Studies In Hebrews #3
A Word of Encouragement (6:9-20)
In discussing the high priesthood of Jesus the writer touched on the idea of Jesus being a high priest "after the order of Melchizedek" (5:6,10). He has "many things to say" about Melchizedek but felt hindered in doing so because his readers had become "dull of hearing" (5:11). He thus took the time to address the dangers of such a condition (5:11-6:8).
After rebuking and warning his readers so sternly the Hebrew writer continues by
balancing his sternness with words of encouragement. He states that he is
confident of better things from them than prolonged immaturity; things which
accompany salvation (6:9). He reminds them that even though they had not grown
and progressed as they should have, they still had accomplished some things for
the Lord (6:10). He then exhorts them to "show the same diligence unto the
fullness of hope even to the end" (6:11). They got off to a good beginning in
the Christian life but had been sluggish in their growth. He, therefore,
encourages them to go on as
they had begun: with diligence. He further urges them to be "imitators of them
who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (6:12). If they would
imitate the faith and patience of the men of old they would be able to receive
the promise of "entering into his rest" (cf.4:1).
Our author here, and more fully in 11:8ff., presents Abraham as the supreme example of a man who received promises from God. God's faithfulness to His promise to Abraham is a token of His faithfulness in regards to two of His other promises, one concerning the Priesthood of Jesus after the order of Melchizedek and the other concerning entering into His promised rest.
The specific promise of God under consideration here is that made to Abraham after his offering up Isaac: "By myself have I sworn, saith Jehovah... that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens...and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice" (Gen. 22:16-18). This is a reaffirmation of the promises given to Abraham in Gen. 12:1-3, but this time it is reinforced by the oath of God. When the promise was first made Abraham and Sarah had no children, without which the promise could not be fulfilled. In due time Isaac was born, with God's help, to fulfill these promises. Yet it was Isaac whom Abraham was commanded to offer up to God. By faith and patience (cf.6:12,15) Abraham obeyed the will of God and "obtained the promise". Much of God's promise to Abraham would not be fulfilled for many years, but in the restoration to Abraham of his son (cf.11:17-19) upon whose survival the promise depended Abraham did, in a very real sense, "obtain the promise".
Our author emphasizes the fact that when God repeated this promise to Abraham He confirmed it with an oath, swearing by Himself (6:13,16). When men swear an oath, they swear by someone or something greater than themselves. "As the Lord liveth" was the oath of Israel (cf.1 Kings 1:29; 2:24; etc..). Since God has none greater than Himself by whom to swear, when He wishes to confirm His promises in this way, He must swear by Himself. "As I live" is found in divine oracles throughout the Old Testament (cf.Isa.49:18; Jer.22:24; Ezek.5:11; etc..). This oath was used to show the "immutability", unchangeable nature, "of his counsel" (6:17).
The writer shows we have "strong encouragement" by "two immutable things" (6:18). This encouragement will cause us to "lay hold of the hope set before us" which is an "anchor of the soul" (6:18,19). But what two immutable, or unchangeable, things give us strong encouragement? (1) The promise of God itself, because "it is impossible for God to lie" (6:18; cf.Tit.1:2). Since "the Lord is not slack concerning his promise" (cf.11 Pet.3:9) we can be encouraged to have a hope which is both "sure and steadfast" (6:19). (2) The oath of God by which the promise is confirmed (6:16). By these two unchangeable things we have a "sure and steadfast" foundation for our hope in the fulfillment of the promise. This hope, then, becomes an anchor for our soul. But to what immovable object does our anchor moor us to? Our writer tells us it is "that which is within the veil" (6:19). "That which is within the veil" is heaven and the throne of God itself (as is made clear in chapter 9). Our hope is fixed there because Jesus is there, seated at "the right hand of the Majesty on high" (cf.1:3). Abraham rested his hope in the promise and oath of God; but we have more than that to rest our hope upon: we have the fulfillment of His promise in the exaltation of Christ, who "as a forerunner...entered for us" (6:20). With the promise of God, His oath and Jesus ascended to heaven as a forerunner for us, we have a hope which is a true "anchor of the soul" being both "sure and steadfast".
It has been our author's desire to expand on the priesthood of Melchizedek since he introduced the subject in chapter 5:6. Now the writer develops this idea in detail as he discusses Jesus being a priest according to this order.
In the first three verses of chapter seven, Melchizedek is described. Our author
gets his information from Genesis 14:17-20 and Psalms 110:4, which are the only
places in the Old Testament where Melchizedek is mentioned.
The first thing stated about Melchizedek is that he was both "king of Salem" and "priest of God Most High" (7:1). This Salem was the city of Jerusalem (cf.Psa.76:2). It is stressed that Melchizedek was "king of righteousness" and "king of peace" (7:2).
Our author makes an argument based on what the Biblical text did not say about Melchizedek (7:3). Nowhere do we find any mention of his parents or descendants. Neither is there any record of his birth or his death. These are ideas which are predominant in the Old Testament with famous characters. The writer is saying that as far as the biblical text is concerned, this king/priest had no beginning and no ending, no ancestors and no descendants. He is likened unto the Son of God Himself, who being God has no beginning and no ending, no ancestors and no descendants.
Already we can see how Jesus is a High Priest "after the order of Melchizedek". Our writer will, however, make the concept even clearer as he continues.
The Greatness Of Melchizedek (7:4-10)
In considering Melchizedek the writer says, "Now consider how great this man was" (7:4). Our author puts forth three arguments to show the supremacy of Melchizedek.
1. Abraham, the father of the Israelite people, gave tithes to Melchizedek by
giving him a tenth of the chief spoils from the battle with the kings (v.4;
cf.Gen.14:13-24). The sons of Levi, who were later commanded to receive tithes
of the people of Israel (v.5), were yet in the loins of Abraham. Therefore,
"through Abraham even Levi, who receiveth tithes, hath paid tithes" (v.9).
Abraham recognized the greatness of Melchizedek when he gave him tithes.
2. Melchizedek, who received tithes of Abraham, "blessed him that hath the promises. But without any dispute the less is blessed of the better" (v.6,7). Since Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham and blessed him, and the lesser is blessed of the greater, then it follows that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham. It also follows that the priesthood of Melchizedek was more excellent than that of the sons of Levi who though yet unborn, were in the loins of Abraham. Since Abraham was blessed of Melchizedek we understand that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, the father of the Israelite Nation.
3. The writer next shows the greatness of Melchizedek's priesthood to that of the Levites by showing the mortality of the Levites and the apparent immortality of Melchizedek. "And here men [Levites] that die receive tithes; but there one [Melchizedek], of whom it is witnessed that he liveth" (v.8). Since immortality is better than mortality, the priesthood of Melchizedek is greater than that of the Levites.
By these three arguments Melchizedek is shown to be greater than both Abraham and Levi, who was already in the loins of his father Abraham (v.10). The priesthood of Melchizedek is, therefore, greater than the Levitical priesthood. Furthermore, since Christ's priesthood is "after the order of Melchizedek" (cf.6:20), His priesthood is also greater than the Levitical priesthood. The author proceeds to develop this contrast even further.
The Superiority Of Jesus' Priesthood (7:11-28)
This discussion of Melchizedek being greater than both Abraham and the sons of Levi raises the question, "Now if there was perfection [complete redemption, remission of sins] through the Levitical priesthood (for under it hath the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should arise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be reckoned after the order of Aaron?" (v.11). Jehovah had indicated long before that the one who would sit on His right hand as king (Ps.110:1), by an oath of Jehovah would be made priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek (Ps.110:4; see also Zech.6:12,13). The writer of Hebrews has shown clearly that Jesus is both seated at the right hand of God and a priest after the order of Melchizedek (1:3,13; 5:5,6,10; 6:20; 7:17; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2).
Since the priesthood has been changed, "there is made of necessity a change also of the law" (v.12). Our writer explains: "For he of whom these things are said belongeth to another tribe, from which no man hath given attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord hath sprung out of Judah; as to which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priests" (v.13,14). Aaron could not serve as priest under any other law than the law of Moses, and no non-Levitical priest could serve under the law of Moses (cf.Num.18:7). Therefore, if the priesthood has changed there has obviously been a change of law as well.
To further verify the removal of the old order (priesthood, law, and imperfection) and the introduction and permanence of another the Hebrew writer presents the following three facts: 1. The endless life of the new priest and His priesthood. "And what we say [verses 11-14] is yet more abundantly evident, if after the likeness of Melchizedek there ariseth another priest, who hath been made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life: for it is witnessed of him, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek" (v.15-17). By the law of Moses each new priest had to be a descendant of Aaron and they assumed the priesthood because of the law of succession made necessary by death; that is, regardless of how personally holy or desirous his predecessor was in remaining on and on as priest, they could not continue in the office beyond death. In contrast, the priesthood of Christ after the order of Melchizedek rests on the power of His endless and sinless life. God made Him a "priest for ever" (cf.5:5,6; 6:20; 7:20,21). Since He would never die in this office, His eternal priesthood would make unnecessary the appointment of another priest after Him.
2. Our priest is able to "save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through him" (v.25). Since the Levitical priesthood could not provide perfection [complete redemption, remission of sins], there was a need for another priest to arise (v.11). Jesus is that priest and through Him we are able to have full and complete forgiveness of our sins. Furthermore, He "ever liveth to make intercession for them" who draw near to God. The priest after the order of Aaron could intercede for the people for a while but their intercession was always cut short because of death. With our High Priest their is constant intercession available for us since He "ever liveth".
3. The superiority of Christ's priesthood to the Levitical priesthood is further established by the moral perfection of our High Priest. The writer puts it thus, "For the law appointeth men high priests, having infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was after the law, appointeth a Son, perfected for evermore" (v.28). No priest after the order of Aaron was morally perfect or perfect in the office of high priest. On the other hand, the moral perfection of our High Priest was always complete, but His perfection as High Priest and as author of eternal salvation had to be accomplished through suffering. "For it became him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings" (2:10). In being made like His brethren, sharing their flesh which is subject to temptation, He qualified Himself to become a merciful and faithful high priest (2:17). "For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted" (2:18). This was furthered affirmed when he said, "though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation; name of God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek" (5:8-10).
Clearly our High Priest, Jesus Christ, and His priesthood are far superior to the Levitical priest and their priesthood. With such a great High Priest why would any Christian want to turn back unto anything else?
By Alex Ogden
From Expository Files 1.6; June, 1994