The writer had asked what every one of his readers would be thinking:
Now indeed, if perfection had been through the Levitical priesthood (for the [Jewish] people have received-the-Law on the basis of it) what further need would there have been that another priest should arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be named according to the order of Aaron?Hebrews 7:11 (DLNT)
It was a fair question, particularly against the backdrop of God’s severe judgement against any who dared try to offer unauthorized fire in the sanctuary, or those not of Aaron’s lineage trying to usurp the priesthood.
But the order of Melchizedek, that mysterious and prophetic personage from the very beginnings of their history, had now come to fulfillment.
Order of Melchizedek
Jesus’ priesthood is according to the order of Melchizedek, not Aaron, the brother of Moses.
- Yes, Aaron and those counted worthy among his descendants, had alone been designated by God to be the priests of Israel.
- Yes, the Levites—who alone demonstrated dramatic defense of God during the Golden Calf incident—had been proven pure in motive and worthy of their calling.
- Yes, God had protected that calling from every contender.
- And yes, Jesus had been born into the tribe of Judah, not Levi. (His cousin, John the Baptist was a Levite, but Jesus apparently was not.)
So, ordinarily, there was no chance Jesus could be both king and priest.
Change of Law
For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of law.Hebrews 7:12 (DLNT)
In fact, the only way Jesus could also be priest within the schema of Judaism would be either the Mosaic Law to be changed, or Jesus would have to be a priest after some other order than the Levitical.
God’s Law and the Levitical priesthood were a package deal—every one of God’s people sinned, and needed rescue from the consequences of sin—corruption and death. So, God had provided a system of priests and sacrifices that could be made as a substitute for the person themself.
But the Levitical priesthood with its sacrifices only provided temporary rescue. People keep on sinning and need continuous rescue.
If this system had been spiritually perfect, effective, if it had worked in a permanent way, then it would not have been necessary for God to send another priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Jesus’ Perfect Work
So, the writer continued, God knew a permanent rescue was necessary. It could come in only one way.
And it is still even-more very-clear if Another Priest arises in accordance with the likeness of Melchizedek, Who has become such not based-on the law of a fleshy commandment, but based on the power of an indestructible life!
For it is attested that “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” [Psalm 110:4].Hebrews 15-17 (DLNT)
Jesus, because He will never die, offers a better hope, a better priesthood that not only really can but actually will rescue people permanently so that every believer may draw near to God, and be with God as God is, because by Jesus’ work they have been made to be as Jesus Himself is.
Look at what love the Father has given to us, so that we may be called—and are—children of God. Because of this the world does not know us, for it did not know Him.
Beloved ones, [right] now we are children of God and it has not yet been made visible who we will be. We know that whenever He will be made visible we will be similar to Him, for we will perceive Him just He is.1 John 3:1-2 (my translation)
There is no contest between the temporary efficacy of the Aaronic priesthood and the permanent transformation rendered by Jesus in the role of priest according to Melchizedek.
For a setting-aside of the preceding commandment takes place because of its weakness and unprofitableness (for the Law perfected nothing)—and a bringing-in of a better hope through which we draw-near to God.Hebrews 7:18-19 (DLNT)
What Makes Christ’s Work Superior?
Remember, the writer’s audience was comprised of those who had grown up reverent in their Jewish faith, who loved and honored God, loved and honored God’s law, and deeply respected their ancient Levitical system. To depart from Torah would require an argument carefully constructed, truth by truth, principle by principle.
It had taken two chapters to establish the superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ, as fully God the Son, above every earthly and heavenly principality.
Now, the writer was establishing Jesus’ work as also superior, pre-eminent, far above any human priest’s work, even of Aaron himself.
And to the degree that it was not without an oath-swearing—
(for the ones have become priests without an oath-swearing, but the One with an oath-swearing, through the One saying to Him [in Psalm 110:4]: “The Lord swore and [God] will not change-[God’s]-mind, You are a priest forever”)
—to that degree also
Jesus has become the guarantee of a -better- covenant.
And the many have been [Levitical] priests because of their being prevented from continuing by death—but the One, because of His remaining forever, has a permanent priesthood. Hence also,
He is able to save -completely- the ones coming-to God through Him, always living so as to intercede for them.
For such a High Priest was indeed fitting for us—holy, innocent, undefiled, having been separated from sinners, and having become higher than the heavens—Who does not have the daily necessity (as indeed the high priests) to be offering sacrifices first for His own sins, then the sins of the people.
For He did this -once-for-all-, having offered Himself.
For the Law appoints men having weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath-swearing after the Law appoints a Son having been perfected forever.Hebrews 7:20-28 (DLNT)
What makes Christ’s work superior?
Answer: Its oath and its permanency.
What Makes the Levitical Priest’s Work Inferior?
- The Levitical priesthood was not established with an oath, but Jesus was appointed with an oath from God. This priesthood would last forever, God swore it.
- The Levitical priesthood offered only temporary atonement, but Jesus’s sacrifice is once-for-all, an atonement that will last all eternity.
- The Levitical priesthood was comprised of sinners, but Jesus is holy, innocent, undefiled. He is both the perfect offering and the perfect offeror.
- The Levitical priesthood could only atone for sin, But Jesusis able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede.
Think of Jesus’ prayer as a river of living water, continuously filling its banks. That river represents grace upon grace, righteousness upon righteousness, prayer upon prayer, it is as vast as the infinite eternal nature of God.
Jesus Saves Completely and Permanently
From time to time, in my rocky life, I wondered whether I had wandered so far away from God—in fact thrust God to the furthest limit I could push—that perhaps I had reached a point of no return. Perhaps my willful bent had lost me salvation itself. But, as I read these words I realize my rescue is none of my work at all, and it is not my work that keeps me saved, either.
This is not to diminish the vital importance of
- Confession and repentance,
- Receiving Christ’s cleansing and powerful forgiveness,
- Sanctification through living by faith in Christ’s righteousness,
- Praying and participating in the sacraments,
- Exercising the spiritual gifts God has bestowed upon me through God’s Holy Spirit,
- Growing in Christ’s character through actively living by faith, keeping in step with the Spirit.
Yet as vital, as crucial as these all are to the full-orbed understanding of salvation, what you and I must know is that when our lives are joined with Jesus, He is always living to intercede for us.
That is what Jesus is doing in this very moment, even as I write these words (and later you read them). Jesus is praying for you and for me, filling us with His righteousness and grace, that none of His own will be lost.