7:11-19 The teaching about the Priesthood of Christ continues with reference to Melchizedek, however all mention of Melchizedek as an historical figure in Genesis is finished. The focus now is on Jesus, the Priest like Melchizedek Who has come as promised in Psalm 110.
7:11 Psalm 110:4 dominates the mind of the writer. He knows it speaks of a Priest of a different order, a Priest Who is coming. When God said He would send such a Priest there had to be a reason. Two different systems cannot coexist, so there must have been some failure or weakness in the other system, or no change would have been implemented. Hebrews links both priesthoods to the ordinance of God that established each one either temporarily or eternally. The priest and whatever God has spoken to authorize his role must stand or fall together. There are two orders of priesthood in the Bible, the Melchizedek order and the order of Aaron. The question now is which one accomplishes the purpose of bringing perfection. (Both orders are related to Christ, and both have a purpose. One points to Christ, and the other is Christ.)
Hebrews reasons very simply:
Both things are stated:
Re #1, there can be no sacrifices unless God has appointed priests to represent the people for whom they make their offerings for sin. Blood sacrifices were required by God’s law, but they depended on priests to offer them. Thus the priesthood is the basis of the ceremonial law functioning.
Re. #2, there can be no self-appointed priests, so they cannot assume their function unilaterally. The priests become priests on the basis of the law defining who may serve.
7:12 The association of priest and law was unbreakable. If the law is changed, the priests cannot serve; if the priesthood is changed the law must be also. Such change can be authorized only by God.
7:13,14 Hebrews is clear that Jesus
could never be a priest in the order of Aaron; He was from the wrong tribe for
this. He is a Priest in an order where genealogy is not a factor. That Jesus
was of the tribe of
Note to “serve at the altar” is an example of stating priesthood in terms of function. Being a priest and serving at the altar are different ways of saying the same thing. In our day, there is a tendency to deny, for good Biblical reasons, the office of a minister to women while at the same time, contrary to Scripture, allowing a woman to function as a teacher of men in the church (1 Timothy 2:11-15). We should maintain a unity of office and function. No one could serve at the altar unless he was a legitimate priest, and all priests served at the altar.
The usual way to refer to Christ as God in Hebrews is to use the word Son. Here it uses “Lord” as it does in 2:3 and in the closing benediction in 13:20. He is not merely a Priest of a better order from a different tribe, Jesus is the Lord Himself. The word descended is not used elsewhere in Greek to show family descent. That should make us wonder why it is used here. It is used in Numbers 24:17 for a rising star, and in Jeremiah 23:5 for a sprouting branch. Both of these OT texts refer to the coming Messiah. So in writing of Jesus Who must be a man to be our Priest, and a man to be the royal Son of David, Hebrews maintains that He is the Lord God.
7:15-17 Some things have been clear already. Hebrews has established that
Psalm 110 said Jesus would be a Priest forever. Now Hebrews will elaborate on this. Another Priest has appeared. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John make this clear. Hebrews joins the four Gospels in proclaiming His appearance. It expresses His resurrection not just as being a Priest forever, or as One Who is ever-living, but in terms of His confrontation with death and His victory over it. The inability of death to hold Him is affirmed in terms of the power of an indestructible life. He had authority to lay down His life and authority to take it up again (John 10:14-18). This makes more clear that He is indeed the fulfillment of Psalm 110. One might wonder before the resurrection, but all doubt should cease when He rose from the dead. He is a priest forever. Other priests could appeal to their ancestry, but Jesus could point to His resurrection. A very different Priest has appeared. To reject Him is to reject the power of His advocacy and mediation for sinners. No one can be more effective than a Priest Who is the Lord Himself interceding for His people in the power of an indestructible life.
7:18,19 This section (vv.11-19) begins and closes with a change in the law. If there is a different Priest, there must be a different law (v.12). Now v.19 uses stronger language; the commandment that priests must come from Aaron is set aside which means it has been annulled. The reason is that it is part of a system that is weak. Never does Hebrews say that God’s ordinance concerning Levitical priests was bad, while the new order with Christ is good. The old was God’s choice with a good purpose. The ineffectiveness is sometimes stated in terms of fault in the people, as in 8:8. No covenant can work if the covenant is crippled by the covenant-breaking weakness of sinners. (See 4:15 for general weakness; even the high priests were weak 5:2.) A priestly order that teaches truth about God and forgiveness is good. The other priests served a good function, but they and all they did could not accomplish God’s ultimate purpose of reconciliation and perfection.
The law as God’s Word is perfect; the law as a system of approach to God was useless. It is a great benefit to learn that there is no hope in anything or anyone than Christ. The ceremonies of the law gave hope of acceptance by God on the principle of a substitutionary death. That kind of hope was an indicator hope. The work of Christ is a facilitator hope; it has accomplished redemption. The law has been replaced by something better, the better Priest with His better ministry. This results in us having a better hope. In Christ God has acted to remedy our sin. When we know this and believe in Him and His offering, we possess a better hope. The gospel of Christ produces faith that is “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (11:1). Any hope induced by God’s Word, based on God’s action, performed by God’s Son is a sure hope. Thus the weak shadows of Israelite worship were replaced by a better hope.
7:20-22 The writer continues his preaching exposition of Psalm 110. He focuses here on the oath God made. Someone might suggest that Hebrews “reads into” the psalm more than it says, but the words about a) a priest after a different order, b) who sits at God’s right hand, c) who remains a priest forever, and d) that this person is appointed priest by God’s oath – all these elements are clearly present in this short psalm.
There was no divine oath in the law for the ordination or installation of the other priests. This omission makes clear that Christ has something they do not have. They were not called individually to their position. They had their priesthood from their genealogy, which does not make a statement of their character. An oath from God promising perpetual service to a priest who is both sinful and mortal would be dishonest. Would God pledge to them and swear by Himself that they may be priests only for a while? The ministry of Christ is not a slight improvement over the men of the tribe of Levi, it is a transcendent superiority.
Note three features from Psalm 110 re. the oath:
7:22 Hebrews draws implications from this oath. I think the reasoning goes like this: A priest represents people. If the priest cannot continue to represent them, whatever he advocates for them is uncertain. But if God receives the priest and accepts his offering, then those represented by the priest are granted whatever the priest pleads for them. (In our case, it is forgiveness of our sins.) If a priest continues forever, his ministry and plea are granted eternally. If God by oath commits to a certain priest’s ministry, He has thereby committed to all that that priest seeks from Him. Therefore God has made eternally certain to His people by His oath to Christ that Jesus’ sacrifice for us is eternally effective. Jesus is our surety and guarantor. We gain certainty from God’s oath, which verifies the reliability of the priesthood of Christ. We cannot face a situation where Jesus’ offering and obedience are inadequate due to some deficiency in Christ. The truth of Jesus’ perfection is asserted in 5:8,9. Psalm 110:4 declares that the Father is committed to Jesus’ priesthood and therefore to its success. And His priestly work was designed to save us! We should never view the work of Christ as a ministry that overcomes the reluctance of the Father to receive us, but as the provision of God to save us by Christ (John 3:16; Romans 3:25; 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; 1 John 4:9,10). Our salvation comes from the joint determination and love of the Father and the Son. It is identical in both Persons because Christ is the radiance of all of God’s glory (1:3) including the Father’s commitment to save.
Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant. The Greek word here for guarantor is found only once in the Bible. A covenant broken may be annulled, but a covenant with a faithful guarantor who will bear the consequence of our covenant braking, is a covenant that cannot be annulled. Note that the law that appoints priests may be annulled when its purpose has been attained, but the believer’s relationship with God cannot be broken by our sin since we have in Christ the ultimate Priest, Sin-Bearer and Guarantor of the covenant. We often use the word surety for guarantor. When a contract is signed, a surety is a co-signer. If the one in the contract defaults, the surety must pay the full amount. We are in covenant with God; perfect obedience is required of us but not found in us in this life. But we have Jesus as our surety, and only because of Him can we be saved.
When we read cryptic statements like guarantor of a better covenant, we see how Hebrews links complex themes together. This is the first mention of covenant in Hebrews, a subject to be developed in chapter 8. Covenants have two sides. In our case it is God and His people. The simple statement I will your God and you shall be my people (Leviticus 26:9-13) expands to include obligations, promises, warnings, and benefits. Often covenants include signs as well, as in the Lord’s Supper, where the cup is the blood of the new covenant (Luke 22:20).
God did not swear to us that Jesus is a priest forever. Our Priest has been appointed by God as the One He chose for this work. The oath is a promise to the Son. Psalm 2:8 further promises the nations to Christ as His inheritance. These personal commitments to Christ are connected. One promise is to the eternal nature of His priesthood (Psalm 110), and the other (Psalm 2) concerns the people He will acquire as His inheritance from the Father (John 6:37-39). Only by having a Savior Priest can wicked nations ever become Christ’s people, as is promised in Psalm 2. Thus we find covenantal commitment to the Son by the Father, a commitment to give Him the nations.
In light of this covenant between the Father and Son, it seems good to me to understand 13:20 this way:
God through the blood of Jesus, the guarantor of an eternal covenant (in contrast to a covenant that might be annulled!), the Father being satisfied with Jesus’ offering as our Priest, brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of all His sheep …
7:23-25 Levitical priests would serve
for all generations (Exodus 40:15;
Leviticus 25:13) with no other
tribe replacing them. This would continue till replaced by the Priest who would
never be replaced. Josephus said there were 83 high priests in
7:25 Coming to God The Bible often uses analogous language. When we come to God it is not physical movement. In different analogies it may refer to faith as eating and drinking, even using such language in John 6 of His body and blood! Coming to God is the opposite of going to idols. It indicates the object of their faith. But we cannot just come to God on our own. The text says we come though Christ. I am shocked at how many worship services I have been in, where the service begins with an assumption that we may just enter His Presence because we are Christians. Our access is always Christ, only Christ, and necessarily Christ, for in our sin we cannot and dare not approach God apart from our Mediator. The term “those who come to God through Him” is another way to describe believers. Since this is so, we discover that Christians are being described as those who approach to pray. The Holy Spirit works in us a desire to come to the Lord. The world is full of mosques, temples, shrines, and altars; we come to God through Christ. Nothing more is needed; nothing else is effective.
Further, all thought of any
group supposing they “come to God” while rejecting Jesus of Nazareth as His
Son, are seeking what God will never permit. Every supposition of worship that
is not through Christ is false and can receive only the contempt of God and His
eternal resistance. The people reading
Hebrews were tempted to approach God while rejecting the only Priest with
access to Him. They had to see the issue clearly; it was very inviting to
relieve the community pressure and return to the obsolete priests of
For the children of
Thus God’s ancient covenant
people were left without Jesus, the only Priest continuing to serve. In heaven,
7:26-28 What kind of Priest fits our situation as sinners? He must Himself be without sin. He must be able to solve our problem with God, since without Him we are guilty sinners unable to offer for our sins. And He must be of such a rank as to have full access to God to plead for us successfully. Christ is all of this for us; He meets our need completely.
In His character He qualifies to meet our need. These three words, “holy, blameless and pure” describe his moral purity. The first is not the regular Greek word for holy, but a word to describe covenantal faithfulness in the LXX, as in Psalm 132:9. The word for pure or undefiled was used to describe a high priest who, ceremonially clean, could approach the Presence of God.
The words indicating that Christ is separate from sinners, is often understood as a moral statement. It more likely means that Jesus is no longer here on earth in the presence of sinners, and where He went they cannot reach (John 8:21). It fits the later emphasis of Hebrews 8 & 9 that Jesus serves in the heavenly sanctuary, and it fits the following words that He is “exalted above the heavens.” That Christ has entered the Presence of God and remains there seated at the Father’s right hand, is a major theme of Hebrews. It is in this sense that He is separated now from sinners, among whom He once lived. (See Luke 5:30-32; 7:34 & 15:1.)
Jesus’ moral purity continues in that as sinless He did not need to do as the other priests had to do when they offered for their own sins. He is the kind of Savior we need.
High priests made special offerings once a year for their own sins. The Old Testament does not tell us they offered daily. But they did sin daily, and so they needed daily to offer for those sins whether they did so or not. The chief point here is that they offered frequently and Jesus offered only once. Once was enough; one perfect offering was fully appropriate to answer for our sin, because what He offered was Himself.
Sin against God is always committed by human beings using the only tool we have for anything we do, our bodies. God appropriately judges sin in our flesh, and to save us He provided the body of Christ as the proper offering (10:5-10). The sins committed with our bodies were judged in His. He offered His body. Jesus is at the same time the One Who made the offering and the offering He made. No other priest would dare offer his own blood to God, for he was a sinner. Such an offering would be rejected and the priest would die. Jesus offered His blood, and after a time long enough to make clear that He had died, He rose the third day in witness that His offering had been accepted.
7:28 The entire section is now reviewed. The law appoints men (note mere men) as priests even though they are morally weak. Purity of life was not a requirement, for if it were, there would have been no priests! Weak is a way of saying that they are sinners.
But in the case of the Lord Jesus, He was appointed not by a regulation as to ancestry, but the direct call of God coupled with an oath. His sinless life has been described already, but not only is His call to this ministry superior, He is not a mere man; He is the Son. In chapter 1 Hebrews made very clear that the Son is the Lord God. We could not have a better Priest. The one who goes to God to argue for us is God. Jesus not only died for us, He died to God to satisfy Him concerning our sin. We are saved by running to God to save us from God. The Priest’s own blood replies to God’s justice for us, asserting that our sin has been paid for (Isaiah 40:2).
7:28 The Perfection of the Ministry of the Son In 2:10 it was fitting that Christ should be made perfect through suffering. This theme is repeated in 5:7-10: Jesus learned obedience in the process of suffering; then as a result of this development He is said to be perfect and the author of salvation. Clearly, the calling of Christ to be a High Priest included all the human experience that could not happen just by appearing in the flesh. His temptation by Satan in the wilderness, for example, was an essential element in showing Him to be holy and undefiled. His perfection or completeness as a Priest necessitated offering Himself. In 7:26 His offering and exaltation are elements of perfection. In Hebrews the place where He now serves is extremely important. The perfected ministry of Christ is incomplete unless all is in place: becoming a man, living under the law, suffering sustained temptation from Satan, making His offering, rising from the dead as the Priest with an indestructible life, and finally His entrance into the Presence of God. There He remains ministering in the heavenly sanctuary. When all these elements are combined, then Hebrews says of Christ that He has been perfected forever. In 2:10 we learn of His suffering which contributes to His perfection. In 7:28, it asserts that He has been perfected. This is similar to 8:6, which uses the same tense to show that Jesus has attained and now possesses a superior ministry.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, it was not that He left us; He went where He did to meet our need. In heaven He represents us; there He intercedes for us, constantly applying the benefits He secured for us. His blood is the eternal answer for our sin, and the intercession based on it defends us from us all accusation, no matter how true.
We have not yet been perfected in holiness. God the Son never needed to be perfected in holiness, but as a human Priest, the Son had been appointed to serve on earth. Upon His ascension His ministry is finally perfected. It has reached its final stage. When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” He spoke of His offering, not His ministry. His entrance into heaven completes His series of accomplishments, and now His perfected ministry continues. Nothing needs to be added or repeated for Christ to be the effective Priest that He is. This is the kind of Priest we have (8:1). His access to and His welcome by the Father (telling Him to sit at His right hand) assure us that all He seeks for us from God will be realized. It is not possible for God to swear about Jesus’ priesthood and then reject His sacrifice or intercession for us. We have good reason to hold firmly to the Priest we confess (3:1), and the faith we profess (4:14).