Friday, April 25, 2003

Gleanings from Hebrews

Jesus and the New Covenant(5)

This marks the second division of a series that introduces the Book of Hebrews. To start at the beginning, click here.

One very central tenet in Hebrews is the superiority of Jesus and the New Covenant over Moses and the Old. This second section of Gleanings from Hebrews will cover this central message.

Jesus: The Great High Priest

This subject of the high priest hood of Jesus Christ is one of the most significant and subtle of anything the author of Hebrews has to say. We can introduce this topic by looking at Psalm 110 and seeing the the author does with it, and what its significance is to us:

The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” The Lord will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying,“Rule in the midst of Your enemies.” Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power; In holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Your youth are to You as the dew. The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:1-4, NASB)

The Psalm begins with a reference to the coming Messiah as the coming King, "Sit at my right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for your feet." He will wiled a strong scepter and rule in the midst of His enemies. His people will gladly follow Him.

But then the Psalm takes this curious turn and declares Messiah to be an eternal priest. This is indeed strange. Stranger still is this reference to Melchizedek. This priesthood of Jesus is a theme that the author to the Hebrews weaves and develops throughout the letter. Every chapter from 1 through 10 mention Jesus has a high priest or a great high priest. Chapters 7-9 formally develop the basis of that priesthood, and chapter 10 develops its meaning for us.

So the author has placed Jesus above Moses and the prophets. He has established Him as our kinsman. He has seated Him at the right hand of God upholding all things by the word of His power. Now He tackles the superiority of Jesus' priesthood over the system of priests in the tabernacle. It is the author's toughest job.

It is easy to establish Jesus' right to be king. The gospel of Matthew traces Jesus' lineage through Joseph back to David and Solomon. It establishes Jesus' legal right to the throne. The gospel of Luke traces Jesus' lineage through Mary back to David and his son Nathan. It establishes Jesus' blood right to the throne as the Son of David. David was from the tribe of Judah to whom the right of kingship belonged:

“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. (Genesis 49:10)

But can the king be a priest? There is a legal and biblical problem here. Consider the case of King Uzziah:

But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the Lord his God, for he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. Then Azariah the priest entered after him and with him eighty priests of the Lord, valiant men. They opposed Uzziah the king and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful and will have no honor from the Lord God.” But Uzziah, with a censer in his hand for burning incense, was enraged; and while he was enraged with the priests, the leprosy broke out on his forehead before the priests in the house of the Lord, beside the altar of incense. Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous on his forehead; and they hurried him out of there, and he himself also hastened to get out because the Lord had smitten him. King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death; and he lived in a separate house, being a leper, for he was cut off from the house of the Lord. And Jotham his son was over the king’s house judging the people of the land. (2 Chronicles 26:16-21)

Uzziah trespassed the boundary of kings and priests and suffered at the hands of the Lord for doing so. Simply put, the priesthood belongs to the sons of Aaron. Aaron was from the tribe of Levi. How was Jesus the king to also be priest?

Psalm 110 contains two bits of information that solve this. Here is what Hebrews says:

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually. (Hebrews 6:19-7:3)

Psalm 110 speaks of the "Order of Melchizedek," which Hebrews argues is different from what one might call the "Order of Aaron." Melchizedek was King of Righteousness, King of Peace, and Priest of the Most High God. That is the path by which we must understand Jesus' priesthood. But why should we bother making this connection? Perhaps we should look for a King from the line of Aaron. Hebrews explains:

For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. (Hebrews 7:13-16)

The "law of physical requirement" is being descended from Aaron. However, the priest according to the Order of Melchizedek is a priest forever. When Jesus conquered death, He showed that He had an "indestructible life." He can, therefore, be a priest forever. All the sons of Aaron eventually die.

And besides, Psalm 110 declares the the Lord has "sworn and will not change His mind. You are a priest forever." Hebrews proceeds to argue from this oath:

For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:26-28)

Jesus never sinned and, therefore, never needed to make an offering for Himself. After the Law, which appointed the sons of Aaron, came the oath that promised this future high priest. The oath appoints Jesus who is perfect forever.

So Jesus is the Eternal King and the Eternal High Priest. He the mediator of a covenant far superior and brighter than the old. This is the basis of our salvation:

The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:23-25)

Monday: Jesus the Final Offering

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