Verse 28. "For the law maketh men high priests" - The Jewish priests have need of these repeated offerings and sacrifices, because they are fallible, sinful men: but the word of the oath (still referring to Psa. cx. 4) which was since the law; for David, who mentions this, lived nearly 500 years after the giving of the law, and consequently that oath, constituting another priesthood, abrogates the law; and by this the SON is consecrated, teteleiwmenon, is perfected, for evermore. Being a high priest without blemish, immaculately holy, every way perfect, immortal, and eternal, HE is a priest eiv ton aiwna, to ETERNITY.
I. THERE are several respects in which the apostle shows the priesthood of Christ to be more excellent than that of the Jews, which priesthood was typified by that of Melchisedec.
1. Being after the order of Melchisedec, there was no need of a rigorous examination of his genealogy to show his right.
2. He has an eternal priesthood; whereas theirs was but temporal.
3. The other priests, as a token of the dignity of their office, and their state of dependence on God, received tithes from the people. Melchisedec, a priest and king, after whose order Christ comes, tithed Abraham, dedekatwke ton abraam, the father of the patriarchs; Jesus, infinitely greater than all, having an absolute and independent life, needs none. He is no man's debtor, but all receive out of his fullness.
4. He alone can bless the people, not by praying for their good merely, but by communicating the good which is necessary.
5. As another priesthood, different from that of Aaron, was promised, it necessarily implies that the Levitical priesthood was insufficient; the priesthood of Christ, being that promised, must be greater than that of Aaron.
6. That which God has appointed and consecrated with an oath, as to endure for ever, must be greater than that which he has appointed simply for a time: but the priesthood of Christ is thus appointed; therefore, &c.
7. All the Levitical priests were fallible and sinful men; but Christ was holy and undefiled.
8. The Levitical priests were only by their office distinguished from the rest of their brethren, being equally frail, mortal, and corruptible; but Jesus, our high priest, is higher than the heavens. The statements from which these differences are drawn are all laid down in this chapter.
II. As the word surety, egguov, in ver. 22, has been often abused, or used in an unscriptural and dangerous sense, it may not be amiss to inquire a little farther into its meaning. The Greek word egguov, from egguh, a pledge, is supposed to be so called from being lodged en guioiv, in the hands of the creditor. It is nearly of the same meaning with bail, and signifies an engagement made by C. with A. that B. shall fulfill certain conditions then and there specified, for which C. makes himself answerable; if, therefore, B. fails, C. becomes wholly responsible to A. In such suretiship it is never designed that C. shall pay any debt or fulfill any engagement that belongs to B.; but, if B. fail, then C. becomes responsible, because he had pledged himself for B. In this scheme A. is the person legally empowered to take the bail or pledge, B. the debtor, and C. the surety. The idea therefore of B. paying his own debt, is necessarily implied in taking the surety. Were it once to be supposed that the surety undertakes absolutely to pay the debt, his suretiship is at an end, and he becomes the debtor; and the real debtor is no longer bound. Thus the nature of the transaction becomes entirely changed, and we find nothing but debtor and creditor in the case. In this sense, therefore, the word egguov, which we translate surety, cannot be applied in the above case, for Christ never became surety that, if men did not fulfill the conditions of this better covenant, i.e. repent of sin, turn from it, believe on the Son of God, and having received grace walk as children of the light, and be faithful unto death, he would do all these things for them himself! This would be both absurd and impossible: and hence the gloss of some here is both absurd and dangerous, viz., "That Christ was the surety of the first covenant to pay the debt; of the second, to perform the duty." That it cannot have this meaning in the passage in question is sufficiently proved by Dr. Macknight; and instead of extending my own reasoning on the subject, I shall transcribe his note.
"The Greek commentators explain this word egguov very properly by mesithv, a mediator, which is its etymological meaning; for it comes from egguv, near, and signifies one who draws near, or who causes another to draw near. Now, as in this passage a comparison is stated between Jesus as a high priest, and the Levitical high priests; and as these were justly considered by the apostle as the mediators of the Sinaitic covenant, because through their mediation the Israelites worshipped God with sacrifices, and received from him, as their king, a political pardon, in consequence of the sacrifices offered by the high priest on the day of atonement; it is evident that the apostle in this passage calls Jesus the High Priest, or Mediator of the better covenant, because through his mediation, that is, through the sacrifice of himself which he offered to God, believers receive all the blessings of the better covenant. And as the apostle has said, ver. 19, that by the introduction of a better hope, eggizomen, we draw near to God; he in this verse very properly calls Jesus egguov, rather than mesithv, to denote the effect of his mediation. See ver. 25.
Our translators indeed, following the Vulgate and Beza, have rendered egguov by the word surety, a sense which it has, Ecclus. xxix. 16, and which naturally enough follows from its etymological meaning; for the person who becomes surety for the good behaviour of another, or for his performing something stipulated, brings that other near to the party to whom he gives the security; he reconciles the two. But in this sense the word egguov is not applicable to the Jewish high priests; for to be a proper surety, one must either have power to compel the party to perform that for which he has become his surety; or, in case of his not performing it, he must be able to perform it himself. This being the ease, will any one say that the Jewish high priests were sureties to God for the Israelites performing their part of the covenant of the law! Or to the people for God's performing his part of the covenant! As little is the appellation, surety of the new covenant, applicable to Jesus. For since the new covenant does not require perfect obedience, but only the obedience of faith; if the obedience of faith be not given by men themselves, it cannot be given by another in their room; unless we suppose that men can be saved without personal faith. I must therefore infer, that those who speak of Jesus as the surety of the new covenant, must hold that it requires perfect obedience; which, not being in the power of believers to give, Jesus has performed for them. But is not this to make the covenant of grace a covenant of works, contrary to the whole tenor of Scripture! For these reasons I think the Greek commentators have given the true meaning of the word eggnov, in this passage, when they explain it by mesithv, mediator." The chief difference lies here. The old covenant required perfect obedience from the very commencement of life; this is impossible, because man comes into the world depraved. The new covenant declares God's righteousness for the remission of sins that are past; and furnishes grace to enable all true believers to live up to all the requisitions of the moral law, as found in the gospels. But in this sense Christ cannot be called the surety, for the reasons given above; for he does not perform the obedience or faith in behalf of any man. It is the highest privilege of believers to love God with all their hearts, and to serve him with all their strength; and to remove their obligation to keep this moral law would be to deprive them of the highest happiness they can possibly have on this side heaven.