The Eternal Priest
The Epistle to the Hebrews was written to teach that the covenant of the law had been completely set aside, and that a new and better covenant of grace had been established on better promises. In developing his argument the writer demonstrates some wonderful facts relative to the high-priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us obey the exhortation found in chapter 3:1. “Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.”
He was not taken from among men, but from the Godhead (5:1-7): This passage reminds us that every high priest (Levitcal high priest) was taken from among men in order that he may have “compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way.” He, therefore, could understand the problems of the people, because he himself was a man. Furthermore, we are taught that such an one did not constitute himself a priest, he was called of God as was Aaron. Our Lord Jesus Christ, consequently, did not glorify Himself as a priest, but His Father glorified Him in constituting Him our Great High Priest. In so doing, God spoke to Him as His Son, “Thou art My Son, today have I begotten Thee,” and to Him as a priest, “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (vv. 5-6). Thus in our Lord Jesus, we have a Great High Priest who is God.
In chapter 1:2-3, we have a revelation of Christ’s sevenfold glory as the Divine Son:
(a) He is the appointed Heir of all things.
(b) He is the Creator of the worlds.
(c) He is the brightness (the outshining or out-raying) of the glory of God.
(d) He is the express image of His person. The thought here is that He is the exact expression of Diety. It is as the engraving tool leaves its mark on the reproduction. Jesus Christ is the exact expression of Diety. Consequently, He was able to say “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).
(e) He is the One who upholds all things by the word of His power. The word “upholding” in this passage signifies not only holding together as in Colossians 1:17, but suggest a further thought, that of guiding and propelling.
(f) He is the One who by Himself made purification for our sins.
(g) He is exalted and is sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high, which suggests a work that completely puts away sins.
We learn further from verse four of this chapter that He has a more excellent name than the angels; that name is “Son.”
Consequently, our Great High Priest is God. What dignity and honour we owe to Him! Because He is God, His high-priesthood is forever. The Levitical priests died and their priesthood passed to others, but our Great High Priest lives forever. The man who during the period of the Levitical priesthood fled to the City of Refuge was safe only as long as the high priest lived. What security is ours, beloved saints, our Great High Priest lives in “the power of an endless life” (7:16)!
It was necessary for Him to become incarnate to be our Great High Priest (2:14-18): It was necessary for Christ (“it behoved Him” — v. 17) to become Man in order to be a High Priest for us “in things pertaining to God.” Verse 14 states that we being human have in common flesh and blood. Christ, in like manner, took part of the same. The Greek word here means “to hold along with.” Our Lord Jesus in His incarnation took hold of human nature, without its sin, and held it to Himself as an additional nature, thus associating Himself with the human race in its possession of flesh and blood. He did this, not to help or succour fallen angels, but to save fallen man, the seed of Abraham (v. 16).
The purpose of His becoming incarnate was that He might be a merciful (compassionate) and faithful High Priest. Experimentally, He who is God the Son is able to enter into our trials, since as Man He experienced trials.
He became High Priest through His death and resurrection (5:7-10): Here the writer deals with the experience through which it was necessary that our Lord Jesus pass before becoming actively our High Priest. He had to endure the cross and learn obedience experimentally as a Son by suffering, and then be raised from the dead (“being made perfect” — v 9).
In verse 7 we have the dreadful experience of Calvary through which He passed with “strong crying and tears.” His cry was that He might be saved “out from within” death, for such is the literal meaning of the preposition “from” in this verse. Our Saviour, as described in this verse, was not praying to be delivered from the cross, but that He might be saved out from within death; He was praying for resurrection (Psa. 22:19-21). This prayer, we are told, was heard, and He was raised again by the mighty power of God, was “made perfect,” and thereby “became the Author of eternal salvation.”
After this experience (Calvary and resurrection) we are told that He was “called” (saluted) of God an High Priest after the order of Melchisedec” (v.10).
Our Lord Jesus did not come by the tribe of Levi, and therefore, He could not be a priest under the law. He came as verse 14 states, out of the tribe of Judah. If, therefore, He is an High Priest, it must of necessity be by a new order, and this is what chapter 7 teaches.
A new order of priesthood: a Melchisedec order (7:1-28): Christ’s priesthood is after the order of Melchisedec, who, as far as the divine record is concerned, was without beginning or ending (v.3). This is exactly the true character of His priesthood. It is “after the power of an endless (indissoluble) life” (v. 16). He is a priest “forever” (v. 17). His is “an unchangeable priesthood” (v. 24); that is, it is not transferable and will not be passed on to another. The priests under the first covenant died and their priesthood passed on to others, but our Lord Jesus will never die again; He continueth ever, therefore His priesthood is “unchangeable.”
Because our Lord’s priesthood is of a new order, the covenant He has brought in is a better covenant than that which the Levitical priests served. Chapter ten of this Epistle teaches that sin under the first covenant was not put away, therefore, there was no perfection of conscience. Under the new covenant brought in by our Lord Jesus Christ, sin is put away, and as a result there is the possibility of perfection of conscience with which we are able to draw near to God with a true heart (10:22).
Further, this new order of priesthood is characterized by a sinless priest: One who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens. The priest under the first covenant had to offer first for his own sins and then for the people, but not so with our Great High Priest, for being sinless, He offered a “once-for-all” sacrifice and sat down forever. He put away sin once and forever (10:12).
In addition, because His priesthood is one of a new order, and because sin has been put away forever, He ministers in a better tabernacle, the heavenly tabernacle of which Aaron’s was merely the type (8:1-2; 9:11-24).
Since we have seen, very briefly, from this wonderful Epistle to the Hebrews, a few of the precious truths relative to the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us now examine some of the blessings which are ours as the results of His person and work.
The Benefits of His Priesthood
Because of what our Lord Jesus Christ is in Himself and because of His unchanging priesthood, many indeed are the blessings which are ours through Him.
Since His priesthood is eternal, He saves to the uttermost (7:25): We are taught that because our Lord Jesus has an unchanging priesthood, the salvation He provides is complete. The Greek word translated “uttermost” signifies that He is able to save completely and forever. The one who comes through our Lord Jesus Christ is saved in the totality of his being, body, soul, and spirit forever. What a salvation! What praise this should draw from our hearts
Because of His incarnation and temptation, He is able to succour them that are tempted (2:18; 4:15): He has Himself passed through the experience of being tried as a Man, the God-Man, and because of that experience He is able to succour them that are tried. That is, He runs to the cry of those in danger and brings them aid. What strength this gives us as we pass through trials in this life, when we know He is with us in the trial and is willing to minister aid!
Not only does our Great High Priest bring aid to His tempted and tried ones, He also is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (4:15). He is now exalted above the heavens (“passed through the heavens” 4:14), and in that exalted place, He sympathizes with us in our infirmities (weaknesses) to the extent of entering into our experiences and feelings, our heartaches.
Regardless of how rough the road may be, or how great the trials, the Christian has One who has passed along the same road and is now exalted above the heavens; One who is able to provide aid in those trials.
Moreover, because He is now on the throne, He invites you to come to Him to obtain mercy and find grace for every difficulty and to give you the grace and strength to meet every problem in this wilderness journey. He knows the way by actual experience and is able to give grace to you and to me.
Because of His death and resurrection, He has made a way for us to draw near to God as priests: Our High Priest became incarnate, died and rose again, and He now has entered into the holy place by His own blood (9:12). He could have gone back to heaven by virtue of His own person, but that was not the basis of His return there. It was by His own blood He entered once for all into the holy place, He has opened up “a new and living way” so that we too enter that holy place by His blood, and serve in the true tabernacle as priests of the living God. What a privilege to be able thus to draw near (10:22)! Because our Great High Priest has entered within by virtue of His own blood, we, in like manner, enter as priests through Him, there to worship our God.