An Exposition of Hebrews
by A. W. Pink
The Perfect Priest
The principal subject in the verses which are to be before us is the same as that which has engaged the apostle throughout this 7th chapter, namely, the pre-eminent excellency of the great High Priest of Christianity. That which he is setting forth is the superiority of our Lord’s High Priesthood over that of the Levitical. The various proofs may be expressed thus. First, because Christ is called of God after the order of Melchizedek, Hebrews 5:10. In enlarging upon the fact, here in chapter 7, the apostle did three things: evidenced the superiority of Melchizedek over the order of Aaron, Hebrews 7:1-10; appealed to the Messianic prediction of Psalm 110:4 in proof that Christ had been called after the order of Melchizedek; shows that the fulfillment of this prophecy necessarily involved the setting aside of the Levitical order.
Second, The second proof of the superiority of Christ’s Priesthood over the Aaronic order was, the distinguishing solemnity of its institution, namely, by the Divine oath, Hebrews 7:20-22. Third, it was proved by the perpetual permanency of His Priesthood, Hebrews 7:23, 24. Fourth, it is proved by the saving efficacy of His priestly work, Hebrews 7:25. Fifth, it is proved by the personal qualifications which He possesses to serve as Priest, Hebrews 7:26-28. Sixth, it is proved by the Heavenly Sanctuary in which He now ministers, Hebrews 8:1-5. Seventh, it is proved by the New Covenant with which it is connected, Hebrews 8:6-13.
Or again, we may view the contents of Hebrews 7 as a setting forth of the results from God’s having brought in Christ as Priest after the order of Melchizedek. First, it necessarily follows that the Levitical order of priesthood has been abrogated, for that order could not possibly consist side by side with His, verse 11. Second, in consequence of this change of priesthood, the whole Mosaic ritual has been repealed, verse 12. The reason of this is obvious, the entire ceremonial law pre-supposed the Aaronic priesthood, to which it was adapted and on which it was based—remove the foundation and the whole structure falls. Third, the introduction of of Christ as Priest ushered in an entirely new and immeasurably better economy, verses 19-24. Finally, the providing of such a great High Priest infallibly secures the salvation of all God’s people verses 25-28.
In the closing verses of our chapter the apostle brings the whole preceding discourse unto an issue, by making application of it unto the faith and comfort of the Church. His object was not only to open up mysterious Old Testament scriptures, nor only to demonstrate the glory and pre-eminence of Christianity over Judaism, by virtue of the priesthood of Christ; but his chief design was to make evident the efficacy and eternal advantages of all true believers by these things. The climax to which he had been leading up is before us in verse 25, which he enlarges upon in the end of the chapter. That which Christians ought to seek and what they should expect from the blessed and glorious priesthood of Christ is what he now undertakes to make known. In like manner, in all his epistles the apostle makes it clear that the purpose of God in the whole mystery of redemption by Jesus Christ and the institutions of the Gospel, is the salvation of His elect unto the praise of the glory of His grace.
"Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them" (verse 25). First, let us endeavor to ponder this inexpressibly precious word in the light of its context. The opening "Wherefore" denotes that an inference is here drawn from that which had previously been said. What then is the premise, or what are the premises, on which this conclusion rests? Or, in plainer language, Why is it that Christ is here said to be able to "save unto the uttermost"? "Wherefore"—because of the oath of His consecration (verse 20), because of the immutability of the Father’s purpose (He "will not repent") verse 21, because of the better covenant of which He is "Surety" (verse 22), and because He "continueth ever" an unchanging Priest (verse 24)—"He is able also to save them unto the uttermost". This we take it, is the connection between verse 25 and its context.
From the consideration of the glorious truth and office of Christ as Priest, the apostle, to strengthen the faith and increase the consolation of God’s people, points out the infallible corollary: "He is able". All power is His, abundant sufficiency of ability to accomplish His design of grace. This is the second time we are reminded of the capability of our High Priest. First, in Hebrews 2:18 it was said, "For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted", and see our comments thereon. That which is particularly in view is not the ability of His nature, but of His office. It is still the pre-eminency of Christ above the legal high priests which is chiefly intended. By reason of their personal infirmities and the limited tenure of their office, they were unable to effect that which those desiring to approach unto God most stood in need of. But our great High Priest, being free from all such imperfections, "is able". Because His priesthood is indissoluable and perpetual, His office is all-sufficient to meet every need of God’s people.
"Wherefore He is able to save them to the uttermost". It is no mere temporal or transcient deliverance which Christ effects for His people, but a supernatural, spiritual and eternal one. The word "save" denotes some evil and danger from which deliverance is secured. This is sin, with all its terrible consequences—pollution, guilt, the curse of the law, the captivity of Satan, the wrath to come. Wherefore it is written of Christ that He saves His people "from their sins" (Matthew 1:21), "from the curse" (Gal. 3:13), "from the wrath to come" (1 Thess. 1:10). "He is able also to save". It was no easy matter to subdue Satan, fulfill the law, take away sin. placate God, procure pardon, purchase grace and glory, with all that belongs unto God’s great salvation. But God "laid help upon One that is mighty" (Ps. 89:19), and He who hath undertaken this work is able to accomplish it, and that by the means He hath designed to use and the way wherein He will proceed.
Now the way in which He has designed to save His people, is by the discharge of Christ’s priestly office. God has appointed no other means to that end. We must look for it therein, or go without it. Alas, multitudes are like those sons of Belial who said of Saul when God had anointed him king, "How shall this man save us? and despised him" (1 Sam. 10:27). They understand not (nor do they desire to know) how Christ is able to save sinners by His priestly work, and therefore, under various pretences, they trust to themselves, and despise Him. "All false religion is but a choice of other things for men to place their trust in with a neglect of Christ. And all superstition, instances of it, be they great or small" (John Owen).
"Wherefore He is able also to save unto the uttermost." The last word here may have a double sense: it may respect either the perfection of the work, or its duration, so it is variously rendered, completely and entirely or forevermore and forever. Take its first meaning: Christ will not effect part of our salvation and then leave what remains to ourselves or to others. "He does not relinquish it by reason of death, but He lives on as long as it is necessary that anything should be done for the salvation of His people (A. Barnes). Consider its second meaning: whatever hindrances and difficulties lie in the way of the salvation of believers, the Lord Jesus is fully competent, by virtue of the exercise of His priestly office, to carry out the work for them unto eternal perfection. No matter what oppositions may arise, He is more than sufficient to cope with and overcome them all. Combining the two meanings: a complete salvation is a never-ending one.
"Them that come unto God by Him". This clause defines who are the partakers of His salvation. Christ is able to save unto the uttermost, yet all are not saved by Him, yea, they are few indeed that are saved. Multitudes hear of Him, but, loving more the things of time and sense, refusing to forsake all and follow Him, they "will not come" to Him that they "might have life" (John 5:40). Only those who come unto God by Him, does He save. To come to God means, first, to believe on Him (Heb. 11:6); second, to draw nigh to Him in worship (Heb. 10:1, 22). It is the latter sense which is here principally in view, for the apostle is speaking of the state of the Church under the new covenant, and its advantage over that of Judaism, by virtue of its relation unto the priesthood of Christ. "They that come unto God by Christ are such, as believing in Him, do give up themselves in holy obedience to worship God in and by Him" (John Owen).
To come unto God by Jesus Christ is holy worship. So as to be therein interested in His saving power as the High Priest of His people is to come, First, in obedience unto His authority, as to the way or manner of it. There must be a bowing to His scepter and a practical owning of His lordship, otherwise we are rebels and idolators, not worshippers. Second, with reliance upon His mediation as to the acceptance of it, counting on the sufficiency of His sacrifice to atone for our sins and His intercession to procure the acceptance of our persons and offerings. Third, with faith in His person as the foundation of it; so to believe in Him as vested with His holy office that the discharge of it will save even to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him. Unless we are true believers, our worship will not be accepted.
First, the quickened sinner comes to Christ, is drawn to Him by the Father (John 6:44), and through Christ he comes unto God: cf. 1 Peter 3:18. In His priestly office Christ saves from sin unto God. His righteousness carries them beyond Himself as Mediator unto God Himself: cf. Hebrews 10:22. Thus "coming to God’ is the fruit and consequence of "coming to Christ". God is a just and holy God, yet may the believing sinner, in and through Christ, have communication with Him. Suppose I am under an awakening sense of the terrible majesty and consuming holiness of God: I tremble, and dare not approach unto Him—alas, where are they these days who ever have such an experience? But, later, the Holy Spirit takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto me—His compassion for sinners, His mediatory office, His all-sufficient love: then my fears are silenced, and I draw near unto God praising Him for His unspeakable gift. Nor does Christ’s "ability" to save depend upon my coming to Him, rather does it lie in His power to overcome the reluctance of "His own" and incline them to come: see John 17:20.
"Seeing that He ever liveth to make intercession for them." These words express the reason why Christ is able to effectually save His people: that which secures them is His perpetual life—"He ever liveth"; His perpetual work—"to make intercession". This is what gives efficacy to the priesthood of Christ. The Lord Jesus lives a mediatorial life in Heaven for His people: as He died for them, so He lives for them, and therefore does He assure them "because I live, ye shall live also" (John 14:19). Comparatively few today either understand or appreciate this blessed fact. That Christ died for them, all who assent to the Gospel profess to believe; but that there is an equally vital necessity for Him to now live for and make intercession for them, is something which they perceive not. Nevertheless, Scripture is clear on this point: "If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:17).
"There are many Christians who dwell on the crucifixion of Jesus in a one-sided way. We cannot dwell too much on the glorious truth that Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins. Yet it is not on the crucifixion, but on Christ the Lord, that our faith rests; and not on Christ as He was on the cross do we dwell, but on Christ who was dead and is risen again, and liveth at the right hand of God, making intercession for us . . . When Jesus died upon the cross He put away our sins, but this was only removing an obstacle. The ultimate object of His death upon the cross was His resurrection and ascension, that through suffering He should enter into glory, that He should be the perfect Mediator between God and man, presenting us unto God and bestowing upon us all the blessings which He has purchased for us with His precious blood. He has obtained eternal redemption on the cross, He applies the blessings of eternal redemption from the holy of holies. If Christ was not risen we should still be in our sins; and if such a thing were possible, though we might be forgiven, we should be dead and without the Spirit" (Adolph Saphir).
So stupendous is the work of saving believers unto the uttermost, it is necessary for the Lord Jesus to live a mediatory life in heaven for the perfecting and accomplishing thereof. It is indeed generally acknowledged by professing Christians that sinners could not be saved without the death of Christ, but that believers could not be saved without the resurrection-ministry of Christ is not so freely owned or considered. Yet, Romans 5:10 is very explicit on the point: "For if, when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life". Let Romans 8:33-35 also be duly weighed. It is one thing to recognize that, by the once offering of Himself, Christ has "obtained eternal redemption for us" (Heb. 9:12), it is quite another to perceive that His intercession is required in order to the fruits of His oblation being applied to those for whom it was made.
It appears to many that, seeing Christ fulfilled all righteousness for His people, redeemed them by His blood, made full atonement for their sins, nothing more was needed. But had Christ left us to build our eternal safety on the foundation which He laid, had He ascended on High to enjoy His reward without continuing to exercise His priestly office on our behalf, had He merely secured our right and title unto the heavenly inheritance and left us to press forward to it unaided by Him, everyone of us would quickly fall a prey to the powerful adversaries which constantly seek our destruction. When God "laid the foundations of the earth", the "morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God (angels) shouted for joy" (Job 38:4, 7), yet were the continued actings of God’s creative power required unto the perfection of the earth. So the foundation of the new creation was laid gloriously in the death and resurrection of Christ, causing triumphant praise unto God (Col. 2:15, 1 Timothy 3:16), yet that praise is founded upon the guarantee of Christ’s unchanging love, care, and power, to complete the work He has undertaken.
Those for whom Christ died are not taken to Heaven the moment they believe, but are still left here in the Enemy’s country nor are they yet glorified, instead, the "flesh", with all its defiling influences, is still left within them. Therefore do they stand in urgent need of the priestly care of Christ, that, in answer to His intercession, God might send them His Spirit, grant them renewed supplies of grace, deliver them from their foes, keep them in communication with the Father, answer the accusations of Satan, preserve them unto the end of their earthly course, and, then receive them unto Himself and "present them faultless before the presence of His glory" (Jude 24). "Who can express the opposition that continues to be made unto this work of completing the salvation of believers? What power is able to conflict and conquer the remaining strength of sin, the opposition of Satan and the world? How innumerable are the temptations which every individual believer is exposed unto, each of them in its own nature pernicious and ruinous" (John Owen).
"The most glorious prospect that we can take into the things that are within the veil, into the remaining transactions of the work of our salvation in the most holy place, is in the representation that is made unto us of the intercession of Christ. Our High Priest has entered within the veil where no eye can pierce unto Him, yet is He there as High Priest, which makes Heaven itself to be a glorious temple. Herein we see Him by faith still vested with the office of the priesthood and continuing with the discharge of it. Hence, in His appearance to John, He was clothed with a garment down to the foot and girded about the paps with a golden girdle: both of which were sacerdotal vestments, Revelation 1:13" (Condensed from John Owen).
"The intercession of Christ is the great evidence of the continuance of His love and care, His pity and compassion towards His Church . . . But how shall we know that the Lord Christ is thus tender, loving, compassionate, that He continueth so to be; what evidence or testimony have we of it? It is true, He was eminently so when He was upon the earth in the days of His flesh, and when He laid down His life for us. We know not what changes may be wrought in nature itself, by its investiture with glory; nor how inconsistent those affections which in us cannot be separated from some weakness and sorrow, are with His present state and dignity. But herein we have an infallible demonstration of it, that He yet continueth in the exercise of that office, with respect thereunto all those affections of love, pity and compassion are ascribed unto Him" (John Owen).
"For such an High Priest became us, holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens" (verse 26). In this verse the apostle shows that in order for sinners to come unto God, they have need of an High Priest to encourage and enable them so to do. Not only is a high priest necessary, but there must be one possessed of certain qualifications of excellencies, if ever we are to obtain access to the thrice Holy One. Such a Priest is here described; such a Priest "became us", was requisite for and suited to poor sinners. None other could expiate our sins, purge our conscience from dead works, procure acceptance with God for us, purchase eternal redemption, administer supplies of grace enabling us to live unto God in all the duties of faith, obedience and worship, comforting us in trials, delivering from temptations, preserving us unto eternal glory.
The only high priest fitted to officiate before God on the behalf of desperately-wicked sinners was one who was "holy". That which is here in view is the absolute purity of Christ’s nature. He was entirely free from the slightest spot or taint of our original defilement. Instead of being, as we were, "conceived in sin and shapen in iniquity", His humanity was "that holy thing" (Luke 1:35). His conception being miraculous, by the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit, and not derived to Him by natural generation, He was completely exempt from the pollutions which corrupts every one of Adam’s descendants. He could say, "the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me" (John 14:30): there was nothing within Him to which the Evil one could make a successful appeal. And such an High Priest "became us". Had His nature been defiled, He had been disqualified either to be Priest or Sacrifice. This holiness of His nature was imperative in order to answer for the unholiness of our nature.
Second, He was "harmless". "Holy" tells of what Christ was God-wards: perfectly conformed to the Divine will inwardly, evidenced by His perfect outward conduct. "Harmless" tells of what He was man-wards. He is the only one who has ever walked this earth who never contaminated, tempted, injured, those with whom He came into contact. As "holy", He loved the Lord His God with all His heart; as "harmless" He loved His neighbor as Himself. He lived not for self, but was ever at the disposal of others. He went about doing good. When reviled, He reviled not again. When ill-treated, He never retaliated. He was the Lamb in the midst of wolves. He was the Sun of righteousness with healing in His wings. How perfectly adapted was He, then, to serve as Priest and meet the exigencies of His people!
Third, "undefiled". He not only entered this world "holy" and "harmless", but He was so when He left it. Tabernacling for thirty-three years in a world under the curse, mingling daily with sinners, He contracted no defilement. Just as the rays of the sun may shine into the foulest stream without losing any of their purity, so Christ moved in and out amongst the vilest without the glory of His holiness being sullied in the slightest degree. Christ was "undefiled" morally, as the priests under the law were required to be ceremonially. He was never infected by the evils around Him. He touched the leper, and the leper was cleansed. He came into contact with death, and death was conquered. He was in the presence of the Devil for forty days, and was as spotless at the close as He was at the beginning of them.
Fourth, "separate from sinners". The position of this clause in our verse must govern its interpretation. It has a double force. It is intimately related to what precedes, as it is closely connected with the words immediately following. As it comes after the "holy, harmless, undefiled", it gives a summary of what Christ was in Himself, emphasizing His uniqueness and demonstrating His fitness to officiate as Priest. He was the "Blessed" Man of the first Psalm: He walked not in the counsel of the ungodly, stood not in the way of sinners, sat not in the seat of scorners. He was the true Nazarite of Numbers 6. Though He lived amongst sinners, He was infinitely apart from them, in nature and character, motive and conduct. He was in the world, but not "of" it. Thus was He qualified to act as Mediator between God and sinners.
"Separate from sinners". As this clause prepares the way for "made higher than the heavens", it stands in sharp antithesis from "He was numbered with transgressors". On the cross, we behold Him in the place of sinners, but He occupies that place no longer. Death is for ever behind Him. He is now, in the absolute sense, "separate from sinners", that is, distinguished from those for whom He is interceding. He has been removed from their society unto another sphere. Thus, this clause points another contrast from the high priest under the law. Aaron offered atonement for sinners, and continued amongst them afterwards. Not so Christ.
"Made higher than the heavens". "This refers to the present place and state of our great High Priest. He was for a season made lower than the angels, and descended into the lower parts of the earth, and that, for the discharge of the principle part of His priestly office, namely, the offering of Himself for a sacrifice unto God. But He abode not in that state, nor would He discharge His whole office, and all the duties of it, therein. And therefore He was made higher than the heavens. He was not made higher than the heavens, that He might be a Priest; but being our High Priest, and as our High Priest, He was so made, for the discharge of that part of His office which yet remained to be perfected: for He was to live forever to make intercession for us" (John Owen).
"Absolute perfection of character is not the only requisite in a high priest suited to our circumstances; he must be possessed also of dignified station, or high authority, of unlimited power. He must be one ‘made higher than the heavens’. The phrase is peculiar. It nowhere else occurs in Scripture; but its meaning is obvious enough. He must occupy a place of the highest honor and power. And He must be ‘made higher than the heavens’. Those words plainly imply that His elevation above the heavens is something conferred on Him. It must be beneath the heavens in order to the discharge of some of the functions of His office, and that in consequence of the successful discharge of them, He must be exalted far above all heavens, for the discharge of other functions, and for gaining the grand object, the ultimate end, of His office" (John Brown).
"Jesus went into the holy of holies which was typified in the tabernacle. Above all created heavens, above angels and principalities, Jesus is now in the true Sanctuary, in the presence of God, and there He is enthroned as our perfect High Priest. His position in Heaven demonstrates that when He offered up Himself He put away sin forever, even as it sets forth His divine glory. For who but the Son of God can sit at the right hand of the Majesty on High? As it is written, ‘Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens’ (Ps. 57:5)" (Adolph Saphir). "Made higher than the heavens" by God: this proves that complete expiation has already been made. It emphasizes the fact that Christ has entered the Heavenly Sanctuary on our behalf: see 4:14, 8:1, 2, 9:24 and Ephesians 1:20-23. It announces that He has been exalted above every order of created things. It makes known how immeasurably superior is our High Priest over Aaron.
Ere passing from this verse let us take to heart its searching practical application. The perfections of our High Priest are what we ought to be conformable to. "If we give up ourselves to the conduct of this High Priest, if by Him alone we design to approach unto God, then conformity unto Him in holiness of nature and life, according to our measure, is indispensably required of us. None can more dishonor the Lord Christ, no more perniciously deceive and betray their own souls, than by professing Him to be their Priest, with their trust thereby to be saved by Him, and yet not endeavor to be holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, like unto Him" (John Owen).
"Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice (first for his own sins, and then for the people’s) for this He did once, when He offered Himself" (verse 27). Let the reader note carefully our punctuation of this verse: by placing the central clause in a parenthesis (as it obviously should be) we are relieved of a difficulty which has baffled most of the commentators. In this and the next verse the apostle names other instances in which our High Priest is pre-eminent over those of the order of Aaron. His perfections, described in verse 26 exempted Him from all the infirmities of the Levitical priests, which disqualified them from making personal atonement. The design of the apostle is to show that Christ was infinitely well-pleasing unto God, and because He was under no necessity to sacrifice for Himself, the offering which He made for His people is of eternal validity. "This he did once" announces there is no need of any further repetition.
The apostle is still contrasting Christ from the Levitical high priests. How could they pacify the declarative holiness of God which had been outraged by others, when God was justly displeased with them for their own sins? They were obliged to offer "daily" from time to time, "day by day" or again and again, by periodical repetition, for their own sins—cf. "from year to year" (Heb. 10:1), and note that the Hebrews of Exodus 13:10 "from year to year" is, literally, "days to days". Not only did the legal high priest have to sacrifice for his own sins, the offering which he presented on behalf of the people had no abiding efficacy, but had to be repeated annually. Whereas Christ, being perfect, needed no sacrifice for Himself; and His offering being perfect, there is no need for any further one. Christ’s sacrifice abides "a new and living one" (Heb. 10:20).
"For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is perfected forevermore" (verse 28). In this verse the apostle sums up the whole of His preceding discourse, evidencing the true foundation on which he had built. Those who still adhered to the Mosaic institutions allowed that there must be a priest over God’s people, for without such there could be no approach unto Him. So it was under the law, and if the same order be not continued, then the Church must needs be under a great disadvantage. As Owen rightly said, "To lose the high priest of our religion, is to lose the Sun out of the firmament of the Church."
Now the apostle has granted that the high priests who officiated in the tabernacle and temple were appointed by God to that office. His opponents were persuaded that these priests would continue in the church without change or alteration. God has designed a time when they were to be removed, and a Priest of another order introduced in their room. This change so far from being regrettable, was to the great advantage, safety, blessedness, glory of the Church. First, the Levitical priests were appointed under, by "the law"; but the new and perfect Priest "since the law" (i.e., in Psalm 110:4), showing Christ had superceded them. Second, they were but "men"; Christ was the "Son of God." Third, they were "made" by "the law"; Christ by "the word of the oath". Fourth, they had "infirmity"; the Son had none. Fifth, they served only in their day and generation; He "for evermore".
"But the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is perfected for evermore". "The apostle turns again, in a most emphatic and conclusive manner, unto the key-note which he had struck at the beginning of the epistle. The law of Moses constitutes priests that were changing continually. But the Word which came with the oath after the law, consecrated forevermore as High Priest Him who is the Son: compare the same emphasis on ‘Son’ in Hebrews 1:1,2. Only the Son could be the High Priest, and He became the High Priest. Through His incarnation, through all the experiences of His life of sorrow and of faith, through His death on the cross, through His resurrection and ascension, Jesus is perfected forevermore" (Adolph Saphir). Christ abides perpetually in His priestly office because of the validity of His perfect Sacrifice. Hallelujah.