Studies in Hebrews Part 8: King and Priest

crown-and-scepter
Hebrews 7:18-28
18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
20 And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath,21 but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:
“The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest forever.’”
22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.
23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 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.
26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

 
Last time we began to wade into those things  the author told us is difficult to explain to the hard of hearing.  The first thing we discovered the author wants us to see is the fact that Christ is a high priest with no Aaronic connection to the Levitical priesthood. That is, He is not of the tribe of Levi, and He is not of the family of Aaron; therefore, He has no legal, genealogical right to the Levitical priesthood.

Secondly, the author wants us to know that this is actually a good thing. It is better that Christ have no legal, genealogical connection to the Levitical priesthood. The reason why it is better  He have no legal connection to the Levitical priesthood is because the Levitical priesthood was incapable of perfecting sinners.

In the Old Testament, under which the Levitical priests operated, there were no sacrifices they could offer that could atone for a sinner’s sins.  Not even temporarily.

We have mentioned before, for instance, the Day of Atonement.  Ironically, despite the name, no one’s sins were actually atoned for on the Day of Atonement. And how could they be? After all, how could the death of an animal atone for a person’s sins? It can’t.

Well then, why go through the process of even having a day of atonement? The answer is, because these days of atonement served to remind the people they had sins that were in need of atoning, and that they needed a priest and a savior who could do this atoning. This is what the Day of Atonement did. Every year it reminded the people they were sinners who needed a sacrifice that could atone for their sins.

Last time we asked the question what does it take to bring God’s elect to glory? We saw in the answer that it takes the Son of God laying His life down for His elect and then raising it up again to bring God’s elect to glory. We saw that Adam had no ability to accomplish this. That is, he could not have brought the elect to glory even had he obeyed.

We also saw that even though Adam no ability to do this; nevertheless, many people within the reformed camp try to give Adam this ability by injecting man centered concepts like the covenant of works into the creation narrative.

Our question today is, why does the power of an indestructible life make Christ’s priesthood a better priesthood than Aaron’s?  We begin our search for the answer with verse 18.

“For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness.”

What was this former commandment? This former commandment was the law of Moses, because as verse 11 states, this is what the people received under the Levitical priesthood. They received the law.

But this former commandment also includes the command concerning the genealogical descent of the priesthood itself. That is, the law stipulated that only the descendants of Aaron could serve as high priest.

This law with all its ordinances and commandments was weak and useless, because as we mentioned last time, it could not bring anyone to glory.  Obey all you want you are still going to die, because you are already guilty of having broken the former commandment.

In addition to this, the law never promised anyone immortality and eternal life for obeying it. Rather, it promised that in the day you disobey it you shall die.  Or to put it another way, as long as you obeyed it, then you would have to keep obeying it or you would die.

The priesthood which served under this law was just as weak and useless as the law itself, because as we mentioned a moment ago, the priesthood could offer no sacrifice to atone for the people’s sins. The whole system therefore, was useless, because it could not save anyone from their sins. The best it could do was remind people they were sinners in need of a savior.

Moving on then to verse 19, we read this:

“(for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to Him:

‘The Lord has sworn
and will not change His mind,
“You are a priest forever.”
This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.’
The text says a better hope is introduced. This better hope is Christ and His priesthood. The author has just finished telling us this in the earlier part of his chapter where he spoke about the superior blessing of a superior priesthood with a superior promise.

This better hope is not without an oath; that is, a promise. This is different than Aaron and his descendants, because they were made priests without a promise. They were instead made priests by a commandment which turned out to be weak and useless. Christ, however, was made a priest with a promise that was powerful and effectual. Therefore, this makes Him the guarantor of a better covenant.

The word guarantor means surety.   This is one of those few times where the Latin is actually the better translation.  In the Latin the word surety means sponsor. In other words, Christ is the sponsor of a better covenant.

Think of the word sponsor in terms of television entertainment today. Corporations sponsor television programs by paying the broadcaster to advertise corporate products on these programs.  So too, Christ sponsored a better covenant. He paid for this covenant which God imposed upon His people by paying for it with His blood. Apart from the shedding of His blood there can be no covenant between God and man. One of the reasons why this covenant is a better covenant than the old covenant is because His sponsorship of this new covenant will never come to an end. He is a priest forever whose sacrifice shall forever remain effectual.

Take note of what the promise says. The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

This promise is a quote from Psalm 110. One of the interesting things about Psalm 110 is that it happens to be the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament. The writer of Hebrews alone quotes from or makes reference to it at least three separate times; in chapter 1, in chapter 7 and in chapter 10.

Turn with me if you will to Psalm 110.

Psalm 110
The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at My right hand,
until I make Your enemies Your footstool.”
The Lord sends forth from Zion
Your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of Your enemies!
Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of Your power,
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of Your youth will be Yours.
The Lord has sworn
and will not change His mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”
The Lord is at Your right hand;
He will shatter kings on the day of His wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
He will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore He will lift up his head.

Upon reading this Psalm we discover that it is Christ as both king and high priest. Verse 1 states:

The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at My right hand,
until I make Your enemies Your footstool.”
The Lord sends forth from Zion
Your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of Your enemies!

What is a scepter? A scepter is a staff or rod carried by a king or a high official. It was used to denote the sovereignty and authority of the king.

The first chapter of Hebrews mentions a scepter. Chapter 1, verse 8 says, “But of the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.’”

In Genesis 49:10 we are told that —
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) the line “until tribute comes to Him” is translated, “until He comes to whom it belongs.” The KJV notes the difference by leaving the word tribute untranslated as Shiloh. Until Shiloh comes.

The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until He comes to whom it belongs
and to Him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

God had always purposed from eternity that the scepter was to be Christ’s. It was always in God’s plan that Christ be the king.

Numbers 24, in the oracle of Balaam.  We remember Balaam, right? He was the wicked prophet who had been hired by the pagan king, Balak, to curse the children of Israel.  But just as Balaam was about to curse Israel, the Lord caused him to bless Israel instead, much to Balak’s consternation.

Numbers 24:17
I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;

Esther 4:10-11
Then Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to go to Mordecai and say, “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.”

To approach the king without being called was a death sentence. The same is true today. Any attempt to approach the king without being effectually called through the gospel of God’s sovereign grace is death. You cannot approach the throne through free will.

Christ is not only a high priest, but also a King. Just as Melchizedek was both a king and a priest, so Christ too is a king and a priest.

Still though, what exactly makes this a better hope?

We pick up where we left off, with verse 23.

“The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but He holds His priesthood permanently, because He continues forever. 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.”

The text says He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him.

Recall the picture we saw in Esther 4. “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live.”

Here we see a stern warning. Any attempt to draw near to God except through Christ alone is met with death. Pretty straightforward, isn’t it? And we can easily see how various false religions of the world fall into this warning.

But what about false Christian religion?

Consider, for instance, the following quote taken from the section on sanctification in the Westminster Confession of Faith.

“They who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened, in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”

According to this section of the Westminster Confession of Faith, those who are effectually called by God will be saved to the uttermost not by what Christ has done outside of His people, but rather by what Christ will do inside of them. According to this section of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the true holiness without which no man shall see the Lord is not Christ’s holiness, the holiness of His sacrifice, the holiness of His death, but rather the holiness of the steadily growing weakness and mortification of our sinful lusts.

The Westminster writers believed they were being safe by giving God the credit for making this so called true holiness effectual.

These guys are trying to turn the issue of salvation into a kind of Holy Spirit renovation. That is, in their view the cross serves to get you in through the door, but once you are through the door, then the Holy Spirit had better start driving you to begin the long and arduous process of cooperating with Him in order to renovate your behavior or else these guys will say you never really got through the door.

Does this sound like a better hope?

Does this sound like a former commandment was set aside because of its weakness and uselessness?

Or does this sound like someone trying to staple the commandment onto the end of the better hope with the expectation that the useless commandment will turn into an effectual one?

What do these guys have? They have a useless hope! It is a hope that does them no good. They have turned the good news of the accomplished work of Christ into the bad news of a work that is still yet to be accomplished by them. Sure, give Christ the credit for helping you to accomplish it, but it’s still you who are doing it.

Since we are talking about priests here, consider the Old Testament temple. In the Old Testament God set apart certain utensils and pieces of Temple furniture as uncommon. That is, they were set apart from all other utensils and furniture for they were to be used exclusively for the Temple practices.

Sanctification means to set apart. That’s what the word means. God sets apart His people. The parallel to this is found in the Old Testament temple.

Nowhere in all the Old Testament is there even a mention of a Temple utensil or a piece of Temple furniture growing gradually more uncommon and therefore further sanctified. Rather, it was either uncommon or it was not.

You cannot become further sanctified. Either you are sanctified or you are not. If you are growing further uncommon, then you are common until you are not. If you are growing further sanctified, then you are not sanctified until you are. The idea is ludicrous. It is like saying you are becoming further wet. You cannot become further wet. You are either wet or you are not.

This doesn’t mean we aren’t to obey God, or that we aren’t to adhere to Christ’s law. We are. And God disciplines us when we don’t. I don’t hate God’s law. Far from it. In fact, if God’s law makes you angry, then you have not been converted. We don’t get upset at God’s law. Rather, we get upset with attempts to use God’s law as a means to establish a sinner’s righteousness. We get upset with the lie that says people who attempt such wickedness are, in fact, Christians. But we don’t get upset at God’s law. We delight in God’s law. We see God’s justice in His law, and we see this justice driving us to the Christ who satisfied that law for all His elect.

All false religions attempt in some form or fashion to draw near to God apart from Christ. The worst sort of false religions, false Christian religions, attempt to draw near to God through a perverted use of Christ. Just like we saw in the Westminster Confession, these false Christian religions say Christ changes our behavior to make us more like God, and this is how we draw near to God through Christ.

Does this mean the Westminster Confession is the confessional statement of a false Christian religion? Not necessarily. After all, earlier in the confession they do say that “those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone.”

However, this doesn’t mean it isn’t the confessional statement of a false Christian religion either, because it does little good to confess on one hand that God effectually calls and freely justifies His elect by accounting them righteous in Christ if you are just going to later turn right around on the other hand and confess the way He saves them is by doing something inside them.

And this is what almost always happens when reformed people today talk about the subject of sanctification. They insist they are not saying they are saved by their works, but then they turn right around and start talking about sanctification in terms of being saved by their works. And to make matters worse, they think that by saying the Spirit gives them the ability to do these works so that they’re His works and not their works means that they are not saying they are saved by their works. In other words, saved not by my works, but saved instead by the works that Jesus does in me.

Look at like this. The apostle Paul asked a very poignant question in his epistle to the Romans. Shall we sin that grace might abound? He answers in the emphatic. No! Of course not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

These Reformed guys though, they ask that same question, but their answer is different. Shall we continue in sin so that grace might abound? They answer, No! Of course not. We shall instead do works so that grace might abound!

I was recently reading through a Puritan commentary on Hebrews when I stumbled across a statement by this man that actually said this very thing. The author of that commentary argued that our faith purifies our heart, and that we should follow after it, remembering that faith without works is dead, being alone; and that it is vain to call Christ ‘Lord, Lord’ if we do not the things which He says. This author then immediately follow this by stating, “we shall all be judged by our works, and therefore we ought to walk, not as fools, but as wise. The nearer we live to God, the more effectually the truth is working in us, the more of it we shall perceive.”

We shall do works so that grace might abound!

I had to shake my head when I read this. Are you kidding me? In a single stroke of that author’s pen he has completely nullified the grace of God.

And I have to tell you, it doesn’t get better in any of the other commentaries I have read either. I have not read a good commentary on Hebrews yet, and I have read quite a few. I haven’t read Owen’s yet. Not sure I want to, what with 16 or so volumes and all. But I have read James Haldane’s. Haldane was the man I just quoted. He was the Puritan author who wrote that nonsense about the efficacy of God’s truth being dependent upon how closely we are living to God.

Listen, if the Lord Jesus Christ has redeemed His people, then whatever the Holy Spirit does afterwards cannot be a cause of their redemption. God does not save His people by working law obedience into their behavior. You cannot use law obedience as a measure of a person’s righteousness.

Think about this for a moment. If we each are growing holier and more sanctified, then the fact would be some of us are more holy and more sanctified than others among us. I mean, if you are getting better about not sinning than I am, then you would be less of a sinner me. It’s just simple mathematics. You would be holier than me, more separated unto God than me, more righteous than me. Is that really what the Bible tells us? No. Then where do these reformed people get this nonsense from? They get it from reading the Bible in the same way a self righteous hypocrite would read it.

You see, there are warnings and promises in the Bible. Let me give you an example.

Hebrews 12:14
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Now, we’re not at chapter 12 yet, but judging by everything we have seen in this epistle so far, everyone the author has argued thus far, can anyone here say that they think the author is agreeing here with the Westminster? That if the Holy Spirit doesn’t produce in us a “true holiness” by weakening the lusts of our flesh then we won’t see the Lord?

No.  The holiness without which no one will see the Lord is not our holiness. It is Christ’s holiness. It is the holiness of His bloodshed and death upon a cross. His holiness is the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Strive for that holiness.

How do we do strive for the holiness of His bloodshed and death though? The author has just told us. He has just spent six chapters telling us. In fact, in chapter 4, verse 11, he tells his readers to “strive to enter that rest.”

We strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord by remaining steadfast in our belief that Christ has accomplished everything that is necessary for the salvation of His elect. We strive for this holiness by not doing what those Hebrews back in Numbers 13 did; that is, shrink back with unbelief. Instead, we trust that what God has told us about the cross of Christ really is true.

I have heard learned men, educated men, professional theologians and apologists interpret this verse to mean that we must be getting better about our behavior or else we won’t see the Lord. I have listened to men who can read the Greek, who have actually read the Greek while they were doing their interpretation, and they still interpret it to mean this. And it is this kind of vapid interpretation that leads directly to the repugnant heresy of tolerant Calvinism, because it sees Antinomianism as the “real threat” rather than Arminianism.

I don’t care how much education you have, or how many years of seminary training you’ve endured, or how many commentaries you’ve read or even have written. If you don’t have the eyes to see, then you don’t have the eyes to see.

Listen, if the self righteous hypocrites during Paul’s day could get the gospel wrong, and Greek was their native language, then why am I supposed to trust a man today simply because he can read the same language they could? If they could get it wrong and they spoke Greek, then so can men today.

These warnings and promises in the New Testament are not opportunities that God gives us to prove to Him or to ourselves how much we are as He is. Rather, these warnings and promises are meant to keep reminding us of our need for the cross of Christ. Just like those sacrifices in the Old Testament were reminders to the faithful in Israel of their need for a savior, so too the warnings and promises in the New Testament serve to remind us that we have a Savior, even the Lord Jesus Christ. He sits at the Father’s right hand and has been crowned King. He is our high priest, and of His office there shall be no end.

Questions?

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About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church http://www.gospeldefense.com/about.html
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One Response to Studies in Hebrews Part 8: King and Priest

  1. markmcculley says:

    Calvin on Exodus 25: 17 And thou shalt make a mercy-seat. The primary root of the verb כפר, caphar, from whence this noun is derived, 128 is used for “to smear with pitch,” but in the Hiphil conjugation, it signifies either to expiate, or to purge, or to receive into favor; whence כפר, copher, is expiation, and כפרת, caphoreth, a covering or lid. Yet I doubt not but that Moses alludes in this word to a metaphorical meaning, for the law requires a covering to conceal our transgressions. And it is probable that, when Paul calls Christ ἱλαστήριον, (Romans 3:25,) and John ἱλασμὸν, (1 John 2:2,) they both refer to this figure, because God was propitiated towards believers by the covering of the Law, so as to shew Himself favorable to them by hearing their vows and prayers. For as long as the law stands forth before God’s face it subjects us to His wrath and curse; and hence it is necessary that the blotting out of our guilt should be interposed, …Without a propitiation, the law does not bring us near to God, but accuses us before Him. And assuredly, when I consider all things, it seems to me a tame explanation, that Moses spoke literally of the cover,

    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom04.iii.iii.x.html

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