In chapter 1, we saw that because God’s Son was a better everything, it gave Him a name better than the angels (especially one angel in particular that has designs of his own on how things will go). That Son mad propitiation, or atonement for us, and then sat down because that work was finished. As a result, we read in chapter 2 that we need to pay closer attention to the things we have heard about Jesus and the truth that He is God’s chosen method of communicating with us today so that we would not drift away from it. The picture used was that of a safe harbour, and a navigator that was not paying due attention, slipped past the harbour entrance and shipwrecked on the rocks.
Then we are treated by the author to an exposition on Psalm 8, and it is hinted that God has some grand design for humans to be His universal administrators in the age to come. There was a definite statement of how for a short period of time, humans were made lower than the angels, but that in the end we would be at least equal to the angels in status and power. This is a definite thing, according to the author, although for now we do not see that – but we DO see HIM. The Son. We see Jesus, made like a man – one who tasted death for everyone that would ever believe in Him, and who incidentally made everything, including the angels – and He is a kind of forerunner and leader of those coming administrators, the coming priest-kings of the universe that will have sovereignty of, for, and by God.
This makes Jesus our high priest, it says at the end, one who now because he was made like us in that he suffered death, can have mercy on us, and who is faithful to extend to us grace as we are sanctified, that is made holy, like He is holy. Now in chapter 3, the book turns to who this Son Jesus is, and it begins by telling us to consider Him, and compares Him to Moses. Moses gave the Law, the old Covenant. By comparison, Jesus gave the New Covenant. Both were written by the will and hand of God. Both required obedience. As a result, it compares the two covenants and what obedience and disobedience looked like and warranted under each.
Chapter 4 was a basic gospel presentation aimed at those who were intellectually attuned to the message, but had not yet made a commitment to follow the Lord into the redemption He secured by his high priestly sacrifice. The author of Hebrews very clearly showed that Jesus sacrificed Himself so that we could enter His rest for us, and that to enter, we needed to believe Him and what He said. The basic problem that people seem to have when we consider this is is that they all claim to be servants of the Master. But think about this what does it look like from the outside when people either do what they are told so they can be saved or believe and obey so that they are saved and then do the work to please the Master? It’s difficult to tell, because the work completed looks exactly the same, does it not? And yet only faith by grace will save us, not works, so that we can’t brag about how good we are – but if we truly are redeemed, then we can be bold in our approach to His throne and find mercy when we need it.
Chapter 5 went on to talk more about the eternal Son and how he received a new, different, and better priesthood than the Levitical priesthood because He offered a better sacrifice (it was a once-for-all sacrifice) because it was permanent and unlike Levitical sacrifices, was not offered by a sinful priest, but instead the sinless Son, and unlike the animal that was a mere picture or shadow of the sacrifice that Christ would offer, He offered His own life, which was good and acceptable in the eyes of God the Father. As a result, God raised Christ from the dead, and made Him to be high priest of a different, better, and more ancient priesthood, the order of Melchizedek. We looked briefly at the man Melchizedek, and then took a look at what maturity looked at how those who were developi9ng maturity in Christ were engaged in discernment actively at all times, testing whether things were from the Lord or not.
Chapter 6 says some very hard things to hear, and it even sounds like some of those “you can lose your salvation if you aren’t careful” people that I disagree with. You MUST remember that there are three groups of people that would be the target of this sermon. Believers, who I do NOT believe were the target of the harder remarks, those who were intellectually convinced but who had not yet made a life commitment to the Messiah (who the comments ARE aimed at), and finally the basic unbeliever, so just like a standard church congregation today. I think verse 9 said it all – “We are convinced of better things concerning you, things that accompany salvation, even though we are speaking this way.”
Chapter 7 begins the explanation of the harder things that the author was speaking of earlier in the letter, beginning with an individual that has in our study become very important – the person of Melchizedek. I broke the chapter down this way:
KV3 – A Perpetual Priesthood
1-10 A better priesthood
11-22 A better covenant
23-28 A better High Priest
Melchizedek is unique in Scripture as a gentile priest, who was the ancient king of the ancient city of Jerusalem, before it was ever called Jerusalem. The author of Hebrews tells us that the Messiah, our Lord Jesus, is a priest forever after the order of this man Melchizedek. He has a great deal to say about him, and why this other and better priesthood is necessary.
KV3 – A Perpetual Priesthood
I took verse 3 as my key verse in the understanding of what the text says. It says, “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.” There are many who feel that Melchizedek is an example of what is called a Theophany, a physical appearance of God in the Old Testament. Some feel that he is a Christophany, a specific physical manifestation of Christ in the Old Testament. I have more to say on that when we get to verse 3. I believe it is the intended meaning of the author of Hebrews to relate to us why we have a better priesthood than the Levitical priests instituted by Moses, that both governs and guarantees a better covenant, through a better high priest than Aaron, the original Levitical high priest ever could have been. Let’s get into the first section.
1-10 A better priesthood
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,
- The author of Hebrews begins by giving some historical background on this man Melchizedek. We can find the story in Genesis 14:17. As Abraham was returning from an event called the slaughter of the kings, he meets our good king Melchizedek. There was a war in the first 16 verses of Genesis 14 where several kings of what essentially we would today call city-states allied themselves to conquer those who were smaller than the combined force of the allies. The larger force would then divide the spoils in terms of captured treasure, resources, and slave labour. One of the smaller cities that was conquered was Sodom, where Lot lived, and Lot was taken for a slave in that campaign. Abraham got wind of that, and rode off with a party of trusted men to go and rescue Lot (14:13-16). It is recorded that Abraham brought it all back by taking 318 men and defeating these allies, and then returning all the spoils to their original and rightful owners.
- The King of Sodom went out to meet him, and Melchizedek also came with the emblems of his priesthood, notably, bread and wine.
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 is king of peace.
- It records there that Abraham gave this Melchizedek a tenth of everything as a sort of tithe, but something very interesting – Melchizedek’s name is translated for us from the ancient Hebrew as “king of righteousness,” and then mentions he was king of Salem, which means literally “king of peace.”
- Now that reminds me of Somebody! Isaiah 9:6 says, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” Now who is THAT talking about? And the author continues…
3: Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.
- The point is made that there are even more similarities than just the name values. What is NOT recorded about Melchizedek becomes as important as what is recorded – no father or mother resulting in no genealogy. We do not know when he was born or where, we do not know when his days ended, or indeed even IF his days ended. This non-record gives him a property of perpetuity, that is, permanence. In fact, it says that Melchizedek was made like the Son of God.
- Remember how I said that many believe that Melchizedek is a Christophany, or at least a Theophany? This verse is where that comes from. I do not agree with the thought, however, and my argument is from the grammatical construction of the phrase in Greek, which is just like the English as it turns out. It says that Melchizedek was “made like” the Son of God. One cannot be made like something and be the something it was made like at the same time in Greek or English. I know that’s a picky detail, but it is an important one. We have to be careful readers of the Scriptures.
4: Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils.
- The point continues – Melchizedek was not an ordinary person, there was an importance and greatness to Him as priest of the Most High God. The Genesis 14 reference to God is the Hebrew El Elyon. As far as the names of God go, this is one that describes His elevation in terms of rank over all else. He was a priest of THAT God.
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.
- And it seems that this practice of collecting a tenth of everything as a sort of sacrifice to God that the Levitical priests were charged with collecting under the Law began here. Loosely speaking, all Jews came from Abraham (actually his grandson Jacob whom God renamed Israel). That would make Melchizedek a non-Jew…wait – what? A Canaanite? Or could it be? A Gentile?
6: But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises.
- And Melchizedek collected from Abraham a tenth and blessed him as a priest is required to do? What fresh pile of nonsense is this? What is this saying about Abraham? Or about Melchizedek? Or about both of them in relation to each other?
7: But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater.
- The “greater” here is Melchizedek, not Abraham, according to this verse. How? Abraham is the father of ALL the faithful, including those of the church!
8: In this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on.
- This is a comparison of the kind of mortal men that receive tithes. (And yes, this does call Melchizedek a mortal man.) The comparison is coming in the next verse, and Melchizedek is being set up here as an archetypal representative of Christ. See the next verse here.
9: And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes,
- We’ve seen and experienced this concept before in another form. All are shut up under original sin because in Adam all sinned. Levi, the great-grandson of Abraham, paid tithes through his great grandfather to Melchizedek. But there is more to the statement. Verse 10.
10: for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.
- The seed of Abraham is a part of Abraham. In this sense, Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek, while he was still 3 generations unborn.
The argument goes like this. Because Melchizedek collected the tenth from Abraham and blessed him, showing that he was greater in rank or position before God than Abraham, the priesthood of Melchizedek is greater than the priesthood of Levi. And that better priesthood is required to administrate a better covenant, which is our second point.
11-22 A better covenant
Last week, I was asked a question: what is the difference between Covenantal theology and Dispensational theology? Covenant theology (also known as Federalism) is based on the concept of different covenants through the Scriptures, all of which point to and culminate in the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. Dispensationalism is a set of different time periods that govern the Scriptures. I have heard it said (and tend to agree) that one in many ways requires the other. Both have strengths that multiply when used in combination. This position is known in theological circles as leaky dispensationalism (because it leaks through). A Covenant, or agreement, or contract if you will, is always between two parties, and usually both parties have both rights and responsibilities. This is not always true, as in the Abrahamic covenant, where all of the responsibilities are borne by God alone (Genesis 15). But that’s just an example, and one we have looked at before.
This New Covenant is said to be a better covenant in v.22 of our text, and the verses from 11-22 lead up to the reasons it is a better covenant than any of the former ones.
11: Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron?
- For our covenantal purposes, the Levitical priests came from the Law, also known as the Mosaic Covenant. Moses was given the covenant (Israel were to be chosen by God as the people that He would bless the earth with to fulfil His covenant with Abraham) and its terms and conditions (the Law itself with its blessings and cursings). Notice how the verse tells us that THIS covenant is the basis of which the people received the Law.
- Here, the author of Hebrews tells us that perfection did NOT come from this Levitical priesthood, which this verse calls “the order of Aaron.” If this perfection had come through this Aaronic order, there would have been no need for another order to be used at all, something that Hebrews takes pains to say is NOT the case. Is there reason for this? Indeed there is.
12: For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.
- The priesthood of Aaron, that blessed the tribe of Levi, and all of its laws and terms and blessings and conditions and curses, were then not the intended vehicle of the New Covenant. Paul even talks about this with the Galatians when the Judaizers came to try to bring the gentiles under the Jewish law of circumcision. No, there was a required change of law and priesthood here.
- Gerry, do you mean the order of Melchizedek? Yes, I do, but that blessing still had to come from Israel according to the Abrahamic covenant – but not from Levi or Aaron’s house – see v.13.
13: For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar.
- So – not from the tribe of Levi at all. That leaves two questions: Who and Where?
14: For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests.
- And there is the answer. The Lord Jesus Christ, from the tribe of Judah, and the author points out that Judah was NEVER spoken of in terms of any kind of priesthood by Moses. Under Federalism (covenantal theology), all covenants point with one overarching vision to the New Covenant. In the somewhat debated Adamic covenant, this Lord is the seed of the woman. In the Noahic covenant, Christ is seen in both the Ark and in Noah Himself. In the Abrahamic covenant, He is the promised offspring. I could go through them all, but in the New Covenant, He is the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. Messiah and Christ are just the Hebrew and Greek way of saying the Anointed One of God, the Saviour of all mankind. You begin to get the feeling from all of this that this was a plan that was a long time in both the creation and execution, down to the minute details from before the beginning of time, or at the very least outside of time as we understand and observe it. To me, it is indeed a wondrous thing to consider.
15: And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek,
- And to make it even clearer, this covenant is administrated by this better priesthood that never even came through the great Mosaic covenant of the Law! Another priest comes, “according to the likeness of Melchizedek,” according to the author of our text here.
- As Melchizedek was like unto the image of Christ, so it is here – Christ is make according to the likeness of Melchizedek. I think this is a double emphasis that Melchizedek is NOT Christ, and neither is Christ Melchizedek. I’ve already talked about that, so all I will say is that this is what a careful reading of Scripture tells us. Melchizedek was not a Christophany. His details are simply not given, and that is ALL we can say. The fact that this new and different priest arises according to his likeness just confirms for us that it goes both ways as I stated. Now it compares the priestly office.
16: who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life.
- The Levitical priesthood was set up on the basis of the law of physical requirement of the administration of the priesthood. All of the ritual, all of the blood sacrifice, all of that spoke in types and shadows of the Christ and His work. We have already looked a few times in our study of Hebrews that the Levitical priests were mortal men, and had to make atonement for their own sins first before making atonement for the sins of the people in their role as priests. The Law of physical requirement can be restated as something like, “we do it because we have to.”
- Compare with this the other priest and His office. It isn’t based on doing what one must to atone, it is based on the power of one indestructible life – His life. He gave it up freely as a blood sacrifice on our behalf – willingly – to pay the price for OUR sins! And this was the plan from before Genesis 3 and the fall of mankind into sin! And His life could not be destroyed by death! Oh certainly Christ died in our place, but God was so pleased with His work for Him that He raised Him from death to life again! His life cannot be destroyed anymore! Hallelujah – what a Saviour!
17: For it is attested of Him, “You are A priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
- As we have seen in previous studies, this is a quote from Psalm 110:4. This, by the way, is a Psalm of David, and it has been around for quite some time. This is a bit of a handful on purpose, but this is one of those things that tell me that the author of Hebrews was familiar with Old Covenant teachings concerning the Messiah.
- This is the Psalm that Jesus quoted to the Scribes and Pharisees when He asked them whose Son the Messiah was – because David calls Him Lord (110:1).
- Melchizedek’s name only occurs 10 times in Scripture, and half of those occurrences are here in this chapter. Only two happen in the Old Testament, and those are in Genesis 14:18 and here in Psalm 110. (The three remaining are in Hebrew 5 (2) and 6 (1).) Not much is spoken over the course of the Old Covenant of this priesthood, but it WAS known, and by David no less, who had his own covenant (the Davidic Covenant, that promises that a King will arise from his line that would rule the entire earth forever).
18: For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness
- Do you hear what the author is calling the Mosaic Law? Weak and useless. And remember, the target audience here were Jews, either those that were converted already, those that were close but had not yet turned, or those that would be angered by such a statement. The author would have been saying that this old, weak, and useless law was being set aside! Ever talk theology with a son of Jacob? I have. These are fighting words.
19: (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.
- But there is a reason for this! The Law makes nothing perfect. Only God can do that – and he doesn’t do it through an external set of rules. Instead He works in our own minds, hearts, and wills to help us obey those things. This is what I think is this “bringing in of a better hope” that the author is speaking of. Why? It is the thing that draws us nearer to God!
20: And inasmuch as it was not without an oath
- It was not without an oath – But whose oath?
21: (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘You are A priest forever’”);
- Apparently it was the oath of the One. Capital O. God the Father. HE Swore and will not change His mind that His Son is a priest forever [in context, after the order of Melchizedek]. And if there is no one higher than Himself, then He swore by that Highest and ancient authority, with the following result –
22: so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.
- That Jesus has become the guarantee for a better covenant. That Greek word for guarantee is enguos, and literally means “bail.” This needs to be distinguished from the word for “mediator” which has a different meaning. The mediator brings both parties to the table. The bail, or “surety” is the guarantee that the charged will not run away. Not only is Jesus the great Mediator, He is also the Bail for this new and better covenant by that oath, secured by the perfect sacrifice offered by the Son.
23-27 A Better High Priest
What does a priest do? It is the job of the priest to stand in the gap, so to speak, between man and God. From the perspective of fallen man, the priest is to offer mediation in the form of atoning sacrifice before a holy God. From God’s perspective, the priest is to represent God to man, extending His mercy, and dispensing His justice in His love. Certainly this was the purpose of the Levitical priesthood. We already established that in the first part of the chapter in our discussion on how this was a better priesthood. But every priesthood has a High Priest – the priest God chooses to be in charge of the priests He has set up to show Himself to the world. The comparison between the Levitical priests and Jesus continues here.
23: The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing,
- These Levitical priests had to have big numbers, because all men die. When one dies, they cannot any longer serve as a functional priest for obvious reasons.
24: but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently.
- This new and better priesthood has a High Priest with an indestructible life. He holds that priesthood perpetually and perfectly. There is no contest.
25: Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
- Because of that indestructible life, and that perfect sacrifice that makes Him our surety and our mediator, it also gives him. the power to save those who will draw near to God through Him. He fulfils His role as our High Priest by interceding for us as our mediator with God, by His once-for-all sacrifice having made atonement for us.
26: For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens;
- The author of Hebrews here begins to show the nature of the High Priest of our profession. He says it is fitting to have one like this. And then he begins to list characteristics.
- The first of these is “holy.” This is a bit different than the word we normally use as holy, hagios. This word signifies separation, but this word is hosios, and signifies what is right and pure. Pious is a synonym.
- Innocent. Literally, “without evil,” or without guile. It can mean simple, as in not complicated. It describes a state that is free from being mixed with evil.
- Undefiled. Free from contamination. This in my opinion is a statement against the mixing of worship, or “syncretism.” God tells us how to worship in book after book. Why should we try to complicate this by adding our own ideas to the mix?
- Separated from sinners. One who has departed from the governing system that rules all sinners and therefore one who has decided to believe Christ and obey His word.
- This one is also high and lofty, or “exalted” higher than the heavens.
27: who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.
- More His sacrifice was not like theirs. They had to do it daily – He did it once for all when He offered Himself up on our behalf. Lamb of God, taking away the sins of the world.
28: For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.
- So you tell me – what was the effective sacrifice? Mortal men continually offering their ineffective sacrifices for themselves first and then for the people, or one indestructible life, willingly offered on our behalf, once for all? I know (and now so do you) what I think.
Now, I called this chapter “A Perpetual Priesthood,” and there is only one perpetual priest, Our Lord Jesus Christ, no matter what anyone thinks of that. He has paid the price for your sins if you will, as at least some of us here have, turn to Him and repent of your sins. Turn from them. Think differently about them and then admit that they are sins, and that Jesus is Lord. Make Him YOUR Lord. Because anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. He is the administrator of a better priesthood, which is part of a better covenant, and He is a better High Priest than even Aaron, the original High Priest. If I can derive any application from this at all, and that is our point in Bible study, it is to continue to trust Him for MY salvation.