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Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 7:11-14

Jesus Compared to Melchizedek

11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

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Last week’s entry delved deeper into the universal priesthood of Melchizedek, a king and priest to whom Abraham paid homage and a tithe (Genesis 14). Melchizedek, in turn, blessed him. That is all we know about Melchizedek. After that, the next few chapters of Genesis reveal how God blessed Abraham.

These are the important verses from that entry (emphases mine):

It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.

One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.

Aaron and all the Jewish priests were descended from Levi.

As John MacArthur points out, Melchizedek preceded the Levitical priesthood and was a universal priest of God-fearing men. Similarly, Jesus, who was not of the Levites, is a universal priest according to the order of Melchizedek:

You see, Melchizedek wasn’t a priest by any physical standard. He was a priest because of his character. And in that sense, he pictures Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ can do what Aaron couldn’t do; he takes us into the presence of God, and He anchors us there.

Although Hebrews is aimed at early Jewish converts who could not leave ceremonial and ritual law behind as well as at Jewish people who were still mulling over whether Jesus is Messiah, we Christians have much to learn from this book, which explains the eternal pre-eminence of Christ as King and Great High Priest.

It is important for every Christian to understand that Jesus accomplished what the Levite priests could never do, and that was to break down the barrier to God. Recall that, before the destruction of the temple, only the high priest could enter into the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, once a year on the Day of Atonement and only for a few seconds because even he was not worthy of being there.

At the Crucifixion, after Jesus died on the Cross, God rent the veil of the tabernacle, meaning that people would come to Him through His Son, who had made the full, perfect, sufficient sacrifice for our sins.

MacArthur explains:

Drawing near to God is the goal of Christianity. That’s the whole point. This is the essence of Christianity. This is its highest experience. This is the design of God for Christianity: access to His presence. Coming into His presence with nothing between. And I think sometimes we forget this. Christians look at their Christian life usually in three or at least three ways. Some look at their Christian life, and they see Jesus Christ only as a means to salvation and personal happiness. And that’s about how they look at their Christian life: they’re looking for happiness; they’re on a quest for security. They found Jesus; there’s their happiness; there’s their security. And that’s about as far as it ever goes.

Other people look at their Christian life like this: they see it as a relationship to Jesus Christ, and they seek to know Christ better. Now, that’s fine, just as number one was fine. But still, they haven’t grasped really what Christianity is. It’s not just security and happiness; it’s not just knowing Jesus Christ deeper and deeper.

Thirdly – and this is the key; this is what Christianity really is – some Christians understand that Christianity is drawing nigh unto God. That is the essence of Christianity. That’s what it is. The fullest expression of our faith is to enter into the presence of God, into the Holy of Holies, and to sit on the throne with Him. That’s the fullest expression of our faith.

Jesus is the door to God, and in a sense, many Christians fellowship with the door and never get into the Holy of Holies. We need to understand that the design of God, in our faith, is to bring us into a full kind of access to the God of the universe.

With regard to Hebrews 7, beginning with today’s verses and continuing to the end of the chapter, the author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, uses Psalm 110:4 as an illustration of Christ’s universal priesthood:

The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
    after the order of Melchizedek.”

First, the author examines the Levite priesthood, supreme to the Jews of that time. He asks his audience to consider whether, if it were so perfect, even though those priests were the ones to uphold Mosaic law, why there would be a need for any other priesthood, one after the order of Melchizedek (verse 11). If one form of priesthood is perfect, surely, there is no need for another.

Yet, those priests had to continue offering sacrifices, generation after generation. Therefore, it could not have been perfect.

As Matthew Henry points out, it was a framework for the future, one that, by necessity, would come to an end:

They could not put those who came to them into the perfect enjoyment of the good things they pointed out to them; they could only show them the way.

MacArthur directs us to Psalm 110:4 (above):

If God had intended the Aaronic priesthood to introduce the age of perfection, the time of perfect access to God, why would He then have prophesied Messiah to be a priest of a different order?

You see, when God set aside Israel, that was no accident. God had planned that way back in the Old Testament, even before the world began. God knew Messiah would be a different priest, because He knew the Aaronic priesthood was imperfect.

Jesus supercedes any Jewish priest — and Mosaic Law — because He is now our Great High Priest. As the author of Hebrews says, a change of priesthood necessitates a change in the law (verse 12).

Henry explains:

That therefore another priest must be raised up, after the order of Melchisedec, by whom, and his law of faith, perfection might come to all who obey him; and, blessed be God, that we may have perfect holiness and perfect happiness by Christ in the covenant of grace, according to the gospel, for we are complete in him

a new priesthood must be under a new regulation, managed in another way, and by rules proper to its nature and order.

MacArthur discusses the Greek used in the original text, meaning ‘to replace’:

So, if there’s going to be a different priesthood, “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” Now, the idea of change here, metatithēmi, means to put one thing in the place of another. You don’t add Christianity to Judaism; you take away Judaism and you put Christianity in. You replace it. The priesthood of Melchizedek was not added to Aaron’s; it replaced it. You see it there, “For the priesthood being changed” – metatithēmi, replacing another one. Aaron’s is defunct. It says, then, “There is made of necessity a change also of the law.”

The ‘law’ as discussed here relates to the ceremonial and ritual law of the Old Testament. The Ten Commandments, which mandate that we love God above all and that we love our neighbour as ourselves, still stand.

MacArthur tells us:

Certainly there’s not a doing away of God’s moral law; it’s not all of a sudden right for us to say, “Well, we’re under the new covenant. We may now commit adultery, steal, lie, covet, etcetera, etcetera, take the Lord’s name in vain.” No, God does not set aside his moral law.

The author of Hebrews moves on to Jesus, saying that He did not descend from a line of Old Testament priests (verse 13). He came from the tribe of Judah, and Moses never said anything about priests coming from that group of people (verse 14).

So, the priest has changed, the priesthood became universal and Mosaic law became obsolete.

Henry says:

This change of the family shows a real change of the law of the priesthood

the high priest of our profession holds his office by that innate power of endless life which he has in himself, not only to preserve himself alive, but to communicate spiritual and eternal life to all those who duly rely upon his sacrifice and intercession

the priesthood of Christ carries in it, and brings along with it, a better hope; it shows us the true foundation of all the hope we have towards God for pardon and salvation; it more clearly discovers the great objects of our hope; and so it tends to work in us a more strong and lively hope of acceptance with God. By this hope we are encouraged to draw nigh unto God, to enter into a covenant-union with him, to live a life of converse and communion with him. We may now draw near with a true heart, and with the full assurance of faith, having our minds sprinkled from an evil conscience. The former priesthood rather kept men at a distance, and under a spirit of bondage.

That bondage was one of sin, but also one of ceremony and ritual, as MacArthur explains. As we saw during my series on Acts, the tensions between Jews and Christians were palpable, not unlike those that the new converts of Hebrews had endured:

some who had come to Christ, were still worshiping at the temple, still hanging on to the ritual of the old system. And the setting aside was extremely difficult for the Jews to grasp. In fact, so difficult that it was the reason they stoned Stephen and they vented their wrath on Paul on that very basis. The issue of setting aside the old.

And even some believers, even some who had been redeemed obstinately contended that the Mosaic system still remained in force. And you had to go through all the rigmarole of the Levitical priesthood still. I think that’s the issue in Acts – yes – 21:20, “And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto Him, ‘Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews are there who believe; and they are all zealous of the law.’” There were Jews being saved but not breaking with the old system. It was the same contention that caused so much trouble in the early Church you remember. The early Church was always being harassed by the Judaizers; that’s the word that means certain Jews who came in and tried to impose the whole Old Testament system on the Christians. They were telling the Christians you had to be circumcised, and you had to go through the Aaronic priesthood, and you had to go through all the sacrifices and so forth. And the book of Galatians is really written as kind of a reaction to that. And in Galatians chapter 4, verse 9, writing to this very problem, he says, “But now, after you have known God, why are you turning to the weak and beggarly elements unto which you desire again to be in bondage?” You already have access to God, why do you want to back out of the Holy of Holies and go through the ritual in front of the veil again? You see?

He says, “You observe days, and months, and times, and years.” You’re back into the old ceremonies. Chapter 5 he says, “Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty with which Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Don’t go back to the old rituals, the old system. You’ve been turned loose. “For in Jesus Christ” – verse 6 – “neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision” – that isn’t the issue any longer. That’s over with.

The Transfiguration illustrates this issue, as MacArthur explains. This is exceptionally important to remember:

Mark 9, listen to it, “And Peter answered and said to Jesus, ‘Master, it’s good for us to be here’” – he’s up on the mountain – “‘let us make three booths, one for thee, and one for Moses, and on for Elijah.’” – now watch – “For he knew not what to say” – which was often his problem ; it never seemed to stop him from saying anything – “for they were very much afraid.” Peter just kind of blurted it out. Now watch. “And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son: hear Him.’” Now watch. “And suddenly, when they had looked around about, they saw no man any more, except Jesus only.”

God said, “Don’t listen to Moses and Elijah; this is my Son,” do what? – “hear Him.” You see, in a sense, God was illustrating that the old covenant had passed. And after the thunderstorm – after the cloud or whatever it was had vanished, they saw Jesus only. That’s the point. The old system is defunct.

I’d never thought about it that way, but that’s an excellent point — and one I’d not read or heard of before. I understand the Transfiguration much better now.

In next week’s reading, the author continues to discuss Psalm 110:4. More insights will follow.

Next time — Hebrews 7:15-19

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