"Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus." Heb. 3:1.
"Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it." Heb. 4:1.
We now come to another factor as to Christ's priesthood.
The second point about Christ's priesthood is its universal, heavenly and eternal character, and its values for us. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews brings us to a consideration of a comparison and a contrast between the priesthood of Aaron and the priesthood of Melchizedek. "Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek" (Heb. 6:20 KJV). "For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him: to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of Peace; without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually" (Heb. 7:1-3).
Wonderful word! You notice there is an amazing reversing of the order. The first statement is that the Lord Jesus is declared to be a priest after the order of Melchizedek, and the last statement is that Melchizedek is made after the order of the Son of God. It puts the Lord Jesus right back in priority even to Melchizedek. Melchizedek and his priesthood is constituted after the Son of God. That is a remarkable statement.
"If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood... what further need was there that another priest should arise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah, of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood... who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. For he testifies, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek" (Heb. 7:11-17).
"For if He were on earth, He should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things..." (Heb. 8:4-5). That brings us to see the universal, heavenly, and eternal character of Christ's priesthood and its value for us. The contrasts are clearly recognised in these passages between the earthly and the heavenly, the temporal and the eternal, the local and the universal.
The government of what is heavenly in relation to this dispensation is a thing of primary account to the Lord's people. You see what the apostle is saying all along in this letter about the heavenly side of things. We read that first word in chapter 3: "...partners (partakers) in a heavenly calling", and then, "We have a High Priest, who has passed through the heavens", "who has sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens"; "If He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all", for those things are only a shadow of the heavenly things. The priesthood of Christ is taken right outside of the limits of this earth and is established in heaven, giving us one more note in connection with the universal purpose of God which is in view.
We saw in our former meditation that the Prophet has to do with the universal, the heavenly, and the eternal thought of God for man; that He stands to represent that, and to keep it in view, and to demand the constituting of all things according to that. Now we see Christ's priesthood being carried right out of those dimensions, carried out of Israel, the local, the limited and the earthly, and out to the heavenly, to the universal.
It is just there that you have the specific difference between Melchizedek and Aaron. I do not think that this letter is intended to teach that there was nothing in Christ's priesthood according to the Levitical order. Certainly there was. All that is set forth in the Levitical priesthood, the offerings and so forth, is taken up in the Lord Jesus. The apostle does not mean that the Lord Jesus has no connection whatever with the Levitical order, but what he means is this, that while He takes up that order and fulfils all that type, He goes beyond that and links with something else. Now note the difference. In the priesthood of Melchizedek you have nothing that is according to the Levitical order so far as you can trace. We mean this: that the priesthood of Melchizedek is not the priesthood of bloody sacrifice; it is the priesthood of offerings to God. In Aaron and his order it is the sacrifices made by the shedding of blood. In Melchizedek it is the offerings to God without blood.
There are offerings to God apart from the shedding of blood, apart from the slaying and the death, but when you get into the realm of such offerings you have got back to a place of direct communion with God. You have got outside of the time realm, because it is into that that sin has come, and the sacrifices made by blood are required in a propitiatory way. When you leave that realm, and get to the place where, without the shedding of blood you can offer to God, you have got back into the eternal, back into the heavenly, you have got away from the earthly.
Here the Lord Jesus in His priesthood comes down to the Aaronic level, and in the shedding of His own blood and the offering of Himself as a burnt-offering He meets the demand of the time conditions. But that is only incidental to the whole thing that has come in because of an awful necessity. When He has done that, then He carries it out into the eternal priesthood and sees there man offered to God for God's pleasure, man standing in God's pleasure in eternity, according to God's eternal thought. That is the place of this statement, "made like unto the Son of God", reversing the whole thing, a priesthood which means a perfect acceptance with God, a priesthood which means God is well satisfied. It is an awful story of bloodshed in propitiation. You have come away from that scene of death, suffering and sacrifice for propitiation, and you have come into the heavens. You have come away from what is temporal and you have got back into the eternal; away from what is just local as in Israel, into the realm where everything is universal and according to God's mind.
That is the great point of difference between Aaron and Melchizedek, and when it is all summed up it just means that Christ's priesthood stands related to the universal purpose of God. And that universal purpose of God comes in when that which was local and earthly rejected God's Son and set Him aside.
We pointed out in our previous meditation that the Lord Jesus adopted the title of Son of Man in view of His rejection. His first usage of this title was when He called His disciples to follow Him, and said, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath no where to lay His head." Surely that is in view of His rejection. He is not accepted; He has no place. He came to His own, and they received Him not; "the Son of Man hath no where to lay His head". That is the Prophet, and it is when the Prophet is rejected by Israel that the universal comes in, and then, to realise the universal, He fulfils the priesthood of Aaron and carries it out to what is eternal and heavenly in the thought of God. It is just the difference between Israel and the church. One is local, earthly, temporal; the other is heavenly, universal, eternal; and it is into the value of the priesthood which is related to that that you and I are brought.
Now there is this further thing that comes in in that connection. It is the finality of Christ's priesthood and of His priestly work. This letter lays a finger of stress upon that note: "...He ever lives to make intercession". Then there is that word "perfect". If the Levitical priesthood had made things perfect, why should another order of priesthood be necessary? That is the argument and the question. Such another is required, and the explanation is that the priests of the Levitical order could make nothing perfect because they died. They carried their work so far and then died, and someone else had to take it up; then that one died, and someone else took it up and they were never able to reach finality. The argument of the apostle here is that He, after the power of an indissoluble life, exercises His priesthood. He ever lives, and therefore He is able to save to the end, or to the full. It is not necessary to remind you that that statement, "He is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him", as it is commonly used in evangelistic work today is limited; it is used to mean that He is able to save right down to the depth of your being. Well, that is true, but that is not the meaning here. The context points out that because He never dies, the Son of God, after the power of an endless life, has a perfect work. He can go right on with His work to the end. He ever lives. It is the finality of Christ's priestly work that is stressed. What does that mean? It means that everything that hinders God's purpose being realised has been fully and finally met in the priestly work of the Lord Jesus. It has all been dealt with, and He holds it as something which is eternal, that cannot pass, that cannot die. The Priest and His work are one; they will not have an end and will continue for ever.
We are forbidden to entertain the idea of there ever being a time when the work of the Lord Jesus as Priest would cease to be available to us, or, putting that in another way, cease to be efficacious for us while we are looking to Him. He holds that work beyond all the power of death to touch it, beyond all the power of sin to corrupt it, beyond all the power of earth to change it, beyond all the power of time to limit it. He has taken it right outside of all those things which belong here, and it goes on. We are commanded to consider Him as One who holds a work that is final and perfect on our behalf. Everything has been dealt with.
You can follow that more closely in this letter, and see that it is worked out in this way. In chapter 9 you have the statement that those priests of the Levitical order had, year by year, to bring new sacrifices, because these offerings never made anything perfect, and there had to be a constant repetition of sacrifice and offering, and nothing ever got to an end. Now the Lord Jesus, by one offering for ever, has made perfect. It is what we call the finished work of the Lord Jesus upon which we are bidden to rest.
Let us come back to what lies behind this letter, and see what is the ground of our entering into all that God has intended, reaching the fulness, getting through to the ultimate. How shall it be? What is our assurance? By what means shall we attain? The answer is, not by effort and striving of ourselves, but by resting upon that which is perfected for ever in Him, resting upon an eternally accomplished work.
The wonder of this is seen in this special emphasis that that perfect work is taken by Christ into heaven where it is beyond the reach of all earthly things, all time influences, and that it continues in heaven in the power of an endless life. The work goes on in the power of an indissoluble life. The value of that is that there is a subtle peril of regarding the Lord Jesus as having died on Calvary and having paid the price, atoned for our sins, so long ago, and we come and put our faith in that, and accept that as something done so long ago. There it took place, and there it ended. In viewing things in such a way there is a very serious loss and a great danger. What this letter says is this: That was a timeless thing, outside of time, and is today just as new, fresh and throbbing with vitality as it was nineteen hundred years ago. It is as though the Lord Jesus died today for you and for me, and tomorrow and the next day, and all the days. "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and for ever". The impressive thing is that when you get right through to whenever those times are in the book of the Revelation, they are unveilings of end times, and some of them are unveilings of times beyond the end, you still find a Lamb; the exact words in the original are these: "as though it had been newly slain". It is not a Lamb that was slain two thousand years before, but as though it had just been slain. He is outside of time.
You and I will still fail. We have not yet attained, neither are we already perfect. But we are not going to accept failure, and say, 'Well, we shall fail to the end; we don't have to try, we can be careless.' Imperfection will be found in us right up to the end. Oh, that is most disconcerting! Yes, but the priestly work of the Lord Jesus goes on beyond that, and is new every day. If we lived according to the old Levitical order, after we sinned, we would bring a sacrifice, and then we would be at rest as far as any ritual could bring rest. It brought that sense of satisfaction that you had obeyed God. Well, the next day you sinned, and you brought another offering, and so on, day after day. But this sacrifice of the Lord Jesus does something more than that. It abides as an eternal, present thing in value, not only as a bit of ritual but as an entire relief for the conscience. It is a power, not an outward, objective observance. It is a power in the life when we have real faith apprehension of the priestly work of the Lord Jesus. It brings rest of heart and a peace which abides while we rest upon what that sacrifice stands for continually. "If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). "If we walk in the light as He is in the light..." (1 John 1:7). How shall we walk in the light? Just that way: "If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive". "If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son keeps on cleansing" (that is the tense there). It is something that is living all the time, every day, and it goes right on. How shall we get through? We shall be brought to God's full purpose by realising that Christ's priesthood continues in its value until the last bit of sin in the redeemed is removed, until the last call for cleansing has been answered, until the whole work of God has been accomplished and He gets man according to His thought. Until then, the priestly values of Christ's work will continue. They are outside of time. They are outside of the earth. They are universal. They are heavenly.
Now, of course, the strong emphasis in this letter, finally, is upon faith. We tend to take up the great faith chapter of Hebrews and make faith something in itself. Oh, yes, by faith all these people triumphed, from Abel onwards. It was their faith that did it. We begin to ask the Lord to give us faith, and we concentrate upon the idea of faith as some thing. We detach faith, and make faith a thing in itself. You have to read that chapter as an accumulation of all that has preceded, and see that all the universal, heavenly, eternal work of the Lord Jesus as High Priest connects with the original thought of God to have man for the expression of Himself, and to realise it means that you have to have faith in the priestly work of the Lord Jesus. Faith is not something in itself. The value of faith is in the Object upon which faith is set. Remember that; otherwise we begin to talk about faith in degrees. There may be more or less faith, but the value of faith finally is not so much the degree of the thing called faith, it is the apprehension of the Person in whom faith rests. It is the result of faith that makes faith small or great.
You may have what you would call a small faith, but if what you would call small faith fastens upon the Lord Jesus so tenaciously that you have no other object or ground of hope but Himself, that is not little faith, that is great faith, and the Lord has always called that sort of thing great faith. Little faith is just that which is not absolutely anchored to Him. It is looking round for something else to support it if He should fail. Great faith is that which has no alternatives but Himself, and it simply takes Him as the last word. That is greatness of faith. You notice that there are instances of that in the Gospel, where surprisingly the Lord Jesus says, "Great is thy faith." When you look to see what this great faith was, it was simply that someone said, 'Lord, You are my last hope, and I count on You, and I am sure You will not fail.' That is great faith.
In Hebrews 11 faith is simply that. Here is the purpose of God. Oh, it is such a great purpose as to disconcert you as you contemplate it, and make you feel how hopeless you are. Yet it is God's will, it is God's intention. It is something that you have got to lay hold of as God's thought for you, that eventually you shall be one in whom and through whom God is manifested. That is the cumulative effect as seen in the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven, which is the church, having the glory of God. That is the end. Oh, here you realise it. "Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness." That is the purpose. "The new Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down from God out of heaven, having the glory of God" (Rev. 21:10,11). That is the church. That is God's intention. Shall we ever attain? Will it ever be realised that we shall have the glory of God and reach all the matchless thought of God? How can it be? Only by faith in the High Priestly work of the Lord Jesus. That will do it. That High Priestly work takes you right back to God's full thought and deals with all that has intervened to hinder and destroy God's thought. Then your faith lays hold of Him and His High Priestly work. By so laying hold of Him you come eventually to that place God purposed before times eternal, having the glory of God.
We cannot pass from this without remembering that the central element in the High Priestly work of Christ is His blood, and the blood is always represented as something which abides eternally in its efficacy, as though it were shed every moment afresh. It is set forth as living now, not something done and past, but the Life which is in that blood, and that blood which is the Life, is incorruptible, indissoluble, indestructible. There is a vitality in that blood which is not subject to anything that belongs to this earth. He has gone through with His own blood, and that blood is speaking in the presence of God. It is audible, it is vital, and so we are called upon to stand in the abiding value of the blood of Jesus every day, against all that which has intervened in the life of the race to hinder God's purpose. The precious blood of Jesus Christ testifies against sin, Satan, the flesh, and everything that rises up to hinder the reaching of God's end in living power. Faith in the blood destroys the power of that for us, and delivers us from all that has come in to prevent the realisation of God's purpose.
We can understand why Satan, and all that is Satan-influenced, hates the blood of Jesus Christ and would eliminate it from testimony for the simple reason that in the final issue, when heaven is seen to be stripped and empty of all the powers of Satan, and he is cast down, no more place being found for him in those heavenly realms, it is because of the blood of the Lamb. "They overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony." (Rev. 12:11). It is understandable why the enemy is against the blood. It is the secret power of his destruction, and the destruction of all his work, his deposing, and the writing of utter futility over all his age-long efforts against God. Wonderful will be the story that that blood will tell at the end. Here is the marvellous purpose of God then, a coming in of forces to destroy it, and prevent it; and what a story this is of the operation of those forces and all the sin that this world has ever known (and there is enough sin in one little corner of this world to cause you to despair if you realised it all). The cumulative sin of all the ages, all the diabolical evil activity of the power of Satan operating through the ages, all the misery, suffering, wretchedness and everything else that Satan has done in the effort to defeat God's original purpose, at long last will fail, and God's purpose will be realised. "The earth shall be filled with the glory of God," which says that all this story of satanic activity has proven vain, been rendered nil; it has utterly failed and God has achieved His end.
The blood of Jesus Christ, the testimony of the blood, is the secret of God's triumph. That is the heart of the High Priestly work of the Lord Jesus. We are commanded to fix our faith upon the fact of His blood, and to rest in the fulness of His priestly work on our behalf.