COMMENTARY ON THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS
A Word of Warning and of Comfort
by Rev. Bassam M. Madany
Hebrews 7:1 - 10
We learn from the first ten verses of chapter 7 that the Messiah became a high priest in the order of Melchizedek. Thus, the priesthood of Christ is unique just as the priesthood of Melchizedek was superior to the priesthood of Aaron and his children. We quote the following verses from the book of Genesis concerning the life of Melchizedek:
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God, And he blessed him and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him the tithes of all. Genesis 14:18-20
These words describe what took place after Abraham's return from a battle with his enemies who had captured his nephew Lot and members of his family. Melchizedek was also a king over the city of Salem which came to be known later as Jerusalem, Al-Qods. The author of Hebrews based on this incident, and on Psalm 110 where David had sung saying: The Lord has sworn and will not relent, You are a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek, the following teachings:
1. Melchizedek was an example of Jesus the Messiah who is the High Priest of the New Testament age. Even though Abraham had received a promise from God that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through his descendants, and even though the OT priesthood came from his family, yet he did give a tithe of everything to Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of the Most High God. The OT gives us no information at all about his background such as the date of his birth or death or his tribe. The important thing is that for a very long period of time he was unique, i.e., during the OT times. He resembles the Son of God, Jesus the Messiah, who became a high priest not according to the order of Aaron's children, but according to the order of Melchizedek. This is why David prophesied in Psalm 110 that the Messiah would be a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
2. Since Melchizedek is superior to Abraham, the Messiah is therefore superior to the priests who came from the family of Abraham. The author of Hebrews did not ignore the fact that Abraham was a very important person, since he is called the father of believers. But he recognized the fact that since Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek after his return from battling the kings, he [i.e. Melchizedek] was superior to Abraham. When God gave his Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, it specified that the Levites would receive tithes from their brothers, the children of Israel. Even before the birth of Levi, who was a grandson of Abraham, he had actually given the tithes to Melchizedek, i.e., from a doctrinal point of view. We also notice that it was Melchizedek who blessed Abraham in the name of the most high God. Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. 7:7
This means that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham and greater than all the priests who came from Abraham through Aaron. Since Jesus the Messiah was a priest according to the order of Melchizedek, he was greater than the high priests of Israel.
Hebrews 7: 11 - 28
In this lesson we consider the great difference between the priesthood of the Law in the days of the Old Testament (Old Regime) and the priesthood of the New Testament which has had its fulfillment in a unique way, in Jesus the Messiah who is the unique high priest of this New Testament age.
1. The priesthood of the Old Testament times (regime) was not perfect; rather it was both transitory and preparatory. When we read the books of the OT and especially the Five Books of Moses (Tawrat), we learn that the institution of the Mosaic priesthood which was organized by God was meant for the days which preceded the coming of the Messiah. That system or regime was not intended to be continuing after the coming of the Messiah. God himself had declared through his servant David that the Messiah would be a high priest not according to the Mosaic Law but according to the unique priesthood of Melchizedek.
2. The Old Testament regime or system was changed with the advent of the Messiah. The priests of the Old Testament age or regime were from the tribe of Levi and of the family of Aaron. But the Messiah came from the tribe of Judah (according to his human nature). This tribe was not called to be in the service of the priesthood during the Old Testament times. But since Jesus the Messiah is from the tribe of Judah and since this is contrary to the system of the Law of the OT, we conclude: For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. 7:12 The Messiah did not become a priest according to the instructions found in the Law of Moses, but according to the oath of God which cannot be changed, according to a power of an endless life. 7:16b Therefore, the Old Testament regime has given way to the New Testament regime which is the final and complete system as inaugurated by Jesus the Messiah.
3. The Law accomplished its task during the days of the Old Testament times. When we study the Letter of Paul to the Romans we notice this important lesson concerning the Law: it is not able to give life to sinful man. It reveals his sinful nature and points him to God who has provided an effective way of salvation. We learn from The Epistle to the Hebrews the same truth. The old commandment, i.e., the Law, was weak and unable to give life to the children of men. The law was useless, not in the sense that it did not have any function in the Old Testament days, but in the sense that it was not capable of saving man from the clutches of sin, For the Law made nothing perfect. 7:19a
4. The Messiah accomplished his work in a perfect way since he was a priest in the order of Melchizedek. What the Law was unable to accomplish, Jesus the Messiah did, since he is the high priest of this New Testament age. This took place according to the promise of God and his oath which cannot change or fail. So, Jesus the Messiah became the guarantor of a better covenant as the regime which he inaugurated was perfect and able to give man the authority to appear before God and receive complete forgiveness of his sins. The fact that Jesus the Messiah is greater than the Old Testament priests is clearly seen since he remains for ever our High Priest. The priests of the OT did their work for a certain period of time; death prevented them from continuing to function in their priesthood.
We also notice the supremacy of the Messiah since he offered himself as a sacrifice to atone for our sins. He did this once and for all, whereas the OT priests used to offer daily sacrifices, not only on behalf of the sins of others, but equally for their own sins. The Messiah was sinless, so when he sacrificed himself he did so on behalf of others. And while the Law set forth men as high priests who were weak and imperfect, we notice that in Psalm 110, the Son of God is declared as a perfect High Priest, for ever. What a great difference between the temporary nature of the Old Testament regime and the abiding and final nature of the New Testament regime!
We now consider the subject of the priesthood of the Messiah which God inaugurated to replace the Old Testament regime with the New Testament age.
1. Jesus the Messiah is a high priest who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. We mentioned in a earlier lesson that the Messiah was the NT high priest in a unique way and that he has accomplished our salvation by his atoning death on the cross. It is very important to see the great difference between the priesthood of the Messiah and the priesthood of the Old Testament regime. Whereas the priests of that period of history used to mediate between God and man in an earthly temple, we notice that our great high priest, Jesus the Messiah, is seated at the right of the throne of God in the heavens as our mediator.
The author quoted from what God had revealed to Moses concerning the Tabernacle of the Congregation and the Temple which was finally built in the days of Solomon. God said to Moses: See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain. 8: 5b The original and lasting temple is in heaven where God dwells in his glory. But the temple of Solomon was an image of the heavenly temple; it did not last. It was destroyed and then was rebuilt more than once. Finally it was completely destroyed in 70 A.D. during the days of the Roman rule in Palestine. Jesus the Messiah has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.
2. The Old Testament regime was temporal, but the New Testament regime continues for ever. We have to imagine the impact of such words on the believers who were the first recipients of the letter and who were of Jewish background. The ceremonial system which existed in the days of their forefathers from the time of Moses was both temporal and vanishing. This great truth was already taught by the prophets of the Old Testament and was within the pages of the OT Scriptures. As the author of the letter says: For if the first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. God had also spoken around 600 years B.C. saying:
Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah---- not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the days when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in my covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
We note the superiority of this new covenant in the following ways: God works within the hearts of the believers through His Holy Spirit in such a way that His laws become written on their hearts and not merely graven on stone. Man receives the authority to appear before God without the mediatorship of an earthly priest as long as he has received Jesus the Messiah as a mediator. Thanks to the mediatorship of the Messiah, God forgives the sins of the believers, since the Messiah has atoned for their sins and transgressions by his death on the cross. As God had mentioned in the days of Jeremiah the coming of a new covenant (regime), it follows that the old covenant (regime) will become obsolete and close to disintegration. This is what actually happened in the days of the Messiah, whose coming and work of redemption ushered in the new regime.
Hebrews 9:1 - 14
The Old Testament regime was both temporal, preparatory and symbolic, whereas the New Testament regime is final. God is the author of the two regimes. What are the points of similarities and differences between the two regimes?
1. A comparison between the Old and New Testament regimes in the realm of worship. The Old Testament times were the age of worship through ceremonies, symbols, and religious rites. The most important ones were mentioned in the Law of Moses. God had ordered his servant Moses to build the Tabernacle of the Congregation which was like a moveable temple, until the permanent one was built in the days of Solomon.
The Tabernacle of the Congregation was divided into two parts: First, the Holy, and second: the Holy of Holies. The priests used to offer daily sacrifices in the first part, i.e., in the Holy place. However, there was only one sacrifice per year in the Holy of Holies. The high priest was the only person who was allowed to go into the Holy of Holies. This happened on the day of the Feast of the Atonement when he would bring the blood of the sacrifice and offer it on his own behalf as well as on behalf of the entire people whom he represented. To summarize the whole subject: all matters which related to worship in the days of the Old Testament were symbolic and looked forward to the future, to that day when the Messiah of God would come to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. And whereas people needed many priests in the days of the Old Testament, and whereas the Holy of Holies was hidden behind the curtain and was only seen by the high priest once a year, now the coming into the Divine presence is permitted to all believers and without the means of human priests. Therefore, Jesus the Messiah is the unique and great High Priest of this New Testament age.
2. Jesus the Messiah as the High Priest of the New Testament age has accomplished a mighty and final act in order to open the way to the Divine Presence. Whereas the high priests during the OT times used to offer yearly sacrifices on the Day of Atonement by entering the Holy of Holies, we see that the Messiah came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 9:11,12
Whereas the purification which was required by the Law of Moses was temporary, the purification which the believer receives from the Messiah has a continuous and eternal efficacy. If a person was considered purified from the standpoint of the ceremonial law during the Old Testament days and that based on animal sacrifices, How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 9:14
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