Jesus is the superior high priest, . . . but How?
“the power of an indestructible life” Hebrews 7
The Son as Superior High Priest (7:1-28)
“Insufficiency of the Levitical Priesthood” (7:11-19)
The next two paragraphs (7:11-19 & 20-28) demonstrate the insufficiency of the Levitical priesthood & the superiority of the new priesthood. It is through Ps 110:4 that the author establishes Christ as the ‘one eternal priest’ who surpasses the Levitical priesthood. The difference in the two major sections of chapter seven is the shift from ‘proving’ the superiority (7:1-10) to the ‘demonstrating of’ the superiority of the Melchizedian priesthood (7:11-28) to that of the Levitical priesthood.
The author establishes this difference on three bases:
(1) Jesus’ appointment to high priest (Ps 110:4; “you are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek”) – This appointment ushered out the old regulations of worship (old covenant priests), that resulted in a ‘better hope’ that was brought in.
(2) Jesus’ establishment to his priesthood by an oath (Ps 110:4; “the Lord has sworn”) – This establishment demonstrates superiority to the old covenant and results in a ‘better covenant.’
(3) Jesus’ eternal enthronement – His enthronement demonstrates an office that is perpetual by nature (Ps 110:4; “you are a priest forever”) that results in ‘eternal help’ for those who draw near to God.
The explanation: A change in priesthood (v. 12):
A change of priesthood (from Aaronic to Melchizedekian) mandates (“of necessity”) a change of law. Just as the Aaronic priesthood is totally replaced by the Melchizedekian priesthood, so the Law that authorized the Aaronic priesthood is totally replaced by something new. You cannot change the priesthood without changing the Law. This change in Law is twofold:
(1) How are people now related to God? (sacrificially) – It is not through the sacrifices offered by the priests, rather now through the finished work of Christ on the cross.
(2) How are people now related to God? (genealogically) – It is not through the descent of Aaron, rather it is now through Christ of the tribe of Judah.
The differences in Jesus’ priesthood (vv. 13-17):
(1) He is not ‘like Aaron’ (vv. 13-14)
- This new priest lacks the legal qualification necessary to be a priest (“belongs to another tribe”) and (“our Lord descended from Judah”); His place of origin.
- Also, he was not attached to the service of the priesthood; that is, He never officiated with reference to the burnt offering (“from which no one has officiated at the altar”) and Moses’ Law said nothing concerning priests in relation to this tribe. Judah was not appointed to priestly service (“Moses spoke nothing concerning priests”). These statements make it perfectly clear (“For it is evident”) that there is historical verification for Christ as this ‘new priest.’
- The statements to come also verify that this one ‘new priest’ is Christ (“and this is clearer still” or ‘still more obvious’). In other words, the author takes this opportunity to intensify or emphasize the meaning of ‘the change in priesthood & law.’ He is “making clear that the whole Levitical system of approach to God is ineffective and that the law that regulated its priesthood has been superseded. In [the two preceding verses, 13-14] the writer points out the negative implication of the promised priest being ‘like Melchizedek’: he does not possess Levitical qualification. Then in vv. 15-17 he explains the positive significance of the new priest being ‘like Melchizedek’: he possesses a unique quality of life” (WBC, 183).
(2) He is ‘like Melchizedek’ (vv. 15-17)
- “another priest arises” – But how is He after the order of Melchizedek? In other words, what is it that makes this priest supersede the old system and the Law that served for so many years? He is not of a legal ordinance concerning his physical descent (“not after the law”). cf. v. 11 – which is ‘not after the order of Aaron.’
- But he is by the virtue of the power of an indestructible life (“but according to the power of an indestructible life”). cf. v. 11 – which is ‘after the order of Melchizedek.’ This “endless life” though Jesus’ human life had been exposed to death/destruction through the crucifixion, his life was not destroyed – and this is proven through his resurrection. This “endless life” is not only confirmed through the resurrection, but it also confirms that his priesthood is NOT limited by the temporal, transitory character of the old priesthood based on physical descent, for Christ overcame mortality & corruption.
- He possesses a life that can never be destroyed. He is (“a priest” & a priest “forever”).
The results of Jesus’ priesthood (vv. 18-19):
The Levitical priesthood and the Law [vv. 11-12] have been superseded by the new and ‘better hope’ based on the superior quality of the new priest [vv. 13-17].
- “For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment” – This was so because the Law proved to be ineffective in achieving its purpose, for it was “weakness and uselessness.” The ‘weakness’ was not in the purpose of the law, rather in the people (the priests) upon whom it depends for its accomplishment. AND
- “for the Law made nothing perfect” – The Law failed to bring people into a right relationship with God through the cleansing of the conscience or heart. Because the Law was ineffective, there came something to replace it; that is, “and on the other hand, there is a the bringing in of a better hope” – Jesus’ appointment as priest achieves God’s desired aim for relationship with his people. We have an assurance of a ‘quality of access to’ and ‘a relationship with’ God.
- “through which we draw near to God” – The better hope then is the ‘means by which’ we draw close to God. This is indispensable for receiving help in the time of stress or crisis (cf. 4:16). We have the certainty that we can draw close to God because of the effectiveness of the priesthood of Christ. Christians can now enjoy access to God without the constant necessity of removing the barrier of fleshly accumulated sin; AMEN. Jesus’ birth provided this; definitely something to be grateful for this coming Christmas season.
“Superiority of the New Priesthood” (7:20-28)
It was in the last section (7:11-19) that the author established the fact that the Levitical priesthood was insufficient for this reason; that is, it did not offer ‘perfection.’ – It did not make men acceptable before God; it only ‘covered sin’ but did not ‘cleanse sin.’
Due to this insufficiency, the Law was also insufficient for this reason; that is, the Law was ‘weakness & uselessness,’ – the people (the priests) upon whom it depends for its accomplishment was the issue. It is in this section (7:20-28) that the author demonstrates that Christ replaces the old Levitical system and is the ‘superior’ high priest. He is the ‘superior’ high priest as it is explained below.
The author further contrasts the priest ‘like Melchizedek’ with the old priesthood in a couple of aspects (7:20-25). After doing this, the author concludes his argument with aspects about Christ; therefore further providing the benefits we receive as a result of Christ’s position as superior priest (7:26-28).
The author begins with the basis for the first benefit (v. 20):
He makes the statement “not without an oath, he was made priest” – The author is using this negative answer to an implied question; that is, how was this new order of priesthood established? This is similar to the beginning of the preceding paragraph (‘why was there a need for a Melchizedekian priest?’ There was a need because the Levitical priesthood was insufficient & here he implies ‘how was this new order of priesthood established?’ It was established hrough God’s oath, not the Law). In other words, the author is continuing the contrast given earlier; that is, that Christ is the new high priest because of God’s oath, not the law that put Levitical priests in their place as priest (“for they indeed became priests without an oath”).
“The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind” – The oath is guaranteed by the reliability that God ‘will not change his mind,’ (cf. 6:13-18). Because God’s oath stands behind the appointment of Christ as priest, Jesus can guarantee that the goals announced in the New Covenant (NC) will be achieved. God’s oath stands behind the ‘guarantee,’ he supports his mission. He is the ‘guarantee’ of the arrangement God has established for those who approach him.
The benefits through the superior priest (vv. 21-25):
Assurance for effectiveness
“Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” – It is ‘better’ because it is effective & the approach to God is guaranteed (& we’ll learn later that it is ‘forever’ guaranteed). The ‘guarantee,’ or as the KJV states, ‘guarantor’ is a weightier responsibility than mediator. “The mediator steps into the gap between two parties, but the ‘guarantor’ stakes his person and his life on his word. Through his death, exaltation, and installation as heavenly priest, Jesus provides security that the new and better covenant will not be annulled” (WBC, 188). Our hope rests on secure terms! This hope was born of Mary, miraculously by the Holy Spirit.
Eternal & ultimate salvation
Eternal salvation: This is demonstrated by a contrast between the temporality of the one & the finality of the other. “The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing” – Many priests held this office (approx 83 between inception and cessation of temple worship in A.D. 70). The reason for so many priests is because they were prevented from continuing in office by the simple fact of death. BUT “Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently” – He is qualified to exercise this ministry because of his eternal nature. He will hold the office of ‘priest’ forever!
Ultimate salvation: This is demonstrated by the completeness & the finality of the one. “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him” – This is an implication of his priesthood; that is, He absolutely saves. He does so perfectly. He has a sustained interest in the welfare of his people. He does this “since He always lives to make intercession for them” – Jesus ‘continually lives’ effectively acting on behalf of his people; that is, it is unlimited. He is able to meet every need of the Christian. Jesus ‘continually intercedes’ approaching on their behalf; that is, praying for believers struggling with temptation. [think about context for book]
The exposition of the superior priest (vv. 26-28): This is where the author sums up his argument that really began back in 5:1.
Jesus’ character (v. 26)
“For it was fitting for us” – ‘was precisely appropriate to us.’ The description of the kind of high priest, who fits the circumstances of Christians & is able to meet their needs, is the one who proceeds from the cradle and then the cross!
“who is holy” – ‘devout,’ obedient relationship to the Father & it is demonstrated in his actions.
“innocent” – ‘pure,’ he was not touched by evil.
“undefiled” – pure
These qualities represent the Son even though he was completely involved in the life of common humanity (cf. 2:9-10). He was qualified by spiritual and moral perfection. He was “separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens” – The state of being separated; Jesus’ life among sinners ceased with his ascension. He has left the sphere characterized by testing, hostility, and suffering and has been exalted to the sphere of God. Jesus, therefore “enjoys direct, unhindered access to God, which enables him to fulfill his high priestly ministry on behalf of his people. Although Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand of God removes him in a spatial sense from his Church, it by no means implies a remoteness from his brothers and sisters or a lack of involvement in their struggles” (WBC, 193).] Remember, unlike the priests who offered sacrifices for themselves & the people; here Christ offered the sacrifice of himself on behalf of people!
Jesus’ achievement (v. 27)
“who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices” – This unique priest put an end to the whole system of Levitical sacrifices. He was the sinless priest! Jesus Christ “did it once for all when he offered up himself” – Definitiveness & uniqueness & completeness; his offering was unblemished. The Levitical priests however were incomplete & ineffective (5:2, ‘beset with weakness’).
Jesus’ status as high priest (v. 28)
Three contrasting elements conclude the author’s argument and demonstrate Jesus as high priest. (1) “For the law appoints . . . the word of the oath” – The law was ineffective in establishing a priesthood that could attain God’s intended goal; that is, an acceptable relationship with God; (2) “men . . . the Son” – Priests were men who were prevented by death from remaining in office; Jesus’ priesthood however emphasizes the permanency. He is a priest forever! and (3) “who are weak . . . made perfect forever” – The priests were subject to sin & imperfection; Jesus was sinless. He is the guarantor of a relationship to God because of the quality of his life through obedience, the swearing of an oath, and the unblemished sacrifice.
“The ‘perfecting’ of his life refers to the whole process by which Jesus was personally prepared & vocationally qualified for his continuing ministry in the presence of God” (WBC, 196). Jesus is not just the baby in a manger; rather He is YOUR help in the time of need for He continually lives to make intercession on your behalf.