Hebrews: Its Aim, and for Whom Written? Part 3

Hebrews  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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In chap. 8 we have the whole doctrine of the priesthood summed up before the unfolding of the worth of the sacrifice and His appearing in the presence of God for us are gone into. We have an high priest set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary, a purely heavenly one. None of this belongs to Melchisedec. The priesthood spoken of is solely while Christ is on high. It is in the sanctuary—that is, in heaven itself—exercised in that of which the tabernacle man pitched was the shadow, made according to the pattern of things in the heavens, a heavenly priesthood in a heavenly sanctuary. This is so distinctly the case, that if He were on earth He would not be a priest (of Melchisedec’s exercise of priesthood on His throne no trace or hint is found); there were priests who served to the example and pattern of heavenly things; we have to do with the heavenly things themselves. And Christ has obtained a more excellent ministry. When and where according to this chapter? What is— “But now hath he obtained?” What, as to the priesthood and ministry of Christ, “replaces here”? The heavenly things, and a heavenly service, and a heavenly sanctuary as a present thing, or a Melchisedec priesthood after all enemies are put down on earth? Is that shadow and pattern according to which it is exercised, the sanctuary set up by Moses, or the Melchisedec service? For a calm and straight-forward mind there can be but one answer. It may be said he speaks of the covenants. He does. But to what end? Solely HERE to show that the old is passing away and ready to vanish, that the Jewish Christians might not hang on to it. The new covenant is surely not made with us at all. The basis of it is laid in Christ’s blood, as the institution of the Lord’s Supper shows, and we have all the advantages of it; but a great deal more, and Paul was a minister of it.
But this allusion to the pattern of heavenly things has led the inspired writer to the whole order of the sanctuary; to unfold the worth of Christ’s work and sacrifice. And here let me make a remark not without its importance in the study of the Hebrews. The mention of the temple is carefully excluded. That was connected with royalty; with the establishment on earth of what was practically Melchisedec rule and priesthood, the rule of the Son of David. The tabernacle only is mentioned. That was the pattern of heavenly things; the temple is never given as such, whatever analogies there may be; the tabernacle is. Even when he speaks of the system as having still its standing (chap. ix. 8), it is the tabernacle, not the temple. It is the camp they were to leave, and come outside. The analogy of Christ’s service is distinctly, definitely, and declaredly after the similitude of the Aaronic service in the tabernacle, not after any Melchisedec service. The pattern is what Moses gave, but it is in heaven, and in heaven only and specifically. It is a present thing, specifically a present thing, as He is in heaven now; not a future thing as Melchisedec is. He is entered in, not come out (chap. 9:12). The veil is rent, the way into the holiest is open, and the blood of Christ purges the conscience. And the apostle speaks to those to whom the epistle is ing, and can say, He is the High Priest of our addressed, who are partakers of the heavenly call—profession. The heavenly things themselves are in question. Christ is entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us. In this, as we have seen, though compared with what Aaron did, there is no mention of priesthood. It is another matter. In chap. 4:14 we have the analogy strikingly stated: “a great high priest that is passed through [not into] the heavens,” as Aaron through the court and holy place into the sanctuary. But here we have no priest but Christ appearing in the presence of God for us. He has appeared, not to restore Israel and the world, but to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. He has been once offered, not to redeem Israel, but—in contrast with death and judgment, man’s portion as a child of Adam—to bear the sins, not of Israel, but, of many. Does this mean that He did not die for the nation, or that the remnant will not be restored on the ground of this sacrifice? Surely not. But the passage speaks of other things.
In chap. 10, still in express comparison and contrast with the law, the application of Christ’s sacrifice is gone into; but it is fact and efficacy — no priesthood now. It is application; we are sanctified. It is taught as that which is known by him that teaches it, a present thing. The position of Christ is still the opposite of that of Melchisedec. He is expecting till His enemies be made His footstool. It is not a reign and kingly priesthood after they are destroyed. It is only heavenly; He sits at the right hand of God. The sanctified ones, already spoken of, are perfected forever. He is not, as Aaronic priests were, standing ever renewing inefficacious sacrifices; but sitting at the right hand of God, because His is complete, and those having a part in it perfected forever; that is, not merely for eternity, but in uninterrupted and unbroken continuity, just as He sits there. It is those who have part in it while He is sitting there. And the Holy Ghost is a witness of it to the writer, and those he writes to, as a present possession of peace. And mark the consequence. We brethren have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. When and where? Jews under Melchisedec? And now we come back to the High Priest. Where? In the holiest in heaven, or in the house of God, whose house, we have read, are we if we hold fast, I suppose what we have got.
It will be remarked, that with chap. x. 18 the doctrine of these two chapters ends, and exhortation begins. We are to draw near with full assurance of faith into the holiest, having a High Priest over the house of God. I will suppose for the moment, what clearly could not possibly be, that this exhortation was addressed to unbelievers disposed to listen, which is the theory of the deniers of priesthood as to any present application. I ask, Was not that into which they were brought the Christian position? Those living men could not be brought into the residue position in the last days; they could be brought, if anywhere, among Christians. That, then, to which they were called, was where Christians were: a rent veil; access into the holiest by it; a purged conscience; full assurance of faith; and a great High Priest over the house of God. I do not believe that this is the position of the remnant in the latter day at all, but I leave that aside. It is the position of Christians now, for it is what the then listeners, according to the theory, were called into.
When we go on with the chapter it becomes evident, beyond all possible question, that it is the Christian position. “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith.” Does the writer of the epistle identify himself with unbelieving Jews in the profession of a common faith? What were the unbelieving Jews to hold fast? “The profession of our faith” in the mouth of a Christian must be Christian faith; and if it be “our” he must write to Christians. We (who?) are to provoke one another to love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together—who is that? Was it a Jewish assembly, or Christians and unbelieving Jews together? Besides, it supposes that the knowledge of the truth had been received, and, as in chap. vi., if the Spirit, whose presence distinctively characterized Christians and Christianity, was received in vain, so here, if the one sacrifice which characterized it was departed from, there was no remedy, no room for repentance. Only judgment remained. They were Christian professors, and enjoyed the advantages of Christianity, and if they cast them away there was nothing else to come but judgment. What distinguished the remnant is that there is deliverance to come, because they have not had these privileges, and had not cast them away. What characterized any Jews disposed to listen then was the same fact, they had not had them. What characterized those to whom the writer addressed himself is that they had. They, if they departed from the faith, drew back, had trodden under foot the Son of God, counted the blood of the covenant wherewith they were sanctified an unholy thing, and done despite to the Spirit of grace, there was no remedy left. Are unbelieving Jews, however disposed, as to their position, sanctified by the blood of the covenant? What does ver. 32 mean? “After ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions”; and “knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance”? What the confidence they were not to cast away? In a word, they were not of those—the writer hoped—who drew back to perdition, but of those who believed to the saving of the soul, and certainly had the privileges from which they could draw back.
I resume the proof from these exhortations. The epistle—the practical exhortations—were addressed in fact to some one. Those to whom they are addressed are illuminated, had received the knowledge of the truth, are exhorted not to forsake the assembling of themselves together; had taken joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing they had in heaven a better and enduring substance; and even not to cast away their confidence; were not to be of those who drew back, but believing to the saving of their souls; in a word, were believers, or at least professed believers, and believers then were Christians. Profession left them in danger of drawing back to Judaism, and gave occasion to warning in this respect; but, if Christians, Christians had and therefore have a great high priest over the house of God; a priest gone into heaven, and who exercised his priesthood there, and, as here described, there only: a priest who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and who ever lives to make intercession for us. Our perfection by His offering, and His appearing in the presence of God for us, not being connected with his priestly service.
What remains of the epistle, after such evidence, needs not very enlarged reference. In chap. 11. I notice one passage— “God having provided [or foreseen] some better thing for us, that they [Abraham, etc.] without us should not be made perfect.” Is it for Christians or for the Jewish remnant that some better thing than Abraham’s heavenly portion is provided? Is not the perfection resurrection glory, not blessing under Melchisedec?
All the exhortations in the beginning of chap. 12., if they mean anything, are addressed to Christians. They were not come to Sinai, but to the full heavenly and earthly blessing, in which the church of the firstborn and the Old Testament saints are included. Here alone we have the church in the Hebrews. They were come to Jesus. It will be said, To Jesus, mediator of a new covenant. Quite true; and I do not doubt that this refers in accomplishment to the millennial earth. But they were come to Jesus, and this is the essential point; and it is a Jesus not coming back from heaven, but speaking from heaven while He is there. Chap. 13:8, 9, clearly shows with whom they were in connection. The Christ they had been taught to know, by those whose faith they were to follow, was the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. I do not connect the verses as in the English Bible; but it is quite clear that the faith a Christian exhorts to follow, is Christian faith, and here suggests Christ as the One whose unchangeableness should guard them from strange doctrines; grace, not Jewish meats, was to be their portion.
But further, “We,” says the writer, “have an altar of which they have no right to eat who serve the tabernacle.” Who had an altar in contrast with the Jews? the unbeliever willing to listen? Of a future remnant there is no idea or question. The writer declares that he and those with whom he was associated had, had then, an altar, a place of worship, where the food of and communion with God was, at which those who held to (now by-past and soon to be judged) Judaism had no right to partake. Who had, who could then or now have, this but Christians? Judaism as a system is then rejected as being a religion for this earth, a camp of God (now left of Him) here. Such a religion was now rejected. When the blood Was carried within the sanctuary, the body of the Victim was carried without the camp. The true sanctuary, heaven (as is expressly taught in chap. 9:11, 12, 24) is one essential element of the position spoken of; abiding rejection of and by worldly religion, made for or suited to the flesh, “outside the camp,” or the earthly holy city, is the other. That is distinctly Christianity. The remnant at the end look for and will have the restoration of an earthly’ system, and the Lord’s presence and throne in Jerusalem. The system into which men are called in this epistle (and, if Christians, are, and warned not to fall away from) is exclusively and uncompromisingly Christian and heavenly, in contrast with what the remnant could have at the end, founded on this same work, but established in a restored throne on earth and a holy city here, not a rejected Savior and a heavenly throne. Vers. 20, 21, are most clearly addressed to Christians, and outside all old and new covenants; and the rest, as the whole chapter, suppose that in faith, joy, hopes, interest, and warnings, the writer and those addressed are alike Christians, though the latter, Christians in danger of slipping back into Judaism, from which they are called finally to separate themselves.
The result of this survey of The Epistle to the Hebrews is, that our being perfected by the offering of Jesus Christ, and His appearing in the presence of God for us, is not referred to priesthood, but that there is a priesthood of intercession available for us because the priest can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; and, having suffered, being tempted, is competent to succor those that are tempted. That this priesthood is exercised in heaven specifically, in its whole character and nature, and only there, as here brought forward as that which became us. That the comparison and contrast of this priesthood in its exercise is wholly with the ordering and service of the tabernacle. The priest is according to the order of Melchisedec, but of the exercise of a Melchisedec priesthood there is no mention, hint, or trace. It is a priesthood exercised in heaven only, into which Christ is entered, as Aaron into the holiest made with hands. It is addressed to Christians formally and expressly in all its parts; if it reach over—as a groundwork of Israel’s future hopes, as what is taught in it surely does—it has no direct application to them save as Christ’s present position and His accomplished work secure these hopes; and as it does not take proper church ground, that is, our sitting in heavenly places in Christ, it can reach over in certain parts to their hopes and blessings as an accessory. But the hopes given in the epistle are not theirs, but heaven and glory. Further, it is written to Christian Jews, that is, to Christian’s from among the Jews, and who in fact clung to their own old thoughts, and feelings, and system, and were in danger, if not kept of God, of falling back into Judaism, which was ready to be judged, and are warned moreover to come out and leave their connection with it; warned that the faith of Christ, which they had, and Judaism could no longer be connected as it had been, many thousand Jews, as we know, holding fast to their ancient law. J. N. D.
(Concluded from page 204)