Hebrews 6:19-7:28, A Tale of Two Priests.

[6:19]This hope we have as an anchor of the souls, both sure and steadfast, and which enter the Presence beyond the veil, [20]where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
[7:1]For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, [2]to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” [3]without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.
[4]Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils.  [5]And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; [6]but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.  [7]Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better.  [8]Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives.  [9]Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, [10]for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.
[11]Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron?  [12]For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.  [13]For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar.
[14]For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.  [15]And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest [16]who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life.  [17]For He testifies:  “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
[18]For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, [19]for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.  [20]And inasmuch as He was not made priest without an oath [21](for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him:  “The LORD has sworn and will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek'”), [22]by so much better Jesus has become surety of a better covenant.
[23]Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing.  [24]But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood.  [25]Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
[26]For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens;  [27]who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.  [28]For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever. (NKJV)

Just to remind ourselves of the purpose of Hebrews, the writer sought to explain, exhort and encourage.  His believing Jewish audience had indeed professed Christ, but for whatever reason were being tempted to return to the beloved and familiar OT ritual and sacrifices.  He writes to them not to do that, not to risk their eternal souls with such a grievous mistake and sin, 10:32-39.  He explained to them that the person and work of the Lord Jesus were the fulfillment of all those sacrifices and ceremonies, which were only a shadow of what was coming, 10:1.  He encouraged them that, though they were suffering persecution and would suffer more, 10:32, 33; 11:12-14, they weren’t following some pipe dream, mere doctrines of men, or “cunningly-devised fables,” as Peter put it, 2 Peter 1:16.  They were following the One who was the Creator of the universe, the One who will ultimately complete and consummate that for which the universe was created.

Again, a key word is “better.”  The immediate context, from 3:1, deals with the priesthood of Christ.  It is “better” than the Levitical priesthood of Moses and Aaron for several reasons the writer lists through 10:18.

The priesthood of Christ was briefly introduced in 2:17, Christ and Moses were compared and contrasted, and then in the section ending in 6:20, the writer applied the preeminence of Christ to the lives of his readers, before again returning to the priesthood of Christ.

Beginning in 7:1, he continues his teaching:

1.  The type of the priesthood of Melchizedek,7:1-10.
2.  The temporary nature of the Aaronic priesthood, 7:11-28.

1. Type of the priesthood of Melchizedek, 7:1-10.

The Historical Incident, vs. 1-3.  Genesis 14:18-20 is the only place Melchizedek actually appears, and nothing is known of him except what is mentioned there and in Hebrews 7:13.  There are those who believe, from Hebrews 7:3, that Melchizedek was, or is, actually Christ (remains a priest continually).  However, there are some difficulties with that view and for the following reasons, we believe that Melchizedek was an ordinary man, highly blessed though he may have been.

1.  Both Genesis and Hebrews call him “king of Salem.”  While it is true that “Salem” is a form of “shalom,” (“peace”), and Jesus is “the Prince of Peace,” we believe this is simply a reference to Jerusalem.

2.  Note vs. 3, which says that Melchizedek was made like the Son of God (emphasis added).  It doesn’t say that he was the Son of God.  In Christ, there arises another priest, after the likeness of Melchizedek, v. 15 (emphasis added).  Melchizedek was merely a type, a foreshadowing, of the coming Son of God.

3.  What about v. 3, which describes Melchizedek as being without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end or life?  Doesn’t this prove Melchizedek to have been Christ?  I don’t think it does.  After all, as a man, Christ had a father (though virgin-born, Joseph was His “legal” father), and mother, a genealogy (two of them, in fact: both Joseph’s and Mary’s), birth and death.  He had all those things which Melchizedek is said not to have had.

4.  Note again in v. 3, “made like”.  For the purpose of Scripture in treating Melchizedek as a type of Christ, none of these things is mentioned.  7:6 implies that he did, in fact, have a genealogy, distinct from that of Aaron.

The Practical Application, vs. 4-10.  So, we might say, what is the purpose of these references to Melchizedek?  Simply this, as a “priest of the Most High God” (was Aaron ever called this?), Melchizedek was not dependent on Aaron or his priesthood for his own priesthood.  Neither was he dependent on the Mosaic Law.  He lived more than 400 years before Moses and Aaron.

Remember what the author taught in the last part of ch. 6.  He spoke of our two-fold “hope” of inheriting God’s promise:  the oath of God Himself with regard to that promise, and the priestly ministry of Christ, which rises out of that promise.  As Melchizedek was independent of the Mosaic Covenant and the Aaronic priesthood, likewise the promise of God and the priesthood of Christ are independent of them.

The writer develops that thought in vs. 4-10.  Usually used in connection with trying to enforce tithing on Christians, this portion actually has nothing to do with either the practice or the applicability of tithing.  It simply points out that the Levitical priesthood (so named after “Levi,” a son of Aaron) descended from Abraham, and so could be said to be “in him” in Genesis 14.  Under the Law, the Levitical priesthood received tithes; this was their means of livelihood as well as the upkeep of the Tabernacle.  “In Abraham” they paid tithes, hence, the writer argues, Melchizedek was superior to the Levitical priesthood.  Typically shown, therefore, Christ is superior to Aaron.

2.  The Temporary Nature of the Aaronic Priesthood, 7:11-28.

As seen by it’s “imperfection,” vs. 11-15.

1.  as regards it’s “effectiveness,” vs. 11, 18-19.  The very fact that the Law was unable to produce “perfection” demonstrates the need for something that could produce it, cf. Romans 8:3, 4.  The word translated “perfection” doesn’t refer to “sinlessness,” but “completion”.  The Law and the priesthood could not “complete” redemption, therefore the Law only served until the introduction of its replacement, cf. Galatians 3:19.

2.  as regards its “exclusiveness,” vs. 12-15.  There were strict instructions regarding who could be a priest, even in the Aaronic line.  A priest had to be a Levite, but our Lord was of the tribe of Judah, v. 14.  The change from Aaron to Christ also intimates a change of the Law, vs. 12-14.  In this way the temporary nature both of the Mosaic Law and of the Aaronic priesthood was shown.

As seen by its inferiority, vs. 16-28.

1.  in contrast to the commencement of Christ’s priesthood, vs. 16-22.  In all the Law, there is no promise to any particular priest of a lasting priesthood.  Indeed, in the very beginning, God made provision for the passing of the priesthood from father to son, Exodus 29:29.  No oath was ever given to any priest.

2.  in contrast to the continuity of Christ’s priesthood, vs. 23-25.  This goes along with the previous thought.  Only the Lord Jesus has a guarantee of personal perpetuity.

3.  in contrast to the completeness of Christ’s priesthood, vs. 26-27.  Christ was able to do what no Levitical priest could ever do, v. 25.  Though this thought will be developed by the writer further on, here he just points out the unique nature of Christ’s one sacrifice in contrast to the monotonous frequency of OT sacrifices.

4.  in contrast to the character of Christ’s priesthood, v. 28.  Cf. 5:2, 3.  There is no such thing as “infirmity” in the Lord Jesus.  Cf. 7:26.

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Hebrews 4:15-5:10, Our Great High Priest, part 1.

[15]For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.  [16]Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  [5:1]For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.  [2]He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness.  [3]Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sin.  [4]And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called, just as Aaron was.  [5]So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.”  [6]As He also says in another place:  “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” [7]who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, [8]though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.  [9]And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, [10]called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,” [11]of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.  (NKJV)

The writer had briefly mentioned the High Priestly office of our Lord in 2:17, where he wrote that the Lord Jesus had to be born into this world in order to fulfill that office.  Perhaps that ought to serve as a reminder this “holiday season,” in which even the name “Christmas” is becoming offensive to some, and forbidden, that Christmas isn’t about gifts and decorations and parties.  A line in a movie we recently watched said that “Christmas is the celebration of all that’s good in this world.”  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Christmas is a reminder that there is nothing good, spiritually speaking, in this world and God Himself had to intervene in order to do something about it.

And He did it in a way that seems counter-productive to human wisdom.

There’s a lot of preaching to the effect that God has done all He can do, and now it’s up to us.  That we have to do our part before He can do His part.  Christmas puts the lie to all that.  While it is indeed true that Mary had to carry the developing baby Jesus in her womb and give birth to Him, and that Joseph had to take care of her and her Child, if God had not moved first, there would have been no life, no development, no birth and nothing for them to do.  Any child they could have had “doing their part” could never have been a savior.  Indeed, such children would need and did need to be saved themselves, cf. John 7:5.  And they did have several children after the birth of Jesus, cf. Matthew 1:25, which indicates that they did enjoy a normal marital relationship afterwards, and Matthew 13:55, 56, which lists His brothers by name and indicates that there were at least three sisters.  Likewise, we are responsible to repent, to believe, to live godly lives according to the Word of God, but without the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit, we do not, can not, and will not, do any of those things.  That’s the clear teaching of our Lord in John 3:  that without the work of the Spirit we can neither perceive spiritual truth nor participate in spiritual life.

The writer’s purpose in writing the book was to encourage his readers to persevere in the faith and to be wary of leaving it, even a little bit – even to “drift”.  But the sad truth is that we do “drift.”  That’s why God doesn’t leave us on our own.  We have One who can intervene for us, One who can help us in our daily walk with God.  We have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, 4:14.

In ch. 5, the writer tells us a little more about the High Priest.
1.  Office of the High Priest in general, v, 1-3.
a. Godward, v. 1:  to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
The Jew to whom Hebrews was written had long experience with the Mosaic system.  There was no way he could come directly into the presence of God, but had to go through a mediator, through the priests and sacrifices.  He had learned, or at least should have learned, that, apart from those sacrifices he was forever shut out from the presence of God because of sin.
I remember talking with a lady who was upset with all the references to “blood” in Christianity.  There are many like her.  But God didn’t institute the sacrificial system because He was just interested in blood.  No, no.  The sacrifices were meant to show that forgiveness of sin could only come through the sacrifice of an innocent substitute.  Every time an Israelite brought a sacrifice to the Tabernacle, he put his hand on the head of the animal.  This was a confession that he deserved to die, but that he could live only because a substitute had died in his place.
b. Manward, v. 2:  to have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray.  The priesthood was no place for pride, for “looking down” on those whom the priests were supposed to serve.  They needed sacrifices just like the “ordinary” Israelite, as the writer points out in the next verse.  But even they were restricted in their “access” to God, that is, in being able to go into the holy of holies, where God resided symbolically in the Ark of the Covenant and the mercy seat.  Only one man had that privilege, and that only one time a year – and not without sacrifice.  It was a death penalty sin for anyone else ever to enter that place, or even for the High Priest, if he entered it on any other day.  In fact, it’s said that they would tie a rope around the High Priest when he went in on the Day of Atonement, in case something happened and he died while in there.  Nobody else could enter, so the rope was there in order for them to be able to pull him out.  I don’t know that this ever happened, but it shows the solemnity with which they viewed all this.
I know we don’t live under those rules, but I do wish that some of that solemnity would enter into our own “worship” of God.  It would take care of some of the current froth and frivolity in it.
c. Inward, v. 3:  he himself is subject to weakness.
This last is key to understanding the contrast later drawn by the author between Christ and Aaron.  There were to be no “personalities” in the priesthood.  Even though the priests had a high calling, a special calling, in and of themselves they were no different from the “laity,” a distinction, by the way – “clergy” and “laity” – unknown in Scripture.

In our next post, Lord willing, we’ll look at what the writer says about the priesthood of the Lord Jesus.

“…that the Scriptures might be fulfilled…”

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a brother about a course he was taking at a local Christian college.  He mentioned that the professor teaching it believes that all the Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled.

This is a common viewpoint.

In its introduction to Matthew, The Reformation Study Bible  says, “[Matthew’s] citations are not presented as isolated predictions and fulfillments, but as proof of the fulfillment of ALL the expectations of the Old Testament,” p.1360, (emphasis added).

Elsewhere, we’ve referred to the church bulletin insert which said that Ezekiel 40-48 were “fulfilled in Jesus.”

I’m sorry, but I cannot agree.

Jesus did indeed fulfill many prophecies during His first coming.  Matthew himself lists 19 such prophecies by text and two others with a general reference to “the prophets.”  It seems to me, therefore, that these prophecies clearly demonstrate that prophecy must be fulfilled “literally” [and, yes, I know how some folks view that word!] and not just “spiritually”.

For example, looking at Ezekiel, in our Bibles there are 9 chapters with some 270 verses of extensive and exact detail, even down to a priest’s haircut and whom he may or may not marry.

Keep in mind that Ezekiel was a priest and would not have dared to come up with something like this on his own.  Besides, God instructed him to “look with your eyes and hear with your ears, and fix your mind on everything I show you; for you were brought here that I might show them to you.  Declare to the house of Israel everything you see,” Ezekiel 40:4.

To say that his writings can be lightly dismissed because of the the fact that one or two words which Ezekiel used were also used by the Lord Jesus of Himself seems to me to be going too far.

We grant that there are some difficult things to understand in these chapters.  For example, some are troubled, even offended, by the references to various sacrifices, believing they deny the final sacrifice of our Lord Jesus.  I freely admit that I don’t understand them myself.  However, without meaning in the least to be irreverent or flippant, I expect that, since God told Ezekiel to write them down, He will take care of it.

I have no doubt that, when all is said and done and this world is over and regardless of our views of prophecy, we will all discover that we didn’t have everything “figured out”.

There were many prophets in Israel.  It wasn’t to be taken for granted, though, that they all spoke for God, even if they said or thought that they did.  If Israel were to ask how they could tell which were true prophets and which were false prophets, God gave them two simple tests.  These tests still work.

The first test is found in Deuteronomy 13:1-5, where God gave this instruction to Israel,

If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods,’…you shall not listen to the words of that prophet….for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul.  But that prophet or dreamer of dreams shall be put to death….  So shall you put away the evil from among you.” 

Even though New Testament believers do not have the right or the authority to kill false prophets, still the lesson is clear, all messages must be faithful to and judged by the Word of God.

The second test is in Deuteronomy 18:21, 22,

“And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ – when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”

In other words, the thing prophesied has to happen!

I don’t believe that Israel would have accepted the idea that a prophecy could be fulfilled “spiritually.”  They were told certain things would happen and they expected those very things to happen.  Now, it’s true that they didn’t always understand everything that would be involved, any more than we do today.  And there might even be a “spiritual” element involved.  Still, there was a definite thing or things expected.

For example –

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah:  ‘In those days and at that time, I will cause to grow up to David a Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgement and righteousness in the earth.  IN THOSE DAYS JUDAH WILL BE SAVED, AND JERUSALEM WILL DWELL SAFELY.  AND THIS IS THE NAME BY WHICH SHE WILL BE CALLED:  THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’  For thus says the LORD:  “David shall never lack of man to sit on the throne of Israel; nor shall the priests, the Levites, lack a man to offer burnt offerings before Me, to kindle grain offerings, and to sacrifice continually,” Jeremiah 33:14-18 (emphasis added)..

God said He would keep His promise to Israel and Judah.  To say that this was fulfilled during the return from Babylon or that it’s fulfilled in “the church” and the Lord Jesus is sitting on David’s throne in heaven is to miss the point of the prophecy.  Jerusalem hasn’t dwelt “safely” since its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar and certainly not after the return from Babylon.  Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi testify to that!  She still doesn’t!  Judah isn’t “saved.”  Jerusalem is still called Jerusalem, there being nothing “righteous” about her, since she is in part inhabited by those who call the Cross “a monstrous falsehood.”.

There are many other OT portions we could look at.

Zechariah 14 is one of them.  Read it.  When has the Lord returned, there have been catastrophic geological changes to the planet and a moral and spiritual revolution taken place so that everyone who is left of all the nations…shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles”?  To say that some of this refers to the “eternal state” as the Reformation Study Bible does is to ignore the plagues and punishment Zechariah describes.  How would they even be necessary?

Jeremiah 33 and Zechariah 14 certainly tie in with Ezekiel 40-48.

The Church is unknown in the Old Testament.  It didn’t come about because Israel rejected her Messiah and so God instituted “Plan B.”  The Cross was part of God’s eternal purpose, Ephesians 3:11.  Israel’s rejection of the Lord Jesus was part of it.  It doesn’t say much for our view of God if we believe He had to go to Plan B.  I don’t know about you, but if God had to do that with me, He’d be way beyond “B.”  No, no.  The Church is “Part B,” if you will.  But that probably is another whole post.

To deny even the possibility of a “literal” fulfillment seems to me to cast doubt on the truthfulness of God’s Word.  If He didn’t mean what He said, then why did He say it?Why didn’t He say what He did mean?  And what else in His Word can we not trust?  So, it seems to me that there’s a lot more involved than just fussing over some marginal issue.

The few words of this post won’t lay the discussion to rest, by any means.  I just hope it might give some food for thought.

The Scripture must be fulfilled!

“Bird blood”

I just visited Yahoo Answers Religion/Spirituality section, and just have to respond to something I read there.  I’m putting a response here because others might have similar questions.  One of the posters made a comment about Leviticus 14 and “bird blood” cleansing a house.  Clearly, he didn’t agree with the concept.

There were several OT sacrifices which involved the use of birds, sometimes because that’s all the offerer could afford, sometimes not.  In the case of Leviticus 14, there are at least two things to keep in mind.

First, it was a health issue.  The Israelites didn’t have the technology to discover whether any particular mold was toxic.  It’s better to be safe than sorry, so every mold was treated as toxic.  They didn’t have bleach – I don’t think Clorox was around back then – so the procedure prescribed was the next best thing: scrape away the infected material and replaster, then, if the mold came back, the house had to be destroyed.  Houses weren’t as complicated then as they are now, so rebuilding a house wouldn’t be so difficult.

Second, there was a moral component.  The house was considered “polluted.”  Even those who entered the house were considered polluted and had to go through ceremonial cleansing.  The sacrifice of a bird was to demonstrate that the house was “clean,” Leviticus 14:48-53: the procedure had worked.  Hebrews 10:4 (NKJV) says “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats [and birds] could take away sin.”  All the Old Testament sacrifices were merely symbolic of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus; they pointed forward to His death on Calvary.  It wasn’t just sacrifice for the sake of shedding blood.  It was to teach the people by picture and symbol the necessity of cleansing from pollution, whether for health, as in the case of Leviticus 14, or personally, because they were all sinners.  So are we.

There are no more sacrifices for sin.  The Lord Jesus died once for sin.  The Old Testament sacrifices were thousands of fingers pointing toward Him.