THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS.
From Comments and Notes Discussed in Bible Classes and Compiled by F. M. Perry, 1978 through 1998.
With many thanks to James Burton Coffman for his "Commentary on Hebrews" from which these notes have borrowed liberally.
CHAPTER 4 VERSE 14 THROUGH CHAPTER 7 VERSE 10 - CHRIST IS A BETTER HIGH PRIEST.
In the first verse of chapter 3 the Hebrew Christians were called upon to "consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession." Then the third and most of the fourth chapter discussed the Apostleship of Jesus. Now in chapter 4 verse 14, the letter turns to the consideration of Jesus as High Priest. Of course, many of those things already said about Jesus from the beginning of the Hebrew letter also illustrate in some measure His qualifications as High Priest. All that has been said of His divinity and His existence from eternity as a member of the Godhead has a bearing on His High Priesthood. All that has been said about His humanity, His being made for a little while lower than the angels, His sharing in flesh and blood, and His suffering and death as a human being, has a great bearing on His High Priesthood. And all that has been said in chapters 3 and 4 about His Apostleship to lead Christians also has a bearing on His High Priesthood. So now the letter moves directly to the subject of High Priest with chapter 4 verses 14-16.
"(14) Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. (15) For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (16) Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:14-16. NASV.
From these verses we note that Jesus, the great high priest is shown again to be the Son of God as He was in previous chapters. In addition, He has "passed through the heavens." The significance of this passage may be that Jesus has "passed through" every part of the Heavenly tabernacle of God whereas Aaron and the Levitical high priests only "passed through" certain enclosures in the earthly tabernacle built by Moses. Christ entered God's rest, ascended far above the heavens, and "sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high." These are things no earthly priest could do. And Christ is a tender and sympathetic high priest because he has been tempted in all respects even as we are, except without sin. Because such a one as our high priest is there at the throne of grace, we can approach that throne of grace with boldness and confidence and we can have the grace to help us in time of need. Without Jesus there as our high priest, we could not draw near to God; we could not expect to be heard when we pray; and we could not receive the merciful salvation that we need.
"(1) For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; (2) he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; (3) and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself. (4) And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was. (5) So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, 'Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee'; (6) just as He says also in another passage, 'Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.' (7) In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. (8) Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. (9) And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, (10) being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek." Hebrews 5:1-10. NASV.
Here we have Christ's High Priesthood compared with the high priests under the Law of Moses. In the
Mosaic system, a great emphasis was placed on the glorious office of the high priest.
The writer begins with the ordinary qualifications of any high priest under Judaism. As given here in verses 1-4, they are:
1. The priest was taken from among men,
2. The priest was appointed by God,
3. The priest labored on behalf of man,
4. The priest had to deal gently with ignorant and misguided men,
5. The priest was called upon to recognize his own shortcomings,
6. The priest must possess a specified sacrifice, and
7. The Levitical priest could not take the honor of high priesthood to himself.
Then Hebrews shows in verse 5-10 how, in all these matters, Christ possessed extra-ordinary qualifications beyond any high priest who ever served before.
To a Jew of the first century the office of high priest was the most splendid and perhaps the highest office representative of Judaism. He was the chief judge of the nation and president of the Sanhedrin. He had great influence throughout the known world at that time and even had respect from the Roman conquerors. He was supposed to be a descendant from Aaron and the office dated all the way back to the exodus from Egypt. And he had the unique privilege of entering the Most Holy Place of the Temple once each year on the day of atonement. For a Jew to forsake this high priest to become a Christian, he had to be fully convinced that Christ is superior as high priest.
So in verses 5-10, it is pointed out that:
1. Christ also was taken from among men since He too lived in the flesh;
2. He too was appointed by God, not to serve just during His short human life, but forever as proved by the quotation from Psalm 110:4, "Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek;"
3. He too labored on behalf of men far beyond any other high priests, even dying for them, and becoming to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation;
4. He too deals gently with ignorant and misguided men, to the extent that even while we were yet sinners, He died for us (Rom 5: 8);
5. He, unlike the Levitical high priests, had no shortcomings and did not need to make sacrifice for Himself. Yet He was a man of prayer, offering up the sacrifice of lips, and His prayers were heard and answered (verse 7);
6. When Christ went into the Most Holy Place He possessed a far superior sacrifice than that of the Levitical high priest for He took His own blood shed once for all on the cross, the only truly complete and adequate sacrifice for the sins of men. And,
7. Christ did not seize the honor for Himself of serving as High Priest, but God the Father glorified Him when He had learned obedience from the things He had suffered, He became the only truly qualified one to serve as High Priest for all mankind, fully acceptable to God, and fully committed to the eternal welfare of men.
It is difficult for us to see all the ramifications of the powerful argument the Hebrew writer presents here concerning the High Priesthood of Christ for we are not really acquainted with Jewish thinking of the first century and the barriers that had to be overcome by the Hebrew writer to convince the Jews that Christ was the fulfillment to all Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. James Burton Coffman, in his "Commentary on Hebrews," discusses some very interesting things. The learned Jews, especially the Pharisees, could not reconcile the Old Testament scriptures concerning the Messiah King and the Messiah Priest. Some Old Testament scriptures called the coming Messiah "Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace", and yet other scriptures, often from the same Old Testament writer, called him "a Man of sorrows", "despised and rejected," "a root out of dry ground," and "acquainted with grief." The Pharisees never could understand these terms and referred them to different persons. A glorious King was one of them. A suffering High Priest was the other. They thought there would be two Messiahs. And they, of course, could think of no priest as a Messiah unless He be a descendant of Levi, of Aaron's line.
The Hebrew writer did something no one else had ever done before. He argued first from reference to Psa1m 110:1 (In Hebrews 1:13, "Sit at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet") that Christ is the universal King. Then here in Hebrews 5:6, he returns to that same Psa1m 110:4 and proclaims the universal priesthood of Christ, showing Him not to be of Aaron's line, but an independent High Priest of universal dominion "after the order of Melchizedek." Thus was it revealed to the Pharisees, at last, the mystery of how the suffering high priestly Messiah and the glorious kingly Messiah were one and the same person.
In chapter 7, Hebrews will take up the nature of Melchizedek and the manner of his foreshadowing the High Priesthood of Christ. So we will look at this Melchizdek in more detail when we get to chapter 7. It is important here in chapter 5 to note that Melchizedek is mentioned to show that Christ is, after all, qualified to be a great high priest, even though not descended from Aaron. And we will note from this first reference that Christ's priesthoiod is forever. He will have no successor. His work will never suffer any interruption nor be diminished in any way until the last redeemed sinners have entered the heavenly rest. Priests of Aaron's line were, like all men, subject to mortality and death; but not so with Christ who ever lives to make intercession for His own.
Before we leave these verses let us note verses 8 and 9 again, "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which Be suffered; and having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation."
In a sense, all men learn obedience by the things which they suffer. Usually men learn obedience through the sufferings that come as a consequence of their disobedience. But not so with Christ. He at all times was absolutely and perfectly obedient. And the sufferings Be endured were the consequence of His perfect obedience. His perfect obedience was the cause of the bitter hatred against Him, and provided the occasion for every blow that fell upon Him. The hatred against Christ was exactly in the pattern of the hatred against Abel when he was murdered by his brother Cain. John asks and answers in 1 John 3:12, "And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brothers' were righteous."
Chapter 2:10 says "it was fitting ... to perfect the author of ... salvation through suffering." This, perhaps, throws some light on how it can be said that Christ was "made perfect." As He who was to give Himself for our salvation, there lay in store for Him the experience of suffering in the flesh that He had not ever before experienced. He suffered because He was obedient and His perfect obedience undoubtedly brought upon Him the greatest degree of suffering that the Devil could possibly muster against Him. In that unique experience His qualifications of sympathy, love, mercy, and understanding might be said to have been made perfect. He had always been perfect but now He experienced something that had never been experienced before, though most sufferers have travail because of sin, sometimes their own sin, and often of others, such is the terrible characteristic of evil that even obedience to God brings suffering, and the perfect obedience of Christ resulted in the most overwhelming tide of suffering. Is it not understandable then, and appropriate, that the salvation which was procured by the perfect obedience of Christ our Savior should be made available to us only on the ground of our obedience?
The rest of chapter 5 and all of chapter 6 is an exhortation to the Hebrew Christians to arouse them from lethargy and to stimulate them to grow in knowledge , understanding, and usefulness to the Lord. It is evident that the Hebrew writer does not think that they have developed spiritually as they should have developed. And although sufficient time had elapsed since their conversion that they should have developed into teachers of the word of God, they had not. They apparently had become content with a knowledge of the rudimentary things of faith and the first principles of the gospel and had ceased to grow to any sort of maturity. And having stopped in their growth, they evidently were losing even their previous understanding of first principles. Perhaps, the writer takes the occasion at this point in the Hebrew letter to make this exhortation because he realizes that the marvelous things he is writing about (concerning Melchizedek, for instance) surely will not be understood. So, before proceeding with his teachings about Christ as High Priest, he takes time out to protest their incompetence to understand it. So he says:
"(11) Concerning him (Melchizedek) we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. (12) For though by this time. you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. (13) For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. (14) But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil." Hebrews 5:11-14, NASV.
These statements are quite blunt. We might say today - I am trying to explain something to you, but you don't have the capability to understand. You should by now have the capability not only to understand but to teach this subject yourselves. But, instead, you have to be taught again even the most elementary principles. In short, you are babies who have to be fed milk and cannot take solid food, that is, solid food, like the truths I am trying to explain to you, is for mature people who have practiced to discern the things I'm trying to explain. But you are like babies and are not mature. If a preacher should say something like that to a congregation today, there would be a lot of hurt feelings and lot of people would quit listening altogether. But there might be a few who would recognize it as true and rise to the challenge. And that is just what the Hebrew writer does in chapter 6 - He challenges the Hebrew Christians to get on with their Christian growth.
"(1) Therefore leaving the elementary teachings about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, (2) of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (3) And this we shall do, if God permits." Hebrews 6:1-3. NASV.
Verse 1 says we should be "leaving" the elementary teachings about Christ. We must "leave" in the sense that we must press on beyond elementary principles. The elementary principles are important and that is understood here in that they are referred to as a "foundation" on which "perfection" or "maturity"is laid. We should know the principles of the "foundation" backwards and forwards, or so well that our personal spiritual growth can go forward without pause. And some of those things, six fundamentals that we must know so well so we can progress, are given here in verses 1 and 2. They are:
1. Repentance from dead works.
2. Faith toward God.
3. Instructions about washings (or teachings about baptisms) .
4. Laying on of hands.
5. Resurrection of the dead.
6. Eternal judgment.
Let us discuss each of these:
1. "Repentance from dead works." Repentance is an invariable condition of forgiveness for any sin whatever. And all "works" are dead, in the sense intended here, except the ones that God works through the believer after repentance. The works of mere human goodness, the works of the flesh towards the goals of this world, the works of mortal achievement, and the works of the Law of Moses must also be included in the "dead works" mentioned here. They are to be contrasted with the "good works" that can be wrought in our lives after repentance and after God has created us anew. Ephesians 2:10 says, "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for 'good works,' which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." So "repentance" is a turning away from the "dead works" so that we can walk in the "good works" into which the Holy Spirit will lead us.
2. "And of faith toward God." Faith has already been mentioned in chapters 3 and 4 as fundamental for all people of God. There is much more involved than mere belief that a God exists. The fundamental faith of the Bible encompasses the full purpose of God and the part He would have us play in it. When we know that, we can press on beyond mere intellectual assent to God's existence, to the "good works" that will occur through partnership with his Son.
3. "Of instruction about washings" (the teachings about baptisms).
The plural use of the word "washings" or "baptisms" quite likely refers to the fact that a number of "baptisms" are mentioned in the New Testament. For instance, the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11), the baptism of fire (Matt. 3:11), the baptism of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:16), the baptism of the Children of Israel in the cloud and in the sea (1 Cor. 10:2), and the baptism of the great commission (Matt 28:18-20). The last of these, the baptism of followers of Jesus since His resurrection and ascension, is surely the "one" baptism of Ephesians 4:5 ("one Lord, one faith, one baptism"). The knowledge of these things was certainly part of the elementary things that one had to know to become a Christian. From reading secular history of the century before Christ and the first century after Christ, we learn that a number of sects (like the Essenes) may have practiced baptism on a regular basis as a rite of purification. So there were these secular baptisms that the Christians had to deal with as well as the baptisms mentioned in the New Testament books themselves. The teachings of baptisms would have been a fundamental, elementary teaching, then, in order that followers of Christ might learn the essential differences between the many baptisms of the world, and the essential baptism into Christ.
Since there are varied ideas about baptism in the world today, teachings by the Church about baptisms are essential today also. The New Testament teaches us the same thing that the first century Christians were taught, that baptism is the burial in water of a believing, penitent candidate, and the raising up again to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). Only those who believe and repent can receive Christian baptism. The purpose of baptism is to bring the believer into Christ (Gal 3:27; 1 Cor 12:13; Rom 6:3). The necessity of baptism lies in the commandment of Christ to all men of all nations of all times to be baptized (Matt 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). Peter, in Acts 2:38, commanded his hearers to repent and be baptized. So Baptism is a precondition for forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16). But it is not a mere emersion in water that saves one. Baptism without faith, or without repentance, or without the newness of life following, is not baptism. Let us not put off being baptized for until we are baptized we do not have remission of sins (Acts 2:38) and we are not saved (Mark 26:15-16), nor do we have the gift of "new life" ( Rom 6: 4) supplied by the gift of the Holy Spirit.
4. The "laying on of hands" was also the subject of elementary teachings especially in the first century. Remember, these early disciples did not have the collective books of the New Testament as yet, and the word of God was brought by men who received it from the Lord's Holy Spirit, and God bore witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 2:3-4). Such miraculous abilities (including the ability to preach the word) came to those first century preachers only from the Holy Spirit through the laying on of the Apostles' hands (Acts 8:18). Undoubtedly, there were false preachers bringing false doctrines, claiming miraculous powers (even as some preachers claim them today), who simply did not have God with them bearing them witness although they may have claimed it. It was essential that followers learn how the gifts of God were passed through the "laying on" of the Apostles' hands.
And so today, it is an elementary teaching that we should learn so that we are not led astray. Those wonderful miraculous powers came to the Church from the Holy Spirit only through the laying on of the Apostles' hands; and the power to pass on miraculous gifts was not hereditary, or transferable by any other means. Thus the gifts passed to first century preachers by the laying on of the Apostles' hands, have not been passed on to anyone living today. But the inspired preachers of the first century still speak to us today through the pages of the Bible, and we have the word of God because of the Holy Spirit's work through the Apostles and their "laying on of hands."
5. "The resurrection of the dead." This is another fundamental elementary teaching which, perhaps, is not taught as vigorously today as it should be. The whole teaching of Christ was founded upon the fact that there will be a resurrection of the bad and the good alike, that is, of all people. Jesus said, (John 5:28-29) "An hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds, to the resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment." Yet there are so-called Christians today who teach that the only hope of Christianity is what it does socially in this life. But Paul said, in 1st Cor. 15-19, "If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most pitiable." Without the resurrection of the dead, the whole of Christianity dissolves into emptiness and worthlessness.
6. "Eternal Judgment." This doctrine too, in these days, has been dropped out of the theological teachings of many denominations. Yet it is a fundamental part of Christianity. It is taught in the Old Testament (Dan. 12:2) and given a place of great importance in the New Testament. Christ plainly stated that all nations would appear simultaneously before Him in judgment, that He would sit upon the throne of God and separate the wicked from the righteous as the shepherd divides the sheep from the goats (Matt. 25:31ff).
Note again that these six elementary teachings are referred to as "a foundation," therefore very important; yet things that should be left (not forgotten) in order to press on toward the superlative goal of maturity that we can someday reach by the power of Christ.
"(4) For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, (5) and have tasted the good word of God and the power of the age to come, (6) and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame. (7) For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God, (8) but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned." Hebrews 6:4-8. NASV.
These verses have been abused by some in at least two ways. For instance, some say that the sin mentioned here, for which "it is impossible to renew them again to repentance," cannot be committed today - that there is no real danger of any of us getting into this predicament, but that is an abuse of this passage. Why would the warning be here if no one needed it? Surely the warning of this passage is a real warning against a real danger for every Christian.
On the other hand, it would be an abuse of this passage; to think that it means that there is no repentance for sins committed after one is baptized, that is, after one is baptized into Christ and falls away, that he can't be forgiven and brought back into God's fold. Other clear scriptures point out that when we sin (and we do), we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.
When I see this word "impossible" used to describe the state of a sinner, I immediately think of the "eternal sin" which Jesus spoke of in Mark 3: 28-29. Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin."
I am also reminded that later in Hebrews 10:26-31 the writer says something very similar: "For if we go on sinning wilfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.' And again, 'The Lord will judge His people.' It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
It appears to me that these three passages (2 in Hebrews and 1 in Mark) speak of the same state and that state is spiritual death. It is impossible to be saved while one is spiritually dead. I do not believe that there is any intention here of trying to classify sins into (1) those which God will not forgive, and (2) those which God will forgive. If one is not saved but receives the vengeance of God in the judgment, the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries, it will be because he is a sinner against God, has rejected the gospel of Christ and must be counted as an unforgiven adversary of God. On the other hand, if one is saved from this terrible judgment, it will not be because he is not a sinner against God, but because he has accepted the gospel of Christ and acted to avail himself of God's forgiveness.
God's forgiveness is available to all during life on earth, no exception. But if one rejects it, he does not have it, and he is spiritually dead and it is impossible for him to be saved without obedience to the gospel of Christ. The only comparative here in Hebrew 10 is between those who were once enlightened and fall away, and those who never became Christians at all. The point of the comparison is not in showing that one group of sinners will be lost and another group saved. Even men who have never become Christians as well as those who have fallen away will receive the wrath of God in judgment. Both groups will be lost. But, the writer asks, in Hebrews 10, how much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has once been enlightened and then falls away? He has realized salvation and then has rejected it. He has rejected the only thing that can save him and, if he has not lost his complete belief in God, he expects God to save him some other way Now this, God has defined as impossible!
The Hebrew writer speaks here to Jewish Christians who have once been enlightened, have tasted the heavenly gift, and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come after the age of Judaism. These Christians, however, are in danger of falling away. That is one of the obvious and primary reasons the book of Hebrews was written. These Christians are in danger of falling away from Christianity and trying again to be saved under the Mosaic system. That is impossible. Christ was crucified and put to open shame in order to fulfill the Old Covenant and to usher in the New Covenant. The only salvation now is under the New Covenant. It is impossible to come under the New Covenant, then reject it, and expect to be saved under the Old Covenant again. That would require crucifying to oneself the Son of God and putting Him to open shame again. That is like telling the Lord, I reject your first crucifixion in my behalf. I want to go back and look forward to your being crucified again. It is simply impossible to renew them again to repentance under Judaism if they have rejected the gospel of Christ.
The Hebrew writer hurries on, however, to prevent any discouragement or misunderstanding from arising in the minds of the Hebrew Christians that they have fallen away as yet.
"(9) But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. (10) For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. (11) And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, (12) that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." Hebrews 6:9-12. NASV.
It is clear that the Hebrew Christians have been negligent in studying God's word, nevertheless they had continued diligent in works of benevolence. The benevolence was good. But the warning becomes very pointed. You are in danger and benevolence alone does not take you out of danger. Ministering to the saints is good, but no substitute for learning and growing in the word of God. Social and charitable programs to ease the physical lives of people while they are on earth are not the first priority of Christian works. The true priority lies with the word and doctrine. Remember, all of the Apostles held, back in Acts 6:2, that it was "not fit" that they "should forsake the word of God and serve tables" (Acts 6:2). But now the Hebrew Christians are exhorted to turn to the word of God with the same diligence that they had ministered in benevolence to the needs of their Christian brethren. They are then exhorted to return to the word and doctrine of Christianity.
The reason is given that each Christian might possess the assurance of hope until the end of this life. The Hebrew Christians to whom he is writing do not have the full assurance of hope or there would have been no danger of them falling away. In this life the assurance we have for the future is invested in "hope." Now in verse 12 the writer exhorts, "Be ... imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." It is faith and patience that generates the assurance of hope within us and keeps us close to Christ. After mentioning that we should imitate those of faith and patience, the writer immediately holds up Abraham as one who had the assurance of hope and one whom they should imitate as an example of faith and patience. Note how skillfully the writer uses the example of Abraham to bring him back to the subject of Christ as a priest forever after the order of Melkizedek.
"(13) For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, (14) saying, 'I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply you.' (15) And thus, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise. (16) For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. (17) In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, (18) in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. (19) This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, (20) where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." Hebrews 6:13-20. NASV.
The faith and the patience of Abraham was exemplary. The promise to Abraham was to bless him, to multiply his family into a great nation, and finally, through him to bless all the nations of the earth. But many years passed before Abraham and Sarah had a son. Abraham waited patiently for the son, which according to all human reckoning was impossible. Then at last, when Isaac was born, and Abraham's hopes and affections were centered in him, his patience was further tested by the astounding command of God that Isaac should be offered as a sacrifice. But Abraham believed that even if Isaac was killed, God would still fulfill the promise. The nearly superhuman response of Abraham to that commandment of God became the occasion for God's confirming the promise with an oath.
Note that Abraham exhibited faith and patience and God rewarded him immediately with the assurance of hope. The example for us is that we should stay close to Christ in faith and patience and we will be rewarded in this life with the assurance of hope. We must be satisfied with assurance of hope for periods in this life as Abraham was. For many years in Abraham's life he had nothing to prove to him that God would fulfill the promise except his assurance of hope that came through his faith and patience.
The fulfillment of God's promise was not unreasonable to Abraham because he knew who God was and that it was impossible for God to lie. And being accustomed to accept the promises of men, especially when they guaranteed their promises with oaths, it was no problem for Abraham to accept and believe the promise of the Almighty God, who not only promised, but also swore by Himself, guaranteeing the promise with an oath. The faith of Abraham in God's promise and the patience he had to let God carry it out in God's own time, resulted in assurance of hope which was an anchor to the soul of Abraham in his fleshly life.
Now the promise made to Abraham long ago had great meaning to the Hebrew Christians being addressed in this letter and involved them, as well as it involves Christians today. God promised Abraham that in his seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. There was no time limit on that promise except the time that nations should exist on earth. So the promise is to us, as well, now fulfilled in the seed, Jesus Christ. Through the seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ, all the nations of the earth are being blessed with the ultimate, most superlative of blessings, ... salvation with Christ around the throne of God.
In the same way that God confirmed the promise to Abraham with an oath (as announced in Gen. 22:16ff), "desiring even more to show the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of his purpose, confirmed with an oath," also (as announced in Psalm 110:4) "The Lord has sworn, and will not change His mind, 'Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek."' Two times God has sworn with an oath.
It is through these two immutable, unchangeable things (not only the promise to bless all nations through Abraham but also the promise to make Christ, Abraham's seed, a priest forever) "in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast," and now through Jesus Christ it is a hope "which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest," not just temporarily during his fleshly life as the Levitical high priests, but "forever according to the order of Melchizedek."
A commentator, Morgan, has said the Levitical high priests had entered within the veil of the tabernacle once a year, but never as the forerunner of anyone. These high priests entered as representatives of those who were left outside. Those outside were always left outside. No one followed the Levitical high priest when he entered within the veil of the most holy place to stand in the presence of the ark and the mercy seat. But when Jesus entered the veil, He entered as a forerunner and the way was open for others to follow Him. Where Christ has gone His disciples shall eventually follow, that where He is there they may be also.
Thus is laid the foundation for the more complete comparison of the High Priesthood of Christ with that of Melchizedek which follows in chapter 7.
CHAPTER 7, VERSES 1-10.
"(1) For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, (2) to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which as king of peace. (3) Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he abides a priest perpetually. (4) Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. (5) And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest's office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. (6) But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham, and blessed the one who had the promises. (7) But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. (8) And in this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. (9) And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, (10) for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him." Hebrews 7:1-10. NASV.
Me1chizedek is mentioned in only two places in the Old Testament. There are three verses about him in Genesis 14:18-20; and one verse about him in Psalm 110:4. The Jews had always regarded the incident between Abraham and Melchizedek as a very minor thing. But the inspired author of Hebrews reveals that the reference in Psalm 110:4 shows that the incident was not a minor thing at all. On the contrary, it was something God swore to! God Himself, in that reference, made mention of a priest forever "after the order of Melchizedek," and therein lay the key to unravel the mystery of that Messiah whose kingship descended through Judah, and whose priesthood was that of an altogether different order from the one enjoyed by the Levites.
Abraham (then called Abram) had gone out with 318 trained men and defeated a great army belonging to four kings, and had rescued Lot. Then Genesis 14:18-20 says, "And Melchizedek King of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, 'Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.' And he gave him a tenth of all."
In, the verses here in Hebrews 7, Melchizedek is said to be like "unto the Son of God," and that Chris is after the likeness of Melchizedek, indicating clearly that Christ must be understood as the anti-type of Melchizedek; making things of Melchizedek's life typical of certain things in the life of Christ. The following likenesses in type and anti-type are plain:
1. The word "Melchizedek' means "King of Righteousness"; thus the very name becomes a title of the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. "King of Salem" means "King of Peace"; and thus the title of Melchizedek is another appropriate title of our Lord (Is. 9:6ff; Ps. 72:7).
3. Melchizedek was both a king and a priest, a double dignity not enjoyed by any Hebrew, not even Moses, but typical of Jesus Christ who is both King and High Priest.
4. Melchizedek received the gift of tithes from Abram, even as Christ receives gifts from them who love and follow Him.
5. Melchizedek brought forth bread and wine; and, although not specifically mentioned here in Hebrews, it is a strong suggestion of the Lord's institution of the Lord's supper.
6. Melchizedek blessed Abram; Christ blesses His followers.
7. Melchizedek's priesthood encompassed service to Gentiles and Jews alike, as witnessed by his reception of Abram. Christ likewise is the High Priest of all mankind, having no racial or other limitation.
8. The eighth likeness between Melchizedek and Christ is found in Hebrews 7:3 and is not mentioned in the Genesis record. In fact this likeness is based on what is not said in Genesis (that is, left out of the Genesis record) rather than what is said there.
Hebrews 7:3 says that Melchizedek was "without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he abides a priest perpetually." I don't believe that this means that Melchizedek was actually born in a manner different from other men, but that he had none of those things (father, mother, birthdate, or death date) in the scriptural record. Unlike the Levites who received their priestly offices through meticulously kept and guarded genealogies, Melchizedek in his single glorious appearance in the scriptures, flashes upon the record absolutely dissociated from everything either preceding or following that remarkable event. Not a word is said in the scriptures about his ancestry or his descendants. There was no record of his birth, his infancy, or his youth. He appeared in history once only, in royal priestly dignity, with not even a hint of how any of this came about. There is no record of his death as there was of Moses or Aaron; and for all the scriptures say to the contrary, he still stands after all these centuries, in endless glory, a priest of God Most High, receiving tithes of Abram and blessing him.
The author of Hebrews, through inspiration, saw that it was by God's purposeful design that the story of Melchizedek had been so deployed upon the sacred page of the Old Testament, in isolated splendor. That purpose was to make Melchizedek's priesthood suggest the endless priesthood of Christ. To be sure, Melchizedek's priesthood only gives an impression of being endless, whereas that of Christ is actually so.
Although some have speculated that Melchizedek was actually an incarnation of The Word (that is, Christ Himself, a member of the Godhead), and some think he was an angel, there is nothing in the Genesis record to indicate other than the obvious: that he was an actual historical character who lived in the world along with Abrahamm, but whose surrounding historical details are purposely left out of the record. Salem was an actual city; in fact there were two Salems. Jerusalem was at one time called Salem and then later came to be kmown as Jeru-salem. There was also another city in Shechem called Salem which was right in the path of Abraham as he returned toward Sodom as related in Genesis 14. This city of Salem (Salim) is mentioned in John 3:23.
The sudden way in which Melchizedek is revealed in Genesis and then suddenly dropped from the record, apparently is God's way of making him a type of Christ, the King-Priest, who like Melchizedek, stands alone and unique in his priesthood and who is absolutely distinct from the long succession of priests descended from Aaron.
The fact that Melchizedek is called the Priest of the Most High God is of the utmost significance to religius thought. Many men think that the Jews developed and originated monotheism (a religion of one God). But the Hebrew letter reveals that this Melchizedek. who was not a Jew, is positively identified with the Most High God, the same Most High God who has pointed him out as a type of the Messiah in Psalm 110:4. Of course Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden worshipped the one Most High God. Although the world after that became infested with polytheism, there seems to be evidence that the worship of the true Most High God never completely vanished from the earth. Thus Abraham, who became a worshipper of the Most High God, found the worship of the Most High God centered in Salim with Melchizedek the priest and king there.
There are only three short verses in Genesis about Melchizedek, and added to that, a single sentence concerning him in Psalm 110:4, written centuries after Melchizedek lived. And yet, there is before us in Hebrews an immense amount of dissertation on this ancient type of Christ. The astonishing fact, seized upon by the writer of Hebrews, is that so long after Abraham and Melchizedek had lived, God Himself, by means of His inspired writer of Psalm 110, should with an oath make that ancient character a likeness of the Messiah, indicating very forcefully that, from the very beginning, God had purposed to provide a higher order of divine service than that which was established by the Mosiac Law.
The reason for bringing this all up in Hebrews is that the readers, former Jews who were now thinking of returning to Judaism, are here confronted with their great forefather Abraham and are shown how he accepted the royal priest Metchizedek long before Levi and Aaron were born and the Aaronic priesthood came into existence. The readers, the Jewish Christians, wanted to be true sons of Abraham and were even thinking of returning to Judaism to accomplish that. Well, let them look at Abraham and at the one priest to whom Abraham bowed. Let them consider what God said in Psalm 110:4 regarding the royal priest and regarding the Messiah, Christ who is typified by Melchizedek.
Note that Abraham gave tithes to this priest Melchizedek. This worshipful giving preceded the worship and tithes which were commanded under the Law of Moses. James Burton Coffman makes the point that Abraham, who is called the father of the faithful, is also the father of Christians. If Abraham gave tithes to one who was a mere type of our great King-Priest, we should give no less "' than tithes to Christ. This may be supported especially by verse 8, "And in this case mortal men receive tithes (Melchizedek and the Levitical priesthood as well); but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that He lives on." Surely Christ is referred to here as the One who lives on. Christ is the only one who truly lives on and receives tithes.
It is shown that Christ is superior to Melchizedek in that the actual thing (Christ) is superior to the type (Melchizedek). Melchizedek is superior to the priests of Judaism, for he took tithes from them while they were yet unborn and still in Abraham. Therefore, Christ certainly is superior to the priests of Judaism.
Also of great significance, the Aaronic and Levitical system of priests was not confirmed with an oath on the part of God; but God did swear with an oath that the Messiah should be a priest "forever after the order of Melchizedek" (Psalm 110:4); and that oath, or the announcement of it, coming so many centuries after the Levitical system had been in operation, is proof of the most convincing nature that the priesthood of Melchizedek had not expired but was endless, else God would not have spoken of it so long afterward.