Christ greater than Aaron.
This passage is really just a commentary on the Old Testament oracle contained in Psalms 110:4 . There might appropriately be prefixed to it as a motto the words, "Behold, a greater than Aaron is here."
I. THE IMPERFECTION OF THE LEVITICAL PRIESTHOOD . (Verses 11-19) Aaron's mediation could not satisfy justice, or pacify conscience, or sanctify the heart. All that it could do was to exhibit a faint adumbration of the ideal priesthood. The words of Psalms 110:4 suggest this insufficiency, for they contain the promise of the Messianic priesthood.
1. Jesus was of other descent. (Verses 11-14) He belonged to the tribe of Judah; and not, like Aaron's sons, to the ecclesiastical tribe of Levi. The fact of this change in itself proves the inefficacy of the hereditary Hebrew priesthood.
2. His priesthood is of everlasting duration. (Verses 15-17) The Jewish priests one by one succumbed to death; but Jesus Christ is himself "the Life," Life resides essentially and originally in him. So his priesthood is abiding; his official dignity remains "forever." From this it follows (verses 18, 19) that the Levitical priesthood, and the entire ceremonial law which enshrined it, have been abrogated; and in their stead has come the introduction of "a better hope"—the hope of an efficient priesthood, of a dispensation both spiritual and permanent, and thus of immediate and perfect access to God.
II. THE SUPERIORITY OF CHRIST 'S PRIESTHOOD TO THE LEVITICAL . (Verses 20-28) Jesus is the true Priest of mankind, for whom the nations have been waiting. He is the Apostle of God to men, and the prevailing Intercessor with God for men. This passage reminds us how infinitely exalted his priesthood is above that of Aaron.
1. He was consecrated with an oath. (Verses 20-22) No Levitical priest was installed thus solemnly. The Divine oath shows the certainty and importance and immutability of the thing sworn. It reminds us that the priesthood of our Lord enters into the very substance of the everlasting covenant.
2. His priesthood is intransferable. (Verses 23-25) The Levitical priesthood had this defect, that it required to be conveyed from one man to another. But, although Christ died, his death did not "hinder him from continuing;" it did not even temporarily interrupt the exercise of his priesthood. For he died voluntarily. He laid himself as Victim upon the altar. And, by dying, he conquered death, through the power of his indissoluble life. So, his mediatorial authority is intransferable.
3. His character is holy. (Verse 26) The Levitical priests had "infirmity," and needed to offer sacrifices first for their own sins. Even the most pious men among them had been, of course, morally imperfect; and some of the high priests—such as Caiaphas—who were not godly men, had been notorious for their wickedness. But "the High Priest of our confession" has a pure nature. He lived on earth a stainless life. He was "separated from sinners;" i.e. he showed on every side of his character that he belonged to another category than that of sinners. And his spotless holiness was in the fullest harmony with our spiritual need; it was, indeed, indispensably necessary, and in every way most "becoming" and beautiful, in relation to us.
4. His sacrifice is perfect. (Verses 27, 28) The Jewish priests had to offer up sacrifices "daily"—"the same sacrifices year by year"—with laborious and wearisome iteration. But the one sacrifice of Christ is in itself all-sufficient to expiate guilt, cleanse the conscience, and purify the soul. His blood has virtue to atone, for it is the blood of God.
5. He ministers in the real sanctuary. (Verses 26, 28) Aaron's ministry was carried on in a moving tent of curtain-work and wood-work—a tent, too, which seems to have had no pavement but the naked ground. His successors, likewise, served in what was at best a perishable "sanctuary of this world." But Jesus now ministers in "heaven itself," the most holy place of the new covenant. (The apostle emphasizes this point in Hebrews 8:1-6 )
In conclusion, let us reflect upon this central thought of the passage—the immortal heavenly life of our High Priest. He is a Divine person; and his Divine nature is the basis of his "endless life." Hence the perfection of his power to save.
The inability and capability of the Law.
"For the Law made nothing perfect," etc. The Law spoken of is the ceremonial Law, as we see from the preceding verse. The moral Law is not disannulled in Christianity. Its authority is maintained, its sanctions are corroborated by our Lord. But the ceremonial Law was abrogated by Christ. It found its fulfillment, and so was done away in Christianity. Notice—
I. THE INABILITY OF THE LAW . It was weak and unprofitable; it made nothing perfect.
1. It awakened the consciousness of guilt, but it had no power to remove that consciousness. Its sacrifices proclaimed man a sinner and needing atonement with God; but they would not ease the conscience of its sad sense of sin, or inspire the peace of forgiveness in the troubled breast.
2. It showed the necessity of mediation between God and man, but it made no satisfactory provision for theft necessity. The people had to approach the Most High through the priests; the priests alone must offer their sacrifices; the priests alone had access to the holy place of the tabernacle and the temple. The office of the priesthood exhibited the need of mediation, but it was not an adequate answer to that need. The Judaic priests were themselves sinners; they needed to offer sacrifices for themselves; they were mortal and passed away by death, even as other men.
3. It presented a true ideal of life and conduct, but it afforded no help for the attainment of that ideal. The Law condemns sin; it commands righteousness. But how shall we obey its commands? "To will is present with me, but to do that which is good is not. For the good which I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I practice." Can the Law help us in this need? Can it inspire us with strength to do the true and the good? It has no power to convert, or strengthen, or sanctity the soul. It shows us our obligation, but it affords us no help to discharge it. "What the Law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh," etc. ( Romans 8:3 , Romans 8:4 ).
II. THE CAPABILITY OF THE Law. "The Law made nothing perfect, but it was the bringing in of a better hope, by which we draw nigh unto God." We adopt the rendering of the margin of the Authorized Version, and the interpretation of Calvin, Ebrard, et al., that the Law made nothing perfect, but it prepared the way for the better hope. £ This hope is the gospel hope; the hope which has been brought in by our great High Priest. The Law led the way to this. "The Law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ." "A large picture-book," as Dr. Binney says, "was put before the scholars in the splendid objects of the Levitical institute. The series of things included in this was like a series of prints arranged in order, bound and gilded, and spread before the young, wondering eyes of a number of children. The altar with its fire and blood; the laver with its purifying contents; the sacrifice with the penitent putting upon it his sin, or lifting his eyes and his hands to heaven; the priest in the garments expressive of humiliation, or in his gorgeous robes of 'glory and beauty; '-these things, with many others that might be specified, were all like so many significant objects, vividly portrayed on the several leaves of an immense picture-book. By familiarity with them the minds of the learners were gradually to open to the spiritual idea contained in each; or were to be prepared for apprehending it when, 'in the fullness of time,' it should be revealed With new views of the central figure, so much the theme of prophetic song, and the object of national desire, the whole of the Levitical system undergoes a change. It comes to have an intention, to be looked at as constructed for a purpose, which gives to it a deeper and diviner significance than was at first suspected. Priest and sacrifice, altar and propitiation, cease to be realities; they are understood to be only shadows and signs of what was to be found substantially in the person and work, the acts and offices of the great High Priest of our profession." This hope, for which the Law prepared the way, was better than any which the Law could inspire.
1. It is clearer as to its object. The Christian hopes for perfection of being; for holiness of heart and life here, and for heaven hereafter. These things are brought into clearer light in this gospel age than they were under the Law.
2. It is firmer in its foundation. It rests upon Jesus Christ. He is the Rock upon which our confidence and expectation are based. He has revealed God the Father unto us. He has rendered perfect obedience to the holy Law. He offered himself a Sacrifice for sin, of infinite and perpetual efficacy. He ever liveth to represent us in heaven, whither he has entered as our Forerunner. He is "a tried Stone, a sure Foundation" for the hopes of men to rest upon.
3. It is more blessed in its influence. "Through which we draw nigh unto God." The Judaic priesthood tended to make men feel their distance from God, and to keep them at a distance. The priesthood of Jesus Christ brings men near unto him. We need not now the human priest and the bleeding victim for our acceptable approach to the Divine Father. Through the Savior we may draw nigh unto him in our penitence for sin, and obtain forgiveness; in our consecration to him, and meet with gracious acceptance; in the presentation of our needs to him, and receive suitable and abundant supplies; and in hallowed communion with him, and find in it the foretaste and earnest of heaven.—W.J.
Further proofs of the superiority of Christ's priesthood involved in the symbol of Melchizedek.
Note: The word "Law" in Hebrews 7:11 , Hebrews 7:12 , Hebrews 7:19 must not be understood to refer to the Jewish system, but simply to the code of regulations by which the priesthood was appointed. The apostle is thinking throughout the chapter, not of the Jewish dispensation, but of the priesthood. The expression, "weak and unprofitable," does not imply that there was failure in God's former method. The regulations about the Jewish priesthood were intended to be "weak and unprofitable;" that was their benefit. Only thus could they lead on to the heavenly things they foreshadowed.
I. CONSIDER THE PROOFS IN THIS PASSAGE OF THE SUPERIORITY OF CHRIST 'S PRIESTHOOD . They are all based on Psalms 110:4 .
1. The Divine appointment of a second priesthood by a different mode proves its superiority to the former. (Verses 11-18) Their Scriptures declared that the Messiah did come from a different tribe to Aaron, and was appointed Priest on a different principle; not by a mere physical arrangement—sonship to another, a "carnal commandment," or regulation—but by his own inherent life. Since God could not remove what was perfect, or supersede a good arrangement by a worse, that which appeared to take the place of the old was necessarily superior to it.
2. The greater solemnity of the appointment of this second priesthood proves its superiority to the former. (Verses 20-22) Aaron and his sons were appointed by a simple revelation of the Divine will ( Exodus 28:1 ). The terms of the appointment of Jesus are—"The Lord sware, and will not repent." When God purposed what was not to change he confirmed it by an oath, and probably the Jews understood that well. God is "never represented in Scripture as swearing to anything but what is fixed and immutable" (Dr. Brown). The fact that Christ was made priest not without an oath shows that his priesthood was of supreme importance.
3. The eternal permanence of this second priesthood Troves its superiority to the former. (Verses 23-25) The Jewish priests were subject to human frailties and imperfections; their term of service swiftly passed, and their place was taken by another. Indeed, the whole family might be exterminated (specially when at first, in the wilderness, it consisted of but five men) by pestilence, crime, or war, and Israel would find itself, as today, with no priest, no atonement, no mercy-seat, no mediator. That shows the inadequacy of that priesthood. But Christ is High Priest forever "according to the power of an indissoluble life." How superior to that which is according to the flesh! "All flesh is grass."
II. GLANCE AT SOME OF THE PRACTICAL TRUTHS INVOLVED IN THIS SUPERIORITY .
1. That the Aaronic priesthood is superseded by the priesthood of Christ. The Romish doctrine that an order of men, on the mythical ground that they can trace their succession to the apostles, are the appointed mediators between God and man, is a repetition of the Levitical system. But this priesthood is unnecessary, since Christ is in every point superior to it, and they who have Jesus do not need Aaron. Moreover, this carnal, genealogical priesthood is abolished by God, and shown to have been only a temporary expedient at the best.
2. That what the old dispensation did for a few, the Christian does for all. In the Old Testament the priests are those who draw nigh to God ( e.g. Le Psalms 10:3 ) whilst the multitude stood without. Contrast verse 10. "We" who are not of Levi's tribe, but simply believers in Christ, may now enter the Holiest of all—that is, we are all priests. Christ's high priesthood involves the priesthood of all believers. "Those who draw nigh to God 'is the Christian name.
3. That what the ceremonial law could not do, Jesus can. Whilst the Levitical system was "weak and unprofitable," the priesthood of Jesus brought in a system that was perfect. The perfection of a priestly system consisted in its ability to bring men unto God. Men are crying, "Nearer, my God, to thee," in vain, because they seek it through human aid, religious ceremonies, legal observances; they have gone back to Judaism, which is dead and cannot help them. Now let them try Jesus. Where Aaron fails, Jesus succeeds. "He is able to save them to," etc.—C.N.
The weakness and unprofitableness of the commandment
was seen in its inability to cleanse the conscience from sin, and impart spiritual power to obey the moral Law. It was therefore removed and displaced, and publicly disannulled by the rending of the veil when our Lord died upon Calvary. The whole Law, priesthood, and sacrifices were treated as the brazen serpent in the wilderness when it had answered the end of its appointment in the healing of those who, through their murmuring, had been bitten and were exposed to death under the frown of Jehovah. It is not consistent with Divine wisdom and love to maintain a useless institution like Judaism when a better covenant, a nobler Priest, and a holier Sacrifice have been appointed for the salvation of mankind. While the Law made nothing perfect it had its uses, for it prepared the way for the introduction of a better hope than that which believers had before the appointment of Christ to be High Priest over the house of God. In the previous parts of this Epistle there are impressive allusions to the privilege of drawing near to the throne of grace, and the contrast is suggested between the remoteness in which worshippers stood in past days and the near and filial approach of those who draw nigh through Christ. Herein is the saying true, "The Law came by Moses; but grace and truth by Jesus Christ." To draw near to God now is for our dark and perplexed understandings to approach the Father of lights; and for our weak and faltering nature to lay hold of that strength which makes us mount up with wings as eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint.—B.
The Divine Priest.
I. THE PRE - EMINENCE OF OUR LORD 'S PRIESTHOOD ATTESTED BY THE SOLEMNITY OF HIS APPOINTMENT . The priests of the Mosaic Law were placed in their office by an act of the Divine will, and the order of their consecration was prescribed by the lawgiver, who probably superintended the process which fitted them to enter upon their duties. There was no oath proclaimed on the occasion. When Christ was appointed there was an oath, which was conveyed to the knowledge of the Church by David, the royal prophet. This oath declared the fixed and unchangeable purpose of God, that whatever else might change, the office of the high priesthood of Christ should never be abrogated. "For ever his word is settled in heaven." It is only on occasions of special solemnity that oaths are takes by men when they assume weighty and important offices. They are used at coronations of monarchs, and the appointment of judges and others who undertake to administer faithfully the charges which they assume. God condescends to engage by oath for the permanence and glory of the priesthood of Christ that he shall be a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Here we see the loving care of God to invite and justify our trust in his dear Son. It is a vast and large confidence which he claims, and includes the rejection of all other confidences; our surrender to Christ of our understanding, will, and affections; our influence, time, and property; our present and the vast future; and, as the demand is large, there is all evidence and provision to make our trust in the High Priest a reasonable service. He is appointed by oath, and is the Surety of a better covenant; and so there is a proportion and harmony between the Surety and the covenant itself. In the scheme of redemption God hath abounded in all wisdom and prudence. The new wine is put into new bottles, and the consistency of all arrangements for our redemption proves that all things are of God.
II. THE AUTHORIZATION OF THE PRIESTHOOD . If any man had dared to approach Jehovah in the solemnities of worship without his express appointment, he would have been punished for his presumption. This is proved by the history of Uzziah ( 2 Chronicles 26:16 ). It is said of this king that his heart was lifted up, and, against the remonstrances of the priests, he would offer incense, and so combine the dignity of the priesthood and royalty in himself. "Pride went before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall," and he was confined as a leper until the day of his death. The vocation and appointment of Aaron were disputed by the Reubenites who had lost the priesthood, and the Levites who were ambitious of higher dignity; and the case was decided by the punishment of the revolters, and the miraculous foliage, blossoms, and fruit of Aaron's rod. Jesus Christ has the high and supreme authority of Jehovah for his appointment, and the writer quotes the second psalm, which predicts the regal glory of the Son, who was "of the seed of David according to the flesh; but was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" ( Romans 1:3 , Romans 1:4 ). Then follows a quotation from another Messianic psalm, which declares that he is a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. The order of Aaron was too narrow and too imperfect to shadow forth the unrivalled dignity and worth of him who is now set over the house of God. This latter type will reappear for further discussion, and therefore we rest upon this declaration of the eternal will which appoints the Redeemer to be the High Priest for the race of mankind. It is the will of God, which is declared in solemn prophecy; and if he speaks, it is done; "he commands, and it stands fast."
III. THE CONSECRATION OF CHRIST TO HIS DIVINE OFFICE AS A PRIEST . The consecration of Aaron and the priests of the Mosaic Law was very elaborate and impressive, but was unaccompanied with any distress of mind and suffering of the flesh. The sonship of our Lord was eternal, and as a Son he came from heaven to assume our nature and pass through a career of sorrow and bitter experience, that he might learn and prove his obedience to his Father. "He took upon him the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death." As he approached the close of his public ministry the agonies of his soul began to multiply in number and increase in intensity. His prayer in Gethsemane was probably present to the mind of the writer, where he was sorrowful even unto death, and implored, if it were possible, "that the cup might pass from him." He uttered his prayers with strong crying and tears. The usual manner of our Lord's teaching was quiet and gentle, for he did not lift up his voice nor cause it to be heard in the streets; but in the dire and inscrutable distress which came upon him, like Jacob in his mysterious wrestling, he wept and made supplication. He was heard on account of his godly fear or piety. It may be—for we would he cautious and reverential—that he was saved from death in Gethsemane, where he sweat "as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground," by the ministry of a mighty angel like Gabriel or Michael; or that he was delivered from the insupportable fear of the death of shame and agony which lay before him on Calvary. He was heard for his piety, and came off more than a conqueror. Whatever mystery surrounds this solemn fact, the lesson is obvious that disciples must learn obedience in imitation of their Master; that, having overcome, they may sit down with him in his throne. "Through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom." Having borne the sorrow, he has obtained the joy that was set before him, and being now consecrated by his sufferings and death, he is perfectly fitted for his mediatorial office, and becomes the Author of eternal salvation to all his obedient followers, and leads them onward to the glory of an immortal life. This is the highest and most glorious illustration of the methods of that grace which was seen in the life of Joseph, into whose soul the iron entered, whom the word of the Lord tried; but afterwards he shone in the light of wisdom, became the savior of millions from the pangs of famine and death, kept alive the chosen seed, and prepared for the higher revelations of Horeb and Calvary. To obviate any doubts which might arise from so profound a humiliation on the part of Jesus Christ, it is repeated that he was "called of God a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek."—B.
The Law failing, the gospel succeeding.
It is very necessary here to turn from the ordinary version to the revised one, for the ordinary version utterly hides the antithesis which is the very essence of the meaning. On one side there is a disannulling of the Mosaic commandment with respect to priesthood, but on the other side there is the bringing in of a better hope. These two elements of the antithesis have, therefore, to be separately considered.
I. THE DISANNULLING OF THE FLESHLY COMMANDMENT . "The fleshly commandment," as it is called in Hebrews 7:16 . A reason is given for the disannulling: The changes in the Divine economy are never arbitrary. Reasons are not always given for these changes; but when we can understand them they are given, and thus we are helped to believe in the wisdom of changes which we have not knowledge enough to understand. The reason has a twofold aspect. A general principle is stated, and there is a particular illustration of it. The general principle is that the Law makes nothing perfect, completes nothing; the particular illustration is found in the weakness and uselessness of the commandment which called into existence the Aaronic priesthood, No institution can plead a commandment of God for its existence when it has manifestly lost its use. The commandment was useless because it was weak; and then the uselessness reacted on the weakness and made it weaker still. Men ceased to look to the priesthood for any good and helpful thing, though the priesthood kept its formal place, because there was nothing as yet to act as a substitute. Then the question may be asked—Why give a commandment which was weak and useless? The answer lies in that word "foregoing." That which goes before implies something coming after. The Law was weak and useless for certain things, but not, therefore, weak and useless for all things. The Law came like light shining on human spiritual darkness, revealing dilapidation and corruption, and there it stopped; it showed the thing needing to be done, and in the very showing indicated how some agency would come in due time to do it.
II. THE INTRODUCTION OF THE BETTER HOPE . One notices a change of term here as in Hebrews 7:16 . There we read of the former priest according to the law of a fleshly commandment, and the new abiding Priest according to the power of an indissoluble life. So here, that which is put away is a commandment ; that which is brought in is a hope. The old commandment, weak and useless, left men in despair as far as their natural faculties were concerned. The new Priest steps upon the scene, needing no commandment. His functions are the appropriate outcome of the fullness of his life. And, coming among men, he comes as the visible immediate stimulator of hope. Manifestly he has relations with God, channels of connection with the Infinite Purity, such as not all the sum of Aaronic priests taken together had. As men drew near to some of the old priests, steeped in selfishness, pride, arrogance, they veritably drew nearer to the devil from whom it behooved them to flee; but drawing near to Jesus it was not possible that they should do anything else than in the same movement draw near to God.—Y.
For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof (for the Law made nothing perfect); but [there is on the other hand] a bringing in thereupon of a better hope, through which we draw nigh unto God. Such is certainly the construction of the sentence (not as in the A.V); οὐδεν γὰρ , etc., in Hebrews 7:19 being parenthetical, and ἐπεισαγωγὴ depending on γίνεται in Hebrews 7:18 . We have here the conclusion of the argument of the Hebrews 7:11-18 , with a further expression of the inherent insufficiency of the Law, given as the reason of its supersession; reminding us of similar views of what the Law was worth frequent in St. Paul's Epistles (of. Romans 8:3 ; Galatians 3:10 , etc). The final clause, δἱ ἧς ἐγγίζομεν τῷ θεῷ , leads directly up to the main subject in the writer's view, viz. the exposition of Christ's eternal priesthood. But two proofs are first to be given of Christ's priesthood being, unlike the Aaronic, thus eternally availing to bring us near to God. These proofs are to be found in the Divine oath which established it, and the expression, "forever," in Psalms 90:1-17 ., once more adduced.