The Priesthood of  Christ. Part 2 of 5

Heb. iv. 14-16.

Taken from: THE BIBLE TREASURY, Edited by William Kelly #3 (New Series), March, 1896


Plainly therefore it is for a delivered people that Christ is viewed as a merciful and faithful high priest—for the sanctified, for the children. “For verily he took not on him the nature of angels.” The real force is, “he doth not take up the cause of angels.” It has nothing to do with “nature” here, which was put in very inconsiderately. You may observe some words printed in italics, but others too are ill-rendered. The margin here-gives the sense much better—“He taketh not hold of angels;”’ that is, He does not espouse their cause, which is the true meaning. “But of the seed of Abraham he taketh hold. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest.”

It will be seen, then, how this clears the ground distinctly; for we learn that priesthood follows accomplished redemption, that it supposes the Lord Jesus Himself as He is now, not merely as He was before He came into the world (for He was not priest then), nor yet, when actually in the world, was He priest then either.. When He suffered on the cross, and left the world and went to heaven, He is saluted of God as priest then and there, and this for those who see Him while He is there. We see Jesus, as it is said, crowned with glory and honour. It is for such as see Him by faith. It is, then, an office and function He discharges in heaven for those that are separate from the world, severed unto God, that is, for the sanctified.

And here by the way let me express the hope that there is nobody here who mistakes the meaning of the word “sanctified.” The point in Heb. ii. is not at all the thought of a process going on, though I do not the least deny this to be true practically, as it is taught elsewhere. In the practical sense holiness is of course a gradual product of grace—a growth into Christ which always should be going on in the saint. But this passage, and others in Hebrews, look at the class so viewed in the abstract; and what made it also the more striking was, that it was no longer true, as such, of Israel. The Jews alas! had profanely refused as far as they could the Holy One of God. They had treated Him as a reprobate and an impostor. They had lost, therefore, their sanctification, and God treats them as profane. And the sanctified here are those who were separated out of Israel; here, I repeat emphatically, out of the Jews; for, as far as the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks, we could scarce prove by it that any Gentiles were being called now. From elsewhere we all know that there are, and the principles in the Epistle to the Hebrews apply to the Gentile believer just as truly as to the Jewish; but the Holy Ghost was tenderly dealing with these men of prejudice, whom He is now instructing in the way more perfectly, and thus leading out from old attachments to the best of blessings. There was solemn warning, but also the desire of love, in gracious consideration of such thoughts and feelings as might appear weak, and, no doubt, to a Gentile supremely so. A Gentile would have torn their prejudices to atoms, with rudeness perhaps, certainly without much scruple. But the Spirit of God dealt with the utmost care and gentleness, yet throughout with increasing plainness of speech, until at last the truth has been taught so fully that they are summoned to quit the camp for Christ outside, bearing His reproach. There is much to learn in this; and I am sure, my brethren, every one of us needs the lesson.

But still what I would recall your attention to is this, that the Lord now stands related as priest above to those who are separated to God in the confession of Christ, and separated from the people just as much as out of any other race, yea, pre-eminently here out of that people. For the apostle thus implies that those for whom He is acting were not according to the old sanctification of Israel, but sanctified out of that sanctification which no longer had any validity before God. All now turns on Jesus, the rejected Messiah. He was the sanctifier, as indeed He is God no less than man.

“He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one.” “He that sanctifieth” here means Jesus. “He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” It is not God as such, of course; Who does not, could not, call any one “ brother.” It is our Lord Who is the sanctifier; and the sanctified are those set apart in His name and by His blood.

Then comes the first allusion to Jesus as priest; we find it at the end of chap. ii. He is ,a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God,” but not exactly ,to make reconciliation.” I regret, on such an occasion, to be thus commenting on our common version; but the truth must be spoken where touched, and specially on such momentous and fundamental topics as these. It really means propitiation, not “reconciliation.” The great day of atonement is alluded to here, and the expiation of sins on it. Reconciliation is a much larger thought than atonement; and means the making good the whole state of the object of it with God. Therefore, although it is founded on propitiation, it goes farther; and so it takes in creation universally, as we see in Ephesians and Colossians—“all things,” not all men, though the blood was shed in view of all, to be testified in due time. Everybody can see for himself that there is no very just sense in saying “making reconciliation for sins.” People are reconciled; but can we say reconcile sins? or make reconciliation for them? Expiation or propitiation for sins is the exact force. This the word means.

And it is the more important and striking, as showing the confusion into which people have fallen, that in Romans v. 11, where “atonement’’ occurs in the English Bible, it ought to be “reconciliation”; while in Hebrews ii., where “reconciliation” occurs, it ought to be “atonement.” That is, our translators were unfortunately astray in the very points that the Spirit of God was teaching in both. I do not mention the fact as taking pleasure in detecting flaws of the kind, but simply to vindicate the truth of God, holding that it is of much more consequence for His word to be seen as it is, and for souls to be set right, than merely to keep up an unreal appearance in the version we have in our hands, though heartily admitting that providentially we have abundant reason to bless God for so good a translation. It has its faults, however; and these are two, which it is not well to explain away.

It is plain that up to chapter iii. we have the introduction; and, the atonement being brought in, we have hence not merely a priest but the high priest introduced. So in the day of atonement the high priest of Israel appears, and none other. There was a very peculiar action on the day of atonement; and it was the only one of the kind. Atonement was done once for the whole year. It thus set forth completeness (as we can now say, for ever), not a continuous process. The action of the priest or high priest otherwise might be going on all the year round; but not the atonement, which was distinct, unique, and absolutely settled for that circle of time. The high priest on this occasion represented the people, and offered that on which Jehovah's lot fell for the sins of the people, bringing its blood within the veil, and doing with that blood as he did with the bullock’s, and thus making atonement, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins. After he came out from the most holy place, he laid his hands upon the live goat, and confessed over it all their iniquities, and all their transgressions in all their sins, The whole was wound up by sending the goat (Azazel) into the wilderness, as the figure of sins thus borne away.

(To be continued D.V.)