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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.

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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 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 7:20-22

20 And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 21 but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:

“The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest forever.’”

22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.

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Last week’s entry discussed the perfect and everlasting priesthood of Jesus Christ after the order of Melchizedek.

The unknown author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, cites Psalm 110:4 (verse 17). God is speaking to His Son:

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

In order to better understand verse 20, here are the previous two verses:

18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

The author refers to the imperfect nature of the Levitical priesthood, which was based on genealogy rather than character. Melchizedek preceded the Levite priests and was also a king. He blessed Abraham (Genesis 14), and from that, God began delivering His promised blessings to our father in faith and his descendants.

The author is saying that God ended the priesthood of the Old Testament and made a New Covenant with us through Jesus Christ. He did this through an oath (verse 21), one that He never made with the Levite priests.

Therefore, the New Covenant a) replaces the Old Covenant and b) is unparalleled by any other priesthood (verse 22). As such, the Hebrews whom the author addresses can have every confidence in Jesus as the Great High Priest.

John MacArthur explains, referring to the veil over the Holy of Holies, which only the high priest could see once a year for a few seconds on the Day of Atonement. After the Crucifixion, God rent the veil in the temple in Jerusalem, meaning that Jesus became our Mediator and Advocate with God the Father. People finally had access to God. Emphases mine below:

We saw that Aaron’s priesthood was limited because it couldn’t provide one thing that was primary; it couldn’t provide perfection. And another term for perfection is what? Access to God. Aaron’s priesthood could not bring men to God. All through the ministry of Aaron and the Levites, the veil remained. Right? There never was access to God. The one thing men needed most couldn’t be provided by Aaron. Therefore, there had to come another priest who could bring access to God, a priest after a different order, and that is Jesus Christ. And David, in Psalm 110:4, when he made the statement concerning Messiah, “Thou art a priest forever after the of Melchizedek,” was prophesying that when Messiah did come, He indeed would be a priest after a different order” …

The goal of our faith is access to God. The goal of Christianity is to bring men into the presence of God: that Jesus Christ could do; Aaron could not. The veil always remained. But in Christ, the [ve]il was – what? – was rent and access was made. And in verse 19 of chapter [7], we go into the presence of God where our forerunner has entered, verse 20, and we are anchored there. That’s something Aaron couldn’t do.

The design for us is that we have access to God.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

There is a change in that covenant of which the priesthood was a security and the priest a surety; that is, a change in the dispensation of that covenant. The gospel dispensation is more full, free, perspicuous, spiritual, and efficacious, than that of the law. Christ is in this gospel covenant a surety for us to God and for God to us, to see that the articles be performed on both parts He, as surety, has united the divine and human nature together in his own person, and therein given assurance of reconciliation; and he has, as surety, united God and man together in the bond of the everlasting covenant. He pleads with men to keep their covenant with God, and he pleads with God that he will fulfil his promises to men, which he is always ready to do in a way suitable to his majesty and glory, that is, through a Mediator.

This post is appearing fortuitously on Reign of Christ Sunday in 2019, the final Sunday in the Church year. The readings are here.

Christ reigns as King; this day used to be known as Christ the King Sunday.

Christ also reigns as Great High Priest.

He reigns as both forevermore.

In that sense, He is like Melchizedek, who was both king and priest. Melchizedek did not inherit his priesthood. He was a priest because of his excellent character.

Aaron and the other Jewish priests were never kings.

Jesus Christ is both King and Priest, sitting at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

He is our guarantor of salvation.

MacArthur explains:

Jesus Christ Himself engaged as the guarant[o]r in the service of the Father says to the Father, “Charge to my account whatever my people do, and I will fully pay their debts. Whatever they owe; I’ll pay it.” He’s the guarantee so that our covenant with God can never be violated. Every time we bring a debt to bear, Jesus pays it. And therefore, the covenant is maintained. You see?

Our covenant with God cannot ever be broken, because as soon as a debt exists, Christ pays it. Isn’t that a fantastic thing? Wrapped up in that is the security of the believer. He pays every debt instantly upon its being owed. He is the surety of a better covenant. And dear ones, there was no such surety in the old covenant. When you blew it, you had to come crawling back all by yourself. But in Jesus Christ, we have the surety of a better covenant. He is our guarantee; not only is He willing to be, better than that, He’s able. I like that part. Right? And God is completely satisfied with His performance. The only question remaining is are you satisfied with Him? He is the surety of a better covenant. If you’re satisfied with Him and what He’s done in your behalf, that’s all you need. He takes care of the covenant.

I hope that this gives us a lot to think about as we contemplate Christ the King today.

And, as we are one week away from Advent, it is worth considering the previous posts from Hebrews 7 about the universal priesthood that Christ represents: the priestly order of Melchizedek, Melchizedek and Abraham, Jesus compared to Melchizedek and His eternal, sufficient and superior priesthood.

The closing verses of Hebrews 7 are read on one of the Sundays in Pentecost (Year B of the three-year Lectionary). They provide more insight into the perfection of Jesus. These, too, will help to heighten our experience of Advent as a time of spiritual preparation as we recall our Lord’s earthly birth in a month’s time:

23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost[a] those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

A Son who humbled Himself to be amongst mankind and who gave Himself in obedience to the Father as the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice for our sins.

May we be ever grateful.

Next time — Hebrews 8:1-7

Bible readingThe 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 7:15-19

15 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is witnessed of him,

“You are a priest forever,
    after the order of Melchizedek.”

18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

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Last week’s entry discussed the Hebrews author’s explanation of a change in priesthood — from the Jewish (Aaron) to the universal (Melchizedek) — with Jesus Christ as our everlasting Great High Priest.

The theme of today’s passage is Jesus Christ as ‘a better hope’.

Hebrews 7:14 says:

14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

From that, the author goes on to say that another priest has arisen in the likes of Melchizedek — a universal priest. The author is referring to Jesus (verse 15).

John MacArthur points out that Scripture tells us this early on — in Genesis 49:10 (emphases mine):

10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;[a]
    and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

MacArthur says:

Verse 15, “And it is yet far more evident: for after the similitude of Melchizedek, there ariseth another Priest.” Far more evident. In other words, the evidence – the logic is overwhelming that the Levitical priesthood is now obsolete. It’s evident. It’s as evident as is the fact that Jesus came from Judah, which is also evident, Genesis 49:10 tells us Messiah would be from Judah. Even the genealogy of Jesus, if anybody wanted to check into it, they all have to find out is that He went to – His parents went to Bethlehem to pay their taxes, which meant they were from the tribe of Judah. “Bethlehem, though thou be little among the sons of Judah,” said Micah, “out of thee shall He come forth who is to be ruler over my people Israel.” So, it was evident that He came from Judah. It was more evident, because of that, that the whole Levitical system had been set aside, and after the similitude of Melchizedek, there arises another priest, a greater priest. The priesthood of Christ was no temporary thing; it was sufficient; it was permanent; it was abiding. It was the fulfillment of prophecy.

Jesus evidently, obviously fulfilling that promise. So, He says, “Don’t cling to Judaism. In effect it’s defunct. We have a superior Priest.”

MacArthur draws our attention to two words in verse 15: ‘another’ and ‘arises’.

With regard to ‘another’, he explains the Greek used in the original:

Now, watch this word “another.” Mm-mmm, that’s interesting. “It is far more evident for after the similitude of Melchizedek, there arises another priest.” Now, in the Greek there are two words for “another.” We may have talked about them before. This word here is heteros. There is one word for another allos, and it means another of the same kind. This one, heteros means another of a different kind. Let’s assume that I wanted to get rid of my Volvo. I don’t want to get rid of it necessarily, but let’s assume, for illustration, that I did. So, I drive my Volvo down to the car dealer, and I drive it in, and I say to the car dealer, “I would like to trade my Volvo for another Volvo.” That would be allos Volvo. But let’s say I say to the man, “No, this time I’m not happy; I want to trade my car for another car; my Volvo for, say, a Rolls Royce.” I mean why not? It’s only an illustration; live it up.

In the first case, I’m trading a Volvo for a Volvo. That’s the same thing. In the second case, I’m saying, “I don’t like my Volvo; I want another kind of car that’s different than mine.” That is the word used here. We do not have another priest just like the other ones; we have another One who can do what the other ones couldn’t do. That’s the point of another – a rich, rich word showing the distinction between Christ and Aaronic priests. So, another priest had to come, and it was evident that He did, not like Aaron, but a different priest of a different order, who could do what Aaron couldn’t do.

Moving on to ‘arises’, he says:

There’s a wonderful note on that word – anistatai – this won’t mean anything to some of you. Paul will understand this. It’s a present middle indicative. And what it comes from is anistēmi, which means to arise. But anything in the middle voice is reflexive. That means to arise by myself. No Aaronic priest could ever use that in the middle voice, “There ariseth by himself another priest.” No. No. He would arise by virtue of his mother and father, not of himself. In other words, the Aaronic priest would have to say, “I am a priest not by myself, but because I’ve inherited the right.” Jesus said, “I just arose a Priest by Myself.”

Let me give you another thought. Anistēmi is used in Acts 2:32 to refer to His resurrection. He Himself raised Himself from the dead. And so, when that little word says that there ariseth another priest, He arose and declared Himself a priest uniquely on His own character, and He arose from the dead to establish that He indeed was a Priest. What an exciting thing to get into the words and see what God is really saying.

So, a different priest.

The Hebrews author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, reminded his audience that the Jewish priesthood depended upon heredity and physical perfection, to a degree, whereas Christ’s priesthood is dependent upon His indestructible life (verse 16). He lives and reigns forever.

MacArthur describes the ordination ceremony of Jewish priests:

To be a priest, you had to be a pure descendant of Aaron, and there were at least 142 physical blemishes that could disqualify you. Those were the only disqualifications. If you made it through as a physical specimen, it didn’t matter what you were spiritually, you were in. You can read Leviticus 21 and you’ll find some of those qualifications.

The ordination ceremony is outlined in Leviticus 8, and it goes like this: first of all, the man who was being inducted into the priesthood was bathed in water to be ceremonially clean. All external. All physical. He was clothed in four priestly garments: the linen knee breeches, long linen garment, the girdle, and the bonnet or the turban. He was anointed with oil. He was dabbed with sacrificial blood on the tip of his right ear, his right thumb, and his right big toe. Every single item in the whole deal had to do with his physical body. It was all a fleshly rule. It was all a physical issue. And once he had been ordained, he had to go through certain washings and anointings with oil and had his hair cut a certain way and so forth and so on. It was all physical. It had nothing to do with character, ability, personality, or holiness at all. Their whole ministry was physical. Even in chapter 9, verse 13, it indicates this, “For if the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the” – what? – “flesh.” You see? The whole thing was physical. It was only physical. And all these things make up the law of a fleshly commandment. They were priests because of bodily rules. It had to do with their physical body. Watch this, “Who is made” – verse 16 – “not after the law of a fleshly commandment, but after the power of a indestructible life.” That’s a different kind of priest isn’t it? Nothing to do with the physical body, but to do with eternal power. That’s the kind of priest Jesus was.

In the case of the Levitical priesthood, no matter how ill suited he was and reluctant to take the office, the law made a man a priest by his pedigree. It was outside compulsion. In the case of Jesus Christ, it was the inside compulsion of a life that couldn’t dissolve, of an eternal kind of power. He was a Priest by eternal power. He had an inward priesthood. Not a physical claim, but an eternal claim. And thus, by His eternal power, He can do what no priest could ever do; He can give us access to God.

The author cites Psalm 110:4 (verse 17), the only other mention of Melchizedek in the Old Testament. God is speaking to His Son:

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

The author of Hebrews says that the old law regarding priesthood was set aside because it could not achieve anything of lasting benefit (verse 18).

Matthew Henry explains:

The Levitical priesthood brought nothing to perfection: it could not justify men’s persons from guilt; it could not sanctify them from inward pollution; it could not cleanse the consciences of the worshippers from dead works

As such, the author says the old law made nothing perfect, but that, with Christ, we have ‘a better hope’ and, through Him, we are finally able to draw near to God (verse 19). The veil in the temple, shielding the Holy of Holies, was rent upon His death on the Cross. That meant Christ became our only Mediator and Advocate with God the Father.

Indeed, Christ offers a far better hope than Aaron or any of the other priests of the Old Covenant.

MacArthur analyses verses 18 and 19 for us:

He takes us to God and anchors us there. And that no Aaronic priest could ever do. He is the one who brings us to perfection. His priesthood, based upon eternal power, accomplishes access to God.

And that is the theme of verses 18 and 19. This is the climax of the text. Aaron is replaced by Christ. Let me read you 18 and 19, correcting the punctuation so it become clear. “For there is verily an annulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness of it.” God set aside the old standard. Now watch – now put a parenthesis at the beginning of verse 19 – “For the law made nothing perfect” – close parenthesis – but the bringing in of a better hope, by which we draw near unto God.” Or you chose “and.” Let me read it this way, “For there is verily an annulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness of it (for the law made nothing perfect) and the bringing in of a better hope” – cross out “did” – “by which we draw near unto God.” You see?

God says, “I am setting aside the old one, and I’m bringing in a new one.” And in the new covenant, you have – what? – access to God. Now the word “disannulling” – athetēsis – has to do with the doing away of something that is established. It is used, for example, of annulling a treaty; of annulling a promise, a law, a regulation; of erasing a man’s name from something. It has to do with removing what is established. The whole paraphernalia of the sacrificial system, the whole ceremonial system is wiped out. It is annulled; it is done away with. God wipes it out. And he wiped it out for good in 70 A.D. when He destroyed the temple.

The old system could reveal sin; it could cover sin; it could give a relative measure of drawing near to God, but not full perfection; it brought nothing to conclusion. But the priesthood of Jesus Christ made all that Israel looked forward to a reality: access to God.

Many of us have been brought up in the Christian faith all our lives. So often, we have taken it for granted, myself included. This is why I appreciate reading Hebrews. It reminds me of the great gift and the great hope that God has given us in His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Privately, I plan to reflect upon Hebrews during the weeks of Advent, which will make the prophecies of the Sunday readings even clearer and more profound.

The theme of priesthood in light of Psalm 110:4 continues next week.

Next time — Hebrews 7:20-22

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.

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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

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