Hebrews 7:18-8:2 – Jesus, Our Great High Priest – Part 3

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Last time we examined the Hebrews writer’s explanation of exactly what he meant when he quoted David from Psalm 110:4 saying that Jesus is “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” We thoroughly examined the meeting of Abram and Melchizedek in Genesis 14, and saw that through a series of focused arguments, the Hebrews writer made his case that Jesus and Melchizedek are one and the same person.

Jesus, Our Great High Priest – Part 3

The writer now turns his discussion to the subject of Jesus’ perfect and eternal priesthood itself, contrasting it with the imperfect priesthood of mortal human priests.

18For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, 19for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. 20And inasmuch as He was not made priest without an oath 21(for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him:
“The LORD has sworn
And will not relent,
You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek’ ” ), [Psalm 110:4]
22by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant.
23Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. 24But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. 25Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
26For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; 27who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. 28For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever.
1Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man. [Hebrews 7:18-8:2 – NKJV]

Recall from our previous study that the writer spoke in Hebrews 7:11-17 of the new priesthood of Jesus Christ, saying in Hebrews 7:12 that the establishment of this perfect priesthood also necessitated a change in the law. When we studied those verses, we were quick to point out Jesus’ proclamation that His coming was to fulfill the law, not to abolish it (Matthew 5:17). This is an important concept, because many Bible teachers assert that there is a distinction between the so-called “God of the Old Testament” (the judgmental One who spoke the Law to Moses), and the all-loving so-called “God of the New Testament” who came with His Love in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth, bringing salvation for all, and eschewing His former laws. Such teaching is obviously rooted in abject ignorance of what Jesus actually taught.

The Hebrews writer now continues in this same vein, but his point is somewhat subtle, so we must consider it carefully…

18For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, 19for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. [Hebrews 7:18-19 – NKJV]
What does the writer mean when he says there is “an annulling of the former commandment?” Is he implying that we no longer need to obey God’s commandments? I think the answer is both yes and no – that is, we do need to obey God’s commandments, but not in the futile hope that by doing so we might somehow earn our salvation. On the one hand, I think we are clearly called to obey God’s Law. Jesus clearly declared that He did not come to make the Law void…
17“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.[Matthew 5:17-20 – NKJV]
But does Jesus imply that we can be saved by our righteousness if we are righteous enough? At first glance, it might seem so by a cursory reading of this passage. But Jesus’ point is also subtle. Recall that the Pharisees of Jesus’ time prided themselves on strict adherence to the letter of the law, just as the ultra-orthodox Jews of today do. But Jesus says here that even the righteousness of the Pharisees wasn’t good enough for them (or us) to enter into His kingdom. Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees was that for all their pious observance of Jewish laws, traditions, and ceremonies, their hearts were nevertheless far from Him.
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. [Luke 11:42 – NKJV]
Furthermore, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, and even some legalists within the leadership of the modern Church further defile the Law of God by adding to it traditions and requirements of their own invention. Jesus spoke out against this as well.
1Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2“Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
3He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? 4For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 5But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— 6then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. 7Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:
8These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
9And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”[Matthew 15:1-9 – NKJV]
So I think it’s not how we follow God’s Law, but rather why we follow it that makes the difference. God’s Word makes very clear that it is purely God’s grace fulfilled by Jesus’ love for us in sacrificing Himself in our place on the cross that brings us salvation. Nevertheless, our salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone does not give us a license to sin. Paul made this crystal clear in his letter to the Romans.
5:20Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, 21so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
6:1What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. [Romans 5:20-6:4 – NKJV]
So what exactly is the Hebrews writer getting at here in Hebrews 7:18, then? Although the Law called us to walk in righteousness, history has proven that mankind is utterly incapable of following the Law even a little, much less following it so closely that our righteousness will exceed that of the Pharisees, and thus earn us our salvation. In fact, the Law was never given in the assumption or even the faintest hope that we would righteously walk in it. The Law was given first and foremost to convince us of our abject need of a Savior outside ourselves who would bring us salvation despite our weaknesses and disobedience. This is the point that the Hebrews writer is making in Hebrews 7:18 when he speaks of the Law’s weakness and unprofitability.
19Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.[Romans 3:19-20 – NKJV]
Thus, the “annulling” of the Law the Hebrews writer speaks of here in Hebrews 7:18 isn’t the wiping out of the letter of the Law, but rather the abolition of our desire to follow the letter of the Law in the hope of gaining salvation, replacing that vain practice with a true, heartfelt desire to fulfill the Spirit who gave us the Law for our benefit.
 
1There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. [Romans 8:1-4 – NKJV]

The writer now continues with his contrast of Jesus’ perfect priesthood with the imperfect Levitical priesthood of the Hebrews.

20And inasmuch as He was not made priest without an oath 21(for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him:
“The LORD has sworn
And will not relent,
You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek’ ” ), [Palm 110:4]
22by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant.[Hebrews 7:20-22 – NKJV]
We have already thoroughly studied the concept that Jesus is that same King and Priest of God Most High – Melchizedek – who appeared to Abram in Genesis 14, and the oath which God swore by Himself in Genesis 22, when He promised Abraham that in his “…seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed…,” is the same oath by which He made Jesus a priest forever, so there’s no need to rehash that discussion here. The “better covenant” the writer speaks of at the end of Hebrews 7:22 is, of course, the new covenant in Jesus’ blood that Jesus spoke of when He instituted the Lord’s Supper with His disciples on the night of His betrayal (Matthew. 26:20–30; Mark 14:17–26; Luke 22:14-23, John 13:21–30). The writer will have much more to say about this New Covenant in the next chapter, so we will defer detailed discussion of it until then.

The writer now contrasts the eternal and unchanging character of Jesus’ priesthood with the ephemeral, inconsistent priesthood of the mortal Levitical priests.
23Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. 24But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. 25Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.[Hebrews 7:23-25 – NKJV]
Starting with Cain – Adam’s firstborn son – the Bible is rife with stories about the degradation and ultimate failure of human institutions passed on by inheritance from father to son. So it was with the Levitical priesthood. Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, decided on their own that they would make an incense offering in a manner not commanded by God, and were killed for it, leaving their younger brother Eleazar to assume the high priesthood after Aaron (Leviticus 10 & Numbers 3). Later, during the time of the judges when Eli was high priest, although Eli himself was a righteous man, his sons were corrupt and cruel. Since Eli failed to get his sons into line, God cursed Eli and his entire family, wiping them all out in a single day and making Samuel judge and high priest in their place. Not all of the Levitical priests were bad ones, of course. Nevertheless, even the righteous Levitical priests were prevented by their own mortality from continuing their ministries, and as often as not, the righteous priests were succeeded by poor ones.
 
But, since Jesus overcame death once, for all, when He rose from the grave, His priesthood continues forever, and since Jesus is perfect in righteousness from everlasting to everlasting, His priesthood is also continually perfect. This is why Jesus is able to offer us perfect and complete everlasting salvation by His own sacrifice on the cross, whereas the Levitical priests at best could make only temporary atonement for sin through their animal sacrifices and ceremonies in accordance with the Law of Moses.
 
But while the ministries of the Levitical priest were ultimately incapable of providing lasting salvation from sin, Jesus provides total and everlasting salvation through the ministries of His perfect priesthood.

26For such a High Priest was fitting for us,who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; 27who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.28For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever.[Hebrews 7:26-28 – NKJV]
We find a strange turn of phrase in Hebrews 7:26. In translating the the Greek verb πρέπω prepō as “was fitting” the NKJV translators open the door to a possible implication that we are somehow deserving of the priesthood of Jesus. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The salvation we find in Christ is completely undeserved, and purely by the grace of our God just as David wrote…
8The LORD is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
9He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
10He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
11For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
12As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13As a father pities his children,
So the LORD pities those who fear Him.
14For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust. [Psalm 103:8-14 – NKJV]
So perhaps a better translation of Hebrews 7:26 might be like the CSB renders it.
For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.[Hebrews 7:26 – CSB]
The perfect atonement for our sins required a “Lamb without blemish” to sacrifice Himself in our place so that we might be redeemed out of death – the righteous judgement of God to which our sins condemned us. Only Jesus could have fulfilled that requirement, being “…holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.
 
By contrast, as the Hebrews writer points out once more in Hebrews 7:27, earthly priests are themselves sinful people, whose ministries must first make atonement for their own sins before they may be consecrated to offer sacrifices in atonement for the sins of their people.  Not so with Jesus. His work of atonement is complete and perfect. Having offered up His own life for us on the cross, He has now defeated sin and death once, for all, and forevermore! What the Law could not perfect in appointing the Levitical priesthood, the oath that God swore by Himself did by appointing Jesus our perfect “…Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

1Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man.[Hebrews 8:1-2 – NKJV]

The Hebrews writer will have much more to say about the heavenly sanctuary in an upcoming study, so we will defer a detailed comparison of the heavenly throne of God with the Hebrew tabernacle of meeting that modeled it until then. For now, let’s close with a prophecy of encouragement.

24“David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them. 25Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. 26Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore. 27My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 28The nations also will know that I, the LORD, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” ’ ” [Ezekiel 37:24-28 – NKJV]

Coming Up

Now that the writer has concluded his argument that Jesus is indeed our High “Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,” and having contrasted Jesus’ eternal, perfect priesthood with the flawed priesthood of mortal men, we will see next time that he now turns his attention to the New Covenant established by Jesus by the pouring out of His life blood for us on the cross.

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