An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
Judaism Set Aside
It may be well for us to recall the principal design of the apostle in this section of his epistle. This was twofold; first, to demonstrate that the great High Priest of Christianity is far more excellent than was the typical high priest of Judaism, and that, that the faith of the Hebrews might be established and their hearts drawn out in love and worship to Him. Second, to show that it necessarily followed God’s bringing in of the new order of priesthood, the old order was completely set aside. The method of proof which the Spirit moved the apostle to pursue was, an appeal to a notable Old Testament type, confirmed by the citation of a Messianic prophecy. From this there was no possible appeal by any who really bowed to the Divine authority of Holy Writ. Blessed it is to see how graciously God has always provided a sure foundation for the faith of His people to rest upon. Yet it is only as His Word is diligently searched that this foundation is fully discovered, and even that, by the directing and illuminating guidance of the Holy Spirit.
An analysis of our chapter reveals that Christ’s superiority over Aaron appears in the following points. First, Aaron was but a man; Christ was "the Son of God" (verse 3—and note the repetition of this item at the close of the argument in verse 28!). Second, Aaron belonged to the tribe of Levi; Christ, according to the flesh, sprang from the royal tribe (verse 14), and is the Priest-King. Third, Aaron was made "after the law of a carnal commandment"; Christ, "after the power of an endless life" (verse 16). Fourth, Aaron "made nothing perfect"; Christ did (verse 19). Fifth, Aaron was unable to bring the sinner, "nigh unto God" (verse 19); Christ has (verse 25). Sixth, Aaron was not inducted into his priestly office by a Divine oath; Christ was (verse 21). Seventh, Aaron had many successors (verse 23); Christ had none. Eighth, Aaron died (verse 23); Christ "ever liveth" (verse 25). Ninth, Aaron was a sinner (verse 27); Christ was "separate from sinners" (verse 26). Tenth, Aaron was only the priestly head of an earthly people; Christ has been "made higher than the heavens" (verse 26). Eleventh, Aaron had to offer sacrifice "daily" (verse 27); Christ’s sacrifice is "once for all". Twelfth, Aaron was filled with "infirmity" (verse 28); Christ is "perfected forevermore". Well may we praise God for "such a High Priest" (verse 26).
In view of the introduction of this Priest par excellent, what room was there for another? No longer was there any need of the type, for the Antitype had appeared. Symbols and shadows have served their purpose when the substance itself is manifested. The things of childhood are put away when manhood is reached. A crutch is dispensed with when the limb is restored. When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part is done away with. This is the unescapable inference which the apostle dwells upon here. "For there is verily—of a truth which cannot be gainsaid, as a fact which cannot be controverted—a disannulling of the commandment going before". And why? Because "the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law." The whole system of Judaism had been set aside by God.
One cannot read through the Old Testament without marveling at the long-suffering of the Lord. Notwithstanding the many and great provocations of Israel, He did not set Judaism aside until the end for which He had appointed it had actually been reached. When the promised Messiah appeared, the temple still stood in Jerusalem, its priesthood still functioned, the sacrifices were still offered. But now its purpose had been served, its mission accomplished. The antitype of the temple was seen in the person of God incarnate (John 2:21); that which Aaron foreshadowed was fulfilled in the great High Priest of Christianity; and all the sacrifices found their perfected sequel in the final offering of the Lord Jesus. Therefore did God take "the law of commandments contained in ordinances" and nailed it to the cross (Col. 2:14), where He left it completely accomplished.
In the verses which are to be before us the apostle dwells upon two things. First, he calls attention to a most significant and deeply important item in the prophecy given through David, and this, that Christ was constituted Priest by Divine oath, which exalts Him high above priesthood under the law. The profound meaning and inestimable value of this fact will come before us in what follows. Second, he affirms that Christ is Priest forever, and this in order to show that there should never more be any need of another priest, nor any possibility of a return of the Levitical priesthood. Marvelously full and comprehensive was that brief word in Psalm 110, supplying for us an example of what unsearchable stores of wisdom and truth are laid up in every verse of Scripture, if we are given spiritual sight in their investigation. Signal proof also is this of the verbal inspiration of Scripture: every phrase, every word, was indited by Divine wisdom and has its own value and meaning.
"And inasmuch as not without an oath He was made priest" (verse 20). The opening word has the force of "Moreover": it is not that the apostle is here drawing a conclusion from a promise previously laid down; instead he moves forward in the argument before him. He here introduces a new consideration for the confirmation of the leading design before him. That the contents of the verse depend upon what follows was the conviction of the translators, as may be seen from the fact that they supply the ellipsis (the words in italics) from verse 21. That which the apostle now insisted upon was, that the dignity of Christ’s sacerdotal office was commensurate with the solemnity of His appointment to it.
Nothing was lacking on the part of God to give eminency and stability unto the priesthood of Christ: "Not without an oath". This was due unto the glory of His person. The Son of God, in infinite grace, condescending to take upon Him the priestly office and discharge all the duties of it, it was meet that any thing which would contribute unto the glory or efficacy of it, should accompany His undertakings. In this God showed how jealous He is for the honor of His Beloved; in all things He must have the pre-eminence. In everything that He undertook, He was preferred above all others who were ever employed in the service of God, or who ever shall be; and therefore was He made a Priest "not without an oath".
Moreover, God deemed it needful to encourage and secure the faith of His people. There were many things defective in the priesthood under the law, and it suited the design of God that it should be so. He never intended that the faith of the church should terminate in those priests. But upon the introduction of the priesthood of Christ God has exhibited all that faith is to look unto and lean upon, and therefore did He, in infinite wisdom and grace, grant the highest and most specific evidence of the everlasting continuation of His priesthood. In this manner has He shown that this appointment of His will and mercy is absolutely unchanging, so that if we comply not therewith we must perish forever. (Condensed from John Owen).
The priesthood of Aaron was not instituted with an oath; Christ’s was. Now that which is connected with an oath can never be changed, for God is immutable. "In the same way as He sware unto Abraham, ‘Surely blessing I will bless thee’, in order that by two immutable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have abundant assurance of hope; even thus is it that because the High Priesthood of Jesus can never be altered, because it is based upon the eternal decree and counsel of God, and because it is essentially connected with the very nature and purpose of God Himself, it is introduced with an oath. The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent" (Adolph Saphir).
"For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath, by Him that said unto Him, the Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (verse 21). It should be particularly noted that God never solemnly interposed Himself with an oath with respect unto privilege or mercy but that in each instance it had Christ in view. Thus, He sware by Himself unto Abraham that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed, whereby He announced the immutability of His counsel to send His Son to take His seed upon Him. So also He sware unto David by His holiness that his seed, Christ, should sit on his throne forever".
"For those priests were made without an oath, but this with an oath". Although there is never the slightest alteration in the internal acting of God’s will nor the least changing of His purpose, for with Him there is no "variableness or shadow of turning", yet, He frequently alters His works, His providences, and even some of the things which He appoints unto men at different times, unless they be confirmed with an oath. The Levitical priests were by Divine appointment, and therefore the people of Israel were obligated to obey them. But they did not enter their office by Divine oath, the absence of this intimating that God reserved to Himself the liberty to make an alteration when He saw good.
"But this with an oath, by Him that said unto Him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek". The person swearing is God the Father, the One unto whom He speaks is God the Son: "The Lord said unto my Lord" (Ps. 110:1). The oath of God is the open declaration of His eternal purpose and unchanging decree. Thus is the same act and counsel of God’s will spoken of in Psalm 2:7. "I will declare the decree". Therefore when God is pleased to unveil His decree or reveal His purpose, testifying it to be absolute and unchanging, He does it by way of oath: see Hebrews 6:13, 14, 17 and our comments thereon.
Should it be asked, When did God thus sware unto Christ? We must distinguish between two things, or more accurately, two aspects of the same thing, namely: the Divine decree or purpose itself, and the revelation or declaration of it, for the "oath" includes both. As to the decree itself, that takes us back to those eternal federal transactions between the Father and the Son, when the "Everlasting Covenant" was entered into. As to the revelation of it, that was through David. Thus, the many modern commentators who regard this oath as being made with Christ upon His ascension into heaven are seriously mistaken, for that would completely invalidate the apostle’s argument here. Had Christ offered His sacrifice before God sware unto Him, He had no pre-eminence herein over the Aaronical priests. The oath must precede His entrance upon and discharge of His priestly office, or otherwise the force of the apostle’s reasoning here would utterly break down.
Not only did God’s oath to Christ make manifest the exalted dignity of Christianity’s High Priest, but it also denoted the great importance of the economy which He introduced and now administers. "No wise or good man interposes his oath in a matter of trivial consequence. If he voluntarily gives his oath, it is a plain proof that he considers that matter as one of importance. That economy must then be a high and holy one indeed with regard to which Jehovah swares; and this circumstance must elevate it far above every other economy, though Divine in its origin, that is not distinguished by this highest conceivable mark of its importance in the estimation of Him who alone hath wisdom. But the oath of God marks not only the importance, but the stability of the economy in reference to which it is made. God is never represented in Scripture as swearing to everything but what was fixed and immutable" (John Brown).
"By Him that said unto Him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek". As this is the final reference in Scripture to Melchizedek perhaps we had better summarize the cardinal features in which he foreshadowed Christ. First, Melchizedek was the only priest of his class or order, and thus pointed to the solitariness of Christ’s priesthood—He shares it with none. Second, Melchizedek had no predecessor, and therefore his right to office depended not on fleshly descent; foreshadowing the fact that Christ’s priesthood was quite distinct from the Aaronic. Third, Melchizedek had no successor: typifying the fact that Christ’s priesthood is final and eternal. Once again we would stress the fact that it is not said Christ is priest of the order of Melchizedek, had He been so, the resemblance between them had been destroyed in a vital particular. Christ did not succeed Melchizedek, but was his Antitype. Unto those who object that nothing is said in the Old Testament about Melchizedek’s offering sacrifice to God, we would reply, Neither is there anything said of his making intercession.t It was not in those things that God designed him to prefigure Christ, but in the particulars pointed out above.
"By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament" (verse 22). The "by so much" answers to the "in as much" of verse 20, hence our present verse is in immediate connection with verse 20, thus: "And inasmuch as He was not made a priest without an oath, He is by so much made the surety of a better testament". Verse 21, though containing the confirmation or proof of the principal assertion, is rightly placed in a parenthesis. On the close connection between verses 20, 22, John Owen said:
"There may be a twofold design in the words. 1. That His being made a priest by an oath, made Him meet to be the surety of a better testament; or, 2. That the testament whereof He was the surety, must needs be better than the other; because He who was the surety of it was made a priest by an oath." In the one way, he proved the dignity of the priesthood of Christ from the new testament; and in the other, the dignity of the new testament from the priesthood of Christ. And we may reconcile both these verses by affirming that really and efficiently the priesthood gives dignity unto the new testament, and declaratively the new testament sets forth the dignity of the priesthood of Christ.
"By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament". These words clearly presuppose three things. First, that another covenant had existed between God and His people prior to the appearing of Christ. This is dealt with more expressly in Hebrews 8, where the old and the new covenants are compared and contrasted. Second, that in some respect or respects the old covenant was good—implied by the contrastive "better". The old covenant was good in itself, as the product of God’s wisdom and righteousness; it served a good purpose, for its statutes restrained sin and promoted godliness; its design was good, for it pointed forward to Christ. Third, that the old covenant had a "surety". Many have erred at this point through failing to distinguish between a "mediator" and a "surety". Moses was the typical mediator; Aaron, the typical surety, for he it was who offered solemn sacrifices in the name and on behalf of the people, making atonement for them according to the terms of the covenant.
"By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better covenant." Here for the first time in this chapter the apostle expressly names the person who had been referred to and described. Declaration had been made of the nature of the priesthood of Him who was to fill the office according to the Melchizedek type, but now definite application of the whole is made unto the Savior. Two questions had long engaged the attention of the Jews: the nature of the Messiah’s office, and who that person should be. The apostle had demonstrated from their own Scriptures that the Messiah was to be a Priest, yet not of the Levitical stock; as he had also shown the necessary consequences of this. Now he asserts that it was Jesus who is this Priest, for He alone has fulfilled the type and discharged the principal duty of that office. Concerning "Jesus" it is here affirmed that He was "made a Surety". He was "made so" or appointed so by the will and act of God the Father: compare 1:4, 3:2, 5:5 and our comments thereon for the force of this term "made". The whole undertaking of Christ, and the efficacy for the discharge of His office, depended entirely upon the appointment of God the Father.
"The Greek word for ‘surety’ properly means a bondsman: one who pledges his name, property or influence, that a certain thing shall be done. When a contract is made, a debt contracted, or a note given, a friend often becomes the surety in the case, and is himself responsible if the terms of the contract are not complied with" (A. Barnes). A "surety" is one who agrees to undertake for another who is lacking in ability to discharge his own obligations. Whatever undertaking the surety makes, whether in words of promise, or in the depositing of real security in the hands of the arbitrator, or by any other personal engagement of life of body, it implies the deject of the person for whom any one becomes surety. The surety is sponsor for another, standing in the room of and acting for one who is incompetent to act for himself: he represents that other person, and pledges to make good his engagements. Thus, Christ was not a Surety for God, for He needed none; but for His own poor, failing and deficient people, who were unable to meet their obligations, incapable of discharging their liabilities. In view of this, Christ agreed to undertake for them, fully pay all their debts, and completely satisfied every demand which God had against them.
A beautiful illustration of the "surety" is found in Genesis 43:8, 9, "And Judah said unto Israel his father, send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both me and thou, and also our little ones. I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame forever". Blessed is it to find how faithful Judah was to his agreement. Later, Joseph’s cup was found in Benjamin’s sack (Gen. 44:12), and on their return into Egypt and re-appearance before Joseph the governor, we hear him saying, "For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame, to my father forever. Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad, a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go with his brethren" (Gen. 44:32, 33).
A blessed New Testament example is found in the case of Paul who volunteered to be surety for Onesimus: "If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay" (Philem. 18, 19). In like manner Christ engaged Himself unto the Father for His elect, saying, Charge to My account whatsoever My people owe Thee, and I will fully discharge their debts. This is an office in which Christ sustains a representative character in relation to those sinners for whom He interposed. It was Christ pledging Himself, or making Himself responsible, for the fulfillment of all that the Everlasting Covenant required on the part of those who are to share its provisions. It is as the Surety of the Covenant that Christ is called the "Second Man", the "Last Adam" (1 Cor. 15:47). This title, then, views Christ as identifying Himself with those whom the Father gave to Him, and on whose behalf He accomplished the great work assigned Him (see John 6:38, 39, etc.) in their room and stead, making full satisfaction to God.
Let us now observe that Jesus was made "a Surety of a better testament", or "covenant", as the term should be rendered, for the word denotes an arrangement or constitution, a dispensation or economy. It signifies that order of things introduced by Christ, in contrast from the order of things which obtained under the Mosaic regime. The Mosaic covenant was administered by the instrumentality of the Levitical priesthood, but the better covenant by Jesus, the Son of God: that was transitory and changing; this is permanent and eternal. It is so because those who enjoy its blessings receive an enablement to comply with its terms, fulfill its conditions, and yield the obedience which God requires therein. For by the ordination of God, our Surety merited and procured for them the Holy Spirit, and all the needed supplies of grace to make them new creatures, and empower to yield obedience to God from a new principle of spiritual life, and that, faithfully to the end.
It is the Surety by the Divine oath which gives stability unto the covenant. God entered into a covenant with the first Adam (see Hosea 6:6 margin), but it had no "surety"! And therefore though our first parent had all the tremendous advantages of a sinless nature filled with holy inclinations, and free from all evil imaginations, desires and habits, yet he broke the covenant and forfeited all the benefits thereof. God made a covenant with Israel at Sinai (Ex. 19 and 24), and appointed the high priest to act as the typical surety of it; yet, as we have seen, that covenant and that surety, made nothing perfect. The purpose of that covenant was to demonstrate the need of another and better one. In contradistinction from these God has made with His elect, in Christ, a covenant "ordered in all things and sure", "for He laid help upon One that is mighty" (Ps. 89:19).
And what is the practical application to God’s children today of what has been before us? Surely this, that just so far as the new covenant surpasses the old, are we under greater obligations unto God, "for unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (Luke 12:48). That just so far as the Surety of the better covenant exceeds in dignity and glory the surety under the old regime, are we under higher obligation of rendering to Him more complete submission, deeper devotion, fuller obedience. O my brethren, what is due unto that blessed One who left heaven’s glory and came here to this sincurst world to discharge our obligations, pay our debts, suffer and die in our room and stead! May His love truly "constrain" us to gladsome and whole-hearted surrender to Him, no longer seeking to please ourselves, but living to and for His honor and praise. If we do not, that is certain proof that we are yet in our sins, strangers to the Surety of the better covenant.
"And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death" (verse 23). In this and the following verse the apostle advances his last argument from the consideration of Christ’s priesthood as represented by that of Melchizedek. His design is to present further proof of the excellency of it above the Levitical, and of His person above theirs. That Paul is still looking back to Melchizedek as a type of Christ, is evident from the description which he had given of him in the earlier verses, namely, that he "abideth a priest continually" (verse 3), and that "it is witnessed that he liveth" (verse 8), for his priesthood did not terminate at the age of fifty as did that of the Levitical. This is the particular detail of the type which is here seized and improved upon, for it was that which gives virtue and efficacy to everything else he had insisted upon. Set this aside and all the other advantages and excellencies he had named would be quite ineffectual to secure "perfection". What lasting profit could it be to the Church to have so glorious a Priest for a season, and then be deprived of Him by the expiration of His office?
Just as what the apostle declares of Christ in verse 24 hath respect to what he had before observed concerning Melchizedek, so what he affirms in verse 23 of the Levitical priests looks back to what he had before declared about them, namely, that they were all mortal men, and nothing more, for they actually died in their successive generations: see verse 8. The apostle expresses himself very emphatically "and truly". It was not a dubious point he was now handling, but one which was well known and could not be controverted. "They truly were many priests". It is of the high priest’s only, Aaron and his successors, of whom he speaks. Jewish records inform us that there were no fewer than eighty-three high priests from Aaron, the first, to Phinehas, who perished with the temple. Thirteen lived under the tabernacle prior to Solomon, eighteen under the first temple before its destruction by the Babylonians, the remainder under the second temple till A.D. 70.
The reason for this multiplication of priests was "because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death". Notwithstanding the great dignity of their office, and the solemnities with which they were installed in it, they were but men, subject to infirmity and dissolution, like those for whom they ministered. Mortality suffered them not to continue in the execution of their office. It forbade them so to do in the name of the great sovereign Lord of life and death. A signal instance of this was given in Aaron himself, the first of them. God, to show the nature of that priesthood unto the people, and to manifest that the everlasting Priest was yet to come, commanded Aaron to die in the sight of all the congregation: Numbers 20:25-29! In like manner, death seized upon each of his successors. Thereby did God intimate unto Israel that imperfection attached to that office which was so frequently interrupted in its administration.
"But this man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood" (verse 24). This is the final proof in our present passage for the immeasurable superiority of our great High Priest over the Levitical priests. The Surety of the better covenant has an unchanging priesthood. The reason for and the ground on which this rests is here stated: "because He continueth ever". The apostle is not here proving the absolute perpetuity of Christ’s sacerdotal office, but the continuous and uninterrupted administration of it. This was the faith of the Jews concerning the Messiah and His office: "We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth forever" (John 12:34), which was interposed as a difficulty and said by them in reply to our Lord’s declaration that He was to be lifted up in death. It was this perpetuity of office that was principally typed out in Melchizedek.
Against this it might be replied, But Jesus Christ died also, no less truly and really than did Aaron and his successors, and thus it would follow that He had no more an uninterrupted priesthood than they. To obviate this difficulty, many of our moderns have fallen back on the error of the Socinians, that Christ did not become a Priest at all until after His resurrection. But such a reply cuts the knot, instead of untying it. This figment we have already confuted in previous articles. Nor is there anything here in Hebrews 7 which warrants the idea that the administration of Christ’s priesthood is in heaven only. The whole context here shows plainly to all who are not blinded by prejudice that the apostle is treating of the whole of Christ’s sacerdotal office.
The death of Christ was a vastly different thing from the death of the Levitical priests, for His death did not prevent Him abiding a priest, as theirs did. First, He died as a Priest; they died from being priests; He died in His office, they died out of office. Second, personal death was no part of their work, whereas to die was the chief priestly duty incumbent upon the Lord Jesus. Third, when they fell under the power of death, they could not extricate themselves from it and return to life and the service of the sanctuary, but the Son of God had power to lay down His life and take it again. So far from death putting an end to His priesthood, it did not even interrupt the exercise of it. Christ died as a priest, because He was also the Sacrifice for sins, yet through the indissoluableness of His person, His soul and body still subsisting in the person of the Son of God. He abode active in His office without any break: "He continueth forever".
It necessarily follows from what has been pointed out above that Christ hath "an unchangeable priesthood", subject to no alteration, that cannot pass away. The entire office of the priesthood pertaining and belonging to the new covenant, with its administration, are strictly confirmed unto the person of Jesus, the Son of God. There are none that succeed, any more than any (except typically) preceded Him. This at once exposes and gives the lie to the abominable blasphemy of the Papists who call their ministers "priests", affirming that they perform the proper work of such by offering sacrifice. It is highly derogatory to the honor of Christ, and subversive of the whole teaching of Scripture, to maintain that any person is now invested with priestly office and performs its proper work. They who wickedly assume this character encroach upon Christ’s lone prerogative, and to suppose them to be what they pretend, would be to regard our Redeemer as a priest, not after the order of Melchizedek, but after the order of Aaron, which admitted of successors.
The abiding of Christ as Priest manifests the continuance of His care for His people. The same love which caused Him, as Priest, to lay down His life for them, remains unchanged within Him. Therefore each one may, with the same confidence, go unto Him with all their concerns, as poor and afflicted people went to Him while He was here upon earth. Again: it is upon the perpetuity of Christ’s priesthood that the security of His Church rests. "Do we meet with troubles, trials, difficulties, temptations, and distresses? Hath not the church done so in former ages? But was any one true believer ever lost forever? Did not Satan rage, and the world gnash their teeth, to see their power broken by the faith, patience, and suffering of them whom they hated? And was it from their own wisdom and courage that they were so preserved? Did they overcome the enemy by their own blood, or were they delivered by their own power? No; instead, all their preservation and success, their deliverance and eternal Salvation, depended solely on the care and power of their merciful High Priest". Blessed be His name, He is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever". Hallelujah, what a Savior! what a Surety! what a Priest!