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A chapter by chapter examination of the Book of Hebrews; this book examines the ways in which God has moved towards a better covenant with man. The historical background of the Book of Hebrews as well as contextual discussions add insight and relevance to Hebrews.
Category - Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 4:14 begins the next section dealing with Christ our High Priest. He is the one who gives us the rest (Sabbath) that the Old Testament Joshua was unable to give Israel. That first Joshua led Israel into the Promised Land as a prophetic type of a greater work that Jesus would do later.
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.
Whereas the first Joshua crossed the Jordan into the land of Canaan, that first Promised Land, so also did Jesus cross over the Jordan of death at the cross, and in His ascension He “has passed through the heavens.” That is, He has passed through the first and second heavens into that “third heaven,” (2 Cor. 12:2) wherein is the throne of God.
16 Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.
This “throne of grace” is the place of mercy, pictured in the Ark of the Covenant in Moses’ tabernacle. The Ark was considered to be a picture of God’s throne, because the glory of God appeared over the mercy seat on the Ark. The Ark itself housed the tables of the law, because a throne was a symbol of law by which a judge or king ruled the people.
The Ark, however, was covered by the mercy seat, showing that mercy was an integral part of the administration of judgment. James 2:13 refers to this fact when he says, “mercy triumphs over judgment.” The word “triumphs” is from the Greek word katakauchaomai, whose root word is kallupto, “to veil, cover, hide.” James was referring to the mercy seat, which covers (or is positioned over) the justice of the law in the Ark of the Covenant.
For this reason, Hebrews 4:16 calls God’s throne “the throne of grace,” where “we may receive mercy” by showing mercy to others. Because God will grant us justice and mercy according to how we deal with others, James 2:13 says, “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy.” And again, Jesus says in Matt. 7:2,
2 For in the way you judge you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.
All of this is by the law of equal weights and measures found in Deut. 25:13-16. God will not judge mankind by double standards, and this also means that He will be merciful to the merciful and will hold men accountable according to their own standard by which they measured the weight of sin in others.
Our High Priest is also the Judge of the whole earth. The Levitical priests were called to be the judges in Israel. However, because the priests of that order violated their trust and ruled by their own views of the law instead of by the mind of Christ, they were replaced by another order of priest called the Order of Melchizedek.
Jesus, then, is the High Priest after the Order of Melchizedek, as the book of Hebrews tells us. Hebrews 5-7 is about this new order of priesthood, showing that it antedated that of Levi/Aaron. In other words, the calling of Levi was temporary and was doomed to failure from the start, for God had already determined from the beginning that the Order of Melchizedek would be the unending priesthood, with Jesus Christ as its High Priest.
After speaking of the Order of Melchizedek, the author summarizes his teaching in the first five verses of Hebrews 8, telling us in verse 1,
1 Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2 a minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.
The author goes on to relate how the Levitical priesthood was suited to the Old Covenant, which also was temporary; while the Melchizedek priesthood was suitable to enforce the New Covenant. Chapter 8, then, discusses the New Covenant by which our new High Priest ministers on our behalf from His throne of grace in heaven.
As I said, these verses in Hebrews 8 are a summary of what the author had been teaching in Hebrews 5-7 in regard to Christ being our new High Priest. So let us return to chapter five and see what the Scripture says about this new Order.
1 For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.
In other words, the high priests had to be chosen from among men, in order to represent men before God. In other words, Jesus had to be born as a man in order to represent men toward God. If He had come as an angel, He might be able to represent God toward man, but He would not have been able to represent man before God. Hence, He had to actually experience what it meant to be human and to be tempted like all others are tempted. Speaking of earthly high priests in general, we read,
2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness; 3 and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.
It was important to God that priests be chosen from among men, so that they could truly represent men before God. The high priests were “beset with weakness,” much like the people. And so he was obligated to offer sacrifices for sins not only for the people he represented, but also for himself—a fellow sinner.
In this, of course, Jesus differed, because He did not need to offer sacrifice for himself. Yet He did indeed become a man and had earthly experience common to all, which qualified Him to become High Priest.
4 And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was. 5 So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, “Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee;” 6 just as He says also in another passage, “Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
God is the One who calls (ordains) the High Priests. God first ordained Aaron as the High Priest under the Old Covenant, and He also ordained Jesus Christ as the High Priest of Melchizedek under the New Covenant. Hebrews tells us that this was the significance of God’s voice heard from heaven when Jesus was baptized by John, saying, “Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee.” This is quoted from Psalm 2:7.
This is important, because it is the same with the priests in general. Under the Old Covenant, God called the descendants of Aaron to be the priests. No one else was allowed to function as a priest. It was God’s decision, and not man’s. In the same manner also under the New Covenant, God is the One who ordains His priests. There have been many who went to seminary and were ordained by men on the basis of their education or family position or friendship with those doing the ordaining. Many of these have not truly been called by God, but were instead merely called by other men. It is important to recognize that a true priest or minister is not one with a seminary degree but one called by God.
Secondly, of course, the Order of Melchizedek is not dependent upon genealogy as was the Order of Aaron.
Heb. 5:6 quotes from Psalm 110:4, where it speaks of David being called as a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. This was prophetic of Jesus, the “Son of David” as well. Both David and Jesus were of the tribe of Judah, not of Levi. Neither of them qualified as priests under the Old Covenant, but both were called of God as high priests of the order of Melchizedek.
David was the High Priest of David’s tabernacle, where the Ark of the Covenant stood in the tent next to David’s house in Jerusalem. He prefigured Jesus, David’s greater Son, who was to come as High Priest of that same Order under the New Covenant. Going back even earlier, we can see that Moses himself was the high priest of Melchizedek in his day, even while his brother Aaron was high priest of the other order. For this reason, Moses was able to go into the tabernacle and talk with God face to face, interceding for the people. David later followed Moses’ pattern. It shows that there were two orders of priest functioning at the same time, though the Aaronic priesthood was the most visible during those days.
7 In the days of his flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. 8 Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. 9 And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of aionian salvation, 10 being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Maturity is necessary in order to qualify as a high priest. Maturity requires not merely age, but also experience. Under the Old Covenant, it was sufficient if the high priest were thirty years of age. But the requirement was higher under the New Covenant. The high priest of the Order of Melchizedek had to be experienced and “perfected” (matured) by the things which he suffered. In other words, he had to be disciplined, humbled, and seasoned by God in order to have that right balance of justice and mercy.
If we look at the pattern in the tabernacle of Moses, we note that citizens were allowed to enter the outer court of the tabernacle. Only priests could enter the Holy Place. Only the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place. The outer court, with its bronze altar of sacrifice, represents the place of justification by the blood of sacrifice, along with the laver of baptism. In terms of the feast days, the outer court represents Passover.
The Holy Place represents Pentecost in our progressive experience with God. Protestantism, as established a few centuries ago, taught the doctrine of “the priesthood of the believer” in order to show that all believers are priests, and not merely a professional class of seminary graduates ordained by Rome. But the Protestant teaching also needs some alteration, for a simple believer is a citizen of the Kingdom, not necessarily a priest.
A few centuries ago, the Protestants did not yet understand the feast of Pentecost. This revelation came around the year 1900 A.D. It is now apparent that Pentecost is what qualifies a believer to go beyond citizenship into the area of priesthood. This gives him access to the Holy Place.
Yet keep in mind that Pentecost is more than a single spiritual experience. It is an entrance into the baptism of fire, by which God begins to train a citizen in hearing God’s voice and in the deeper revelation of the Word. Pentecost is the place of discipline and learning obedience by the things which we suffer. Pentecost goes beyond mere justification by faith alone. Justification is granted by faith apart from works, while Pentecost teaches us obedience and writes the law upon our hearts.
To become part of the body of the High Priest, one must become mature through the discipline of Pentecost, even as Jesus became mature by the things which He suffered. The reward for such maturity is that they qualify as “he who overcomes” in the message to the Seven Churches in Rev. 2 and 3. Hebrews 5:9 says,
9 And having been made perfect [teleioo, “complete, finished, mature”], He became to all those who obey Him the source of aionian salvation.
If Jesus Himself had to walk in obedience in order to be brought to full maturity, then how can we do otherwise? Those who follow His footsteps, who submit to the disciplines of God in Pentecost, are those who will qualify for “aionian salvation.” In other words, they will receive life/immortality in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6) and will enjoy immortality during the Age of Tabernacles.
This is called “The Age” in early Jewish literature, and it was equated with the seventh millennium, the great Sabbath Day, for a day was as a thousand years (2 Peter 3:8). The idea of “The Age” has largely been lost because the word aionian has been mistranslated to mean “eternal” or “everlasting” or “forever.” In fact, the word means “an eon, or an age.” It is a limited period of time, though its duration often was unknown or indefinite.
The Age to come is the Tabernacles Age, even as the present time is the Pentecostal Age (since the events in Acts 2, which occurred in 33 A.D.). The Holy Place, representing the Pentecostal Age, was 20 x 10 x 10 cubits in Moses’ tabernacle, and this multiplies to 2000 cubic cubits. The Most Holy Place was 10 x 10 x 10, or 1000 cubic cubits. These, I believe, are prophetic numbers indicating Time in years of their duration. Thus, the Pentecostal Age is about 2,000 years in duration, while the Tabernacles Age is about 1,000 years in duration.
The point of this, however, is to show that those who follow the pattern of our High Priest, submitting to the discipline of Pentecost to bring them into the full maturity of the priesthood, are given aionian salvation, life in “The Age.” They receive immortal bodies in the first resurrection before others, in order that they may form the body of the High Priest and qualify to rule in a perfect administration during The Age to come.
For a more detailed study of the two resurrections and who qualifies for each, see my book, The Purpose of Resurrection. Continuing, we read in Heb. 5:10, 11,
10 being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. 11 Concerning Him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.
Here the author of the book of Hebrews inserts a parenthetical passage designed to distinguish between those who are immature believers and those who are more mature in their understanding. After finishing this discussion, he then discusses the order of Melchizedek more fully.