The Everlasting Priesthood
"Forever after the order of Melchisedec"
We may say that the apostle has now relieved himself of all responsibility as to indifference or slowness of heart on the part of those who receive this epistle. He has again and again warned them, so they should now be prepared to enter with him into the unfolding of that which he had upon his heart. Thus the seventh chapter is a resumption of the subject which was broken off at the 10th verse of the fifth chapter, all the rest having been a parenthesis to stir up their consciences, and to prepare for what was to be unfolded in connection with the Melchisedec priesthood of our Lord.
And it needed, if one may so speak, all the power of God's grace, all the awakening of the conscience by the Holy Spirit, to prepare an earthly people whose thoughts had centred about things here and the past, for the wondrous unfolding that is before us in this and the succeeding chapters; to prepare them, too, for the moral result, which would be permanently to detach them from everything connected with all that they had been taught by birth and training to hold dear. So, for any who have by early training been accustomed to hold dear certain things which are not according to the truth of God — when there is a presentation by the Holy Spirit of the word of God which bears upon our relationship with Him — they must be prepared to look fairly and definitely at the necessity for giving up everything that is not according to the word of God, and to receive that which presents Christ in His infinite fulness.
But if God thus calls to a thing hard to nature, He calls to it by giving a most blessed, all-sufficient exchange. As we see the glories of Christ contrasted with the shadows of the law and everything that was connected with an earthly priesthood, well might we say that if faith had apprehended the reality of what Christ was, they would gladly take not only the spoiling of their goods, but also the spoiling of all their earthly hopes, things that they had clung to as so dear before. Once let Christ be apprehended, once let the beauty of His character as our Priest and the blessedness of the place into which He has introduced us be laid hold of by the soul, and the things of earth which would hold us fast, a carnal religion and all else, will lose their hold, even as the leaves drop off the trees in autumn.
We come now to this chapter, which is devoted to showing the Melchisedec character of our Lord's priesthood.
"For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the smiting of the kings, and blessed him; to whom Abraham also gave the tenth part of all; first being 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 unto the Sou of God, abideth a priest perpetually."
You notice that we have first of all a reference to the occurrence as recorded in the fourteenth chapter of Genesis. There we are told that Melchisedec, "King of Salem," who was priest of the most high God, met Abram when he was returning from the slaughter of the kings. Abram, the Hebrew, which means "the pilgrim," lived in entire contrast to his relative Lot, who had settled down in Sodom, and was therefore liable to all the attacks of the enemies who assailed that place. So, when the king of Babylon and his confederates attacked that wicked city and carried off the people of it into captivity, Lot naturally was taken with them.
Thus, where one is settled down in the world, he too will be in danger of being led off into captivity with the people of the world. There is only one safeguard against this, and that is to maintain pilgrim isolation. Abram, "the pilgrim," the Hebrew, is not only able to deliver Lot (for he goes after the kings, and through God's mercy delivers him, just as the spiritual amongst God's people are often enabled to rescue those who are ensnared in worldliness and led captive by it), but when he returns victorious he is in a moral condition to enter into the blessed truth of the priesthood of Melchisedec. Bread and wine are presented to him, which speak to us most unquestionably of that which spiritually is the food for a pilgrim people. The bread and the wine cannot but remind every Christian heart of that which is recalled to us each Lord's day when gathered about His table, where the bread speaks to us of His body, given up to death for us and the wine, of His blood shed, by which we have title to draw near unto God.
Melchisedec, as a priest who is himself in communion with God, able also to maintain others who are morally fit in that same communion, comes and presents to Abram these types of a perfect Sacrifice by which he could draw near to God. And what a blessed substitute for all that Sodom had to offer! Abram takes this sustenance from the heavenly priest, and receives the blessing which Melchisedec bestows upon him, the blessing of the Most High, a title which refers to His supremacy over all — over kings and all the power of the enemy, King of kings and Lord of lords. He is "Possessor of heaven and earth," the title which will be outwardly manifested in the millennial kingdom of our Lord, but which is actually true for faith at all times. Melchisedec bestows a blessing, and gives refreshment, as priest, to this pilgrim who was walking in separation from the world; and turning, as it were, to the Most High Himself, he offers up his own, and leads the praises of Abram as well: "Blessed be the most high God."
Thus, in a beautiful way, we have a type of what true priesthood is. It is that which brings sustenance, bestows blessing, and then leads the praises in holy communion with God. It comes out from the presence of God, as it were, with hands filled with blessings. It returns with the worshiper into the presence of God, and leads his praises up to Him.
It is a beautiful picture; and if we follow it in the book of Genesis we find how much is morally connected with it. Abram has been feeding on the food of the mighty. He has been introduced into the presence of God through the priest, and now, when the king of Sodom comes near to offer him his share of the spoil, what can Abram say? Endowed with all the blessing of the Most High God, with a perfectly satisfied heart he can turn and say, I will not take as much as a shoe-latchet, lest he should say he had made Abram rich.
What is the secret of our being kept from what this world has to give us? It is the sense of God's blessed presence, the reality of being perfectly blest through Christ our Lord. It is in the dignity of worshipers in His holy presence that we turn from the most attractive and alluring offers which the world can spread before us, and say, I have been in the presence of the King of kings and Lord of lords, and I desire not a single thing which you have to offer. What elevation of soul that is, beloved! That is one of the moral results of being in relationship with the heavenly Priest. But I must not anticipate. Let us go a little further into the detail of what is said as to Melchisedec, for that is what is dwelt upon here.
We have, as you know, a very striking illustration of the way in which the Spirit of God makes use of Scripture here. Not even the most fanciful interpreter would have got as much out of this occurrence (and I say it reverently) as the Spirit of God has got out of it. If we had taken up a scripture, and had endeavored to get meaning out of the names, out of the official position, out of the place where a man was king, and, more than that, out of the very order in which his personal name and his official position were given, it would have been said, You are carrying this too far; you are indulging in fanciful interpretation of Scripture. Furthermore, if we had gone on to say that Melchisedec had no genealogy mentioned, there is nothing said of his parents nor of his successors, — neither his birth nor death recorded, — and therefore he is a type of the Son of God, who abides forever, people would have said, If this is to be allowed in the interpretation of Scripture, where will it end?
And yet that is exactly what is found here. Melchisedec is taken up, the meaning of his individual name is given, "King of righteousness." He is first of all "King of righteousness;" after that, he is King also of Salem, "peace." That is his official place. Notice, not merely is he called "King of righteousness" and "King of peace," but the order in which these occur is emphasized. Now what does all that mean for us? It means that God's word is so perfect that you can take every jot and tittle of it, and need not be afraid, in a reverent, prayerful, dependent way, (using this as an example,) to go through that whole Word and seek for the treasures which you will find everywhere in it. This not merely interprets the meaning of Melchisedec, but it gives us an example of how the Spirit of God would use and interpret His perfect Word throughout.
So Melchisedec is "King of righteousness," and then he is "King of peace." Then his genealogy, or the lack of it, is spoken of. There is no account given of his ancestors, none of his successors, and this in the book of Genesis, where men's ancestry was traced back to Adam, and their succession traced onward! When you come to the Levitical priesthood, for instance in the book of Ezra, where certain men claimed priestly descent, their genealogy was looked for, and when it could not be found they were, as defiled, put away from the priesthood.
So, for an Israelite, genealogy was essential. The Spirit of God makes use of this exception in the case of Melchisedec. There he stands out, a solitary figure in its grandeur of nearness to God, of kingly and priestly dignity; and the Spirit of God declares that is like the Son of God in these respects. As to His eternal relationship to God there is no question of His genealogy, He is the only One, God's only-begotten Son in eternity, and in a very blessed sense He is God's only Son even in time. If He brings many sons to glory, it is in association with Himself, but not in succession to Himself, which is a very different thing. Here you have our blessed Lord typified by Melchisedec, the abiding One — One who comes upon the scene but who traces back His ancestry in no human way; One who, when He leaves this earth, leaves no successor, but passes into the presence of God, where He abideth a Priest continually.
Let us go back a moment and dwell upon the meaning of these names. You notice that expression, "King." The Spirit of God has seen fit to emphasize that, and we must not ignore it. I am quite aware of the emphasis laid on the fact that Christ is not King of saints at the present time, and in a broad sense that is perfectly true. I have no doubt the reason it is insisted upon is because a wrong use has been made of the Kingship of Christ, connecting it with the earthly Kingdom of the Messiah which shall be manifested during the Millennium. And because people were not clear as to that, they have been taught to pray, "Thy Kingdom come" as though it were to be introduced gradually, by human effort, and in this dispensation.
Now we could not intelligently ask for Christ's millennial Kingdom to come as though we were going to enter into it upon earth. It is right to be clear that we are not members of the Kingdom of the Messiah in the sense in which a Jew would have understood it, and in the sense in which it is ordinarily applied by those who would use the term now. But that being admitted, is there not a very real sense in which we are under His Kingly rule? Take this epistle. Has not our blessed Lord taken His seat upon the throne? Who is it that sits upon the throne but the King? Was He not crowned even here, crowned with thorns? And is not that crown now turned into an eternal lustre of glory?
Do we not love to think of Him in royal glory now as He is, at God's right hand, as King set upon the Father's throne, one day soon to sit upon His own throne and to rule to the ends of the earth? I believe that we really lose if we fail to grasp this side of truth. There is real blessedness in dwelling upon His Kingly, royal authority. So we are told in Colossians, "God hath delivered us from the power (or authority) of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love;" a sphere in which divine love, as expressed in the Son of God's bosom, reigns and controls. So He is King. When Pilate asked Him, "Art thou a king, then?" He says, "I am;" and we too can speak of Him, think of Him with joy, as King now upon the Father's throne. All things are beneath His sway, not yet visibly, but faith owns Him as Ruler and Lord.
He is "King of righteousness." I need not say how this must first of all be His personal attribute. Unless there was that, there could be no official fitness for any position that might be given. That was the difficulty with all the kings that had come through David's line. They were not kings of righteousness; their moral character did not answer to it. Even the best of them, David, the man after God's own heart, was simply that because he acknowledged his sin and laid hold of the grace of God. The one who was most glorious of all, Solomon, alas, while brilliantly a type of the earthly Kingdom of our blessed Lord, morally was the exact opposite of a king of righteousness.
But with Him, blessed be His name, the title "King of righteousness" described what He was personally and in His outward life. God's approval was but the recognition of that which was manifested in His entire life upon earth — righteousness in all His dealings, in all His ways and service.
But where He got His full right to the title "King of righteousness" was upon the cross where He met the whole question of God's righteousness. God, to deal righteously with His Son in His personal character, would simply have taken Him up into heaven where He was before; but to deal righteously with Him as the substitute for sinners meant to pour out upon Him all the judgment which guilty sinners deserved. If the claims of righteousness were to be met, the holy Substitute had to die, and where did He manifest His character as "King of righteousness" so fully as, when crowned with thorns, (the mark of the curse of the earth and of the hatred of man) He hung breathless on the cross, having cried out, "It is finished?" Oh, as Pilate brought Him forth, crowned with the thorns and robed in mockery, and said, "Behold your King," as we hear the rabble hooting and crying out, "Away with Him, crucify Him," faith says, Yea, behold our King; give Him to us in all the degradation you can heap upon Him; show Him to us crowned with thorns and the object of human hatred we delight to prostrate ourselves before Him and own Him "King of righteousness"
Then, He is "King of peace." He is still the Lord and Ruler, the Master over all, and the result of that work of righteousness is peace; the effect of it is quietness and assurance forever. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." There is no peace to any child of Adam who has sinned against Him, and we read that "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Yet we are living in a kingdom of peace. Peace is our eternal portion. It is because of the work of the "King of righteousness" that the effect of peace is ours forever. It is not a question of our feeling at peace, I need hardly say, but the blessed result of Christ's finished work: "Having made peace by the blood of His cross." So, "Righteousness and peace have kissed each other." That is the order.
Having effected the work of righteousness in our redemption, the effect of it is everlasting peace for us, and that is secured by the fact that the One who has accomplished it all abides forevermore. He can die no more. That is the truth which the apostle would emphasize for these Hebrew saints, and what needs to be emphasized for any who are in danger of turning to form or ritual for relationship with God. There is the Priest there is the One who introduces into and maintains us in the presence of God. What need of any other priest coming in between our souls and God?
"Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth part of the spoils. And they indeed from among the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have commandment to take tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though these are come out of the loins of Abraham; but he who hath no genealogy from them hath tithed Abraham, and blessed him who had the promises; and beyond all gainsaying the less is blessed of the better. And here, dying men receive tithes, but there one of whom it is witnessed that he liveth. And so to speak, through Abraham, Levi also, who received tithes, hath been tithed: for he was yet in the loins of his father when Melchisedec met him."
We pass on now to that which compares Him with all other priests. The apostle says, Dwell upon the greatness of this man to whom even the patriarch Abraham, the head of the Hebrew race, gave the tenth of the spoil. The giving of the tenth was the acknowledgment of superiority. Tithes are given to a superior. Therefore if there was one above the head of the whole Jewish race, how important it was for the Hebrews not to be occupied with the greatness of Abraham, but with the One greater, even Christ Himself!
He adds there were sons of Levi who as priests had commandment to receive tithes of their brethren. It was because they were in a position of superiority. Though they were their brethren according to the flesh, yet the Levites were in the place of nearness; the priests had access to God and stood in His place, and therefore their brethren had to treat them as their spiritual superiors. I need not say how that has been carried out in the priest-craft of today, how men have intruded themselves between the people and God; how they have made it necessary for any who desire to draw near to God, as they think, to come through the priest; and how, as the result, very substantial tithes have had to be given.
But as contrasted with the priests of the tribe of Levi, here is one who is not of that tribe at all, and therefore had no such official right to receive tithes. He is not counted from them. He received tithes not merely from the children of Israel, not from the people, or "laity," as the word really means, but from Abraham himself. And not only does he receive tithes from him, showing his superiority, but he blesses the one who had received the promises from God. A Jew would say, Abraham is the one through whom all the promises had been given; but here is one who bestows blessing upon the very one who had received the promise of blessing from God. "Without all contradiction, the less is blessed of the better:" Abraham is evidently, then, the lesser person. Not only so, but in the Levitical priesthood it is men who die that receive tithes, men who pass away; but here is a mighty person of whom there is no mention of death, thus typifying Christ, who liveth forever. Then he concludes the subject by saying, Even Levi, even the whole Aaronic priesthood, actually gave tithes to Melchisedec; for, as he says, Levi as unborn was represented in his father Abraham when Abraham gave tithes to Melchisedec.
Now that course of reasoning to a Jewish mind would be conclusive. The argument was faultless, and the development complete. But what an astounding conclusion! He had always looked up to the chief priests and all the leaders of the people as in the very place of God Himself, and here is One who is presented to him — he knows who it is — it is Jesus, the Son of God. He has professed to believe in Him. This One sets aside all these priests. How far inferior they are to Him they have given their tithes to Him; they have given homage to Him as their superior. Thus the Hebrew believer is in this position at once, that all that he had considered in the chief place, as between himself and God, is only a trifle compared with the blessed reality that there is a Priest of a different order who abides continually, and with whom these priests of Aaron's line had nothing whatever to do. It was a stupendous thing for an Israelite to receive this in his soul; and, beloved, I say it is a stupendous thing for any one to apprehend and receive this truth in his soul.
We are in a certain sense familiar with the fact that there is no such thing as Judaism now between the soul and God; but there is much else that comes in. Individuals often come in between the soul and God. I need scarcely speak of the gross form of this as seen in the Romish priesthood which professes even to open and close heaven to its subjects. We will look at less evident illustrations of the same error. Here are those who are in the place of ministers of religion — and I have not a word of disrespect to say of any such. Those who truly minister Christ will be the first to tell you they are simply the servants of the people of God; that they are not your superiors. They would warn you that they do not stand between the soul and God, but simply seek to show you the way of access to Him. And yet how constantly we find people putting religious leaders between their souls and Christ! None of us are free from the danger of that. We put one another in between our souls and God. Children put their parents; wives, their husbands; husbands, their wives. Even prayers are interposed between the soul and God. But when Christ gets His place before the soul, we see that none other must intrude between us and God. It is Christ who is our Priest, and the only Priest. Blessed truth, emancipating truth for the heart to rest upon — to be a worshiper without any need of human intervention and to be able to enter into the holiest of God's presence without any need of man's interference. What a privilege! No wonder that the Spirit of God should dwell upon it for these Christians, who for a moment were tempted to turn from Christ back to the things of the law in which they had been indoctrinated.
But still other striking and vital results follow.
"If indeed, then, perfection were by the Levitical priesthood (for the people had their law on the basis of it) what need was there that still a different priest should arise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be named after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there becometh of necessity a change also of tile law. For he of whom these things are said pertaineth to a different tribe, of which no one hath been occupied with the service of the altar. For it is clear that our Lord hath sprung out of Judah, of which tribe Moses spike nothing concerning priests. And it is still more abundantly evident, since a different priest ariseth after the similitude of Melchisedec, who hath been made, not after a law of fleshly commandment, but after a power of indissoluble life. For it is borne witness, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. For there is a setting aside of the commandment going before for its weakness and unprofitableness (for the law made nothing perfect) and the bringing in of a better hope, by which we draw nigh to God."
If this Levitical priesthood had brought in perfection, that is, if it had brought in a satisfactory relation between man and God, what need would there have been of speaking of any further priest who was not of the family of Aaron, but of an entirely different order? "Perfection," you know, especially in this epistle to the Hebrews, does not mean personal perfection, but the perfection of relationship with God — a perfect conscience; that is, a conscience which has been divinely enlightened, and divinely satisfied by the finished work of Christ. We know we are made perfect by the one offering of Christ.
Look for a moment at the Levitical priesthood. There were sacrifices offered day after day, but they could not make the comer thereunto perfect — they could not give the soul peace with God. Look today at the so-called sacrifices that are professedly offered up — offered for the dead, and for guilty people who come to secure these sacrificial services for themselves. What peace do they give to their conscience? What rest of soul do they give? Repeated over and over again, as they are in a large branch of professing Christendom, has peace with God and rest of soul been ministered to them thereby? They know, and we know, it has not! And so with any who would bring anything of a mere carnal, earthly character between their souls and God. Even prayer may be so used. People ask to be prayed for as if prayers were to satisfy God in their behalf. Religious rites and services are engaged in — everything that people say is necessary to bring them into communion with God; but it makes nothing perfect, because it ignores the work of Christ. If that is ignored, nothing else can make the conscience perfect. Trust in the perfect Sacrifice once offered, trust in Christ alone, gives perfection as to the conscience.
The whole effect of the law was to keep men at a distance from God. So he appeals to the Hebrews, You have not had perfection. If you had had it under the law, you would have been perfectly satisfied, and God would have never introduced another order. Hence, many centuries after the priesthood had been established, a different order is brought in, as the Psalms declare: "Thou art a Priest forever after the order of Meichisedec." Here you find the Spirit of God taking it up, and saying, There is a Priest who has set aside the Aaronic order.
But there is more yet in connection with this. Look at the 12th verse. It is very radical: "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law." Under the Levitical priesthood the people received the law. Mark, it does not mean the law of the priesthood merely. You would have to rend the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers to pieces in order to get the law of the priesthood separate from the other law. Israel's law was a unit; it was one and indivisible. The Ten Commandments summarized it, and all that followed them was simply the unfolding, enlarging and application of that law. Sometimes people make a distinction between the moral and ceremonial law. They say, We know the ceremonial law has been abrogated, but we are under the law of the Ten Commandments. I ask, Where will you find any such cleavage? When you come to the Old Testament, where will you find that the Ten Commandments are holier than the rest of the word of God? Enshrined in the Ten Commandments is one — the fourth — which is a ceremonial one. It is as though God would show that the moral and ceremonial are bound together as one in His mind. Whatever He declares has to be obeyed, whether it is, "Thou shalt not kill," or, "Thou shalt bring a tithe of all thou hast." I quite admit there are certain eternal principles unfolded in these commandments which abide always, things that are connected with the very character of God; but that is not raised in the question of the law. Law is law, whatever the enactment may be, and you cannot pick and choose amongst the laws of God any more than you could pick and choose amongst the Ten Commandments. You can no more say, I will keep the moral law and neglect the ceremonial, than you can say, I will keep the law which says, "Thou shalt not kill," and neglect the one which says, "Thou shalt not steal."
Now mark, that law was given under the Levitical priesthood. We have already seen that priesthood fading away, displaced by the mightier and eternal priesthood, even Christ, who abides forever. But if there is a change of the priesthood, there is a change also of the law. We are no longer under the law. What light that sheds upon such a scripture as that in Romans: "Ye are not under law, but under grace"! It does not set free to do our will, but brings us into the place of happiest liberty to obey Him who is Lord and Master of us all. There is not, surely, the least lowering of the claims of righteousness; just the opposite of that. The claims of grace, of holiness; the claims of the new creation, are greater far than the claims of any law written on tables of stone could possibly be. So that law in which the Hebrew rested, about which he talked, given from Sinai — as he would have to admit that the priesthood was changed, he would have also to admit that the law itself was changed, and passing away.
Now, he says, this change of the priesthood is evident, for the Lord was not even of the tribe of Levi. He belonged to another tribe, the tribe of Judah, about which nothing was said of serving at the altar. He therefore had nothing to do with the Levitical order of priesthood.
Here are two very precious thoughts. He is of the tribe of Judah, "praise." He dwells amidst the praises of His people, and leads those praises. He begets praise in His worshiping people by giving them the grounds for it in His finished work and the present position which they occupy. That is the first thought. He is the Priest of praise. And the second is, that He is made a Priest not after the law of a carnal commandment, (that is, the law given in the commands of God which appeal to the flesh but can get nothing from it, "for the law made nothing perfect,") but "after the power of an endless life." He has an endless life Himself. It was not a carnal command which made Him Priest; it is not connected with that which vanishes away, but it is His eternal existence as Son of God which is the witness of His priesthood. And is it not true in a very precious sense that the exercise of that priesthood is in connection with that life as bestowed upon us all? We are partakers of life forevermore, and therefore we are not under a carnal commandment, but have a life which now exhibits the eternal character of our relationship.
And so the law is set aside. It made nothing perfect. It was weak and unprofitable. It is not, as we read in the epistle to the Romans, because the law was not "holy, just, and good," but because its appeal was made to the natural man, in whom there was nothing that could answer to the law: — "What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh." It is the weakness of the flesh that makes the law unprofitable, and therefore it is annulled, set aside. There must be a new basis of things — the old has been set aside. Now we have as a blessed contrast to that "the bringing in of a better hope." That word "hope" would suggest to the Hebrews that the blessings are future yet. They are at present only for faith to enjoy They would enter upon the glory of it in a little while. It was "the bringing in of a better hope" than was connected with the earthly promises. Under the law the effect of the priesthood was to put the people at a distance from God. The priest received the offering, sprinkled the blood, went into the sanctuary, and came out again, and the people kept at a distance from God. But here is "a better hope" by which we draw nigh to God; by faith we enter into the sanctuary where is our Priest, and engage as happy worshipers in His very presence. Here was the astounding fact for an Israelite, that his law was set aside as well as his priesthood. What had he left? He that believed had Jesus, the Son of God. The apostle says, You have Him in His perfect, abiding fulness!
The rest of the chapter gathers up these truths and applies them for the joy and the comfort of the soul.
"And inasmuch as it was not without the swearing of an oath (for they are made priests without the swearing of an oath, but he with the swearing of an oath by him who said as to him, The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec) by so much did Jesus become surety of a better covenant."
We have already seen that the oath of God emphasizes the immutable character of what He declares. When God established Aaron as priest, He did not swear that he should have an abiding priesthood. It was a temporary thing; being weak and imperfect, it could not abide. Another priesthood therefore is brought in — brought in with an oath, and therefore its stability is connected with the truth of God Himself. "Thou art a Priest forever." How He reiterates again and again this familiar quotation! I am sure if we had only read it in the 110th psalm we would naturally have passed over it very lightly; but the Spirit of God reiterates and dwells upon it, showing us what fulness and security there is in it!
As we think of Christ on high, ever living there — God would cease to be the God of truth, or, as the apostle John in bold imagery says, it would "make God a liar" if Christ were to cease to be the blessed, merciful, sympathetic Priest that He is for His people.
Thus, established by the oath of the eternal God, our Priest is the surety of a covenant infinitely better than the legal one. That forms the theme of the next chapter, and we will not dwell upon it here.
"And they indeed have been made priests more than one, on account of their being hindered by death from continuing; but he, because he continueth ever, hath the unchangeable priesthood. Whence also he is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by him, seeing that he always liveth to make intercession for them."
Aaron went up to the top of Mount Hor and died, and Eleazar took his place. Eleazar too passed away, and the high-priestly robes were laid aside and put on another priest. And so they went on — some were faithful, like Phinehas; others weak, like Eli; others, alas, like his two sons, unfaithful and apostate, until, in the time of our Lord, the priests themselves were Sadducees, not believing in the resurrection. What a comment on that priesthood which must pass away, and which was connected with a law that could make nothing perfect! How striking it is that in Jesus and the resurrection the effulgence of the truth broke forth at the very time when the exponents of the earthly priesthood were denying the reality of the resurrection!
The many priests under law passed away by death, but here is One who lives forever, and therefore has an unchangeable priesthood. Growing out of that is the blessed fact that He is able to save to perpetuity — not "to the uttermost" in the sense of saving the vilest sinner that lives, (gloriously true as that is,) but He is able to save to the uttermost length of time. Look at our earthly pilgrimage; see what experiences we have passed through; what experiences may yet await us we know not. How are we sure we are going to be brought through and presented faultless before the presence of God's glory? We know it because our Melchisedec-Priest is on high; and because He liveth to make intercession for His people they will be maintained through every need that they pass through in this mortal existence. How precious to know this!
The types in the Old Testament shine out with special lustre here. You remember that the names of the children of Israel were engraved in the jewels of the breastplate and of the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, so that they would have to be broken before the names could be obliterated. We are distinctly told that the breastplate was connected with the ephod and with the shoulder-pieces, and with the girdle, so that it could not be removed. No priest in Israel therefore could go in before the Lord without those names upon his breast and shoulders. Transfer all that imagery to our blessed Lord. The very fact that He is a Priest and abides forever ensures the eternal security of His beloved people — their names inscribed upon that which speaks of the unchangeable perfections and glory of God.
Think of Dan's name — connected with the idolatrous apostasy early in the history of Israel, whose name also we connect with the self-will, deceit and violence of the Antichrist — think of Dan's name being inscribed upon the diamond in the bosom of the high priest! Think of your name and mine, so unworthy, so worthless in themselves, yet confessed and enshrined in glory as manifested in Christ before the Father at this very moment! He ever liveth! The fact that He lives forever ensures our being brought through, saved through every trial of life to the uttermost end of time.
"For such a high priest became us, holy, guileless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who hath no need day by day, as those high priests, first to offer up sacrifices for his own sins, then for those of the people; for this he did once for all when he offered up himself. For the law constituteth men high priests who have infirmity; but the word of the oath sworn, which was after the law, maketh the Son, who is perfected for evermore."
We saw in the second chapter that it became God "in bringing many sons to glory to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." It was consistent with His character that the Leader of salvation should be a perfect, sympathizing Saviour. Now what is it that becomes us? Where do we find what suits us, what meets our need? Christ is what is fitting to the character of God. He is the fitting illustration of what expresses the will of God in this world. And what is it, beloved, that is a fitting expression for His people? The same blessed Person. Think of Christ being the manifestation of God for us, and then think of His representing us before God. "Such a High Priest became us." He was suited to us.
Now His character is dwelt upon, in contrast with all that the A aronic priesthood was. He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" — just the opposite of the priests of whom we have been speaking. We are here invited to dwell upon that wondrous Person, "holy," — as unsullied as the white linen garment of the priest typified; "harmless," or guileless, not a breath of deceit, as perfect without as within; "undefiled" by contact with all that surged about Him, for though He was the Friend of sinners He was in heart and life absolutely "separate" from them. And as the divine seal upon this perfection He has been glorified on high.
Contrast that with the best priests you find in the whole Aaronic line. The best of them needed daily to offer for themselves as for the people. Here is One who needed no offering for Himself, and who once made the perfect sacrifice of Himself for His people.
The earthly priests had infirmities. The word of the oath makes the Son who abideth forever.
So we have One in the presence of God who abides forever, and maintains us forever in eternal relationship, according to the character of His holy, harmless, undefiled Person.