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( <580701> HEBREWS 7:1-3) In Hebrews 2:17, the apostle announced that the Lord Jesus is “a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God”, while in Hebrews 3:1 he calls on those who are partakers of the heavenly calling to “Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession”. Having shown in Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 the superiority of Christianity’s Apostle over Judaism’s, viz, Moses, whose work was completed by Joshua, Paul then declared that “We have a great High Priest, that is passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God”, an High Priest who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, seeing that He also was tempted in all points like us (in His spirit, His soul, and His body), sin excepted; for which reason we are bidden to “Come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” ( Hebrews 4:14-16).
In the opening verses of Hebrews 5 we are shown how Christ fulfilled the Aaronic type, and how that He possessed every necessary perfection to qualify Him for filling the sacerdotal office, see articles 19 to 21. But while the Holy Spirit there shows how Christ provided the substance of what was foreshadowed by the Levitical priests, He is also particular to exhibit how that Christ excelled them at every point. Finally, he declares that the Lord Jesus was, “Called of God an High Priest after the order of Melchizedek” (verse 10). We have previously called attention to it, but as this detail is so important and so little understood, we repeat: it is highly essential to observe that Christ is not there said to be “High Priest of the order of Melchizedek”, but “alter the order of”, etc. The difference between the two expressions is real and radical: “of” would have limited His priesthood to that particular order; “after” simply shows that there is a resemblance between them, as there also was between Aaron’s and Christ’s.
The difficulty lay in the strong disinclination of man to relinquish that which has long been cherished, which nowhere appears more evident than in connection with religious things. To say that Christ was a High Priest “after the order of Melchizedek” was tantamount to affirming that the Aaronic order was Divinely set aside, and with it, all the ordinances and ceremonies of the Mosaic law. “This”, as we said in an earlier article, “was the hardest thing of all for a Hebrew, even a converted one, to bow to, for it meant repudiating everything that was seen, and cleaving to that which was altogether invisible. It meant forsaking that which their fathers had honored for fifteen hundred years, and espousing that which the great majority of their brethren according to the flesh denounced as Satanic.
The Hebrews had become “dull of hearing”. They were too slothful to make the effort needed for a proper understanding of the nature of Christ’s priestly office and work. In Hebrews 3:1 the apostle had called on them to, “Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession”, and in Hebrews 7:4 he again says, “Now consider”. The Greek word means to “ponder intensely” to “behold diligently”, to “weigh thoroughly” the things proposed unto us. It is at this point so many fail: they imagine all that is required of them is to hear the Word of God expounded, and if anything appears to them hard to understand, they conclude it is not for them; hence, they make little progress in Divine things and fail to “increase in the knowledge of God” ( Colossians 1:10). And this is not simply an “infirmity”, it reveals a sad state of soul; it shows a lack of interest in spiritual things. This was the state of the Hebrews: they had gone back.
The condition of soul in which a Christian is has very much to do with his spiritual receptivity. He may hear the best of preaching and read the soundest of books, yet if his heart be not right with God, he will not be profited. His head knowledge of Truth may be increased and his pride puffed up, but his soul is not fed, nor is his walk influenced Godwards. It was thus with the Corinthians, therefore we find the apostle writing to them, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as babes in Christ” ( 1 Corinthians 3:1).
It was thus with the Hebrews: the spirit of the apostle was straitened. He longed to expound to them the excellency of the glories of Christ’s priesthood, but he had to pause and address himself to their sorrowful state of heart. In this he has left an example which all teachers do well to weigh and imitate.
As we have seen, at Hebrews 5:11 the apostle makes a digression, which is continued to the end of the 6th chapter. It is most instructive to observe the order he followed. The better to appreciate it, let us review the contents of this parenthetical section in their inverse order. In chapter 7, he sets forth the official glories of Christ. But what immediately precedes?
Thus, it is only as the heart is set at perfect rest before God, fully assured of His favor, of His unchanging grace, that the soul is in any condition to ponder, to appreciate, to revel in the glories of Christ. It is faith’s realization of the unceasing and effectual intercession of our great High Priest within the veil, which keeps the heart in peace. The contemplation of the essential Holiness of God would fill the soul with despair, but it is turned into hope and joy by seeing Jesus at His right hand “for us”. The secret of victory is to be, in spirit, where our Forerunner is.
And what precedes the blessed assurance which the closing verses of Hebrews chapter 6 are designed to convey to the believer? This: a call to faithful perseverance in running the race set before us; a bidding of us “be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (verses 9-15). We are not entitled to the comfort which comes from resting upon the immutability of the Divine counsels while we are following a course of self-will and self-pleasing. Only those who are really walking with God have any right to the joy of His salvation. To talk of our certainty of reaching Heaven while out of the path of obedience, is nothing but a carnal presumption.
And what, in turn, precedes the call to a steady continuation in well-doing, to the exercise of faith and love? This: a solemn warning against the danger of apostasy (verses 4-7). The sluggards of Hebrews 5:11-14 must be aroused, the careless plainly told of what the final outcome would be were indifference to the righteous claims of God persisted in. There are some who refuse to allow that verses 4-7 contain a warning given to real Christians against the danger of apostasy. They say it would be quite inconsistent for the Holy Spirit to so warn them, while in verses 16-20 He gives the most absolute assurance of their security. Ah, but mark it well, the assurance in verses 16-20 is for “the heirs of promise”, and not for all professing believers. The warning is to make us examine ourselves and make sure that we are “heirs”. This, the truly regenerate will do; whereas the self-complacent and presumptuous will ignore it, to their own eternal undoing.
In confirmation of what has been pointed out above, we quote the following from John Owen: “As the minds of men are to be greatly prepared for the communication of spiritual mysteries unto them, so the best preparation is by the cure of their sinful and corrupt affections, with the removal of their barrenness under what they have already heard and been instructed in. It is to no purpose, yea, it is but the putting of new wine into old bottles to the loss of all, to be daily leading men into the knowledge of higher mysteries, whilst they live in a neglect of the practice of what they have been taught already”.
At the close of his hortatory digression, the apostle returns to the precise point at which his orderly argument had been interrupted, as will immediately appear by comparing Hebrews 5:10 and Hebrews 6:20.
Jesus was, and is for ever, High Priest. This was an entirely new doctrine for the Hebrews. Our Lord Himself had made no specific reference to it during the days of His earthly ministry, nor is there any record of it in the preaching of the apostles. Yet the teaching of both One and the others was based upon and assumed this fundamental fact. But now the Holy Spirit was pleased to give a clear unfolding of this precious truth. It was “hard” for even converted Jews to receive. Their chief objection would be that, to assert Christ was High Priest, yea, the only High Priest of His Church, was affirming something inconsistent with and contrary to the Law, for He did not (according to the flesh) belong to the Levitical tribe, He was not in the line of the priests.
It is most important for us to take account of this difficulty which presented itself to the minds of the Hebrews, for unless we recognize that one of the chief objects before the apostle in chapter 7 was to remove this very difficulty, we are certain to err in our understanding of the details of his argument. It was not the design of the apostle to teach that the nature and functions of Christ’s priesthood had no resemblance to that of the Aaronic. Far from it. He could not now contradict all that he has so explicitly set forth in Hebrews 5:1-9. There he had plainly shown that the Lord Jesus had fulfilled the Aaronic type by Himself offering to God a perfect and final Sacrifice for the sins of His people. To this he again returns in chapter 9, where he declares that Christ had (as Aaron foreshadowed) “by His own blood entered into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption” (verse 12). Let it not be forgotten that the atoning ministry of Israel’s high priest was consummated within the veil, Leviticus 16:12-14.
In Hebrews 7 the apostle proves that so far from the priestly office and work of the Lord Jesus conflicting with what God had instituted through Moses, it was the fulfillment of His own counsels as made known in the Old Testament Scriptures. At the same time he takes occasion to submit the proof that the priesthood of Christ was far more glorious than that of Aaron’s. This he does by an appeal to an ancient oracle, the mystical meaning of which had been hidden from the Jews, yea, the very letter of which appears to have been quite forgotten by them. We refer to the 110th Psalm, which will come before us in the course of examining our present chapter. “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God” (verse 1).
At the close of chapter 6 the Holy Spirit directs our gaze into the Holiest, whither for us the Forerunner hath entered, even Jesus our great High Priest. He now proceeds to emphasize the dignity of His priesthood, showing that it is accompanied by royal majesty, that it is intransmissible, and that it abideth forever. Thus our confidence in Him should be complete and entire, unwavering and unceasing. Thus too we may perceive again the immeasurable superiority of Christianity over Judaism by the superexcellency of its Priest. “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God”. The opening “For” has, we believe, a double connection. More immediately, it forms the closest possible link between what is declared in Hebrews 6:20, and what is to immediately follow. There it was affirmed that “Jesus is made an High Priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek”; here it will be shown that thus it was, mystically, with Melchizedek himself. This will be the more apparent if the second half of verse 2 and the whole of verse 3, saving its final clause, be placed in a parenthesis, reading it thus: “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, abideth a priest continually”. More remotely the opening “For” of the verse, looks back to Hebrews 5:10,11: he now brings forth the “many things” he had to say to him. “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God”. Two things are here affirmed of Melchizedek: be was king, and he was priest.
Almost endless conjectures have been made as to the identity of Melchizedek. Questions have been raised as to what order of beings he belonged to. Some have insisted that he was a Divine person, others that he was an angel, still others that he was Christ Himself in theophanic manifestation — as when He appeared to Joshua ( Joshua 5:14), or in Babylon’s furnace ( Daniel 3:25), etc. Others, allowing that he was only a man, have speculated as to his nationality, family connections, and so on.
The first time Melchizedek is brought before us on the pages of Holy Writ is in Genesis 14. There he confronted Abraham, without introduction, in the land of Canaan. At that time all the world had fallen into the grossest of idolatry and the most awful immorality: Romans 1:19-31. Even the progenitors of Abraham worshipped false gods: Joshua 24:2. At that time Canaan was inhabited chiefly by the Sodomites on the one hand (Genesis 13), and by the Amorites ( Genesis 15:16) on the other. Yet, in the very midst of these people who were sinners above others, God was pleased to raise up a man who was an illustrious type of Christ! A signal instance was this of the absolute sovereignty of God. He can raise up instruments for His service and unto His glory, when, where, and as it pleases Him. He can raise up the greatest light in the midst of the greatest darkness: Matthew 4:16.
Melchizedek was “king of Salem”: in the light of Psalm 76:2 there can be no doubt but what this was the earlier or original name for Jerusalem: “In Salem also is His tabernacle, and His dwelling-place in Zion”. Only Jerusalem can there be intended. Further, Melchizedek was “priest of the most high God”, and this in the days of Abraham! Thus, Jerusalem had a king many centuries before David, and God had a priest which He owned long ere Aaron was called! It has been rightly pointed out that, “The argument of the apostle, deducing and illustrating the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over the Aaronic, from and by the relation of Melchizedek to the Levitical priesthood, is in some respects analogous to the argument of the apostle with regard to the law, and its parenthetical and inferior position, as compared with the Gospel.... the Jews were shocked when the apostle Paul taught that it was not necessary for the Gentiles to observe the law; that for the new covenant church the law of Moses was no longer the rule and form of life. And therefore the apostle in his epistle to the Galatians, tells them that the law was given four hundred years after the promise had been made unto Abraham, and that therefore there was no injustice, and no inconsistency, in the bringing in of a new dispensation, which was in fact only a return in a fuller and more perfect manner to that which was from the beginning in the mind of God” (Adolph Saphir).
There is, indeed, a still closer analogy than has been pointed out by Mr.
Saphir between Paul’s argument in Hebrews 7 and that which he used to the Galatians. Melchizedek was the king-priest of Jerusalem. Now in Galatians 4:26, we are told that, “Jerusalem which is above, is free, which is the mother of us all”. The word “above” there has misled almost all of the commentators. The primary reference is not to location, but to time, it is antithetical from “now is”, not, from “below”! In the immediate context the apostle contrasts two covenants, each of which was associated with a city. Paul there calls attention to the fact that the “promise” which God made to Abraham both preceded and outlasted the law! so too does the “Jerusalem” of the promise. Melchizedek was connected with Jerusalem before the Law was first given, and it was a type of Heaven: Hebrews 11:10, etc.
It is indeed striking to discover that God’s first priest was this king of Salem — which signifies “peace”, Jerusalem meaning “the foundation of peace”. Jerusalem was to be the place where the incarnate Son of God was to begin the exercise of His sacerdotal office; moreover, it was to be the seat of His local church (Acts 1–15) until the significance of the type had been effected. In the history of that unique city we see the sovereign pleasure of God again exercised and exemplified, for He appoints various intervals of blessing unto places. Jerusalem was first privileged with the presence of this priest of the most high God. Afterwards, for a long season, it was given over to the idolatrous Jebusites: see Joshua 15:63, 2 Samuel 5:6, etc. Then, in process of time, it was again visited with Divine favor and made the headquarters of the solemn worship of Jehovah. Now, as for centuries past, it is “trodden down of the Gentiles” ( Luke 21:24).
But in the future it will again be the center of Divine blessing on earth: Isaiah 2:1-4. In like manner God hath dealt with many another place and city. “Who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him” (verse 1).
The historical reference is to Genesis 14:18,19. “Whether any intercourse had previously taken place between these two venerable men, or whether they afterwards continued to have occasional intercourse, we cannot tell; though the probability seems to be, that Melchizedek was not a stranger to Abraham when he came forth to meet him, and that, in an age when the worshippers of the true God were comparatively few, two such men as Abraham and Melchizedek did not live in the same district and country without forming a close intimacy” (Dr. J. Brown). “And blessed him”. This was a part of the priestly office as we learn from Deuteronomy 21:5: “And the priests the sons of Levi shall come near for the Lord thy God hath chosen to minister unto Him, and to bless in the name of the Lord”. The “blessing” Abraham received, is recorded in Genesis 14:19: “Blessed be Abraham of the most high God, Possessor of heaven and earth”. Absolutely, only God can either bless or curse, for He only has sovereign power over all good and evil. This power He exercises directly ( Genesis 12:3): yet by a gracious concession and by His institution, God also allows men to invoke blessings on others. In the Old Testament we find parents blessing their children ( Genesis 9:26, 27:27, 48:20. etc.), and the priests blessing the people ( Numbers 6:24-26).
In both instances it was Christ that was typically in view. “In the blessing of Abraham by Melchizedek, all believers are virtually blessed by Jesus Christ, — Melchizedek was a type of Christ, and represented Him in what He was and did, as our apostle declares. And Abraham in all these things, bare the person of, or represented, all his posterity according to the faith.
Therefore doth our apostle in the foregoing chapter entitle all believers, unto the promises made unto him, and the inheritance of them. There is, therefore, more than a bare story in this matter. A blessing is in it conveyed unto all believers in the way of an ordinance forever” (John Owen). It deserves to be noticed that the final act of Christ ere leaving this earth was that “He led them out as far as to Bethany, and He lifted up His hands, and blessed them” ( Luke 24:50). “To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all” (verse 2). Melchizedek’s “blessing” of Abraham was the exercise of his priesthood; Abraham’s paying him tithes was the recognition of it. Abraham had just obtained a most memorable victory over the kings of Canaan, and now in his making an offering to Melchizedek, he acknowledged that it was God who had given him the victory and owned that Melchizedek was His servant. Under the Mosaic dispensation we find the Levitical priests were supported by the tithes of the people: Numbers 18:24. In like manner, God’s servants today ought to be so maintained: 1 Corinthians 9:9,10. Melchizedek’s receiving of Abraham’s tithe was a sacerdotal act: it was given as to God, and received by His officer in this world. This comes out plainly in the apostle’s reasoning thereon in the later verses. “First being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is King of peace” (verse 2).
The Holy Spirit now gives us the mystical signification of the proper names used in the previous verse, which conveys more than a hint to us that there is nothing meaningless or superfluous in the perfect Word of God.
Everything has an “interpretation”. “In the Scripture everything is of importance; we cannot read and interpret the Scripture as any other book, since Scripture is not like any other book, even as no other book is like the Scripture. The Scripture is among books what the man Christ Jesus is among men.... These quotations and expositions of Scripture in Scripture are ‘grapes of Eshcol’, examples of, not exceptions to, the fruitful Carmel, whence they come. Thus who can fail to see the significance of the name Seth , who was given instead of Abel, one who was ‘firm and enduring’ in the place of him who ‘vanished’? or of the name of Joshua (God’s Savior), who brought Israel into the promised land”? (Adolph Saphir).
This 2nd verse of Hebrews 7 furnishes a clear and decisive proof of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. The revelation which God has given to us was not communicated in the rough, and then left to men to express it in their own words. No; so far from that being the case, every “jot and tittle” of the originals were given under the immediate superintendence of the Holy Spirit. “Hence the names of persons and places, the omissions of circumstances, the use of the singular or plural number, the application of a title — all things are under the control of the all-wise and gracious Spirit of God. Compare Paul’s commentary on the word ‘all’ in Psalm 8:7, and the important deductions from it in Hebrews 2:8 and 1 Corinthians 15:27; on the word ‘new’ Jeremiah 31, Hebrews 8:13; the singular ‘seed’ Galatians 3:16. What a wonderful superstructure is built on <19B004> Psalm 110:4! Each word is full of most important and blessed meaning.
Let us consider now the “interpretation” which is here given us.
Melchizedek means “king of righteousness” and Salem “king of peace”.
But observe it well that the Holy Spirit has also emphasized the order of these two: “first” king of righteousness, “after that also” king of peace.
This calls attention to another important and blessed detail in our type.
Doubtless, the historical Melchizedek was both a righteous and peaceable king, but what the apostle here takes up is not the personal characteristics of this man, but how he represented Christ in His mediatorial office and work. Now the “King of righteousness” and “of peace” is the Author, Cause, and Dispenser of righteousness and peace. Christ is the Maker and Giver of peace because He is “the Lord our righteousness” ( Jeremiah 23:6). Righteousness must go first, and then peace will follow after. This is the uniform order of Scripture wherever the two are mentioned together: peace never precedes righteousness. Mark well the following passages: “Surely His salvation is nigh them that fear Him; that glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth are met together: righteousness and peace have kissed” ( Psalm 85:9,10). “And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever” ( Isaiah 32:17). “In His days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth” ( Psalm 72:7).
Jesus Christ is “the Righteous” One ( 1 John 2:1). He came here to “fulfill all righteousness” ( Matthew 3:15), to “magnify the law and make it honorable” ( Isaiah 42:21). He came here as the vicarious Representative of His people, being made under the law for them ( Galatians 4:4), obeying the law for them ( Matthew 5:17), and thus wrought out a perfect obedience for them ( Romans 5:19). Therefore are they made “the righteousness of God in Him” ( 2 Corinthians 5:21).
He also came here to pacify the wrath of God against His people’s sins ( Ephesians 2:3) to be a propitiation ( Romans 3:25), to “make peace through the blood of His cross” ( Colossians 1:20). Hence we are told, “Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” ( Romans 5:1).
How minutely accurate, then, how Divinely perfect was the type! The very word Melchizedek means “King of righteousness”, while the name of his capitol signifies “peace”. Well did John Owen remark: “I am persuaded that God Himself, by some providence of His, or other intimation of His mind, gave that name of ‘peace’ first unto that city, because there He designed not only to rest in His typical worship for a season, but also in the fullness of time, there to accomplish the great work of peace-making between Himself and mankind.... Wherefore our apostle doth justly argue from the signification of those names which were given, both to the person and place, by divine authority and guidance, that they might teach and foresignify the things whereunto by him they are applied”.
Christ is not only the Producer of righteousness and the Maker and Giver of peace, but He is also the King of both. All authority has been given to Him in heaven and in earth ( Matthew 28:18). He is, even now, upholding all things by the word of His power ( Hebrews 1:3). He is expressly declared to be “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and the Lord of lords” ( 1 Timothy 6:15). In the Millennium this will be openly demonstrated here upon earth. Then it will appear to all that He is a righteous Branch, for as King He shall “reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth” ( Jeremiah 23:5), and, as Isaiah 9:7 tells us, “Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end”. Meanwhile, faith views Him today as King, King of righteousness and King of peace. “Without father, without mother, without pedigree, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God” (verse 3).
Yet, in reality, it is not so. Men, as usual, have created their own difficulty; and, as is generally the case, they have done so through ignoring the immediate context. Had these statements in verse 3 referred to him as a man, it would surely be quite impossible to understand them. But it is not as man he is referred to, but as priest. Once this is clearly seen and firmly grasped little or no difficulty remains.
That Melchizedek was not a superhuman creature, a divine or angelic being, is unequivocally established by Hebrews 5:1, where we are expressly told, “For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God”.
To be possessed of human nature is an essential prerequisite in order for one to occupy and exercise the sacerdotal office. The Son of God could not serve as Priest till He became incarnate. Observe carefully how that in verse 4 Melchizedek is expressly declared to be a “man”. What, then, it may be asked, is the meaning of the strange statements about him in verse 3? We answer, their meaning is to be explained on the principle of the apostle’s subject in this passage. “Without father, without mother, without descent”. Now in connection with the Aaronic priesthood, personal genealogy was a vital prerequisite, hence the great care with which they preserved their pedigree: see Ezra 2:61,62. But, in contradistinction from them, Melchizedek was priest of an order where natural descent was not regarded, an order free from the restrictions of the Levitical, Numbers 3:10, etc; therefore was he an accurate type of Christ, who belonged not to the tribe of Levi. Neither the book of Genesis, nor any of the later scriptures, say a word about Melchizedek’s parentage, and this silence was a part of the type. “Having neither beginning of days nor end of life” is to be explained on the same principle. The Jewish priests “began” their “days” as priests at the age of twenty-five, when they were permitted to wait upon their brethren: Numbers 8:24 and cf. 1 Chronicles 23:27,28. At the age of thirty they began their regular priestly duties: Numbers 4:3. At the age of fifty their priestly “life” ended: “from the age of fifty years they shall cease waiting upon the service, and shall serve no more” ( Numbers 8:25). But no such restriction was placed upon the sacerdotal ministry of Melchizedek: so, in this too, he was an eminent type of Christ. “But made like unto the Son of God”, or, more literally “but assimilated to the Son of God”. It is very striking to note that it is not the Son of God who was “assimilated to Melchizedek”, but vice versa. In the order of time Christ subsisted before Melchizedek; in the order of nature, Melchizedek was a priest before Christ was. The priesthood of the Son of God, ordained and appointed by the Eternal Three, was the original, and Melchizedek’s priesthood furnished the copy, and a copy given in advance is the same thing as the type. Melchizedek was “assimilated to the Son of God” as a type.
Second , as being a royal priest, possessing personal majesty and authority.
Third , as being the king of righteousness.
Fourth , as king of peace.
Fifth , as the one who “blessed Abraham”.
Sixth , as the one who received the grateful gifts of God’s people represented by Abraham. Seventh, as not owing his priesthood to natural genealogy. Eighth, as abiding a priest beyond the bounds of the Levitical limitations. “Abideth a priest continually” (verse 3). Note carefully it is not that the natural life of Melchizedek had no end, but that his priestly life did not cease at the age of fifty; in other words, he continued a priest to the very end of his earthly existence, which shows he had no vicar or successor, deriving a priesthood from his. “The expression ‘abideth a priest continually’, therefore, is the equivalent to saying that he had a perpetual priesthood in contradistinction from those whose office terminated at a definite period, or whose office passed over into the hands of others” (A.