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The next four chapters deal with questions that must have been of great concern to many Jewish Christians in those early days as the Good News about Jesus won many Jews to a following of Him, while they were at the same time very much bound up in their Jewish religion. And the difference was not always clear. After all Jesus was a Jew and had observed the requirements of Judaism. So at some stage they had to face up to what the significance of Jesus was, and how it affected their current beliefs. Could they, they asked themselves, still go on being Jews as before, while at the same time honouring Jesus? Indeed the question was forced on them for many Jews were wanting to have nothing to do with them, and even persecuting them, and others were pressing them to ‘come back to the true faith’.
And it is this question that the writer is here seeking to answer. But it is equally important to us, not because of that, but because his answer brings out positively the glory of what Jesus has done and is doing for us. For if we are not careful we too can get caught up in church ritual. Thoughtless custom, regularly condemned in Scripture, may cause us to miss the immediacy of Heaven and dim the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ in our hearts.
These chapters then are especially important because they bring out that all religious ritual is but composed of types and shadows, even including baptism, laying on of hands, and the Lord’s Supper. They are valuable in pointing to what lies behind them, and in explaining in acted out form something of the real thing, and in testifying to others the way of life which we have chosen, but they are not in themselves the real thing. Without the inner working of the Lord they are pointless. It is sadly but unquestionably quite possible to be baptised, receive the laying on of hands and partake of the Lord’s Table and be totally untouched spiritually. And many die in such a condition.
We shall now consider some of the questions that would have arisen among such people. These were;
We must remember that to Jews everywhere the Temple was the focal point of their approach to God. It was to them the earthly dwellingplace of God. They had been brought up to its centrality in worship and its importance for enabling them to receive atonement and forgiveness of sins. The question then was, once they had begun to believe in Jesus as the Messiah how much did this change things? (The levitical priesthood is that which was descended from Aaron, who was descended from Levi).
He gives his answer in chapter 7. His answer is that it is now revealed as secondary and indeed that its priesthood has now been replaced. For it is declared in Scripture that there is an older and more superior priesthood to that of Aaron, a priesthood like that of Melchizedek (Genesis 14), a priesthood of the house of David (Psalm 110), a priesthood contrasted with which the levitical priesthood fails by comparison, a priesthood that would take the ascendancy once Messiah had come, and that Jesus is the full representative of that priesthood. He is both priesthood and High Priest. And secondly that there is a heavenly equivalent of the Tabernacle in which ministers our great High Priest Who is of a superior status to the levitical High Priesthood. Thus, he will argue that with Jesus now acting on our behalf in Heaven we have no need of an earthly priesthood, nor of earthly ritual, which has thus become redundant.
This question is dealt with in Chapter 8. He informs them that, the old covenant having proved unsatisfactory, the Scriptures themselves reveal that God has introduced a new covenant, a covenant which speaks of His working within the heart, and which contains not laws but promises,. And this because the old covenant had failed in its purpose. Thus they are no longer bound by the ritual requirements of the old covenant, and while still required to live out its moral teaching, are to do so under the new covenant, not as a legal duty, but because they have been made acceptable to God and because His Spirit is at work within them.
This is dealt with in chapter 9. There Jesus is revealed as having accomplished the full and continual atonement of God’s people once and for all on what was an even greater Day of Atonement. This is an atonement which was ‘once and for ever’, not needing to be repeated, the blessing and effectiveness of which will continue until His return and then for ever. Through it His people have been made acceptable both in God’s sight, and in the light of their own consciences, and once they have been finally perfected, continuing atonement will no longer be required for what He has done will be eternally valid.
This is dealt with in chapter 10, where he declares that while their offerings and sacrifices have proved finally ineffective, the one sacrifice of Jesus for ever has dealt with all sin for all time. He has through His sacrifice of Himself in one stroke perfected those who believe in Him for ever before God (10.14), and will continue to sanctify them and make them holy as they look in faith and trust to Him so that it will be made an actuality. Thus all they need to do is walk in His light and then His blood will go on cleansing them from all sins (1 John 1.7)
When some Christians today look to glorious buildings, gorgeously apparelled priests, sacerdotal tendencies, and a willingness to submit to a hierarchy who claim to act on their behalf before God, as a means of salvation, (aping the failing levitical priesthood), and others look to men or organisations who seek to rule every detail of their individual lives, Christians need to study again the Letter to the Hebrews and learn what their true rights and privileges are. They need to look directly to Christ Who alone can direct their lives.
Chapter 7 The Superiority of Christ’s Priesthood After the Order of Melchizedek.
The teaching of this chapter is basically simple (although its outworking is complicated). It is that Scripture reveals two levels of priesthood, one that is ‘in the likeness of Melchizedek’, which is superior in every way, and one that is the levitical priesthood, the Jewish priesthood, which is proved to be a temporary and failing priesthood; there is one that deals in glorious reality and the other that deals in types and shadows.
Those who would continue to look to the Temple as central in their worship must inevitably look to the levitical priesthood with its symbols. But that is to live in the past and to look to something whose effectiveness has now ceased. But those who would look higher, to what is real, to Heaven itself, who recognise that God’s Messiah has come, must now in the light of what Jesus has done, turn to the superior priesthood ‘after the order of Melchizedek’, the eternal priesthood of which Jesus is now the sole representative. They must look to Him.
That is why in this chapter the priestly ‘order of Melchizedek’ is expanded on in order to bring out its superiority to that of Aaron and its application to Jesus. The basic argument is not difficult, even if the detail is more complicated. And that is that Scripture has always spoken of another priesthood, a priesthood other than that of the levitical priesthood, an older priesthood which was prior to it, and which was superior to it, a priesthood which had been allowed to drop into the background but would be revived on the coming of the Messiah. It is the priesthood which is the background to the High Priesthood of Jesus in Heaven. (Here read again the note on Mechizedek in the introduction to chapter 5). This priesthood is seen as doing away with all other priesthoods, because their ministries are thereby rendered no longer necessary, and its sole representative is seen as now in Heaven, high over all and active on behalf of His people.
It should be noted that Melchizedek is not to be thought of as important in himself. We are not intended to look to Melchizedek. Rather his importance lies in the type of priesthood that he reveals, and points forward to, a direct and eternal priesthood not mixed up with earthly paraphernalia. What the writer will seek to convey is not the idea of an unceasing Melchizedek, but of an unceasing, eternal and unique priesthood. It should, therefore, be noted in this regard that Jesus was not declared to be a Priest ‘of the order of’ Melchizedek, which might have been seen as making Him one of a number in the line of succession, He is called a Priest ‘after the order of’ (kata taxin) Melchizedek, that is, ‘in accordance with, connected with, of like pattern, of similar type to’. See verse 15 where ‘after the likeness of’ is paralleled with ‘after the order of’. The idea is not to link Jesus directly with Melchizedek, but to link Him with his type of royal priesthood. Indeed to speculate about Melchizedek is to miss the whole point.
What we are called on to see is that, as High Priest ‘after the likeness of Melchizedek’ (not limited by time and not tied to earthly ordinances), Jesus Himself has ‘passed through the heavens’ into the very presence of God (4.14), and that His is no earthly priesthood but a heavenly one. We are in other words to see what He is and what He has done for us. This consists in the fact that:
Thus having such a High Priest we now have no need of priests on earth, for He has replaced them all (8.4). We now only need Jesus Christ through Whom we can approach God directly.
Important to observe here is that He can now never be replaced, for He was appointed to this position by God’s everlasting oath (verse 21). There can thus be no other. And having suffered in order to perfect Himself for His role, He has become to all who obey Him the Author and Source of eternal salvation (5.6, 10). As such He has entered into the presence of God as our Forerunner, to prepare the way for us (6.20; see John 14.1-3). And all this as ‘a High Priest after the order of (in the likeness of) Melchizedek’, that is, as a priest unlimited by time and supreme, Whose priesthood preceded, and is far superior to, the levitical priesthood.
This looking back to the Melchizedek priesthood was not unique. There were around this time a number of widely differing speculations concerning Melchizedek. Once men begin to speculate on the unknown, anything can result! But to them it was Melchizedek who became important. In a document found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (11Q13) Melchizedek is presented as a future figure who will deliver the people. He is described in terms of "El" (God) and "Elohim" (elohim usually means ‘God’ but angels are also sometimes called ‘elohim’ to indicate heavenly status) and Isaiah 61.1-2 is quoted in reference to him. This redemption is also tied in with the Day of Atonement and the year of Jubilee, the year of liberty. Such speculation about Melchizedek seems to have been rife at the time for Philo, the Jewish philosopher in Egypt, also likened Melchizedek to the Logos, the eternal ‘reason’. There was thus a background at the time suggesting the continuing, almost divine, existence of Melchizedek, the priest-king. And some still follow that kind of speculation today.
But it should be carefully noted that the writer to the Hebrews does not follow this track. He does not see Melchizedek as a figure now active, nor point to him as someone now to be taken into account. His only concern with Melchizedek is simply to do with the fact that he helps to reveal the glory and superiority of the priesthood of Jesus. He is seen as background material. Nor does he identify Jesus with Melchizedek except as to His priesthood being ‘after the order of (of a similar type to) Melchizedek’.
So Jesus and Melchizedek are in no way seen by him as identical persons. Rather the mysterious Melchizedek is described in exalted terms in order to exalt Jesus. The writer makes quite clear that Melchizedek is very much an historical figure from the time of Abraham, and while admitting his mysteriousness and the longevity of his priesthood, quickly drops him from view in order to finally point to Jesus. Having been brought forward as an illustration of a type of priesthood Melchizedek himself is then thrust from sight. He is treated as history.
We may incidentally also note that the Qumran community believed in two Messiah's "the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel" (1Qs 9.10-11), a priestly Messiah and a kingly Messiah, which confirms the idea of a priestly Messiah. So there was much speculation at the time around this subject. It recognised that we needed both a King and a Priest. But we must recognise in that case that king and priest were kept separate. They saw no way of combining the two because they were bound to earthly considerations and restricted by the idea of a sole levitical priesthood. This was indeed the problem that pointing to Melchizedek was intended to solve.
So the importance of this priesthood of Melchizedek from the writer’s point of view lies in what it demonstrates. It is difficult for us at this time to appreciate the deep-rooted sense among Jews, and among many Jewish Christians, that the levitical priesthood was the only possible legitimate priesthood. It was after all appointed by God and had existed ‘unchanged’ for over a thousand years. It was something which they had been brought up with and regarded with awe. None other could surely therefore be contemplated. And tied to it was the whole Jewish ritual and the temple of God established in Jerusalem. It was all God ordained. How then could they look to any other?
But now for those who had believed in Jesus there had come a huge conflict of interest. Their Scriptures asserted the validity of the levitical priesthood, and revealed the God-ordained way in which they could receive atonement as given by Moses. And yet now the Messiah had come, to Whom those same Scriptures pointed, and He too had brought atonement. To whom then should they look? How could they reconcile the two? And anyone involved with an hierarchical priesthood might well ask the same question.
The writer’s reply is not to point to the need for a new priesthood on earth, but to declare that all such priesthoods are now irrelevant because the only One suited to act for us as priest is now in Heaven. That is why, he says, we no longer need to come to earthly priests to mediate for us, because we can come directly to our perfect mediator in Heaven.
Thus the importance of the Melchizedek priesthood in the writer’s eyes was that it introduced the most ancient of priesthoods, a priesthood that was in existence long before the time of Moses. Yet it was a Scriptural priesthood, and one that could easily be shown to be superior to the levitical priesthood. It was indeed one that was recognised by God and was itself confirmed by Moses. It thus enabled Jesus, even though He was not of the house of Levi, to be revealed, in a manner recognised by Scripture, as the One legitimate and heavenly priest, a priest in a greater and far better Tabernacle (8.2), without having to be connected with the earthly levitical priesthood or the Temple in any way. Indeed it did more, it revealed that it was a ‘royal priesthood’, combining both king and priest, that it was older than that of Aaron and non-ceasing, and that it was connected by Scripture with the Messianic triumph (Psalm 110.4-5), .
To sum up, it demonstrated an eternally God-ordained priesthood of a superior and unceasing kind, validated by Scripture, and preparing the way for the priesthood of the Messiah.
We note also that this particular passage here is dealing specifically with the idea of priesthood as such, not with high priesthood. It is not just the High Priesthood but the priesthood as a whole that is in mind. It deals with the whole question of who should represent us before God. (The high priesthood is in fact not mentioned (until verse 26), although it necessarily follows). And this is emphasised in that he quotes Psalm 110.4 in terms of ‘priest’ but makes no mention of High Priest, whereas when not quoting he refers to the order of Melchizedek in terms of ‘High Priest’ (5.10; 6.20). The reason is that here his comparison is with the whole concept of levitical priesthood, not just with the high priesthood.
Yet it is not a change of subject from High Priest (chapter 6) to priest. It rather demonstrates that he sees the priesthood and the High Priest as all part of the same function. The High Priest sums up the levitical priesthood. The levitical priesthood expands the High Priesthood. The priesthood is as it were an extension of the High Priest. And Jesus is seen as replacing all in Himself. He is not only a new High Priest, He is a new priesthood altogether. He in Himself replaces all other priesthoods.
The method of argument may seem a little strange to us. But in it all we should note two things. Firstly that he makes quite clear that Melchizedek is an historical figure who lived in the time of Abraham, and to whom Abraham submitted, both by giving tithes and receiving an official blessing, so that here was a greater than Abraham because of his royal priesthood.
And secondly that it is this priesthood, and not directly himself, that is somehow seen as permanent, unchanging and not connected with dying, simply because that is how Scripture reveals it. He is looking at a concept of priesthood, and at Melchizedek’s royal priesthood, and not at Melchizedek the man. He is not concerned to rationalise the two.
We must now consider the detail.
A Brief History of Melchizedek (7.1-3).
The writer begins by outlining who Melchizedek was. He wants us to know that he was not some outlandish heavenly figure, but a royal priest here on earth. And he then draws out significant features about him that reveal the similarities that there were between him and Jesus, while at the same time stressing that it was Melchizedek who was like Jesus, and pointed to Jesus, and not the other way round. Jesus the Son of God is the superior, and the One to Whom we should finally look. He preceded Melchizedek as ‘the Son’, and will exist eternally, long after Melchizedek has been forgotten. Indeed Melchizedek only comes into the reckoning at all because David inherited his priesthood, and it therefore became linked with the Davidic Messiah in Psalm 110.4. Had that not happened he would have remained as an obscure figure in Genesis. But as it is he appears as of crucial importance because of his Scriptural connection with the Messiah and His priesthood, that is, with Jesus Christ.
7. 1-3 ‘For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of God Most High, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham divided a tenth part of all (being first, by interpretation, King of righteousness, and then also King of Salem, which is King of peace), without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like to the Son of God, abides a priest continually.’
The writer first makes clear how we are to see Melchizedek, who he was and what his attributes were.
(From a historical point of view Melchizedek was, of course, a petty king of a small city state welcoming back a victorious petty tribal leader with whom he had a treaty, a tribal leader who occupied part of his territory and therefore owed him certain duties including a share in any spoils. But from a heavenly point of view the petty tribal leader in question was Abraham, the chosen of God, through whose seed the destiny of the world would be determined, and that therefore puts Melchizedek and his priesthood in a totally different light, and it is contrasted with Abraham to Melchizedek’s advantage. The writer is not interested in how secular history saw them, he is concerned with how Scripture and salvation history portrays them.
It was clearly significant to the writer that the background to his priesthood, although unquestionably accepted by God, did not depend on tracing descent, and was not time-limited. In other words Scripture when considering him was not concerned with the question of his descent, for his priesthood was not seen as depending on that. It was a God-allocated priesthood.
This was as different from the levitical priesthood as it could possibly be. In the levitical priesthood everything was seen to depend on descent. It was closely tied to earth and to history.
So as far as Scripture was concerned therefore, the Melchizedekian priesthood was not specifically tied down to earthly connections or earthly time, no information about its source, or beginning or end was made available in Scripture, and no one knew anything about its antecedents or of its end. Such things were clearly not considered important to that priesthood. It continued for ever, being as it were ‘manned’ by a royal house, by a succession of kings. So all that mattered was that ‘he is’ by virtue of his kingship. He lived on in his house. There it was and there it continued.
The importance of this lies in the fact that this was in complete contrast to the Levitical priesthood where all such requirements were emphasised and laid down and required to be known in great detail before a man could become a priest.
At this point therefore we should perhaps consider how the levitical priesthood contrasts with Melchizedek’s priesthood, so as to bring out the significance of this. Mechizedek’s priesthood was;
In fact full genealogies had to be produced for every prospective priest. Their genealogy had to be traced and demonstrated, otherwise they could not be priests (Ezra 2.62-63; Nehemiah 7.63-65). They were very much tied to earthly descent.
(This was also actually in contrast with the High Priesthood (often spoken of in terms of ‘the Priest’) which commenced on appointment and finished at death. Once a High Priest, always a High Priest. But even for him the beginning and ending of each High Priesthood was emphasised. His death was seen as the end of an era).
Thus the wording of this verse has the levitical priesthood in mind as being in contrast to that of Melchizedek.
As priest Melchizedek was in contrast to all this. He was a figure without an earthly identification priestwise. His descent was not important. He was simply there. He came on to the scene mysteriously and he went equally mysteriously. As spoken of in Scripture he had no known beginning and he had no known ending. He was not connected with any known genealogy, and thus not limited to any tribe. His priesthood went with his kingship. It was simply recognised. And yet in Scripture he was clearly greater than Abraham, God’s chosen one. It was the basis of a unique type of priesthood.
Had he not been spoken of in Scripture, Jews would have frowned on all this. To Jews such genealogical information as is mentioned here was considered vital for a priest. It established his credentials. How else could a person be seen as being of a God-ordained priesthood? they would have argued. Thus this priesthood by their standards seemed to be lacking credentials. And yet they could not refute the fact that it was acknowledged by God and by Scripture, and therefore could not be denied. Thus the priesthood of anyone connected with it must also be recognised by God.
And that is directly the writer’s point. Melchizedek was a true priest, yet not a levitical priest, and not limited like levitical priests were. He appeared as from God and as authorised by God, and as accepted by Abraham, no limits were put on his priesthood, and his priesthood continued on through the line of David until it reappeared in Psalm 110.4. Here was an accepted and genuine priesthood, a royal priesthood, that was acknowledged by God apparently from the beginning and yet was not levitical, and had no known restrictions with regard to its beginning or ending. It was unique, being ever there in the background, and was passed on to David when he became King in Jerusalem. And it was later, in the Psalms, spoken of as continuing in existence in the house of David, to finally flower in the coming of the Messiah.
So as we have seen the requirements for his priesthood are all in direct contrast with the levitical priests. In their case their father and mother had to be known and had to be strictly acceptable. Their case was rigidly scrutinised. If there was any doubt they could not be accepted. The father must be a priest of true descent, the mother an established Israelite. Their genealogy had to be traced, otherwise they could not be priests (Ezra 2.62-63; Nehemiah 7.63-65). And they had both ‘a beginning of days’ and ‘an end of life’. None of this was true of him or expected of him. He stood above it all.
‘Beginning of days.’ Whether this refers to birth, or the beginning of their priesthood, the main point is that the date had to be known so as to reckon when someone could be initiated as a levitical priest. His priesthood was limited and tied to earth and to time.
‘End of life.’ Again whether this refers either to the age of retirement from priesthood, the ‘end of his life’ as a priest, or to his actual death, either way there came a time when their priesthood identifiably ceased. All priests were temporary, and limited by time limits. It was a shared, and tightly regulated, and limited priesthood, constantly being replenished because of the passing of time as one set of priests followed another in the priestly service. It was an in-out priesthood.
Assuming that it followed the Levite pattern full priesthood lasted twenty years. Their period of priesthood was thus strictly limited. And we can see why they might have seen the end of their active priesthood as ‘the end of life’.
On the other hand the priesthood of Melchizedek was in complete contrast to the levitical priesthood. His appears to have had continuing permanence while theirs was merely temporary. His was not restricted by such rules. He was never time-barred. His priesthood went with his kingship and went on and on. It was permanent and never (in Scripture) linked with death.
But what was even more significant was that this same priesthood suddenly emerges in Scripture again, a second time, in Psalm 110. 4, as continuing to exist, and there Melchizedek is mentioned, not as himself living, but as the one whose priesthood was the pattern of that of the coming king who would establish God’s everlasting rule (Psalm 110.5). It is not said in the Psalm that Melchizedek was at that time himself living. What it reveals is that the priesthood connected with him was seen as long lasting. It had long preceded the time of Aaron and would go on beyond the end of time, with no known interruptions, and no regulations as to genealogy. It had no known beginning or ending.
And another factor to be taken into account was that Melchizedek’s priesthood was not only more ancient than that of the Levites, but it was to be seen as superior to that of Abraham, the father of the Levites. This is demonstrated by the fact that he received tithes from Abraham and gave him an official blessing. This was not just a general blessing, but an official blessing such as a superior priest gives to an inferior. Something of the exceptional was therefore to be perceived about him as far as his priesthood was concerned. He was before the Law, outside the Law, superior to those who ministered in the Tabernacle, and even superior to the one who received the promises. How great then was the priesthood that was connected with him.
‘But made like to the Son of God, he abides a priest continually.’ And this is the final point. That as far as Scripture usage is concerned he was actually in Scripture ‘made like to the Son of God’, to Jesus Christ, in the way that his priesthood is presented and appears as unlimited, and as going on and on. He stands out, and was intended to stand out, as an example of eternal priesthood. His priesthood was pictured in the same way as that of the Son of God really is. No beginning or end is pointed to. It was seen as unceasing, not limited by time rules. It stretched from at least the time of Abraham to the time of the Psalmist, and then was to go onwards in the Davidic representative (not be it noted in Melchizedek himself), and on to the great day of God’s triumph, and therefore it was seen as being permanent and everlasting.
Here then, he says, is the picture revealed in Scripture by Melchizedek, the picture of an unceasing, continuing, eternal priesthood, not connected with Aaron, and in fact superior to that of Aaron. And that is why, he explains, we cannot doubt his greatness. It is necessary here, however, to emphasise that it is Melchizedek who is said to have been ‘made like to’ the Son of God, and not vice versa. He illustrates what the Son of God is like with regard to priesthood. He was there as an illustration on earth, as ‘a type’, as preparatory to the eternal Son of God revealing Himself. He was, preparatory and secondary.
For in 1.1-3, where the essence of the Son of God is declared in all His eternal power and glory, Jesus also is depicted as being without beginning and without end in a much deeper sense. He is seen as appointed heir of all things and proceeds to create the world. He has no beginning. And then He proceeds to sitting at God’s right hand having accomplished His purposes. He has no ending.
So Melchizedek in his small way is portrayed precisely like this, as an illustration of this and as being ‘made’ for this very purpose. His sudden appearance in Scripture, says the writer, was not accidental. It was in order to illustrate the eternal High Priest, Who was already invisible in Heaven, and to demonstrate that there was such a priesthood, even before levitical priesthood was introduced.
Indeed we should carefully note another fact and that is that as far as Scripture is concerned Melchizedek was not only a unique priest but was a priest who preceded all other earthly priesthood. In Genesis, where all things began, there is no other priesthood mentioned than that of Melchizedek. As far as Genesis was concerned he was ‘the priest’. He did not appear as another priest, he was the only mentioned priest of God, a figure of the eternal priesthood. He was thus the prime example of such priesthood long predating Moses.
And, says the writer, his appearance in Scripture and his mention here is precisely because he was ‘made like to the Son of God’ as far as priesthood is concerned. That is why he is introduced and comes on the scene. For in the end this passage is not about Melchizedek but is demonstrating the unique Priesthood of the Son of God (verses 11-28), which preceded, was superior to, and outlasted, the levitical priesthood.
It should be noted that using Jewish methodology the writer was not trying to give a true vignette of the man Melchizedek as he was. He was presenting a picture of his priesthood as it was seen to be from Scripture as the picture of an unceasing heavenly reality. It is his unlimited priesthood, not Melchizedek himself, that he is interested in, and it is that that the writer is really depicting as not beginning and not ending, revealing him as one ‘not having beginning of days or end of life’ (thus permanent and never time barred), and as not needing to be replaced.
So in the beginning, the writer is saying, before ever there was a Law, there was only one priesthood, and it is this priesthood which is depicted as a continual priesthood, never ceasing, never ending, for had it not been so, he reasoned, God would surely have drawn attention to such limits as He did with the levitical priesthood. For the Jews saw the Scriptures as the words of the Holy Spirit, and considered that what the Scriptures omitted was often as important as what they said.
So the man is in the end incidental. He quickly disappears from view, and is clearly in the past. What is seen as in being, and as continuing onwards, is his priesthood, ever there in the background, and especially as epitomised in the Son of God.
The Greatness Of Melchizedek and His Priesthood Compared With Abraham (7.4-10).
Now he emphasises, that while Scripture says nothing to limit his priesthood to time, it does very much reveal the superiority of this early priesthood in its relations with God’s people, for that is shown firstly, by the fact that he received tithes from Abraham, and by implication received them from his descendants; secondly in that he blesses Abraham, rather than being blessed by Abraham; and thirdly in that his priesthood is seen as continual. All these factors reveal the superiority of this priesthood which long pre-dated the levitical priesthood.
7.4 ‘Now consider how great this one was, to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth out of the chief spoils.’
He now proves his case. Let them consider the details of the dealings of this unique priest with Abraham in Scripture. For there his greatness is fully revealed in that as priest of the Most High God he received tithes from Abraham. And yet no one would deny that Abraham was himself the mighty Patriarch, father of Israel (and therefore of Levi), the augmenter of God’s new purposes, the great victor over the nations. Thus this demonstrated Melchizedek’s greatness, and the superiority of his priesthood, to any that could be applied to Abraham, for it is those who are appointed as priests by God over others who receive tithes, especially the tithes which are from, literally, the very ‘top of the pile’ (the chief spoils), and it is they who are seen as ‘great’. So while Abraham as ‘family priest’ was great, there was clearly an even greater priesthood stated as being in existence, represented by Melchizedek the priest-king.
7.5 ‘And they indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest's office have commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though these have come out of the loins of Abraham.’
This argument about tithes is now illustrated from the fact that the levitical priests, descended from Levi’s ‘sons’, themselves received tithes from the people by God’s commandment due to their status as God’s chosen priests, as great ones, even though they were described as subject to death. They received them by virtue of their office. And these were gathered for them by the Levites. And the reason they received them was that they had a divine right to receive such tithes according to the Law precisely because they were priests, even though humanly speaking they came from the same roots as the people, from the loins of Abraham. This receiving of tithes demonstrated their rights and uniqueness as priests, demonstrating that they were truly God’s chosen priests, that they were greater than the people.
However, while that was so, their being from the loins of Abraham shows that they were inferior to Melchizedek, and post-dated Melchizedek. For Abraham, their ‘father’, gave tithes to Melchizedek, and therefore being ‘in the loins of Abraham’ they also in Abraham gave Melchizedek tithes. So Melchizedek in his priesthood was greater than and anterior to them.
The picture is therefore clear. The people gave tithes to the Levites, the Levites gave tithes to the priests, and the priests (in Abraham) gave tithes to the priesthood of Melchizedek, all in ascending order. The Melchizedekian priesthood was thus greater than all.
Note the emphasis on ‘sons of Levi’. While this description may be strictly more historically correct, by custom he could normally have simply said ‘Levi’. However here he wished to indicate that Levi died, and his sons were born and they died, and so on. The family produced a priesthood that was subject to death, generation after generation, from a family that was subject to death. This in contrast to the priesthood of Melchizedek where there is no mention of death and the appointing of a new priest.
‘According to the Law.’ All their rights were based on the Law. They had no claims beyond what the Law gave them. Their appointment was by the Law. They taught the Law. They carried through the Law. They were subject to the Law. But Melchizedek was outside and above the Law.
7.6-7 ‘But he whose genealogy is not counted from them has taken tithes of Abraham, and has blessed him who has the promises. But without any dispute the less is blessed of the better.’
Melchizedek’s right to be seen as a priest to Abraham, the ‘father’ of Levi, is demonstrated by his pre-dating the Law and by his receiving tithes from Abraham. His priesthood was thus ‘not counted from them’, for he was not of the tribe of Levi (as his lack of genealogy demonstrates), and pre-dated them. He was not tied down to a genealogy. And yet he not only took tithes from Abraham, but he also blessed him, long before the levitical priesthood appeared, at a time when the original promises were being given. So here was a twofold evidence of his superiority as priest to Abraham, the receiving of tithes and the giving of an official blessing to the one who was the recipient of ‘the promises’. The blessing is especially significant, for it again demonstrates his overall superiority as priest, because unquestionably (in those days) the one who gave an official blessing was the superior of the one who was blessed (compare Deuteronomy 21.5. See also Luke 24.50).
‘Abraham -- who has the promises.’ What a remarkable thing was this. Here was the man to whom God gave the initial promises by which God’s people (and God’s priesthood) were founded, and through whom He had established them, and yet instead of him blessing Melchizedek, Melchizedek, appearing as a priest already in existence, blessed him. How great then was Mechizedek’s priesthood! It came directly from God. For the specific point is made here that Abraham was living at the time of receiving the promises which long pre-dated the time of the Law. And yet he was still inferior to the priesthood of Melchizedek. Thus Melchizedek had a continually existing priesthood before the Law at the time of the prior promises, and was greater than Abraham and his priesthood and thus preceded and was superior to the levitical priesthood.
7.8 ‘ And here men who die receive tithes, but there one, of whom it is witnessed that he lives.’
He then adds that here on earth the priests who receive tithes are mortal men, they are depicted as ‘men who die’ (the noun ‘men’ is specifically included for emphasis, they are all ‘as but men’), and yet they still receive tithes. For even though they are destined to die, and their deaths will be recorded (e.g. Numbers 20.24-29), within their limited priesthood they still receive tithes.
How much more then should that priest receive tithes whose beginning or ending is not recorded or stipulated, who is not spoken of as dying, who bears no taint of death in the description of him, who is simply described as ‘living’, and whose priesthood disappears into oblivion (as far as Scripture is concerned), but only for his priesthood to come out from that oblivion in a time to come, the time of the Psalmist in Psalm 110, so that he was then seen as living on in the Messianic priest. Thus, as far as the records go, he was, at least in as far as his priesthood was concerned, shown to be ‘still living’ on in some way. Had it not been so his priesthood could not be a pattern for the Davidic priesthood.
The point being made is that ageing and death are nowhere directly connected with his priesthood. It is simply there. That there is no record of beginnings or endings, which were clearly not important to his priesthood, and his priesthood (but not he himself) continues in the time of the Psalmist. And that there is therefore no suggestion in Scripture of the cessation of his priesthood. His priesthood is depicted as having been in existence from the beginning and to continue as an undying priesthood in quite the opposite way to the levitical priesthood which is very much connected with beginnings and endings, with living and dying, and as being earthly. He can therefore be seen as representing ‘a continually existing priesthood’ to whom no shadow of death is applied, a perfect ‘type’ of our everlasting High Priest.
‘Of whom it is witnessed that he lives.’ These words can be interpreted in different ways. Some see them as specifically indicating that Melchizedek never died. This seems unlikely to be the writer’s intention as otherwise he would surely have brought the fact out more clearly and emphasised it more. The passage as a whole does not give the impression of the eternity of Melchizedek. Indeed apart from his being an example of a unique priesthood he is not seen as over-important except in terms of Abraham’s day. All the emphasis is on the superiority of his priesthood, and once that is established he himself disappears, and just fades from the scene. It is his priesthood that is seen as still living on. And this is precisely because the writer is not primarily concerned with Melchizedek but with his priesthood. Indeed in context the Psalmist indicates that another is to arise in a like priesthood, ‘another priest’, taking up all priesthood into Himself, suggesting that Melchizedek is in fact then no longer around (verse 11). He is of the past.
Others consider that it is intended to indicate that his priesthood is described (‘it is witnessed’) as continuing, as ‘living’, with no mention of death, so that death is not linked with his priesthood, and he lives on in his priesthood. Death is ignored. His priesthood lives on, even though unheralded in Scripture, until Psalm 110.4, until the perfect Priest comes. We often say of some great person, ‘he will never die, he lives on in his achievements (or his writings)’. Thus did the writer see Melchizedek as living on in his priesthood, just as David lived on in his sons.
And still others consider that it indicates that he had no retirement age at which he ‘died as a priest’ like the levitical priests did, and that in his case he ‘lived on’, his priesthood continued on until he literally died, and then he lived on in his successors. His priesthood was thus never brought to an abrupt halt as with the levitical priests who had a signing off date. (Although in that case ‘living on’ could also have been said to be true of the Aaronic High Priest. However, even their deaths were heavily emphasised. Their deaths brought in a new era - Numbers 35.25, 28).
In view of the importance in Israel of the idea of the ‘taint of death’ (which rendered unclean), and the general indication that Melchizedek himself is not otherwise seen as living on, the second seems the most likely meaning intended.
7.9-10 ‘And, so to say, through Abraham even Levi, who receives tithes, has paid tithes, for he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchizedek met him.’
And to add to all this we must recognise that even Levi, himself the father of the Levites and of the levitical priesthood, paid tithes to Melchizedek. And this was because he was in the loins of Abraham when Abraham did so, as were his descendants. That means that not only did Abraham pay tithes to Melchizedek, but also, in him, so did Levi and Aaron and so did all the high priests and the levitical priesthood. They were always all inferior to the priesthood of Melchizedek.
Therefore speaking in Jewish terms a mass of evidence has demonstrated the superiority of Melchizedek’s priesthood to that of Aaron.
He was thus a true pattern of the Messiah (although not being the Messiah). Until the revealing of Christ’s unlimited priesthood, no priesthood was greater or more permanent than the priesthood of Melchizedek. It was superior in every way.
Comparison Between Christ’s Priesthood and the Levitical Priesthood (7.11-25).
Having established the superiority and permanence of the Melchizedekian priesthood, the writer now applies its superiority to Jesus as the Psalmist himself is seen as doing in Psalm 110.4. He has already cited Psalm 110.4 and applied it to Jesus as the One Who has ascended into Heaven as a High Priest after the likeness of Melchizedek (5.6, 10; 6.20), because He was the Messiah Who was in view in Psalm 110. Now he draws from that fact the inevitable conclusions.
7.11 ‘Now if there was perfection through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people have 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?’
What, he asks, does all this prove? It proves that the fact that another priest of a different order and likeness (‘after the order/likeness of Melchizedek’) had, according to the Psalmist, to arise, demonstrates the insufficiency of the levitical priesthood, and consequently of the Law. It demonstrates that it had not replaced the earlier priesthood. For had the levitical priesthood been perfect in accomplishing its purpose of bringing men eternally to God, and making them acceptable eternally to God, no other further priesthood would again have been needed and the Law would have been vindicated.
True, these priests gave people the Law, and they taught and instructed them, and they must not be denigrated, but the need for a further priest ‘after the likeness of Melchizedek’ is specifically indicated by the Psalmist when speaking by the Holy Spirit, and that could only mean therefore that another of the order of the levitical priesthood would have been insufficient. It is thus seen as significant that once God wanted to establish a new everlasting priesthood he did not look to the levitical priesthood, but to the Melchizedekian type of priesthood. This demonstrates the levitical priesthood to be lacking. Otherwise why the need for someone of another type of priesthood?
And as we have seen this other order is of a priesthood superior to Abraham, (and therefore to all who followed him and traced their descent to him). It pre-existed the levitical priesthood, and gives the appearance of being untainted by death. It blessed Abraham, who was in turn the one through whom the whole world was to be blessed. And as the Psalmist declared, this priesthood is the right and privilege of the continuing house of David and of the Messiah in particular. How great it then is, and how great is the Messiah.
‘If there was perfection.’ This is what it is all about, the search for a perfect High Priest Who can perfectly represent us and perfectly atone for us. And this was not found in the levitical priesthood, but it is found in the One Who is after the likeness of Melchizedek.
(It should possibly be noted here that had this been written after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, which resulted in the cessation of the priestly activity of the levitical priesthood, it seems quite inconceivable that the writer should not have seized on that fact when he is concentrating so much on the temporary nature of the levitical priesthood compared with the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, even though admittedly he was not concerned with recent priesthood. This is further confirmation that it was written earlier).
7.12 ‘For the priesthood being changed, there becomes of necessity a change also of the law.’
But if the levitical priesthood is replaced by the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, as the Psalmist is basically declaring, huge consequences follow. The whole situation with regard to the Law changes. For it was the levitical priests who were appointed by the Law to supervise the Law, but the Melchizedekian priesthood precedes the Law, just as Abraham preceded the Law. It existed in the time of promise and was not subject to the Law, and does not have to act in accordance with the Law. Something greater has taken over. The way of the Law has been replaced by the way of the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. And this is the way of the promises given to Abraham.
7.13 ‘For he of whom these things are said belongs to another tribe, from which no man has given attendance at the altar.’
And this is demonstrated by the fact that that High Priest of Whom these things are said, our Lord Himself, is from a different tribe than Levi, a tribe from which no man has given attendance at the altar (has directly offered sacrifices), nor has the right to under the Law. If then He became High Priest the Law must in some way have been superseded, it must be under a different Law, a prior Law, a different way of managing things, a different ‘household economy’, a different stewardship, for under the old He could not be a priest. Indeed even the altar must have been superseded (compare 13.10).
7.14 ‘For it is evident that our Lord has sprung (or ‘has risen’) out of Judah, as to which tribe Moses said nothing concerning priests.’
For, as is made abundantly clear, our Lord in his humanity sprang, not from the tribe of Levi but from the tribe of Judah, like a plant from its root (Isaiah 11.1), or like the sun arising and shining out in the morning. He has sprung up and is here. And yet Moses in his Law said nothing about the tribe of Judah having anything to do with priesthood. Thus by becoming High Priest He must be operating under a different Law, a different divine way of doing things, based on different principles. He is thus not under the Law. (It was in fact on the basis of the Melchizedekian priesthood, which long preceded the Law but which in its present representatives did spring out of Judah (Psalm 110.4), for the Davidic kings were of Judah).
Note carefully the introduction here of the term ‘our Lord’. Jesus has previously only appeared as ‘the Lord’ in Hebrews 2.3 when in direct contrast with, and as replacing, the old order. So here again He has sprung up as replacing the old order. In Him Judah has replaced Levi, and the royal priesthood has replaced the dying priesthood. He is not only our priest, He is our Lord.
(Connection of Melchizedek with a Davidic priesthood, a priesthood for the house of Judah, as in the Psalm, in fact came from an older Law, the law of succession in ancient Jerusalem once David had captured it (see the introduction to chapter 5). But the writer was not thinking in those terms. He was looking more at what Scripture actually revealed, either by word or by silence).
7.15-17 ‘And it is yet more abundantly evident, if after the likeness of Melchizedek there arises another priest, who has been made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless (or ‘indissoluble’) life. For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”.’
And this fact of operating under a different way of divine management especially comes out in that this Priest, the Messiah, has arisen after the likeness of Melchizedek. And His arising was not as a result of following the principle of some fleshly commandment tied to earth, but as a result of possessing the power of an endless, indissoluble life. His source is heavenly not earthly. His appointment was not under the Law, for the Law of a fleshly (and therefore temporary and dying) commandment which can only say, ‘do this and you will live’, has been replaced by the power of indissoluble life, something clear from the words of His institution, “You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” . Note the contrasts. ‘Law’ (principle) is contrasted with ‘power’. Earthly intention is replaced by heavenly effectiveness. It is the contrast of a ‘fleshly (human, liable to decay, temporary) commandment’ with the idea of ‘indissoluble (spiritual, permanent, everlasting) life’. In the end it is a contrast of total death with total life. So the Mechizedekian priesthood has a further thing going for it, it is rooted in everlasting life, in unceasing life, in life which cannot cease or be destroyed, and not in death and earthiness and fleshliness and constant demands.
‘And it is yet more abundantly evident.’ What is? Probably he means that the law must necessarily change is more abundantly evident, or possibly he is referring to the superiority of the one priesthood over against the other. Both in fact go together.
‘After the likeness of Melchizedek.’ Confirming that ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ signifies ‘after the likeness of his priesthood’.
‘There arises.’ In accordance with the divine purpose.
7.18-19 ‘For there is a disannulling of a foregoing commandment because of its weakness and unprofitability, (for the law made nothing perfect), and a bringing in, as a result, of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.’
As a result the ‘foregoing’ commandment, which was weak and unprofitable, is annulled, because it failed in its purpose of achieving perfection, and is replaced by a ‘better hope’, through which we can draw near to God. There is a contrast here between ‘the disannulling of a foregoing commandment’ looking back to the past, and ‘the bringing in of a better hope’ looking forward to the future.
For in all this the old commandment that was in control before is disannulled, cancelled, because of its weakness and unprofitability, that is, because the Law in fact made nothing perfect in connection with salvation. It was unable itself to save, for its ordinances could only waive sin in a temporary fashion, as is evident from its continual repetition, and its moral requirements could only condemn sinful man. It thus could not deliver from sin. For it could not finally bring men to God in permanent forgiveness and restoration.
And thus if a solution was to be found there necessarily had to arise, as a result, a better hope, something more reliable, no, rather, Someone more reliable, through Whom we may draw near to God. Our hope (confident certainty) is no longer to be fixed on a failing law and its fading ordinances, but on our better Hope which is sure and certain.
Here we have the parallel idea to Paul’s ‘works’ and ‘faith’. The one disbanded, the other confident and sure. It is the idea reflected in 6.18-20.
7.20-22 ‘And inasmuch as it is not without the taking of an oath, (for they indeed have been made priests without an oath; but he with an oath by him that says of him, The Lord swore and will not repent himself, You are a priest for ever), by so much also has Jesus become the surety of a better covenant.’
And the superiority of this coming dispensation, this new way of management, this new household economy, this new divine order, under a better covenant, is emphasised by the fact that with regard to it Jesus was instituted as High Priest by an oath, so that there was no possibility of a ‘change of mind’. It is guaranteed to be permanent and eternal, for this is sworn by God. It is a priesthood that cannot change.
Such an oath was something that never happened under the old priesthood. That was dependent on a breakable covenant. But this new institution was established under the oath of God precisely because it was intended to be eternal, and everlastingly guaranteed, as Psalm 110.4 demonstrates. The result is that the High Priesthood in question is a better and more permanent High Priesthood, and it indicates that Jesus has become the surety and guarantee of a better covenant, a new and superior covenant, an unfailing covenant. We no longer live under the old covenant but under a new, one that has been instituted under God’s personal oath. It is a covenant which along with our great High Priest is eternal. It is a covenant which will be expanded on shortly in chapter 8.
Under the old covenant agreement the old priesthood was given to the descendants of Aaron ‘under the covenant of an everlasting priesthood’ (Numbers 25.13). It was a priesthood promised for ever as long as there was faithfulness to the covenant. But there was not faithfulness to the covenant. The covenant was broken because of sin, failure and misuse, and because of the inadequacy of the priesthood, and the helplessness of the Law, and the priesthood therefore failed. However the new covenant is seen to be under God’s oath, and is guaranteed by Jesus through His incarnation as perfect representative man, and through His death, resurrection, exaltation and eternal priesthood. It is therefore sure for ever. (And thus no other covenant or different dispensation will ever be required).
7.23-24 ‘And they indeed have been made priests many in number, because that by death they are hindered from continuing, but he, because he abides for ever, has his priesthood unchangeable.’
Again the point is drawn out that the levitical priests were numerous and constantly changing because death prevented them from continuing. There was constant fluctuation. But He on the other hand continues on permanently. He abides for ever. Therefore His priesthood is unchanging, and there can thus be no argument about the superiority of the new priesthood and the new covenant, for they are eternal.
7.25 ‘Wherefore also he is able to save to the uttermost those who continually draw near to God through him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them.’
And as a result of the fact that He lives eternally (‘wherefore’) He is able to save utterly in every way, both to the uttermost length of time and to the uttermost extent, those who continually draw near to God through Him (compare 4.16). And this is precisely because He lives continually, because He ever lives, for this very purpose of making intercession for them. He ever speaks for them. He ever pleads for them as their representative. He ever points to His sacrifice for them. He is an eternal priest Who when called upon can and does intercede for His own throughout all time and beyond.
An example of such intercession can be found in John 17 where Jesus interceded for His disciples in preparation for what they must shortly face, that they might be kept from evil and sanctified in the truth; and also in the case where He said to Peter, ‘I have prayed for you that your faith shall not fail’ (Luke 22.32). So does He now continually intercede for His own that our faith will not fail.
Note the clear contrasts given which reveal the superiority of Christ’s priesthood, revealing a better power, a better hope, a better covenant and a better priesthood.
A Final Description of Jesus In His Status As High Priest (7.26-28).
Having demonstrated that the priesthood of Jesus is older and of a higher level and of more value than that of Aaron the writer now caps his words by a description of Him as our great High Priest. He has previously established His greater priesthood. Now he applies the idea to Him as High Priest. He is a greater High Priest.
7.26-27 ‘For such a high priest became us, holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens, who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, (first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people), for this he did once for all, when he offered up himself.’
Summing up then he describes the superiority of Jesus to earthly High Priests. What He is in His very nature and in His continual behaviour shows that He is the kind of High Priest that we need, that He is ‘becoming’ to us. That He fits in with our requirements. And this is so for the following reasons.
In mind in the idea of separation from sinners may be the fact that the High Priest would separate himself from all possible taint preparatory to great feasts. So did Jesus separate Himself from all that could defile, but with the difference that Jesus was permanently separated from all taint from the beginning. He did it from birth. And He alone could not be rendered unclean, either by touching the dead (Luke 8.54 compare Luke 7.14), or touching the leper (Mark 1.41), for He was above death and above disease. They vanished at His touch.
Thus is He equipped in every way to act as our High Priest.
‘Who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people.’ For He does not have first to be concerned about His own sins. These words ‘to offer up sacrifices’ cover all offerings and sacrifices, from the regular daily offerings, and the voluntary daily offerings and sacrifices, through all the multitude of offerings and sacrifices throughout the year, to those of the great Day of Atonement. All were necessary to cover the sins of the High Priest and the sins of the people. The continual offering of ‘offerings and sacrifices’ was a never-ending round which unceasingly took up the services of the priesthood under the High Priest, in direct contrast to the once-for-all nature of Christ’s own sacrifice.
‘First for his own sins.’ This applies to each High Priest. Such an offering for the High Priest’s own sins was specifically required on the Day of Atonement but it was intrinsic in the daily offerings which were for all, including the High Priest. He represented the people, as having been drawn from among them, sinful as they were sinful. Thus the High Priest constantly had to offer sacrifices for himself, as he did also for the people. This whole statement thus covers all aspects of what the High Priest has to offer for both himself and the people. His offering for himself must logically come first, even if contained in one sacrifice for all, for without his being atoned for he could not offer sacrifices for others. Thus the daily sacrifices, which were for all, included him within them, and were seen as atoning for him first and then for them, something which found detailed expression on the Day of Atonement. He stood there on behalf of the whole people, which included himself.
‘To offer up sacrifices --- for this He did once for all, when He offered up Himself.’ But in contrast, rather than being sinful and needing atonement, Jesus Christ was so blameless, so perfect, that without needing to deal with the problem of His own sins because He was without sin, He was able to offer Himself up as a sacrifice, as the means of ‘atonement’ (putting them at one with God) for others. That is, He offered Himself up for the sins of the people, as a means of purification (1.3) so that they might be cleansed, and as a means of propitiation (2.17) so that God’s aversion to their sin might be removed. For Jesus’ one offering of Himself as the one total and complete offering and sacrifice for sin was sufficient once-for-all, for all time, in all circumstances, to cover all possible sin and defilement, on behalf of all who believed in Him.
This last was not a sacrifice contrary to Jewish Law, even though it was not offered by levitical priests, for it was a type of sacrifice not catered for by the Law, one requiring a unique priest. Nor was the blood to be presented in the Temple, or in any earthly sanctuary. It was to be presented in Heaven (8.3; 9.11-12). It therefore had to be offered by a priest qualified for the purpose, and thus necessarily not of Aaronic descent, for they were only appointed to act on earth. It required an eternal High Priest, One Who was perfected (verse 28), for it was not in fact an offering that a levitical priest was qualified to offer. It was not prescribed by the Law. (If we wanted to be pedantic we could point out that in fact the Aaronic priests did offer Him up, for they handed Him over to the Roman authorities to do just that, and spoke of Him as ‘dying for the nation’ (John 11.50-51). But that is not what is in mind).
7.28 ‘For the law appoints men high priests, having infirmity, but the word of the oath, which was after the law, appoints a Son, perfected for evermore.’
For the situation can be summed up in these words. The Law appoints men who are weak, and have blemishes and insufficiencies, and are mortal, to be their High Priests. It is an earthly Law. But the word of God’s oath, which is after (later than) the Law, appoints a Son, One totally perfect in every respect, everlasting, and perfected for the High Priestly work for evermore. The Law thus partially fails men, but God’s oath in Christ provides all that men need.
So does he demonstrate that the Aaronic priesthood, which was so revered by the Jews, is in fact, by the Old Testament itself, looked on as deficient and needing to be replaced, and along with it the old Law and the old covenant. And this, he has explained, is what Jesus Christ in fact came to do.
We may close this chapter by summarising the superiority of Christ’s High Priesthood.
Let them then choose which priesthoood they would prefer.
Chapter 8. Jesus Our Great High Priest And The New Covenant.
This chapter continues where the previous chapter left off. The writer had amply demonstrated that Jesus Christ was proclaimed to be a priest, and a High Priest, and that not of the Levitical order, but ‘after the order (likeness) of Melchizedek’. This, he argued, therefore meant that there would be a change of law and a new and better covenant. It was necessarily so because the old Law and the old covenant were ministered by the levitical priesthood and had failed. And besides, having already described precisely the type of High Priest Jesus is (7.26-28), it should be obvious to all that the old priesthood was finished. For the new sacrifice of Himself that Jesus has offered could not be offered under the old priesthood. There is thus no point in seeking back to them. And if they look to the new and better sacrifice it requires a new and better priesthood. He now continues with this theme.
In the course of the chapter he declares,
And yet in all this he gives due honour to the old, for he is not seeking to denigrate it but to put it in its proper place, as an honourable priesthood that had fulfilled an important function.
We should perhaps note what is apparent from all this. Firstly that Jesus was made High Priest while on earth, but as a minister of the heavenly Tabernacle, connecting earth with Heaven. For it was as High Priest that He offered Himself as a sacrifice (7.27) on an ‘altar’ (through the cross - 13.10) appointed by God outside Jerusalem. This fact that it was outside Jerusalem is later emphasised (13.12). The earthly ‘holy city’ is seen as ‘the camp’, that is the equivalent of the old camp of Israel in the wilderness, under the jurisdiction of the levitical priesthood, outside which must be put all that was unclean, and outside which was burned as belonging to God all that was excessively holy. And so Jesus, Who was condemned as unclean, but was in fact truly holy, was thrust out of the camp, bearing the reproach that was thrust on Him. But that He was there ‘sacrificed’ indicates, as the whole context requires, a priesthood on earth but outside the camp, just as Melchizedek came out of Jerusalem to perform his functions with Abraham.
And secondly that from there He passed through the heavens so as to present the blood of the sacrifice before God (4.14; 9.11,12).
It is a salutary thought that the holy city thrust Him out to die thus making the ground outside the holy city the most holy ground on earth, while the city itself, no longer holy, was thus opened to the Roman destruction. For those who believed in Jesus, God’s High Priest, there could be no return to Jerusalem’s priesthood, nor indeed to Jerusalem, a lesson hardly learned yet by Christians. (How extraordinary that some would seek for the restoring of the levitical priesthood and the failing sacrifices, pretending that the latter are the same as in the Old Testament and yet having to admit that they are not the same. In the light of Hebrews it is inconceivable. All these were shadows pointing forward to the greater Reality and had now ceased because the Reality had come).
For the true sanctuary was now in Heaven, and with the veil removed. And once His blood had been shed on earth, where the sins that made it necessary had been committed, it was presented once-for-all before the throne. The result was that, having made the one sacrifice for sin for ever, He sat down at God’s right hand in Heaven to continue His ministry of administering the new covenant and to intercede for His own. From then on no inner court was necessary. No altar was required. No further sacrifices needed to be offered. All who now came, came through Him, and entered the sanctuary direct. Jerusalem was no longer required. Thus they should rather look to the heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4.26 and Revelation constantly).
The next three chapters will therefore concentrate on this new ministry of our heavenly High Priest. The whole passage from 8-10 could be headed, The Whole Levitical System With All That It Involved Has Been Replaced By The Something Far Better To Which It Pointed.
The Heavenly Ministry of God’s Son, Our High Priest (8.1-3).
8. 1 ‘Now in the things which we are saying the chief point is this: We have such a high priest, who has taken his seat on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,’
He first reiterates all that he has been saying by bringing out the chief point (or ‘the whole sum’), and that is that we have such a High Priest as has been described in 7.26-28 and that He has sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens (compare 1.3). He was thus in His perfect manhood invested with God’s full authority, and given permanent unfettered access, in order to perform His functions in Heaven. The idea is based on Psalm 110.1 where the priest after the order of Melchizedek (110.4) is to take his seat at God’s right hand to await the subjection of everything to himself.
‘Who has taken His seat.’ His taking His seat confirmed that His sacrificial offering of Himself has been accepted and that He had therefore now no need to stand to minister before God. But it also indicated that He had taken a position of unique and all-prevailing authority. For ‘the throne’ by which He sat down is emphasised here, in contrast with 1.3 where no throne is mentioned, although a similar overall idea was in mind. That is because there the emphasis was more on the purification. Here it is on His receiving great authority. From this new position of authority He can now plead (legally speaking) our cause before God, having done all that was necessary for our salvation (1.3; 2.9-11, 17; 7.27), having been fully prepared and fitted for the responsibility He now has (2.10, 18; 4.15; 5.8-9; 7.26), and being in Himself all-sufficient. He is the royal priest par excellence.
‘Such a High Priest.’ This probably indicates such a High Priest as is described in 7.26-28 and in this verse, Who, in His perfect Manhood and High Priesthood, has now taken His place of final glory and honour as both Lord and Christ (Acts 2.36).
8.2 ‘A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.’
And in this new position He is a minister (leitourgos - official state appointee but used of priestly service in LXX, therefore God’s official appointee) of the heavenly sanctuary, the true tabernacle where the perfect work necessary for our continuing salvation can be accomplished. This is the true tabernacle of which the earthly was but a copy. It is the heavenly tabernacle, pitched by God and not man, without fault, permanent and secure and necessarily perfect. It is the tabernacle which will never need again to be removed. It is in Heaven itself indicating the place of God’s presence on His throne. There is therefore not only a new and superior High Priest, but He ministers in a superior sanctuary and a superior tabernacle. This High Priest does not involve Himself with copies and shadows. He ministers within the real thing, in Heaven itself.
‘The sanctuary’ was the place where God could be met with, thus here it is the place where God is present in His glory (9.24; 10.19; Psalm 102.19).
‘The true (as contrasted with the copy) tabernacle which the Lord pitched.’ Some have seen this as indicating Christ’s body through His incarnation (compare John 2.21). That was also made without hands (see 9.11; compare Mark 14.58), and the heavenly veil is spoken of as Christ’s flesh (10.19-20). But that interferes with the picture here, for Christ is seen as the minister of the tabernacle. The picture seems more to indicate the perfect divine provision for approach to God in Heaven, ‘the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation’ (9.11 compare Acts 7.48), where genuine reconciliation and atonement could be made. It would then be seen as explaining the idea of the true sanctuary and as including the aspect of intercession. As such it is His holy ‘dwellingplace’ (the literal meaning of ‘tabernacle’ in the Old Testament) which includes the sanctuary. This was what the tabernacle had indicated on earth, God’s dwellingplace in His extreme holiness, but then with His approachability limited by the veil. Now ‘the true tabernacle’ is God’s dwellingplace in Heaven, and the veil is removed. The holy God can be approached directly, through Jesus.
If ‘the Lord’ here is seen as signifying Jesus, as it appears to do in Hebrews outside quotations (2.3; 7.14), that would seem to count against the tabernacle as here representing His body.
It should be noted that here reference is made to the tabernacle not the temple. The tabernacle was the ‘perfect’ representation of what it symbolised, being itself temporary and passing, awaiting the better tabernacle, of which it was a copy, pointing upward to the heavenly. It made no claim to permanence. It was suitable for those whose presence on earth was temporary, but who were looking for something better.
The temple on the other hand was of man's devising (2 Samuel 7.5-7). Man wanted God and himself to be firmly lodged permanently on earth. It is true that Solomon did recognise that God was in Heaven and that even the Heaven of heavens could not contain Him (1 Kings 8.27). But he wanted his temple to be a gateway to Heaven (1 Kings 8.29, etc.), while being a permanent fixture on earth. Now, says the writer, all this is done away. We must desert the earthly for the heavenly. We must away with the temple and seek to God’s tabernacle in Heaven. That was what Ezekiel’s heavenly temple descending to earth had symbolised, a temple not made with hands and not of this creation to which Israel should look. Now its message was being fulfilled.
On the other hand the explanation may be even simpler. If the writer had little connection with the temple, but a deep knowledge of the Law of Moses, this would well explain why he thought in terms of the latter, seeing it as the true original. For as we have seen earlier much of his teaching connects directly with the Pentateuch (e.g. 3.7-19), and it was the Law there that would be quoted against him. He appears little interested in the Temple. Some have suggested that this might be because he wrote some time after the temple had been destroyed. But in view of the strong arguments for his case which he could have drawn from that destruction, this does not seem likely.
8.3 ‘For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, wherefore it is necessary that this high priest also has somewhat to offer.’
And just as every High Priest on earth is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, so is it right that this heavenly High Priest has something to offer. What it is that He has to offer is not immediately stated, but that is what the writer intends to go on and show us. We will soon learn that it is the mediation of a better covenant (verse 6; 9.15), the application of His own blood from the offering of Himself (9.12,14), and His perfect intercessory service in both (10.5-18). He is there in Heaven, among other things, as the slain Lamb (Revelation 5.6), and the perfect Passover (1 Corinthians 5.7), as well as being there as our intercessor. What He has to offer is Himself as Lamb of God and Saviour of the World, the sacrifice offered once for all but ever visible in Heaven, the salvation continual but here seen as complete.
The Heavenly Ministry Is Now Contrasted With the Jew’s Earthly Ministry (8.4-5).
But while all this has been going on the earthly ministry of the levitical priests has continued. The Temple still stands. The priests still carry out their activities. What then of them? What is the position of their ministry? In answer he will now make the point that while their ministry has been valid in the past it is pointless going back to them, because all that they minister in are copies and shadows, once fully valid, but now empty since the Great Reality has come. A shadow is something that reflects something real, but is not in itself real. It is a vague outline. It is insubstantial.
Indeed he especially stresses that Moses made everything as copies of a pattern shown to him in the Mount. Here then was not the reality. It was a copy of the reality, produced by Moses and Israel under God. He wants his readers to recognise that with them he does recognise the past validity of that ministry but that he sees it as a validity that has been superseded because its copies and shadows have been fulfilled.
8.4 ‘Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, seeing that there are those who offer the gifts according to the law,’
The writer now puts the whole matter in context. He has portrayed Jesus as a heavenly High Priest. However, he is now ready to concede that were Jesus on earth He could not act as such a priest, as a priest who ‘offered gifts according to the Law’, for he was not of the right descent. That was a matter of earthly history. Let there be no doubt about it, he is saying, if you want to be governed by the old Law and the old covenant, and to miss out on the Great Reality that has come, you must stick with the levitical priesthood. If you want an earthly priesthood, it must be the levitical priesthood.
But that is what his argument has been about. For as he has previously pointed out, and will point out again, that ignores firstly, the fact that the Law has been superseded (7.12) and a new covenant has come into being (verses 6-13), and secondly, that there is a new High Priesthood in Heaven of an even more ancient likeness. That being so, if they want to continue as participators in the new covenant they must ditch the levitical priesthood. The choice is theirs. They have come to the crunch.
Note on The First Century Jewish-Christian Dilemma.
This verse brings us face to face with the dilemma faced by Jews and God-fearers on coming to Christ in the first century, and which the writer is dealing with in this letter. On the one hand they were faced with the admittedly God-revealed religion based on the God-revealed revelation in the Scriptures, in which they had been brought up, or to which they had turned from idolatry, and which was seen as the ancient way to approach God, and on the other was the challenge of the One Who was revealed as the expected Jewish Messiah, of Whose teaching it was claimed that it too was in accordance with those same Scriptures, and Whose death and resurrection had changed history, and was calling them to see that that old way was now simply of the past. And the question in respect of both was, how then should men and women now approach God and what must they believe?
For the two ways certainly seemed contrary to each other. The one called to obedience to the teaching of the priests, those men who were in the line of a priesthood that had survived for over a thousand years, and it called to response to them through the ordinances of the Jerusalem temple; the other called to obedience to Jesus Christ and an acceptance that much of the old Law was superseded, and that the temple ordinances no longer mattered because replaced by His activity as High Priest in the true Tabernacle in Heaven. It was this latter view that was being stressed and argued for by continual quotation from Scripture by this present writer.
But there was admittedly much to be said for the old priesthood. They ministered in an awe-inspiring and splendid, visible temple whose roots went back to the Tabernacle in the wilderness; they offered the same gifts and sacrifices as had been taught by Moses and had been offered over generations long past; and they ministered in the Holy Place itself, a place of ancient tradition which men entered in awe and in which was temple furniture made venerable by age, and which was before the veil that hid that most awesome of places, the Holy of Holies itself. Furthermore, hidden behind that thick veil was the very Holy of Holies which was the throneroom of God, and in which they believed that something of God dwelt, a presence often manifested, although mainly unperceived, in the shining light that they called the Shekinah.
And what was even more these men had a long established, God-revealed system by which they could daily approach the God Whose throne it was, even if the approach was somewhat restricted. And they could also once a year, although only for a short time, actually dare to pierce the veil in the person of their High Priest, so as to enter the Holy of Holies in order to obtain atonement for the people. And they had a Law given by Moses. What then did ‘the new’ offer compared with this? Only an earth shattering event could possibly replace it.
His answer up to now has been clear. There has been such an earth shattering event. It has pointed to the coming of Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, the outshining of God’s glory. It is He to Whom the Scriptures cited have pointed. It is He Who is the One through Whom God has finally spoken, and Who is the perfect revelation of what God is, and to Whom the Scriptures bore witness. (1.1-3). It is He Who is the One Who has suffered on their behalf that He might make purification for sin through the sacrifice of Himself (1.3; 2.17; 7.27) and Who, having died and risen again, has become the Initiator and Trek Leader of their salvation (2.10). It is He Who is the One Who has come offering the true Rest (4.1-11). But above all it is He Who is the One Who has come as the High Priest of a greater and more ancient priesthood than that of Levi, and Who, having offered Himself up as the perfect sacrifice, has now passed into Heaven on their behalf, there to carry out His ministry in the true and better Sanctuary.
So the stark choice lay before them, the levitical priesthood with its ancient ceremonies, or Christ, this wondrous and eternal High Priest of an even more ancient priesthood, Who has fulfilled them all in Himself.
End of note.
So, as the writer has already demonstrated, Jesus’ unacceptability as an earthly priest because of His earthly descent is not to the point. It has in fact rather stressed that He represents a greater priesthood, one even more ancient, one even greater, and one which enables Him to minister in Heaven in a far more glorious sanctuary, and in a far more glorious High Priesthood of a different order than that of Levi, having, as such, taken His seat at God’s right hand (Psalm 110.1 with 4).
An earthly limitation might be there, he points out, but it is not really relevant. It simply demonstrates that He does not deal in copies and shadows. It is simply one that is on Him because the ancient Law stipulated that any priest who served the earthly sanctuary and ministered according to the Law, a sanctuary dealing with copies and shadows, must be of proved Aaronic descent. It is this ministry in the earthly sanctuary, where men sought to observe the old law and the old covenant, that is in the hands only of the Levites and the levitical priests. They and the old covenant and the old Law go together. But He has no bent for this. He does not desire to minister in the earthly temple. He does not want to minister a covenant of copies and shadows. He knows that such ministry is no longer valid.
So the contrast is clear. While these priests do minister on earth on behalf of the old Law and the old covenant, it is because they are dealing in copies and shadows. It is the perfect Priest, Whose ministry would not be acceptable on earth (in a place of copies and shadows), Who now ministers in the great reality of Heaven with regard to the new covenant. His readers must therefore choose between the earthly ministry with its copies and shadows, and His heavenly ministry with its dealings with the great realities themselves, between the old and the new.
Nevertheless in recognising this we must not overlook the fact that, in this period immediately after the resurrection, the Temple and its priests did still temporarily serve for such godly Jews and God-fearers as had not yet been faced up with the Gospel, but only until the time came when they did hear that Gospel and decide on their response. It was a transitory period. And this is shown by the fact that the temple was also used by some Jewish Christian worshippers, who were finding it difficult to tear themselves away from what they had esteemed all their lives, while even Paul himself (unwisely in the event) agreed to connect with its activities (Acts 21.26). The writer does not deny any of this. But he does deny that it is finally relevant for those who have come into the full light of Christ. Nor would it in fact serve as it was for long, for God would shortly arrange for its demise, because it had served its time, and because its priesthood had failed. Then, in looking elsewhere, it might be that some would find Christ.
(While not absolutely certain, for it is difficult to argue from silence, it would appear almost certain from all this that the ministry in the temple was still continuing at the time of writing, confirming that the letter was written before 70 AD. If the ministry had been forcibly closed down he could hardly not have mentioned the fact here, nor would all this have been such a powerful argument against the possible desertion of some of his readers to Judaism)
8.5 ‘Who serve that which is a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, even as Moses is warned of God when he is about to make the tabernacle: for, “See,” he says, “that you make all things according to the pattern that was shown you in the mount”.’
For, the writer continues to stress, he himself does acknowledge that this earthly priestly ministry had been genuine and he wants it known that he holds it in great respect. It had indeed been a genuine copy and shadow of heavenly things as established by Moses who, in establishing it, carefully followed God’s instructions, as God Himself commanded. That is not in question. What is in question is whether that validity continues now that the Messiah has come.
A copy is something that gives us some idea of the original without being the real thing. A shadow is something insubstantial that portrays the general shape of an original without fully revealing the reality. The idea behind both is that in the earthly we have something conveyed to us about the heavenly but that it does not give us the full picture. We should not press it more than that. We should certainly not seek to imagine physical ideas about the heavenly from the earthly representation. We can have no idea how the physical and the spiritual relate.
So he does not deride their ministry. He even stresses its God-given character and honours it for what it once was. But nevertheless he wants it to be recognised that it is passing away for precisely that reason, that it dealt in copies and shadows. Its ministry was actually carried out utilising God-approved copies and shadows of heavenly things, but only copies and shadows.
They must now therefore be recognised for what they are, imperfect representations, of what is in the true tabernacle which is now itself in active use. That being so we have the true represented to us and the copies and shadows are no longer relevant. And that is the point. Jesus is now fulfilling His ministry in the true tabernacle so that the temporary copies and shadows ordained by God should now be allowed to pass away.
He has thus established, firstly that the temple worship was not in itself false, and had indeed previously been valid, and secondly that it was now passing away. For the reason that it was no longer valid, was not because of its falsity, but because the greater Reality had now come from God to replace it.
He will accept that before His coming the tabernacle and the temple had had some significance for many generations past, for, as God had carefully warned Moses, those involved were to make everything exactly like the pattern that he was shown in the mount, for the very reason that it was to be an illustration of heavenly realities. And the temple had also been built with that in mind. Thus until the coming of Jesus they had had a prototype of Heaven, in the only way possible to men, and had known that they could approach Heaven there.
But now his readers had to recognise that its day had past and that in the heavenly tabernacle, of which the earthly was only a copy, and seated on the very throne itself, was He Who is the living bread (John 6.35 - in contrast with the bread of the Presence), He Who is the light of the world (John 8.12 - in contrast with the golden lampstand), and He is accompanied there by those who offer the incense of the praise and prayers of God’s people and who worship before the very throne of God (Revelation 5.8 - which contrasts with the golden altar of incense), and by the surrounding living creatures (Revelation 4.6 - in contrast with the lifeless models). The shewbread, and the golden lampstand, and the altar of incense, and the golden ark of the covenant of Yahweh, and the forms of the cherubim on the mercy seat, are all but copies and shadows of these, and now surplus to requirements. That is why, now that the heavenly High Priest is established, they are to be phased out.
This Ministry of the Son Is Accompanied by a New Covenant, a Better Covenant (8.6-13).
And this new ministry was not only more glorious, it was accompanied by a better covenant (7.22). It was a better covenant because it was unconditional. It was God’s promise of what He was going to do, which did not depend on man’s response. Rather it was a guarantee to bring that response about through His own powerful working in the hearts of men and women. Thus it could not fail or cease.
8.6 ‘But now has he obtained a ministry the more excellent, by so much as he is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on (or ‘in reference to’) better promises.’
For He has now obtained a more excellent ministry, a heavenly ministry based on the realities of Heaven, a ministry which involves being the mediator of a better covenant, which is established with reference to better promises. And that is a covenant which does not work by fleshly commands, but by the powerful working of God’s Spirit in the heart. A heavenly covenant rather than an earthly covenant.
‘Mediator of a better covenant.’ He is the Mediator, the One Who acts between the Maker of the covenant and its recipients. And the covenant He mediates is far better than the old, which was mediated at a distance, and written on stone. For this one He mediates personally and continually, and it is written on the heart. We have already learned of Christ’s superiority to Moses (3.1-6). Moses was the mediator of the Law, received through angels (Galatians 3.19), but here the Mediator has personal and continual contact both with its Maker and its recipients, and is of like nature with both, and is thus the perfect Mediator. And the covenant is written on their hearts (verse 10; compare 2 Corinthians 3.6-11) and is based on better promises.
‘Which has been enacted on better promises.’ The old covenant was always conditional, even though based on the unconditional covenant declared from Sinai (Exodus 20.1-17). But the promises contained in this new covenant have been enacted by God and are direct, personal and certain. They are unconditional. Its requirements will all be written in the heart and thus be certain of fulfilment. It contains the perfect Law of freedom (James 1.25). Thus its promises are ‘better’, superior to the old.
One main promise under the old covenant was that His people would enter into His rest, into the land of Canaan, flowing with milk and honey, and there they would find rest. But while they regularly received temporary rest for a while, as the book of Judges tells us, it always came to an end because of their disobedience. Thus, just like their fathers in the wilderness, they never fully received that rest, and it was due to disobedience. Even David only gave them partial rest. His reign was a long catalogue of war. And in spite of his apparent success, the failure of Solomon finally divided the kingdom and began the period of unrest that led to the Exile. But the new covenant is different. It offers true rest to God’s people wherever they are, a permanent rest, everlasting rest, for it is a rest within the heart, not one arising from outward circumstances. And it is based on this better covenant and these better promises (see again 3.7-4.13)
8.7 ‘For if that first covenant had been faultless, then would no place have been sought for a second.’
And this replacement of the first covenant was clearly as necessary as was the changing of the priesthood (7.11), as is seen by the fact that Jeremiah in Scripture had declared the making of a new covenant (Jeremiah 31.31-34). For if such a new covenant was Scripturally required it openly demonstrated that the old covenant was lacking. Had it not been so, no new covenant would have been required. Thus the writer now quotes the new covenant in detail, mainly but not fully as per LXX. He may well have been paraphrasing LXX from memory. It also closely follows the Hebrew text.
8.8-9 ‘For finding fault with them, he says, “Behold, the days come,” says the Lord, “That I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them forth out of the land of Egypt. For they continued not in my covenant, And I regarded them not,” says the Lord.’
‘For finding fault with them.’ That is with the people of the old covenant. They had been welcomed within His covenant but they had failed grievously. Far from obeying Him they had thrust aside His requirements and refused to listen to Him, and this in spite of the fact that He had ‘taken them by the hand’ so as to watch over them. Thus ‘finding fault’ was putting it mildly. He was disgusted with them and ashamed. Things had become such that He no longer regarded them.
‘Behold, the days come.’ But one day, Jeremiah had said, days would come when He would step in with a new covenant for the days ahead. One day He would act to implement this new covenant, and it would be unconditionally. And now at last ‘the coming days’ were here. These introductory words as used by the prophets looked ahead to the time when God would act in saving power, and now in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit He has so acted.
‘That I will make a new covenant.’ The old covenant had been on the basis of His deliverance of them from Egypt (Exodus 20.1-2). But it had failed because of the people’s obstinacy and disobedience. Thus they had not continued in the covenant. And that was why when they cried to Him in trouble He had not regarded them.
But now He would make with them a new covenant of a different type, not one where He stated His requirements and looked for them to obey, but one where He wrote His words in their hearts so that they would obey as a consequence of His activity, and in response to His Spirit. It would be a covenant divinely wrought in their hearts. He would work in them to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13). It would bring about the rise of the new Kingly Rule of God over all the people of God (the house of Israel and the house of Judah), and all God’s people would be united as one.
‘With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.’ Compare Ezekiel 37.19-20, 22 where this idea is connected with the everlasting Kingdom (no thought of a Millennium there). It is the everlasting Kingdom, under the everlasting Prince (Ezekiel 37.24-25), in accordance with the everlasting covenant (verse 26), validated by the tabernacle (verse 27), which is an everlasting sanctuary (verse 28).
With regard to this we should note that the early church saw themselves, not as replacing Israel, or as being a kind of ‘spiritual Israel’, but as being the true Israel. They did not see themselves as taking the place of Israel but as being Israel itself. They entered Israel by submission to the God of Israel, as many had before them (Exodus 12.38, 48). They had been alienated, shut off, from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenant of promise (Ephesians 2.12). But now they had been made one with the true Israel, ‘made nigh in the blood of Christ’ (Ephesians 2.14). They were no longer strangers and sojourners, they were fellow-citizens with God’s holy people and of the household of God (see Ephesians 2.13-22; Galatians 3.29; 6.16).
Thus they could now be called ‘sojourners of the Dispersion’ (1 Peter 1.1), a technical description of the scattered people of God. Note in this regard that Peter never refers to Gentiles except as unbelievers. To him Gentiles are ‘the opposition’. And they are thus seen as in contrast with those he is writing to, that is, with believing Jews and Gentiles united as one in Christ.
They can also be called ‘the twelve tribes of the Dispersion’ (James 1.1). Note again in this regard that James nowhere refers to Gentile Christians even though he is dealing with behaviour towards others, thus he clearly sees them as included in this introduction. It is impossible to believe that James was so insulated against Gentile Christians that, if he was writing to believing Jews, he would not refer to how his believing fellow-countrymen should behave towards their fellow-believers in a letter with such an emphasis on behaviour, when it would have been a crucial question for believing Jews living in a Gentile world. The only acceptable explanation is that he saw both believing Jews and Gentiles as included in his description of those he was writing to. John also would later describe the whole church in terms of the twelve tribes of Israel (Revelation 7.3-8).
So the church saw themselves as inheritors of the promises, as true sons of Abraham (Galatians 3.29). As Paul had told them, ex-Gentile believers had been grafted in to the olive tree, and the unbelieving in Israel had been cut off (Romans 11.15-24).
This fact is exceedingly important in interpreting the Old Testament. We do not ‘spiritualise’ the promises to Israel, we simply recognise that they apply to the new Israel as it now literally continued in the church. It is true that the detail is not always literally carried out, for the prophets had to speak in illustrations and parables, in copies and shadows, about what they did not fully understand, just as Moses had had to before them. They spoke in earthly terms of heavenly realities, exactly as God represented it to them and as He had represented it to Moses in the Mount. They revealed ideas which were a copy and shadow of the true. The New Testament reveals this quite clearly here and elsewhere, and points to the realities indicated by these copies and shadows. The old tabernacle is pointing to the new tabernacle in Heaven (8.2). The old Temple is pointing to the new Temple, the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3.9-16; Ephesians 2.20-22 compare Revelation 3.12), and again to the heavenly Temple described constantly in Revelation. The old Jerusalem is pointing to, and is replaced by, the new, real, heavenly Jerusalem (12.12; Galatians 4.25-26), the real as opposed to the shadow. The old idea of the ‘everlasting kingdom’ is subsumed into the ‘Kingly Rule of God’. The old has gone, the new has come. The importance of earthly Jerusalem is no more. It is the Jerusalem above which will see fulfilled all God’s promises concerning Jerusalem that have not yet been fulfilled. To cling to the old Israel, and the old Jerusalem, and the old Temple, and the old sacrifices, is to cling to a past that is no more.
Thus they would see these promises as completely fulfilled in themselves. The writer may well have seen the two parts described (Israel and Judah) as referring to believing Jews (for ‘Jews’ were yehuthi, those of Judah) and believing Gentiles (the new Israel, the Israel of God - Galatians 6.16) as being united in one (Ephesians 2.12-22), but however that may be he is emphasising that none of all the people of God were excluded. (That this description does not refer to some later application of the covenant yet to come is brought out by the fact that there is even now no separation between Israel and Judah among the Jews, and never genuinely can be again).
This is the new covenant which was in Jesus’ mind at the Last Supper when He spoke of the cup as ‘the new covenant in my blood’ (1 Corinthians 11.25; Luke 22.20) which was poured out for us. For the new covenant was sealed by the shedding of His blood which made it possible. And it embraced both Jews and Gentiles in the Israel of God.
‘New (kainos).’ New and of a different kind.
‘Says the Lord.’ This is repeated three times in the passage stressing the complete nature of the covenant. It also stresses God’s complete sovereign status with regard to the covenant. While the people will have a responsive part in it, it will be God initiated, and God fulfilled. It is of His will, and not theirs.
8.10-12 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” says the Lord, “I will put my laws into their mind, and on their heart also will I write them, and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people. And they shall not teach every man his fellow-citizen, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all will know me, from the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And their sins will I remember no more.”
God’s new covenant is now quoted. It is made ‘with the house of Israel’, the people of God now combined in one, with all differences broken down and incorporating all who are His (note how Israel and Judah are here now seen as one under the name of Israel). Any idea that there can be a house of Israel separate from the people of God is clearly false. God’s love was set on all Abraham’s seed, and Abraham’s seed are such as have been incorporated into Israel by faith, whether Jew or Gentile (Galatians 3).
The basic premises of this new covenant are;
The idea behind this verse includes that of the new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5.17); of those who have been born of the Spirit and made full-grown sons of God (John 3.5-6; 1.12-13; Galatians 4.4-6), having been made partakers of the divine nature, escaping the corruption of the world and of desires (2 Peter 1.4). It speaks of a new God-wrought beginning, a miracle of transformation.
All who are truly His can recognise in these words something of their own experience when on trusting in Him life began anew. They began to love His word, their perspectives on life changed, their desire was now to please Him, they delighted to do His will.
That this is not, however, uniquely limited to the new age is clear from Psalm 37.30-31, where it says, "The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom, and his tongue talks of right judgment. The law of His God is in his heart." So also in Psalm 19:7-8 where we read, "The law of the Lord is perfect converting the soul... the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart." God’s word has ever worked so in those who were His. It is rather the extent of His working that is in mind, the establishing of a whole people of God rather than a remnant.
The idea here is in the contrast of a so-called ‘people of God’ of whom many were ignorant of God, so that each sought to teach the other somewhat inadequately and weakly, leaning on teachers who were broken reeds, with ‘a people of God’ of whom all know the Lord, from the very least to the very greatest. The writer is probably here thinking of Joel 2.28-29; Isaiah 44.1-5 and their fulfilment at Pentecost (Acts 2), and such teaching as 1 Corinthians 2.9-16; 1 John 2.20, 27.
In Old Testament days there was a constant looking to the priests and to the wise for help, while in general the people got on with their lives. That was actually their problem, that God became second hand. (There were, of course, always the exceptions, which included the prophets themselves). But this is in contrast with the openness of heart and mind in the New Testament days as the abundance of the Spirit illuminates the thoughts of even the most simple. Under the old covenant the priests stood between men and a knowledge of God, under the new the approach to God is direct and personal. The barriers are broken down. "They will be all taught of God" (John 6.45)
And it should be noted that this signifies a deeper measure of mercy and forgiveness than was available under the old covenant, where wilful sins were excluded, for now even wilful sins will be forgiven on repentance. For Paul declares, ‘And by him all who believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses’ (Acts 13.39). The word ‘merciful, gracious’ is emphasised by being place first in the sentence after the conjunction. It includes an element of being propitiated. Compare 2.17; Romans 3.24-25).
8.13 ‘In that he says, “A new” he has made the first old. But that which is becoming old and waxes aged is nigh unto vanishing away.’
So, says the writer, God by speaking of a ‘new’ covenant has made the first old. The emphasis here is on the fact that the new having come, what has been before is now old, and indeed is close to vanishing away. Jesus Christ’s coming has changed history. All must now be seen from a new point of view and looked at in a new way, resulting in new lives and a new way of living. There is, as it were, a new creation. And this especially applies in regard to the covenant.
And so he ends this section by stressing that the fact that the covenant is declared to be new and of a different kind demonstrates that the first is old, creaking at the seams, and is on the verge of disappearance. As far as its ritual was concerned it was indeed shortly to vanish away completely with the destruction of the Temple by Rome in 70 AD. But even where it continued it became more and more involved and separatist.
Chapter 9 The Ordinances of the First Covenant Described and Compared with Those of The New Covenant.
The fact of ‘Jesus the Son’ as our great High Priest having been established as the great reality, and the ministry of the old covenant having been established as copies and shadows, Jesus’ ministry is now described in contrast with that ministry of the first covenant and the first Tabernacle. It is done with due reverence for what was of the past. The first is not diminished, it is rather demonstrated to have been a ministry of copies and shadows, a preparation for the greater glory that has now come.
The main emphasis of this chapter is a comparison of the great Jewish Day of Atonement which was such a solemn feature of the cult, and occurred year by year, a day which had burned its way into the consciousness of the people, and was for many the greatest and most solemn day of the year, for it was the day each year when the sins of the year past were finally seen as laid to rest, with the once-for-all heavenly Day of Atonement of the new heavenly High Priest which achieves its purpose once for all, and never needs to be repeated, making the other redundant.
A Consideration of The Old Ordinances Under Which Men Were Barred From Entering The Holy Presence of God. They Had To Worship From Afar Using Things of No Lasting Validity (9.1-10)
9. 1 ‘Now even the first covenant had ordinances of divine ministry and its holy sanctuary of this world.’
Even under the first covenant there were ‘ordinances of divine ministry’, and a ‘holy sanctuary’ (hagion). And they were admittedly genuine. But they were nevertheless ‘of this world’, they were made with hands. Thus they could not be as good as the reality. Nevertheless it must be accepted that they were both of God, and that for hundreds of years they had shaped the worship of God’s people. On the other hand it should be clear to all that being fulfilled on earth in things that were made by human hands, they could only be preparatory until something better should come. However glorious they were, they were earthly. They could not enter Heaven itself. They were ‘afar off’.
‘Had.’ Imperfect active signifying ‘used to have’, with the idea that they were now a thing of the past.
9.2 ‘For there was a tabernacle prepared, the first, in which were the lampstand, and the table, and the showbread (literally ‘the presentation of the loaves’), which is called the Holy place.’
The ancient Tabernacle is now described and seen here as split into two smaller tabernacles, the first ‘the Holy Place’, and the second ‘the Holy of Holies’, the latter entered only from the Holy Place. In the first were the lampstand, the table, and the showbread. And this is called the Holy Place, the place set apart for God, separated to His use.
This Holy Place was the place which only the priests could enter, and they only when on holy service. Here they walked in awe and tended the golden lampstand twice daily (Exodus 25.31-40; 30.7-8). Here they replaced the showbread weekly on the Sabbath (Leviticus 24.5-8), twelve baked cakes of which, were placed in two rows on a table of acacia wood covered with gold (Exodus 25.23-30). And here they approached the altar of incense to offer incense, again twice daily (Exodus 30.7-8), and then withdrew.
That the lampstand represented the glory of God as dimly revealed to man outside the Holy of Holies, so that he might have some conception of what was within, comes out in that the two olive trees in Zechariah 4.12-14 receive their oil (their commitment to God by anointing) from the golden lampstand. Its sevenfold nature revealed the divine perfection that the light portrayed. It also represented the witness to God that Israel were intended to be, a reflection of God’s reflection, as is evidenced by the seven lampstands, representing seven churches, in Revelation 1. There the churches were to be ‘the light of the world’ (Matthew 5.14), separate lampstands, revealing the One sevenfold lampstand Who is the true Light of the world (John 8.12 - spoken at the feast of Tabernacles where four large lampstands were erected in the court of the women). The twelve cakes of showbread represented the constant gift to His people (the twelve tribes) of all God’s provision as the Feeder of His people, and their re-offering to Him of the bread as a symbol of, and in gratitude for, that provision. It was to be eaten by the priests in a holy place. This may well have been in Jesus’ mind when He spoke of Himself as the Bread of Life (John 6.35).
9.3-5 ‘And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holy of holies, having a golden altar of incense, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, in which was a golden pot holding the manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant, and above it cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy-seat; of which things we cannot now speak severally.’
And then there was the second tabernacle which was called ‘The Holy of Holies’, the only entrance to which was from the Holy Place. It was a place so holy that none could regularly enter. The contents of the Holy of Holies (often called the Holiest of all or the Most Holy Place) are now described.
It is noteworthy that he connects the altar of incense with the Holy of Holies. It stood against the veil probably between the two protruding staves which bore the ark (1 Kings 8.8), (for it would be central), and thus, although it was on the side of the veil facing the Holy Place, (so that priests could approach it) it was clearly seen as an essential part of the Holy of Holies (compare 1 Kings 6.22 where it is said to ‘belong to the oracle’, that is to the Holy of Holies). Note the way it is expressed, ‘having a golden altar of incense’ (contrast ‘having’ with ‘in which’ - verse 2). It does not say that it was in it, only that it belonged to it. It was the one place throughout the year where, as it were, the Holy of Holies could be continually accessed, by means of the odour of the incense that pierced the veil, and annually the blood of the sin offering of atonement would be applied to its horns in order to atone for it (Exodus 30.10). It was most holy to Yahweh. And each year it was effectively borne into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement in the form of its golden censer.
Note on The Position of the Golden Altar of Incense.
The golden altar of incense was physically placed in the Holy Place ‘before the veil’. But it was carried annually into the Holy of Holies in the form of the censer which was filled from it, the only thing from the Holy Place that ever went in to the Holy of Holies. And in fact the exact literal translation of the Greek here is ‘the golden censer’, the altar being named after its most important function. A censer was a vessel which bore coals on which incense was burned. The altar was thus seen as there for two reasons, for offering incense on the fire which burned on it (acting continually like a huge censer), and in order to fill the censer which bore the coals on which the incense was burnt before Yahweh when the High Priest ventured into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. The altar and the censer together could thus be called ‘a golden censer’ (both Josephus and Philo call the golden altar of incense this), for both acted as censers and were involved in the work of offering the incense. (Note the lack of the definite article compared with other items).
The actual censer, filled with coals taken from the golden altar of incense, was used to carry the ashes of the golden altar, on which incense was to be burned, into the very ‘presence’ of God, into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16.12-13). And these came from the golden altar, so that the whole was seen as in some way a part of the Holy of Holies, although spending most of their time in the Holy Place. For the golden altar of incense was in an ambiguous position. It had to be in the Holy Place in order that the priests may offer the incense on it daily at the time of the morning and evening sacrifices, but its essential function was to offer incense before Yahweh with its sweet odour penetrating the veil to reach the throne of Yahweh. And by means of the censer it actually ‘went in’ to the Holy of Holies annually. It was placed immediately against the veil behind which was the ark of the covenant, almost certainly between the two protruding staves which bore the ark, which staves also represented the ark as embracing the altar. Essentially it belonged to the Holy of Holies.
This can be seen as confirmed by the ambiguity of the Law (Torah), since it places the golden altar ‘before the veil’ and ‘before the ark’ and ‘before Yahweh’ (see Exodus 30.1-10; 40.5, 26-27; Leviticus 16.12, 18-19). It was clearly thus seen as before the ark and in God’s presence, although practicality and use demanded it being before the veil in order to preserve the holiness of the Holy of Holies. So it was in essence a Holy of Holies feature. The idea that the incense altar was closely connected with the Holy of Holies is further supported by two sources from the second-Temple period. In 2 Baruch 6.7, Baruch is said to have a vision of the angel descending to the Holy of Holies and removing the ark and the incense altar, and in 2 Maccabees 2.4-8, in a letter detailing an alleged event in the life of Jeremiah the prophet, the ark and the incense altar are mentioned together, implying that they were considered to be in the closest of associations, and the essentials for the true worship of Yahweh. The golden altar of incense was thus seen as an essential part of the significance of the Holy of Holies.
End of note.
The other things that are mentioned are the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, a chest 4 feet by 2.5 feet by 2.5 feet (Exodus 25.17), in which was a golden pot holding the manna (Exodus 16.32-34), and Aaron's rod that budded (Numbers 17.1-11), and the tablets of the covenant (what we call the ten commandments - Exodus 25.16), and on which was the mercy-seat (Exodus 25.17-18, 21), the throne from which God dispensed His mercy, and above it cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy-seat. All these were kept within the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle, but the pot and the rod appear to have disappeared by the time of the building of Solomon’s Temple. 1 Kings 8.9 tells us that, "There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone".
These were all symbolic of the old covenant. They stressed God’s promises and goodness under that old covenant, His provision of manna in the wilderness, the reminder that it was He Who had established the Aaronic priesthood (the rod that budded), and the very tablets containing the written covenant. And above all was the mercy-seat with the ‘cherubim of glory’ hovering over, which declared His Kingship, His mercy and His glory as watched over by the cherubim. It was on and before the mercy seat that blood was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16.14-15). But the writer stresses that these are things he does not intend to go into. They are now of the past, and such as then survived would soon be of the past literally.).
The pot holding the manna is nowhere said to be golden in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, but LXX and Philo both describe it as such, and as gold predominated in the Holy of Holies such was most fitting and most likely.
9.6 ‘Now these things having been thus prepared, the priests go in continually into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the services.’
And the things in the Holy Place having been ‘prepared’ according to God’s instructions to Moses, the priests ‘go in continually’ to fulfil their responsibilities and fulfil the many services required of them. This busy activity is in deliberate contrast with the next verse. All their efforts are expended outside the Holy of Holies. They cannot come into the direct presence of God.
9.7 ‘But into the second the high priest alone, once in the year, not without blood, which he offers for himself, and for the errors of the people.’
But into the second tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, even the priests have no entry. Note the deliberate contrast between ‘the priest go in continually’ and ‘the High Priest alone once in the year’. The Holy of Holies existed in solitary splendour along with its accoutrements, in total darkness except for when the light of God shone there (no earthly light was allowed), only to be entered once a year and that by the High Priest alone. On that day there were two brief, but memorable and awesome, visits, by the High Priest, one for himself and one for the people, and those only after the offering of special sacrifices of sin offerings of which the blood was to be presented, sacrifices which were offered on the Day of Atonement both for the High Priest’s sins and the sins of the people (see Leviticus 16).
‘Offers.’ Not as a sacrifice but as evidence that the ritual has been carried through correctly, ensuring the overall atonement for himself and the people for another year. The word ‘offering’ does not appear with respect to the Holy of Holies in the ritual for the Day of Atonement. The word used there is ‘sprinkled’ which indicates application of the blood. It demonstrated that the necessary sin offerings had been made. It also confirmed that atonement had been made.
‘The errors (or ‘ignorances’) of the people.’ Man’s sins were a mixture of error, folly, wilfulness and ignorance. And all had to be atoned for.
This day was looked on as especially holy, and the rightness of the preparations had to be carefully ensured. For it was a fearsome experience for a man, even though he be the High Priest. First the tabernacle would be emptied of all personnel, so that the veil could be partially pulled aside. Only the one who was fully ritually prepared could be allowed in the sanctuary without the veil fully pulled across.
He would previously have carefully clothed himself in the High Priestly garments, knowing that any mistake would be his last, and then fearfully and tentatively he would move through the sanctuary towards the veil, take the golden censer and fill it with coals from the altar of incense, and place incense on them. All the time his heart would be beating strongly within him at the thought of what he was going to do. Then he would draw a portion of the veil aside and enter alone through the veil into the Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies where no man but he would ever go while he was still alive. The tension would be horrific.
The glowing ashes for the burning of incense which he carried in his censer would provide the only dim light, and by that dim light he would approach in almost sheer darkness the dim shape of the Mercy Seat that he could make out before him, with all that it signified of the presence of the holy and invisible God, in order that he might present the incense and the blood of bull and goat. He would at the same time be filled with fear that one mistake might mean his end, that one moment of God’s displeasure could strike him down. For so it was believed.
And it was always with great relief that he would finally, after two such visits, first to make atonement for himself, and then to make atonement for the people, withdraw again the second time, grateful to be alive and could recognise at last that what he had done had been accepted. The people and the priests would meanwhile have been waiting in silent awe all through the process, filled with tension until he reappeared, and at that point there would be huge jubilation. Atonement had been satisfactorily accomplished for another year. All the sins of Israel for a whole year had been ‘covered’. (Indeed so holy was the place that there grew up a tradition, not mentioned in Scripture, that sometimes a rope would be tied around his leg so that if God should strike him down his body could be recovered without anyone else entering, for none would dare to enter in order to recover it even in such an emergency).
The procedures were carried through even when the Ark was gone, possibly carried off by the victorious Babylonians. But it is interesting that no mention was ever made of it, (2 Chronicles 36.10 refers to ‘the goodly vessels of the house of Yahweh’), and surely had they believed it to be in Babylon great efforts would have been made to ensure its recovery. Perhaps then they knew that it had been destroyed or that it had been melted down in the King’s treasury. (A Jewish record, 4 Ezra 10.22, declares that ‘the light of our lamp is extinguished, the Ark of our covenant is spoiled’). There appears to have been no Ark in the second Temple. Tacitus writes, "The first Roman to subdue the Jews and set foot in their Temple by right of conquest was Gnaeus Pompaeus (Pompey). Thereafter it was a matter of common knowledge that there were no representations of the gods within, but that the place was empty and the secret shrine contained nothing" (Hist. 5.9). 2 Maccabees 2.4-7 refers to a tradition that the prophet Jeremiah hid the tabernacle, the Ark and the altar of incense in a cave. However, there was certainly later an altar of incense in the Temple.
9.8 ‘The Holy Spirit signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been made manifest, while the first tabernacle is yet standing (or ‘yet retains its standing’).’
And what did all this indicate? It indicated that while the first tabernacle was still standing, (as opposed to the true heavenly tabernacle), or more likely, while it had standing, while it was valid, (either would in the end would mean the same thing and the word can mean both), there was no way for His people into His very presence. The way was barred. They could come so far but no further.
It indicated that God was so holy, and His people so sinful, that they must keep a safe distance and remain out of range of His glory. Even all their offerings and sacrifices were not sufficient to enable them to approach near to God. Both they and their representatives were for ever barred from His very presence. No entry was available into the Holy of Holies. No man could approach God publicly. God must be ever apart from man.
There was but the one concession, that their representative the High Priest alone could himself enter once a year, after the most elaborate preparation, and once the sanctuary had been emptied of priests and the High Priest had been covered with his High Priestly garments, for that one specific holy task of yearly atonement. He went in as their representative bearing their names on his clothing, and that brief time once a year was the only time when Israel could even by proxy directly approach their God. And the process was carried out with awe and great fear.
Apart from him all, even the favoured priests, had to at all times remain outside the veil, while the people could not even enter the sanctuary. For their sacrifices and offerings could not achieve the purpose of making either Israel or themselves truly holy. They were simply an ordained provision by the mercy of God until the true sacrifice could be offered. But the lack of full effectiveness of their offerings and sacrifices is evidenced by the fact of their being refused access to God in this way. What a contrast that is, says the writer, to what is now true (10.19-20).
This is not, of course, to deny that men could as it were enter His presence in private prayer, and know that He watched over them. The Psalmists make that clear. But that was the spiritual entry of a forgiven ‘saint’, and had nothing to do with the Holy of Holies. But publicly the stress was on the fact of God’s unique ‘otherness’ so that none could approach where He was depicted as being, in the holiest place on earth (although all were aware that He was in Heaven, and that His presence there on earth was but partial).
9.9-10 ‘Which is a figure for the time present, according to which are offered both gifts and sacrifices that cannot, as touching the conscience, make the worshipper perfect, in the matter of meats and drinks and divers washings, carnal ordinances, imposed until a time of reformation (making straight).’
So exclusion from the Holy of Holies was a ‘parable’, a figure, an illustration, an acted out prophecy, speaking to ‘the present time’, to those who had not, as Christians, entered the ‘age to come’, demonstrating that the way to God was still barred. It revealed that all the gifts and sacrifices, could not purify the conscience by providing a genuine dealing with and removal of all sin. It showed that they could not thus give the worshipper that perfection which would be necessary for him to enter God’s presence with a clear conscience. And this was something which each worshipper would well know in his own conscience.
For in his conscience was the recognition that he was deeply sinful and unworthy to meet God, and that all these gifts and sacrifices and rites had not and could not suffice to put him right. For they were merely carnal, earthly ordinances. All they could do was avert God’s wrath, God’s aversion to sin, for a time.
They involved among other things the eating of meat from certain sacrifices and the eating of parts of meal offerings, in the drinking of drink offerings, and in many kinds of washings. They may have thought in this that they were eating before Yahweh (Exodus 24.11; 18.12) or partaking of sacred food and drink before Him, or washing themselves clean from their earthiness, but it produced no means of real purity or genuine access into God’s presence. These gifts and sacrifices were merely provided by God as a sign of His watch over them and of what was to come, until there came the time of reformation, the time of ‘putting things straight’, when all would be put right, and there would be a new Eden and men and women would truly ‘eat and drink’ in God’s presence (Isaiah 11.6-9; 65.25; 25.6; Matthew 26.29; Luke 22.30; Revelation 2.7, 17; 7.16; 22.2, 17).
‘In the matter of meats and drinks and divers washings’. Others see this as simply referring to the many ritual restrictions, and requirements related thereto, including the eating of what was clean and the abstaining from what was unclean, and the keeping away from wine and strong drinks, together with the multiplicity of washings. They now no longer applied individually for the time of reformation had come. For the use of epi to express accompanying circumstances see especially 2 Corinthians 9.6; 1 Thessalonians 4.7. Also 1 Corinthians 9.10; Galatians 5.13; Ephesians 2.10; 2 Timothy 2.14.
The Transformation That Has Been Wrought By Christ Our High Priest (9.11-14).
Having established the temporary nature of the old Tabernacle and its ministry and offerings, Christ’s superiority is now brought out in a number of ways.
He is superior in every way.
9.11 ‘But Christ having come a high priest of the good things that have come, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation,’
And now that time has come. For the Messiah King had come as the High Priest of those good things promised by the prophets, which have now arrived, and having offered a once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of men, He has entered, not into that earthly sanctuary with its gloom and darkness, but into the greater and more perfect sanctuary, one not made with hands (see Acts 7.48), into Heaven itself. And this mention of it not being made with hands does not simply indicate that God made it, but that it is totally non-earthly. It is ‘not of this creation’. Like Ezekiel’s temple it is of Heaven, and from it flows the water of life. It is the true sanctuary in which is the true presence of God.
‘A High Priest of the good things that have come.’ These are the good things that have already come in the enjoyment of Christ in this life and the gifts of His Holy Spirit, which are the evidence of the enjoyment of the Paradise to come, both being provided through our great High Priest. (This reading, rather than ‘to come’, is supported by the most important manuscripts. But the meaning is actually the same in both cases, for the ‘good things to come’ would be looked at from the time of the old covenant, and thus refer to the good things that have now come under the new).
9.12 ‘Nor yet through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption.’
Nor did He enter it through the blood of mere goats and calves, as was true of the earthly High Priest on the annual Days of Atonement. That but spoke in shadows and would not be effective in Heaven. It was never fully satisfactory. Rather He entered through the efficacy of His own blood, shed on earth for the sins of men, but heavenly in its effectiveness. And through that shedding of blood He entered once for all, never having to withdraw, into the heavenly Holy Place, having through His sacrifice of Himself obtained eternal redemption for those who are His own. Satisfaction was complete. No other sacrifice would ever be required, and He now had permanent presence there as the Representative of His own people in order to act on their behalf.
We note that there is no description of His taking His blood into the heavenly sanctuary. That would have been an unnecessary crudity. It was the effectiveness of the shedding of His blood that He bore into the heavenly sanctuary, which was itself ‘once-for-all’.
‘Eternal redemption.’ That is, it was an act of redemption of His own true elect people (Mark 10.45) that would have eternal effects, and result in eternal life, through His sacrifice on the cross and the shedding of His blood. It is the redemption of ‘the age to come’. It includes the thought of deliverance from slavery, payment of their debts as their Kinsman Redeemer and deliverance through the paying of a price. And this redemption was accomplished once-for-all prior to His entry into the heavenly sanctuary. His continuing ministry in the heavenly sanctuary is not sacerdotal in any way, His once-for-all sacrifice has provided full and complete atonement, but is a ministry of representation for His people.
Thus we have the emphasis that there was one sacrifice offered once-for-all, one entry into God’s presence made once-for-all, and one redemption accomplished once-for-all. Apart from His continuing intercession His High Priestly work was complete. There was no shortfall in what He had accomplished.
9.13 ‘For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling them that have been defiled, sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh,’
There was, of course, a sense in which the earthly ordinances, the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of the ashes of the heifer, which contained the blood, had catered for the defilement of men and women. They had been outwardly effective. Through them those who had sinned, and those who had had contact with death, could be restored to contact with the congregation of Israel, and thus with the means of worship and atonement, and could once again partake in the ritual. It was so because God had appointed it so. It was not through any intrinsic worth of the sacrifice (for that was symbolic) but He had appointed that it would be so.
But these ordinances could never cleanse within, they could only cleanse the outward flesh. They could never be truly effective. They set men and women apart as outwardly ‘holy’, making them ‘clean’ outwardly so that they had acceptance in the congregation of Israel. They were, by God’s appointment, a way of restoration, but they were not a way of being transformed within. For they could never purify the heart, making men clean within. They were a picture of what would be, not a genuine means of purifying (1.3), of propitiation (2.17), of dealing with sin (7.27) and cleansing (1.3). That awaited the great High Priest to come.
The blood of goats and bulls represented the many sacrifices for sin, and for guilt, and for atonement. The blood of burnt offerings and peace offerings and guilt/trespass offerings was sprinkled on or around the altar (Leviticus 1.5, 11; 3.2, 8, 13; 7.2), the blood of the special guilt/sin offering prescribed for certain offences in Leviticus 5.1-4 was sprinkled on the side of the altar (Leviticus 5.9), and in the case of a sin offering on behalf of the anointed priest or the whole people it was sprinkled before the veil (Leviticus 4.6, 17). On the Day of Atonement the blood of the sin offerings was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat within the veil (Leviticus 16.14, 15) and on the altar to purify it (16.19). But in no case was the blood sprinkled on people. That only occurred at the sealing of the Sinai covenant (Exodus 24.8), and in the case of the cleansing of a leper, where the blood was that of a bird. Thus the ‘sprinkling of many that be defiled’ cannot refer to the blood of the sacrifices mentioned in verse 13.
What was sprinkled on men for the removal of defilement was the water of purification which was prepared by putting the ashes of the red heifer, which were specifically said to contain the blood (Numbers 19.5), and which were kept in a clean place outside the camp of Israel until they were to be used, into a vessel along with ‘living water’ - (spring water which bubbled out of the ground) whence it was sprinkled on those who were unclean through contact with death (Numbers 19.17-21; compare also Numbers 8.7 for its use in the cleansing of the Levites). Thus the blood of bulls and goats sanctified because it atoned. The blood was presented at the altar in order to demonstrate that the sacrifice had been carried out. But what was sprinkled in order to remove uncleanness was the combination of the ashes of the heifer (which contained the blood) mingled with ‘living’ water (untainted spring water).
9.14 ‘How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?’
Yet, says the writer, if those old rites could be effective in dealing with the external problems of sin and defilement, how much more could the blood of the Messiah, who offered Himself without blemish to God through the eternal Spirit, truly cleanse and purify inwardly from all ‘dead works’, (useless fleshly works which can only result in death). And we may note that in this case this is not just because of God’s appointment, but because of the intrinsic worth of the sacrifice. Thus are men and women cleansed, not outwardly but deep within, in the very heart and conscience of every one who comes to Him, resulting in the possibility of true and fully acceptable worship, of spiritual service to the living God.
Here was the effective remedy of which the past ordinances had been but shadows. This was not just outward but reached into man’s deepest heart and conscience, for it totally removed and made satisfaction for all sin both without and within. The effect of the shedding of the blood of the new covenant would purify, justify and work righteousness within men’s lives in accordance with the new covenant (8.10), that they might serve in the very presence of the living God.
Notice in these two verses the deliberate contrast of life with death. The ashes of the heifer were for the removal of the defilement of death through the waters of purification, and the works of men are ‘dead works’, works that defile and result in death. Men are thus portrayed as defiled and tainted with death, for which Christ’s blood is the remedy. For as Paul tells us, all men apart from Him are dead in trespasses and sins precisely because of their works (Ephesians 2.1) . And that is why Jesus had to partake of death (2.9), and that is why the blood of the Messiah had to be shed in order that He might die to bear our sin. All this was in order to bring men and women to the ‘living’ God.
‘The blood of Christ.’ This signifies what the shedding of His blood accomplished, through His meeting in full, by the shedding of blood, the requirements of the Law on behalf of all His own, and its sufficiency was now made available to them in full forgiveness and atonement. Using the illustrations of verse 13 it was presented to God for atonement at the altar (13.10), before the veil, and within the veil, and sprinkled on men as the equivalent of the ashes of the heifer mingled with living water, that is as the water of purification, so that the defilement of death may be removed once and for all. It covered all aspects of cleansing, purification and atonement.
‘Who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God.’ And in this He was aided by the ‘eternal’ Spirit, (the Spirit of the coming age - Isaiah 44.1-5; Joel 2.28), Who enabled Him as Man to live blamelessly, so that He was ‘without blemish’ as a sacrifice must be. He was crowned with glory and honour as true, sinless man (2.9). And the eternal Spirit further enabled Him to offer Himself as a sacrifice to endure death, so that He might face death fully for every man. The Messiah and the Spirit worked as one, the comparatively weak frail One Who was made in the likeness of man, Who had emptied Himself of His Godhood and walked as a human being (Philippians 2.6-8), and the powerful, eternal Spirit of God active fully through Him as through no other (John 3.34; Luke 4.1).
And it is because He so died for us without blemish, that our consciences can be cleansed from our past works, works which could only produce death, with the result that, coming out of spiritual death with a cleared conscience, and made free from all the defilement of death-producing sin, through the shedding of His blood, we are able to face God without fear. This then results in our being able to come into the presence of ‘the living God’, the One who calls to account, and serve and worship Him in His presence. The whole of the eternally living, Triune Godhead was thus active in our deliverance. Through Him life comes from death so that we can enter the presence of the living One.
Alternately ‘through the eternal spirit’ is seen by some as referring rather to Christ’s own eternal spirit, which enabled Him to live blamelessly and to offer Himself as the unblemished Lamb to God, so that He might cleanse our consciences from the same death-dealing works and bring us into the presence of the living God. This would be emphasising His divine nature.
But this interpretation does seem rather to separate His spirit too much from His flesh, His Godhood too much from His manhood, and to by-pass His self-emptying. For while His spirit was undoubtedly fully involved, so was His flesh, and He offered Himself in the flesh, and His blood was demonstrably shed in His flesh, through His own ‘fleshly’ choice. He was blameless in both His flesh and His spirit, and He offered up both blameless flesh and blameless spirit to God. There was no separating of the one from the other. For He ‘tasted death’ as Man (2.9). Thus offering Himself as blameless for the shedding of blood ‘through His eternal spirit’, if referring to His own spirit, would surely seem to separate spirit from flesh and spiritualise the whole idea too much, lifting it above the earthly in which He had voluntarily submerged Himself. Can we really so separate His spirit from what was basically a ‘down to earth’ transaction of flesh and blood as much as a spiritual one (compare 2.14 where it is stressed that it was as flesh and blood that He defeated death)? It was very much as man that He offered Himself up in the Garden of Gethsemane, not as eternal spirit. We must not over-spiritualise His offering of Himself. It was as both God and man.
Yet it was certainly ‘through His eternal spirit’ in the sense that He did it as He Who is the source of everlasting spiritual life, as the One Who was heavenly and divine, as the One Who was sent by the Father, as the One Who could therefore voluntarily choose to die in the flesh and live again (John 10.18), the Lord of life. As such His spirit was certainly ‘eternal’, ‘of the ages’. Thus it may be that we are to see this as bringing out the fact that He was in Himself, from the beginning, eternal spirit, the One Who was the resurrection and the life (John 11.25), the One ‘in Whom was life’ from the beginning (John 1.4) as He subsequently revealed in His victorious earthly life, and in His triumph through and over death (compare 7.16). His sacrifice ‘through His eternal spirit’ might thus be seen as encouraging us to see His sacrifice as eternally effective on our behalf because it was made by the eternal One, in order to give us true life so that we might live in the presence of the living God. But such a spiritualising is outside the writer’s normal way of thinking. Previously he has been robust in stressing Jesus’ essential manhood in all that He has done (although consider 1.2-3), even in revealing Himself as High Priest. And in Scripture ‘eternal’ usually looks to the ‘coming age’ rather than to all ages.
Both applications are true and present different aspects of His work. But for the reasons given above we feel that the emphasis is rather on the whole of the Godhead at work in the accomplishment of our redemption.
‘Offered Himself.’ But however we see it, it was as the great High Priest that He offered Himself as the only true unblemished sacrifice. His action was both willing and voluntary (Isaiah 53.10; Mark 14.36). He had come to do God’s will (10.7-10). He was working hand in hand with the Father. There is, however, no contradiction in this, for the will of His Father, and His own will, were as one (10.7-10; John 4.34; 5.19, 30; 6.38).
‘Cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.’ Note again the contrast between the dead and the living. God is the living One. Those who serve Him perform works that are living and vital. Dead works (compare 6.1) are those which are performed apart from the living God, in the case of these people prior to coming to know Him. They are works which are dead in themselves, they have no part in achieving ‘life’. They carry within them the smell of death, and they can only result in death. They lead men into despair.
They are not the product of the activity of the living God. Their aim is self-saving and self-glorifying, but they are in fact self-condemning and can only leave man more guilty than he was before. They achieve nothing spiritually. Whether speaking of works of merit or of dead ritual acts (and 6.1 stresses the former) they are spiritually futile. They are man’s feeble attempt to make himself right. And they fail. They can never remove the sense of guilt, they can only contribute to it. They merely confirm that ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3.23). Even when they have done all, those who perform them can only admit that what they have done cannot atone for the past. That they have only done in each work what it was their duty to do at that time, so that in regard to any saving effectiveness even those are dead works (Luke 17.10). Thus these cannot make up for the times when they have failed in their duty. Their failure ever hangs over them. They are dead in their past sins.
In direct contrast is serving the living God. Those who serve the living God produce the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22). They do not work in order to achieve merit, or in order to establish their own reputations, for their merit and their reputation has been established through the shedding of the blood of Christ. Through His sacrifice of Himself they are accepted as ‘sanctified’, made holy, set apart as God’s (2.11). They are acceptable to God through the death of His Son. They have been ‘perfected’ (10.14). Thus they gladly give of themselves to the service of God because they have been ‘bought’ by the shedding of the blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 6.20; 1 Peter 1.18-19). Having received life, they through that life serve the living God, resulting in live works.
We can finalise these few verses by pointing out that in context (verse 13) Christ’s blood is seen as spiritually ‘sprinkled’ on His own. He offered Himself as a sacrifice for sin, and the efficacy of that offering is here applied to each individual who comes to Him. It is this personal contact with the power revealed through the cross (1 Corinthians 1.18) that cleanses the conscience as opposed to the outward flesh. The Christian becomes aware that God is now totally satisfied with him because he is in Christ (2 Corinthians 5.20-21), because he is accounted righteous by His grace (Romans 3.24), because he is fully acceptable as sanctified by His blood (13.12; 1 Peter 1.2), because he is reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5.19). He no longer needs to struggle to perform dead works. In fact God requires nothing further of him to make Him acceptable, for in Christ he has done all that is required. He is totally in the clear. That is why he is now free to serve the living God as one who in God’s eyes is wholly righteous.
Christ As Mediator of the New Covenant (9.15-17).
As a result of His death for us Christ is now the Mediator of the New Covenant already mentioned (8.8-12). Not only are our sins dealt with but He works in us His perfect work. A mediator is One Who comes on behalf of two parties in order to establish terms with both and arrange all necessary fulfilment of any requirements, in order to bring about between them what is desired. From God’s point of view He recognises the necessity of the shedding of blood for sin, indeed because of His holiness demands it, while from man’s point of view He offers Himself as a sacrifice as representative Man. Having accomplished that He can then arrange a further carrying out of the terms by His Spirit working in our hearts and by His acting in Heaven on our behalf. But first there must be the required shedding of blood.
9.15 ‘And for this cause he is the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.’
It is because as High Priest He offered Himself to death as an unblemished sacrifice that He is demonstrated to be the Mediator of the new covenant. "For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" (1 Timothy 2.5-6). And this death took place ‘for the redemption of the transgressions which were under the old covenant’ (compare the propitiatory sacrifice by which our ‘sins done aforetime’ could be passed over - Romans 3.25). Without that death we would yet be left in our sins. We could have no part in the covenant. But having been delivered by His covenantal death as Mediator by the shedding of His blood (compare Luke 22.20; 1 Corinthians 11.25; Matthew 26.28; Mark 14.24) we can now enjoy His life, provided as our inheritance in that new covenant (Galatians 2.20; Ephesians 3.16-17).
The idea of redemption (apolutrosis) is again prominent here. Compare ‘eternal redemption (lutrosis)’ - verse 12. For apolutroo in LXX see Exodus 21.8 where the buying back of a family member is in mind. The idea is of the Kinsman Redeemer who pays off the debts of one of his family (Leviticus 25.47-49), redeeming them from their transgressions under the old covenant by the payment of the required price. Here in Hebrews the idea is that they are ransomed by Him and set free (compare Mark 10.45). This then releases them from the old covenant so that they can participate in the new.
But if a ransom is paid, to whom is it paid? The final answer is, to God and the requirements that result from what He is. For man was enslaved by sin, bound by guilt, and was under sentence of death because he had failed to pay his due to God. And this was all owing to what God is. By His very nature God had to require it of man. So, until God’s sentence on man could be averted by being fully satisfied, man could only remain in that state. Thus the price of sin had to be paid, guilt had to be removed, the sentence of death satisfied, and then man could be released. Redemption vindicated the moral law, the moral nature of God.
Once the redemption has taken place the ‘called’, those chosen (Ephesians 1.4) and called by God (2 Timothy 1.9), receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (or ‘of the inheritance of the age to come’), eternal life (the ‘life of the age to come’). To ‘receive the promise’ means to enter into enjoyment of it (compare 11.39). In this regard it should be noted that the initial element of this inheritance is received now (John 5.24; 1 John 5.13) as well as being enjoyed even more wonderfully in the future in God’s eternal kingdom. Thus it is even now ‘the age to come’. It is the consequence of our eternal redemption (verse 10).
God’s future blessings for His own are often seen as an inheritance (e.g. Acts 20.32; Ephesians 1.11, 14; Colossians 1.12; 1 Peter 1.4), but it is the more apposite here because the writer goes on to speak of Christ’s last will and testament. It is the inheritance of the saints in God’s light (Colossians 1.12-13; Revelation 21.23; 22.5) received under His rule.
This use of the idea of inheritance is significant. An inheritance is something that comes to you as a gift. In its basic idea it is not earned, it is not bought, it is not worked for. It comes as a result of the undeserved grace of the giver. It brings out the fact that what God’s people will receive in the future is not their deserts but the giving of blessings by a gracious God.
So the picture is of our great High Priest, our Kinsman Redeemer, Who acting as mediator, and having died for us, applies to us the benefits of His death and grants to us eternal life, the eternal inheritance, which is granted to us by the grace of God, and ‘bought’ for us through His blood.
‘Of the transgressions which were under the old covenant.’ The question which might arise here is as to whether this merely signifies that those living in the time of the writer who had sinned under the old covenant could now be redeemed, (because that is what is in the writer’s mind). Or whether it includes the transgressions of all Old Testament believers for which Christ’s death and mediation was effective (Romans 3.25). Or whether it refers to all transgressions committed by those who have now been ‘called’, who had committed them before they were under the new covenant (because, whether Jew or Gentile, all were assumed to be under the old). It is not really necessary to choose between them. By implication, if not in fact, all are in mind, the point being that any who are called would necessarily have to have had their old sins dealt with, and that that could only be through the blood of Jesus.
Whichever way therefore that we take it, the words are true. Those who believed in the Old Testament period, whose sins were for a time passed over through their obedience to the covenant as they knew it in all its facets, were awaiting the coming of the One Who would Himself bear their sins (Romans 3.25). Thus implicit in their calling was the fact that God would in future deal effectively with their sins. Those who were never patently under the old covenant because they were not Israelites/Jews were nevertheless under it latently, for they were under the law of conscience. Sinning without law they would perish without law unless they were ‘called’ and their sins atoned for, for they were as it were voluntarily ‘under the law’ by responding to their consciences (Romans 2.12-16).
The context might be seen as suggesting that the second interpretation is paramount, (while drawing in the other two), for it has depicted the problems of people under the old covenant. It had only been effective outwardly, not inwardly. Thus unless we are to see the Old Testament believers as left without real hope there had to be some explanation as to how they too could share in God’s true salvation.
We should now note one of the implications of this verse which will be taken up in the next. There is in mind here a new covenant. But it is more than a covenant. In order for it to come into force there must be a redeeming death because of their sin under the old covenant. Thus it must be a covenant linked with death. And the result is to be an inheritance received, an inheritance not receivable until the death has occurred. It is thus seen to be a covenant-testament, a covenant, which was irrevocable because of Who made it and because it was unconditional, and yet only coming into force through the death of the bestower, and therefore being like a will.
9.16-17 ‘For where a covenant-testament (diatheke) is, there must of necessity be the death of him that made it. For a testament is of force where there has been death, for it never avails while he who made it is alive.’
Thus having brought out that the new covenant was, as far as God is concerned, a ‘covenant-testament’ he stresses again that it was more than a covenant. It was an unconditional God-to-man covenant (diatheke), with God the Benefactor and man the beneficiary, because it referred to what God had covenanted to bring about, and it was a testament (diatheke) because from the very beginning its bringing about was, in God’s purposes, linked to the death of the Covenantor. Such a covenant testament thus necessarily involves the death of the One Who made it, without which it could not come into force.
The further implication here is that God has in the covenant given all things to His Son (John 3.35; 13.3; 16.15; 17.10), Who has therefore become the covenantor as well as the mediator, and that He must die in order for the covenant to come into force because of the special nature of the covenant as a covenant-testament.
This revelation could be expressed in this way because word used for ‘covenant’ in the New Testament (diatheke) regularly means ‘a will’ in popular Greek usage, but was used in LXX to translate God’s ‘covenant’ (berith) with His prospective people. This situation arose because the usual Greek word for covenant (suntheke) rather referred to a covenant between equals, while God’s covenant (diatheke) with His people, was like a will in that it was that of a benefactor to a beneficiary and was initiated solely by God.
However, it was not just a play on the meaning of a word for such a covenant was recognised as regularly accompanied by the symbolised death of one or both of the parties involved, and where a death was not mentioned it would certainly be somewhere in the background (as he will now illustrate). Its fulfilment was totally dependent on His intention that man should benefit through a death (just as a will was an expression of intention). And in this case, because God is unchangeable and the covenant unconditional, it was a binding intention.
So the writer has taken advantage of this dual usage in order to point out that in fact the requirement for a death implicit in the word diatheke emphasises the fact that the new covenant is not only a covenant but a covenant-will, which will be brought into force through death. This is not just clever manoeuvring, a trite play on words. It can be likened to this precisely because it was always God’s necessary intention on making the covenant (the old having been broken) that it would be actioned through death, the death of His own Son through Whom the inheritance was to be passed on. This thus made it a will (but not only a will, for, apart from a deathbed will, a will is revocable), as well as a covenant.
The stress here is thus on what God’s intention in making the new covenant was from the beginning. It was always His direct intention that the fulfilment of the covenant should be dependent on the death of His appointed Benefactor. Thus it was from the beginning also a special kind of covenant, a covenant-will. The making of the covenant and its being actioned was always in God’s eyes linked to a death, the death of His Son.
He illuminates this further by arguing that where there is a will it is the intention that it will not be enforceable while the testator is alive. So in this case too the application of this solemn covenant-will, made by God, can only take place through Christ’s necessary death, solemnising the covenant and bringing it into effect, making it ‘of force’. The change in illustration is valid in this case because of the intention of the covenantor. It was He Who in His eternal purposes tied His covenant to a death, because He knew that without it the fulfilment could not take place. And that is what is being indicated here.
It would lose its force with an ordinary will-maker who does not choose to die and can withdraw his will. There the will is not a covenant but simply a prospective ‘covenant’. So this case is more like the case of a man who has chosen that he will die or is on the point of death and has made his will accordingly knowing it to be irrevocable. It is a covenant-will. In choosing to make a covenant with man He always recognised that the consequence must be His own death in His Son. It was a covenant of blood.
The Centrality of Death In God’s Saving Purposes In Order For All Things To Be Cleansed and Purified (9.18-28).
We are now looking at the detailed explanation of 1.3. How did the Son make purification of sins? By coming as the Christ Messiah and shedding His blood for all who would receive Him. Just as the shedding of blood was central in the old covenant, so it is in the new. But whereas the old required many and continual sacrifices through the centuries, the new required only one sacrifice for sin for ever. For He was so immense that His once-for-all sacrifice covered the sin of all ages and of all people for all time. All Who would might therefore reach out for salvation, receiving it as God’s free gift and being finally saved to the uttermost through Him.
9.18-20 ‘For this reason even the first covenant has not been dedicated without blood. For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded towards you”.’
Indeed such a death was ever seen as necessary for an important covenant. It sealed it permanently. And it was specifically true of the first covenant. The first idea of the application of blood was that none could withdraw on pain of death. That is why the first covenant, the old covenant, was dedicated with blood and sprinkled on the altar and the people. It bound both parties irrevocably while the conditions were fulfilled. And once the conditions were broken there arose ‘the transgressions which were under the first covenant’, and the parties involved in these were, as a result, doomed to die. Thus any new covenant had also necessarily to take into account the need for atonement. Death must be implicit in any new covenant simply because it was required of those who had broken the old.
The making of the old covenant is now described in detail. Once it had been declared, and Moses had described every commandment in the covenant to all the people (for all were to be involved and must know what they were agreeing to), he carried out ceremonial sacrifices in order to seal the covenant with blood, applying the blood both to the record of the covenant itself, and to all the people (Exodus 24.6-8). By this they were bound to obedience to it on pain of death, and God, as the One to Whom the sacrifices were offered, was equally bound to them while they faithfully kept the covenant.
Yet as the context here makes clear, that blood was not just a symbol of the sacredness of the contract, it was also a requirement because of the sinfulness already present on the part of one of the parties involved. Such a contract could not have been made without cleansing for sin. For there was a past to be atoned for, and as we are shortly to be informed, the main purpose of the shedding of blood is the remission of sin (verse 22). Furthermore the whole context here is of cleansing from sin (verses 12-14, 21-22). Any explanation therefore that lacks that necessity is itself lacking.
So we may undoubtedly recognise here that the shedding of blood, as well as sealing the covenant, also had a cleansing significance, for whenever blood was shed sacrificially in relation to anything connected with God such a meaning was necessarily involved. Because the contract was made with sinners, cleansing must therefore be involved.
The passage in Exodus does not mention the sprinkling of the blood on the book It does, however, bring the book into close connection with the ceremony. The blood there is sprinkled on the specially erected altar and on the people connecting God with His people. The book may well have been placed on the altar in such ceremonies. The writer may well have been writing on the basis of his knowledge of such ceremonies, or of some tradition which drew this out. Nor does the passage mention the method of sprinkling which is described in the detail given here, which is in fact partly similar to that for the sprinkling of the ashes of the heifer (Numbers 19.6). Note how here it is just assumed that these had been used in the sprinkling. It was thus clearly a recognised custom to use scarlet wool and hyssop for sprinkling, compare Leviticus 14.4, 6, 7.
9.21 ‘Moreover the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry he sprinkled in like manner with the blood.’
And not only was blood applied in the covenant ceremony, but later everything connected with the covenant, the Tabernacle and all the vessels of ministry, were sprinkled in the same way with sacrificial blood. This initial sprinkling of blood is not mentioned in the Pentateuch, but it was recognised as being a fact by Josephus, and thus clearly a traditional idea among the Jews. This is entering more deeply into the significance of the shedding of blood. The shedding of blood was essential for the purifying of all that was to be involved in the relationship between God and His people. It was a cleansing necessary as a result of their sinfulness, for all was contaminated by man and his world. Thus the blood not only sealed and solemnised, it also indicated cleansing and purifying.
9.22 ‘And according to the law, I may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and apart from shedding of blood there is no remission.’
Indeed the Law made it quite clear, that ‘apart from the shedding of blood’ there is no cleansing, there ‘is no remission (of sin)’. It tells us that all in the world is seen as tainted by sin, and that this taint of sin can only be dealt with by death, by the shedding of blood. By this, sin is seen as having affected everything that is. It is seen as rampant and the world as therefore cut off from God. And to remedy that requires death, a special death. For the wages of sin is death.
The Law therefore reveals that removal of the taint of sin can only be dealt with by the shedding of blood. It is only by that means that anything, including the tabernacle, and to a lesser degree the camp of Israel, could become holy to Yahweh. It is indeed often asked, why so many sacrifices? And the answer is, because there were so many sins. But all awaited the one great sacrifice for sins, which was once-for-all and would never required to be repeated, for its sufficiency was more than enough for the whole world of all ages. In the end it was without the shedding of that Blood that there was no remission of sins.
‘I may almost say.’ Other things were in fact also connected with cleansing such as fire and water for purifying captured wealth (Numbers 31.22-24). See also Numbers 16.46, where instant atonement is made for the rebellious people by the use of the fires from the altar borne in a censer, which however connects with the shedding of blood (compare Isaiah 6.5); Numbers 31.50 where atonement had to be made for not giving the Lord His portion of what was won as spoil in battle, by remedying the failure and doing exactly that; and Leviticus 5.11-13 where the very poor could offer fine flour as a sin offering. But these were very secondary and peripheral. It was the shedding of blood that was ever the most prominent.
9.23 ‘It was necessary therefore that the copies of the things in the heavens should be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.’
Thus the copies of heavenly things, all that was involved in the ritual of Israel, had to be cleansed with the shedding of blood. ‘It was necessary’ for it had all been connected with what was sinful, and with man in his sinfulness, and sinfulness required death. So if man was to approach God, the means by which he did so must be through the shedding of blood, as he must himself be cleansed by the shedding of blood, for all was connected with sin, and sin demands death. But, because they were only copies, the cleansing could also itself take place through copies and shadows. Those involved were only seeking to enter an earthly Tabernacle, and therefore earthly sacrifices sufficed. Once they sought to enter the heavens it would be a different matter. There was no way of entering Heaven by means of these.
‘But the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.’ And here is the crunch. Heavenly things could not be cleansed by the old sacrifices and rituals. They only sufficed on earth. Things which were to be in contact with heavenly places required deeper and better cleansing. The earthly sacrifices were of no avail there. However awesome their presentation, earthly sacrifices were useless for any purification connected with ‘the heavens’. For ‘heavenly things’ are a part of the greater Reality outside the reach of the mundane. This is not referring to Heaven itself, but to things connected with ‘the heavens’ (epourania), especially such as were transferred from earth.
But why should cleansing be necessary with regard to ‘heavenly things’? In 12.23 two of such heavenly things are outlined and directly connected with the mediation of Jesus Christ and the sprinkling of blood (12.24), they are the ‘church of the Firstborn’, and ‘the spirits of just men made perfect’. Without the blood of Jesus they could not have entered the heavenlies. For all who would enter Heaven from earth require such cleansing, and it was only because of such cleansing that they were able to enter into the presence of God. The copies could be cleansed with animal blood, but not these. Anything earthly which would enter the heavenly sphere required a better sacrifice, a fuller and more complete sacrifice. To enter Heaven there had to be inward cleansing as well as outward.
And it is indeed because we have experienced such cleansing that we can even now at the present time enjoy lives in heavenly places (epourania) (Ephesians 1.3; 2.6). Those who would now in Christ enter ‘the age to come’, and come under the Heavenly Rule of God, and into enjoyment of the Spirit, can only do so because of the shedding of His blood, which not only purifies us but enables us to renew and retain such purity (1 John 1.7) as we live in heavenly places (Ephesians 2.6, compare 1.3) where our citizenship lies (Philippians 3.20), looking not at the things which are seen but at the things that are unseen (2 Corinthians 4.18).
Besides, there is also spiritual wickedness in heavenly places, though of course not in Heaven itself. That comes out in Ephesians 6.12. That too had had to be dealt with at the cross (Colossians 2.15). That also was defeated by the shedding of His blood, and the cleansing made as a result, for in the end all has to have been made clean either by blood or by fire. So in mind here in the reference to ‘the heavenlies’ is the spiritual sphere that we enter when we become Christians which is a part of ‘the heavenlies’, and where the evil forces of the Enemy carry out their main wickedness. Cleansing in that spiritual sphere requires the sprinkling of the blood of Christ. And that cleansing of the heavenlies too is necessary, for all does finally have to be purified, and earthly sacrifices are not enough to purify these heavenly places.
‘With better sacrifices than these.’ Note the plural. Yet we have been told that all was in fact cleansed by the one sacrifice. Why then the plural? Why not ‘a better sacrifice’? The writer possibly has in mind that that the one sacrifice included many sacrifices; there was His humbling of Himself to come into a sinful world, there was His persecution and tribulation within that world, and there were His final sufferings at the cross. All came together in that one sacrifice. Alternately it may be a plural of intensity speaking of something which outdid all other sacrifices, the plural bearing in mind the multiplicity of what it is contrasted with. Just to speak of ‘a better sacrifice’ may have been seen as limiting the comparison. By using the plural he demonstrates that the sacrifice of Jesus combines in itself the equivalent of all sacrifices. His sacrifice of Himself was better than all the sacrifices put together.
9.24 ‘For Christ entered not into a holy place made with hands, like in pattern to the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us.’
And the reason that the better sacrifice is required is precisely because Messiah is not entering an earthly tabernacle, one made with human hands and simply a pattern, even though a good pattern, but into Heaven itself. He is entering the true Holy Place where the High and Holy One sits on His throne in full majesty. And there He will appear before the very face of God for us so that we are personally and continually represented, through His intercession, in the presence of the Most Holy One. This is the great Reality in contrast with the copies and shadows of the old covenant. Fake holiness might be able to enter the earthly Tabernacle, but that which enters the heavenly Tabernacle must be truly pure and holy through and through.
‘Before the face of God for us.’ It was said of Moses that God spoke with him face to face like a man speaks with his friend (Exodus 33.11). Compare Deuteronomy 34.10 where it revealed his uniqueness as a prophet. But even then all knew that it should not be taken too literally, for God in the fullness of His glory was in Heaven while Moses was on the earth. It is rather saying that he knew God and spoke to God like no other. But here is One Who appears before the very face of God in Heaven where there are no shadows, only the great Reality. He literally sees God face to face as He is in Heaven. He sees behind the glory to the very face of God. Here is One Who is a greater than Moses, with a ministry more directly carried out before the face of God in Heaven. And whereas for Moses such experiences were temporary, for Christ they are permanent.
And we should note the consequence of the phrase. He was ‘before the face of God’. Not only did He see God face to face, but all that He was, was known to God. He was laid bare before Him. Not one thing could be shielded from that piercing Eye. And yet approaching in His Manhood He was clearly found completely satisfactory. He was the One Whose ways were totally pleasing to God. For the first time since the days of Adam a Man appeared before God unflinchingly and without fear, in order to represent those who were His. It was the proof in embryo of the total restoration of man, for He was there ‘for us’.
9.25-26 ‘Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest enters into the holy place year by year with blood not his own, otherwise must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world. But now once at the end of the ages has he been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.’
Nor was His entry into Heaven one of many such entries which had to be made by Him, as though He had no permanent right there, for His one offering of Himself was sufficient for all sin for all time. Therefore could He be permanently before the face of God. He was not like the High Priests who had to enter to make atonement year by year, offering blood which was not their own, and then had to leave again, for had the effect of His sacrifice been of such a temporary nature He would have had to undergo regular periodic suffering, beginning from the very foundation of the world, when sin first began. (Note the implication that His own blood was the only offering that He could make in view of the kind of priest that He was). But it was not so. For now, once at the end of the ages, He had been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and He had been wholly successful.
The implication in these words is enormous. Firstly that He has entered into the presence of God and has put away sin once-for-all for all time, reaching right back to the beginning and right on to the end. His sacrifice is sufficient to cover all sin of all ages, and once made does not have to be repeated. For those who are His, sin has been ‘put away’. And secondly that this is ‘the end of the ages’. It is now the last age, the promised ‘coming age’ of the prophets, the age of the everlasting kingdom, already here and bound up in Christians, and to be consummated in the eternal Kingdom. There remain no further earthly ages to come.
9.27-28 ‘And inasmuch as it is appointed to men once to die, and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time, apart from sin, to those who wait for him, to salvation.’
‘It is appointed to men once to die.’ That was the sentence in Eden. It is the continual sentence (Romans 5.12; 6.23). So Christ having been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and having been rejected by the world as a whole, all that now remains for each one in the world that has rejected Him is death and judgment. They do not just die. They are appointed to die. The judge has made his preliminary decision. Note that they are each to ‘die once’, that death being seen as final. That is what is required as the wages of sin (Romans 6.23). And after this will come their judgment, when the sentence will be confirmed. They face eternal death.
And just as it is appointed for such men to die once, so was it appointed for Christ to be offered once, bearing the sins of many (Isaiah 53.12), one death again being all that was required for their sin, for His death was of a sufficiency to cover all. It was the infinite dying for the finite. So for those who are His, His one death for all time delivers them from the ‘death resulting in judgment’ that should have been theirs. Death is no longer the wages of sin for them. Not for them the judgment of condemnation. They have been crucified with Christ (Romans 6.6; Galatians 2.20; 3.13), and their sin has therefore been borne in Him as a result of that one sacrificing of Himself, and they thus live through Him.
Note here the deliberate contrast between death followed by judgment and Christ’s offering of Himself, followed, for those who believe, in salvation. The judgment is not emphasised, the emphasis is on Christ as the Saviour, but nevertheless the contrast is real. For those who refuse His offering of Himself death awaits, for those who refuse His salvation judgment awaits, and that includes for the earthly priesthood.
So just as the High Priest emerged from the Tabernacle on the Day of Atonement, and thereby triumphantly revealed to the waiting crowds that their temporary atonement had once more been successfully accomplished, so will Christ emerge from Heaven at the end of time, appearing to His own who are waiting for Him (1 Thessalonians 4.13-18), to proclaim that their full, permanent atonement has been satisfactorily achieved in every respect. Because of it they are accepted as holy, unblameable and unreproveable before Him (Ephesians 1.4; 5.27; Colossians 1.22; Jude 1.24).
Thus will He appear in His glory, free from all connections with sin, such having been atoned for once-for-all by His sacrifice on the cross, in order to finalise their salvation and make their salvation complete. They will be changed in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15.52), and be caught up to meet Him in the air, there to be ever with Him (1 Thessalonians 4.17).
‘To those who wait for Him.’ There are a number of ways in which His people wait for Him. Firstly by their steadfast faith in His appearing, resting with implicit confidence on His promises in John 14.2- 3. Secondly by having a real love for it, a yearning to see Him (2 Timothy 4.8). Thirdly by having an ardent longing for it, so that they cry, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22.20). Fourthly by patiently waiting for it, in the midst of many discouragements (James 5.7- 8). Fifthly by personally preparing themselves for it and living in the light of it (Matthew 25.10, 13-46; Luke 12.35-37 and often). If we do not recognise in these our own attitudes we need to be considering our ways. He appears to those who wait for Him.
‘Apart from sin.’ He had been made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5.21) but now that sin has been atoned for by His sacrifice of Himself and He is therefore once more free from sin, from our sin which He took on Himself. As far as God is concerned, and as far as He is concerned, and as far as those who believe are concerned, sin has therefore been dealt with for ever. Their sins are no more. Furthermore their Sanctifier has done His work totally and completely and is now bringing to its final conclusion His leading of them safe to Heaven (2.10-11). Their Trek Leader will have finalised the trek successfully, having lost none of those who put themselves totally under His control (John 17.12; 10.27-29).
By these means and arguments therefore has the writer demonstrated to his readers the total superiority of our great High Priest, the total superiority of the sacrifice that He made and the total superiority of the salvation that He offers. He has especially made clear that hope lies finally in the blood of Christ offered for us.
We finish the chapter by considering what Christ did do, and what He did not do, which furthers the writer’s arguments.
What He did not do compared with what He did do.
In the light of this fact that He was superior in every way they were to choose which High Priesthood they would follow, the earthly one which dealt with copies and shadows, or the heavenly One Who dealt with the great Realities.
God’s Will Was Always, Even From The Beginning, That Sin Would Be Dealt With Through The Offering of the Body of Jesus As The Perfect Sacrifice For The Perfecting Of Those Whom He Has Set Apart (10.1-18).
As we come to the close of this long section on Christ’s High Priesthood it is now made clear that the death of Jesus on the cross had always been the will and purpose of God. All that had come before had merely foreshadowed it. But in the end that was all that they were, shadows. The reality had come when Jesus came to do His will, and in accordance with that will He offered Himself on our behalf. And through that one once-for-all offering He was able to ‘sanctify’ us (make us ‘holy’ in Christ as fully set apart to Him and covered by His righteousness), and thus present us as perfect before Him in the perfection of Christ. It is a once-for-all change of situation and position for those who are in Christ.
The argument follows a clear pattern. It begins with the inadequacy of the old covenant, under which repeated sacrifices were necessary (verses 1-4). It then stresses that the one voluntary sacrifice of Christ, supersedes the repeated sacrifices (verses 5-10), and that the one priesthood of Christ, supersedes the Levitical priesthood (verses 11-14), and concludes with the full adequacy of the New Covenant, because no more sacrifice for sins is necessary (verses 15-18).
The Old Covenant (the Law) Could Not Do Make Men And Women Perfect. It Was a Failure As Far As Taking Away Sin Was Concerned (10.1-4).
10.1 ‘For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things, can never with the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually (or ‘in perpetuity’), make perfect those who draw near.’
For the fact is that the old ceremonial Law could not make men perfect so that they could come openly and without restraint before God, because it dealt in shadows, in what were only partial representations of the full reality. The outward purpose of the full Law was to make men perfect before God, but it could only partially achieve it because it was not in itself sufficient. It served its purpose until men were more in a position to receive the full truth, the reality, ‘the very image (full and accurate representation) of the thing’.
And one reason why it could only partially succeed was that it only contained within it a shadow of the good things to come, a partial, clouded representation (as of God at Sinai) but not the full reality. The ‘good things’ include such good things as full forgiveness of sins, fullness of spiritual life, understanding of truth in the heart, and the ability to approach God directly and walk with Him. And these were to be introduced through the Coming One, through Jesus, and His perfect life and teaching, and through Who He is as made known to men, and through His equally perfect sacrifice of Himself. The Law could not contain a true image of those things. It simply portrayed shadows, a visible but vague outline of the real thing, which was partial and had no lasting substance and was therefore eventually to pass away as all shadows do when the sun comes to its height.
It did this through an earthly sanctuary, with its sacred furniture, and its continuously active priesthood, with its message of ‘come, but do not come too close’, and its ever continuing sacrificial system which endlessly and unceasingly made offerings for sin. All this brought home the holiness and mercy of God. But they were shadows of the truth (although far better than the nations around enjoyed). They could not accomplish the reality. They were like a vague dark shape resulting from a partially revealed light, a promise of what might be, without giving a full, true illumination. Rather than bringing men right into God’s presence they kept them at a safe distance from Him, (although this in itself revealed something about Him), while still allowing limited approach on the right terms. They said, ‘thus far and no further’. For they could never achieve the end of perfecting God’s people sufficiently for them to come directly under the searching eye of a holy God. They could never perfect them so that they could enjoy a perfect relationship with the Holy One. And this was because they failed to fully remove men’s sin or transform men and did not reveal the full true image, the heavenly reality. Thus they could not bring men fully to God. And this was especially true of the sacrifices which were offered continually year by year on the Day of Atonement.
It may be asked, in that case why did God introduce them to these sacrifices and this ritual? While we cannot enter fully into the mystery of God’s ways, for not all is known to us, the answer undoubtedly partly lies in their inability to grasp anything more at that time, and in their unfitness to receive it. Truth had to be revealed on the basis of what they could appreciate. And God clearly saw it as best to reveal it under conditions that they could understand because it was in some way related to what they saw around them.
At that stage they had no conception of Heaven, no real conception of the holiness of God, no deep conception of sin. (Many of them, the mixed multitude (Exodus 12.38) had no background at all in the things of Yahweh). It was through these very sacrifices and ritual, and the history that followed, that such conceptions were slowly built up. They were a preparation for what was to come. Indeed we must remember that when something of the greater reality was first revealed to them through the glory of God on the face of Moses, they pleaded for it to be hidden from them. They did not want to come too close to God.
Furthermore we must remember that they also had to be wooed from the worship of those round about them. Had they not had a ritual that was as good as, and even better than, that of others they would have been constantly tempted to stray as they saw what others seemed to have (as they in fact later did because they were unable to trust God). But at the same time as they seemingly shared the experience of those around them, they did so with the knowledge that their God was invisible, that He was not like any earthly parallel, that He was not a part of nature, and that He was God over all while having a personal interest in them. And they were made aware of the awfulness of sin, and that there was a God-provided way back to Him when they did sin. They were made aware of the moral dimension and that it was closely connected with Who and What their God was. It is doubtful whether at that stage and under those conditions they could have taken in any more.
We must consider how even today, when we have the greater truth, men still seek to depend on, and are led astray by, great buildings and a ritual that can blind men to the truth about God. They still seek after material rather than spiritual worship. How much more then in their day. If they had had nothing similar they would have seen the pagan temples, the pagan ceremonials, and in large numbers would have been drawn to them and away from God’s Law.
Furthermore the ritual that they were given did lead those whose hearts were right in the right way. Not for them idolatrous representations of gods that were no gods. Not for them gods who could be manipulated and controlled. Not for them gods which could be easily made, and as easily broken. Rather they knew God as One Who could not be too easily approached and manipulated. One Who was in control rather than being controlled by them. Thus it was for their good, and was certainly sufficient, for those whose hearts were right were enabled to find forgiveness (on the basis of what their offerings pointed forward to) and to come to a deeper knowledge of God than they had previously had. As with the Psalmists, there were those who knew God intimately in their hearts and who walked with Him daily. And that was why the prophets had to prophesy of heavenly things in earthly terms. Which is why those who even now cannot see this have invented a future Millennium. But the fuller perfection awaited a future day, the days of the Messiah, and now that age has come nothing further is required but the eternal kingdom in which our present experience comes to full fruition.
10.2 ‘Else would they not have ceased to be offered? because the worshippers, having been once cleansed, would have had no more consciousness of sins.’
And this lack must be true for if they had not been shadows, would they not have accomplished their end? If the worshippers had been truly cleansed, would the sacrifices not have ceased to be offered? Would the worshippers then not have ceased to be conscious of their sins because they had been truly atoned for? The very continuing repetition of the sacrifices, revealing a continuing consciousness of sin, also revealed the failure of their offerings and sacrifices to deal with sin. The necessity for continuing repairs is an evidence of continuing failure.
We should especially note here a very important point. What the writer has in mind is the final solution. What man needs is not just something to make his daily life possible in spite of his sin, but something which can once-for-all put man in such a state that he can continually approach God without fear for ever, something that can be finally effective.
10.3-4 ‘But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance made of sins year by year, for it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.’
But this was not so with ‘those sacrifices’. Indeed their continually being offered, rather than suggesting that they were a solution to the problem, was a continual reminder of the fact that they were not a solution but a temporary measure, something that must go on and on, but would never finally achieve their purpose. Year by year they drew attention to the failure of God’s people, and therefore to their own failure to make men perfect. And this was part of their purpose, to continually remind man that the wages of sin was death, to face men up with the awfulness of sin, to give a remembrance of sin, and to turn men to the One Who alone could deal with sin.
And it was inevitable that they could only be a reminder to men of sin, and their need for mercy, for, if they only thought about it they would realise that the blood of bulls and of goats could never take away sins. How could they be sufficient to do so? What power had they to do so? They were but sacrifices of dumb beasts which had no choice in the matter. How could the blood of such bulls and goats make men perfect? The whole idea was impossible. All they could be at their very best was the proof of repentance from a heart which had failed, but desired to be obedient to God. Although let that not be dismissed as unimportant.
For what was much more important to God than sacrifices was obedience (see 1 Samuel 15.22; Psalm 50.8-14; 51.16-17; Hosea 6.6; Isaiah 1.10-17; Jeremiah 7.21-23). It was only sacrifice that resulted from a desire to be obedient that was acceptable to God. It was surely therefore clear that these offerings must be insufficient in themselves but were portraying a greater reality than they themselves possessed. It should be clear that if man’s sin was to be taken away, and if man was to be made perfect, a far greater sacrifice and a far greater power than theirs would be required, a sacrifice both voluntary and tied up with full obedience, a sacrifice which was greater far than all of them.
The Once-For-All Nature of Christ’s Sacrifice For Us In The Body (10.5-18).
10.5-6 ‘That is the reason why when he comes into the world, he says, “Sacrifice and offering you would not, But a body did you prepare for me. In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you had no pleasure.” ’
So it was because of the failure of these offerings and sacrifices to finally achieve God’s purpose that they were to be put aside as not sufficient for God. That then explains why the Psalmist said that when Messiah comes into the world He will declare, ‘sacrifice and offering you would not, but a body did you prepare for Me.’ He is setting aside the offerings and sacrifices because in His coming a greater purpose was here. And while the Psalmist had merely been thinking of them being put in a secondary place (the emphasis is on insufficiency), pointing to the pre-eminence of an obedient ear and heart, the complete fulfilment of his words would set the sacrifices aside altogether, to be replaced by a something better. He had spoken better than he knew.
The quotation is taken from Psalm 40.6-8 LXX. There the Psalmist is speaking of obedience as being far more important to God than any sacrifices (compare 1 Samuel 15.22; Psalm 50.8-14; 51.16-17; Hosea 6.6; Isaiah 1.10-17; Jeremiah 7.21-23). For obedience was hard while partaking in ritual was easy. So the danger always with ritual was that it could become the be all and end all, as though it could work by itself regardless of the response of men’s hearts. That is not so, says the Psalmist. God looks first for the obedient heart without which all sacrifices are unacceptable and in vain.
The writer is here quoting from LXX. That was the main Greek version of the Old Testament which was largely used by the early church, who were initially Greek speaking. And in LXX ‘a body have you prepared for me’ replaces ‘ears have you dug (or pierced) for me’ which is found in the Hebrew Massoretic Text of Psalm 40 (on which our translations are mainly based). How then are these to be reconciled?
In the context of the Psalm the LXX rendering means that the body has been given to the subject in mind so that he might act obediently on God’s behalf rather than just trusting in the efficacy of outward ritual. He has been given a body so that he might walk with God and obey Him, so that he might do His will. The body here represents the whole living person, the one who hears and the one who does, in contrast to the ritual offering which neither hears nor does.
How then does this tie in with ‘ears have you dug (or pierced) for me’ in MT? It must be obvious that the Psalmist does not of course simply mean there that God has given him ears. We must ask what he means. And the obvious answer is that he means ears that hear and respond. Note the parallels in the verses (citing MT).
Note how ‘my ears have you dug into’ parallels, ‘Lo I am come’ (to do your will O my God). The second is the response to the first. Thus the ears have been entered into in order that there might be response to the will of God.
So one explanation for these words is that the Psalmist means that he knows that God has provided the subject in mind with a hearing ear and a hearing heart so that he might do God’s will. In other words by providing him with the ‘ears to hear’ he has provided that which will make his whole being (his body) responsive to God’s will. This then confirms that in both renderings the idea of the obedience of the whole man is prominent with LXX referring it to the body and MT referring it to the ear. The LXX in this explanation is thus to be seen as simply an interpretation, seeing the hearing ears as representing the whole self, because the ear is the hearing part of the body and affects the behaviour of the whole body. It is saying, you have provided me with a hearing ear, that is with a hearing and responsive body. Compare how when we say, ‘you have my ear’, we mean ‘you have the attention of my whole being’, signifying that we are listening with our whole being in order to consider a possible response.
Others, however, see ‘ears have you dug into/pierced for me’ as referring to the ceremony where a Hebrew bondsman, having served his full term of servitude, wished to remain serving his master permanently and thus had a hole made in his ear with an awl and attached to the doorway of the master’s residence (Exodus 21.6). The idea in Exodus could be seen to be that, through the attachment of the hearing ear to the door, he was giving his body in obedience to his master’s house for ever. The ear there represents the hearing ear of the servant’s whole being. Thus ‘ears have you pierced for me’ in the plural might, in the light of this, refer to the giving of one’s own self in one’s own body entirely.
This being so the ‘body prepared’ and ready to hear and obey, and the ‘hearing ear’ (which presumes a body prepared to obey) are very similar, parallel thoughts. The truth being declared is therefore the same.
Furthermore in view of the fact that the Psalm is dedicated to the house of David the words are seen by the writer as clearly applicable to the sons of David who were to come following the writing of the Psalm, and especially therefore to great David’s greater son, the Messiah. We can then come to the conclusion that these words, which in the end ill applied to any other son of David, are here put by the writer in the mouth of the Messiah to Whom they applied absolutely.
So when ‘He’ (the Christ, the Messiah) comes into the world as David’s son and as God’s great High Priest He is seen as agreeing with God that dumb, unresponsive sacrifices and offerings are insufficient. That God no longer wishes for them. That God rather seeks a body yielded in obedience, in a true and responsive life, to be offered as a sacrifice. Indeed that it is that that is at the centre of all God’s requirements. God looks for a sacrifice which has fulfilled complete obedience to His will, one that is morally without blemish.
And Christ is then shown as pointing to ‘a body’, His own body (compare here John 2.19-22), a hearing, willing, obedient body, which God has prepared for Him, as being not only God’s requirement but also God’s solution, for it is a body through which He can reveal His obedience and willingness to do God’s will, even to the point of offering Himself in death as a sacrifice. Here was God’s great plan for the future, a willing and obedient body which represented a willing and obedient man, not the body of animals who had no option and were consumed in ritual sacrifices, but the body of the Messiah, a body that would be fully obedient to Him, and could then, as without blemish, be offered as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world (John 1.29). This would more than adequately replace the burnt offerings and sacrifices and it would accomplish what they could not, for it would contain within it the essential requisite of total obedience to the will of God.
This emphasis on His earthly body in relation to His saving work comes out elsewhere in Colossians 1-2. It is in ‘the body of His flesh’ through death that we are to be presented holy, and without blemish and unreproveable before Him (Colossians 1.22 compare 1 Peter 2.24). And indeed in that body, declares Paul, dwells all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form (Colossians 2.9). For the earthly rituals were but shadows, but the body, the reality, is of Christ (Colossians 2.17). The body then represents all that He is.
He knew that He had come to be offered up in the body as a sacrifice (Mark 10.45; Luke 22.37; compare Mark 8.31; 9.31; 10.33), to die for sins not His own. And all the offerings and sacrifices had been merely shadows pointing to this. If men were to be made perfect He must be offered up in His own willing, obedient body, paying the ransom for sin, and in that body rise again. For the wages of sin was death, and perfect and eternal life could therefore only be offered through the death of One Who was equivalent to all who sinned, and Who yet died undeservedly on behalf of those who deserved death, as their representative and substitute.
For this One Who was willing and obedient in offering Himself to death had not Himself sinned, and was therefore not subject to death. But He was offering Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of His own people, dying the death that they deserved, so that the death of His body would be of more significance than all the sacrifices and offerings, all put together, and was sufficient to deal with all the sins of the whole world (1 John 2.2), if they were only willing to respond, simply because of Who and What He was.
Lying under all references to His body is the recognition of One Who was fully obedient to His Father’s will. It was a body totally given up to Him.
10.7 ‘ “Then said I, Lo, I am come (In the roll of the book it is written of me) To do your will, O God.” ’
And recognising that it was written in the Scriptures that God required the offering up of His own body, of His own self, given willingly in full obedience, He set His face like a flint to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9.51), where in Gethsemane at the final hour He bowed His head and said, ‘Your will be done’ (Mark 14.36 and parallels). For He knew that that was why He had come. He was here to do God’s will, as it was written in the Scriptures. He was here to be the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, the suffering Son of Man of Daniel 7.25 with 13, the suffering Son of David of Psalm 22.
‘To do your will, O God.’ Compare John 4.34; 8.29. And God’s will is our salvation and sanctification (see John 5.30; 6.38-40; Ephesians 1.5, 9, 11; 1 Thessalonians 4.3; 1 Timothy 2.4).
10.8 ‘Saying above, Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin were not your will, neither did you have pleasure in them (the which are offered according to the law),’
‘Saying above.’ In verses 5-6.
‘Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin were not your will, neither did you have pleasure in them.’ For in the final analysis it was not a whole range of animal sacrifices that God wanted. They may have been many and varied, but they were a concession to human weakness, to meeting His people as they were, shaped by their environment. They were not His final will. Nor did He find any satisfaction in them when they were not offered from fully obedient hearts (this refers, the writer says, to those sacrifices made in accordance with ‘law’ - with legal requirements). What He required was obedience to His will, and what was therefore really necessary because of His holiness and purity, was an obedient and willing sacrifice, a sacrifice made by One Who knew all the truth and was fully submissive to His will at whatever cost.
10.9 ‘Then has he said, “Lo, I am come to do your will.” He abrogates the first, that he may establish the second.’
And in particular what God wanted was that His will might be done in accordance with His eternal plan, and that will was the offering up of the body of His Son Jesus once for all. And that doing of God’s will was also what Jesus willed along with Him, and voluntarily entered into, as He demonstrated when He boldly stated, ‘See, I am come to do your will’.
‘He abrogates (cancels) the first, that he may establish the second.’ So by His act of obedience does He rid men of dependence on offerings and sacrifices, so that He might establish and make them dependent on His fully obedient, crucified and risen body of which they are to become ‘members’.
10.10 ‘By which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.’
‘By which will.’ And thus it is by the will of God, as well as by His own will, that the body of Jesus the Messiah has been offered up, once for all, so that also by God’s will those whom He has chosen in eternity (Ephesians 1.4), and calls to Himself, might be ‘sanctified’ in Christ’s body. That is, that they might be set apart to Him, in union with Christ, being seen as perfect before Him (compare 1 Corinthians 1.30; 2 Corinthians 5.21), clothed in the righteousness and obedience and perfection of Christ. The idea of being ‘sanctified’ here is that they are made fully acceptable to God through participation in Christ’s once-for-all offering of Himself as the One Who was obedient in all things, a sanctification (a making holy, a separating in all things) the benefit of which continues to the present time.
‘We have been sanctified.’ Perfect tense, ‘have been and therefore are sanctified’. In God’s will they have been borne along (compare John 6.37-40; Ephesians 1.5, 9, 11) and made acceptable to a holy God religiously, being now seen as holy to God and pure before Him (see 1.3). This is almost the priestly equivalent of being ‘justified’, which is a legal term signifying ‘accounted as righteous’ in the eyes of a judge. Both then result in continued sanctification (verse 14).
‘Through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.’ The offering of the body of Jesus Christ, both representative Man (Jesus - 2.9) and Messiah (Christ), the One Who always did the will of God, enables His obedience to be set to our account and be like a covering over us, enshrouding us in His purity and goodness, as it is applied to us through the sprinkling of His blood (13.12). We are sanctified by His Spirit resulting in obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1.2)
10.11-13 ‘And every priest indeed stands day by day ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, the which can never take away sins, but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God, henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet.’
For, says the writer, I want you to note the contrast. The priests minister day by day, standing and continually and regularly offering the same type of sacrifice over and over again, their service never ceasing. (He has in mind the priesthood as described in the Pentateuch, rather than the later multiplied priesthood). Yet they can never take away sins. But He in contrast, having offered one sacrifice of sins for ever, had accomplished once-for-all what was required for the taking away of sins, for He sat down at the right hand of God, complete proof that His priestly work was done and satisfactorily accomplished.
And now, His task being completed successfully, He reigns and encourages His people, and waits for all His enemies to be defeated and humbled at His feet. Success has been achieved, victory over all evil in the heavens and in earth has been accomplished. His work has been finalised. He could triumphantly say, ‘it is finished’. All that awaits is the final consummation.
Note the deliberate contrasts:
‘Can never take away.’ Can never remove that which envelops (perielein). Man has woven his filthy garment of sin (Isaiah 64.6) which cannot be removed by priestly offerings. But through Christ it can be removed and we can instead be enveloped in His obedience (verse 14). For the idea compare Psalm 109.19; Zechariah 3.4.
‘Sat down on the right hand of God, henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet.’ This further reference to Psalm 110 ties in with the continual references to this Psalm in the letter (1.3, 13; 5.6; 7.17, 21; 8.1). His triumph as revealed in this Psalm was clearly central to his thinking. He has taken His seat because His redeeming work has been accomplished, and He awaits the final triumph that must result because it is all connected with the same purpose.
10.14 ‘For by one offering he has perfected for ever those who are sanctified.’
For by one offering He has fully achieved His aim, He has perfected for ever (perfected in the past so that the benefit continues to the present day) those who are being sanctified (are in the process of having their sanctification, provided for them in verse 10, made into a reality through and through). That is, He has made them be seen as continually perfect in the sight of God, clothing them with His own perfection, with a view to them being made perfect through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
‘Perfected for ever.’ Made perfect in Him once-for-all and in continuing fashion (perfect tense) with a view to the fact that one day, through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, they may be presented to Him without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that they might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5.27). Through His death He has wrought a perfect salvation for all who are His.
10.15 ‘And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us. For after he has said,’
And this is borne witness to by the Holy Spirit in the words of the new covenant that follow, when He speaks of the transformation of their inner hearts and lives and the total and complete remission and ‘forgetting’ of their sins. Not again how the Scriptures are seen as the words of the Holy Spirit.
10.16a “This is the covenant that I will make with them. After those days, says the Lord, I will put my laws on their heart, And upon their mind also will I write them.”
The new covenant is now repeated from 8.10, 12, referring to the work of the Spirit in writing God’s laws in their hearts and minds. He will bring home to them the word of God and all He requires. He will work in them to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13). He will create in them a new heart (Psalm 51.10). He will give them the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2.16).
10.16b-17 ‘Then he says, “And their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” ’
And added to this will be the complete removal of their sinfulness. All their sins and iniquities, their outward failures (‘sins’) and their inward sinfulness (‘iniquities’), will be remembered no more. They will be deliberately obliterated from God’s memory. ‘Remembered no more’ is, of course, hyperbole to express the completeness of God’s forgiveness. Nothing that they have done or failed to do will be counted against them any longer.
So His covenant offers a new freedom to obey God, and a dealing with the spiritual death (Ephesians 2.1, 5), bondage (Mark 10.45; 1 Corinthians 6.20; John 8.34-36; Romans 6.6, 14, 17-18), indebtedness (Colossians 2.14) and alienation (Colossians 1.21; Ephesians 4.18) caused by sin
10.18 ‘Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.’
And all this being so no further offerings for sin will be required. For once sins are remitted, removed and sent away, there is no more an offering for sin. All offerings for sin have become redundant.
The inference behind all this is that once Christ’s work has been wrought in a man or woman the problem of their sin as a barrier or as a condemnation is dealt with for ever as far as God is concerned. It will nevermore be accounted to them. Thus no more sacrifices and offerings are required. What will be required of them is their obedience as children to their Father. And if that obedience fails there will be chastisement but never condemnation (12.5-13; Romans 8.1).
But the further inference is that now remission of all sins is available in Christ, there is nowhere else to turn in order to obtain remission of sins.
The Practical Consequence of What He Has Done (10.19-25).
What He has done will now bring about a number of consequences. Firstly there is what we now have, boldness to enter into the very presence of God because all that can hinder it is removed (verses 19-20), and a looking to our great priest (verse 21) whose intercession is unfailing, resulting in a drawing near with a true heart and full faith as those who have been purified by the blood of Christ, transformed by the Holy Spirit, and have set their hearts to do what is right (verse 22); secondly a firm holding fast to our confession (verse 23); thirdly a provoking of each other to love and good works (verse 24); and fourthly a continual gathering together to worship God and learn of Him (verse 25). The test of a true faith is nearness to God, true witness, constant purity of life and a revealing of concern for others, and finally the fellowship of the Spirit with each other.
10.19-20 ‘Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way through the veil, that is to say, his flesh,’
The first consequence of what He has done is that they can now have the boldness to enter into the Holiest of All (here ‘the holy place’ signifies the heavenly Holy of Holies), to enter the very heart of the spiritual realm where God is revealed, and to bask in His presence, which they do through the blood of Jesus. There is no longer the veil to separate us from Him and prevent our entry. This is ‘the high and holy place’ of Isaiah 57.15, in which dwells the High and Exalted One Whose Name is Holy, with him who is of a contrite spirit, in order to revive his spirit and heart.
So this ‘means of entering’ is now made overtly open for us because He dedicated it for us, by dying for us. For those who have been cleansed through the blood of Jesus have no barrier which prevents their approach to God. They are accepted as being in total purity.
It is a ‘new way and a living way’, for it is totally different from the old, barred way, and comes to us through the new life that He gives us in Himself. It is a ‘new’ way because it is in terms of the new covenant already described, thus opening up a new relationship to God, it is ‘living’ because it results from receiving life and being in union with the One Who is ‘the Life’ (John 11.25; 14.6). It is the entrance of those who have received eternal life and have entered into a continual walk in the presence of the Eternal One. But it was provided at great cost. Our entry into His presence should never be glib, for we should ever remember the price that was paid to make that way open.
‘And living way.’ The whole emphasis on what Christ has brought is ‘life’. The life that flows from the resurrection is central to our understanding of what He came to bring. He is the ‘living bread that came down from Heaven -- that men might live and not die’ (John 6.50-51). He is the resurrection and the life Who provides endless life to men (John 11.25). He came bringing more abundant life (John 10.10). And life eternal is to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom He sent (John 17.3).
The expectancy of such a way in the future is constantly expressed in the Old Testament. It is variously referred to as the "way of life" (Proverbs 10.17), the "way of holiness" (Isaiah 35.8), the "good way" (Jeremiah 6.16). Compare the "way of peace" (Luke 1.79), the "way of salvation" (Acts 16.17). And that way is Jesus Who said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except by Me’ (John 14.6).
However, because of the price that was paid, and because we are in Him, we can enter boldly and without fear into the very presence of God, not cowering and afraid as Old Testament priests often were. And they did not even enter the Holiest of All.
‘Through the veil.’ The veil had ever stood as a bar to the approach to God. It was impassable. It said to even the priests, ‘thus far you may come (and even then with trembling) but no further’. But now there was a way through because of Christ’s flesh offered for us, a way of total boldness and confidence.
What a huge difference this makes for us. The message of the holy place in the Old Testament was, ‘you cannot enter’. The message in the New is, ‘The way is open, you have an unhindered way in’. There are now no barriers to our full approach to God, (apart from our own sin until it is properly dealt with).
‘That is to say, His flesh.’ Many connect this with the way made open for us, ‘the new and living way -- that is to say, His flesh’. And what has made that way in? It is because He came in the flesh and suffered for us in the flesh. It is because we can now be made one with Him in His flesh (Colossians 1.22). And through His flesh He has abolished that which was our enemy, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, making all who are His one new man (Ephesians 2.15). The way in is made open through His flesh sacrificed for us.
But others would link the words with the veil, assuming it to indicate that His flesh can be identified with the veil symbolically, so that they can now know that the veil is torn away because His body was torn. They argue that had he meant otherwise the writer would have written the order of the words differently, and that the current order of the words (as in the translation) attaches ‘in His flesh’ to the veil. And thus, they say, His flesh, broken for us, depicts the removal of the veil, and that the rending of the veil at the time of His crucifixion was a picture of the rending of His flesh as a way now open for us (Mark 15.38).
This idea is equally true in essence, and conveys a vivid picture. But the question must be as to how the veil, which had so long barred the way to God, can be likened to His flesh. He came in the flesh to remove the veil, not to be a veil. His life was a life of self-revelation of Himself, not a hiding of Himself. On the other hand it can be argued that we should never overpress illustrations, and that His very presence as man was in itself a veiling, ‘veiled in flesh the Godhead see’, a veil torn away by His death and resurrection.
The answer probably lies in the fact that ‘that is to say His flesh’ covers both ideas, without pressing the application too closely. Through the sacrifice of His flesh He has laid open the positive way and removed the barrier which was in the way. Through His flesh he has provided life and access, and through the sacrifice of His flesh He has destroyed the veil.
Whichever way it is the vital point is that through His flesh and His self-offering the way directly into the presence of God has been made ours, the way of constantly open access has been provided. Through His sacrifice of Himself the veil has been torn apart, and entry to God made possible.
‘Brothers.’ This way is open to all who are truly ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’, and therefore closely related to our Elder Brother (2.11-12).
10.21 ‘And having a great priest over the house of God,’
The second consequence of what He has done is that we have a ‘great priest’ over the house of God. Note that He is called ‘a great priest’ not ‘a High Priest’. There is an emphasis here on His true greatness. He is a super-priest. (While ‘great priest’ was an alternative for ‘High Priest’, there must be some reason for the writer’s change of term). And it is we who are the house of God (3.6). Thus is He our great priest, active in intercession for us with regard to all our spiritual needs (3.18; 4.16; 5.9; 7.25). Thus there is not only free entry, but also the guarantee of a great and successful Mediator and Intercessor as we approach, Who can meet all our needs. That has been the essence of much of what he has already said (2.17-18; 4.14-16; 5.9; 6.20; 7.25; 9.11-12).
The result of ‘having’ this wondrous open way into God’s presence, and having this great Priest to act for us in all things, is a series of exhortations. The combination gives us great advantages and puts us under great obligations. Let us take full advantage of the advantages and ensure that we fulfil the obligations. They are as follows:
10.22 ‘Let us draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and having our body washed with pure (‘clean’) water.’
The first consequence of our new means of entry into God’s presence and of our new High Priest is that we can draw near to God. And it is something that we must do with a true heart and in fullness of faith. Then, putting it in a cultic way, we are to have our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed, with purified water. So having responded to our great High Priest we are to submit to His ministrations which will produce trueness of heart and fullness of faith.
We may see this from two angles.
In other words the practical result of Christ’s activity is that we can draw near continually (present tense), through Him as our great priest (verse 21), and because He shed His blood on our behalf (verse 20), doing so in fullness of faith, that is with a confident and full faith that has no doubts and fears. And we are beng exhorted to do so. This drawing near does not simply refer to prayer, it refers to our taking our firm stand in the spiritual realm, living in His light (1 John 1.5-7), recognising that we have been transferred into His kingsom (Colossians 1.13) and walking with God in the full confidence that we are His (Romans 8.4; Galatians 5.16, 25). It refers to our being aware of our privileges, and enjoying them to the full. It refers to our approach to God in the whole of our lives. We are to walk continually with Him in heavenly places (compare Ephesians 1.3; 2.6).
This drawing near is to be with ‘a true heart’ and ‘in fullness of faith’. This emphasises both that our hearts must be genuine and true, and that it is through unfeigned faith, and through faith alone, that we must approach Him. It is a reminder that there is no room for dissimulation or guile in our walk with God, while at the same tiome emphasising we can approach Him with continuing and ever growing confidence, as long as we maintain a genuine attitude towards Him. As Jesus said, ‘those who worship Him, must worship Him in Spirit and in truth’ (John 4.24). Faith and genuineness of heart is everything. Ritual is secondary. Thus our hearts having been transformed by Him when we were ‘perfected’ (10.14) and born from above (John 3.1-6), we are to allow ourselves to be continually prepared and made ready by His Spirit, approaching Him through our own spirits on the basis of the truth that He has revealed as established by the Scriptures (‘salvation is of the Jews’).
Thus if we approach Him it must be as those who walk in His light (compare 1 John 1.5-7), and any prevarication will hinder our entrance. All must be open to Him. On the other hand, once that is so, there are also no grounds for hesitancy. For we come by the guaranteed way through the blood of Jesus (verse 23; 1 John 1.7). Here then we have what Christ has bought for us, and provided for us, confident access to, and certainty in, the presence of a holy God.
The contrast, of course, is with the difficulty of approach under the old ritual. Then the people could only enter the outer court, the priests only the Holy Place, while the High Priest’s entry into the Holy of Holies was limited to once a year and that on the most stringent terms. It was all in order to emphasise the holiness of God.
But now the way has been flung open. But let us not think that it means that God is less holy (as we will shortly learn). It is rather because of the all sufficiency of the sacrifice made on our behalf. No longer the need for continual offerings and sacrifices, becuse He as the One sufficient sacrifice for sin for all time has been offered on our behalf.
Fullness of faith then expresses our response as we respond to the wonder of what Christ has done for us. We do so with a confident faith that is without fear, a faith that overflows. But the expression may also contain within it the thought that we need to ensure that we move on to a maturer, a fuller faith (compare 5.11-14). Our faith should be a faith that is continually expanding and growing. It needs to be filled to the full. This faith is the first element of the three Christian virtues, faith, hope and love. Thus here we have fullness of faith, in verse 23 we have the confession of hope, and in verse 24 we are to be spurred on to love. These are the three basic attitudes required in the Christian life (1 Corinthians 13.13; 1 Thessalonians 1.3; 5.8; Romans 5.1-5; Galatians 5.5-6; Colossians 1.4-5; 1 Peter 1.21-22). And it is through faith that we enter into His presence.
These ideas are then expressed in terms of two Old Testament rituals, both of which are connected with water, and illustrate the true heart and fullness of faith which Christ will work in us. The first is the ‘sprinkling from an evil conscience --- with pure water’. This ‘sprinkling’ mentioned here is by some all to easily connected simply with ‘the sprinkling of the blood of sacrifices’. But hrantizo is never used in LXX of the sprinkling of the blood of sacrifices, and those commentators who maintain this generally mainly pass over briefly or ignore the reference in 9.13 to the ashes of the red heifer. If, however, we do consult 9.13-14 where such sprinkling is mentioned we find in verse 13 that it is the ashes of the red heifer for the removal of uncleanness, (which contain sacrificial blood - Numbers 19.5), which are described as sprinkled and are then dealt with in more detail, for it is the ashes of the heifer alone, contained in the water of purification (Numbers 8.7; 19) that are sprinkled on people to remove uncleanness in the Old Testament ritual.
The blood of such sacrifices as are described briefly in 9.12-13 were never sprinkled on the people in the Old Testament ritual in the tabernacle. They were applied to the altar, or before the veil, or on the Mercy Seat. Nor is the blood of Christ specifically spoken of as sprinkled on the people, certainly prior to this point in Hebrews. In 9.14 ‘the blood of Christ’ sums up the totality of what is described in verse 13, and in that sense it can be seen as both applied, as with the blood, and sprinkled, as with the ashes of the heifer in the water of purification. But it is the ashes of the heifer as contained in the water of purification that alone are sprinkled on the people.
‘The blood of sprinkling’ mentioned later in 12.24 may be intended to be seen as sprinkled on the people in order to bind them into the covenant as in Exodus 24.8 but if so it is not as part of the tabernacle ritual, and is using a verb not used in LXX. As we have seen in the tabernacle ritual it is only the water of purifying that is said to be sprinkled (hrantismos) on the people. And as this verse here appears to suggest that the sprinkling is to be seen as on the people, in the same way as the water for washing is also applied to the people, it would appear that the idea in mind here is similarly of the sprinkling of the water of purification.
It is true that the blood was sprinkled (but not hrantizo in LXX) on the people in the covenant ceremony at Sinai in Exodus 24.8 but there is no reason for thinking that that that is in mind here or in 9.13-14. It actually comes to play in 9.15 onwards when the covenant comes into prominence.
It should further also be noted that ‘clean water’ meant a very different thing in those days than it does to us. To us ‘clean water’ contrasts with ‘dirty water’ hygienically. With clean water we wash and satisfy our thirst, and with dirty water we perform lesser tasks (if we use it at all). But in those days matters were a little different. To them ‘clean water’ was water that had been religiously cleansed by the use of the ashes of a sacrificed heifer, and was in contrast with water not so religiously cleansed. Such ‘clean’ water was useable for the removal of uncleanness (9.13; Ezekiel 36.25) and especially for the removal of the taint of death (Numbers 19).
For in general in fact their water was not clean unless they went to a spring. Their cysterns rather produced water that was only relatively clean, and their contrast would rather then be between drinkable or not drinkable water, neither of which were fully clean, the latter being used among other things for washing. And what they considered drinkable would be of a standard that we would reject totally. It is also doubtful whether they would actually call it clean water. Clean water would either be spring water (although that is usually described as ‘living water’) or water that had been made ‘clean’, that is ritually purified. Significantly therefore it was spring water (‘living water’) that was used along with the ashes of the heifer for the production of the water of purification (Numbers 19.17).
So ‘having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and having our body washed, with pure (‘clean’) water,’ must surely be considered in the light of this. It refers to thorough spiritual cleansing (2 Corinthians 7.1) as seen in terms of the water of purification which was sprinkled on the unclean, and in terms of water that was used to wash in order to remove ‘earthiness’ (it is never said to cleanse).
But washing in the Old Testament was not with ‘clean water’. The point therefore is that through what Christ has done for us we have a better cleansing. It really will cleanse because it is the equivalen of purified water.
There is not, of course, in mind the thought of the use of actual water. What is to be applied is spiritual ‘cleansed water’, made clean through the blood of Christ. In the words of 1 John 1.7, we are to walk in the light as He is in the light, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, will go on cleansing us from all sin.
So as in 9.13-14 the connection is with the removing of the defilement within the conscience, which in 9.13 was described in terms of the sprinkling of the ashes of the heifer, that is, of the sprinkling of the water of purification, which, as a parallel to the cleansing of the conscience in verse 14, deals with the uncleanness of the flesh. To the Jewish Christians to whom this was written the idea of full cleansing from all defilement would be very significant.
The phrase ‘with clean (purified) water’ is here to be seen as connecting both with the sprinkling and the washing. That is, we may translate ‘having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience (with purified water) and our bodies washed with purified water.’ As a result the sprinkling of the conscience and the washing of the body are both connected with the water of purification (which contains the sacrificial blood), and therefore, in the light of 9.13-14, with the blood of Christ. Those who are sprinkled and washed are seen as being made clean from the taint of death and given life by His blood. They are cleansed in both the spiritual side of their nature and in its fleshly side.
In one sense this occurs once for all when we come to Christ and are brought through faith into the sphere of His obedience and the sprinkling of His blood (13.12; 1 Peter 1.2). From then on it is to be experienced continually as we seek day to day cleansing.
We can compare the words of Paul. ‘Seeing then that we have these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of body and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God’ (2 Corinthians 7.1). Here then both ‘heart and body’ (body and spirit) are to be seen as effectively purified because of the shedding and sprinkling of the blood of Christ by our Great Priest, and are to be maintained in that state. And this is far removed from the literal sprinkling of water which merely made the flesh ‘clean’ and the literal washings which simply removed earthly defilement and never cleansed (those who were washed were never directly cleansed, they remained unclean ‘until the evening’), rituals to which some were thinking of returning.
Taking the sprinkling with clean water first the conscience is here seen as cleansed through this ‘sprinkling of clean (purified, cleansing) water’, removing the taint of spiritual death and bringing peace within. It is something that happens once for all when we first come to Him in faith, and are ‘perfected for ever’, and it is something that is to be applied continually as we ‘are being sanctified’ (10.14). We are both accounted righteous though His blood once for all (Romans 3.24-25), and we are to be continually cleansed by His blood from daily sin (1 John 1.7).
The implication is that the Spirit acts through His spiritual water of life (compare John 4.10, 13-14;7.37) in response to our faith, which is the nore effective because it contains spiritual cleansing as a result of something that was superior even to the ashes of the heifer, the blood of Jesus. And as a result of that, it is ‘the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son’ which ‘cleanses us from all sin’ (1 John 1.7).
This idea of the ‘sprinkling of clean (purified) water’ (perfect tense, what has happened in the past and is presently effective) is also spoken of in Ezekiel 36.25-27 where it is also closely connected with the life transforming work of the Spirit. Whereas the other prophets depicted the Spirit’s activity in terms of rain, the priestly Ezekiel did so in terms of water of purification, with the sprinkling of ‘clean (because cleansed) water’ coming on them. It refers to the cleansing and renewing of the Spirit, through faith, by the application of the blood of sacrifice, which is here described as the blood of Christ (compare Isaiah 52.15).
This then takes us back again to 9.13-14 where the cleansing of the conscience was through Christ’s sacrifice and the shedding of His blood (verse 14), and was connected with ‘the eternal Spirit, and was closely connected in context, in verse 13, with the application by the ‘sprinkling of the ashes of the heifer’, that is, of the water of purification. The same combination is at work, the blood of Christ illustrated by the sacrificial ashes of the heifer in the water of purification, which has cleansed us and will continually cleans, and the power and life of the Spirit ever at work within us. The sprinkling of the heart with ‘clean’ water is thus a brief way of saying the same thing as is said in 9.14. We are purged, cleansed and renewed by the blood of Jesus through the Spirit of God in order to enter into His presence and serve the living God.
‘Our body washed with clean (purified) water.’ This again must not be interpreted too arbitrarily. We note that ‘the body’ here is in the singular in direct contrast with ‘our hearts’. This is not accidental. We are probably intended to make a comparison with verses 5 & 10 and see the specific contrast between ‘the body’ and ‘His body’. For there we had already had cause to see that ‘His body’ had a special significance (verse 5 & 10). It was a body fashioned for obedience. The whole emphasis of His ‘body’ prepared for Him was that it was prepared for Him that He might obey and do the will of God. But His ‘body’ did not need to be ‘washed’. He was clean in every part.
That therefore also surely compares with ‘the body’ here, as given to us, given so that we also can obey God, just as His body in verse 5 was given to Him in order that He might fully obey God. Then the idea here is that not only is the conscience to be cleansed, but also the body, that body which was given to us that we might do His will, that was given to us in order that we might obey God, is to be washed with the same ‘purified water’ of the blood and of the Spirit so that it might fulfil its potential of obedience to God. Unlike His ‘body’, ‘the body’ given to us needs to be ‘washed’ in order that we might continually recommence obedience anew. We are to be cleansed in both flesh and spirit in order to perfect holiness in the fear of God (see 2 Corinthians 7.1). This kind of ‘washing’ is then to be seen as resulting, by a determined effort through faith as a result of the cleansing in the blood, to put away sin and obey God. This ties in exactly with Isaiah 1.16-18, where we read, ‘Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean, put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do well.’ In other words ‘wash yourselves’ refers to the commencing of a process which will result in doing right in the body. It is saying ‘do not wash yourselves in vain ritual (which has been condemned previously in Isaiah 1.11-14) but ‘wash yourselves by a positive attitude to righteous living’, which will result from His offered forgiveness (Isaiah 1.18).
Thus ‘washing’ with ‘purified water’ signifies responsive obedience in accordance with God’s word to us, and it is ‘the washing of water with the word’ which produces that obedience (Ephesians 5.26). It is only seen as possible through obedience combined with the sacrifice of Christ (1 Peter 1.2). Compare how ‘washing’ is also elsewhere closely connected with new life and the regenerating work of the Spirit (see Titus 3.5). So the reference here is not specifically to being baptised but to the deeper requirements of obedience as a result of cleansing.
These ideas of ‘sprinkling and washing with ‘clean’ (purified) water’ thus both have very much in mind Ezekiel 36.25-26 where the ‘sprinkling’ of ‘clean (purified) water’ is stressed and is directly connected with the promise of a new heart and a new Spirit, while the taking of the stony heart out of the flesh and the giving of a heart of flesh may well be seen as the ‘washing’ (purifying) of ‘the body’ to obedience by the Spirit (compare Titus 3.5). They refer to the life changing power of God through the blood and through the Spirit.
To conclude therefore, ‘Having our hearts sprinkled (with clean water) from an evil conscience, and having our body washed, with clean (purified) water’ must be seen as having in mind the shedding of Christ’s blood in the light of the waters of purification in Numbers 19, and as connecting with 9.14 and with Ezekiel 36.25 onwards. Connection with Isaiah 1.16-18 is also probable. Intended here is thus a spiritual cleansing, both of the inner conscience and of the ‘physical’ (fleshly) man with his physical desires, through the blood of Christ and the work of the Spirit, with a view to obedience (compare 2 Corinthians 7.1; 1 Corinthians 6.20; 1 Thessalonians 5.23 where Paul speaks of the same thing). It occurs once for all when a person receives Christ through faith, and is something that is to be then constantly renewed as we walk in His light.
That will mean that having in 9.14 referred to the activity of the eternal ‘Spirit’ working through the blood of Christ and through Christ’s offering of Himself in order to ‘cleanse the conscience’ (as connected with the ashes of the red heifer in verse 13), that ‘cleansing of the conscience’ is now here described as through ‘sprinkling from an evil conscience --- with clean (purified) water’, in other words with the spiritual equivalent of the water purified by the same ashes of the red heifer. In 9.13-14 the idea of the cleansing of the conscience was compared in context with sacrifices, and especially and specifically with the ashes from the sacrifice of the red heifer, here it is connected with the water of purification which is from the same source and delivers from an evil conscience. And the idea is that the believer’s body, destined like Christ’s body to obedience, indeed as being part of Christ’s body (2.11; 10.10, 14), is to be thoroughly purified so as to be obedient.
We may then see both as connecting with the work of Christ on their behalf as confirmed by Jesus’ words in the Upper Room. ‘He who is bathed (made acceptable to God through overall forgiveness and salvation) needs not save to wash his feet (seek daily forgiveness)’ because he is fully clean (John 13.10)
Others have connected the washing with purified water with the preparations of the High priest for the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16.4), and of the priests for their priestly work generally (Exodus 29.4), but it should be carefully noted that that was never said to be with ‘pure water’. The emphasis on ‘pure’ water must be taken into account and indicates that any such idea is secondary. The sprinkling and the washing with purified water go together in his thoughts which suggests the close connection with Ezekiel 36 and Numbers 19.
10.23 ‘Let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not, for he is faithful who promised,’
The writer now applies this to his specific purpose in writing, to maintain their faith and testimony. Because of all this they are not to waver but to hold fast the confession of their hope (compare 3.6; 6.11, 18, 19; 7.19). The thought of ‘hope’ fixes their thoughts on their future hope, emphasised with regard to God’s true people in chapter 11, where it is constantly stressed that they endured because of the hope set before them. Yet here it is also in the light of their present experience of God. As a result of being purified by the blood and transformed by the Spirit, and of having full direct access to God, they must be faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ, and what He offers for the future, recognising that He who made the promises is Himself faithful and will not fail them. They must trust in the faithfulness of God (1 Corinthians 1.9; 10.13; 1 Thessalonians 5.24) and recognise the certainty of the fulfilment of His promises, and make that confidence apparent to others, confessing their confident hope. For ‘he who confesses Me before men, him will I confess before My Father in Heaven’ (Matthew 10.32).
10.24-25 ‘And let us consider one another to provoke to love and good works, not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as you see the day drawing near.’
And equally important is that they have a concern for each other and stir each other to love and good works. They do this both by their own good example, and by showing concern for each other in exhortation, admonition, and encouragement. Fullness of faith results in confession of hope and in active Christian love. This is why they must not fail in gathering together constantly, so that they might thus encourage one another to confession of their faith and to activity in love. This is not just saying, ‘you must go to church’. It is saying, ‘You must gather together continuously so as to support and encourage one another’.
‘Good works.’ The words mean works of moral beauty, works which reveal to men of what kind of people these Christians are. They are not works of merit, but works that bear testimony (compare Matthew 5.16). If the church revealed more of Christ’s love to the world in ‘beautiful’ works, their confession of faith might be more heeded. And the closer the Day of Christ draws near, the more should they do it. Some have tended to take a position of being lone Christians, he says. It has become their custom. But it must not be so. Their faith will grow weak and they will be the first to fall when the testing comes, and will be the least ready for the coming of Christ. We are one body and need each other (1 Corinthians 12.12-26). As mentioned already, the thought is not just of ‘going to church’ but of gathering with His people so that we might stimulate and build up each other.
‘Not forsaking our own assembling together.’ Like the Jews, Christians were the people of the book. It was necessary for them to hear and understand the preaching of the word, and in the case of Christians to have proclaimed to them the Testimony of Jesus so that they could grow in knowledge and in the love of God. They must not survive on speculation like the pagans did. They must gain an understanding of truth. And in order to do this and encourage each other it was necessary to gather regularly.
The writer had earlier warned them of the need to encourage one another daily (3.15). But, as today, failure to do this appears to have been quite common. In the Didache (a late first century manual of instruction) Christians were exhorted to ‘be frequently gathered together, seeking the things which are profitable for your soul’, suggesting an awareness of a lack in doing so. And in the Epistle of Barnabas (ch.4) we read, ‘Do not, by retiring apart, live a solitary life, as if you were already [fully] justified; but coming together in one place, make common enquiry concerning what tends to your general welfare.’
We have here then, in these last three verses, three aspects of our Christian lives, drawing near to God in faith, confessing before men our hope, and revealing love and consideration for all. This will then result in our constant gathering together to learn the truth and to encourage one another in the faith. If we do these things we will never fail.
‘As you see the Day drawing near.’ The day of Christ’s second coming (9.28) is to be ever in the thoughts of the believer. It is the day when all will be made clear, when every heart will be examined, when His servants will give account (Romans 14.10-12; Matthew 12.26; Luke 16.2), and when those who have rejected Christ will be judged. It is the day when those who are His will be transformed in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15.52). The thought of that day strengthens our faith, is our incentive and the content of our hope, and is the driving force towards love and morally beautiful works.
The use of ‘the Day’ in its starkness emphasises that all references to it, the day of Christ, the day of the Lord, the day of judgment, the great day, etc. all have in mind God’s final winding up of the old and introduction for ever of the new. They are all aspects of the one ‘Day’, God’s final summing up period. The night will be over and the Day will have begun (1 Thessalonians 5.4; Romans 13.12).
Warning Of The Consequences for Professing Believers If They Turn Away from Christ (10.26-31).
10.26-27 ‘For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire which will devour the adversaries.’
For they must note that now that Christ has come there remains no other sacrifice for sin (10.18). It is Christ or judgment. We cannot now turn back to the old ways and the old sacrifices. All a turning from Christ can do is result in fiery judgment. There is no other path to God.
‘If we are those who sin wilfully --.’ The verb means to do something willingly, without constraint. See its use in 1 Peter 5.2; Philemon 1.14. There are different ideas among commentators as to what these words signify. Some point out that all sins are wilful, and that it simply emphasises what sin is. The interpretation then is that having turned from Christ they have no One to turn to because they have deserted Him. Thus there is nowhere else that they can look for cleansing. They are doomed. Unless of course they repent and turn back to Christ.
This is, of course, true. Each sin of ours deserves God’s full judgment, and that judgment would be severe. We do need to take this lesson to heart. And we do need to repent and turn back to Christ (1 John 1.5-10). But such sin is nowhere else called ‘wilful sin’ and the verses that follow do seem to suggest a sinning which is of unusual severity. Furthermore the opposite of wilful (ekousios) sin, which is ‘akousios’ sin, sin done unwittingly or in error, is found in Leviticus 4.2; 5.15; Numbers 15.24-29. Wilful sin is clearly more than just sin.
But finally the meaning of the phrase is surely made clear by the following verses, it means deliberately with considered forethought setting Christ at naught by continual, open rejection (verses 28-29). It is a rejection after receiving the full knowledge of the truth. It is true that there is a sense in which all sin is wilful. But the Old Testament distinguished the sins of daily life from ‘sin with a high hand’, sins of deliberate defiance against God (Numbers 15.30 compare Deuteronomy 17.12-13). Such sins demanded an immediate death penalty. They included premeditated murder, the taking of a life which belonged to God (Exodus 21.12-14); idolatry, the setting aside of God for the worship of idols (Exodus 22.20, and especially in this context Deuteronomy 13.6-9; 17.2-7), and being deeply involved with the occult (Exodus 22.18). In all these God was openly set at naught.
The present tense indicates a continual state. Such people have chosen this way of sin in which they are found and are intent on persevering in it. Note the ‘if’ which suggests his hope that it is not true of his readers, and the ‘we’ which includes himself as one who must himself take care that he does not do the same.
‘After that we have received the knowledge of the truth.’ The emphasis here is on the fact that the sin is in full knowledge or possibly a philosophical knowledge (epignosis) of the truth (on the other hand epignosis does not necessarily mean ‘spiritual knowledge’). It is not a sin done in ignorance or in a moment of weakness, or while in absolute darkness, it is a deliberate turning of the back on ‘the truth’, God’s revealed truth in Jesus Christ (Galatians 5.7; Ephesians 1.13; 2 Thessalonians 2.12; John 1.17; 3.21; 16.13; James 3.14; 5.19; 1 Peter 1.22), as received from God and understood and outwardly lived under. It is a considered rejection of what it once professed.
‘There remains no more a sacrifice for sins.’ In 10.18 it is said that where there is full forgiveness of sins there is ‘no more an offering for sin’. Through Christ the provisions of the old dispensation were no longer required. Sin offerings had become invalid. The same principle is in mind here. We cannot turn from God and reject His revealed truth about Jesus Christ, and find that the old sacrifices, or indeed anything else, will still suffice. Once the new covenant comes into focus the old has lost all efficacy.
‘But a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness (zelos) of fire (puros) which will devour the adversaries.’ Thus having lost any means of finding mercy by turning from Christ, only the expectation of judgment (compare 10.13) awaits, and that a fearful one and a certain one, for it is dreadful and it comes from God. The wording is taken from Isaiah 26.11 LXX, (compare Psalm 79.5-6), ‘jealously (zelos) shall seize on an untaught nation, and now fire (puros) shall devour the adversaries’, and can be compared with the judgment on the adversaries of Elijah, those who rejected Elijah as God’s prophet, where fire came down on them and devoured them (2 Kings 1.10, 12), or God’s judgment on the sons of Korah who rejected Moses and Aaron and were consumed by fire because they had shown contempt for God (Numbers 16.35; 26.10), or that described in 2 Thessalonians 1.8, ‘in flaming fire rendering vengeance to those who do not know God’.
‘Certain.’ This does not actually mean ‘certain and sure’ but is an enclitic indefinite pronoun such as we use when we say ‘a certain man’, etc. It suggests something that is indefinable. Yet the judgment is certain, for it is the judgment of God.
‘The adversaries.’ By their turning from Christ they have become enemies of God.
10.28 ‘A man who has set at naught Moses law dies without compassion on the word of two or three witnesses,’
The connection with sin with a high hand comes out here. They were the sins that ‘set at naught the Law of Moses’. It was only for such sins that the immediate death penalty was required. But when men did commit such a sin there was to be no compassion. All fellow feeling between them and the whole people was to be lost. Immediate death was called for. The community would carry out the sentence. Such sinners were to be cut off from the people. However such could only be carried out where there were valid witnesses. Justice had to be maintained.
10.29 ‘Of how much sorer punishment, do you think, will he be judged worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant with which he was sanctified (or ‘by which there was sanctification’) an unholy thing, and has shown wanton arrogance to the Spirit of grace?’
How much sorer punishment then was deserved by the one who did even worse than that in that they set at naught the Son of God, and all God’s provision for salvation. Once again we have the contrast between the Son and Moses (compare 3.1-6), with the Son exalted above Moses. This clearly has in mind those of whom he has spoken previously who were considering turning away from Christ in order to return to full Judaism (compare 6.4-6). They would be guilty of three heinous crimes:
‘By which he was sanctified (or ‘by which there was sanctification’).’ Under the old covenant the blood of the covenant was sprinkled on the people sanctifying them (setting them apart) to their part in the covenant. They were now outwardly God’s own people, although their genuineness would be proved by obedience, and many fell at that hurdle. The writer pictures this as also being true of the new covenant. Having been baptised and declared their commitment to Christ, and having claimed that they have been set apart for Him in that they partake of the symbol of the covenant in His blood by partaking of the wine at the Lord’s Table, thus declaring themselves as having been ‘set apart as Christ’s by His blood’ (and thus as being sanctified to Him), they now renounce that sanctification, declaring the means of it itself unholy and degraded. This exacerbates their crime. They renounce the very covenant blood which they had previously gloried in.
Alternately ‘by which there was sanctification’ may simply be a general statement of the effectiveness of the new covenant when properly entered into. It is the ‘sanctifying blood’ of the covenant that they are rejecting.
That this does not indicate that the apostates were once genuine Christians comes out in 1 John 2.16. ‘They went out from us but they were not of us. For if they had been of us they would have continued with us, but it was that it might be made manifest that they were not all of us.’
So having once confessed Him they now sin with a high hand against Christ Himself, against His blood and covenant and against the Holy Spirit, publicly repudiating them in the eyes of all. They have, outwardly at least, blasphemed against the Holy Spirit and committed the ‘sin unto death’ (Mark 3.29; 1 John 5.16). For such there can only be judgment.
10.30-31 ‘For we know him who said, “Vengeance belongs to me, I will recompense.” And again, “The Lord shall judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’
And, he says, we can see this clearly for ourselves, for we know Him as He is and as He is revealed to be by the Scriptures which say, ‘Vengeance belongs to Me, I will repay’ (a translation and adaptation of Deuteronomy 32.35; compare Romans 12.9 which suggests it had taken on a standard form). The Hebrew says, ‘Vengeance is Mine, and recompense’ which indicates the same thought. Note both the fact and the warning. Vengeance is His, that is the fact. He will repay, that is the warning.
His second quotation is ‘The Lord will judge His people’ (Deuteronomy 32.36). This includes both beneficent ‘judging’ as with the ‘judges’, and condemning judgments as Judge of all the world. It is an assurance to those who are faithful to Him, that He will rule them and watch over them as they come under the Kingly Rule of God, and brings cold fear on those who sin with a high hand as the Day of Judgment draws near. Thus we know that He will certainly, in accordance with His own will, judge those who have called themselves His people and bring vengeance on those who rebel. It is telling them that the very words that declare their judgment are taken from the very Law to which they claim to be returning.
And he adds the solemn reminder, ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’ For ‘it is a fearful thing’ compare the ‘fearful looking for of judgment’ in verse 28. God is not mocked, not to be treated lightly. For those who have returned to dead works and to a now invalid and dead ritual, to fall into the hands of ‘the living God’ can only be a fearful thing, for God will require it at their hands, especially in view of what they have rejected.
These words are not cited as a quotation. However, some of the wording, although not the direct idea, is taken from 2 Samuel 24.14; 1 Chronicles 21.13 in LXX, where the thought is that David prefers to fall into the hands of ‘the Lord’ because He at least is both just and compassionate. He trusts God and fears men. It is a very different for those who have permanently turned away from Him by rejecting His Son to shame and humiliation. For them facing up to Him is the most fearful thing that is possible
‘To fall into the hands of ‘the living God’.’ The fact of the ‘living’ God is emphasised to bring about the realisation that, because He is unlike the dead gods of other religions, they can be sure that the living God will undoubtedly exercise justice against them (compare the warning in 3.12). They have previously declared themselves as servants of the living God (9.14). Now they are runaways from One Who is aware of all they do. He will not look lightly on their rejection of His Son.
A Call to His Readers So As To Ensure That They Will Not So Fail (10.32-39).
He now reminds them of what they had suffered for Christ’s sake in the past, and the compassion that they had revealed for fellow-sufferers in those persecutions. Now they must not give up heart but must patiently endure as they did then, recognising that Christ is coming again and that in the meantime God’s righteous ones must live by faith.
10.32-33 ‘But call to mind the former days, in which, after you were enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly, being continually made a gazingstock, both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, becoming partakers with those who were so used.’
He writes to remind them how they have already endured suffering for Christ’s sake. For these people to whom he was writing were not fly-by-nights, here today and gone tomorrow. They had previously suffered for Christ and had endured. So he acknowledges how they had suffered persecution, and how in the past they had been continually mocked and treated as a spectacle, as something for men to gaze at, and how at times they had willingly shared in the sufferings of some who were being so used. Indeed he draws their attention back to it, to ‘the former days’, those days that they had experienced in the past. This endurance had earned for them great recompense of reward (34-35). Let them now not lose it.
‘After you were enlightened.’ That is, after they heard of Jesus Christ and recognised His uniqueness and had come to recognise that He was One sent from God, that the light that enlightens every man had come into the world (John 1.9), and had thrown in their lot with those who followed Him, being baptised and becoming, at least outwardly, members of the church of Christ.
‘You endured a great conflict of sufferings.’ The response of Christians to Christ had resulted in intense persecution by the Jewish authorities (compare Acts 8.1-4; 9.1). It had begun in Jerusalem and no doubt extended spasmodically throughout the world wherever there were strong gatherings of Jews. Communication between Jerusalem and other large cities was constant, and Christian Jews began to be seen as apostates by the Jews. The persecution of Christians by Jews is drawn attention to in some of the letters to the seven churches (Revelation 2.9; 3.9). Many of the Jews, although by no means all, showed no pity, and at times denounced Christians to the authorities, aware of the suffering that might result.
Jews had special protection in the Roman empire which exempted them from having to partake in emperor worship, because of their unique belief in the one God. Instaed they had to offer sacrifices for him in the temple. Christians, who were seen as a sect of the Jews, thus for a time enjoyed similar protection, but certain Jews were angry at this and out of malice sought to emphasise to the authorities that Christians were not true Jews, and to draw attention to them so that they would be tried for ‘blasphemy’ and condemned.
We do not know sufficient about these first readers to know where they lived, nor enough about their times to know what persecutions occurred in different places and situations. We do know from Suetonius that ‘Jews’ (which would include Christian Jews - Acts 18.1-2) were driven from Rome in the days of Claudius, and from Tacitus that Nero persecuted Christians severely at the time of the great fire in Rome in order to turn attention from himself. But local rulers would also have had a part in local, spasmodic persecutions, and both Petrine and Pauline letters, and Revelation 2-3, indicate times of tribulation for the churches. We know from Acts how local situations could so quickly produce such activity. And to refuse to acknowledge, by an offering, the divinity of the emperor and of Roma (deified Rome), could in times of local enthusiasm lead to trouble.
‘Partly, being made a gazingstock, both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, becoming partakers with those who were so used.’ Such persecution was partly the result of themselves being directly persecuted, becoming a spectacle in men’s eyes and having to face constant reproach and even actual physical affliction. This was sometimes the direct result of being arrested by the authorities and sometimes due to the fact of becoming hated for their beliefs (wrongly understood) and vilified by ordinary people, with all kinds of accusations being hurled at them. Did they not look forward to the end of the world with only Christians surviving, thus clearly intending the destruction of all who were not Christians? Did they not gather in secret meetings to engage in infamy and even, it was rumoured, to eat a son of the gods who had become a man (the Lord’s Supper)?
And they had not only faced it themselves, they had also at times stood alongside those who suffered worse than they did, sharing in their afflictions too, revealing thereby their love for their brothers and sisters. This would include visiting those who were left behind when their menfolk were dragged away, and supporting them physically and encouraging them, thus drawing attention on themselves as Christians, and also visiting in prison those arrested, taking them food and comfort. And they also no doubt assisted fellow-Christians who were particularly in danger and in hiding. They had clearly shown great courage and love in this regard, ‘things that accompany salvation’ (6.9).
10.34 ‘For you both had compassion on those who were in bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your possessions, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one.’
Indeed they had visited those who had been imprisoned, taking them food and offering encouragement, (prisoners were dependent on food brought in by friends and family), in spite of the danger to themselves, and had joyfully looked on in a state of exaltation while their own possessions were despoiled, for they had known that they looked forward to a better possession and one that would last for ever that nothing could touch. This better possession was ‘eternal life’, the life of Christ now presently enjoyed, which made them citizens of Heaven now, and would guarantee Heaven in the future.
Thus by their behaviour they had revealed something of what it meant to be a genuine Christian. This was why he could not believe that they would now desert Christ. For no genuine Christian who had been willing to face such things in triumph, could surely renege on Christ. These were things that accompanied God’s saving work in the heart (see on 6.9-10), and that nothing could take away. As John said, ‘we know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers and sisters in Christ’ (1 John 3.14).
10.35-36 ‘Do not therefore cast not away your boldness, which has great recompense of reward, for you have need of patient endurance, that, having done the will of God, you may receive the promise.’
So he begs them not to be moved by the present uncertainties, Not to toss away their boldness as previously revealed in how they had faced persecution, because now counting it as worthless. For their bold service will bring them great recompense of reward. And in order to do the will of God, as Christ had done before them (10.7-10), and to then receive the promise, they will require the same boldness in order to patiently endure. God’s inheritance and God’s rewards come through suffering and patient endurance in well-doing (2 Corinthians 1.7; 1 Peter 4.13; Romans 2.7).
‘The Promise.’ That is, the good things promised for the future, the coming of Christ (2 Peter 3.4), the heavenly resting place (John 14.2), the coming redemption, the crown of life (James 1.12), the eternal kingdom (James 2.5), eternal life (1 John 2.25; 2 Timothy 1.1), new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3.13).
10.37 ‘ For yet a very little while, He who comes will come, and will not tarry.’
For it is to that future hope that they must look. There is now not long to go (speaking from Heaven’s point of view). ‘For yet a little while.’ (mikron oson oson means ‘little, how much, how much’, or ‘a little, a short distance’). These words are taken from Isaiah 26.20 LXX where the context is of anguish and suffering, and of final resurrection and God’s judgment on His enemies. So let them take heart. His time is coming.
‘He who comes will come, and will not tarry.’ Taken from Habakkuk 2.3 LXX with the article added to erchomenos to make it personal to Christ, so indicating ‘the coming one’, and another slight change to the final verb. MT has, ‘because it (the time of deliverance) will surely come, it will not delay’. The writer is adapting it to the present circumstances, not quoting it as Scripture, but indicating a Scriptural theme. Not only is deliverance coming, but the Deliverer Himself.
So in a little while He Who is coming will come (9.28) and will delay no longer. Then all will have been worthwhile and they will receive their recompense of reward. It was only later that Peter was to remind Christians that with God a ‘little while’ could be a thousand years or more (2 Peter 3.8-10).
10.38 ‘But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrink back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’
Again taken almost exactly from Habakkuk 2.4 LXX (although ‘of me’ (mou) is moved in order to stress that His righteous ones are truly His), but with the phrases transposed to bring out his point. LXX has ‘If he should draw back, my soul has no pleasure in him, but the righteous one shall live by faith of me’. It is again not cited as a quotation but uses what he finds in LXX to express his point.
The Scripture does declare, he says, that ‘my righteous one will live by faith’. Thus if they would be numbered among the righteous, they must show evidence of true faith in Him. For He has no pleasure in those who shrink back from trusting Him, who thus reveal that they are not His righteous ones. Faith in the faithfulness of God is the essence of what a Christian is. Compare its use by Paul in Romans 1.17; Galatians 3.11 where the emphasis is on being accounted righteous by faith. Here the emphasis is on faith in the faithfulness of God. Chapter 11 forms a commentary on these words.
10.39 ‘But we are not of those who shrink back to perdition, but of those who have faith to the saving of the soul.’
The section is finally summed up in these words. It is a declaration of confidence in his readers. He is sure that like himself, they will not shrink back to destruction, for they have that faith in God and in Christ which results in the saving of the soul. Note the contrasts of ‘shrinking back’ with positive ‘faith’, and of ‘destruction’ with ‘salvation’. Positive response to Christ results in salvation, a final shrinking back from Him in destruction. For He is God’s provision for the salvation of men, as the whole of his letter has openly declared.
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