The author of Hebrews has previously described the priesthood of Melchizedek. Now he goes on to describe the priesthood of Jesus as being of the same nature.
If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?Hebrews 7:11 NIV
The Levitical priests were those of the tribe of Levi who descended from Aaron, the first high priest. This was a priesthood that was established at Sinai as a part of God’s covenant between himself and Israel. The qualifications for serving as a priest and the activities of the priests were all codified into the law given at Sinai.
Perfection, as used here, could refer to sinlessness. The priests mediated between the people and God. Many of the sacrifices that were offered were in relationship to sin. But those sacrifices were never able to actually deal with the sinful nature of the people, or the priests. Under the Levitical priesthood, sinlessness was an unattainable goal.
But perfection could also refer to maturity. An object was perfected when it became all that it was intended to be. God created us for a special purpose. But that purpose was never going to be attained through the limited service that the Levitical priesthood was able to provide.
If perfection had been attainable under the Levitical priesthood, then there would have been no need for a new priesthood. One that was superior to the Levitical priesthood. A priest who was of the order of Melchizedek. A priest without beginning or end. Always serving. And offering a superior sacrifice for sin.
Changing the Law
For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.Hebrews 7:12-14 NIV
As the previous verse pointed out, the Law defined the qualifications for the priesthood. And one of those qualifications was that the priests came from the tribe of Levi, specifically the family of Aaron, the first high priest. There is no provision in the Law for a priest to come from any other family. In particular a priest from the tribe of Judah, which was the tribe Jesus came from.
So, in order for a new priest, after the order of Melchizedek, to be able to serve, the Law has to be changed. This law, given at Sinai, established the terms of the covenant. Changing the terms of the covenant results in a new covenant. And that is something the author of Hebrews will discuss in the next few chapters.
A New Priest
And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared:Hebrews 7:15-17 NIV
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”
The move from a priesthood centered around the family of Aaron to one like Melchizedek is more than just a matter of ancestry. To simply change to another ancestral family would have been straightforward. But there is a more significant change being made than just the family tree.
Moving from the Aaronic priesthood to the order of Melchizedek is also a change from a priesthood centered around mortal men to one based on an indestructible life. The Aaronic priests were frequently replaced because they grew old and died. A priest like Melchizedek does not die. And he is also ready to meet the needs of those he ministers to. The move is from a high priest who frequently changes, to one who is permanent.
A Better Hope
The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.Hebrews 7:18-19 NIV
The Law, and the priesthood associated with it, have been set aside and replaced with something much better. The problem with this ‘former regulation’ was that it never really made anything perfect. If it did, as the author will go on to say, there would have been no need to offer the same sacrifices endlessly, over and over again. The Law itself was good. But it was incapable of making the necessary changes in our lives.
And so, something better than the Law has been introduced. Something that will enable us to draw near to God. This better hope is based on Jesus, a high priest after the order of Melchizedek, and the new covenant he established by the shedding of his own blood. This will be discussed in much detail in the coming chapters.
A Better Covenant
And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:Hebrews 7:20-22 NIV
“The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind:
‘You are a priest forever.’”
Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.
The priests descended from Aaron became priests simply by birth. But that was not true of Jesus, a priest after the order of Melchizedek. God swore an oath concerning him. This oath was a guarantee concerning his priesthood and the nature of it. While other priests came and went, Jesus would not. His priesthood was eternal.
And because of the unchanging nature of his priesthood, the covenant he established was superior. Jesus would always be available to administer that covenant. As well as to ensure it says in force. The covenant that was established at Sinai, and the Law that went with it, as he has already pointed out, was weak. It never really changed anything. But Jesus and his covenant do.
A Permanent Priesthood
Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.Hebrews 7:23-25 NIV
Our author is elaborating here on what has come before. Priests from the order of Aaron died. They did not have a permanent office. And so they were able to make intercession for the people for only a limited time. And the salvation they offered was limited.
Jesus, on the other hand, lives forever and has an eternal priesthood. And so he is able to save completely. This likely is not referring to duration in time. More likely he is referring to the quality of being here. Because he has the absolutely greatest priesthood possible, he is able to save to the greatest extent possible. This is in contrast to the Aaronic priests who lived only a short time, and whose ability to make intercession for us was limited.
A Priest Who Meets Our Needs
Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.Hebrews 7:26-27 NIV
The comparison between the Levitical priests and Jesus’ priesthood continues here. Jesus is unlike the other priests who sin and have to offer sacrifices for their own sin before they can help others. Jesus, our high priest, is holy and blameless. And he is exalted above the heavens. He sits enthroned at the right hand of the Father in the place of honor.
He truly is able to meet our needs, having no need to sacrifice for his own sin. And he has offered for us the perfect sacrifice. He gave himself as a sin sacrifice for sinful humanity. And it was a one-time sacrifice that did not need to be offered over and over again. His sacrifice was sufficient to cover sins past, present, and future.
The Law and the Oath
For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.Hebrews 7:28 NIV
The law and the oath. The law, given through Moses, specified who could be high priests. These priests had all of the same failures as the people they ministered to. And their sacrifices and service were ineffective in providing the people with what they most needed. Right standing with God. Even though the law was given them by God, and was itself good, it could not give them a new heart.
But the oath, God’s declaration that Jesus was a priest after the order of Melchizedek, created something entirely different. Rather than a priest who was beset with the same problems as the rest of us, we had an eternal priest, the Son of God, who was holy and righteous. Rather than the sacrifice of an animal, which could not cleanse our sin, we had a priest offering the perfect sacrifice of himself.
And the Son has been made perfect forever. It would be easy to read this as implying that the Son was somehow imperfect at some time in the past. But that is not what is being said here. It is the Son’s high priesthood that has been made perfect, not the Son himself.
By taking on humanity, living a sinless life, and then offering himself as a sacrifice sufficient for the sins of the world, Jesus became our great high priest. He became the perfect high priest who truly meets our needs. The author of Hebrews uses this language of Jesus’ perfection in Hebrews 2:10 and Hebrews 5:8-9 as well. Through his suffering, he became the perfect, and eternal, high priest.
- Hebrews: An Introduction
- Hebrews: The Supremacy of Christ (1:1-4)
- Hebrews: Superior to the Angels (1:5-14)
- Hebrews: A Warning to Pay Attention (2:1-4)
- Hebrews: We See Jesus, Crowned with Glory (2:5-9)
- Hebrews: Made Perfect Through Suffering (2:10-13)
- Hebrews: Jesus Is Fully Human in Every Way (2:14-18)
- Hebrews: Jesus Is Greater Than Moses (3:1-6)
- Hebrews: Failure to Enter God’s Rest (3:7-19)
- Hebrews: Enter God’s Rest (4:1-11)
- Hebrews: the Active Word of God (4:12-13)
- Hebrews: Our Great High Priest (4:14-16)
- Hebrews: Obedience Learned Through Suffering (5:1-10)
- Hebrews: Move Beyond Elementary Teachings (5:11-6:3)
- Hebrews: A Most Explicit Warning (6:4-12)
- Hebrews: An Anchor of Hope for the Soul (6:13-20)
- Hebrews: The Priesthood of Melchizedek (7:1-10)
- Hebrews: A New Priesthood (7:11-28)
- Hebrews: We Do Have Such a High Priest (8:1-6)
- Hebrews: A New Covenant (8:7-13)
- Hebrews: Worship in the Tabernacle (9:1-10)
- Hebrews: The Blood of the New Covenant (9:11-15)
- Hebrews: Entering the Heavenly Sanctuary (9:16-28)
- Hebrews: One Sacrifice for All Time (10:1-18)
- Hebrews: Enter the Most Holy Place (10:19-39)
- Hebrews: The Role Call of Faith (11:1-31)