It almost goes without saying that Hebrews is one of the most difficult books to interpret in the entire Bible. Its exposition of the superiority of Christ vis-à-vis the Mosaic Covenant and its Law, its troubling warning passages, its heavy reliance on familiarity with the sacrificial system and its meaning along with the book of Leviticus—all make the full comprehension of the book’s message significantly more challenging than some Biblical books. Gentile believers, who do not have the firsthand awareness of the Mosaic Law and its resultant culture, and who are unfamiliar with it as the only valid way to access the True God, may find the book’s lengthy and detailed discussion of things far removed from us to be off-putting. But in truth, the book’s ringing declaration of the utter sufficiency of Christ and the overturning of the Mosaic Covenant is the best news for Gentile believers, for both of those things mean we have access to the True God as Gentiles, not as a part of Israel. We have an equal standing with believing Jews in the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:11-22).
This week’s message took five points from Hebrews 7:11-22, anchors on which to hang God’s plan of redemptive history.
A. The Levitical Priesthood was Designed and Predicted to Expire (vv. 11-14)
The entire argument in verses 11-14 hinges on the first phrase in verse 11: “Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood.” The author assumes that (a) Some people assume that the Levitical priesthood could, in fact, make people right with God, but that (b) in reality, it couldn’t do so. Everything he says after this point assumes the insufficiency of the Mosaic Law and its priesthood order to accomplish what was most necessary in God’s program. The author has spent verses 1-10 using Melchizedek as a type of Christ, since the Lord Jesus’ priesthood is ordered after him, not Aaron (cf. 5:6, 6:20). He has, in a sense, assumed a new priest has already arisen. In these verses he backs up his argument and explains why this has happened.
If the Law could make people perfect, if the priests who served according to its dictates could by their sacrifices make people permanently right with God, then there would be no need for this new priesthood. The implication, then, is that the Old Covenant has been set aside because it could not do something God deemed ultimately and finally necessary—make people “perfect,” or righteous and complete in the eyes of a holy God (cf. Rom. 8:3-5). The author continues by saying since the priesthood has changed, there is now a new law in place too. The priesthood and the law which gives it authority are so tied together that for one to be set aside, the other must as well. The new law is the “the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21); the authoritative and binding instruction revealed by Jesus to His representatives, the apostles (Eph. 3:6; 1 Cor. 14:37; 2 Pet. 3:2; James 2:8, 12).
Hebrews is in many ways an exposition of one Old Testament chapter, and more specifically one verse in that chapter—Psalm 110:4. There, in the most frequently-quoted psalm in the New Testament, a delightful and sweeping prophecy of the person and work of the Lord Jesus is presented. He is portrayed as both priest and king, with present and future aspects to both of these ministries. Simply put, Psalm 110 shows that the One who reigns over God’s kingdom in fulfillment to promises given to King David (which, though they are partially fulfilled now in Jesus’ present reign, await complete fulfillment in His rule over the Millennial empire) is also the One who represents those people before God and God to those people. The ruling One who gives a new Law (and as God is the only One able to overturn prior law) is also the One who atones for our failures to obey it.
The author identifies Jesus’ lineage as kingly, from Judah (v. 14), saying priests do not come from that tribe (v. 13). Because Jesus is Davidic king, His priesthood had to come from another order, since God verbally commanded that only the sons of Aaron could function as priests (Num. 3:10, 38; 16:40). Zechariah prophesied the two offices would one day be united in one ruling priest (6:11-13).
What is the point of this passage? This: God never intended for the Levitical priesthood to abide permanently. God’s ultimate goal is for a renewed, restored humanity, fully capable in mind, will, and emotions of obeying Him wholeheartedly and extending His kingdom over a flourishing earth. The Levitical priesthood was good as far as it was intended to go (provide a picture of coming full redemption and make a temporary way for men and women to know God), but by God’s design did not go far enough. It was temporary, to be removed when the Reality to which it pointed had come (cf. Heb. 9:8-10).
B. It Would Expire Due to a Change in Credentials (vv. 15-17)
The author amplifies his point about the priesthood change with a second reason. The change is not only foreseeable because of the tribal difference, but because of the credentials of the priest. Not only is God “bypassing” the Levitical priesthood to replace it with something final and better in that it can accomplish what is finally necessary, but there is a completely new priest, of such caliber He renders all other priests unnecessary. Because of the strict genealogical requirement, OT priesthood was a lineage passed down from father to son. It was very truly a matter of heredity. An obvious reason is because these men all died; there had to be someone to step in when his father passed away. This necessitated an endless line of priests, offering untold numbers of sacrifices that could never fully or finally atone for sin, nor enable obedience. What insufficiency! What seeming futility! What restlessness of soul!
This is where the complementary nature of Scripture is so lovely, for other books make explicit what the author of Hebrews does not. His point is that no other priests are necessary because this One is qualified by “an indestructible life” (v. 16). This makes sense as far as it goes; after all, if new priests are needed because the old ones kept dying, then it would make sense that an undying priest would invalidate all others. But why does this priest never die? Why is His eternal life so satisfying to God? Perhaps Romans 4:25b says it best. Jesus was “raised because of our justification.” Jesus’ death satisfied the Father’s wrath against sin and sinners. His bodily resurrection indicated the Father accepted the sacrifice and was free to show mercy and grace to His people. Jesus then never needs to die again and the Father needs no other satisfaction for sin. No new priests are needed because the God-Man has come to offer the sufficient sacrifice, which alone has been acceptable to the Father as the complete sacrifice for sin (cf. Heb. 7:27, 9:12, 14, 10:1-14).
C. The Anticipated Transition between Priesthood Phases Requires an Abrupt Change (vv. 18-19)
Verse 18 begins with “for,” and the most recent antecedent is the comment in verse 17 about Jesus’ eternal Melchizedekian priesthood. Jesus is this eternal priest in this new order for two reasons (here is the heart of the argument in 11-22): First, the Old Covenant with its priesthood and the requirements for said priests has been overturned (v. 18), and second, the new Priest has brought in a better hope (v. 19). This is an abrupt and radical shift in God’s dealings with humanity. The explanations of two Greek terms in this passage are helpful. “Set aside” means to cancel or abrogate; “bringing in” here means to bring in in order to replace. The two terms together signify the complete annulment of the Mosaic Law and the replacement of it with the New Covenant and the New Testament revelation.
D. Our Better Hope is Permanent (vv.20-21)
“It” refers to the new priesthood and covenant under Christ. God did not install this new priest without an oath—His oath, swearing His commitment to the new priest’s administration, and that this new priest, with His perfect and all-sufficient self-sacrifice, will never be rescinded. Jesus received an oath from God the Father that He would indeed be a priest forever (v. 21) This One is now and always will be the only One who can mediate between God and men. This provides an unfathomable depth of assurance, for those who have accepted the mediation of this priest know they will never lose standing with God, for their Mediator’s work is more than enough. But it is a terrifying threat to those outside of Christ, for they have no recourse to avoid the coming wrath of a holy God.
E. The Change in Priesthood Ensures Our Eternal Security (v. 22)
“So much the more” means two things. First, it means “in addition to.” Not only is Jesus in His role forever by the oath of God Himself, but there is more. Second, is means “by reason of,” or “with the result that.” By reason of the inviolable oath of God installing Jesus as eternal priest, there is a particular effect. Jesus is the “guarantee of a better covenant” (v. 22). The NKJV translates “guarantee” a bit more literally, as “guarantor.” Jesus is not merely the guarantee of the covenant that both imputes righteousness (justification) and makes righteous (sanctification); He Himself pledges Himself to ensure this takes place. He stakes His worth, His power, His authority and His nature on the positional and practical righteousness of His people. If one fails to have His righteousness freely imputed by grace to their needy account, He will have failed. If one fails to in some degree manifest a changed life and a love for the Lord Jesus, He has failed. For these are the very things the new covenant provides. (Because this covenant is also promised to Israel, for that nation to not have a future in God’s plan is also for Him to have failed.)
Our holy God demands both positional and practical righteousness. He declares us righteous freely in justification and then makes us righteous in sanctification. His holy standard does not cease due to grace, nor due to our inability. Instead, God gives One so powerful, so glorious, so invested by Him with the authority to work the greatest miracle and rule over everything that these things cannot help but happen. God will be glorified in a redeemed people, and in Jesus Christ’s person and work this glory is fully revealed. Praise His holy Name!