THE SUPERIORITY OF CHRIST’S PRIESTHOOD BRINGS NEW COVENANT ACCESS TO GOD
This passage represents a monumental transition in God’s dealings with mankind. Because of the intrinsic connection between the priesthood system and the corresponding covenant relationship, the emphasis on the superiority of the priesthood of Jesus Christ takes on even greater significance. We now enjoy a better hope which involves improved access to God through the permanent priesthood of Christ. All is guaranteed by the divine oath which established Jesus Christ as a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. This high priest is the all-sufficient Mediator who can best represent mankind because of His intimate relationship as the unique Son of the Father. His once-for-all sacrifice for sin shows the limitations and weakness of the old covenant. Why would any Jewish convert consider reverting back to the shadows and types of Judaism under the Mosaic law?
Mohler: This passage does not shock us like it should because we are so far removed from its original context. We need to understand what the writer is proclaiming in these verses. The author of Hebrews sets the superiority of Christ as our great high priest over the entire Levitical priesthood. He is proclaiming that Christ brings an end to the Levitical priesthood, the backbone of Jewish society and a major feature of God’s covenant with Israel.
Hewitt: The superiority of the former over the latter is brought out in a threefold manner: it introduced a better hope by means of which we can draw near to God (18, 19); it rested upon a divine oath, and no such oath is mentioned in connection with the Levitical priesthood (20-22); Christ’s Priesthood is unchangeable, for He ever liveth (23-25).
Richard Phillips: A covenant establishes the terms for a relationship; biblical covenants are established and administered by God to bring mankind into a specified relationship with him. When Christ came, he brought a new covenant – a new administration by which we relate to God. . . To fall from Christ back into Judaism, therefore, was not merely to regress into former ways, but to fall back into an administration that was no longer valid, having been fulfilled and replaced by the coming of Christ.
J. Ligon Duncan: remember that the theme here in Hebrews 7 is simply continuing to reinforce the theme that Jesus Christ is superior. You remember the temptation of some or many in this congregation is to think that they can relate to the Lord perhaps by going back to whatever form of Judaism they had professed and again approaching Him through the rich themes of the ceremonial law. And the author of Hebrews at every point wants to say, “You are underestimating the uniqueness and the sole sufficiency, the supremacy, the superiority of Jesus Christ in every aspect of His work as prophet, priest, and king.” In this passage, especially, he has zeroed in on that idea of Jesus as high priest, as the culmination of everything that had gone on before in the Old Testament and he is trying to bring that practically to bear to pull that congregation back away from trusting anything else than the One whose name they have already professed as their Lord and Savior.
3 ARGUMENTS FOR THE SUPERIORITY OF CHRIST’S PRIESTHOOD OVER THE LEVITICAL PRIESTHOOD
I. (:11-19) BECAUSE CHRIST’S PRIESTHOOD OFFERS A BETTER HOPE – BASED ON THE POWER OF AN INDESTRUCTIBLE LIFE
A. (:11-14) Christ’s Priesthood Moves Us Beyond the Law of Moses
1. (:11) Change in Priesthood Comes with the Order of Melchizedek
“Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron?”
R. Kent Hughes: “Perfection” = “to put someone in the position in which he can come, or stand, before God” – access to God and a right relationship to him.
J. Ligon Duncan: God never intended the Old Covenant priesthood to be permanent and to achieve the things that He did intend for the permanent priest of His Son to achieve.
2. (:12) Change in Priesthood Means a Change in God’s Dealings with Man
“For when the priesthood is changed,
of necessity there takes place a change of law also.”
Steven Cole: In this verse, the author shows the radical implication of a change in the priesthood: it necessarily also demands a change in the Law. Again, to understand this we must keep in mind that for a conscientious Jew, this was unthinkable! The Law of Moses was the bedrock of the Jewish religion and culture. How could you even talk about changing the Law? But the author is arguing that the Law and the Levitical priesthood were so closely linked that you could not change the priesthood without changing the Law.
3. (:13-14) Christ Descended from Judah – not Levi as Moses Prescribed
“For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests.”
Kent: The fact that Jesus descended from Judah and yet was called a priest by God is clear demonstration that a change has occurred in the law. The tribal connection of Christ is proof that the Mosaic legislation cannot be applicable if Christ is regarded as priest.
Mohler: The work of Christ in his threefold office – prophet, priest, and king – demonstrates a very different kind of perfection, one completely absent in the old covenant. No category for such a thing in the old covenant exists. In that covenant, different tribes performed the different societal responsibilities, and no tribe performed them eternally. Christ, on the other hand, performs all of these roles and does so singularly, continually, and eternally. The author of Hebrews demonstrates the newness of Christ’s work by showing that even Moses knew nothing about a priest from the tribe of Judah serving at the altar of God. The writer of Hebrews deliberately references Moses because Moses was the final authority in these types of deliberations.
R. Kent Hughes: This careful distancing of the Melchizedekian priesthood form the Levitical system, along with showing the new priest to be Messianic, was meant to be a warning to those in the beleaguered Jewish church to not turn back to Judaism and not mix Old Testament priestly ritual with their Christianity. This may not strike us with the force that it did them, because the age of the Law is ancient history to us. But it is still relevant to evangelicals increasingly lured by the un-Biblical promises of some present-day traditions. God’s Word sets the standard” “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men” (1 Timothy 2:5, 6). Perfection – access to God – comes only through Christ.
B. (:15-17) Christ’s Priesthood Based on the Power of an Indestructible Life
1. (:15) According to the Order of Melchizedek – In its Character
“And this is clearer still, if another priest arises
according to the likeness of Melchizedek,”
2. (:16) Authority for Christ’s Priesthood
a. Not Based on Requirements of Law of Moses
“who has become such not on the basis of a law
of physical requirement,”
Kent: The basic difference was the principle which established the priesthood. In the case of Aaron and his Levitical successors, the reference is to the Mosaic law (nomon) with its many requirements regarding physical matters. The term sarkines refers to that which is made of flesh. It has nothing to do with sinful characteristics. . . In the Levitical system, matters of physical ancestry, marriages, health, diet, and ceremonial performance were prominent. A man’s spiritual fitness was not a vital consideration as a priestly qualification. Examples of wicked priests in the Old Testament (sons of Eli) and in the New Testament (Annas, Caiaphas, Ananias) amply confirm this fact.
Christ, however, possesses His priesthood on a different principle. It was not dependent upon external laws, but upon the power inherent in His life. . . The very nature of His life is different. It is indestructible (akatalutou). Not only will it never end in death, but it is not capable of any sort of dissolution from within or without.
b. Based on the Power of an Indestructible Life
“but according to the power of an indestructible life.”
Powerful reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ
3. (:17) According to the Order of Melchizedek – In its Divine Testimony
“For it is witnessed of Him,
‘Thou art a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.’”
Richard Phillips: It was precisely this change of priesthood that David foretold when he wrote of the Messiah . . . Therefore, long before the coming of Christ, the old order was recognized as transitional, temporary, and insufficient.
C. (:18-19) Christ’s Priesthood Offers a Better Hope
1. (:18-19a) Setting Aside of the Law of Moses
“For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect),”
Mohler: The law, therefore, is not unprofitable in the sense that it has no use at all but in the sense that obeying it does not provide any ultimate, eternal rewards. The law is used to condemn, but it can never be used to save. For effecting salvation, the law is unprofitable.
R. Kent Hughes: Clearly, the Old Covenant had profound limitations as to making atonement, imparting life, clearing the conscience, and providing access.
Richard Phillips: An outward code, a system of rules, may point us in the right direction (and the moral law of God certainly does that). However, it offers no power, no change of heart, to motivate us along that change of course, and no impetus to move along the new azimuth. For this we need power, a new disposition or attitude, which the law cannot convey, but which comes only by the Holy Spirit as he is poured out on us by our heavenly high priest.
2. (:19b) Bringing in a Better Hope
“and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope,
through which we draw near to God.”
Hewitt: The great High Priest, who through the sacrifice of Himself dealt with the sin problem, is able, through His ascension, to bring all believers within the veil into God’s holy presence.
Richard Phillips: Paul describes this new hope as “freedom,” and the writer of Hebrews speaks of “drawing near to God.” This is our freedom as Christians – not to presume upon God’s grace through loose living or by flirting with sin, but the freedom to draw near to God by his Spirit. It is the freedom to fellowship with God himself, which was always the goal of the priesthood, but is accomplished only by the heavenly ministry of our great high priest, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit This is a much better way, a much better hope, than any Old Testament saint ever knew.
Deffinbaugh: the law and the Aaronic priesthood needed to be replaced because the law failed to draw men near to God, and the new priesthood would do so. The Old is inferior and inadequate; the new is better because it does perfect (draw men near to God).
II. (:20-25) BECAUSE CHRIST’S PRIESTHOOD IS PERMANENT – GUARANTEEING OF A BETTER COVENANT
A. (:20-21) Priesthood of Promise
“And inasmuch as it was not without an oath (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, ‘The Lord has sworn And will not change His mind, Thou art a priest forever’);”
B. (:22) Priesthood of Preeminence = a Better Covenant
“so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.”
F. F. Bruce: Jesus guarantees the perpetual fulfilment of the covenant which He mediates, on the manward side as well as on the Godward side. As the Son of God, He confirms God’s eternal covenant with people; as His people’s representative, He satisfies its terms with perfect acceptance in God’s sight.
Hewitt: The greatness of His Person, the sufficiency of His sacrifice, the authority behind His resurrection, the superiority of His priesthood and His ascension to the throne of God are a complete pledge of the validity of the better covenant.
C. (:23-25) Priesthood of Permanence
1. (:23) Levitical Priesthood Limited by Death
“And the former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers, because they were prevented by death from continuing,”
R. Kent Hughes: There is no unevenness in the quality of his priesthood, as there would be in a human succession of priests.
2. (:24) Christ Not Limited by Death
“but He, on the other hand, because He abides forever,
holds His priesthood permanently.”
3. (:25) Application: Priesthood of Christ is More Effective
“Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”
Richard Phillips: The first great issue in life [guilt] – the problem of sins we have committed – deals with the past. The second great issue of life [weakness] deals with the present and the future. It is the problem of our weakness and inward corruption. This is not just the outward reality of sin but the inward problem that is its source. . . The reason for the success of his salvation – his ability to deal with both our outward sins and our inward condition – is that he lives forever with power to save. Because he lives, he has a permanent priesthood, always interceding for his own, and thus he is able completely to save those who trust in him. The writer of Hebrews declares the total sufficiency of salvation in Christ by noting that the permanence of Jesus’ priestly ministry guarantees our relationship to God.
Steven Cole: Have you ever gotten a promotional letter that said in fine print, “Actual results may vary”? Or, “Amounts used in this letter are for illustration purposes only; actual earnings may be less”? Those statements greatly limit the promises of the offer!
But God promises that because Jesus is our superior high priest, salvation is guaranteed for all who draw near to God through Him. There is no fine print stating, “Sinner must clean up his life first.” It does not say, “Offer does not apply to really bad sinners.” Jesus promises, “The one who comes to Me, I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). He guarantees salvation for all eternity if you will come to Him!
Provides a transition to the final point of the passage in vv. 26-28
III. (:26-28) BECAUSE CHRIST’S PRIESTHOOD IS MORE EFFECTIVE – BASED ON HIS PERFECTION
A. (:26) More Effective Because of His Perfect, Sinless Character
1. Appropriate — Necessary to Have Such a High Priest
“For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest,”
Richard Phillips: As we conclude the seventh chapter of Hebrews, we come to one of several crescendos in this majestic epistle. “Crescendo” is a musical notation calling for a gradual increase in power until a climax is reached. In this chapter the writer of Hebrews has been building his argument up to the point of summation and integration that we find in the last three verses.
Hebrews 7 begins with Melchizedek as a type of Jesus Christ. Melchizedek shows us the excellency of Jesus – he is both king and priest, a bearer of righteousness and peace, and one who reigns and serves forever. . .
The exposition moves forward in verses 11-19 to show that Jesus is a better hope than that offered in the old covenant. When he appears as a new priest, he also brings a new and better administration of salvation. Possessing an indestructible life, he is able to give life, so that we might have a better and firmer hope.
Then in verses 20-25 the writer of Hebrews informs us of the implications of Jesus’ eternal and permanent priesthood. Because he lives forever, he is the guarantee of God’s covenant. . .
This is all wonderfully thorough Christology, but now we reach the climax, the summation of this exposition that is one of the high points of the entire epistle. . . Such a high priest meets our need. He is perfectly fitting for us, in terms of both his person and his work, perfectly suited for our predicament and perfectly able to save us to the uttermost.
2. Approved — No Defilement by Sin
Constable: In view of His superior ministry it is only fitting that our High Priest should be a superior Person. “Holy” (Gr. hosios) stresses blamelessness. (Another word translated “holy,” hagios, stresses separateness.) “Innocent” means without guile or malice. “Undefiled” looks at His absolute purity. “Separated from sinners” probably refers to His being in a different class from sinful people. [Note: Manson, pp116-17.] Jesus was not only inherently pure, but He remains pure in all His contacts with sinners.
d. “separated from sinners”
Kent: describing Christ’s permanent state throughout His incarnation (and continuing, of course, today). Though He entered true human life, He was always separated from sinners as far as contracting defilement was concerned. He mingled freely with publicans and sinners but never partook of their sin nor was ever honestly suspected of doing so.
e. “and exalted above the heavens;”
B. (:27) More Effective Because of His Perfect, Once-for-all Sacrifice
1. Limitation of the Sacrifices Offered Under the Levitical System
a. Daily Sacrifices Under the Levitical System
“who does not need daily, like those high priests,
to offer up sacrifices,”
Kent: [Problem of “daily” when the Day of Atonement which seems primarily to be in view was celebrated annually] The best explanation notes that the position of daily in the sentence is connected solely to Christ. It is He who does not have this daily need. The point is that every time the high priest interceded for his people (which in the Levitical system was yearly), he first had to make a sin offering for himself (see Lev. 16 for the Old Testament illustration). In the case of Christ, however, every time He intercedes for believers (which is not one day a year but every day, i.e., continually, always, 7:25), He has no such need.
Hewitt: The writer has simply blended together the yearly sacrifice of the high priest and the daily sacrifices of the priests. These subordinate priests were merely substitutes for the high priest who was head of all.
b. Personal Cleansing Needed for the Levitical Priests
“first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people,”
2. Perfection of the Once-for-all Sacrifice of the Sinless Priest Himself
“because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.”
C. (:28) More Effective Because of His Perfect Intercession as Son of God
1. Limited Intercession of the Levitical Priests
a. Limited by the Weakness of the Mosaic Law
“For the Law”
b. Limited by Multiple Succession of Mere Men
“appoints men as high priests”
c. Limited by Personal Weakness of the Priests
“who are weak,”
2. Unlimited Intercession of Christ as Priest
a. Unlimited by God’s Promise Which Superseded the Law
“but the word of the oath, which came after the Law,”
b. Unlimited by His Uniqueness as the Son of God
“appoints a Son,”
c. Unlimited by His Personal Perfection Which Endures Forever
“made perfect forever.”
Kent: The once-for-all nature of His sacrifice coupled with the personal qualifications of the priest Himself as God’s own Son make the eternal character of His priesthood a certainty, immeasurably superior to the Aaronic order.
Mohler: The old covenant was not an initial plan that failed. It succeeded gloriously. Its purpose was never to save; it was to demonstrate man’s need for a Savior. . . Christ fulfills the expectations in the old covenant by being for us the great high priest of the new and better covenant.