrews 4:1-16; Hebrews 4:1-16 only, but of the epistle. It was the more urgent to insist on it, because the Jews, like others, would like to have been settled in rest here and now. This is natural and pleasant to the flesh, no doubt; but it is precisely what opposes the whole object of God in Christianity, since Christ went on high till He come again, and therefore the path of faith to which the children of God are called.
Accordingly, then, as suiting this pilgrim-path of the Christian, the tabernacle is referred to, and not the temple. And this is the more remarkable, because his language is essentially of the actual state of what was going on in the temple; but he always calls it the tabernacle. In truth, the substratum was the same, and therefore it was not only quite lawful so to call it, but if he had not, the design would have been marred. But this shows the main object of the Spirit of God in directing us for the type that applies to the believer now to an unsettled pilgrim-condition, not to Israel established in the land of promise.
To what, then, is the allusion to the sanctuary applied? To mark that as yet the veil was unrent. "Into the second [goes] the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: the Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way of the holies was not yet made manifest, while as yet the first tabernacle was standing: which is a figure for the present time according to which are offered both gifts and sacrifices that could not, as pertaining to the conscience, make him that did the religious service perfect; which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation." With all this Christianity is contrasted. "But Christ being come a high priest of good things to come, by the better and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, nor by blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood entered in once into the holies, having obtained eternal redemption." Here the words "for us" had better be left out. They really mar the sense, because they draw attention not to the truth in itself so much as its application to us, which is not the point in Hebrews 9:1-28, but rather ofHebrews 10:1-39; Hebrews 10:1-39. Here it is the grand truth itself in its own character. What is the value, the import., of the sacrifice of Christ viewed according to God, and as bearing on His ways? This is the fact. Christ has gone into the presence of God," having obtained eternal redemption." For whom it may be is another thing, of which he will speak by-and-by. Meanwhile we are told that He has obtained (not a temporary, but) "eternal redemption." It is that which infinitely exceeds the deliverance out of Egypt, or any ceremonial atonement ever wrought by a high priest for Israel. Christ has obtained redemption, and this is witnessed by the token of the veil rent from top to bottom. The unrent veil bore evidence on its front that man could not yet draw near into the holiest that he had no access into the presence of God. This is of the deepest importance. It did not matter whether it was a priest or an Israelite. A priest, as such, could no more draw near into the presence of God in the holiest than any of the common people. Christianity is stamped by this, that, in virtue of the blood of Christ, once for all for every believer the way is made manifest into the holiest of all. The veil is rent: the believer can draw near, as is shown in the next chapter; but meanwhile it is merely pointed out that there is no veil now, eternal redemption being obtained.
Thus does the apostle reason on it: "For if the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh" (which the Jew would not contest): "how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to do religious service to the living God? And for this cause he is mediator of the new covenant, that by means of death, for redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, the called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance." Thus the power of what Christ had wrought was now brought in for future ends; it was not merely retrospective, but above all in present efficacy while the Jews refuse Christ.
The allusion in the last clause to the eternal inheritance (for everything is eternal in the Hebrews, standing in decided contrast with Jewish things which were but for a season) leads the Holy Spirit to take up the other meaning of the same word, which was and is rightly enough translated covenant. At first sight every one may have been surprised, especially those that read the New Testament in the language in which God wrote it, at the double meaning of the word which is here translated "covenant." It ( διαθήκη ) means "testament" as well as "covenant." In point of fact the English translators did not know what to make of the matter; for they give sometimes one, sometimes the other, without any apparent reason for it, except to vary the phrase. In my judgment it is correct to translate it both ways, never arbitrarily, but according to context. There is nothing capricious about the usage. There are certain surroundings which indicate to the competent eye when the word "covenant" is right and when the word "testament" is better.
It may then be stated summarily, in few words, unless I am greatly mistaken, that the word should always be translated "covenant" in every part of the New Testament, except in these two verses; namely, Hebrews 9:16-17. If, therefore, when you find the word "testament" anywhere else in the authorized version, you turn it into "covenant" in my opinion you will not do amiss. If in these two verses we bear in mind that it really means "testament," growing out of the previous mention of the "inheritance," I am persuaded that you will have better understanding of the argument. In short, the word in itself may mean either; but this is no proof that it may indifferently or without adequate reason be translated both ways. The fact is, that love of uniformity may mislead some, as love of variety misled our English translators too often. It is hard to keep clear of both. Every one can understand, when once we find that the word means almost always covenant," how great the temptation is to translate it so in but two other occurrences, especially as before and after it means "covenant" in the same passage. But why should it be "testament" in these two verses alone, and "covenant" in all other places? The answer is, that the language is peculiar and precise in these same two verses, requiring not a covenant but a testament, and therefore the sense of testament here is the preferable one, and not covenant. The reasons will be given in a moment.
First of all, as has been hinted, that which suggests "testament" is the end of verse 15 "They which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance." How is it that anybody ordinarily gets an inheritance? By a testament, to be sure, as every one knows. Such has been the usual form in all countries not savage, and in all ages. No figure therefore would be more natural than that, if God intended certain persons called to have an inheritance, there should be a testament about the matter. Accordingly advantage is taken of an unquestionable meaning of the word for this added illustration, which is based on the death of Christ, "Where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator." That the word ( διαθέμενος ) in this connection means "testator" appears to me beyond just question. I am not aware that it is, nor do I believe that it could be, ever used in such a sense as "covenanting victim," for which some contend. It often means one who arranged or disposed of property, or anything else, such as a treaty or covenant.
Let us next apply the word "covenant" here, and you will soon see the insuperable difficulties into which you are plunged. If you say," For where a covenant is, there must also of necessity be the death of the covenanter" the person. Now is it an axiom, that a covenant-maker must die to give it force? It is quite evident, on the contrary, that this is not only not the truth which all recognize when stated, but altogether inconsistent with the Bible, with all books, and with all experience. In all the covenants of scripture the man that makes it has never to die for any such end. Indeed both should die; for it usually consists of two parties who are thus bound, and therefore, were the maxim true, both ought to die, which is an evident absurdity.
The consequence is, that many have tried (and I remember making efforts of that kind myself, until convinced that it could not succeed) to give ὁ διαθέμονος , in the English Bible rightly rendered "the testator," the force of the covenanting victim. But the answer to this is, that there is not a single writer in the language, not sacred only but profane, who employs it in such a sense. Those therefore that so translate our two verses have invented a meaning for the phrase, instead of accepting its legitimate sense as attested by all the monuments of the Greek tongue; whereas the moment that we give it the meaning assigned here rightly by the better translators, that is, the sense of "testator" and "testament," all runs with perfect smoothness, and with striking aptitude.
He is showing us the efficacy of Christ's death. He demonstrates its vicarious nature and value from the sacrifices so familiar to all then, and to the Jew particularly, in connection with the covenant that required them Now his rapid mind seizes, under the Spirit's guidance, the other well-known sense of the word, namely, as a testamentary disposition, and shows the necessity of Christ's death to bring it into force. It is true that victims were sometimes slain in ratifying a covenant, and thus were the seal of that covenant; but, first, they were not essential; and, secondly and chiefly, ὁ διαθέμενος , the covenanter or contracting party had in no case to die in order to make the contract valid. On the other hand it is notoriously true, that in no case can a testament come into execution without the testator's death a figure that every man at once discerns. There must be the death of him who so disposes of his property in order that the heir should take it under his testament. Which of these two most commends itself as the unforced meaning of the passage it is for the reader to judge. And observe that it is assumed to be so common and obvious a maxim that it could not be questioned. "For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator." The addition of this last clause as a necessary condition confirms the sense assigned. Had he merely referred to the covenant ( i.e. the sense of the word which had been used before), what would be the aim of the "also?" It is just what he had been speaking of throughout, if covenant were still meant. Apply it to Christ's death as the testator, and nothing can be plainer or more forcible. The death of Christ, both in the sense of a victim sacrificed, and of a testator, though a double figure, is evident to all, and tends to the self-same point. "For a testament is of force after men are dead (or, in case of dead men, ἐπὶ νεκροῖς ): since it is never of force when the testator liveth."
But now, returning from this striking instance of Paul's habit of going off at a word ( διαθήκη ), let us resume the regular course of the apostle's argument. "Whereupon neither the first [covenant] was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself, and all the people, saying, "This [is] the blood of the covenant which God hath enjoined unto you. And he sprinkled likewise with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are according to the law purged with blood; and without shedding, of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the representations of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into holies made with hands, figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us."
Thus distinctly have we set before us the general doctrine of the chapter, that Christ has suffered but once, and has been offered but once; that the offering cannot be severed from the suffering. If He is to be often offered, He must also often suffer. The truth on the contrary is, that there was but one offering and but one suffering of Christ, once for all; in witness of the perfection of which He is gone into the presence of God, there to appear for us. Thus it will be observed, at the end of all the moral and experimental dealings with the first man (manifested in Israel), we come to a deeply momentous point, as in God's ways, so in the apostle's reasoning. Up to this time man was the object of those ways; it was simply, and rightly of course, a probation. Man was tried by all sorts of tests from time to time God knew perfectly well, and even declared here and there, the end from the beginning; but He would make it manifest to every conscience, that all He got from man in these His varied dealings was sin. Then comes a total change: God takes up the matter Himself, acting in view of man's sin; but in Jesus, in the very Messiah for whom the Jews were waiting, he has put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and has accomplished this mighty work, as admirably befitting the goodness of God, as it alone descends low enough to reach the vilest man, and yet deliver him with a salvation which only the more humbles man and glorifies God. For now God came out, so to speak, in His own power and grace, and, in the person of Christ on the cross, put away sin abolished it from before His face, and set the believer absolutely free from it as regards judgment.
"But now once in the consummation of the ages," this is the meaning of "the end of the world;" it is the consummation of those dispensations for bringing out what man was. Man's worst sin culminated in the death of Christ who knew no sin; but in that very death He put away sin. Christ, therefore, goes into heaven, and will come again apart from sin. He has nothing more to do with sin; He will judge man who rejects Himself and slights sin. as He will appear to the salvation of His own people. "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation."
It is perfectly true that, if we think of Christ, He was here below absolutely without sin; but He who was without sin in His person, and all His life, had everything to do with sin on the cross, when God made Him to be sin for us. The atonement was at least as real as our sin; and God Himself dealt with Christ as laying sin upon Him, and treating Him, the Great Substitute, as sin before Himself, that at one blow it might be all put away from before His face. This He has done, and done with. Now accordingly, by virtue of His death which rent the veil, God and man stand face to face. What, then, is man's actual estate? "As it is appointed unto men once to die," wages of sin, though not all, "but after this the judgment," or the full wages of sin, "so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many;" this He has finished; "and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation." He will have nothing more to do with sin. He has so absolutely swept it away for those who believe on Him, that when He comes again, them will be no question of judgment, as far as they are concerned, but only of salvation, in the sense of their being cleared from the last relic or result of sin, even for the body. Indeed it is only the body that is here spoken of. As far as the soul is concerned, Christ would not go up to heaven until sin was abrogated before God. Christ is doing nothing there to take away sin; nor when He comes again will He touch the question of sin, because it is a finished work. Christ Himself could not add to the perfectness of that sacrifice by which He has put away sin. Consequently, when He comes again to them that look for Him, it is simply to bring them into all the eternal results of that great salvation.
In Hebrews 10:1-39 he applies the matter to the present state of the believer. He had shown the work of Christ and His coming again in glory. What comes in between the two? Christianity. And here we learn the direct application. The Christian stands between the cross and the glory of the Lord Jesus. He rests confidingly on the cross, that only valid moral basis before God; at the same time he is waiting for the glory that is to be revealed. "For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins." No Jew could or ought to pretend to such purgation as its result.
I should like to ask whether (or how far) all the believers here assembled can take this as their place with simplicity. You, as a Christian, ought to have the calm settled consciousness that God, looking on you, discerns not one spot or stain, but only the blood of Jesus Christ His Son that cleanses from all sin. You ought to have the consciousness that there is no judgment for you with God by-and-by, however truly He, as a Father, judges you now on earth. How can such a consciousness as this be the portion of the Christian? Because the Holy Ghost bears this witness, and nothing less, to the perfectness of the work of Christ. If God's word be true, and to this the Spirit adheres, the blood of Christ has thus perfectly washed away the sins of the believer. I mean his sins now; not sin as a principle, but in fact, though it be only for faith. "The worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins." It is not implied that they may not sin, or that they have no consciousness of their failure, either past or present. "Conscience of sins" means a dread of God's judging one because of his sins. For this, knowing His grace in the work of Christ for them, they do not look; on the contrary, they rest in the assurance of the perfection with which their sins are effaced by the precious blood of Christ.
This epistle insists on the blood of Christ, making all to turn on that efficacious work for us. It was not so of old, when the Israelite brought his goat or calf. "In those sacrifices," referring to the law to which some Hebrew Christians were in danger of going back, "there is a remembrance made again of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins." Therefore all such recurring sacrifices only call sins to remembrance; but what the blood of Christ has done is so completely to blot them out, that God Himself says, "I will remember them no more.
Accordingly he now turns to set forth the contrast between the weakness and the unavailingness of the Jewish sacrifices, which, in point of fact, only and always brought up sins again, instead of putting them away as does the sacrifice of Christ. In the most admirable manner he proves that this was what God was all along waiting for. First of all, "Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God." There we find these two facts. First, in God's counsels it was always before Him to have One more than man though a man to deal with this greatest of all transactions. There was but One that could do God's will in that which concerned man's deepest wants. Who was this One? Jesus alone. As for the first Adam and all his race, their portion was only death and judgment, because he was a sinner. But here is One who proffers Himself to come, and does come. "In the volume of the book it is written of me" a book which none ever saw but God and His Son. There it was written, "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God." Redemption was the first thought of God a counsel of His previous to the dealings with man which made the necessity of redemption felt. God meant to have His will done, and thereby a people for Himself capable of enjoying His presence and His nature, where no question of sin or fall could ever enter.
First, He makes a scene where sin enters at once. Because His people had no heart for His promises, He imposed a system of law and ordinances that was unjudged in them, which provoked the sin. and made it still more manifest and heinous. Then comes forth the wondrous counsel that was settled before either the sin of man, or the promises to the fathers, or the law which subsequently put man to the test. And this blessed person, single-handed but according to the will of God, accomplishes that will in offering Himself on the cross.
So it is said here, "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first" (that is, the law), "that he may establish the second" (that is, God's will, often unintelligently confounded by men with the law, which is here set in the most manifest contradistinction). Next the apostle, with increasing boldness, comes to the proof from the Old Testament that the legal institution as a whole was to be set aside. "He taketh away the first." Was this Paul's doctrine? There it was in the Psalms. They could not deny it to be written in the fortieth psalm. "Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do, thy will, O God." All he does is to interpret that will, and to apply it to what was wrought on the cross. "By the which will" (not man's, which is sin, but God's) "we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."
This leads to a further contrast with the action of the Aaronic priest. "Every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God." Jesus sits down in perpetuity. This is the meaning of the phrase, not that He will sit there throughout all eternity. Εἰς τὸ διηνεκές does not express eternity (which would be εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα , or some such form of words) but "for continuance." He sits there continually, in contrast with the Jewish priest, who was always rising up in order to do fresh work, because there was fresh sin; for their sacrifices never could absolutely put away sin. The fact was plain that the priest was always doing and doing, his work being never done; whereas now there is manifested, in the glorious facts of Christianity, a Priest sat down at God's right hand, a Priest that has taken His place there expressly because our sins are blotted out by His sacrifice If there was any place for the priest, one might have supposed, to be active in his functions, it would be in the presence of God, unless the sins were completely gone. But they are completely gone; and therefore at God's right-hand sits down He who is its witness.
How could this be disputed by one who simply believed Psalms 110:1-7? For there is seen not only the proof that the Messiah is the One whom God pronounced by an oath "a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec," but the glorious seat He has taken at the right-hand of God is now worked into this magnificent pleading. Christianity turns everything to account. The Jew never understood his law until the light of Christ on the cross and in glory shone upon it. So here the Psalms acquire a meaning self-evidently true, the moment Christ is brought in, who is the truth, and nothing less. Accordingly we have the third use of the seat Christ has taken. In the first chapter we saw the seat of personal glory connected with atonement; in the eighth chapter it is the witness of His priesthood, and where it is. Here it is the proof of the perpetual efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ. We shall find another use before we have done, which I hope to notice in its place.
But the Holy Ghost's testimony is not forgotten. As it was God's will and the work of Christ, so the Holy Ghost is He who witnesses to the perfectness of it. It is also founded on one of their own prophets. "This is the covenant," says he, "that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin."
Then we hear of the practical use of all. "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holies by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our hope [for so it should be] without wavering (for he is faithful that promised); and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." But the higher the privilege, the greater the danger of either despising or perverting it.
In Hebrews 6:1-20, we saw that the Spirit of God brings in a most solemn warning for those who turn their back on the power and presence of the Holy Ghost, as bearing witness of Christianity. Here the apostle warns those that turn their back on Christ's one sacrifice. It is evident that in these we have the two main parts of Christianity. The foundation is sacrifice; the Power is of the Holy Ghost. The truth is, that the Holy Ghost is come down for the purpose of bearing His witness; and he that deserts this for Judaism, or anything else, is an apostate and lost man. And is he better or safer that slights the sacrifice of the Son of God, and goes back either to earthly sacrifices or to lusts of flesh, giving a loose rein to sin, which is expressly what the Son of God shed His blood to put away? He who, having professed to value the blessing of God abandons it, and rushes here below into the sins of the flesh knowingly and deliberately, is evidently no Christian at all. Accordingly it is shown that such an one becomes an adversary of the Lord, and God will deal with him as such. As in chapter 6 he declares that he is persuaded better things of them, than that they would abandon the Holy Ghost; so here he expected better things than that they would thus dishonour the sacrifice of Christ In that case, he says, God was not unrighteous to forget their work and labour of love; in this case, he lets them know that he had not forgotten the way in which they had suffered for Christ. There it was more particularly the activity of faith; here it is the suffering of faith.
This leads into the life of faith, which was a great stumbling-block to some of these Christian Jews. They could not understand how it was they should come into greater trouble than before. They had never known so great and frequent and constant trial. It seemed as if everything went against them. They had looked for advance and triumph and peace and prosperity everywhere; on the contrary, they had come into reproach and shame, partly in their own persons, partly as becoming the companions of others who so suffered. But the apostle takes all this difficulty by the horns, as good as telling them, that their having suffered all this was simply because it is the right road. These two things, the cross on earth and glory on high, are correlative. As they are companions, so do they test a walk with God; one is faith, the other is suffering. This, he maintains, has always been so; it is no novelty he is preaching. Accordingly the epistle to the Hebrews, while it does put the believer in association with Christ, does not, for all this, dissociate him from whatever is good in the saints of God in every age. Hence the apostle takes care to keep up the real link with the past witnesses for God in faith and suffering, not in ordinances.
In the beginning ofHebrews 11:1-40; Hebrews 11:1-40 we are told what faith is. It is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." It is no definition of what it is to believe, but a description of the qualities of faith. "For by it the elders obtained a good report." How could any believers put a slight upon it? "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God;" a simple but a most sublime truth, and one that man never really found out that we are entirely dependent on faith for after all. The wise men of the present day are fast giving up the truth of creation. They do not believe that God called all things into being. The greater number of them may use the word "creation," but it must never be assumed that they mean what they say. It is wise and necessary to examine closely what they mean. Never was there a time when men used terms with a more equivocal design than at the present moment. Hence they apply some terms to the work of God in nature similar to what they apply to His work in grace. The favourite thought is "development;" and so they hold a development or genesis of matter, not a creation: matter continually progressing, in various forms, until at last it has progressed into these wise men of our day. This is precisely what modern research amounts to. It is the setting aside of God, and the setting up of man; it is the precursor of the apostasy that is coming, which again will issue in man taking the place of God, and becoming the object of worship, instead of the true Creator. Nor is it that redemption only is denied, but creation also; so that there is very great importance in maintaining the rights and the truth of God in creation.
Therefore it is well to stand clear of all men's schemes and thoughts, ever rising up more and more presumptuously, because they mainly consist of some slight in one way or another on the word of God. A simple word of scripture settles a thousand questions. What the wise men of antiquity, the Platos and Aristotles, never knew what the modern sages blunder about, without the slightest reason, after all the word of God has made the possession of every child of His. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
There is no indulgence of human curiosity. We do not know the steps of His work, until we come to the preparation of an abode for man. Nothing can be more admirable than this reserve of God. We are not told the details of what preceded the great week when God made the man and the woman. I am not going to enter into any statement of facts as to this now, but there is no truth in its own place more important than that with which the apostle commences in this chapter, namely, that "through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God." It is not only that we believe it, but we understand it thereby. There is nothing more simple; at the same time it is just one of those questions that God has answered, and this so as to settle the mind perfectly, and fill the heart with praise. Man never did nor could settle it without the word of God. There is nothing here below so difficult for the natural mind; and for the simple reason that man can never rise above that which is caused. The reason is obvious because he is caused himself. Therefore is it that men so naturally slip into, or rest on, second causes. He is only one of a series of existing objects, and consequently never can rise above that in his own nature. He may infer that there must be; but he never can say that there is. Reason is ever drawing conclusions; God is, and reveals what is. I may, of course, see what is before my eyes, and. may so far have sensible evidence of what exists now; but it is only God who can tell me that He in the beginning caused to be that which now is. God alone who spake it into being can pronounce upon it. This is just what the believer receives, feeds on, and lives accordingly.
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God." It is possible that the word "worlds," which is a Hebraistic word, belonging to the Alexandrian Jews particularly, may embrace dispensations; but undoubtedly the material world is included in it. It may mean the worlds governed by dispensations; but still that the idea of the whole universe is in it cannot be fairly contested by competent minds. "The worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen" which would not be the case if it was only a dispensation "were not made of things which do appear."
Having laid this as the first application of faith, the next question is when man fell, how was he to approach God? The answer is, by sacrifice. This then is brought before us. "By faith Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain."
The third point is how to walk with God, and this again is by faith. Thus in every case it is faith. It owns the creation; it recognizes sacrifice as the only righteous means of being accepted with God the only means of approaching Him worthily. Faith, again, is the only principle of walk with God; as it is, again, the only means of realizing the judgment of God coming on all around us.
Here, it is plain, we have the chief lineaments of revealed truth. That is to say, God is owned in His glory, as Creator of all by His word. Then, consequent on the fall, comes the ground of the believer's acceptance; then his walk with God, and deliverance from His judgment of the whole scene, in the midst of which we actually are. Faith brings God into everything. (Verses 1-7.)
But then comes far more definite instruction, and, beginning with Abraham, the details of faith. The father of the faithful was the one first called out by promise. At first it was (ver. 8) but the promise of a land; but when in the land he received the promise of a better country, that is, a heavenly, which raised his eyes to the city on high, in express contrast with the earthly land. When he dwelt in Mesopotamia, he had a promise to bring him into Canaan; and when he got there, he had a promise of what was higher to lead his heart above. At the end of his course there was a still heavier tax on him. Would he give up the one that was the type of the true Seed, the progenitor, and the channel of the promised blessing, yea, of the Blesser? He knew that in Isaac his seed was to be called. Would he give up Isaac? A most searching and practical question, the very unseen hinge in God Himself on which not Christianity only, but all blessing, turns for heaven and earth, at least as far as the fallen creation is concerned. For what did the Jews wait in hope? For Christ, on whom the promises depend. And of what did Christianity speak? Of Christ who was given up to death, who is risen and gone above, in whom we find all the blessing promised, and after a better sort. Thus it is evident that the introduction of the last trial of Abraham was of all possible moment to every one that stood in the place of a son of Abraham. The severest and final trial of Abraham's faith was giving up the son, in whom all the promises were infolded, to receive him back on a resurrection ground in figure. It was, parabolically, like that of Christ himself. The Jews would not have Him living. The Christians gained Him in a far more excellent way after the pattern of resurrection, as Abraham at the close received Isaac as it were from the dead.
Then we have the other patriarchs introduced, yet chiefly as regards earthly hopes, but not apart from resurrection, and its connection with the people of God here below. On these things I need not now dwell farther than to characterize all, from Abraham inclusively, as the patience of faith. (Verses 8-22.)
Then, having finished this part of the subject, the apostle turns to another characteristic in believers the mighty power of faith which knows how to draw on God, and breaks through all difficulties. It is not merely that which goes on quietly waiting for the accomplishment of the counsels of God. This it was of all consequence to have stated first. And for this simple reason: no place is given herein to man's importance. Had the energetic activity of faith been first noticed, it would have made more of man; but when the heart had been disciplined in quiet endurance, and lowly expectancy from God, then he could be clothed with the energy of the Spirit. Both are true; and Moses is the type of the latter, as Abraham of the former. Accordingly we find everything about Moses. as well as done by him, extraordinary. His deliverance was strange; still more his decision and its results. He goes out, deliberately and knowingly, just at the time of life when a man is most sensitive to the value of a grand sphere of influence, as well as exercise of his powers, wherein, too, he could have ordinarily exerted all in favour of his people. Not so Moses. He acted in faith, not policy. He made nothing of himself, because he knew they were God's people. Accordingly he became just the more the vessel of divine power to the glory of God. He chose "rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward." And what then? "By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king." This was in the ways of God the necessary moral consequence of his self-abnegation.
"Through faith he instituted the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them. By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned." These two last verses bear witness to the grace of God in redemption. In the blood of the Lamb, sprinkled on the door-posts of Israel, we see the type of God's judgment of their sins; next, in the passage of the Red sea, the exhibition of His power, which, in the most conspicuous way, saved them, and destroyed for ever their enemies. But whether the one or the other, all was by faith.
But mark another striking and instructive feature of this chapter. No attention is paid here to the march through the wilderness, any more than to the establishment in the land, still less to the kingdom. We have just the fact of their passing through the Red sea, and no more; as we have the fall of Jericho, and no more. The intention here was not to dwell either on the scene in which their waiting was put to the test, the wilderness, or on anything that could insinuate the settled position of Israel in the land. As to the pathway through the wilderness, it had been disposed of inHebrews 4:1-16; Hebrews 4:1-16. The grounds why Canaan could not consistently be made prominent in this epistle as a present thing, but only as a hope, we have already seen.
This deeply interesting chapter closes with the reason why those who had thus not only lived but died in faith did not get the promise: "God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." What was this "better thing"? Can there be a doubt that Christianity is meant? that good portion which shall not be taken away from those who cleave to the Crucified, who is now exalted in heaven? One can well understand that the apostle would leave his readers to gather thus generally what it must have been. God then has provided some better thing for us. He has brought in redemption in present accomplishment, and at the same time He has given scope for a brighter hope, founded on His mighty work on the cross, measured by Christ's glory as its present answer at the right hand of God. Hence He crowns the noble army of witnesses with Christ Himself. "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, laying aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking off unto Jesus the captain and completer of faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."
This is a different way of looking at His session there. In all the other passages of the epistle the meaning of the word is, that He took His seat, or simply sat down there. It is the fact that there He sat down; but in this place it will be observed that His taking His seat there is the reward of the life of faith. As the result of enduring the cross, having despised the shame, the word for sitting down here has a remarkably beautiful shade of meaning different from what is given in all the other occurrences. Its force implies that it is not merely what He did once, but what He is also doing still. Attention is drawn to the permanence of His position at the right hand of God. Of course it is true that Jesus took His seat there, but more is conveyed in the true form of the text ( κεκάθικεν ) here.
This, however, only by the way. Beyond question the Lord is regarded as the completer of the whole walk of faith in its deepest and, morally, most glorious form. Instead of having one person illustrating one thing, another person another, the Lord Jesus sums up the perfection of all trial in His own pathway, not as Saviour only, but in the point of view of bearing witness in His ways for God here below. Who ever walked in faith as He? For indeed He was a man as really as any other, though infinitely above man.
From this practical lessons of great value are drawn. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children." Thus the first part of the chapter shows us simply what God holds out to the new man; but the epistle to the Hebrews never looks at the Christian simply in the new man, but rather as a concrete person. From the beginning to the end of it the Christian in Hebrews is not thus dealt with apart from the old nature, as we may see him regarded in the ordinary epistles of Paul, where the old and the new man are most carefully separated. It is not the case in the epistles of James and Peter, with which so far the epistle to the Hebrews agrees. The reason I take to be, that the apostle meets the Jewish believer where he is, as much as possible giving credit for what was really true in the Old Testament saints, and so in the Jewish mind. Now it is evident that in the Old Testament the distinction was not made between flesh and spirit in the way in which we have it brought out in the general doctrine of Christianity.
The apostle is dealing with the saints as to their walk; and as he had shown how Christ alone had purged the sins of the believer, and how He is on high, as the Priest in the presence of God, to intercede for them in their weakness and dangers; so now, when he is come to the question of the walk of faith, Christ is the leader of that, walk. Accordingly, this is an appeal to the hearts. which cleave to Christ the rejected King, and Holy Sufferer, who is now in glory above. He necessarily completes all as the pattern for the Christian. But then there are impediments as well as sin, by which the enemy would keep us from the race set before us; whilst God carries on His discipline in our favour. And the apostle shows that we need not only a perfect pattern in the walk of faith, but chastenings by the way. This, he says, must be from a father who loves his true and faulty children: others enjoy no such care. First of all, it is love that calls us to the path that Christ trod; next, it is love that chastens us. Christ never needed this, but we do. He reasons that, while our parents only chastise us the best way they can (for after all their judgment might not be perfect), the Father of spirits never fails. He has but one settled purpose of goodness about us; He watches and judges for our good, and nothing but our good. He has set His mind upon making us, patterns of His holiness. It is what He carries on now. Fully does He allow, as connected with this, that the chastening seems not joyous but grievous. We begin with His love, and shall end in it without end. He only removes obstructions, and maintains our communion with Himself; surely this ought to settle every question for the believer. If we know His perfect love and the wisdom of it, we have the best answer to silence every murmuring thought or wish of the heart.
There is nothing more serious than to set grace against holiness. Nowhere does the apostle give the smallest occasion for such a thought. So here he tells them to "follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man lack the grace of God." It is not a question of the law, which a Jew might naturally conceive to be the standard of the will of God now as of old for Israel. How easily we even forget that we are not Jews but Christians! Reason can appreciate not grace but law; and so people are apt, when things go wrong, to bring in the law. It is quite legitimate to employ it in an à fortiori way, as the apostle does in Ephesians 6:1-24. For assuredly if Jewish children honoured their father and mother on legal grounds, much more ought Christian children on grounds of grace.
Another great call was, to beware "lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright." Thus you see, either corrupt passion on the one hand or profanity on the other, are unsparingly condemned by the grace of God. If the law could show little mercy in such a case, the grace of God views all sin as intolerable.
This leads him, from speaking of Esau's case, to add as a known fact, that afterward, when he desired to have inherited the blessing he was rejected (for he found no place of repentance), though he sought it carefully with tears. That is, he sought carefully with tears the blessing given to Jacob; but there was no room left for repentance, simply in the sense of change of mind; for, I suppose, the word here has that sense, which sometimes, no doubt, it has. In its ordinary usage, it has a much deeper force. Every change of mind is far from being repentance, which doctrinally means that special and profound revolution in the soul when we take God's part against ourselves, judging our past ways, yea, what we are in His sight. This Esau never sought; and there never was one who did seek and failed to find it. Esau would have liked well to have got or regained the blessing; but this was given of God otherwise, and he had forfeited it himself. Arranged all beforehand, neither Isaac's partiality nor Jacob's deceit was able to divert the channel. His purpose utterly failed to secure the blessing for his profane but favourite son. He saw his error at last, and put his seal on God's original appointment of the matter.
And here we are favoured with a magnificent picture of Christianity in contrast with Judaism. We are not come to Sinai, the mountain that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and a voice more terrible than that of the elements. To what then are we come? To mount Zion. And what is its distinctive character as here introduced? If we examine the historical facts as found in the Old Testament story, what is it rises up before all eyes as to Zion? When does it first appear? After the people had been tried and found wanting; after the priests had wrought, if possible, greater corruption; after the king of Israel's choice had reduced them to the lowest degradation. 'It was therefore a crisis after the most painful accumulation of evils that weighed on the heart of Israel. But if people and priest and king were proved thus vain, God was there, and His grace could not fail. Their abject ruin placed them just in the circumstances that suited the God of all grace. At that very moment therefore the tide begins to turn. God brings forward His choice, David, when the miserable end of Saul and Jonathan saw the Philistines triumphant, and Israel disheartened as they had scarce been beyond that moment. The hill of Zion up to this time had been the constant menace of the enemy against the people of the Lord; but in due time, when David reigned, it was wrested out of the hands of the Jebusites, and became the stronghold of Jerusalem, the city of the king. Thenceforward how it figures in the Psalms and prophets! This then is the monument for such as we are. Let blinded Jews turn their sightless eyeballs to the mountain of Sinai. Let men who can see only look there, and what will be found? Condemnation, darkness, death. But what at Zion? The mighty intervention of God in grace yea, more than that, forgiveness, deliverance, victory, glory, for the people of God.
For not merely did David receive from Jehovah that throne, but never were the people of God lifted out of such a state of distress and desolation, and placed on such a height of firm and stable triumph as under that one man's reign. He had beyond all mere men known sorrow and rejection in Israel; yet he himself not only mounted the throne of Jehovah, but raised up His people to. such power and prosperity as, was never reached again. For although outwardly, no doubt, the prosperity lasted in the time of Solomon, it was mainly the fruit of David's suffering, and power, and glory. God honoured the son for the father's sake. It remained for a brief season; but even then it soon began to show rents down. to the foundations, which became apparent too, too quickly in Solomon's son. With Zion then the apostle justly begins. Where is the mountain that could stand out so well against Sinai? What mountain in the Old Testament so much speaks of grace, of God's merciful interference for His people when all was lost?
Rightly then we begin with Zion, and thence may we trace the path of glory up to God Himself, and down to the kingdom here below. Impossible to rise higher than the Highest, whence therefore the apostle descends, to consequences. Indeed we may say that the whole epistle to the Hebrews is just this: we start from the foundation of grace up to God Himself in the heavens; and thence springs the certainty that the stream of grace is not exhausted, and that undoubtedly it will issue in unceasing blessing by-and-by for the earth, and for the people of Israel above all, in the day of Jehovah.
Accordingly we have a remarkable line of blessing pursued for our instruction here. "Ye are come unto mount Zion," which was the highest Old Testament point of grace on earth. Others doubtless could speak of their Ararat, their Olympus, their Etna; but which boasted of the true God that loved His people in the way that Zion could? But would a Jew infer hence that it was only the city of David he was speaking of? Let him learn his error. "And unto the city of the living God, (not of dying David,) the heavenly Jerusalem" (not the earthly capital of Palestine). This I take to be a general description of the scene of glory for which Abraham looked. He could know nothing of the mystery of the church, Christ's body, nor of her bridal hopes; but he did look for what is called here the "heavenly Jerusalem," that city "whose maker and builder is God." In this phrase there is no allusion whatever to the church; nor indeed anywhere in the Hebrews is there any reference to its distinctive portion in union with its Head. When it says that Abraham looked for the city, it means a blessed and ordered scene of glory on high, which eclipsed the Holy Land before his eyes. This, however, does not mean the church, but rather the future seat of general heavenly bliss for the glorified saints.
Then he adds: "And to myriads of angels, the general assembly" for such is the true way to divide the verse "and to the church of the firstborn," etc. This proves that the city of the heavenly Jerusalem does not mean the church, because here they are certainly distinguished from each other, which therefore completely settles all the argument that is often founded on Abraham's looking for a heavenly city. It was not the church, I repeat, but what God prepares above for those who love Him. True, the apostle John uses this very city as the figure of the bride. But this essential difference separates between the city for which Abraham looked and the bride so symbolised in the Apocalypse. When the apostle Paul, speaks of "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem," he means the scene of future heavenly blessedness; whereas when John speaks of the new Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God, he means, not where but what we are to be. The difference is very great. The epistle sets before us the seat of glory prepared on high; the Revelation speaks of the bride represented as a glorious golden city with figures beyond nature. The one is what may be called the objective glory; the other is the subjective condition of those that compose the bride, the Lamb's wife.
Having brought its to see the "church of the firstborn which are written in heaven," the apostle next can only speak of "God the Judge of all." He describes Him thus in His judicial character. The reason appears to be, because he is going to tell us of the Old Testament saints. They had known God in His providence and dealings on the earth, though looking for a Messiah and His day. Hence, therefore, he now introduces us "to the spirits of just men made perfect." These evidently are the elders of olden times. None but the Old Testament saints, as a class, can all be in the separate state: not the church, or New Testament saints, for we shall not all sleep; nor the millennial saints, for none of them will die. The reference is therefore plain and sure.
Then we hear of "Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant" the pledge of Israel's full and changeless blessing. Lastly, he points "to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better than Abel:" the assurance that the earth shall be delivered from its long sorrow and slavery.
Thus the chain of blessedness is complete. He has shown its the symbolic mount Of grace in Zion, contrasted with Sinai the mountain of law. If the one figured the imposed measure of man's responsibility, which can only but most justly condemn him, in the other we behold the mountain of God's grace after all was lost. Then follows the heavenly glory, to which grace naturally leads; then the natural inhabitants of the heavenly land, namely, the angels "and to myriads of angels, the general assembly." Then he shows us others higher than these, by a divine call "and to the church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven." They do not belong to heaven like the angels; but God had an eternal purpose, which brought them by an extraordinary favour there. And then, in the centre of all, we have God Himself. But having looked up to Him who is above all, he speaks of the highest group next to God in His judicial character, namely, the Old Testament saints. Then he descends to a new or fresh covenant (not καινῆς , as elsewhere, but νέας ), the recently inaugurated covenant for the two houses of the ancient people. Although the blood on which that covenant was founded may be now long shed, when the covenant comes into force for them will it not be as fresh as the day the precious Victim died and shed His blood? The reference here I cannot but regard as exclusively to the two houses of Israel. And as thus were shown the people immutably blessed (for salt shall not be wanting to that covenant) in the scene that will soon come, we finally hear of the earth itself joyful in the curse removed for ever. It is "the blood that speaketh better than Abel." For the martyred saint's blood the earth cried to God for vengeance; but Christ's blood proclaims mercy from God, and the millennial day will be the glorious witness of its depth, and extent, and stability, before the universe.
The rest of the chapter brings in, accordingly, the closing scene, when the Lord comes to shake everything, and establish that blessed day. But although it will be the shaking of all things, not of earth only but also heaven, yet, marvellous to say, such confidence of heart does grace give, that this, which may be regarded as the most awful threat, turns into a blessed promise. Think of the shaking of heaven and earth being a promise! Nothing but absolute establishment of heart in God's grace could have gazed on a destroyed universe, and yet call it a "promise." But it is the language for us to learn and speak, as we are called to rest on God and not on the creature.
The last chapter (Hebrews 13:1-25) follows this up with some practical exhortations as to brotherly love continuing; then as to kindness to strangers, or hospitality; finally, as to pity for those in bonds. "Be mindful of those in bonds, as bound with them; and of those which suffer adversity." Again he insists upon the honour and purity of the marriage tie, and the abhorrence that God has for those that despise and corrupt it, and the sure judgment which will come upon them. He presses a conversation without covetousness, and a spirit of content, founded on our confidence in the Lord's care.
At the same time he exhorts the believers as to their chiefs, that is, those who guided them spiritually. It is I likely that the Hebrew believers were somewhat unruly. And their relation to their leaders he puts forward in various forms. First, they were to remember those that once ruled them. Those were now gone from the scene of their trials and labours, of "whom, considering the issue of their conversation, imitate the faith."
This naturally leads the apostle to bring before them One that never ends "Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and today, and for ever." Why should His saints be carried away with questions about meats and drinks? He is the same unchangingly and evermore, as He has ever been. "Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established in grace." See how this word, this thought, always predominates in the epistle. Why turn back to "meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein?"
Had they been taunted with having no altar, possessing nothing so holy and so glorious in its associations? It was only owing to the blindness of Israel. For, says he, "we have an altar," yea, more than that, an altar, "whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle." You that go after the tabernacle (as he persists in calling it, even though now the temple) have no title to our altar, with its exhaustless supplies. To us Christ is all.
But this becomes the occasion of a remarkable allusion, on which I must for a moment dwell. He draws attention to the well-known rites of the atonement day; at any rate, if not of that day exclusively, wherever there was a beast the body of which was burnt without the camp, and the blood carried within the veil. Do you not discern in this striking combination the distinctive features of Christianity? Alas! it is not the dulness of Jewish prejudice only, but exactly what is denied by every system of which men boast in Christendom. For these very features did Judaism despise the gospel. But let not the Gentile boast, no less unbelieving no less arrogant, against true Christianity. Christendom precisely takes the middle ground of Judaism between these two extremes. The mean looks and sounds well, but is utterly false for the Christian. The two extremes, offensive to every lover of the viâ media of religious rationalism, must be combined in Christianity and the Christian man, if he is to maintain it unimpaired and pure. The first is, that in spirit the Christian is now brought by redemption, without spot or guilt, into the presence of God. If you believe in Christ at all, such is your portion nothing less. If I know what Christ's redemption has accomplished for all who believe, I must know that God has given me this. He honours the work of Christ, according to His estimate of its efficacy, as it is only according to His counsels about us for Christ's glory. Of this we saw somewhat inHebrews 10:1-39; Hebrews 10:1-39. And what is the effect of it? As a Christian I am now free, by God's will, to go in peace and assurance of His love into the holiest of all yes, now. I speak, of course, of our entrance there only in spirit.
As to the outer man also, we must learn to what we are called now. The apostle argues that, just as the blood of the beast was brought into the holiest of all, while the body of the same animal was taken outside the camp and burnt, so this too must be made good in our portion. If I have an indisputable present title of access into the holiest of all, I must not shrink from the place of ashes outside the camp. He that possesses the one must not eschew the other. In these consists our double present association by faith, while on the earth. The apostle earnestly insists on them both. We belong to the holiest of all, and we act upon it, if we iet rightly, when we worship God; nay, when we draw near to God in prayer at all times. Brought nigh to God by the blood of Jesus, we have perfect access, so that there is nothing between God and us; for Christ suffered once to bring us to God, as He intercedes that we may have communion. with Him in this place of nearness. Our being brought to God supposes, and is founded on the fact, that our sins are gone perfectly by His one offering; otherwise no madness is greater than indulging such a thought. If it be not the truth, it would be the height of presumption indeed. But far from this, it is the simple fact Of the gospel. "He suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust," says another apostle, "that he might bring us" not to pardon, nor to peace, nor to heaven, but "to God." Compare alsoEphesians 2:1-22; Ephesians 2:1-22. We are brought, then, washed from our sins, to God, and, according to this epistle, into the holiest of all, where He displays Himself. The real presumption, therefore, is to pretend to be a Christian, and yet to doubt the primary fundamental truth of Christianity as to this.
But the bodies of those beasts were burnt without the camp: my place, so far as I in the body am concerned, is one of shame and suffering in this world.
Are those two things true of you? If you have and prize one alone, you have only got the half of Christianity yea, of its foundations. Are they both true of you? Then you may bless God that He has so blessed you, and given you to know as true of yourself that which, if not so known, effectually prevents one from having the full joy and bearing the due witness as an unworldly and simple-hearted servant of Christ here below. It is true, He does not always call at once into the place of reproach and suffering. He first brings us into the joy and nearness of His presence. He satisfies us with the perfectness with which Christ has washed us from our sins in His blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father. But having done this, He points us to the place of Christ without the camp. "Let us go forth therefore unto him without the. camp, bearing his reproach." This was the very thing that these Jewish Christians were shrinking, from, if not rebelling against. They had not made up their minds to suffer: to be despised was odious in their eyes. Nor is it pleasant to nature. But the apostle lets them know that if they understood their true blessing, this was the very part of it that was inseparably bound up with their present nearness to God, as set forth typically by the central and most important rite of the Jewish system. This is the meaning of the blood carried within, and of the body burnt without.
Let us then seek to combine these two things perfect nearness to God, and the place of utter scorn in the presence of man. Christendom prefers the middle course; it will have neither the conscious nearness, to God, nor the place of Christ's reproach among men. All the effort of Christendom is first to deny the one, and then to escape from the other. I ask my brethren here if they are looking to God strenuously, earnestly, for themselves and for their children, not to allow but to oppose as their adversary every thing that tends to weaken either of these truths, which are our highest privilege and our truest glory as Christians here below. What a surprise to the Hebrew believers to find such truths as these so strikingly shown out in type even in the Jewish system!
But the apostle goes farther, as indeed was due to truth. These characteristics he proves to be really found in Christ Himself. He is evidently gone into the holiest of all in His own person. But how? What had immediately preceded this, The cross. Thus the cross and heavenly glory must go together. The gracious Lord gives and designs that we should take His own place both in heaven and here. "Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp." This is just the closing practical word of the epistle to the Hebrews. God was going openly to set aside the Jewish system, as it had already been judged morally in the cross of Christ. When the Messiah was crucified, Judaism was in principle a dead thing: if it was in any sense kept up, it was no more than a decent time before its burial. But now God sends His final summons, founded on their own ritual, to His people who were hankering after the dead, instead of seeing the Living One on He as it were repeats, "Let the dead bury the dead." The Romans will do the last sad offices. But as for you who believe in Jesus, wait not for the Romans; let Judaism be nothing but a corpse, which does not concern you. "Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach."
This was a final call; and how gracious! If God had reserved the epistle to the Hebrews until after He sent forth His armies and burned up their city, destroying their polity root and branch, it might have been retorted that the Christians valued the Jewish ritual as loner as it was available, and only gave it up when earthly temple and sacrifice and priest were gone. But God took care to summon His children outside to abandon the whole system before it was destroyed. They were to leave the dead to bury their dead; and they did so. But Christendom has wholly failed to profit by the call, and is doomed to perish by a judgment yet more solemn and wide-spread than that which swept away the ancient temple.
Another point follows, connected with what we have had before us, and demanding our attention. Instead of pining after that which is about to be destroyed, or repining at the call to go out to the place of Christ's shame on earth, Christianity, which replaces Judaism now, may well cause us to offer "the sacrifice of praise to God continually." There are two kinds of sacrifice to which we are now called. "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, confessing his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." That may have a higher character, these a lower; but even the highest is never to supersede or make us forgetful of the lowest.
Then comes a second exhortation as to their guides, or leading men among the brethren. (Compare Acts 15:22.) Obey your leaders, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as those that shall give account." There is no sanction here, of course, of the vulgar and outrageous error that pastors give an account of the souls of their flock. It is an idea that superstition hatched, for the purpose of spuriously exalting a clerical order. The meaning is, that spiritual guides shall give an account of their own behaviour in watching over other souls; for it is a work that calls for much jealousy over self, patience with others, painstaking labour, lowliness of mind, and that hearty love which can bear all, endure all, believe all. There is then the solemn admonition of the account they are to render by-and-by. They watch as those that shall give an account. Now is the time for self-denying labour, and endurance in grace; by-and-by the account must be given to the Lord that appointed them. And the apostle would that their work of watching might be done with joy, and not groaning for this would be unprofitable for the saints.
But even the apostle felt his own need of the prayers of the faithful, not because he had gone wrong, but because he was conscious of no hindrance to his work from a had conscience. "Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience; in all things willing to live honestly. But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner."
Then he commends the saints to God. "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, in virtue of the blood of the everlasting covenant, perfect you in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight "through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for the ages of the ages."
Finally, he beseeches his brethren to hear the word of exhortation. Such is pre-eminently the bearing of this epistle to those who had no such frequent opportunities of profiting by his teaching as the Gentile churches. We can understand, therefore, both the delicacy that thus entreated them, and the meaning of the added words, "for also in few words I have written to you." Nor does it seem so natural for any as the great apostle to inform them of his child and fellow-labourer: "Know that the brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come pretty soon, I will see you. Salute all your leaders, and all the saints. They from Italy salute you. Grace be with you all. Amen."
Thus the apostle closes this most striking and precious epistle, brimful to overflowing with that which had an especial and very touching interest to a Jew, but nevertheless needed as certainly by us, and as rich in instruction for us in this day as for those at any time that has passed away. For let me say this as a parting word, and I say it advisedly, because of circumstances that might well be before our hearts, no deliverance, however enjoyed, no place of death to law, world, or sin, no privilege of union with Christ, will enable a soul to dispense with the truths contained in this epistle to the Hebrews. We are still walking here below; we are in the place therefore where infirmity is felt, where Satan tempts, where we may fail through unwatchfulness. The greater part of the affections of the Christian are drawn out toward our Saviour by all this scene of sin and sorrow through which we are passing on to heaven. If we formed our Christian character practically on such epistles as those to the Ephesians and Colossians alone, depend on it there may not be the hard lines of the law, but there will be very far from the fervent affections which become him who feels the grace of Christ. Be assured it is of the deepest possible moment to cherish the activity of Christ's present love and care for us, the activity of that priesthood which is the subject of this epistle. Holding fast the permanence of the blotting out of our guilt, may we nevertheless and besides own the need of such an One as Christ to intercede for us, and deal in grace with all our feebleness or faults. The Lord forbid that anything should enfeeble our sense of the value and necessity of such daily grace, There may be that which calls for confusion of face in us, but there is unceasing ground also for thanksgiving and praise, however much we have to humble ourselves in the sight of God.
London: W. H. Broom, Paternoster Row.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 9:16". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wkc/hebrews-9.html. 1860-1890.
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