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Bible Commentaries

Ironside's Notes on Selected Books

Hebrews 7

 

 

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Verses 1-28

Section C. Chap. 7

The Melchisedec Priesthood Superior to that of Aaron

We have seen how in Hebrews 5:5-10 the apostle began to speak of the Melchisedec Priesthood of Christ. But from Hebrews 5:11-14; Hebrews 6:1-20 he turned aside into a lengthy parenthesis in order to prepare his readers for a Letter understanding of this important subject. In our present chapter he develops it fully. In the first three verses he dwells upon Melchisedec himself, and incidentally gives a wonderful key to the interpretation of the types found in the Old Testament and also a remarkable confirmation of the doctrine of verbal inspiration.

There is no reason to think of Melchisedec as in himself a mysterious personage, possibly supernatural, or even as some have supposed a pre-incarnate appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ. If any ask, “Who is Melchisedec?” the only proper answer is “Melchisedec.” He was not Shem the son of Noah, nor Job of the land of Uz, nor Cheops the builder of the great pyramid, as some have endeavored to prove. He was, as is distinctly stated, Melchisedec, King of Salem. All that we know of him is given us in the book of Genesis, Genesis 14:18-20. This historical account depicts him as a royal priest reigning in Salem, the city that was afterwards known as Jerusalem. Long before the Levitical economy had been established and a special family set apart for the priesthood he, like Job and Abraham, offered sacrifices as a priest of the Most High God. In the divine providence he met Abraham and his triumphant band as they returned from defeating Chedorlaomer and his allies. It is noticeable that the King of Sodom was on his way to meet Abraham when the latter was intercepted by Melchisedec, who came to bless him in the name of the Most High God, and whose spiritual authority Abraham recognized by giving him tithes of all the spoils. Strengthened by the bread and wine administered by Salem’s king-priest, Abraham was prepared to refuse the blandishments of the King of Sodom, representative of the world in all its impurity and debasement.

In Psalm 110 our Lord is prophetically saluted as a Priest forever after the order of Melchisedec. He is to come forth from the new Jerusalem after the Armageddon conflict as a royal Priest to bless His delivered people in that day of His power.

Now observe how remarkably the Spirit of God sets His seal upon the verbal inspiration of the Old Testament. Our attention is drawn to the fact that this royal hierarch is first by interpretation King of Righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of Peace. If the order of the names had been reversed, God’s beautiful type would have been spoiled, but standing just as they do, the names Melchisedec and Salem are in perfect agreement with truth elsewhere revealed. Righteousness must come before peace. We are told in Isaiah 32:17, “The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.” And so in the great gospel Epistle to the Romans we first learn how the righteousness of God has been maintained in the cross before we are told of peace with God which is ours by faith. So exact is Scripture that the changing of the order of the original words would throw all into confusion.

Hebrews 7:3 has perplexed many, but it simply declares that so far as Scripture is concerned, Melchisedec appears upon its sacred page “without father, without mother, without descent (or genealogy), having neither beginning of days nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God, abideth a priest continually.” That is, in the book of Genesis, in which we find so many genealogies, this man, in spite of his importance, has none. There is no record of his parentage, his birth, or his death. He simply appears for a moment, then vanishes from our sight, never even to be mentioned again in the Word of God until the prophecy of Psalm 110. Thus he is an apt type of our ever-living Saviour and High Priest. Again let us worship as we contemplate the perfection of Scripture; just as perfect in what it omits as in what it relates!

In Hebrews 7:4-10 we have the superiority of the Melchisedec priesthood over that of Levi brought out very clearly. Levi was not born until many years after the event mentioned in Genesis 14. Abraham, however, was the father of all the Hebrew race, and therefore all the twelve tribes, including of course Levi, from whom came the priestly family, were represented in him when he recognized the superiority of Melchisedec by paying tithes to him and received his high priestly blessing. Unquestionably, says the apostle, “the less is blessed of the better;” and so in this double way the surpassing greatness of this royal priest is emphasized. “Levi,” we are told, “who received tithes, paid tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father when Melchisedec met him.” Just as the entire human race was on trial in Adam, so the Levitical priesthood was represented in the patriarch Abraham when he acknowledged the superiority of Melchisedec by his attitude toward him.

The ground is now clear to show how the Melchisedec Priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ surpasses in every way the Aaronic. It is evident that if perfection had come under the Levitical priesthood, in connection with which the law was given, there would have been no occasion for God to set it aside and raise up another Priest after a different and better order. Our Lord’s Priesthood, of course, was after the character of Aaron; that is, His Person and work were typified by the high priest and his service in connection with the tabernacle. But He does not belong to that order. He is, as was Melchisedec, King and Priest by divine fiat, not by human succession. This involves a complete setting aside of the old covenant, for “the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” Israel stood or fell with the priesthood. If God accepted the high priest on the great day of atonement, for instance, it involved the acceptance of the nation. If the high priest was rejected then the people were set aside. No high priest was ever to rend his garments (Leviticus 10:6). When Caiaphas in his excitement and indignation rent his clothes, the priesthood passed away from the house of Aaron. And with it went the entire legal economy which was superseded by the marvelous dispensation of the grace of God.

According to Levitical law, our Lord had no title to the priesthood at all. As to the flesh, He sprang from the tribe of Judah, not from that of Levi; but this does not in any way militate against His Priesthood since it is of an altogether different order. He is consecrated, not in accordance with a legal enactment, but in all the might of resurrection “after the power of an endless life.” As Priest forever after the order of Melchisedec, He has brought in a new and better regime than that of the law. And so the commandment going before has been set aside. It was weak and unprofitable in the sense that it could not accomplish that for which it was proposed; namely, to give man a righteous standing before God, inasmuch as the flesh or the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So it was useless as a ground for blessing. It made nothing perfect; therefore it had to give way to the introduction of a better hope by which we draw nigh to God. This better hope is founded upon the principle of grace of which Melchisedec is the exemplification. And so by divine oath Jesus has become the surety of a better covenant.

In Hebrews 7:23-28 the contrast is between the dying priests of the old order and the ever living High Priest at God’s right hand. There was a constant succession of priests in olden days, for death was continually taking its toll of them. But our Lord’s Priesthood is unchangeable because He continues “unto the ages,” the strongest expression in the Greek language for eternity.

Thus as the ever-living One, He is able to deliver completely those who draw near to God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them. It should be noted that salvation to the uttermost here does not simply mean salvation from every kind of sin, but is even greater than that-salvation forevermore. He whom God saves is saved eternally, for He who died for him lives to keep him and to complete the work He began. And thus our souls are stirred to worship and thanksgiving as we realize how suited our Great High Priest is to the need of those who were once unholy, harmful and denied, sinful and degraded; for He gives us a perfect representation before the throne of God. He is everything that we were not and should have been. He is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners and higher than the heavens, and He is all this for us. Nor is it necessary that He, like the high priests of old, should offer daily sacrifices. They offered for their own sins, for they were themselves unclean, and then they offered in behalf of the people. But these sacrifices never settled the sin question. He, by His one offering up of Himself upon the cross, has completed the work that saves, and settled the sin question for all eternity. The law constituted men high priests who were themselves infirm and unreliable, but the divine oath has proclaimed Jesus to be a Priest forever, He who is as to the mystery of His Person, the Son of the Eternal Father.

What could the Spirit of God Himself say to make clearer the superiority of the priesthood of the new dispensation over that of the old? And with the priesthood, of course, is linked the entire sacrificial system. No Jew ever found settled peace or a purged conscience through recourse to the altar and the priest of the tabernacle or the temple. Undoubtedly wherever there was real faith, God met His people in grace, and by the Spirit gave them an inward sense of acceptance and joy in Himself, but this was not based upon the Levitical system. It was all in view of the eventual coming into the world of the Seed of the woman, who was to bruise the serpent’s head and to be Himself wounded for His people’s transgressions and bruised for their iniquities. The pious Israelite obeyed the commandment of the law and acted in accordance with the Mosaic ritual because God had so ordained for the time then present. Faith would lead him to do exactly as the Lord had said, but the ground of his peace rested not on the typical system but on that which it illustrated, the finished work of Christ. It was hard even for converted Hebrews to fully realize this, hence the care with which the Holy Spirit through the apostle takes up each detail in His effort to deliver them from Judaism and bring them out into the full light and liberty of Christianity.

In closing our study of this chapter, I would point out the distinction between the expression used here, “He offered up Himself,” and that found in Hebrews 9:14, where we read, “Christ who through the Eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God.” He “offered Himself” at His baptism in the Jordan, when the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, thus manifesting the Father’s good pleasure and pointing Him out as the perfect sacrifice, who alone was able to fulfil all righteousness on behalf of guilty sinners. But it was at the cross that He actually “offered up Himself” when He voluntarily became the great sin offering. It is important to remember that the death of Jesus was not merely man’s answer to the grace of God as seen in Christ. None could have put Him to death had He not of His own volition yielded up His life. He Himself declared, “No man taketh My life from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father” (John 10:18). In the fullest possible sense He laid down that life voluntarily when He allowed wicked men to nail Him to that cross. There He took the sinner’s place and bore the sinner’s judgment. We speak of this as the finished work of Christ. But when we think of His High Priesthood we are on other ground altogether. This is His unfinished work, the work that will never be completed as long as any of His redeemed are in the place of testing and in need of succor.

 

 

 

 


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Bibliography Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Hebrews 7:4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/isn/hebrews-7.html. 1914.

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