The portion on which we enter develops the type of Melchizedek as far as it applies to Christ in heaven and the Christian portion. The future earthly part is but hinted at and in no way opened out.
"For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the* most high God, that† met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham assigned a tenth Of all, first being interpreted king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace, without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but likened to the Son of God, abideth a priest continuously" (verses 1-3).
* I know not why Dean Alford spoke of the second article here omitted "with B"; for the Vatican gives it as all do, save a few cursives. The Complut. omitted it, followed by Beza and the Elzevirs; but Erasmus, Colinaeus, and R. Steph. duly inserted it; and so the modern editors.
† Ὃς is read by the great Uncials, and so one cursive known to us; yet 6 seems right (C L and most) and to have got the σ from the word following. The relative supposes a needless anacoluthon. No wonder that Tischendorf and Westcott and Hort here desert Lachmann and Tregelles.
Here the Spirit of God gives us a fine sample of unfolding an incident of the O.T. in the light of the New. The glory of Christ as ever is the true key, without which the mind of God in His word is never apprehended. And it is striking to see that the reticence of Scripture is only less instructive than its disclosures. All has to be weighed; but who is sufficient for these things? Our sufficiency is of God, who now works in us that believe by the same Spirit who inspired both Testaments, and works to glorify (not the Christian nor the church, blessed as both are, but) Christ, Whose grace and glory are the substance of our best blessings.
In Gen. 14 we have the last notice of the public life of Abraham as chosen and called out to walk in faith of God's promise; for Gen. 15 begins the dealings of God with him personally. The occasion was the rescue of Lot carried away, family and goods, with the rest of his neighbours whose worldly advantages he had coveted. The man of simple faith and self-sacrifice, of whom Lot had taken advantage (Gen. 13), unhesitatingly pursues and vanquishes the victorious kings of the east. Thereon appears Melchizedek, the more unexpectedly as there seems scarcely any ground to doubt that he was a prince akin to the guilty race that soon after were punished by the most solemn judgment of God. Yet was he not an idolater but priest of the most high God. "And Melchizedek, king of Salem brought forth bread and wine; and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be the most high God, who hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all" (verses 18-20).
The all-important truth to grasp is that the Epistle reasons solely on "the order." of Melchizedek in contrast with that of Aaron. When it speaks of the exercise of priesthood, Aaron is the type and not Melchizedek; and then we hear of sacrifice and intercession, of blood-shedding and a sanctuary, with the Levitical ritual in general. Self-evidently all this has no relation to Melchizedek, only to Aaron as typifying the Lord's present action above grounded on His atoning work for sin.
The exercise of the royal priesthood looks on to the earth in a future day, when the Man whose name is the Branch shall build the temple in truth (Zec_6:13). Even He shall build the temple of Jehovah, and He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon His throne; and a counsel of peace shall be between Them both. Of that day Hos_2:14-23 is a bright witness: only here it is according to His title of Jehovah. "And it shall be in that day, saith Jehovah, thou shalt call me my Husband, and thou shalt call me no more Baali [my Master]. For I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth [He will be in fact and affection El-Elyon, the Most High God], and they shall no more be remembered by their name. And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and With the birds of the heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground; and I will break bow and sword and battle out of the land, and will make them to lie down safely. And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know Jehovah. And it shall come to pass in that day, I will hear, saith Jehovah, I will hear the hleavens, and they shall hear the earth, and the earth shall hear the corn and the new wine and the oil; and they shall hear Jezreel. And I will sow her unto me in the land, and I will have mercy upon Lo-ruhamah, and I will say to Lo-Ammi, My people thou., and they shall say, My God."
This will be the kingdom of God, not in the moral sense which applies now and always, of which our Lord (Mat_6:33) and the apostle Paul (Rom_14:17) speak, but in the future display when adversaries are put down. Our Epistle alludes to it as the habitable earth or world to come (Heb. 2), and as the age to come (Heb. 6), as indeed in other forms most expressive. It is the great goal of prophecy whether in the O.T. or in the N.T. Great must be the cap for his soul who does not look onward to triumph for mercy and truth, for righteousness and glory, not in heaven only but on this earth, placed under our Lord Jesus, when Israel shall be by grace repentant and subject, and thus fitted to fill their allotted place in that day as God's people, His son, His firstborn (Exo_4:22); and the Gentiles, humbled by divine judgments as well as by unmerited and inexhaustible goodness, shall know that Jehovah sanctifies Israel with His sanctuary in their midst for ever. The glory of the Lord manifested here below will be the answer to His sufferings and shame; and those who in faith and love have shared the latter shall enjoy the former, reigning with Him over the earth. This is not the eternal state, but the kingdom for a thousand years before eternity begins or that judgment of the dead, the wicked dead, which precedes it.
Nor has anyone an adequate conception of the coming Kingdom of God, who does not look for it administered by the risen Lord in person, the glorified saints being on high, Israel and the, nations here below. For there are earthly things as well as heavenly. Of this the Lord reminded Nicodemus, teacher of Israel though he was (Joh_3:3; Joh_3:5; Joh_3:12); and many more in Christendom need to be reminded of it now. For men are ever apt to be occupied with their own things, and easily confound this purpose of God for Christ's glory with a vague and general view of eternity. But doctrinal scripture is as distinct and indisputable as the prophetic word. "For the earnest expectation of the creation" (expressly distinguished from ourselves also having the firstfruits of the Spirit) "waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God"; which without doubt is when we follow Christ out of heaven and are manifested with Him in glory (Rom_8:18-25; Col_3:4; Rev_17:14, Rev_19:14). This indeed is the regeneration (Mat_19:28), that age, and the resurrection from the dead (Luk_20:35) when the Father's kingdom is come from above, and His will is done on earth as in heaven. Yet it is not the end when Christ shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, but His reigning till He put all the enemies under His feet. And it is plain that death as last enemy is not annulled till just before the great white throne. For the millennium, however blessed beyond example, is not absolutely perfect like the eternity which it ushers in. See Isa. 65, 1 Cor. 15, and 2 Peter 3.
One of the most distinctive marks of that day, a dispensation of the fulness of the seasons, is God's heading or summing up all in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth. No doubt as we are children of God, so are we His heirs and joint-heirs with Christ, the Heir of all things. Hence we are here said (Eph_1:10-11) to have obtained inheritance, which will be manifested in that day; for the glory that the Father has given Him He has given us, though we have to wait, in a hope that does not make ashamed (John 17; Rom_5:5). He that descended is the same that ascended far above all the heavens that He might fill all things. By Him the sacrificial work is done to reconcile all things to God, whether the things on the earth or the things in the heavens; and meanwhile we have been already reconciled, so as to await with joy His coming in glory. But when He does come, He with His glorified bride will take the universe, heavenly and earthly, as the scene of His glory. To make His kingdom the earth only is as false as to confine it to heaven. Scripture excludes the narrowness of either view, one of which obtained in sub-apostolic times, as the other in modern. The truth, as usual, is larger than all; and the truth demands both, worthily to magnify the Lord who is the true Melchizedek and will bring forth bread and wine to refresh the returning victors. For there and then too captivity will be led captive. The faith that unselfishly refused the world conquers the world that had for a while the upper hand.
Such is the action of the Royal Priest in that day: not offering sacrifice, nor burning incense, but with suited refreshment when the victory is won at the end of the age, and God proves Himself the Most High, the highest rivals being overthrown. It is emphatically blessing, as that day will be its irrefragable evidence. And the word of blessing is twofold: Abram (representing Israel as their father) blessed on the part of the Most High God, "the possessor of heavens and earth"; and on the other side, "blessed be the Most High, who delivered thine enemies into thy hand," Melchizedek thereon receiving tithes as duly and gratefully rendered.
But in Hebrews, as we may see, what is future exercise is barely alluded to. It is beautifully pointed out how significant is the name and place first being interpreted king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem which is king of peace." For this alone can be according to God, whether for heaven or for earth, for the Christian now or for Israel by-and-by: no true peace save on a basis of accepted righteousness. How blessed and sure this is every believer ought to know. What is dwelt on mainly is the "order" of this priest, in contrast with Aaron's order where limits of age and succession were indispensable. Here it is one sole ever-living priest: "without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life." Not of course that as a matter of fact Melchizedek had not parents, forefathers if not descendants, birth and death, as other men. For the notion of an angel, or divine power, or Christ, are as absurd as that of Shem, etc. Scripture intentionally veils all these; and the priest-king suddenly appears on the scene and vanishes from the inspired history, so as to furnish the typical shadow of our Lord as the Royal Priest. Hence he is said to be "likened, or assimilated, to the Son of God": language quite improper, if the Son of God had then really appeared. All we see of him is that "he abides a priest continuously." Nothing else is recorded. There is no preparatory record, and no sequel to the story. He is a king-priest without a hint of terminating his office or devolving it on a successor. He abides a priest in perpetuity, or without a break, the contrast of the Aaronic line.
The sketch hitherto given is wonderfully graphic and comprehensive. We come now to closer points of comparison between Melchizedek and Aaron.
"Now behold how great [was] he to whom [*also] Abraham the patriarch cave a tenth out of the spoils. And those indeed out of the sons of Levi that receive the priestly office have commandment to take tithe of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren thou oh having come out from the loins of Abraham. But he that hath no genealogy from them hath tithed Abraham and hath blessed him that had the promises. But apart from all gainsaying the less is blessed by the better. And here dying men receive tithes, but there one hath witness that he liveth. And, so to say, through Abraham Levi also that receiveth tithes hath been tithed; for he was yet in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him" (verses 4-10).
*The "also" or "even" is doubtful, though it has good and ancient evidence.
The facts recorded in the close of Gen. 14 are made the groundwork of weighty teaching. On the one hand the patriarch, whom every Jew locked upon as the historic head of Israel, cave Melchizedek a tenth of all the spoils taken from the vanquished kings. On the other hand Melchizedek as priest of the Most High God* blessed Abraham most solemnly and significantly. But circumstances were the more notable because they stand out in marked isolation from the ordinary life of the fathers, save where an inconsistency is recorded for our profit and that no flesh might glory. Thus Jacob vowed that if God would be with him and keep him, so that he should return in peace to his father's house, Jehovah should be his God, and he would surely of all He gave him render the tenth to Him (Gen. 28). Yet in the land of the stranger Jacob the pilgrim blessed Pharaoh, king of Egypt though he was (Gen. 47): a simple but real testimony to the superiority of faith over all earthly honour.
*We may notice, by the way, the utter ignorance of the Pentateuch evinced by the different document system. For the names of God, Elohim, Jehovah, El-Elyon, El-Shaddai, are required by their context to express the truth adequately, instead of the nonsensical assumption of various, strung together at a date long after Moses. The scheme is not only superficial but false and sceptical.
But here all is seen reversed to furnish an adequate type of what was due to Christ, however repulsive to Jewish pride and the petty reasoning of man's mind. There was a personage, a king-priest, so great in dignity that Abraham gave him a tenth of the spoils at an epoch when God had just crowned himself with singular honour. From this is deduced the undeniable inference, according to a style of teaching which no pious or intelligent Israelite would question, that not Levi only but his priestly sons, the house of Aaron, entitled to tithe their brethren by the law, paid tithes in the person of Abraham to Melchizedek; to one who derived no succession and was absolutely void of genealogical link with the tribe, the priestly family, or with the lineal chief of them all. There stood the fact in the foundation book of holy Scripture, and of that law to which even the incredulous party of Sadducees clung tenaciously. It was no question of a new revelation, or of a doubtful reading, or of an interpretation that could be challenged. In the plainest terms God had revealed a fact, the bearing of which may never have dawned on any until the Holy Spirit now applied it to Christ so unexpectedly.
Nor was Levi, any more than Aaron, degraded by pointing out the decisive act of Abraham recorded for permanent use in divine revelation, which proved a priestly office superior to the Aaronic. For He to whom Melchizedek stood as type was their own Messiah, Jesus the Son of God. To His mere shadow the father of the faithful, the "friend of God," bowed down, acknowledging the highest representative of the Most High God, Possessor of heavens and earth, and involving in that willing homage all that sprang from him, even Levi and Aaron. Thus according to God it was shown that Aaron and his house had paid tithes to Melchizedek in their forefather. And herein was no failure of Abraham but an act of faith, of which God has made much, as we all see in the O.T. as well as in the N.T.
But we are directed to more than this. Abraham was a receiver from Melchizedek, who "hath blessed him that had the promises." These might seem to exempt from the blessing of man the one who had the promises of God more characteristically than any other of the sons of men. But not. so, this royal priest, who had no connection of flesh with Aaron and his sons (whom Jehovah ordained to bless the sons of Israel, putting His name upon them to secure His blessing, Num. 6), Melchizedek blessed Abraham with all publicity and in the most special manner He blessed Abraham on the part of God Most High, and blessed God Most high on the part of Abraham. But beyond controversy, all gainsaying apart, "the less is blessed by the better." So in Luke 2 Simeon blessed Joseph and Mary, but ventured not to bless the Babe, even when in another sense he blessed or gave thanks to God. In that Babe his eyes had seen God's salvation; as in like spirit, though with beautifully suited difference of act, the magi from the cast fell down and worshipped, not the mother but the young Child, and, opening their treasures, offered unto Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh (Matt. 2). Well had it been for the men and women of the west had they pondered the lesson, instead of lapsing into idolatry.
Melchizedek then blessed Abraham; how much indeed is He the Blest and the Blesser of whom that mysterious priest was but the foreshadowing! But another hint is given, more developed later, on which the less may be said now: "And here dying men receive tithes, but there one having witness that he liveth." This is what we hear of Melchizedek; not a word of his birth or of his death. He is simply presented a "living" priest, with nothing before or after; whereas death is written on Aaron and all his sons, yet are they priests receiving tithes according to the law. But, so to say, the same law attests that through Abraham as the medium Levi too who receives tithes paid tithe in principle - for he was yet in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him and received the tenth of the spoils. Had Levi been born previously, he might plead independence and exemption. As it was, Israel, Aaron, and all were united in that one man's homage, the father of the chosen people.
Thus far in our chapter the Scripture unfolded is that given in the close of Gen. 14; and therein is shown a priesthood incontestably superior to that of Aaron, royal in character no less than in place, expressly in relation to God's supremacy, and exercised at the moment of the victory of faith over the hitherto victorious powers of the world. It is distinguished by blessing, emphatically by blessing downwards and upwards, the father of the faithful blessing God Most High, and God Most High blessing him; and we can add from the ancient oracle, as "possessor of heaven and earth": to say nothing more now of the varied points of contrast with Aaron, which can be realised only in that Man who is God, the sole Man of whom the Spirit could say, "The same yesterday, and today, and forever." If Melchizedek in the type abides a priest continuously, the Son of God so abides in very deed.
Three proofs of inferiority in the Levitical priesthood appear. Melchizedek received tithes of him whom all Israel acknowledged as their father and chief. Abraham, the original depositary of the promises and heir of the world, was blessed by the same august personage; and indisputably the less is blessed by the better. Again Levitical priests without exception up to Aaron are but dying men, whereas we only hear of Melchizedek living, without one word of his death. And none can deny that the patriarchal head of the tribe which boasted of the priestly family, if he receive tithes from the people, paid tithes in Abraham to Melchizedek, whose superiority was thus indelibly marked in God's word.
But the scripture quoted already (Heb_5:6) from the Book of Psalms (Psa_110:4) is distinct in predicating of the Messiah this highest priesthood of the Most High God. Here only is found perfection of priesthood. His person and His work alike warrant this confidence. Nowhere else is it, or can it be even conceivably. Jesus only is saluted of God as high priest after the order of Melchizedek, as the inspired psalmist spoke of Jehovah, in the most solemn way, owning Him in this style, alone and for ever. Hence our Epistle deduces another proof of Levitical inferiority. Nor is it to be overlooked that the Most High has a prophetic reference to the day when all hostile power in the world shall be vanquished, and all false gods vanish before Him who is ever the only true God, and will then enforce His claim as Creator and Possessor of heavens and earth. The Lord Jesus, the Royal Priest, will administer the entire universe to the glory of God, at His appearing again. This, however, is not opened out now, as pertaining to the future exercise of the Melchizedek priesthood, instead of its "order" on which the Holy Spirit is expatiating now as the truth here needed.
"If then perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for upon it the people have received the law), what further need that a different priest should arise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called [or said to be] after the order of Aaron? For the priest changed, there taketh place of necessity a change also of law. For he of whom these things are said belongeth to a different tribe, from which no one hath given attention to the altar. For evidently out of Judah hath our Lord sprung, as to which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priests (verses 11-14).
If Moses testifies of a prophet to come like himself but greater far, so does David in spirit of an ever-abiding priest according to the order, not of Aaron but of Melchizedek. This is and secures perfection. It is Jehovah Himself that announces it, long after Aaron, longer still after the historical king-priest of Salem. It unequivocally points to Messiah, but Messiah on the one hand to sit on the right hand of Jehovah, and on the other to strike through kings in the day of His wrath and to judge among the nations. The bearing of this is immediate, powerful, and beyond mistake. Aaronic order gives place to a far surpassing one, of which Melchizedek was but the shadow, in the person and offices of Christ, the centre of all glory, intrinsic and conferred; with the momentous basis of His redemption work, that He might be free to bless righteously, according to all the love and counsels of God, those who could have no other claim, but contrariwise had sin, guilt, and curse. But Ps. 110 also points onward to the future day of His triumph when Israel shall be willing, instead of disobedient as now, and the mightiest kings shall be for the Lord Jesus when He sends the sceptre of His might out of Zion, instead of sitting patiently as now at the right hand of God.
Perfection thus is manifestly not through the Levitical priesthood, which is but provisional, from first to last characterised by infirmity and even sins. and indeed it was to make propitiation for the one and to intercede for the other, with imperfection everywhere attending its transitory nature. How different in every way the true and great Melchizedek! How glorious His place on high! How unfailing too the blessing, not only for those who now believing follow Him in Spirit where He is at God's right hand, but for those spared on earth when He smites through kings in the day of His anger, and blessing flows here below as the exercise of His priesthood. God Most High will be then the manifest possessor of heavens and earth; as the rejected but exalted Messiah will be the channel and guarantee of blessing, the King as well as Priest in the displayed glory of that day.
But Israel had the law given them under the condition of the Levitical priesthood, and on no other footing could it be. A faulty people could not draw near to God as things then were with no more than a figurative redemption and sacrifices. A failing priesthood must intervene tremblingly and with rigour of rite and ceremonial, on pain of death if transgressed. There was clearly nowhere in that system perfection": yet perfection there must be to meet the mind, love, and holiness of God. It is attainable and found only in Christ, as it is here shown in Him "a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek." Therefore, as is argued, is the further need of a different priest arising as the Holy Spirit had predicted, according to that supreme order of blessing without fail, the glorified Messiah, and not said to be after Aaron's order. Now the change of the priest necessitates a chance also of law. This is the true statement of inspiration here not of "the law," as has been said by a lively but often erratic commentator, but "of law." There is a totally different principle henceforth. Grace only can save a sinner, not the law, nor a mixture of law and grace, which only the more condemns the guilty as being the less to be excused. It is by grace alone that the believer is or can be saved; through righteousness indeed, but this exclusively in Christ, however truly the faith of Him produces its fruit abundantly through Him unto God's glory and praise. It was when He had made purification of sins, as we read at the beginning of the Epistle, that He set Himself down on the right hand of the Majesty, though it is only in Hebrews 10 that we learn fully the perfected status of the Christian.
And the change is shown further by the fact which is next noticed, that He of whom these things are said belonged to or had His pare in a different tribe, not Levi but Judah, from which no one had ever been officially attached to the altar. For it was plain before all that our Lord, as it is added, "hath sprung out of Judah; as to which tribe Moses spoke nothing about priests." The break was as clear as decisive. Messiah was to be born of David's line, of a virgin espoused to a man of the Solomonic branch: so prophecy declared. And as He on high, after His sacrificial death and His resurrection, was saluted of God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek, it was undeniable that the change from Aaron's family tribe was divinely marked beyond all controversy.
Thus Christianity is essentially different from Judaism; for no doubt man's rationalism and ethics are radically worthless and false. There is in both, there was for the Jew visibly, a priest and a sacrifice, a sanctuary, and an altar; but their nature wholly differs by the intention and word of God. Therefore there is no excuse for ignorance; for the O.T. prepares for what the N.T. propounds with all plainness of speech. The essence and substance of all blessing to faith is in Christ, rejected of men and of the Jew especially, but risen and at God's right hand, and we who believe belong to Him for heaven, as this Epistle elaborately proves. He is coming to bring us there in His own likeness. Every Christian is already not sanctified or hallowed only but perfected by His one offering. But in these days of declension and self-complacency, is there aught that Christians need to learn of God more than their own Christianity as He has revealed it, unless it be Christ Himself on whom all depends? Even saints are slow to believe the grace and glory of His cross, as they instinctively shirk the crucifixion of the world to them and of themselves to the world which it entails. But this is the word of the Lord for His own now (Gal_6:14).
It has been shown then that a change of priesthood (and consequently of the law also) was involved in the priest addressed by God in Psalm ex. As the subject of the Psalm is confessedly Messiah and so of necessity David's son, He must spring out of Judah, not out of Levi as did the house of Aaron. But there is another and far weightier difference to which he next proceeds; He was David's Lord. No wonder that singular dignity of office attached to a person so glorious. He was no priest according to the law.
"And it is yet more abundantly evident if (or, since) according to the similitude of Melchizedek ariseth a different priest who hath been made, not according to the law of fleshly commandment, but according to power of indissoluble life. For it is witnessed, Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek. For there is a putting away of a foregoing commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness (for the law perfected nothing), and an introduction of a better hope, through which we draw nigh to God" (verses 15-19).
It was conceivable that a more exalted being might have taken up, in the sovereign will of God, the priesthood of Aaron, and shed new lustre on it according to His superior glory. But the Holy Spirit here leads the writer to press, not only the change already urged, but the still more striking distinction of a different (ἕτερος, not ἄλλος merely) priest to arise according to the likeness of Melchizedek. This leaves Aaron or any successor of his, and the law with which they were bound up, completely aside. Thus the great weight of the testimony extracted from Psalm 110 comes more and more into evidence. Of Messiah it speaks beyond controversy, of His intermediate position at the right hand of God, of the divine recognition of His priesthood after the order, not of Aaron but of Melchizedek, and not only of His kingdom, introduced as it is here and elsewhere shown to be, by divine power and judgment of His foes. And the more intelligently that Psalm and others are read, the more convergent the light on Christ, and the more indubitable the inference in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the truth alike of Jewish hopes for the future and of Christianity at present.
For it is the rejected Messiah that we see all through the Psalms, opposed by the nations and peoples, by kings and rulers; but God declares His decree not only to set His anointed on Zion, but to give Him the nations for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession, when He will rule them with a rod of iron and break them in pieces like a potter's vessel. Clearly this is not yet accomplished; nor has Messiah yet asked for it. He is waiting on the Father's throne. He will at His coming sit on His own throne, when those who are now being called shall reign with Him in glory. Meanwhile we have to pray that our hearts be directed into God's love and Christ's patience (2Th_3:5). We now keep the word of His patience (Rev_3:10). As He is waiting on high, so are we below, knowing that He that shall come will come and will not tarry. If made a little lower than the angels, He is because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour in a higher and larger sphere than David's Son in Zion. He is the suffering but exalted Son of man in heavenly glory, and about to come with the clouds of heaven, invested with universal dominion, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him: an everlasting dominion and a kingdom which shall not be destroyed.
But while He waits on high, He is active as a priest in sustaining His own suffering ones, tried as they are on earth. And the order of His priesthood is not after the likeness of Aaron but of Melchizedek. It was not the day of His power when He came the first time. He was crucified in weakness then. So only could there be reconciliation to God by His blood. Redemption otherwise was impossible, and that glorification of God concerning sin without which there could be no righteous, no stable, blessing for anyone or anything. Now the infinite work of atonement is wrought and accepted; and He who was delivered for our offences was raised for our justification, is at the right hand of God, and also maketh intercession. He died for the nation too, as well as to gather together into one the children of God that are scattered abroad, though the application of His work to "the nation" awaits the hour of their repentance and faith in Him, their own Messiah, whom they slew by the hand of lawless men. He will sit as a priest on His throne when Jehovah shall send the rod of Messiah's might out of Zion.
But He discharges priestly functions, a priest for us now, and He only is competent and all-sufficient and must needs be so; as the very essence of His order is that, like Melchizedek, He stands alone with no companion in it nor subordinates, with neither predecessor nor successor, the one sole Priest after the order of Melchizedek. The day of His wrath is future and introduces His kingdom; for He is Jehovah as well as Messiah. Thus it is that Jehovah shall be king over all the earth; in that day shall Jehovah be one and His name one: never till then a universal religion and universal kingdom, but all this then for the God of Israel in the person of the Lord Jesus as the word makes plain.
And the heavens shall no longer be aloof, but be united in homage to the King of kings and Lord of lords. Then He will have the glorified, who shall reign with Him. The suffering church will be manifested in His heavenly Bride. Nor is anythine, more opposed to all truth than that they are so reigning* now one of the evil roots of popery and of other self-exalting delusions. On the contrary now is the time to suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. It is an error as old as the ease and honour loving Corinthians in the germ at least. See how nobly the apostle dissipates it as chaff in 1Co_4:8-16; comparing 1Co_6:1-9; 1Co_7:29-31; 1Co_9:24-25; 1Co_15:23-24; 1Co_15:42-58. But in fact where is not this truth underlying if not on the surface? The reign of Christ and His heavenly ones will take in the heavens, but be over (not, on) the earth.
* I am aware of the reading of A B and some 26 cursives in Rev_5:10. But undoubtedly the external counter-evidence of P and 30 cursives, some of no common weight, and of the best Latin copies, preponderates. If it were otherwise even, the believer standing on the analogy of the faith can distinctly pronounce present reigning an error. Compare the absurd reading of the excellent Alex. MS. in Rev_20:5. We must beware of idolising the witnesses. "On" the earth too is not grammatically sound after βασ. It should be "over."
But to return to our chapter, the reasoning is conclusive. The chance to a different priest of unique and surpassing glory is the teaching of that O.T. which every true Jew owns to be divine. The infirmity of the Levitical priesthood is thereby demonstrated, and Christ alone answers to the type of Melchizedek. He is beyond controversy the other and different priest that arises, who has been so made or constituted, not after a law of fleshly commandment but after a power of indissoluble life. For He is testified of, Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek. What can be conceived plainer or more conclusive? Even the royal priest who blessed Abraham was but typical and shadowy. The body is Christ's. Aaron's priesthood was fleshly, Christ's according to power of an imperishable life. It is as risen and in heaven that He is Melchizedek Priest.
Our chapter however draws a still larger deduction, not only an incomparably higher priesthood, to which Aaron's gives place, but disannulling of a foregoing commandment as weak and unprofitable; for, as is added parenthetically, the law perfected nothing. Christ is not only perfect Himself "but brings in perfection, and in every way. And this is what was implied in Heb. 6: l - "let us go on unto perfection." It really is Christianity in contradistinction from Judaism, wherein even the heirs were under age (Gal. 4: The Christian is a son and heir of God, and we know it by the Spirit of His Son sent forth into our hearts and crying, Abba, Father. Compare also Rom. 8.
Thus the change of the priesthood from the order of Aaron to that of Melchizedek is shown to be exceeding deep and wide and permanent. Even now, whatever glorious results are in the womb of the future, there is on one hand an abolishing of antecedent injunction because of its weakness and unprofitableness, but on the other an inbringing of a better hope, the parenthesis simply summing up and clenching in a few pithy words the failure of the law to perfect anything. Perfection is in and by Christ alone. and this by grace so fully as to glorify God and meet the believer's need in everything - even as to the body at His coming again.
But meantime "we draw near to God." How blessed! It is the standing truth of access: never true even of Aaron save once a year, and then with solemn rite "lest he die." Now it is alike and always true of the Christian family. For here is no question of differing gift or of special position or local charge. It is the common blessedness of all, due to the work and blood, the person and priesthood, of Christ. "We draw near to God." To assert difference in this is to resuscitate the abolished injunction, and to despise the introduced better hope. It is to set aside the gospel and go back to that law which, if God's word is to be believed, made nothing perfect. This is what is seen in much the greater part of Christendom. It was the wedge of Tractarianism; it is the flag of Ritualism. And it is the weakness of true Christians which leaves the door open for all such dark rebellion against divine grace and truth. For to say that there are no priests now on earth is but half a truth. The truth is that Christ is the great Priest on high, and that believers now on earth and since Pentecost are free of the sanctuary. "We draw near to God." How so if we have not priestly nearness of access? To claim or allow that some have it for others virtually denies Christianity.
But the perfection goes far beyond our being now made of age, in contrast with legal minority, as we shall find throughout this Epistle and in what remains no less than in what we have had; so that this need not be more than noticed according to the brief allusion in the text.
Only it is well to observe that the A.V. of the passage is untenable, and so are the various antecedent translations. 'Thus Wiclif muddles the entire context, though he is right as to the last clause. It is the more curious as the Vulgate is correct, which helped the Rhemish, though their English is here clumsy and their punctuation cuts all thread of sense. Tyndale, by failing to see the parenthesis, led the way into the strange error of understanding (seemingly, for it is preposterous) that "the lawe made nothing perfect: but was an introduction," etc. Cranmer followed in his wake. The English version of Geneva erred in another way of like misapprehension by giving, "the law made nothing perfect: but the bringing in of a better hope made perfect," etc. The A.V. followed this by inserting "did." The truth is that no verb is needed other than the text supplies in the beginning of verse 18, which stretches over to verse 19 also. There is a doing away of a foregoing commandment, and an introduction of a better hope, by which we draw near to God: the legal state is annulled, and a better hope supervenes now. It is Christianity, and by it we draw near to God, instead of standing at a distance as being essentially Jewish. There is nothing more characteristic of the gospel, as the result of Christ's cross and blood-shedding by which we are brought to God. All priesthood for us save Christ's vanishes away; and Christ's is to maintain us in that nearness which His work gives us even now, all Christians being priests spiritually.
Another proof of superiority for the priesthood of Christ over Aaron's is found in the oath which Jehovah is declared to have sworn in the former case, as attested in the same fruitful verse of Psalm 110. We have already had this argument drawn from His dealings with Abraham after he was tried and found faithful as to the sacrifice of Isaac (Heb_6:13-18). It was God's appreciation of the faith that surrendered His dearest object, and in the most painfully trying way, to Himself trusted absolutely. For the divine oath was added to the word of promise that, by two unchangeable things in which it was impossible that God should lie, we might have a strong encouragement who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us. Here it is yet more solemn as His appreciation of Christ's priesthood which is final and for ever, as being perfectly satisfying to His nature, love, and glory, in His Son as well as the Man who had alone glorified Him even as to sin, competent alike as God and man in one person and perfect in all His work.
"And inasmuch as [it was] not without swearing of an oath (for they have been made priests without swearing of an oath, but he with swearing of an oath by him that saith unto him, Jehovah swore and will not change his mind, Thou [art] priest for ever*), by so much also hath Jesus become surety of a better covenant" (verses 20-22).
*The best copies and versions omit the rest of the citation here; as B read καὶ in 22.
The very term employed in this case, swearing of an oath, is more full and formal than the short and familiar word previously and generally used. It would seem that the utmost weight of solemnity is expressed thereby. The only occurrence in the Septuagint is in Eze_17:18-19, where was decided the lot of the profane prince. The Apocrypha has it once (3 Esdr. viii. 93 (90)). In Act_2:30 the phrase is composed of the two words here combined. The critic Julius Pollux has the word in his Onomasticon (i. 38), not Plato, who uses the plural form differently accentuated therefore, for asseverations on oath (Phaedr. 241 a, ed. H. Steph.), a form also expressive of the accompanying sacrifice among the heathen like ὅρκια, as the Lexicons cite.
Thus did God mark the incomparable honour of Messiah's priesthood: as the Aaronic was transitory, His for ever. How strange at first sight that a Jew should overlook what was so distinctly involved in this solemnity on Jehovah's part in that dignity peculiar to His own Messiah! But it ceases to be strange, if one reflect on their habitual history, not as they flatter themselves in modern times but as God has recorded it imperishably in His living oracles, where we see them ever stiff-necked and rebellious, ever forsaking their most needed mercies and their brightest glory. All this would be inexplicable if one did not remember the wily adversary, the old serpent, who has wrought with not less ruinous success in Christendom now than in Judaism of old. Nor will that sad history close for either, till Christ appears in His glory for the judgment of both.
But no mark of God's estimation of Christ's priesthood above the Levitical is simpler or surer than swearing as He did when inaugurating Messiah in that position. The deduction is equally irrefragable: "by so much also hath Jesus become surety of a better covenant." If He took aught in hand, if He became responsible, heaven and earth must sooner pass than His word or His work. The Second Man stands for ever. And "blessed are all they that put their trust in him." The old covenant cannot be but death and condemnation to the sinner. The new covenant rests on His blood shed for the remission of the believer's sins, and is truly "a better covenant "; as the Jew will one day be the loudest to proclaim, whatever may be his obstinacy now, proud of what has ruined him and his fathers blind for ages.
"Testament" is here quite out of place; for what has a giver of security to do with making a will? Heb_9:16-17 is the sole passage of scripture which requires or even admits of such a sense; and it is there due to "eternal inheritance" in the verse immediately preceding. The word in itself is capable of either sense, meaning in human relations a disposition, especially of property by will, and in divine things a covenant, which naturally predominates in the LXX. and the N.T. The context decides with certainty. Thus in Mat_26:28, Mar_14:24, Luk_22:20, remission of sins is expressly bound up with the "new covenant" (not testament) as in Jer_31:31-34. Even the Vulgate has here "novum foedus," not testamentum, which ought to have sufficed to have kept Jerome right in the Gospels. And what has "blood" to do with a "will"? That it should be the basis of a covenant is a familiar truth. A will or testament is unknown to the O.T. Not less clearly is it the God of Israel's "holy covenant," as it is rightly rendered in Luk_1:72: testament can have no relation to the oath sworn to Abraham; though the Vulgate gives that word followed by Wiclif and the Rhemish translators, as it misled all the English in the three texts first referred to in the Synoptic Gospels. Act_3:25, Act_7:8, are equally plain for "covenant"; and there all the English versions are correct, save Wiclif and the Rhemists, servile as usual to the Vulgate. But they were all inexcusable, particularly as to Act_7:8, which directly alludes to Gen. 17, where the Vulgate has uniformly "pactum," never once "testamentum."
The Epistles are just as unambiguous. Thus in Rom_9:4, "the covenants" (cf. Gal_4:24 and Eph_2:12) can be the only right sense, referring to Jer_31:31 for the new, and to Exo_24:8 for the first or old. Here the Vulgate follows the erroneous singular, as in B D E F G, etc., against the true text in and the mass of uncial and cursive copies, etc. (save that A and L omit so as to be out of court), and all critics except Lachmann, who, great a scholar as he was, can never be reckoned on for a spiritual judgment. The English are right, save Wiclif and the Rhemists and the margin of the A.V. In Rom_11:27 the meaning is beyond doubt "covenant," as in the English with the same exceptions; where the error of the Vulgate is the more flagrant, because in Isa_59:21 it gives "foedus" rightly, yet mistranslates as usual in the N.T. citation. 1Co_11:25 falls under the remarks on the Lord's Supper in the Gospels, as already seen. 2Co_3:6-14 can only mean a new covenant" and "the old covenant," the reference being indisputable; yet here the influence of the Vulgate misled all the English discreditably. Even Beza had corrected himself; for while wrong in his editions of 1559, 1565, and 1582, he abandons "test." and substitutes "pactum" in his last two editions of 1588 and 1598, though without a reason given in his notes. The connection of Gal_3:15 is conclusive for the more general "covenant" even though human only, rather than the narrower 'testament," which is here more excusable in the Vulgate Wiclif, Tyndale, Cranmer, and the version of Rheims, while the Geneva rendering of 1557 led the A.V. to "covenant," with "testament" in the margin. This is confirmed by verse 17, where a last "will" or "testament" cannot rightly be understood, though here again we have the same parties similarly ranged. In Heb. 4: 24 the A.V. alone of English is correct, with the marginal alternative for which there was no good reason. In Eph_2:12 the Geneva V. was the forerunner of the A.V., Beza being right all through.
This brings us, according to the usual arrangement, to our Epistle, and to this the first mention of the word, where "covenant" has been shown to be right. In Heb_8:6; Heb_8:8-9 (twice), and 10 it is unmistakably and uniformly "covenant"; for what has a "mediator" to do with a testament? Other proofs are so obvious as to need no further pointing out. So in Heb_9:4 the ark was of the "covenant," with which a will or testament had no congruity and with the "tables" too in the same verse. It has been remarked also that "a mediator" goes with "a covenant," not a testament (verse 15), and the bearing of the "first covenant" is determined by O.T. reference. "Testament" it cannot be. But the inspiring Spirit, in the parenthesis of verses 16, 17, avails Himself of the signification so familiar to all who spoke or read Greek, in order to impress the place that death has for introducing and giving effect to the blessing of the Christian. A covenant does not imply in any case the death of the covenanter to give it validity; a testament invariably supposes the testator's death to bring it into operation. All learning or argument to set aside "testament" and "testator" here is but beating the air. Equally vain is it to establish "testament" in verse 15, or in 18 and 20, where "covenant" alone suits and alone warranted by the O.T. God enjoined a covenant, not a testament, and that by blood. The same proof applies no less stringently to Heb_10:16-29, Heb_12:24, and Heb_13:20, as also to Rev_11:19.
Now these are all the occurrences in the N.T.; and the sum is that "testament" is out of place everywhere save in Heb_9:16-17, where alone special contextual bearing gives occasion to that sense; whereas the universal O.T. force prevails in every other. The question is here gone into fully, that no reader may allow the unbelieving notion of the least uncertainty hanging over the usage. It is in vain and even injurious to parade a crowd of the learned men opposed to another crowd not less learned, save to prove that our faith ought in no case to rest on man but on God's word and Spirit. Thus regarded, the uncertainty of men confirms the 'believer in the value of the provisions of God's grace and word.
Another proof of superiority over the Levitical priesthood is claimed for our Lord Jesus in His abiding triumph over death, from which neither Aaron nor his successor had exemption any more than other men. They all succumbed to death, which rendered their priesthood necessarily successional in order to its very existence.
"And they have been made priests more in number, because they are hindered by death from continuing. but he, because he abideth for ever, hath the priesthood unchangeable:* whence also he is able to save completely those that approach to God through him, ever living as he is to intercede for them" (verses 23-25).
*It is ἀπαράβατος. Theodoret and other Greek fathers interpret it as "unsuccessional," which makes excellent sense. But usage points rather to "unchangeable" or intransmissible, untransferable.
The text had already been applied twice in this chapter (8, 16): the first time, in reasoning on the type of Melchizedek paid tithe to and testified of only as "living," Scripture being as silent about his death as about his birth (whereas under the law none but "dying" men received tithes); the second time, in contrasting the respective principles, a law of carnal injunction, weak and profitless on the one side, and on the other, power of indissoluble life through the perfection of which we draw near to God. Here, as has been remarked, we have the Holy Spirit noticing the appointment of numbers of priests Levitical, because death hindered continuance; whereas the high priest of our confession, because of His abiding for ever, "hath the priesthood unchangeable." The personal contrast of His abiding for ever, with the many sons of Aaron who could not but pass away through death, emphasises the priesthood in His case as indefeasible.
Nor can any demonstration be conceived so convincing and irrefutable. For death tells the tale of man's weakness and sin; and the more as he was constituted to live with suitable provision for it, had he obeyed God. Nevertheless Jesus did taste of death, but in no way by sin, yet for it as a sacrifice. BY the grace of God He tasted death for every one (or, thing). And this infinite act of His love not only availed for us before God in a way and measure with which nothing else Pan compare, but gave occasion to display the power of an imperishable life in Him. "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." When Scripture records its remarkable list of antediluvians (Gen. 5) living 930, 912, 910, 895, 962, 969, 777 years, the solemn words follow in each case, "and he died." Had Jesus lived as many as any, or double the oldest, men might still have said, Wait and see what the end will be. But He, after living as man just long enough to do the will of God perfectly, at its climax laid down His life in a single generation, that He might take it again in resurrection. Thus was marked out, on the one hand, the annulling of Satan's power in his last fortress of death, on the other the victory of the Son of God after full submission to God's judgment of sin. It was His resurrection that proclaimed death defeated. He only is the Living One, who became dead and is now alive again for ever more, in possession of the keys of death and Hades. And as thus living again He carries on His priesthood on high.
Therefore is there but One. Death has no more dominion over Him, as sin never had. No successor is needed, none to replace Him who ever abides. Vain search! for none else had the qualification. Through death there was no continuance. Hence is He in manifest contrast with Aaron's sons who followed in a family succession more numerous than the sons of David, till He came, the promised and predicted Son, who is the King after God's heart not in type alone but reality, as He is the Priest, the one Mediator whose love and effectual love has been proved to the uttermost in dying for our sins, and who now lives to sustain, guard, and sympathise as well as intercede on our behalf who believe.
And the power by which He lives for ever is the guarantee of a commensurate salvation (verse 25). For if the priests, the sons of Aaron, could not save themselves from death, still less could they save others. Christ only when His work was done, which made His death necessary for sinners, having been perfected became author of everlasting salvation to all that obey Him. "For if, being enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved in his life," i.e. in virtue of it. He abides for ever, and because it is so He has His priesthood unchangeable Thus also He is able to save completely those that approach to God through Him. In His case it is not the cold or poor plea of a divinely ordained office administered by an unworthy occupant, which brought death on many a son of Aaron as we may see in early days, and which filled with grief and shame far more "Israelites indeed" to the end of the sad story. If the law made nothing perfect, still less did the numerous priests as they succeeded one another supply strength and profit.
But here the glorious presence of God's Son gives a fresh and unfading and incalculable lustre to the office, enhanced as all is by an unwavering obedience which glorified His Father absolutely. He therefore is the sole priest able to save completely (εἰς τὸ παντελὲς) those that approach to God through Him, since He ever lives to intercede for them. As their need here below is great and unceasing so is He above always free, competent, and efficacious to interpose on their behalf. Do they approach by Him to God? He saves them throughout and entirely. Divine love and righteousness are thus at one in carrying through to God's glory and salvation in the face of every difficulty or danger. Nor is there salvation in any other. For there is none other name under heaven that is given anion(, men whereby we must be saved.
The superiority of the true Melchizedek is thus shown in every respect incontestable and manifest; and in the unjealous ways of grace His purity and His glory are bound up with the heavenly dignity of the believer, as it is here expressed.
"For such a high priest [also*] became us,* holy, harmless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens, who hath no need day by day, as the high priests, first for his own sins to offer up sacrifices, then [for] those of the people; for this he did once for all, having offered up himself. For the law appointeth men high priests having infirmity; but the word of the oath-swearing that [was] after the law, a Son perfected for ever" (verses 26-28).
* A B D E, and both Syriac versions, add καὶ "also." It may be noticed that by a misprint Tischendorf gives ὑμῖν "you," instead of "us." By a similar inadvertence heaps of various readings arose among the copyists of old.
The reason assigned (for the sentence takes that shape) is made all the more striking when compared with a designedly similar one in Heb_2:10. "For it became him for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." The glory of God, His truth, His justice, had been compromised if sin were not judged unsparingly in His person Whose grace made Him responsible for all its consequences. Therefore did it become God to make Him who knew no sin sin for us. Here no less wonderfully does the Holy Spirit say that "it became us" to have a high priest in every point of view and beyond comparison superior to the Aaronic line. "For such a high priest became us," not only of purity unexampled but made "higher than the heavens," the glorious place in which the Epistle loves to regard Him, due to His personal and divine dignity, but taken as the result of His atoning death before God for a heavenly family and their need through sin.
The word "holy" should be considered. In Greek as in Hebrew two expressions are employed: one (ἅγιος) to imply separateness for God from evil, the other (ὅσιος) graciousness, which said of God means His mercy, said of man means his piety. It is the latter term which is here rendered "holy," a holiness full of loving-kindness. Next, ἄκακος is poorly translated "harmless" as in the A.V.: and "guileless" as in the Revision answers to ἄδολος. In Christ it rises to a total absence of evil found in none else. "Undefiled" declares Him untainted by the corruptions that surrounded Him when here below, where His moral beauty shone on all who had eyes to see, above all in His Father's who bore witness from heaven.
Appropriately therefore is He next said to be "separated from sinners," not from sins only, as the Pesch-Syriac says, but from sinners. What was ever morally true was crowned in His leaving the world behind, the enduring effect of a completed age, and so leads on to the only place befitting Him, "made higher than the heavens." There He exercised His high-priestly functions, having laid the ground in His propitiatory work on the cross. It should surprise none to hear that such a place became Him. Revelation declares that such a high priest "became us." Divine righteousness does not justify us only but sets us in and as Christ before God (John 16: 2 Cor. 5); or, according to the doctrine of our Epistle, constitutes us holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, and (as we shall see) exhorts us to approach with a true heart, as having boldness for entering into the holies by the blood of Jesus. It is not then because we were anything good of ourselves, but on the contrary because we are so blessed, objects of perfect favour, and bound for glory under an unfailing Leader, that "such a high priest became us," in contrast with the earthly people who had high priests like themselves.
In verse 27 is a brief exclusion of the shortcomings of earthly priesthood, leaving its full discussion to a later moment. Aaron and his successors needed day by day to offer up sacrifices, first for their own sins, then for the people's - Christ once for all when He offered Himself, which is the clearest token of absolute sinlessness, and according to the worth of His person was infinitely effectual for others, as He needed nothing on His own part. This the previous verse demonstrated, if proof were asked, though it ought not to be. And the whole is clenched by verse 28: "For the law constituteth men high priests, having infirmity." All here was imperfection. "But the word of the oath-swearing that was since the law [constituteth] a Son perfected for ever." "Son" is characteristic, and hence has not the article, though He be the Only-begotten but not here a designated object; so that the language is perfectly correct. Its in