Even though Jesus would not qualify as a priest under the old covenant, “but as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old” (8:6a). Jesus’ ministry is exceedingly superior. Not only are He and His ministry superior, the effects of what He has accomplished are exceedingly superior as well. Christ, in the new covenant “mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises” (8:6b). The writer of Hebrews has already spoken of a “better hope” (7:19) as well as a “better covenant” (7:22). He now restates “the covenant He mediates is better.” It certainly is a better covenant because a better mediator inaugurated it in a better sanctuary; but what the writer wants to underscore is the “better promises” of this “better covenant.”
An implication of Jesus’ eternal priesthood is that “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him” (7:25). It has already been stated that Jesus is “able to help those who are being tempted” (2:18) as well as able to sympathize with His people’s weaknesses (4:15). What is being affirmed is Jesus’ actual power to truly save, that is, to forever and completely deliver from judgment and provide safe access into the presence of God. This salvation is through the new relationship that is in place through Jesus. Jesus is eternally engaged toward His people’s salvation. The effect of this new relationship is seen through the new responses of trust and dependence that it creates. Earlier, the writer declared Jesus as “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (5:9) and now he is announcing salvation is experienced by all “who draw near to God through Him” (7:25). A change in relationship means a changed people.
This change of law, which was introduced in verse 12, is now described much more emphatically in verse 18: “For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness.” In Christ, the Mosaic covenant has been “set aside” or annulled. The Levitical system in its entirety is set aside by the coming and work of Christ. Christ has done what the Levitical system was unable to do: “(for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God” (7:19). What the annulled “former commandment” is replaced with is not specified other than to say that it is “a better hope.” It was never the design of the Mosaic Law to perfect anyone; but it was a part of God’s design to use the stipulations of the Mosaic Covenant to reveal the need for perfection—a perfection that was accomplished in Christ on behalf of all who believe (Hebrews 10:14).
After stating in the negative some things about Melchizedek, the writer notes two positive things about Melchizedek: “but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever” (7:3). While Hebrews 5:10 and 6:20 have already indicated that Jesus is a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, the writer subtly reverses the comparison to liken Melchizedek to Christ. It is not Jesus who resembles Melchizedek, but Melchizedek who resembles Jesus. Melchizedek is a facsimile of which Christ is the original. That there is a priesthood superior to the Levitical order is not a novel idea from the New Testament; the Old Testament provides an example of a higher priesthood. Ultimately, that superior priesthood is found in Christ, whose eternality as a priest is typified by Melchizedek whose tenure as a priest had no known start or finish.
Having no one greater than Himself, God guaranteed His own promises: “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath” (6:17). God’s faithfulness is unchangeable. God is faithful as the Giver as well as the Guarantor of promises: “So that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie” (6:18). Faith is not a mere blind leap into the darkness, nor is hope a mere wishful optimism about the future; both faith and hope are based upon God’s faithfulness to His promises. Those promises can be a place to flee to for “refuge” that “the heirs of the promise” would have “strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (6:18). The language of faith and patience now transitions to the language of hope. Hope is much like faith but with only a more pronounced forward look to it. Hope, that is, a future-looking confidence in God’s faithfulness has a stabilizing effect for the present: “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (6:19). God’s promises are always sure and His pledge to carry out His promises is always steadfast.
While it is impossible for a true Christian to ultimately defect from Jesus, it is inconceivable that a true Christian would flippantly ignore warnings about dullness toward God’s Word. The God who preserves His children, nonetheless, warns them to persevere. Preservation is not something that happens regardless of a person’s heart posture. Preservation occurs only through a faith in Christ that perseveres. So, strong warnings not designed to generate inward introspection and doubt, but a renewed act of dependence upon Christ and thus confidence in the God who keeps His promises. God preserves His children from defecting from Jesus, but He does so by the use of means. One of the means that God uses to preserve His children is to warn them of the destruction that waits if they defect. The intent of such a warning is to prompt a person to keep turning to Jesus until the final benefits of salvation are obtained.
The exposition concerning Jesus’ Melchizedekian Priesthood was put on hold because of the dullness or sluggishness of the learners. Instead of being diligently eager to learn more about Jesus, they approached the matter with lazy, negligent hearts. Thus, the problem was not inability, but unwillingness (which led to inability). At present, they were spiritually reluctant to hear God’s Word. How did they get to that point? In tracing the development of the warnings thus far, their present dullness started back with a careless drift from heeding God’s Word (2:1-4) and continued on to a unchecked disbelief toward God’s Word (3:12-14). Dullness to God’s Word, which is the next stage in the sequence of defection, grows out of drifting and disbelieving.
Verses 9-10 announce the happy results of Jesus reaching perfection in His life so as to be qualified to become “the source of eternal salvation” (5:9) by His self-sacrifice at the Cross. As said similarly, Jesus is the: “founder of their salvation perfect through suffering” (2:10). Jesus has secured His people’s salvation, that is, “to all who obey him” (5:10). Based upon the connection between unbelief and disobedience in chapter 4, the characterization here of Christ’s people as being obedient, first and foremost refers to their trusting dependence upon Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death as the basis of their now having access to God. Of course, it is true that the nature of saving trust in Christ not only perseveres; it is also accompanied by growing characteristics of love, good works, and genuine obedience. But such characteristics of saving faith do not earn salvation, they only give evidence that a great and perfect high priest “after the order of Melchizedek” (5:10) “has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (10:14).
Immediately following the warning in 4:11-13 about the penetrating power of God’s Word that exposes the deepest levels of the heart, Hebrews turns to strong Gospel encouragement. As man stands before God as he really is, what is exposed is his need and weakness before God. Specifically, who will atone for sinful guilty mankind? Perhaps the more desperate one feels their sinful situation to be before the all-seeing God, the more wonderful one can grasp Jesus’ High Priestly provision to be. The sinfulness of the human condition is more exposed before God than man dares to ever admit; but the mercy and grace of the High Priestly work of Jesus that covers His people, is more than they dare to ever acknowledge.
Therefore, promises are to be taken as seriously as warnings. With the imagery from 3:16-19 of the dead bodies of Israelites strewn around in the wilderness, 4:1 involves an emphatic word about fear. The previous warning of “be careful” or “see to it” (3:12) is intensified in 4:1. The outlook of fear called for is about taking serious the danger of forfeiting God’s rest due to unbelief. In the previous chapter, the basis for escaping wrong fear is Christ’s work, which delivers “all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (2:15). So the fear spoken of here is not a slavish, paralyzing fear, but a sober, stabilizing, activating one (See: Romans 11:20; Philippians 2:13). The call to fear unbelief is then linked to the call: “strive to enter that rest” (4:11). The call to fear unbelief is a means for stimulating an eager and active reliance upon God and His promise of rest. Ironically, where there is not a proper fear of unbelief before God, then an inordinate fear of about everything else seizes control of the heart (2 Timothy 1:7).
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