Hebrews 7:11–22 . . .
“Jesus, Like Melchizedek”
After showing in last week's commentary that Melchizedek was superior to Abraham and Levi, the author springs from his mention of Levi to the inadequacy of the Levitical priesthood. He argues that, because the Levitical priesthood couldn't bring perfection, another priest was needed, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron. That change in priesthood (v. 11) would also require a change in Mosaic Law (v. 12), one that would prove conclusively that Christ was superior to the Levitical priesthood and that a new economy was in place. Christ is the ultimate priest because: God swore that he'd be a priest forever (v. 20); he lives forever (v. 21); and he'll always be there to intercede for us. (We'll see this next week in v. 25.)
The logic behind this requisite change in priesthood goes something like this: God wouldn't have revealed another priesthood (such as Melchizedek's) in Scripture (such as Psalm 110 shown below) if it wouldn't have benefited God’s covenant people. Scripture’s mention of a priesthood succeeding the Levites, implies the Levitical priesthood's imperfection or incompletion (v. 11), which obviously required an upgrade.
The Priesthood Must Change, So Must the Law (7:11–12)
The purpose of these next verses is to use God's own Word to show that he intended the priesthood of Melchizedek — not the priesthood of Aaron — to be mankind's ultimate salvation. According to what our author perceived, it was necessary to raise up another priest, in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron. Perfection would then come, which couldn't have possibly come through the inadequate Levitical priesthood that needed to be changed; it was also evident that the entire Law also had to be changed (v. 12).
Jesus Like Melchizedek
11If 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? 12For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also (7:11–12).
The main argument used here is that of God's promise to establish a priesthood "in the order of Melchizedek." The author set out to demonstrate that Lord Jesus is a superior high priest to Aaron and the entire Aaronic priesthood. If the Levitical priesthood had been effective and successful, being able to attain perfection, there wouldn't have been a need to replace it. Obviously, a new and superior priesthood was needed, which would be accompanied by changes to the Law.
It's important for us to understand what the author meant by the word "perfection." Pastor/teacher/elder Bob Deffinbaugh writes this about its usage: "'Perfection' does not refer to 'sinless perfection,' but rather to the fulfillment or accomplishment of a task or goal. Specifically, perfection would be reaching the goal of drawing men near to God. Nearness to God is the goal, and 'perfection' is reaching that goal. Our author is saying that the Levitical priesthood was not capable of bringing men near to God. . . but the law and the Levitical priesthood actually distanced men from God by placing boundaries between them and God. These boundaries, like the veil of the temple, would be removed by the work of Christ and the New Covenant."
Our author also asserted that there's be no perfection through the Levitical priesthood and the Law. Those priests wouldn't have been able to provide a perfect enjoyment of good things; they could only point people toward the right direction. As a result of such a limitation, a new and different priest needed to be raised up, One in the order of Melchizedek. Through such a great high priest, perfection would come to all who'd obey him. It was also asserted that, with the new and improved priesthood being changed, the Law must be changed. A new priesthood can only successfully exist and perform under a new regulation, with new management. It was the author's argument that perfect holiness and happiness could be manifested only by Christ in his covenant of grace, as documented in the gospel.
The New Priest from a Different Tribe (vv. 13–14)
Under Mosaic Law, all priests were members of the tribe of Levi. Today's passage, however, has been speaking of the Old Testament figure, Melchizedek, who wasn't from Levi's line. In fact, he predated the tribe of Eli and was given tithes and honors by Abraham (Genesis 14:14–24; Heb. 7:4–7). As such, Melchizedek was obviously a greater figure than Abraham; his priesthood was definitely greater than that of Levi or Aaron.
The Levitical priesthood and Law, which were unable to provide the perfection that people sought continually, needed to be abolished, governed, and administered by a new priest from a brand-new tribe. With such a change of priesthood ownership and administration, true believers could be made perfect, despite their sinful acts.
13He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe, Moses said nothing about priests (7:13–14).
For a new order of priest to be installed, he must come from a different tribe than Aaron, who'd descended from Levi. The Messiah came from the tribe of Judah, "and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar" in Israel. Because the Law's former regulation prescribed that high priests were selected on the basis of their genealogy, and must come from Aaron's tribe, it became obvious why a new law, regulation, or covenant was required. Clearly, too, Moses had said nothing about a priest coming from the tribe of Judah. So our new Great High Priest, "our Lord descended from Judah," brought with him this new covenant.
The Law of Moses didn't allow members of Judah's tribe to become priests; only descendants of Levi could become priests (Deuteronomy 18:1; Heb. 7:5). Judah was the king's tribe, after David (Gen. 49:10). For this reason, Israel experienced an irreconcilable split between the altar and the throne: No one was allowed to hold both offices at the same time. However, in Israel's early days, we know that Abraham encountered a man referred to being a priest and king: It was Melchizedek!
In vv. 13–14, the author demonstrated how Melchizedek foreshadowed Jesus' ministry. Without a doubt, God never intended for Levitical priests to become our ultimate salvation.
“The Power of an Indestructible Life” (vv. 15–17)
Change to the Levitical priesthood was needed. Its rules and regulations had been mandated by Moses. The following verses focus on the new covenant, drawing out parallels between Jesus and Melchizedek. Symbolic characteristics of Melchizedek, in particular, are useful in pointing out actual characteristics of Jesus Christ. The strongest of these, based on all prior arguments, is that Christ's priesthood is based on his receiving an eternal commission from God, not merely a position enabled by human ancestry.
15And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16one 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. 17For it is declared:
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek” (7:15–17).
The former law stated that the priesthood office should descend, upon the death of the father, to his eldest son. It's important to note that not one such descendant was immortal. But the new law that established Christ, the Great High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, provided "the basis of the power of an indestructible life." The life and immortality that Christ had been endowed with had come directly to him as a result of his right and title to the priesthood, not his parentage from former priests. Our Great High Priest holds his office because he has the inborn power and capacity of endless life for himself, enabling him to not only preserve himself perpetually, but to convey spiritual and eternal life to all who faithfully rely upon his sacrifice and intercession.
Melchizedek was "priest of God Most High" (Gen. 14:18), long before the Law of Moses. God promised to establish his priesthood forever (Psalm 110:4). The basis for Christ's priesthood isn't tied to his human heritage but to his "indestructible life" (v. 16), which comes from the Greek word akatalytou, meaning literally indissoluble, or unending. This was intended to prove that: (a) the Old Testament priesthood was an imperfect system while (b) Jesus and his new priesthood are the true means of man's salvation. Christ's priesthood is grounded in his "indestructible" eternal life.
Jesus Brings a Better Hope (vv. 18–19)
The next two verses maintain that there's a change in the efficacy of priesthood. Former regulations were weak and unprofitable since nothing could be made perfect; the new regulation would bring us a greater hope through which we approach God.
18The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19(for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God (7:18–19).
In both verses we get a general assessment regarding the then-current status of Mosaic Law, insomuch as it had been "set aside." That "set aside" phrase comes from the Greek transliteration athetesis, which means abolition, disannulling, putting away, rejection, cancellation. To learn why the law had been "set aside" or disannulled, v. 19 tells us "for the law made nothing perfect." It goes on to say "and a better hope is introduced." That better hope is Jesus Christ who has become our Great High Priest forever.
Clearly, the former Levitical priesthood was unable to bring things to perfection: It couldn't justify people's guilt, sanctify them from inward pollution, or cleanse worshipers' consciences from their sinful acts. And it was unable to draw man near to God. At best, it set boundaries that kept man from getting too close to God, otherwise dying as a result.
But Christ's priesthood introduced to the people a better hope, built on a true foundation of our hope towards God for his complete pardon that leads to our salvation; our new Great High Priest tends to work in us a stronger, more active hope in our acceptance of him. Through such newly introduced "better hope," we're warmly invited to get close and personally engage with Father God by entering and abiding into a covenant-union with him.
To summarize this creative argument (vv. 18–19), we need to appreciate the inability of the Law to establish a priestly ministry capable of guiding people to perfection (cf. 6:1). Melchizedek's newly established priesthood of "better hope" makes believers capable of paving a path toward a more certain future wherein God’s people can and will accept Christ's invitation to approach his throne of grace through his exalted priestly mediation.
Don't miss the critical point made next in vv. 20–22: According to David's Psalm 110:4, Levitical priests weren't selected with an oath as Jesus had been. Verse 22 succinctly says, "Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant."
Jesus, the Even Greater High Priest (vv. 20–22)
Our two closing verses document the truth and strength of this new regulation for priesthood; it was confirmed by the taking of a solemn oath that came directly from Father God. While priests were previously selected on the basis of their genealogy, it wasn't so with Lord Jesus. For God had sworn an oath to Jesus that made this new order of priesthood certain and changeless.
20And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:
“The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind:
‘You are a priest forever.’” [from Psalm 110:4]
22Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant (7:20–22).
We now clearly see the change in God’s way of regulating this new priesthood. He'd verbally sworn an oath to Christ, which he'd never done to anyone in the order of Aaron. God never gave Levitical priests an assurance of their continuance; he never engaged himself by oath or promise that theirs would be an everlasting priesthood. Therefore, there was never a reason for them to expect an everlasting priesthood. But Christ was made "a priest forever," as God had sworn by oath. God had thereby declared the excellency, efficacy, and eternity of Christ the Great High Priest.
If our Jesus wasn't a descendant of Aaron, what qualified him to become our Great High Priest? While he wasn't an Aaronic priest, he certainly was a priest after the order of Melchizedek. In v. 21, the quote from Psalm 110:4 (shown in the colored text-box above) is David's Messianic declaration that invokes the eternal existence of the priesthood of Melchizedek. It tells us what designates Jesus as being qualified to be our Great High Priest. Note: Because the Lord made this promise on oath he'll not revoke it! Also realize that what sets Jesus apart from all potential priests, and what distinguishes him as the Great High Priest, is that he's eternal (v. 16), as a result of his resurrection and ascension.
Based on the text of Psalm 110:4, Jesus is in his own priesthood; he's the Great High Priest of the order of Melchizedek. His new order of priesthood will have only one priest forever, the Lord Jesus Christ who lives forever. And it's evident (v. 22) that Christ has brought a most-significant change in the distribution of his new covenant-union with us. What the gospel of Christ bestows is more full, free, understandable, spiritual, and successful than that of the Law. "Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant," thereby uniting his divine and human nature while he assures us that we are one with him.
The word "guarantor" (Greek: egguos) means a surety, a sponsor. And the Greek word for "covenant" (diatheke) means a testament, a compact. The priesthood of Melchizedek was established by God himself with a covenant that was guaranteed by an oath sworn by the Lord. According to that oath, Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God's ultimate plan for our salvation, one that can accomplish everything that Old Testament Law couldn't. This was explicitly promised by God! In sum, the entire epistle of "Hebrews" was meant to reassure persecuted Christians that Christ — not the Old Testament Law that came from man — is God's ultimate resource for our salvation.
- Q. 1 Do you have "a better hope" now that Jesus is your Great High Priest?
- Q. 2 How important is it that Jesus has become "the guarantor of a better covenant"?
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— listen to chapter 7, narrated by Max McLean.