Category Archives: Hebrews

Always and Forever

 

In Hebrews 7, following upon the extended discourse of Melchizedek as the type or pattern for Christ’s own priesthood, we arrive at a profound statement on the application of this better priesthood.

“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25

The contextual basis for this summary is derived from the earlier comparison between the numerous priests, under the Levitical priesthood, and their temporary office, limited due to death, with the singular, permanent, and perpetual priesthood of Christ. Consequently, or based on this, Christ always lives to make intercession, and is able to save, those who draw near to God through Him.

Working through this passage, we arrive at the first point of application built upon the establishment of this better priesthood, namely that this Priest, Christ, is able to save to the uttermostFirst we must ask, save from what or whom?  This salvation is first and foremost from the all-holy God who has every right, first as Creator, then as Sovereign Lord, to distribute punishment to all those whom He sees fit.  As we saw in our overview of the Levitical priests relationship with the tabernacle, keeping the people from wrath of God, much more with Christ who shields His people from God’s wrath on the basis of His propitiatory sacrifice.  All of humanity, by birth, is under the wrath of God as a consequence of our sin.  Which brings us to the second point, this salvation is a saving from sin, both its guilt and its defilement.  Through His sacrifice, which Hebrews reminds us is by His own shed blood, Christ purifies the consciences of those who have placed their faith in Him while likewise purifying, or literally cleansing them from sins defilement.  Third, it is a salvation from ourselves, our internal corruption, old man, or flesh, that has been integral to our beings since birth.  The new man that began in Christ at salvation is brought through unto final salvation in glorification.  Finally, it is a salvation from death, both spiritual and physical.  Because of Christ’s validation as Lord and Savior through His own resurrection, He defeated death thereby defeating death for all those united to Him by faith.

Therefore Christ, the author says, is able to save, to the uttermost.  This peculiar word choice here is vague as to whether it refers to complete, meaning in time, i.e. forever, or whether this means completeness in its extent, essentially the aspects we have just enumerated above.  Its likely, especially when this concept is traced throughout Scripture, that both are true.  The salvation that Christ secures is complete in its eternal duration as well as complete in what it provides; salvation to the uttermost.

Next, we arrive at those who receive the action of this salvation, which we’ve hinted at above as those who are in Christ by faith. Here, however, we find the phrase, those who draw near to God through Him.  The concept of drawing near to God is not unique to this verse in Hebrews, as it as been previously mentioned in Hebrews 4:16, which calls us to draw near to God with confidence on the basis of our sympathetic high priest.  Then in Hebrews 7:19, our drawing near to God is upon the basis of a better hope, namely Christ.  Finally, and coming up in 10:22, “since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with a pure water.” 

Back to our verse in Hebrews 7:25, the little prepositional phrase, through him, is not a throw-away, but is integral, not only to understanding the group identified as those who draw near, but also the relationship between Christ and those who would draw near.  Through him implies union with Christ.  Christ, by means of election before the foundation of the world, then dying for them, and uniting them to Himself by faith, becomes the channel through which the blessings of salvation, not the least of which is His priestly intercession, flow.

One final statement draws this passage to conclusion and supplies the basis for this salvation, that “he always lives to make intercession for them.”  The implication of Christ’s resurrection and His eternality let us know that this priesthood is not limited by death, as the Levitical priesthood was.  Additionally, it is not simply a passive priesthood, but Christ is actively, always and forever, making intercession for those who draw near to God through Him.

Though extensively removed from the time and culture of those who were under the Levitical priesthood, Hebrews calls our minds to understand the role of this priesthood instituted under the Old Covenant so that we might better, more clearly, understand the nature of our Lord’s Priesthood under the covenant that He mediates.

What a comfort it should be for us to know that He always lives to make intercession for those who draw near.  It should be an overwhelming assurance to know that our salvation is guaranteed on the basis of our eternal High Priest who saves always and forever.

[For the entire series on the Book of Hebrews, see the Scriptural Index link.]

Finishing Well

 

Judges 6:11-8:35 introduces us to a man with whom most followers of Christ are or at least should be familiar.  Gideon is perhaps best known for his call from God to lead Israel against the Midianites, a call which he requested God to validate by means of a sign, a wet fleece surrounded by dry ground and then subsequently a second sign, a dry fleece surrounded by wet ground.  This sign was to be evidence that God would be with him in the battle against the Midianites.

Prior to this, and the ensuing battle, God tested Gideon by requiring him to destroy the idols and altars of his family.  His obedience, resulting in a name change to Jerubbaal, meaning “let Baal contend against him” nearly cost him his life.  However, it is out of this test, that of destroying the idols closest to him, that God called him to lead Israel out of the bondage of the Midianites.

This episode, following the sign of the fleece, is accompanied by the well-known test of Gideon’s army, those who lap water versus those who kneel to drink, a test that narrowed down his army from 10,000 to 300 soldiers (The original size was 22,000 soldiers, which itself was narrowed down to those who were not fearful).  In God’s narrowing of the army from 22,000 to 10,000, we are given an explanation why this was necessary, “lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.”  This statement provides us with a universal principle which warns us against relying on our own strength, rather than upon God.

It might not be a large army, it might not even be physical strength, but we are prone to self-reliance which in turn robs glory from God and causes us to boast in our own accomplishments rather than in how God has worked.   In the case of Gideon, God was not satisfied with merely cutting the army numerically in half, but taking it to such drastically low numbers that it would be humanly impossible to explain the victory.

Finally, Gideon and his small band of 300 soldiers embarked on their famous military campaign against the Midianites where the army gathered with trumpets and torches

16 And he divided the 300 men into three companies and put trumpets into the hands of all of them and empty jars, with torches inside the jars. 17 And he said to them, “Look at me, and do likewise. When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. 18 When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’” Judges 7:16-18

Now, perhaps in the statement that Gideon instructed the army to yell out, “…and for Gideon” we’ve got a small indication of a problem.  Nevertheless, when Gideon and his army blew the trumpets and smashed the torch jars, God confused the Midianite army such that they began fighting against each other in the chaos.  After this battle, Gideon and his men pursued the kings of Midian, though exhausted, captured them when again their army (15,000) was thrown into a panic.  Judges 8:10 records for us that in all 120,000 soldiers were killed due to Gideon and his 300 men.  Surely such a victory is due solely to the sovereignty of God.

With all of this in mind, the legend of Gideon is a well-known and rehearsed story and there are many more details left out of this brief overview that we could’ve discussed.  However, the last chapter in Gideon’s life is lesser known.  In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it included in any discussion of Gideon nor have I really paid much attention to it until reading it for myself.  The passage is below

22Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” 23 Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” 24 And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) 25 And they answered, “We will willingly give them.” And they spread a cloak, and every man threw in it the earrings of his spoil. 26 And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and besides the collars that were around the necks of their camels. 27 And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family. 28 So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon.”

Despite the calling from God, the signs from God, the victories from God, and the favor of God on Gideon among the people of Israel, Gideon did not finish well.  One would be hard pressed to determine what exactly the failure of Gideon was, perhaps it was pride as in the instructions to shout his name.  Maybe it was the taste of success or simply suppressed but not fully eradicated idolatry that found opportunity to surface.  Nevertheless Gideon desired more than what God had given him.  He was not content to have rule over the people, but wanted to preside as priest.  To lead a body politically is one thing, to lead a body spiritually is an entirely different matter altogether, one that had not been granted to Gideon, particularly as it was exclusively given to the tribe of Levi.  As a result, he caused not only himself to fall into idolatry and false worship, but he led all of Israel to whore into idolatry as well.  The simple test of faith that he had initially passed in tearing down the personal idols of his family became a snare and a downfall for himself and Israel.  it was a failure to destroy the idols closest to him.

This final chapter of Gideon’s life should cause us to reflect on our lives, particularly as we see God’s sovereign grace working in and through us, calling, gifting, perhaps even granting various victories.  In this life we are called to persevere and to keep ourselves from idols (1 John 5:21).

If this were all we had to remember of Gideon, perhaps it would be another in a long line of men and women who did not finish well.  Yet for Gideon, there was an additional word to be said, that from Hebrews 11 and the so-called “Hall of faith”.

32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets” Hebrews 11:32

Though his mention is brief, nevertheless, the fact that he is hailed by God alongside other men and women who were wrought with failures, yet extolled for their faithfulness should give us encouragement and hope.  This chapter of epitaphs does not mention the failures of God’s people, but rather their faithfulness as a mark of perseverance.

Narratives like Gideon’s serve as patterns and examples, both for the positives and negatives.  Our lives, though certainly possessive of failures, should be marked with the constancy of faithfulness and lifelong perseverance to avoid tapering away from God in our final days.  Surely, we should long for the day when God says well done good and faithful servant, enter the joy of your master.  Until then, let us persevere and strive to finish well.

 

The Meat of Melchizedek: Christ as High Priest

 

In the seventh chapter of Hebrews, the Author returns to the discourse begun in chapter 5 on Melchizedek (Heb. 5:9-10), before it was broken off with a rebuke and warning against apostasy (Heb. 6:4-6).  There we saw how he had a desire to communicate something about Melchizedek, but had to restrain the discussion due to the spiritual immaturity of the audience, “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.” (Heb. 5:11)

Then, after the warning, towards the end of chapter 6, Abraham is held up as an example of faithfulness and patience in waiting on the fulfillment of God’s promise.  Interestingly, and a further example of the masterpiece that is Hebrews, Abraham is not simply a random figure to emulate.  Instead, it is with Abraham that we are re-introduced to Melchizedek from Genesis 14.  Here, in Hebrews 6 and 7, the placement of Abraham in the flow of the passage serves to transition into the discussion of the mysterious figure of Melchizedek as we arrive at the meat of the author’s sermon, namely the High Priesthood of Christ.  However, this transition point from Abraham to Melchizedek to Christ the High Priest is nothing less than hope in the promises of God, which gets a name, “we have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Heb. 6:19-20

Chapter 7 begins with the  re-introduction to Melchizedek

“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham appointed a tenth part of everything.  He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace.” Hebrews 7:1-2

Here, the context brings us back to Genesis 14 and reminds us that Melchizedek was a king-priest who met Abraham after the return from war.  The scene was a skirmish of four kings verses five.  Two of the five kings were those of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The armies led by the four kings took all of the possessions of these two cities, including Abraham’s nephew, Lot.  When Abraham received word, he led an army of 318 men to bring back all the possessions that had been stolen, including Lot.

Upon Abraham’s victorious return, he was met by the King of Sodom and the King of Salem, Melchizedek, who greeted Abraham with bread and wine (perhaps a topic for another day).  Additionally, Melchizedek blessed Abraham saying

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Possessor of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” Gen. 14:19-20

In return, Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything, commonly called a tithe.  By way of contrast, the king of Sodom requested all of the people, but said that Abraham could keep the possessions.  Consider this, the king of Sodom, whose meaning should be obvious, requested the people, again for obvious reasons, but will reward Abraham by allowing him to keep the possessions.  Abraham’s response is noteworthy

“I have lifted my hand[c] to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.” Genesis 14:22-24

Thus, the end of the Scriptural account of Melchizedek.  Nevertheless, God saw fit to use the pre-Israelite king-priest as a type of priesthood for Christ.

Returning to Hebrews 7, we gain some additional context and insight on the person of Melchizedek.  We find that he is

  • King of Righteousness
  • King of Peace (Salem is the early name for Jerusalem)
  • No record of mother/father or geneaology
  • No beginning or end
  • Resembling the Son of God
  • Continual priest[hood]

These characteristics of Melchizedek serve the purpose of introducing the typological relationship with Christ.  Note also that Melchizedek resembles the Son of God.  In this relationship that is about to be unfolded for us in the seventh chapter of Hebrews, we actually see that although Christ is after the order of Melchizedek, it is this mysterious figure that actual resembles the Son.  This means that the Son of God is the Archetype, Melchizedek is the type, and Christ as High Priest is the antitype.  Wow!

Progressing further into the chapter, we see the discussion on tithing, mentioned above, that serves to highlight the superiority of Melchizedek over Abraham.  In Hebrews 7:4-10 we find this recap of the event from Genesis 14 where Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek.  The facts are not simply recited, but are used to establish a principle, namely that Levi, head of the Levitical priesthood, was in the loins of Abraham, thereby Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek.  Through this example of seminal headship, the principle of the superiority of the Melchizedekian priesthood is established over the Levitical priesthood, paving the way for the discussion of Jesus Christ, a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Verse 11 begins this transition by showing the futility of the Levitical priesthood to attain perfection, or completion, or we might even say salvation.  Because this was inherent in the law, and subsequently the Levitical priesthood, there was a need for a new priesthood and by necessary consequence a change in the law (Hebrews 7:12).

This brings up an interesting point in the passage as the author likely feels the tension from his audience, who at this point would be questioning how Jesus could be a priest, since He was from the tribe of Judah and not from the tribe of Levi.  The answer comes in Hebrews 7:16 by declaring that Christ’s priesthood did not come by way of bodily descent, or genealogy, “but by the power of an indestructible life.”

This statement, indestructible life, sets up a second Old Testament reference of Melchizedek, but this time from Psalm 110:4b, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”  The link forms between the basis for the new priesthood, indestructible life, and the statement of ordination from the Psalm, a priest forever.  This allows for the “better hope” to again be brought up from chapter 6:19.  Again it is stated that by this better hope, now given a fuller meaning of the High Priesthood of Christ, we are able to draw near to God, which would have been prohibited under the Old Testament law.

Finally, the last section of this passage that brings to the forefront the change in priesthood from Levi (Aaron) to Melchizedek (Christ) is the basis for the change, namely the promise of God.  Woven throughout the discussion from Abraham in chapter 6 to Melchizedek in chapter 7 has been the foundation of God’s promise.  Not only that, but His faithfulness in guaranteeing the promise by an oath.  This brings us to a second citation from Psalm 110:4, only this time the first part of the verse is referenced in order to highlight the promissory nature of the verse, The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’”

With this statement of God’s oath, we are introduced to another “hook word,” covenant (7:22), which will be the subject of the upcoming chapter.  Finally, Hebrews 7:23-25 offers a word of conclusion culminating with the pinnacle of this newly defined priesthood, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”

The establishment of Christ’s priesthood, associated with the New Covenant, after the order of Melchizedek is critical to establishing its superiority over the Levitical priesthood, associated with the Old Covenant.  Oh the wisdom and knowledge of God to create an obscure figure,  Melchizedek, like the Son of God, and use him for the model of a superior priesthood, namely that of the One Mediator between God and Man, the Lord Jesus Christ.

For the entire series on the Book of Hebrews, see the Scriptural Index link.