We need to read slowly to catch the fine points and distinctions. When Jesus ascended on high, the cry went forth, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Rev. 5:12). The Father highly commended Jesus and put His arm around him, as it were, saying, “This truly is my Son,” but in verse 6, Paul was speaking of an event yet future, namely, the recognition by the world and especially by natural Israel. Paul could have spoken bluntly, but he was purposely being tactful at the start of the letter.
Several years ago we suggested that this verse should read, “Thou madest him [man] little, lower than the angels.” When the holy angels witnessed the creation of man and how small he was, they sang for joy (Job 38:7). It is startling how the mind of God can filter through into the mind of these tiny beings so that they can worship Him. Hence we can be happy while the whole world dreads the future, not knowing what will happen. So many questions are answered for us through the Word, yet that Word has been the most published book in existence over the past 400 years or so.
Paul mentioned twice the fact that Moses was faithful in all his house. He was faithful “as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after.” His “testimony” of the Law is a shadow of “good things to come” (Heb. 10:1). Moreover, Moses personally was a type of Jesus. As he said to Israel, “The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken” (Deut 18:15; Acts 3:22).
This epistle is one of Paul’s last works, and his primary concern was for brethren to make their calling and election sure—something like the writings of the Apostle John. John especially emphasized the importance of getting everlasting life and how wonderful that would be. Paul, generally speaking throughout his ministry, kept the objective so high that he repeatedly emphasized the hope of the high calling, but now, toward the end of his Christian walk, he was becoming more reflective and philosophical and was trying to help the entire brotherhood.
Jesus was “made perfect” after he successfully passed the test of his earthly ministry. Not until he said, “It is finished,” did he seal his course and reward. Thus the word “perfect” sometimes indicates a form of completion, which is more than just maturity. The completion occurred when Jesus died on the Cross, and the approval came when God raised him out of death. Paul was saying that the forgiveness of sins was predicated not only on the death but also on the resurrection of Jesus. In other words, in connection with the forgiveness of sin and salvation, his resurrection was just as vital as his death on the Cross. Jesus did all he could, and then a silence followed while he was in the tomb.
Starting with chapter 2, this theme of guarding against letting the truth slip seems to be one of the burdens of the early portion of the Book of Hebrews, for a person’s retrieval becomes more and more difficult the longer the slippage takes place. Paul had just mentioned the basic doctrines of baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and age-lasting judgment, but he said that the Christian should go on and progress into deeper truths. Paul seems to be suggesting that those who are familiar with these doctrines and have consecrated, thus having “tasted” of these good things to come, have a great responsibility. Sometimes years pass before a departure takes place, but how dangerous it is!
“Without descent” means without record, without a recorded lineage. For Melchisedec to literally have “neither beginning of days, nor end of life,” he would have to be God Himself, for only His existence is “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psa. 90:2). Therefore, Melchisedec had to be a created being but without record of descent. Moreover, Melchisedec was not Jesus, for Jesus stated, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore” (Rev. 1:18). Clearly then, these phrases have to be taken in an idiomatic or somewhat symbolic sense. To try to make them literal would contradict at least one of these terms.
Had Jesus remained down here and not died on the Cross, he would have had nothing to offer to cover sin except in a typical fashion, and typical sacrifices, being ceremonial, did not have any real merit. But since Jesus had died on the Cross, been raised, and ascended to heaven as a High Priest, he now had his ransom sacrifice to offer, and that sacrifice, which did not have to be repeated, became the basis for real salvation.
Now Paul was going into sacrifices other than those on the Day of Atonement, even though that seemed to be foremost in his mind, generally speaking. “Carnal ordinances” were earthly ordinances. (“Carnal” is based on a Greek word meaning “flesh.”) Since these ordinances were ordained of God, they could in no way be sinful. We should not cast aspersions on the Law, for God instituted it. The Law was perfect, but we are not justified by the deeds of the Law. The Law was imposed on the Jews “until the time of reformation,” that is, until the change to the gospel dispensation, when Christ opened up a new and living way, bringing life and immortality to light. The old Tabernacle was supplanted by a new tabernacle, which, in reality, is spiritual. The three tabernacles, listed in chronological sequence, are (1) the archaic tabernacle, (2) the Mosaic Tabernacle, and (3) the antitypical (or spiritual) tabernacle.
The Christian is not thoroughly purged from sin in every respect, yet Paul reasoned that the typical Levitical sacrifices were much inferior to the atonement that Christ brought because if they really canceled sin, the worshippers back there would have had no further consciousness of sin. How do we explain this reasoning from the Christian perspective? The sacrifices were repeated in the type, whereas in the antitype, Jesus’ personal sacrifice was “once for all” (Heb. 10:10). The continuity of service back there was not efficacious, but Jesus’ sacrifice is ever efficacious, for those who use the robe of Christ’s righteousness to apply daily for forgiveness of sin are cleansed. Christians are assured from the Lord’s own Word that they get a purging, a cleansing, of their conscience. Thus the antitypical Day of Atonement sacrifice occurs only once; the bullock (Christ) died only once, finishing his course at Calvary, and the goat (the Church class) dies collectively only once over the period of the Gospel Age. When the Lord’s goat sacrifice is finished, it, too, will be “once for all.” Stated another way, the goat is a composite class, whereas the bullock represented just Jesus, the Head, personally. If we think of both offerings (the bull and the Lord’s goat) from a detached and finished standpoint, the Head will have been offered only once, and the body will have been offered only once. Because the one sacrifice of the Church has been stretched out over almost 2,000 years, the Christ class members have not been discerned and are described as a mystery: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).