Notes on Hebrews
This chapter commences the second major section of the Epistle. This section continues to the end of chapter 8. If in the first four chapters we see the excellency of Christ’s Person, in the second four, we see the efficiency of His Priesthood.
In this letter there are three priest-hoods brought into focus: the Aaronic, the Melchisedec and that of Christ. The first two were designed of God to be types or shadows of the Priesthood established by our Lord.
By way of introduction to the subject of priesthood it is important to note some basic facts: first, the terms “priest” or “priesthood” are really Old Testament terms used to express New Testament principles. Second, the function of the priesthood was always on behalf of the people of God. It had nothing to do whatever with the nations around. Third, it is indeed interesting that when the Romans wished to find a Latin word to clearly give the meaning of “priest” they chose the word “pontifix” which literally means “bridge-builder.” Of course, the Roman system of religion has corrupted this word for its own ends. By giving a wrong meaning to the word it has built up a religious organization that has deceived millions.
The Aaronic priesthood was characterized by sacrifice or the shedding of blood. The Melchisedec priesthood, on the other hand, was marked by the bestowal of blessings. Our Lord Jesus Christ, therefore, fulfilled in His death all that the Aaronic priesthood typified and in His resurrection and ascension He fulfilled all that the Melchisedec priesthood stood for. This latter aspect of our Lord’s priesthood will be carried into the Millennium when He shall sit as a priest upon His throne and display His kingly authority in righteousness and peace (7:2).
In this chapter the writer lists three fundamental qualifications of a priest that find their perfection in Christ: (1) His is appointed by God on man’s behalf to deal with things concerning man’s relationship to God. Man, by his very nature, could not deal with such things. Our Great High Priest alone is the link between God and man.
(2) The priest must be one with man. He must have walked in the footsteps of man, passed through his experiences and thus know his problems (v.2). In this connection the writer uses a peculiar Greek word, metriopathein, translated here, “to have compassion.” Barclay points out that this is one of those untranslatable Greek words. To the Greeks virtue was a balance or the right point between two extremes. They considered the word to mean the right point between extravagant grief and utter indifference. W. M. MacGregor defines it as “the mid point between explosions of anger and lazy indulgence.” It means feeling toward men in the right way.
(3) His Priesthood was a God-established priesthood. This is the reason for the quotations from Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4.
When it says that He learned obedience (v.8), it means that He learned the price of obedience by a practical experience of the path of faith. He emerges from that path as One who was made perfect. Not perfect as to character, for He was ever the holy, sinless Son of God, but perfect as to competence for the exercise of His priesthood. The word for perfect is TELEIOUN. The Greeks considered a thing to be teleioun if it carried out the purpose for which it was designed. Hence, a lawnmower would be considered teleioun if it cut grass. A horse would be teleioun if it carried its rider. It is function rather that physical perfection that is in view. Our Lord Jesus Christ is perfectly fitted to function as a priest since He has satisfactorily passed the acid tests for priest and has come forth as One who is Teleioun.
The latter part of the chapter has a practical application. The writer has two problems: first, the message he must get across to the readers was difficult; and second, the readers were dull to take it in; they had relapsed into a second childhood.
Maturity in the Christian life is made up of knowledge, experience and conduct, or the appropriation of truth by the mind, the feeling of truth in the heart and the obedience of truth in the walk. Alas, immaturity marked them and hindered the work of the Spirit among them. Their immaturity revealed itself in an inability to take in truth or spiritually to feed themselves. They were not able to feed others, to discern between good and evil or master the first principles of the oracles of God (vs. 11-14).
In describing their immaturity the writer uses the word nothros, translated “dull.” The word means, “slow moving in mind, witlessly and senselessly forgetful.” It can be used of a limb that has lost its feeling.
Today one of the major problems facing assemblies is to find men and women who can absorb the deeper things of God. In fact, we can see truth slipping away (2:1). It is being displaced by religious novelties and entertainment.
The writer reminds them that they needed to be taught again the first principles of the oracles of God (v.12). The word translated principles is the greek word stoiceia. Dr. Barclay gives us some light on the word, “In physics it means the four basic elements of which the world is composed. In geometry it means the first elements of proof like the point and the straight line. In philosophy it means the first elementary principles with which the student begins. In grammar it means the letters of the alphabet—the A.B.C’s. In other words the writer is pleading with his readers to grow up spiritually. There is nothing quite so pathetic as someone who has not developed physically or mentally. So it is in spiritual things. Peter Pan, the boy who would not grow up, makes a charming play on a stage but becomes a tragedy in real life.