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Bible read me 2The 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 (here and here).

Hebrews 10:26-31

26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

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Last week’s post discussed the contrast the author of Hebrews made between the sacrifices of the Old Testament and Christ’s living sacrifice on the Cross.

It is important to remember that after Jesus died on the Cross, the veil covering the Holy of Holies in the temple of Jerusalem was rent in two. We do not think too much about that. Yet, we should. As regular readers of my columns on Hebrews know, that rending of the veil meant that there was no longer any barrier to God. Jesus’s blood sacrifice at the Crucifixion removed that barrier permanently. We now go to the Father through Him.

Matthew Henry’s commentary has an especially interesting detail about the veil. It is well worth remembering (emphases mine below):

The veil in the tabernacle and temple signified the body of Christ; when he died, the veil of the temple was rent in sunder, and this was at the time of the evening sacrifice, and gave the people a surprising view into the holy of holies, which they never had before. Our way to heaven is by a crucified Saviour; his death is to us the way of life. To those who believe this he will be precious.

On to today’s reading, which carries a stark warning about the Christian life. If we know the truth of Christ, yet do not turn away from serious sin, Christ’s blood sacrifice becomes null and void for us (verse 26). If that happens, we can expect fearsome judgement upon ourselves (verse 27).

Matthew Henry says that these verses refer to apostasy, not minor sins:

From the description he gives of the sin of apostasy. It is sinning wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, sinning wilfully against that truth of which we have had convincing evidence. This text has been the occasion of great distress to some gracious souls; they have been ready to conclude that every wilful sin, after conviction and against knowledge, is the unpardonable sin: but this has been their infirmity and error. The sin here mentioned is a total and final apostasy, when men with a full and fixed will and resolution despise and reject Christ, the only Saviour,–despise and resist the Spirit, the only sanctifier,–and despise and renounce the gospel, the only way of salvation, and the words of eternal life; and all this after they have known, owned, and professed, the Christian religion, and continue to do so obstinately and maliciously. This is the great transgression: the apostle seems to refer to the law concerning presumptuous sinners, Numbers 15:30,31. They were to be cut off.

The anonymous author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, appealed to his Jewish audience — some of whom were recent converts, others resistant — by mentioning the law of Moses, the terms of which they all understood. If those under the Old Covenant disobeyed those laws and had two or three witnesses to corroborate such sin, they died ‘without mercy’ (verse 28). That was a temporal death by stoning.

The source text for that judgement, which concerns idolatry, is Deuteronomy 17:2-6:

2 “If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones. 6 On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.

The author then asked his audience about the severity of punishment under the New Covenant (verse 29): would it not be far greater for denying Christ via apostasy?

Henry describes apostasy and the unimaginable punishment for it in the next life as follows:

(1.) They have trodden under foot the Son of God. To trample upon an ordinary person shows intolerable insolence; to treat a person of honour in that vile manner is insufferable; but to deal thus with the Son of God, who himself is God, must be the highest provocation–to trample upon his person, denying him to be the Messiah–to trample upon his authority, and undermine his kingdom–to trample upon his members as the offscouring of all things, and not fit to live in the world; what punishment can be too great for such men? (2.) They have counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing; that is, the blood of Christ, with which the covenant was purchased and sealed, and wherewith Christ himself was consecrated, or wherewith the apostate was sanctified, that is, baptized, visibly initiated into the new covenant by baptism, and admitted to the Lord’s supper. Observe, There is a kind of sanctification which persons may partake of and yet fall away: they may be distinguished by common gifts and graces, by an outward profession, by a form of godliness, a course of duties, and a set of privileges, and yet fall away finally. Men who have seemed before to have the blood of Christ in high esteem may come to account it an unholy thing, no better than the blood of a malefactor, though it was the world’s ransom, and every drop of it of infinite value.

The author of Hebrews reminds his audience that vengeance belongs to God, that God will judge and repay (verse 30). If we reject His Son and His Son’s ultimate sacrifice for us, then we can expect everlasting damnation and an unimaginably painful eternity.

As the author says (verse 20):

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Henry expands on that point:

From the description we have in the scripture of the nature of God’s vindictive justice, Hebrews 10:30. We know that he has said, Vengeance is mine. This is taken out of Psalms 94:1, Vengeance belongs unto me. The terrors of the Lord are known both by revelation and reason. Vindictive justice is a glorious, though terrible attribute of God; it belongs to him, and he will use and execute it upon the heads of such sinners as despise his grace; he will avenge himself, and his Son, and Spirit, and covenant, upon apostates. And how dreadful then will their case be! The other quotation is from Deuteronomy 32:36, The Lord will judge his people; he will search and try his visible church, and will discover and detect those who say they are Jews, and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan; and he will separate the precious from the vile, and will punish the sinners in Zion with the greatest severity. Now those who know him who hath said, Vengeance belongeth to me, I will recompense, must needs conclude, as the apostle does (Hebrews 10:31): It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Those who know the joy that results from the favour of God can thereby judge of the power and dread of his vindictive wrath. Observe here, What will be the eternal misery of impenitent sinners and apostates: they shall fall into the hands of the living God; their punishment shall come from God’s own hand. He takes them into the hand of his justice; he will deal with them himself; their greatest misery will be the immediate impressions of divine wrath on the soul. When he punishes them by creatures, the instrument abates something of the force of the blow; but, when he does it by his own hand, it is infinite misery. This they shall have at God’s hand, they shall lie down in sorrow; their destruction shall come from his glorious powerful presence; when they make their woeful bed in hell, they will find that God is there, and his presence will be their greatest terror and torment. And he is a living God; he lives for ever, and will punish for ever.

The author leaves that message with his audience. Next week’s post will explore the joy and confidence one can have in Christ through obedience in love.

Next time — Hebrews 10:32-39

Bible openThe 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 10:1-3

Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All

10 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.

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Last week’s entry discussed the necessity of blood sacrifice for sin in God’s covenants, the ultimate and all-sufficient one being the Crucifixion.

The Old Covenant was ‘but a shadow of the good things to come’ with Christ’s perfect sacrifice, which brought with it the forgiveness of sins (verse 1). The Old Covenant could never bring redemption, as animal sacrifices had to be offered annually on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

John MacArthur encapsulates the Old Covenant as follows:

It was only, in effect, a man saying, “Okay, God, I believe you. Okay, God, I want to worship you, so I’ll obey you and I’ll offer a sacrifice.” And God was saying, “On the basis of your works, in response to your faith, I accept that.”

The author of Hebrews goes on to say that if animal sacrifices could have taken away a sense of guilt — ‘consciousness of sins’ — then they would have stopped being offered (verse 2).

Yet, he says, that was not the case, because sacrifices had to take place every year on that day (verse 3).

MacArthur says that guilt became a permanent mainstay of the Old Covenant, and, rightly so, for that time. He also thinks that ‘conscience of sin’ is a better phrasing than ‘consciousness of sin’ (emphases mine):

Instead of being able to look at the sacrifice and say, “Wow, I’m forgiven,” they kept looking at the sacrifice and said, “Oh, yeah, I’m not. I’m just as sick as I’ve always been. And I’ve got to go down there again with another lamb. And I’m not getting any better.”

And so, you see, rather than the old covenant removing sin, it just stood as a constant reminder that sin was not removed. The sacrifice of animals is powerless to remove sin. To purify a man, to free a man from the conscience of guilt that binds his mind, they cannot do it. All they can do is go on reminding a man that he is uncured and that he’s a sinner at the mercy of God, and he’s not free to enter into God’s presence at all because he’s not holy. So far from erasing sin, they only underlined it.

Now, the conscience of sin, let me just say a word about this. The conscience of sin has to do with guilt. There’s a certain amount of guilt that comes with sin. It’s just a system built into you, just like pain is built into you. Where pain reacts to bodily injury, guilt reacts to the injury of your soul by disobedience to God, and it’s a warning system. And they never, in the Old Testament, ever were relieved from the tension of guilt.

Although Jewish people today talk with satisfaction about their guilt for that reason, so do Catholics. Guilt is a badge of honour for both groups.

I remember growing up as a Catholic and being told that after receiving Communion we were in a state of grace — until our next sin. Well, one could sin before one got in one’s car to return home from church, meaning that one’s state of grace had vanished in a trice and could not be restored until one received Communion again.

MacArthur even mentions that in his sermon in a brief comment on Mass:

Now, that, to me, is nothing more than a constant reminder that they’re not forgiven. That’s a throwback to the old economy. We only need Jesus Christ to be crucified once. We don’t have to re-crucify Him all the time because then we’re doing exactly what the Old Testament said … “You can only be forgiven a week at a time,” and that’s wrong. That’s wrong.

Having spent half my life now as a Protestant, I could not agree more.

MacArthur says:

“My little children, your sins are forgiven forever for His name’s sake.” That’s in the new covenant. The Son of God paid the debt in full. He removed sin and He removed judgment and with it, He removed the fear of judgment. I don’t live in mortal fear of seeing God, I live in great anticipation because my sins are covered.

The next part of Hebrews 10 — from verses 4 to 25, all in the Lectionary — explains that Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross replaced the old system and inaugurated the New Covenant, whereby our sins are forgiven. There is no longer any need to pursue the old rituals.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

now, under the gospel, the atonement is perfect, and not to be repeated; and the sinner, once pardoned, is ever pardoned as to his state, and only needs to renew his repentance and faith, that he may have a comfortable sense of a continued pardon.

That sentence is a good lead-in to next weekend’s post.

In closing, guilt accomplishes nothing for the Christian unless it brings about repentance — turning away from sin. Repentance is a life-long process, but as long as one is trying, praying for the grace to do so and gradually doing away with sin, then it’s all to the good. We will all die as sinners, but as long as we die in faith with less sin on our souls, we will have fought the good fight.

Next time — Hebrews 10:26-31

Bible oldThe 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 9:16-23

16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

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Last week’s post discussed the rituals of the Levite priests, which God had ordained, as well as a passage from Hebrews 9 that appears in the Lectionary, ending with this verse (emphases mine below):

15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.[h]

One can only receive an inheritance if there is a will (testament), the person promising said inheritance dies (verse 17) and the death is established (verse 16).

John MacArthur elaborates further on the use of the word ‘testament’, which appears in older translations:

Now, the word “testament” here is … diathēkē. The common Greek word for a covenant was sunthēkē, which means an agreement between equals. Diathēkē means somebody makes the rules up here and you either take it or leave it. And that’s the word that’s always used with God’s covenants because He always calls all the shots and men either take it or leave it. You don’t bargain with God and say, “If you’ll adjust your covenant a little bit your way, I’ll adjust a little my way.” God’s truth is absolute.

And the best way to illustrate the use of the word diathēkē is the fact that it’s used to speak of a will. A will is not a bargain between two people; a will is something made out by one person, and the other person either takes it or leaves it. And so he is saying here, God has promised an inheritance and that inheritance depends upon the death of the one who made it in order for it to be received. That’s a simple truth. And that’s really all he’s saying. A will cannot operate until the one who made it dies; therefore, Jesus had to die. He had to die to release the legacy of God to men.

The kingdom of heaven is bequeathed to all believers. Such is God’s will and testament. And Jesus’ death released it to our possession. And some of it is ours now, and it will be ours in its fullness when we go to be with Him.

The author goes on to describe the blood used in the sacrifices under the law of the Old Covenant. Even before there was a tabernacle, God commanded Moses to sprinkle blood on the people as a temporary purification (verses 19, 20). He also sprinkled blood on the tent as well as on the vessels used for worship (verse 21).

MacArthur traces the use of blood in God’s covenants from the beginning, with Abraham:

You’ll remember that in Genesis, that’s what happened. When God gave Abraham the covenant, God knocked him out with a divine anesthetic after he had slaughtered those animals, cut them in half, and laid the bloody pieces on two sides, and taken a turtledove and killed it on one side and another – I think it was a pigeon, and put it on the other side, and then God passed between the bloody pieces. In other words, even the Abrahamic covenant was sealed by blood. So this is what happened in the Mosaic case, and that’s what the author of Hebrews is saying

Now, you see, here, the whole thing is ratified by blood. That was God’s standard. This is what He required. Now go back to Hebrews 9, and you understand what it means in verse 19. “For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, water, scarlet wool, hyssop, and sprinkled the book, and all the people.” This was Moses’ act of ratifying the covenant.

Ultimately, every sacrifice required blood, because without it there was no forgiveness of sins under either the Old or the New Covenant (verse 22).

MacArthur says that we must not get upset or sentimental about the blood shed, particularly by our Lord on the Cross, because it is the death — especially His death — that matters:

this was God, by sign and symbol, always showing the wages of sin is what? Death. Constantly. And there’s no sense in getting teary-eyed and mystical about blood. And we sing hymns, “There’s power in the blood,” et cetera, and we don’t want to get preoccupied with blood. The only importance the blood of Jesus has is that it showed He died. There is no saving in that blood itself.

We cannot say that the very blood of Jesus, His physical blood, is what atones for sin. It is His death that atones for sin. His bloodshed was an act of death. And so we do not want to become preoccupied with fantasizing about some mystical blood that’s floating around somewhere, it is by His sacrificial offering of Himself. It is by His death that we are redeemed. Bloodshed is only the picture of His death.

This is why God required blood sacrifices:

And so always, in the ratification of a covenant, blood was shed, because in every covenant that God made with man, He knew there would be violation. Right? Sin. And that sin could only be taken care of by death. Therefore, initially, God showed the importance of a sacrificial system by making that the initial ratification of a covenant. So when Jesus died and shed His blood, this is no big thing. This is nothing for Israel to get all bent out of shape about. This ought to be good proof that God was instituting a new covenant, which had to be ratified by blood.

Therefore, the sacrifices under Mosaic law were but copies of the heavenly sacrifice to come through Christ Jesus (verse 23).

MacArthur says:

Jesus is superior to any goat, bull, ram, or sheep, infinitely. If it was necessary that the copy had to have sacrifices, how much more necessary that the reality had to have a sacrifice? Not only just a sacrifice, but better sacrifice. All the blood of the old covenant was nothing but a picture of the shed blood of Jesus. And the death of Jesus Christ is that which satisfies God.

God was so satisfied with what Jesus did that He highly exalted Him and gave Him a name above every name. At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, things in the earth and under the earth. God exalted Him and lifted Him up to the highest place He could lift Him to, His own right hand, because of what He had done, He was so satisfied. God is satisfied with Jesus.

MacArthur explains, citing a verse from Matthew that appears in consecration prayers in Communion services in older denominations:

… do you remember the startling words of Jesus in Matthew 26:28, when He, at the table with the disciples that last night before His death, picked up the cup and said, “This is my blood of the” – what? – “new covenant, which is shed for you.” And there, He was just doing a takeoff on Exodus chapter 24. He was to be the ratifier of the new covenant, and it would come through His blood. The shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ, His atoning death, is the confirming sign of the new covenant.

This next point is so important. It’s about why Jesus had to die, which puzzled me for years, especially as a child, so, please, if you have young ones, do remember this answer. Every child wants to know why Jesus had to die on the Cross. Couldn’t God have let Him live forever and ever among us? No, He could not:

And so the blood was a token of both covenants, and the point of the writer is so well made. Why did Jesus have to die? Number one, He had a will to give and He had to die to free His will. Number two, always, always, always, forgiveness is based on blood. A covenant is ratified by blood. And Jesus brought a new covenant with forgiveness; therefore, He had to die

You can’t enter into God’s presence by being good. You can’t enter into God’s presence by being a fine citizen. You can’t enter into God’s presence by going through religious m[otion]s. You can’t enter into God’s presence by reading the Bible, by going to church, by being a member, by thinking sweet thoughts about God. The only way you’ll ever enter into God’s presence and into participation in the new covenant is by the death of Jesus Christ and your faith and belief in His shed blood on the cross in your behalf. That’s the only way. That’s the only access.

God set the rules. “The soul that sins, it shall die.” And then God, in grace, moved right back in and provided a death substitute. Jesus’ death is the only thing that satisfies God, you see. Because He requires death. And all over the Old Testament, He splattered blood in order that they might be constantly made aware of the fact that bloodshed was the only expiation for sin. Forgiveness is a costly, costly thing.

This next point is also important to remember. We sometimes take Jesus’s death and God’s forgiveness for granted:

I often think to myself how lightly I take the forgiveness of God. Come to the end of a day and I stick my head on my pillow and I say, “God, I did this today.” And I usually try to recite the things I did that I know He knows about, and I’m sure He knows about all of them, so I don’t try to hide them anymore. And I recite the things I did that I didn’t think were pleasing to Him, and I say, “Thanks for forgiving me,” and I’m asleep in a couple of minutes. And then, you know, I begin to think sometimes as I study the Word of God, you know, for the cost that it took to purchase my forgiveness, how glibly and how cheaply do I consider it. The infinite cost that God went to to forgive my sins. And I’m so ready to sin, in the back of my mind, knowing that it’s forgiven. What sick abuse that is of the sweet grace of a loving God.

That’s why Paul, in Romans chapter 6, faces the question, “Shall we sin that grace may abound?” And he throws his hands up in the air and says, “God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer in it?” Would we stomp all over God’s grace? Consider the cost of your forgiveness, dear one. God is such a bound God, bound to His own character, He cannot break the moral laws of His nature. He cannot violate the moral laws of His universe, and He built into His universe the fact that sin demands death and finally, He’s the one that had to pay the price. And He paid it.

Forgiveness isn’t just God looking down and saying, “Oh, it’s all right. I like you a lot, and I’ll just let it go.” It’s the costliest thing in the universe. Without bloodshed, there is no forgiveness of sins. If you are forgiven, it is because somebody died.

I know that this is not the cheeriest subject matter just after Christmas, however, perhaps this point from MacArthur will help:

the death of Jesus Christ purchased forgiveness. He recognized that God was the one that had to be satisfied, and He offered His blood, and thus revealed God’s love and mercy and forgiveness for all who believe.

The final verses of Hebrews 9 are read on one of the Sundays after Pentecost in Year B. The last verse is particularly beautiful:

24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

On that day, we will know the joy that the saints from the Old Testament experienced. Their entry to heaven from Hades (Sheol) was made possible only by Jesus’s death on the Cross, as MacArthur explains:

We believe that Jesus, when He died, went down into Sheol, gathered the Old Testament saints, their spirits, and ushered them into the presence of God, so that they had to be waiting until perfect sacrifice was made on the one final day of atonement and then were ushered into the presence of God. The Old Testament saints, then, who were called, could not inherit their promises until sins were done away. That’s what it says at the end of verse 15. They were under the first testament, but it was only by His death that they were able to inherit their promises. The first covenant couldn’t bring them to God’s presence.

Now … it says at the end of verse 15, “the eternal inheritance.” What is that? Well, it certainly has to be salvation. It has to be all that salvation is, and it came to them in the fullest sense, total access to God. Perfection, in the sense it’s used in Hebrews, came when Jesus died.

they could not have full access until that final sacrifice was made, which truly satisfied God. In the past, God overlooked sin until Jesus could bear it away.

The author continues to discuss sacrifices, the imperfect and the perfect, in Hebrews 10.

Next time — Hebrews 10:1-3

Bible read me 2The 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 9:1-5

The Earthly Holy Place

Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent[a] was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence.[b] It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section[c] called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

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Hebrews 8 ends with verses from Jeremiah 31, wherein the prophet foretold a new covenant that God would make with His people.

John MacArthur explains the structure of the Book of Hebrews thus far (emphases mine):

Now the Old Testament worship was based on … three things: The priesthood, the sacrifices, and the covenant. Jesus says, “I bring a better priesthood, a better sacrifice, a better covenant.” Now that only comes from chapter 7 on. The first six chapters are to show you that he is a better mediator to begin with. So the first six chapters deal with the preeminence of his person, then the preeminence of his priesthood, then the preeminence of his sacrifice, then the preeminence of his covenant.

In the early chapters of Hebrews, the unknown author discussed the great people of the Old Testament and said that Jesus is better than each of them. However, the author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was careful to exalt each of them, because their work was to prepare the Jews for the Messiah, Jesus Christ:

He compared Israel’s prophets to Christ, angels to Christ, Moses to Christ, Joshua to Christ, Aaron to Christ, and so forth and so on. But you have never once heard him deprecate any of those others by comparison. He never says, “Oh that crumb Moses compared to Jesus. That’s terrible. Moses was the greatest.” He never says, “Oh, those lowly worthless angels compared to Christ.” He never does that. He exalts the prophets. He exalts the angels. He exalts Moses. He exalts Joshua. He exalts Aaron. He exalts the old covenant as far as it can be exalted. He never deprecates it, and that’s a wise thing. The more they are legitimately magnified, the more Jesus is magnified when he is proven to be superior, you see. And so his words are always gracious. There’s no sense in running that down; that was divine. His words are gracious.

Today’s verses begins a brief dissertation on the holy place of the Jews, which God instituted (Exodus 25). Note that the author calls this ‘the earthly holy place’ and ‘earthly place of holiness’ (verse 1), because the true holy place is in heaven.

Our two commentators, John MacArthur and Matthew Henry, both say that everything in the original tabernacle pointed to Christ.

I must admit, it took me some time to grasp that, even though I already understood how traditional church structures borrow heavily from the structure of the original tabernacle.

Although Matthew Henry goes into it in detail, he begins with this summary:

This tabernacle (of which we have the model, Exodus 25:1-27:21) was a moving temple, shadowing forth the unsettled state of the church militant, and the human nature of the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily. Now of this tabernacle it is said that it was divided into two parts, called a first and a second tabernacle, an inner and an outer part, representing the two states of the church militant and triumphant, and the two natures of Christ, human and divine.

The original tabernacle was a huge tent (verse 2). MacArthur describes it fully:

Now that tent is very important, and I dare say we don’t know nearly as much about it as we ought to. Do you know there are only two chapters in the Bible that talk about creation and there are 50 chapters that talk about the tabernacle? That is important. The tabernacle is important and demands attention from us in our study, because the tabernacle is a giant picture of Jesus Christ. It is a gigantic portrait of Christ in every detail. God laid out all the plans, and you look at it and it’s just Christ everywhere you look.

For example, let’s begin. This was a big tent. It was 150 feet long and it was 75 feet wide. And there was only one gate, and it was on the east. And it was 30 feet wide, seven-and-a-half feet high, and many people could go through it. Now that is a perfect picture of Jesus Christ who said, “I am the way,” who also said, “I am the door.” To the tabernacle or the place of God there was only one door. How many doors are there to God now? One door, Jesus Christ. So the fact of one door pictures Jesus Christ. Christianity is very exclusive, men only come to God through Jesus Christ. Now let’s assume that we started at the east and we were going into the 150-by-75-foot tent. The outside was a curtain that was not covered, and we would move then, and he just doesn’t even get into this but let me fill in. We would move into the courtyard, the outer court of the tabernacle.

MacArthur goes on to describe the initial parts of the tabernacle. The first part was the acacia altar for the animal sacrifices. It was seven and a half feet square and raised four and a half feet off the ground. Even this suggests Jesus:

The brazen altar is a perfect picture of Jesus Christ, the one who was a sacrifice for sin.

Past that was what was called the laver, the washing area. MacArthur explains what God had in mind for the future:

It again is a picture of Jesus Christ who is the cleanser of his people. And it’s a wonderful picture when you put the two together. Once we have come to the brazen altar and received forgiveness for sins, we are not through. We still need to go to the laver for the daily cleansing that brings about restoration and the pure joy of full fellowship. So both of them picture Jesus. And together they picture the work of Christ on earth, as he provided the forgiveness and the cleansing in the cross.

In summary:

In the outer courtyard, all the things out there are connected with salvation and the cleansing of sin. Now where did Jesus accomplish salvation and the cleansing of sin? On the earth. And that’s the courtyard, outside God’s presence. The very fact that it was the outer court, accessible to all the people pictures Christ in the world openly manifesting himself before men.

Going further in, where only the priest was allowed, the first part of the sanctuary, the Holy Place, had a candlestick (lampstand) — menorah — as well as an altar on which was placed what was called showbread: the bread of Presence, one loaf for each of the twelve tribes of Israel (verse 2).

These were God’s instructions (in part) for the lampstand, the menorah (Exodus 25:32,37):

32 And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it;

37 You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it.

Traditional churches today — Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran — have a permanently lit sanctuary lamp which fulfils the same purpose. It represents the light of Christ.

In the time of Moses, the Holy Place had no windows, therefore, light was necessary. With Christ, the light takes on a different meaning. Henry explains:

Their light was only candle-light, in comparison of the fullness of light which Christ, the Sun of righteousness, would bring along with him, and communicate to his people; for all our light is derived from him the fountain of light.

Henry describes the table and the showbread, comparing and contrasting it with the Christian sanctuary, where the consecrated bread is stored:

This table was set directly opposite to the candlestick, which shows that by light from Christ we must have communion with him and with one another. We must not come in the dark to his table, but by light from Christ must discern the Lord’s body. On this table were placed twelve loaves for the twelve tribes of Israel, a loaf for a tribe, which stood from sabbath to sabbath, and on that day were renewed. This show-bread may be considered either as the provision of the palace (though the King of Israel needed it not, yet, in resemblance of the palaces of earthly kings, there must be this provision laid in weekly), or the provision made in Christ for the souls of his people, suitable to the wants and to the relief of their souls. He is the bread of life; in our Father’s house there is bread enough and to spare; we may have fresh supplies from Christ, especially every Lord’s day. This outer part is called the sanctuary or holy, because erected to the worship of a holy God, to represent a holy Jesus, and to entertain a holy people, for their further improvement in holiness.

MacArthur has a similar analysis:

whatever it is that’s going on in the holy place it’ll have to do with that which he does when he gets back to heaven. And what are the three things that Jesus does when he gets back to heaven? Number one, he lights our path. Number two, he feeds us. And number three, he intercedes for us. And so the three pieces of furniture in the holy place are pictures of Jesus Christ. The golden lampstand is Christ, the light of life, not the light of the world. He’s not the light of the world when he’s in there. He said listen to it carefully in the Gospel of John, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” But when he left the world, the world was left in darkness, and he is only for the believer, the light of life. Don’t confuse that. It’s talking about his work in heaven. He is the light of life. He is the light that directs our paths. He is the one who through the Spirit illumines our mind, who understands spiritual truth. He is the one by the indwelling Spirit that guides us through the world of darkness. He is our light.

And then we look to the right and we see the table of showbread and Jesus is our sustenance. He’s the one who feeds us every day, who sustains us, and he sustains us with the Word. In fact, the Word is not only our food, the Word is our light, and the oil is the Spirit of God who lights the Word for us. You might say the light is our food on the other side and the Spirit is our waiter.

Verse 3 describes the Most Holy Place, hidden by a veil. This part, the Holy of Holies, was where the priest visited only on the Day of Atonement and spent but a moment there because he himself was not even worthy of staying longer in God’s presence:

And then we come to the altar of incense which pictures the sacrificial coals placed there and the incense smoke rising, and this is Jesus interceding for us. The perfect sacrifice became the intercessory. And so all three picture Jesus’ work in heaven for us. But we don’t stop there.

The Holy of Holies (verse 4) had the Ark of the Covenant, which was covered in gold. In it was an urn holding manna, which God preserved for this purpose, Aaron’s staff that had budded and the tablets with the Ten Commandments.

Recall that when Jesus died on the Cross, the veil to the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem was rent in two. That meant that the Jews now had direct access to God through Him. They no longer needed a priest to go to the Holy of Holies on their behalf. However, their continuing unbelief in disregarding this caused God to pass judgement through the Romans’ destruction of the temple in 70 AD.

MacArthur describes the Holy of Holies for us:

… we get in there and there’s only one piece of furniture, and what was it? It was the Ark of the Covenant, and it contained Aaron’s rod that budded, and it contained manna, and it contained the tables of law. It was simply made of acacia wood. It too was overlaid with gold about 3’9” long, 2’3” wide, and about 2 feet high, just a box … and the Ark of the Covenant overlaid roundabout with gold in which was the golden pot, manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, the tables of the covenant.

The author concludes his description of the original tabernacle by mentioning the mercy seat, which overlaid the Ark of the Covenant (verse 5):

Verse 5, “And over it the cherubim of glory showing the mercy seat.” On top of this was the mercy seat, as it’s called. And over the mercy seat on two ends were cherubim, that’s angels, whose wings stretched over and almost touched. The mercy seat was made of gold; the angels were solid gold. And it was between the wings of those angels on the mercy seat that God met men.

In Exodus 25:22, God said, “I’ll commune with you from above the mercy seat from between the cherubim.” And if God and man were to have any meeting place, they only met there. But you see isn’t it tragic that under the Old Testament economy there was only one guy who could go in there and he had to hurry in and hurry out, because there wasn’t ever really any access at all. And the people never got any further than the outer court; they never even got into the holy place. But here was the Ark. You say, “What does that represent?” It represents Jesus Christ who is the true mercy seat. When you meet Jesus Christ as Savior, you are ushered into the presence of God.

Do those descriptions make our Christian faith more meaningful? I hope so. It thrills me, especially as we are approaching Christmas.

MacArthur also describes the priest’s vestments on the Day of Atonement, which, interestingly, went from being very ornate to a simple white robe, not unlike that which Christ wore.

The priest offered a sacrifice for the unintentional sins of the people over the past year. He began by rising early and cleansing himself thoroughly:

Then he put on some robes that were reserved for this day; they’re the robes of glory and beauty, fancy robes. There was the robe of the ephod, and on the robe of the ephod the shoulders were two large onyx stones, and each of those onyx stones had six of the tribes’ names engraved on them. On the tunic, which was on the breastplate, was also 12 precious stones, each one of them having on it engraved one name of a tribe. So he bore, remember we saw this a few weeks ago, the names of Israel on his shoulders and on his heart. And there he is a perfect picture of Jesus Christ who takes us not only on his heart, which means he cares for us, but on his shoulders, which means he’s not only willing, he’s what? He’s able. That’s power; that’s strength.

And so the high priest then carried the people to God on his heart and on his shoulders, and I’m sure that he wished he could give them access to the holy place. And I’m sure his heart ached to give them access to God. I’m sure he ached to have it himself. He had it on his heart, but he didn’t really have the strength in his shoulders. That was a picture of Jesus who would come and be willing and also be able. And so the high priest got himself all cleaned up and put on his robes. Then he began to do his daily sacrifices. He had to go through the whole routine of all the sacrifice. One writer says, “Very likely he would’ve already slaughtered 22 different animals by the time he reached the event known as Atonement.” Very busy and a very bloody thing that he did every day.

And so he went all through the sacrifices, and when he was done, he finished all of that. He removed his gorgeous robes. He took of the robes of glory and beauty, went and bathed himself again from top to bottom so that he was completely clean, and then he put on – now mark this one, this is interesting. He then put on pure white linen with no decoration at all, and it was a symbol of holiness and it was a symbol of purity. And it is a perfect symbol of Jesus Christ who in the work of atonement stripped of all of his glory and all of his beauty and became the humblest of humble, dressed in the simplest, if you will say so, linen of human flesh. But notice it’s still white. In all of his humility, he never lost his, what? His holiness.

And so when Jesus came to do the work of sacrifice to make the atonement for sin, he took of the glory but he never took off the purity and he never took off the holiness. And so again a perfect picture of Jesus Christ, and it’s interesting to note also that when the high priest was done with the sacrifice of atonement, he put right back on the robes of glory and beauty. Remember Jesus after he’d come to the cross and he was preparing for the cross and his prayer in John 17 he said, “Father, I finished the work you gave me to do, now glorify me with the glory that I had before the world began. Father, give me back my robes. I’ve done the job of atonement.” That’s exactly what the priest pictured, perfect picture.

I encourage everyone to read the rest of MacArthur’s sermon from this point, starting a little more than halfway down the page. It is absolutely fascinating.

Returning to verse 5 from today’s passage, the author of Hebrews stops with the descriptions of the tabernacle because his Jewish audience already knows them well, so there is no need for him to elaborate further.

He continues with a discussion of the sacrifices under the Old Covenant, which is the subject of next week’s post.

Next time — Hebrews 9:6-10

Bible treehuggercomThe 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 8:8-13

For he finds fault with them when he says:[a]

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
    on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
    and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
    and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.”

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

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Last week’s post discussed the first half of Hebrews 8, wherein its author explained that Jesus Christ is the High Priest of a better covenant with better promises.

Continuing on the theme of the New Covenant, the author cites Jeremiah 31:31-34 (the second half of verse 8 through to verse 12).

John MacArthur gives us a short summary of these verses as follows (emphases mine):

Under the old covenant, God’s laws were upon the lips of the people and written in stone. In the new covenant, they’re in their minds and written in their hearts. What a difference. In the new covenant, worship is in internal, not external. It’s real, not ritual. Israel had memorized God’s Word. Israel had pledged obedience, but they never had the internal power to live up to their pledge. You see? God promised them in Ezekiel chapter 11 that He’d take away a heart of stone, and He’d replace it with a heart of flesh, and He’d put his Spirit within them. And then God reiterated the promise in Ezekiel 36:26 and following. He said, “I’ll take away your stony heart, give you a heart of flesh, and I’ll give you My Spirit.” God said, “I’m going to have to change you on the inside. That was all promises of the new covenant.

In the old covenant, they were told to obey but they didn’t have the power. In the new covenant, we have the power to obey, the Holy Spirit and the new nature. What a wonderful promise.

That is an amazing concept to consider — and to treasure. Does that not make you thrilled to be a Christian?

It thrills me. I had never thought about the New Covenant in that way.

Looking at it in more detail, the first half of verse 8 is confusing. Some manuscripts have it worded differently, which makes more sense:

For finding fault with it he says to them …

In other words, God, speaking through Jeremiah, knew the Old Covenant was not working.

The author of Hebrews is bringing Jeremiah’s prophecy into this to show his Jewish audience that God actively changed the nature of the priesthood with Jesus Christ and that this New Covenant was meant for the Jews.

MacArthur says the author has to bring this prophecy up to counter Jewish objections to or uncertainty about a New Covenant and Christianity:

if I was an unbelieving Jew, I would say, “That’s exactly right. So, why are you giving us all this baloney about a second one? Why are you doing this? Are you saying the first one has got faults and problems? What gives you the right to say that? What gives you the right to tell me that there needs to be another covenant? What gives you the right to say that the first one had a lot of faults, and there’s another one coming along? Who says so?”

And so the writer says, “God, through Jeremiah, your own prophet.” Zap. In verse 8, “For finding fault with them, He saith” – who saith? God saith through Jeremiah – “‘Behold, the days come,’ saith the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant’”

“Oh, is – that’s in Jeremiah?”

That’s not new. Your own Word says to you that the old covenant has problems, and God’s going to have to get another one. And you know there are Jews today who are hanging on tenaciously to the old covenant, and they despise the truth that is preached about the new covenant. They detest that truth, and they’re not willing to acknowledge that it is their own revelation, their own beloved and dear prophet Jeremiah, the weeping prophet who said, “God is going to write a new covenant.” And He did. The first covenant was not faultless; it was weak in the flesh. Right? Galatians 3:21. It was excellent for what it was meant to do, point men to Christ, but it couldn’t bring men to God. It was a sign; it wasn’t the train that got them there.

So, God says through the prophet that the time will come when He establishes a New Covenant with the houses of Israel and Judah (verse 8).

Note that God made the New Covenant with His Chosen, not with the Gentiles, although it is fully open to the Gentiles as the readings for this year’s Second Sunday of Advent make clear.

This bears no resemblance to the Old Covenant that God made with the Israelites whom He delivered from Egypt, because they transgressed it so many times that God either delivered judgement on them as a whole or left the faithless among them to their own condemnation (verse 9).

The New Covenant does away with the old laws and gives the ability for people to know God through His Son Jesus Christ. God’s moral laws are now written in our hearts and minds (verse 10).

Matthew Henry explains:

He once wrote his laws to them, now he will write his laws in them; that is, he will give them understanding to know and to believe his law; he will give them memories to retain them; he will give them hearts to love them and consciences to recognize them; he will give them courage to profess them and power to put them in practice; the whole habit and frame of their souls shall be a table and transcript of the law of God. This is the foundation of the covenant; and, when this is laid, duty will be done wisely, sincerely, readily, easily, resolutely, constantly, and comfortably

This next part of Henry’s explanation is particularly powerful:

… [1.] He will be to them a God; that is, he will be all that to them, and do all that for them, that God can be and do. Nothing more can be said in a thousand volumes than is comprehended in these few words: I will be a God to them. [2.] They shall be to him a people, to love, honour, observe, and obey him in all things; complying with his cautions, conforming to his commands, comporting with his providences, copying out his example, taking complacency in his favour. This those must do and will do who have God for their God; this they are bound to do as their part of the contract; this they shall do, for God will enable them to do it, as an evidence that he is their God and that they are his people; for it is God himself who first founds the relation, and then fills it up with grace suitable and sufficient, and helps them in their measure to fill it up with love and duty; so that God engages both for himself and them.

Under the New Covenant all — men and women, rich and poor — will know God through His Son (verse 11).

Henry’s explanation here is beautiful:

under the new dispensation there shall be such abundance of public qualified preachers of the gospel, and dispensers of ordinances statedly in the solemn assemblies, and so great a flocking to them, as doves to their windows, and such a plentiful effusion of the Spirit of God to make the ministration of the gospel effectual, that there shall be a mighty increase and spreading of Christian knowledge in persons of all sorts, of each sex, and of all ages. O that this promise might be fulfilled in our days, that the hand of God may be with his ministers, that a great number may believe and be turned to the Lord!

Gone are the mysteries that only the Jewish priests, all of whom were descended from Levi, could claim to understand. Henry says:

The old dispensation was shadowy, dark, ritual, and less understood; their priests preached but seldom, and but a few at a time, and the Spirit of God was more sparingly given out.

Not all of those priests were good, either. MacArthur tells us:

You know, in Israel, in those days, it was only the higher ups that knew the Word. It was only the higher ups that had access to the real truths of God. The poor people, the low class, really were victimized; they were not taught faithfully, and they did not know the things that could have changed their lives.

And so, here is simply the promise of the new covenant. Everybody’s going to know this truth. It’s not going to be only for the elite, only for the educated. Every believer is going to have a resident truth teacher who will lead them into all truth and bring all things to their remembrance, even the Holy Spirit.

“And no longer will they have to teach each other and say, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me from the least to the greatest.”

What a wonderful thing it is in the new covenant to have that personal knowledge of Jesus Christ who lives within us.

Under the New Covenant, God will show His infinite mercy in forgiving — and forgetting — our sins (verse 12).

The author of Hebrews closes by saying that the New Covenant has made the Old Covenant obsolete (verse 13).

MacArthur says:

What is this saying to us? This is saying that everything in Jesus Christ is real, is divine, is superior to everything else. The age of the law and the priest is over. The age of the Son is here forever. Don’t cling to the old covenant or anything else for that matter. Jesus Christ is the perfect and only High Priest.

Henry explains what a full and enduring promise God has made to us:

Observe, [1.] The freeness of this pardon. It does not result from merit in man, but from mercy in God; he pardons for his own name’s sake. [2.] The fullness of this pardon; it extends to their unrighteousness, sins, and iniquities; to all kinds of sin, to sins highly aggravated. [3.] The fixedness of this pardon. It is so final and so fixed that God will remember their sins no more; he will not recall his pardon; he will not only forgive their sins, but forget them, treat them as if he had forgotten them. This pardoning mercy is connected with all other spiritual mercies. Unpardoned sin prevents mercy, and pulls down judgments; but the pardon of sin prevents judgment, and opens a wide door to all spiritual blessings; it is the effect of that mercy that is from everlasting, and the earnest of that mercy that shall be to everlasting. This is the excellency of the new dispensation, and these are the articles of it; and therefore we have no reason to repine, but great reason to rejoice that the former dispensation is antiquated and has vanished away.

I would encourage all of us to remember this as we go on our Christian journey.

So many of us, myself included, have not thought about Christianity in this way. Yet, we should.

This is one of the reasons we should treasure our faith and encourage others in it.

Think of other faiths where their adherents live in spiritual and, sometimes, physical fear for their transgressions.

Christians have every reason to be ever grateful to God and to His Son Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, those spiritual blessings that Henry mentions go all the way back to Abraham. God is continuing to bless Abraham’s descendants and, we Christians share in that, for Abraham is our father in faith, as is so often mentioned in liturgical prayers.

During this season of Advent, we can reflect with great joy on the covenant we have with God the Father made possible through the one sufficient sacrifice of His Son for our sakes.

May this help make celebrating Christmas a richer experience for all of us.

Next time — Hebrews 9:1-5

Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe 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 8:1-7

Jesus, High Priest of a Better Covenant

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent[a] that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ[b] has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

——————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post concluded the Hebrews author’s discussion of Psalm 110:4 and the universal priesthood of Christ which God the Father bestowed upon Him via an oath, something He did with no earthly priest.

The author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, intended to persuade Jewish converts and those Jews who had heard of Jesus that He is the Messiah. The author wanted his audience to leave Judaism behind fully and focus on Christ.

Hebrews 7:22 says:

This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.

Chapter 8 picks up on that thought and further expands upon it. Jesus is the Great High Priest, because He sits at the right hand of God in heaven (verse 1).

John MacArthur explains the importance of sitting at the right hand of God in a way that a Jewish person would have understood (emphases mine):

there were always two scribes before the judges of the Sanhedrin. One scribe sat on the right hand, and the other scribe sat on the left hand. And it was always the business – watch this – of the scribe who sat on the right hand to write the acquittals, and it was always the business of the scribe on the left hand to write the condemnations. The Bible says that Jesus came, in John chapter 3, verse 17, not to – what? – condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. Hence, His place is never on the left hand but always on the right hand for He writes the pardons for His own.

That detail of information makes us appreciate His placement at the right hand of God. Jesus Christ is on our side. He is our only Mediator and Advocate with the Father.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

He sits on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty on high, that is, of the glorious God of heaven. There the Mediator is placed, and he is possessed of all authority and power both in heaven and upon earth. This is the reward of his humiliation. This authority he exercises for the glory of his Father, for his own honour, and for the happiness of all who belong to him; and he will by his almighty power bring every one of them in their own order to the right hand of God in heaven, as members of his mystical body, that where he is they may be also.

What an uplifting thought. What joyful confidence we can have in Jesus in this life and the next.

The author of Hebrews goes on to say that Jesus is a minister in ‘the holy places’ — Heaven — where the true tent (tabernacle, Holy of Holies) is, a sanctuary that God, not man, created (verse 2).

Henry explains:

The tabernacle which was pitched by man, according to the appointment of God. There was an outer part, in which was the altar where they were to offer their sacrifices, which typified Christ dying; and there was an interior part within the veil, which typified Christ interceding for the people in heaven. Now this tabernacle Christ never entered into; but, having finished the work of satisfaction in the true tabernacle of his own body, he is now a minister of the sanctuary, the holy of holies, the true tabernacle in heaven, there taking care of his people’s affairs, interceding with God for them, that their sins may be pardoned and their persons and services accepted, through the merit of his sacrifice. He is not only in heaven enjoying great dominion and dignity, but, as the high priest of his church, executing this office for them all in general, and every member of the church in particular.

Jesus took His seat when He ascended into Heaven. MacArthur words this beautifully:

He passed through the heavens and so forth. So, Jesus Christ, having accomplished His work, finished it, passed through the heavens – the stellar heavens, atmospheric heavens – entered into God’s heaven, sat on the throne. What a High Priest.

MacArthur says that this elaboration was probably meant to assuage any anxiety the Jewish converts might have felt about abandoning Judaism:

The emphasis in the book of Hebrews is repeatedly on the fact that Christ is at the right hand of God. And I think the purpose of it is to assure those who were deprived of the temple services in Jerusalem that they didn’t need to worry about what was going on, on earth in the shadowy realm, because they had a real priest in the real Holy of Holies, in the real heaven of God, who was there for them, ministering and interceding. So, the crowning argument for the superior priesthood of Jesus Christ and his exaltation to heaven, to sit with the Father, that is the glorious sum of everything else that shows us He is, indeed, a superior priest.

Not only that, however. He sits in the true tabernacle, the real, heavenly Holy of Holies:

He doesn’t fool around in a skin tent like the tabernacles, nor does he minister in a physical building on earth. Those temples have all crumbled long ago. His temple is in heaven. He ministers in the real Holy of Holies.

The author then mentions the particular office and duties of His priesthood (verse 3).

Henry says that He accomplished these largely during His Crucifixion and Resurrection, because He:

had himself to offer, his human nature upon the altar of his divine nature, as the great atoning sacrifice that finished transgression, and made an end of sin once for all; and he has the incense of his own righteousness and merits too to offer with all that his people offer up to God by him, to render them acceptable.

Now He intercedes for us and guides us.

The next two verses describe the Jewish priesthood by means of contrast. Jesus could not be a priest on Earth because He did not come from the correct tribe; He came from Judah, which was not given the priestly remit (verse 4). Furthermore, the earthly tabernacles the priests ministered in were but mere shadows of the glorious, true one in Heaven. God instructed Moses to build a tent — a tabernacle —  in a precise way to serve as a temporal shadow of the heavenly one (verse 5).

MacArthur explains the author’s use of ‘true’ and ‘shadow’:

And so it is that God has a Holy Place in heaven, and that’s where Jesus ministers. Notice He calls it the true tabernacle. And the word “true” is not here used in an opposite sense from false. He is not saying the true tabernacle as opposed to the tabernacles of the heathen or the temples of the heathen idols. He is using the word “true” in contrast with something that is shadowy and unreal. The difference between a typical shadowy, temporary thing and the true one. The true one is abiding, solid, and real

Christ ministers in the heavenly sanctuary, the Holy of Holies where God is. He doesn’t minister in a shadowy temple on earth

the Greeks always thought in terms of two worlds: one was the real world, and the other was the unreal. And you may have studied about Plato, and you may have studied a little bit of the Aristotelian polemic and some of the things that had to do with philosophy in those days, and you probably ran across this kind of a dual concept especially that was the basic doctrine of Plato. But Plato always said somewhere there was [the] real, and that what we saw was only the unreal. This world of space and time was a world of shadows. It was a world of copies – pale copies at best. A world of unreal reflections. But somewhere there was a real world

Now, this was a kind of a Greek philosophy. This is only a shadow world. Somewhere there’s a real world …

Now, the writer of Hebrews is saying very much the same thing. He is not a Greek philosopher; he is speaking the revelation of God, but in a very real sense, the Greeks weren’t too far off. There is a real world. This is not the real world. In terms of God’s revelation of the old covenant, it was shadows and types and pictures, and reflections all from the pattern which is heavenly, you see?

The earthly temple, the earthly tabernacle is a place that is only a copy of the real temple of God. Earthly worship is only a remote reflection of real worship when we get to heaven. The earthly priesthood is only an inadequate shadow of the real priesthood.

Therefore:

Jesus is superior to Aaron number one because He’s seated, and number two, because He serves in a superior sanctuary, not pitched by men, but pitched by God. He serves in the real sanctuary. Tremendous truth.

Also, this makes Christ’s priesthood in the New Covenant vastly superior to — ‘much more excellent than’ — anything the Levite priests could accomplish in the Old Covenant because His universal priesthood is ‘enacted on better promises’ (verse 6). He is there, with His Father, interceding with Him on our behalf, continuously.

And, if there were any doubt in the Hebrews’ minds, the author says that, if the priesthood of the Old Covenant matched up to that, it would still have been in force. However, as any rational person can conclude, it was inferior to the eternal priesthood conferred upon Jesus in the New Covenant (verse 7).

The author continues with a further proof from Jeremiah, which will be the subject of next week’s post.

For now, it is such a blessing to be able to write about the Book of Hebrews during the season of Advent. The Sunday readings for the next few weeks, today being the first, include Old Testament prophecies about Christ and the Church. Studying Hebrews concurrently removes any doubt that Jesus is Lord. He is much, much more than ‘a good man who lived 2,000+ years ago’.

If young people — with the help of a mature family member — studied the Book of Hebrews before or shortly after Confirmation, they would understand the essential nature of Jesus. The same holds true for adults. We would no longer see a drop in church attendance or a lapse in faith. Christians would understand why they believe in Jesus and why He lives and reigns forever.

Furthermore, more of us would be able to competently answer the question, ‘Why are you a Christian?’

There would also be minimal shifts by Christians towards Hebraic movements that purport to get Christianity back to Jewish roots. The Book of Hebrews proves why that is not only completely unnecessary but also erroneous.

This book is unbelievably uplifting, and all the more so at this time of year.

Next time — Hebrews 8:8-13

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

Bible openThe 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 7:4-10

4 See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! 5 And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers,[a] though these also are descended from Abraham.6 But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. 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.

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Last week’s post offered a lengthy explanation of the importance of Melchizedek and his universal priesthood, not only to Abraham but to us today.

Melchizedek’s priesthood pre-dated that of the Jewish people. Abraham, at that point, had not yet received God’s promises to him, but this encounter with Melchizedek began their fulfilment.

The unknown author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was in the beginning points of his dissertation on Melchizedek being a higher priest than those of Jews, as his priesthood was for all who feared God. The author developed this argument, point by point, weighing heavily on the notion of universal priesthood. Melchizedek was a ‘type’ of Christ, yet not Christ himself. Christ, however, fulfilled God’s will of becoming the great and eternal High Priest for all — including Gentiles.

Furthermore, Melchizedek was also the ‘king of peace’ (Hebrews 7:2), because he was from Salem (which means ‘peace’, probably Jerusalem). Christ is the Prince of Peace: yesterday, today and forever.

We will see how this dissertation on Melchizedek develops in the coming weeks.

John MacArthur summarises the Holy Spirit’s reasoning as follows (emphases mine below):

Now, in this argument, the Holy Spirit shows that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham because He wants to show that he was greater than Aaron and Levi. Now, the point being that Abraham was better than Aaron and Levi. Therefore, if Melchizedek was better than Abraham, he was also better than Aaron and Levi. If he’s better than Aaron and Levi, he’s the mediator of a better covenant, and you ought to turn from Judaism and come to Christ. Do you see the argument?

Last week’s verses covered Abraham’s one-off tithe to Melchizedek: one-tenth of his spoils in battle with a neighbouring king. Those were not cast-offs, either, but the very best of the spoils.

Melchizedek blessed Abraham (verse 6), the man to whom God made promises that continue to be fulfilled today through descendants of Jew and Gentile alike. Abraham is our father in faith.

Considering that Abraham made a tithe to Melchizedek and received his blessing, undoubtedly, Abraham was the inferior of the two men (verse 7).

Matthew Henry says that it was Melchizedek’s:

place and privilege to bless Abraham; and it is an uncontested maxim that the less is blessed of the greater, Hebrews 7:7. He who gives the blessing is greater than he who receives it;

Therefore, in comparing Christ and Melchizedek in their universal priesthood, we can conclude that Christ is superior to the Jewish priests:

and therefore Christ, the antitype of Melchisedec, the meriter and Mediator of all blessings to the children of men, must be greater than all the priests of the order of Aaron.

The author states that in verse 8, as John MacArthur explains the ongoing priesthood in the order of Melchizedek. Even though Melchizedek died, the universal order of priesthood continues and is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns forever:

Look at verse 8, “And here men that die receive tithes” – you know, Melchizedek was of an eternal priesthood in the type; Christ is an eternal Priest, and if we tithe to priests that die, “but where he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.” In other words, to be able to exact tithes in a dying kind of priesthood is one thing; how much greater Melchizedek had no death. And so, Jesus Christ is a Priest who is alive forever more. “He receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed He liveth.”

And so, He is a greater priest because He’s a living priest; not a dying one. All men are dying men. The idea that it says in verse 8, “Here men that die” is the – the Greek is “here dying men receive tithes, but this is one who is alive forever more.”

Verses 9 and 10 are interesting, because the author of Hebrews posits that, figuratively, even the Jewish priests paid tithes to Melchizedek through their ancestor Abraham. Therefore, Melchizedek was greater than the Jewish priests. And if Jesus is greater than Melchizedek, it was time for the audience, the Hebrews, to believe that Christ is the eternal Great High Priest.

MacArthur breaks down the Jewish thinking for us:

And then comes this interesting argument in verse 9, “And as I may say” – in other words, he kid of apologizes for the strangeness of the argument; nevertheless it’s valid – “And as I may say so, “Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchizedek met him.” The only one argument that would be left would be this: a Jew would say, “Now wait a minute. Now let me think this thing through. Melchizedek, yes, Abraham paid him tithes, but Abraham was no priest. Right? Therefore, the Levites were priests, and maybe they were greater than Abraham. And maybe if Abraham had been a priest, he wouldn’t have done that, and maybe the Levites wouldn’t have done it.”

And so He says, “Levi also, who receives tithes, paid them in the loins of Abraham.” Now, this is an interesting argument, and you’ve got to understand the Jewish mind. The Jews viewed heredity in a realistic manner. Levi was in the loins of Abraham since he was to descend from Abraham. When Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, it was as if the entire Levitical priesthood had acknowledged his superiority. And so, that answers the last objection.

Melchizedek, then, is better than Aaron. Now this is a powerful point to the Jewish mind. And in a sense I apologize to you and to me even, because without a Jewish frame of reference, this is difficult for us to understand. But Melchizedek was of a better priesthood. Jesus came after the order of Melchizedek.

Even though Genesis 14:18-20 is the one primary mention of Melchizedek, it had to appear in Scripture to show that a) there were men of God among the Gentiles and b) that Jesus would fulfil a pattern of priesthood that God established through Melchizedek. If that example of universal priesthood were not in Scripture, the Jews would have rejected any arguments about it:

Don’t you see that He couldn’t just invent a new priesthood without a historical precedent or they wouldn’t have bought it?

The argument for the superiority of this universal priesthood unfolds further next week.

In the meantime, Hebrews has many answers to the question, ‘What makes Jesus and Christianity so special?’ We can learn much from what was written to the early Jewish converts.

Next time — Hebrews 7:11-14

Bible oldThe 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 7:1-3

The Priestly Order of Melchizedek

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.

————————————————————————————————————

In last week’s reading the author of Hebrews began discussing spiritual meat, rather than milk, by introducing Abraham’s unwavering faith in God.

In today’s passage, he brings into scope the meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek.

Melchizedek is mentioned in prayers of consecration during the Communion service in Catholic and Anglican (including Episcopal) churches, using a phraseology similar to Hebrews 6:20 in describing Christ (emphases mine below):

20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

Given Melchizedek’s importance, the Old Testament has very little history on the man himself.

We have three lines from Genesis 14, where he appears after Abraham won the war against various kings, which included the liberation of his nephew Lot and the recovery of Lot’s possessions:

18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said,

Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Possessor[a] of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

There is another mention in Psalm 110:4:

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

The Book of Hebrews has the most to say about Melchizedek. He foreshadowed Christ, and Christ’s priesthood surpasses his.

The notion of priesthood and Melchizedek all gets quite complicated — but nonetheless fascinating — as we shall see from John MacArthur’s sermon below.

To begin with, I will look at a more general explanation from Matthew Henry after discussing the verses themselves.

The author of Hebrews reminds his Jewish audience of Melchizedek’s blessing of Abraham (verse 1).

In return, Abraham recognised Melchizedek’s stature as both king and priest (verse 2). As such, Abraham gave Melchizedek one-tenth of his spoils won in battle. These were not the middling spoils, but the very best. Abraham understood that Melchizedek’s name meant ‘king of righteousness’ and ‘king of Salem’, meaning ‘king of peace’.

The author of Hebrews says that we know nothing more about Melchizedek in Scripture (verse 3) — or history, for that matter. That said, he was a very important person in terms of universal priesthood. God chose Melchizedek for his character, not his lineage. Jewish priests were chosen from their tribe, e.g. Levites, or lineage.

The author says that this brief mention of Melchizedek’s priesthood should serve as a timeless example of what serving God should be, like the priesthood of Jesus Christ, whose eternal priesthood surpasses that of Melchizedek’s temporal one.

Excerpted below is Matthew Henry’s explanation:

(1.) Melchisedec was a king, and so is the Lord Jesus–a king of God’s anointing; the government is laid upon his shoulders, and he rules over all for the good of his people. (2.) That he was king of righteousness: his name signifies the righteous king. Jesus Christ is a rightful and a righteous king–rightful in his title, righteous in his government. He is the Lord our righteousness; he has fulfilled all righteousness, and brought in an everlasting righteousness, and he loves righteousness and righteous persons, and hates iniquity. (3.) He was king of Salem, that is, king of peace; first king of righteousness, and after that king of peace. So is our Lord Jesus; he by his righteousness made peace, the fruit of righteousness is peace. Christ speaks peace, creates peace, is our peace-maker. (4.) He was priest of the most high God, qualified and anointed in an extraordinary manner to be his priest among the Gentiles. So is the Lord Jesus; he is the priest of the most high God, and the Gentiles must come to God by him; it is only through his priesthood that we can obtain reconciliation and remission of sin. (5.) He was without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, Hebrews 7:3. This must not be understood according to the letter; but the scripture has chosen to set him forth as an extraordinary person, without giving us his genealogy … (6.) That he met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him … Thus our Lord Jesus meets his people in their spiritual conflicts, refreshes them, renews their strength, and blesses them. (7.) That Abraham gave him a tenth part of all (Hebrews 7:2) … as an expression of his gratitude for what Melchisedec had done for him, or as a testimony of his homage and subjection to him as a king, or as an offering vowed and dedicated to God, to be presented by his priest. And thus are we obliged to make all possible returns of love and gratitude to the Lord Jesus for all the rich and royal favours we receive from him, to pay our homage and subjection to him as our King, and to put all our offerings into his hands, to be presented by him to the Father in the incense of his own sacrifice. (8.) That this Melchisedec was made like unto the Son of God, and abideth a priest continually. He bore the image of God in his piety and authority, and stands upon record as an immortal high priest; the ancient type of him who is the eternal and only-begotten of the Father, who abideth a priest for ever.

John MacArthur has much more on the subject.

First, Melchizedek is a symbol — a type — representing Christ:

Now, there’s much in the Scripture that comes under the category of typology. There are many theological terms that we use in Bible study and in Bible teaching. One of them is typology. Whenever we talk about a type, we mean an Old Testament picture of the person and work of Christ. For example, in the Old Testament we read about a brazen serpent being lifted up, and all who looked upon the serpent were healed from the snake bites. And then we hear in John chapter 3 that that is a picture of Jesus Christ. And it says, “As the Son of Man was lifted – as the serpent was lifted up, so shall the Son of Man be lifted up, and those who look on Him in faith shall be healed from sin.”

We read in the Old Testament about lambs being slain, and then we hear the words of John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God” in reference to Jesus Christ. There are many pictures in the Old Testament of Christ. We call these types, and Christ is the antitype or the fulfillment of that type

But as we come to Hebrews chapter 7, we meet another Old Testament type. Now, keep in mind that types are always frail illustrations at best. A lamb rates no comparison with the Lamb of God realistically. Nor does a serpent of brass rate a relationship to Jesus Christ realistically. They are merely humble pictures meant to give us insight from an illustrative point of view. And we say at the same time that Melchizedek in no way deserves an equality with Jesus Christ. But he does serve as a very interesting picture of Christ

The author of Hebrews begins a long dissertation on Melchizedek because the priesthood was — and still is — very important to the Jewish faith.

To a certain extent, it is also central to Christianity, because a priest, or minister, is seen by many believers to be the bridge between laypeople and Jesus as well as God. Note the word ‘pontifex’ below, which Catholicism uses to describe the Pope:

And the Latin word for priest is pontifex, taken apart and it means bridge builder. The priest was the one who built the bridge from man to God. And to the Jew, the priesthood was really very, very important. To them, you see, religion was access to God. And since they couldn’t go directly to God, they had to go through a mediator, and the priests were designed to be mediators.

The high priests offered the main Jewish sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. The high priest was the only person allowed into the Holy of Holies, and, even then, he could only stay there for a moment because he himself was not worthy.

Recall that, after the Crucifixion, the curtain shielding the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem was rent in two, meaning that Jesus — not a human high priest — is our only Mediator and Advocate with God the Father. Jesus Christ offered the true, final, sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world. The author of Hebrews wants his audience to understand this by beginning with a discussion of Melchizedek.

In God’s covenant with the Jews, priesthood was based on hereditary lines:

This was how God designed it, that certain men would be called out, set apart, sons of Aaron and Levi, to minister as priests. And they would build bridges between men and God according to God’s specifications.

Sacrifices went on and on for centuries. Then, Jesus sacrificed Himself for countless sins of Jew and Gentile alike, ending the Old Covenant and instituting a New Covenant:

And what they did, they had to do over and over and over again. And finally, a great, glorious priest has come along.

Now, you see, to the Jew this is very important, because he knows of no way to get yourself connected with God apart from a priest. And so, the Holy Spirit says, “Christ is that perfect priest. Not only does He fit the qualifications of a priest, but he supersedes any qualifications of any priest you’ve ever seen. He’s far beyond.”

Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest, forever and ever:

Now, here the Holy Spirit introduces the priesthood of Christ and says, “We have such a Great High Priest. We have a Great High Priest. You don’t need the priests of Judaism anymore. You don’t need the old system. There is a Great High Priest. There is a bridge builder whose bridge stays, whose bridge remains. And once you cross that bridge, you’ll remain eternally in the fellowship of God. There is such a bridge builder, and it is Jesus Christ.

Note that the author of Hebrews discusses Melchizedek because he was a priest of the Most High God, the creator of all. Melchizedek was not a Jewish priest, because God had not created the Jewish priestly system at that point. The Jews referred to the God who made the Old Covenant with them as Jehovah. Both names refer to the same God, but the Most High God referred to the God of the Gentiles as well as the Jews whereas Jehovah refers to the God of the Jewish covenant.

MacArthur compares and contrasts Melchizedek’s universal priesthood — a foretelling of Christ’s — with Aaron’s priesthood, which was strictly for the Jewish nation. Furthermore, Melchizedek was a king. However, no Jewish priest was a king himself, nor was he a bringer of permanent righteousness and peace with God:

Now, Aaron’s priesthood was national to begin with. In other words, it was strictly Judaistic. The particulars that were under Aaron were priests of Israel. Secondly, the priests were subject to the kings in a measure. They were not kings themselves; they were subjects in a kingdom. Thirdly, Aaron’s priesthood offered no permanent righteousness and peace, only that continual, continual, continual sacrificing. Nothing ever permanent. It never established a permanent righteousness for a man nor permanent peace with God. That peace and that righteous was shattered every time they sinned. Constant repetition.

Fourthly, Aaron’s priesthood was hereditary. It didn’t matter how good of a guy you were, if you were born in the right family, you were automatically a priest no matter what you were. Now, that poses some problems, obviously. Fifthly, it was a timed priesthood. They only existed in it from the year – from the age of about 25 to 50 and it was over. It was limited by time.

So, Aaron’s priesthood was a national one, subject to kings, no permanent righteousness and peace, hereditary, and limited by time. Now, this is very important for us to understand because Melchizedek’s priesthood supersedes Aaron’s at every single point. Therefore, says the Holy Spirit, Christ is a better priest than Aaron.

The author of Hebrews is positing a question in his audience’s collective mind. Do they want to follow a Jewish priestly system or do they want to follow a high priest who is also a king of righteousness and peace in the same way that Melchizedek was? There is only one high priest who can satisfy that criteria and that is Jesus Christ.

Looking at Melchizedek’s priesthood, we find that:

Melchizedek’s priesthood was universal. It was not national; it was universal.

At this point, MacArthur explains the difference between the Jewish names ‘the Most High God’ and ‘Jehovah’:

In relation to Israel, God took the name of Jehovah … God’s name is I Am. Right? YHWH in the Hebrew. But no Jew would say the name of God. And so, since the Jews didn’t want to say the name Jehovah, they took the consonants of Jehovah and the vowels out of Adonai, which means Lord, and stuck them together and got Yehowah which is Jehovah. So, Jehovah’s not really the name of God; it’s only that name which Israel came up with in an effort not to say YHWH and yet express who they wanted to express. So, it’s a combination word, Jehovah, and it deals strictly with Israel. And watch this, Aaron’s priests were priests of Jehovah. You remember that all the line of Aaron, the Levite line of Aaron, were – and incidentally, within the line of the Levites, you still had to be a son of Aaron. But all of those who came from Aaron were priests only of Jehovah. That is they were related to God only in connection with Israel. They couldn’t run over here and minister of there and here and everywhere else. They were tied to Israel’s economy.

But watch this. It does not say that Melchizedek was the priest of Jehovah; it says he was the priest of – what? – the Most High God. Now, that is a universal name for God, El Elyon, and it reaches everywhere and everything in heaven and earth. It is the universal name of God that includes Jew and Gentile. Far broader than the Jewish term Jehovah.

So, whereas Aaron’s priesthood related just to Israel, Melchizedek’s was broader than that and related to all men. Now, when the Holy Spirit says Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, do you see the significance? The significance is this: Jesus is not just the Messiah of Israel but of the world. So, it is very important to establish Melchizedek’s priesthood as universal if you’re going to say Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Now, you see the Jew – in the Jewish mind there had to be a historical reason for everything or a historical foundation. And so, God chooses Melchizedek as His perfect foundation to teach this truth. There have been priests who’ve been broader than Israel before; there’s no reason to believe there can’t be some more. And there is one, Jesus Christ. So, it transcends Israel.

MacArthur’s version of the Bible makes this clearer; Abraham used both names for God:

Now, Abraham understood this concept, because in Genesis 14:22, he said, in response to Melchizedek, “I have lifted up my hand unto Jehovah” – and then he said – comma – “God Most High.” So, he understood Jehovah in the covenant relationship; he also underst[oo]d Jehovah in the sense that He was God of everything.

The name Most High God appears elsewhere in the Bible:

In Daniel, for example, where the first great king of the Gentiles, Nebuchadnezzar is brought through seven years of humbling until he finally acknowledges the facts of God, he says this. He knew that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men. Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “The Most High doeth according to His will in heaven and in earth.” And here was a Gentile acknowledging the Most High. That’s a term that has reference to Gentiles. That’s a broad term for God.

And you’ll remember that even the demons, when our Lord cast them out, cried, “What have we to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of the Most High God?” And they again used the universal term for God.

Jesus has made a promise to Christians involving the Most High God:

Jesus says for those of us who come into His relationship, He promised that we shall be called the sons of the Most High. And so, the term “the Most High” is then a universal name for God in the sense of His universal rule and character as it involves all men. And this means that Melchizedek’s priesthood is not limited to a nation. He is not just priest of Jehovah; he is priest of the Most High God, El Elyon, Possessor of heaven and earth, above all national and above all dispensational distinction.

MacArthur then examines kingship, which Melchizedek and Jesus Christ have in common:

Secondly, Aaron’s priesthood was subject to royalty; Melchizedek’s was royalty. Notice verse 1, “For this Melchizedek” – what’s the next word? – “king of Salem.” Four times it says he was king. In verse 2, it says King of righteousness, King of Salem, which is, “King of peace.” Four times in two verses, it tells us this man was a king, royal priesthood. Melchizedek’s was royal. This is something totally foreign to the Aaronic priests. This is totally foreign to the Levitical priests in Israel. There was never that combination. Israel’s priests were never king and priest. That was unknown in Israel. No priest was royal. But oh, my, what a perfect blend it is. What an absolutely perfect blend that the true Priest, the Great Priest, the glorious Priest Jesus Christ should be that blend of priest and king so that He not only takes men to God, but He rules men for God.

Listen to Zechariah 6:13, “Even He shall build the temple of the Lord; and He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne” – there He is as a King – “and He shall be a priest upon His throne.” Now, that is an unheard of concept. And yet it is prophesied in Zechariah so clearly. Jesus was to be a priest, but a priest on a throne, a royal priesthood.

Now on to the identity of Salem, about which there is broad agreement but not 100% certainty. Most experts believe it is Jerusalem, but other theories suggest Shalem in the land of Canaan and Salim, where John the Baptist performed many baptisms.

Jerusalem sounds the most reasonable place for Salem when you read MacArthur’s reasoning:

… likely that’s an ancient name for Jerusalem. Jerusalem also had the name Jebus – J-E-B-U-S. The Jebusites occupied Jerusalem initially. But it may have also, at the time of Melchizedek, had the name of Salem. And so, Melchizedek could well have been an ancient king of Jerusalem. And I think that has the best evidence. The city that was the hometown of God. There’s a most wonderful statement about that in Psalm 132. I’ll take a minute to read you two verses there, Psalm 132:13, “For the Lord hath chosen Zion” – that’s Jerusalem – “He hath desired it for His habitation. This is My rest forever; here will I dwell, for I have desired it.” You didn’t know God had a hometown, did you. His hometown is Jerusalem.

And it seems to me that it would be very likely that God would have had His priest in His hometown even pre-Abraham. And so, Jerusalem had a king long before David, and a king appointed by God; and a priest long before Aaron, and a priest appointed by God. Melchizedek was king and priest of Jerusalem. Now, this is important. The Jews always felt that God dwelt with them, and that was about it; that God was exclusively theirs, and there could never be another priesthood, and there could never be another covenant. And so, when Christianity came along and says, “Here’s another covenant; here’s another priesthood,” they said, “No, it can’t be.”

Now watch this – beautiful, beautiful argument by the Spirit. “Look,” He says. “There was another priest, and there was another covenant before you existed. Why can’t there be one after?”

Ultimately:

The whole world didn’t begin with Judaism. There was something going on before God worked that way; there can be something going on after He’s finished or temporarily finished working that one. Oh, this is so important. It leaves room for the new covenant. For if God dealt differently before, why can’t He deal differently again? He didn’t need to work through the nation Israel before Abraham. Why can’t He work another way if He wants to in this economy? That’s the point.

If He had a royal priest one time, why can’t He have another one? And He does. And who is He? Jesus Christ. Something no Jewish priest ever conceived.

There is one more aspect of this to explore which is ‘righteousness’ and ‘peace’. Peace, says MacArthur, is not temporal world peace but peace with God. And we can have peace with God only if we are righteous. Therefore, righteousness must come before peace. And, if you study Scripture, you will see that ‘righteousness’ precedes ‘peace’ in every passage with the two words.

MacArthur says:

There was no permanent righteousness, and there was no permanent peace in Aaron’s priesthood. Ah, but Melchizedek’s priesthood was a priesthood of righteousness and peace. Notice verse 2, “First” – and we’ll skip the first phrase, come back to it later, “First being by interpretation King of righteousness” – and that’s a translation of Melchizedek; that’s what his name means: King of righteousness – “and after that also King of Salem, which is King of peace” – Salem, from Shalom, which means peace. His name is righteousness; his city is peace. He is a perfect combination of righteousness and peace.

Now, don’t you know that that’s exactly what all priests attempt to accomplish? What is righteousness? Righteousness is holiness. And righteousness is demanded before you can ever be at peace with God. Right? God hates sin. Therefore, if you’re a sinner, you and God are not at peace. Right? God fights against His enemies. Did you know that? God fights against His enemies. And if a man is not righteous, then he’s not at peace with God. But if a man is righteous in the eyes of God, then he’s not at war with God; he’s at peace with God. Right?

Now, Romans chapter 3, the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ gave us His righteousness, and therefore, it says in chapter 5, we have peace with God.

You say, “Well, how do you get righteous?”

When the righteousness of Christ is given to you by faith in Him. Christ’s righteousness becomes yours; you’re immediately at peace with God. He sees you covered by the blood of Christ. Every priest wanted to make a man righteous that he might be at peace with God, but they couldn’t do it. The blood of bulls and goats didn’t do it; they had to do it over and over, and it only lasted as long as a man didn’t sin. But here He says Melchizedek’s very name was righteousness, and his city was peace, emphasizing that his was a kingdom and his was a priesthood of righteousness and peace. Is that typical of Jesus Christ? Does Jesus Christ provide a permanent righteousness? Absolutely.

What happens to a sinner after he comes to Jesus Christ, invites Him into his life and then sins? What happens? Does he have to go back and ask Jesus to come in again? No. His righteousness covers him forever. What happens once you you’ve made peace with God? All of a sudden do you turn into God’s enemy again, and He’s going to destroy you? No. No. Jesus Christ secures righteousness and peace on a permanent basis.

The historical Melchizedek was probably a very righteous man and a very peaceful king. But the Holy Spirit is not here dealing with the personal characteristics of Melchizedek; He’s only dealing with Melchizedek as a type of Christ. And He says that He was first righteousness and then peace. And may I say they always come in that order; there’s no peace with God unless there’s righteousness. The Bible says the Lord is our righteousness. Righteousness comes first, then peace.

I will leave it at that.

Who could imagine a 4,300+ word post discussing three verses? I had not anticipated it.

Yet, does this make you more elated to be a Christian? Does it make you more eager and willing to spread the Good News? I hope it does!

More on Melchizedek will follow, all being well.

Next time — Hebrews 7:4-10

Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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 6:13-20

The Certainty of God’s Promise

13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham,[a] having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

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Last week’s reading concluded the author’s warnings to the Hebrews about apostasy.

Now the author of Hebrews gets into the spiritual ‘meat’, rather than ‘milk’.

The author needs to examine the main personalities of the Bible important to the Jewish audience in order to persuade them that Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of God’s covenants with humanity.

The author begins by saying that God swore to Himself that he would bless and multiply Abraham and his descendants (verses 13, 14).

John MacArthur explains this divine oath, which was unconditional upon Abraham himself (emphases mine):

… the Abrahamic covenant wasn’t even made with Abraham; it was made between God and Himself. Therefore, it is an unconditional covenant. God is simply saying, “Abraham, go to sleep while I make a covenant with Myself.” God promised Himself, on the basis of His own purpose, that this is what He would do, and Abraham had nothing to do with it. He just happened to be the vehicle. You see? God sealed a covenant in a human way with Himself.

And so, we say, then, that the Abrahamic covenant wasn’t made between God and Abraham; it was made between God and God.

You say, “What are you driving at this for?”

Because I want you to see that the whole design of God, in calling Abraham, really had nothing to do with Abraham. God didn’t owe Abraham anything; God owed Himself the fulfillment of His own plan. Do you see? And so, He chose to cut the fresh channel, beginning with Abraham, and He made that vow with Himself.

The author explains that when we make an oath, it is always made on something greater than ourselves (verse 16). Logically, no being is greater than God, so God made that oath upon Himself.

Now, Abraham had a blind faith in the Lord. The Lord fulfilled his faith and patience by granting him those blessings (verse 15).

MacArthur summarises Abraham’s remarkable story in Genesis. Remember that he was a pagan, as was his family:

Abraham was a pagan. Abraham lived in a city known as Ur, with his father Terah. Terah was a descendant of Shem, one of the sons of Noah. And Abraham’s father was a pagan, worshipping false gods. He settled in a place called Ur, which is between the Tigris and the Euphrates in that area called Mesopotamia, one of the ancient cities of the Chaldeans.

And God all of a sudden came to him in Genesis chapter 12 and said, “All right, Abraham, pack up; you’re leaving. Get everything you’ve got and get out. I’m going to take you to a place where I want you to go.”

Now, that’s a fairly big issue. Packing up his whole tribe, of which he was chieftain, and moving them all out, all the way over to a place called Canaan. He finally did, and settled in a place called Haran. When he got to Haran, he received another promise. The reiteration of the promise that God would bless him and multiply his seed and give him a great nation and so forth and so on, that through his seed all of the families of the earth would be blessed. This is repeated to him in Genesis 12, Genesis 13, Genesis 15, Genesis 17, Genesis 18, Genesis 22. Over and over and over and over and over God says to him, “Here’s My promise; here’s My promise; here’s My promise,” and Abraham believed it. He really believed God.

Abraham and his descendants lived in tents for generations, but they had great faith in God:

… clear as far on down the line as Isaac and Jacob, they’re still dwelling in tents in a land that really wasn’t their own; just kind of temporary there.

Abraham was an elderly man when God chose him. His wife Sarah was beyond childbearing age. They had no heir, but God promised him that he would have generations of descendants, which continue to this day:

What did He say? He said this, “Surely” – Abraham – “blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying will multiply thee.” I’m going to bless you and multiply your seed. That was His promise to Abraham. Did He keep it? Do you want to know that there are right now in this world today, 1972, in June, at least 14 million of the seed of Abraham still roaming the world? You better believe He kept it.

Not only that, there are multiplied millions around the world who are Abraham’s seed by faith. God kept His promise to Abraham. It was tough for a while. It didn’t look too good. He said, “You’re going to have a whole great nation, as numbers the sand of the sea and the stars of the heaven.” And Abraham looked at Sarah and said, “Well, you got to start with one, and we don’t even have that.” And it didn’t look real good, but he believed God. He hung in there. And he tried to help God a little bit, and got over there with Hagar and produced Ishmael, but God just used that as a punishment. Ishmael fathered the Arabs, who have been nothing but trouble for the Jews ever since.

But he believed God, the Bible says, and he stayed with it. It wasn’t easy; look at verse 15, “And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained” – what? – “the promise.” He hung in there. He believed God. He threw his whole life on God. He said, “God, I’m just going to trust you. Here I go,” and he fell over, and God caught him and gave him the promise. And it looked like impossibility.

God told Abraham to sacrifice his only — and long-awaited — son Isaac, which he was prepared to do, because he had such faith in Him:

He took little Isaac, after he was born, and he got up on that mountain, and he had that knife lifted in the air, and it was all over. Isaac dies, that’s it. The promise is gone. And yet, he raised that arm to slay Isaac, and God stayed his hand. But he went that far because that’s how much he believed God. That’s faith.

And on the way up the mountain, he said to Isaac – they were going with a lot of sticks and no sacrifice. He said to Isaac, “God will provide a sacrifice.” I think deep down in his heart he believed that God would. And finally, when he was up there, he may have been going like this, and his eye landed on that ram in a thicket. God did provide. He believed God. You can trust God, friend. You may find yourself running all the way to the extremity, but you can believe God for even that. He has never failed, and He never will.

Consider the early chapters of Genesis documenting heinous sins of pride and depravity. Then, God chooses Abraham to be the progenitor of a people. Christians are also Abraham’s heirs, via faith in the one true God:

The horrible sinfulness of men was reached in a climax at Babel, when in idolatrous, devilish worship, they attempted to build a ziggurat, or an idol really what it was, to their own manufactured worship. And God scattered them all over the world. But it became imperative to God that He had to recover man, obviously. And as the plan unfolded, God knew that he had to take drastic steps to do it. It was as if there was a flowing river and a great landslide had blocked the river, and God had to cut a fresh channel.

Now, He designed to cut that fresh channel by picking out a certain nation or a certain people and using them as His channel around the landslide of sin that had inundated the world. Now, that fresh channel was cut first of all through Abraham. And from Abraham’s loins were to come the whole nation of Israel, which has always been God’s channel. Right? Jesus said in John chapter 4, “Salvation is of” – what? – “the Jews.” And what he meant is not that the Jews are the only ones that can be saved, but the channel is the Jews. Jesus came through the line of Judah through the Jews. And so, God began to cut the channel through Abraham. And Abraham really was only a spectator to the plan of God.

It really is amazing, especially when God told Abraham that he would have as many descendants as stars in the sky and what would happen to them. This was right in the beginning, with the first animal sacrifice of Abraham’s that symbolised the covenant between them (Genesis 15):

Verse 9, “And he said unto him, ‘Okay, take Me a heifer of three years old, a she goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’” Now, He tells Abraham to go get a menagerie, gather all these animals. And he gets all these animals, and ropes them all up, and hauls them all over there to wherever God was.

And verse 10, “And he took unto Him all these, and divided them in the midst.” Now, that doesn’t mean that he said, “Okay, let’s see, she goat over here, ram over here.” That means that he whacked them down the middle with a sword. He cut them in half. And he laid one half over here and one half over there. It says, “and had one – each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.” Obviously you divide a bird, and all you’ve got are a lot of feathers. So, put a dead turtle dove on one side, and a dead pigeon on the other side, and then halves of all these other three animals. You say, “What’s going on? This is kind of a messy thing.” Well, it is.

And then in verse 11, which is always interesting, it says, “And when the fowls came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away.” And I can imagine he’s getting impatient, as he’s standing there with his stick, beating off the birds, waiting for God to do whatever He’s going to do, see. And he’s got these bloody animals lying around on the ground.

You say, “Well, what happened then?”

Well, verse 12, “When the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram” – God gave him a little divine anesthetic and put him out – “and, lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him.” He just blacked out, see?

“And He said unto Abram, ‘Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a sojourner in the land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years’” And here He prophesies the Egyptian captivity. But notice in verse 15 – verse 16, “‘But in the fourth generation they shall come here again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. And it shall come to pass –’” and so forth and so on. Well, let’s read verse 17, “And it came to pass, that when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace and a burning lamp passed between those pieces. In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying” – verse 18 – “‘Unto thy seed have I given this land.’” Part of the Abrahamic covenant was the gift of the land.

This is how sacrifices worked in Abraham’s time. God signified the promise with him in a way he could understand, although, ultimately, by causing Abraham to pass out, He made the covenant with Himself:

There was a very, very interesting custom in Abraham’s day and continued some time after Abraham. Whenever two people made a covenant, they sealed it with blood. And the way they did it was they took an animal, and they cut the animal in half, laying a piece on each side, and together they walked between the blood pieces, simply passing between the two pieces. That signified that they had made a covenant in blood to keep their promise. It could be a deal for land; it could be some kind of a trade; it could be anything. But they cut an animal; put one piece here, one piece there. And the two who were covenanting would go between the pieces, sealing the covenant with each other. And there would be witnesses to see it.

You want to know something? If God and Abraham – and we believe that God is represented by the furnace and the lamp – if God and Abraham had gone through, that would have meant that God made a covenant with Abraham. You want to know something? God knocked Abraham out, and He went through by Himself.

You say, “What does that mean?”

That means the Abrahamic covenant wasn’t even made with Abraham; it was made between God and Himself.

God made an oath as a guarantee (verse 16) of His unchanging purpose (verse 17). Therefore, it is impossible for God to lie and, as such, we can have ultimate confidence in Him (verse 18):

So, Abraham was secure because of the person of God. He can’t lie. He can’t back out of His promises. You can trust God. And God will never fail because He has no capacity for failure in His nature.

The author of Hebrews chooses to discuss Abraham because he wants all of his audience to truly believe and affirm that Jesus Christ is the ultimate and sufficient fulfilment of God’s covenants:

If God says, “You’re safe with me,” then you better be safe with Him, or His word is worth nothing. If His word is worth nothing, then He’s worth nothing. So, the character of God is at stake in the question of security. Can you give your life to God? Take Him at His word? Can He keep you from falling? Can He finish the work He begins in your life? Will He lose you at some point along the line? Is there real security with God? Abraham believed there was. The Bible says there is

And to those Hebrew readers who were unsaved but who believed it and who had listened to it and heard the whole thing and seeing some of the miracles, and they were afraid to let go of Judaism; they were afraid to cast themselves on the Messiah for fear it might not work, to them the Holy Spirit says, “Come on, you can trust God. He says it’ll work.” God can’t lie.

God’s unchanging nature means that our hope in Him through a belief in Jesus Christ should be a ‘sure and steadfast anchor’ for our souls (verse 19). Jesus has entered the Holy of Holies — ‘the inner place behind the curtain’ — for us. He is a high priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek, the first high priest (verse 20).

MacArthur explains those verses:

You say, “What is that hope that is set before us?”

Well, listen to what I think it is just quickly. 1 Timothy 1:1 says this – I love it – “The Lord Jesus Christ, who is our” – what? – “hope.” What is that hope set before us? It’s none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Then in Colossians chapter 1, it says that that hope is the Gospel and all that’s involved in salvation. That’s all He’s saying. He’s saying, “There’s salvation. If you’re ever going to know if God can be trusted, if you’re ever going to know whether He’s worth His word, you’re going to have to run to Jesus Christ, embrace the Gospel, and then God’ll give you that strong confidence to know He can hang on.” You can trust God. And the only way you’ll ever know it is if you flee to Him and embrace Jesus Christ.

God gave Abraham the security of His person and His purpose and His pledge. And He gives it to you. One other thing, and this is the glorious conclusion, His Priest. To the New Testament covenant, God added yet another pledge and another security, Jesus Christ. Look at verse 19, oh this is beautiful language. We could spend weeks just talking about this. “Which hope” – that is Christ and all the salvation that’s in Him – “we have as an anchor of the soul” – beautiful words – “both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; where the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus” – we’ll stop there.

You say, “That’s kind of tangled up; I’m not sure I get that.”

Well, let me tell you what it’s saying. He’s saying we have one other security, beloved, we’ve got an anchor. We’ve got an anchor for our soul. Your soul, when you come to God, isn’t drifting anymore; it’s anchored.

You say, “Well, where is my soul anchored?”

It says right there the anchor is sure and steadfast, and it’s inside the veil.

You say, “What veil? What does that mean?”

You remember, if you know anything about the Old Testament, what it means. In the temple, the most sacred place was called the Holy of Holies. Right? And in the Holy of Holies, the ark of the covenant, the glory of God. And only once a year, on the day of atonement, the high priest could go in there. Right? And he had to get in and get out fast. He couldn’t linger there. That was the place where God dwelt. And the high priest could go in there; no man could go in there. That was the stay-away thing. Nobody went near that.

But our Great High Priest Jesus Christ performed the perfect sacrifice, and He entered into the heavenly Holy of Holies. And when He went in there, He didn’t just stand around and leave, the Bible says He went in and – did what? – sat down. Jesus finished the job. The veil was ripped open, and He left, as the writer of Hebrews says, “A new and living way into the presence of God.” Oh, fantastic.

Jesus opened the way, and when I put my faith in Him, I throw my anchor, and it goes clear to heaven, and it anchors to Him within the veil of the Holy of Holies. That’s security, my friend. That’s security. I’m tied to Jesus within the veil. Nothing can ever violate that. Oh, what a security. You think anybody can go in there and cut that rope? I’m anchored to Jesus Christ inside the veil in God’s presence. That’s security.

Jesus Christ the forerunner went in, verse 20, and He was a new kind of High Priest like Melchizedek, and we’ll get into that next time. He went in there, and when I put my faith in Him, I threw my anchor; it went in the veil, and He holds it in His hand, and He’ll never let go. And I’m anchored to Jesus Christ. Oh, what a fantastic thought.

You say, “Well, how long are you anchored there?”

Catch it, oh, it’s good, verse 20, “Where the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made a High Priest” – for how long? – “forever.” Forever. There never was such a high priest like that. Forever. I’m anchored to God forever.

My dear friend, our security is in the person of God, the purpose of God, the pledge of God, and the Priest of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. He loses none of His own. Read it yourself in the Gospel of John chapter 6, “He loses none of His own.” Can you trust God?

I really believe that if more churches had a lecture series on the Book of Hebrews, Christians would get more deeply involved with their faith.

I have read this book four times, and now I am reading it again. Each time, I understand something new — and glorious. It makes me so happy and grateful for Jesus, our Great High Priest.

More on Melchizedek — and Abraham — will follow.

Next time — Hebrews 7:1-3

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