For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. 20 And inasmuch as it was not without an oath 21(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, ‘YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER’”);22 so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.23 The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, 24 but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. 25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them 26 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. 28 For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.
The topic of the “The Priesthood of Christ” is a very important and there is real power found in understanding what the priesthood of the Lord Jesus entails. The text in Hebrews 7:20-28 is a tremendous witness to that priesthood and a thorough study of this passage will receive many blessings. Even though what I am posting here is merely my notes on a talk I did at the assembly I attend, I hope that perhaps these few thoughts might benefit my readers in some way to perhaps ponder the things in this passage a little further.
The book of Hebrews was written as an exhortation to men and women who had come to know the Lord Jesus and hence Christianity and as a result departed and forsook their former religion; Judaism. Due to their departure, these early Christians were going through tremendous struggles and persecution on many fronts including being hunted by the Roman government who had outlawed it, attacked by their former religious leaders and also from family members. Their departure from Judaism came at a tremendous cost! Those religious figures from their former lives were insisting that they what they had left was what Jehovah had established. They were being pressured to return to this religion because in their minds they had left the truth of the blessing of God. The writer of Hebrews is penning this epistle to demonstrate that all that was given in Judaism by Jehovah was only a shadow of better things that came which were the realities behind these shadows.
In these texts, the writer compares the priesthood of Aaron and Levi to that of the priest they had come to know, the one from the order of Melchizedek, Jesus Christ. A priest was a man appointed by God to offer sacrifices, worship and prayer on behalf of God’s people. He was a representative or a middle-man between Jehovah and men. The writer argues that the priest that they had come to know was a far greater and more powerful priest than anything they could have known in the old.
In this section I would like to bring out an argument as to why this priest, the Lord Jesus, is a better priest than any of these priests. I also want to spend a few minutes as well to perhaps share the practical outlook of these verses since I believe that what is described in these verses is absolutely crucial to your faith in our day and age.
Why is Jesus Christ a better Priest?
The texts in vs. 20-28 are brought in here to explain what was said in vs. 17 & 21 or better yet the quote from Psalm 110:4. You see the argument from these believers family and their former religious leaders was this: God had ordained this Old Testament priesthood and the sacrifices that went along with it so in other words these things were legitimate and to leave these things was to leave the truths of God. The 2nd part of the argument they were facing was: How could God change His mind? How could they be sure that this priesthood was final and that the priesthood of Christ and the sacrifice would be the last? Psalm 110:4 is brought in to answer that question. How can we bank that this priesthood would not change? The answer is because the same God who ordained these other priesthoods, in the OT, gave a prophecy in Psalm 110:4 to say that one day it would change. This wasn’t new revelation! The reason it will never change is because His priesthood is “forever” as was quoted.
The first reason it won’t change and that it is forever is because it was established for the first time by an oath! The other priesthoods were never established in this way. What does this mean? It means that this priesthood was set up with a guarantee.
This is covenant language. In the Old Testament and even in non-inspired Hebrew literature, the swearing of an oath was one of the obligations to formally make a covenant with another individual. Both parties had to swear an oath taking full responsibility and obligation to carry out this agreement. It’s not like today where we sign our name on a contract and we can get ourselves out of it. To swear an oath was serious business to the point where the whole process that came with a covenant was sometimes just called “the oath”. (Luke 1:73)
The priesthood of the Aaronic and Levitical order were never sealed with a guarantee or an oath from God. God binds Himself to this priesthood with an oath which gives us assurance that this priesthood He is faithful to. This is the covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34. With this priest the people would “know” God, not just know about Him and in this covenant their sins will be forgiven and remembered no more. This better covenant has Christ Jesus accepting the legal obligations of it and the pledge or better yet the down payment for this covenant was sealed by HIM. He is the surety or guarantee of this better covenant! (Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; 12:24)
There is no repentance or God changing His mind since He has established this priesthood with a promise and nothing short of its fulfillment will happen. The oath is taken, He swore by Himself, the covenant is made and the God of faithfulness will not change His mind.
The writer now furthers the argument and stresses once again the contrast between the two priesthoods. This time focusing on the differences in numbers. You see the old priesthoods had “many” priests which meant there always needed to be a continuance much like the sacrifices offered but this new priest, the Son of God, is a better priest because holds His position forever. He is contrasting that which is weak and non-effective with that which is powerful and effectual. You see this priest with one sacrifice got the job done.
The succession of the Aaronic priesthood started with Aaron, then his son Eleazar, then his son phinehas until the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 which the great Jewish historian Josephus records that at that time in history, there had been a total of 83 high priests since the establishment of the priesthood. In a person’s lifetime they could have known several high priests and countless sacrifice. Christ however, because He continues forever, because as it said in v. 16, has an indestructible life, never ever changes because it is permanent.
The Ground Clause (V.25)
Now we hit the resulting clause! The consequences of His unceasing priesthood and the most important text in this entire chapter is found in verse 25. What is the implications of all this? Why is it so important that the priest be forever? Why is His priesthood better than all the other priests combined? Why would it be utter foolishness on their part to go back to their former religious ways? The answer is “Because He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by Him! The former priests no matter how many in number and with all the sacrifices they offered couldn’t save anyone “to the uttermost”. Jesus saves them completely, perfectly and most of all, He saves them forever! Why is the permanence of His priesthood so important? He always lives to make intercession for them! He continuously “intercedes” for them. The term “intercede” means that He continuously approaches God on our behalf! Paul understood this truth as well in Romans 8:33-34: “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. There are three ways we can look at this:
We have been granted access to God through Him and without Him there is no access to God. I enjoyed how one writer put it:
God is one great massive fire of holiness. He hates sin and cannot abide it. We are little ant-like cinders of sin and if we got within ten trillion miles of this God, we would be consumed… The problem that the bible was written to deal with is “I have no hope of drawing near to God without being consumed because I am a sinner”. Unless there is some kind of asbestos –like priest who can wrap me around with all that He is and take me into the center of this fire, there is no hope for me at all. (John Piper)
Secondly, not only does Christ save us at a particular point in time but, in a sense, He continues to save us because He continues to intercede on our behalf.
Thirdly, Christ Pleads or petitions on our behalf. We read in 9:24 that He has “appeared in the presence of God for us”. He not only presents our prayers to God the Father but I believe He also is in heaven praying for us as well! (entygchano- Acts 25:24; Romans 11:2) We catch a glimpse of this work of intercession in Luke 22:31-32 where the Lord says to Peter: Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; 32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail, and once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. We also see this in John 17 where He prays that the apostles and those who come through the apostles might be sustained
The priesthood of Christ far exceeds that of the Old Testament priests because of His very character. The character of this priest was exactly what we needed to fit our needs. As sinners Christ became the priest who was “fitting for us” because He was:
•· Holy- set apart and morally pure
•· Innocent- there could be no blame from the law attributed to Him
•· Undefiled- untouched by sin or evil
•· Separated from sinners- has no moral resemblance to sinners
•· Exalted- meaning
Unlike the other priests who were needing to be purified (Leviticus 16:6 21:11) to be able to function as priests due to their own sin, this priest had no need to be purified since He was perfectly pure. The offering of these priest was a repetitious ritual that could never finish or fully atone for the sins of God’s people. Christ on the other hand due to His fulfilling both priesthood and simultaneously the sacrifice itself finally put an end to sin and God’s people can draw near to Him in a way that is unprecedented. His priesthood is forever because His sacrifice is a onetime sacrifice that has made purification forever. He offered Himself once and for all and that it is unrepeatable. The authenticity of this priest is guaranteed to endure forever and these Christians were the beneficiaries of what was promised in Psalm 110:4.
The first thing to keep in mind while examining these verses is that we have assurance of drawing near to God. When someone asks how I know I possess eternal life and won’t lose it tomorrow if or when I sin, I point them to Hebrews 7:25. I have an intercessor who is Christ Jesus the Lord not a man. He keeps me and no man including myself does.
Secondly, there are people who are going through some tremendous trials with sin. We all go through this even though we are saved. Some are struggling with sin, others have a marriage that is hanging by a thread or are dealing with failing health or unruly children or conflicts at work, maybe they have come to the breaking point and wonder what tomorrow will bring. It is important to remember this: There is one in heaven, with God, who never leaves the sanctuary, He is always there making intercession for you! You see our prayers are tremendously important but to think of my priest in the heavens interceding for me, that makes me very humble.
The priesthood of Christ also teaches us how to be priests as well. We need to remember that our priestshood came with a price, we need to remember that we have a responsibility to intercede in prayer for others. This is a huge responsibility that too many don’t take seriously enough. We have a responsibility to bring people to God through the gospel of His Son.
The priesthood of Christ also teaches us how to be priests as well. We should always pray for others as our priest prays for us. Too many don’t take this responsibility seriously and it has weakened the power within the people of God. We can also learn that a priest, though not perfect as the Lord Jesus, should abide in Christ and seek holiness in his/her life. Finally, we should help people draw near to God through the gospel of His Son and sacrifice our lives to get that gospel to others.