Speaking of Melchizedek (Part 6) Hebrews 7:23-28

POST OVERVIEW. This sixth and final post in our series on Melchizedek from Hebrews 7 explains why Jesus is superior to any Levitical high priest who served under the first covenant established at Sinai. (See post #574, #575, #576, #577, and #580 for previous posts in this series.)

The objective of this series of posts is to explore and interpret Hebrews 7, which is devoted almost exclusively to a discussion about how Melchizedek relates to Jesus Christ. This sixth post concludes the author’s arguments about how our High Priest, Jesus, is far superior to any old covenant Levitical priest and is therefore a fitting high priest for the new covenant that He has ushered in.

REVIEW OF PREVIOUS POSTS

As we have seen in the previous posts, the author has been comparing the Levitical priesthood established under the Law with the priesthood of Melchizedek established in eternity past (Psalm 110:4). The Levitical priesthood has been shown to be weak and inferior at every point, not only by comparison with the priesthood of Melchizedek, but in many cases weak in absolute terms.

Melchizedek himself, the king of righteousness and king of peace, was greater than Abraham and so was greater than Levi, the head of the entire priestly tribe (7:1-10). The Levitical priesthood was always temporary and was always going to be replaced by the permanent priesthood of Melchizedek (7:11-12). Jesus is a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek based on an oath from the LORD (YHWH), while the old covenant priests were of the order of Aaron based on the Law’s commandment of physical descent (7:13-22). The Levitical priests were appointed by a commandment of the Law, but Jesus was appointed a priest forever according to an oath from God and so brings in a better hope as the guarantee of a better covenant (7:17-22).

Now, in 7:23-28, the author will make his final points of comparison and draw this portion of his argument to a conclusion. (As we have said before, have your Bible open beside you as you read these comments.)

THE CONCLUDING COMPARISON

7:23. Again we see the weakness of the Levitical priests highlighted because the former priests of the first covenant, died. This is a weakness so obvious that it might go unnoticed. These priests were mortal and were therefore “prevented by death from continuing.” Thus the Levitical priests were appointed by a commandment in the Law, their ministry did not accomplish anything “for the Law made nothing perfect” (7:19), and they were subject to death. This is on the one hand.

7:24. But on the other hand, Jesus is “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (7:17, 21). Therefore, Jesus “holds His priesthood permanently.” This High Priest was appointed by divine oath, has brought in a better hope as the guarantee of a better covenant, and continues as a priest permanently.

7:25. “Therefore, Jesus is able to save forever (save to the uttermost (ESV); save completely; save at all times) those who draw near to God through Him.” Unlike the Levitical priests, Jesus is a High Priest who is able to save. If you draw near to God in the name of Jesus, you will find Him to be a High Priest mighty to save. And Jesus is able to save forever and to the uttermost. In the original Greek, this phrase is “εἰς τὸ παντελὲς,” which means both “to the farthest extent” and “for all time.” The author is expressing both the physical and the temporal completeness of the salvation that Jesus brings to all those who draw near to God through Him. As our High Priest, Jesus always lives to make intercession for us. If we will embrace Jesus fully and unreservedly trust Him, then He will save us to the uttermost.

7:26. Our High Priest, the Lord Jesus, is holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. That is, the High Priest of the new covenant is completely different from the old covenant priests.

So first, Jesus is holy. We are counted as holy by imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us, but Jesus is essentially and eternally holy. He has always been and always will be holy, because His is a divine holiness.

Our High Priest is innocent, meaning that there is no evil in Him or associated with Him. In Psalm 92:15, the psalmist declares, “There is no unrighteousness (evil) in Him (YHWH).” Thus Jesus is incapable of evil or malice or harm. In His earthly ministry, Jesus “took our infirmities and carried away our diseases” (Matt. 8:17). Jesus healed multitudes, yet He never harmed any.

The Son of God is undefiled. In His incarnation, Jesus spent more than thirty years among sinners and at least once spent time being tempted by Satan, the father of lies (Matt. 4; Luke 4), yet He remained pure and utterly unstained by sin. The old covenant priests were tainted by Adam’s sin at birth (Romans 5:12) and increased in defilement as they progressed through life, but Jesus died on the cross as our once-for-all-time, undefiled, perfect sacrifice.

Jesus was separated from sinners. It is obvious that this quality does not refer to a physical isolation from sinners, for Jesus was among sinners His entire life. He was “separated from sinners” in the sense that He was completely unlike them. Jesus entered the world as one of a kind. He was the God-Man, the second Adam, the unique, only begotten “un-sinner.” Every other person who ever lives on this planet (including that Levitical priests) is in the group called “sinners,” but Jesus is in a separate group as the One who never sinned.

Finally, Jesus is exalted above the heavens. Our High Priest has perfectly completed His priestly work of atonement (John 17:4; 19:30) and so He has been “exalted above the heavens.” He is now the victorious Lamb, once again the theme of all heaven’s praises (Revelation 5:6ff). Having humbled Himself to death on a cross (Phil. 2:8), God has now highly exalted Him (2:9). “When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3) where He now awaits the time when all His enemies will be a footstool for His feet (Psalm 110:1).

7:27. Even in the nature and the efficacy of His sacrifice, our Lord is far superior to the Levitical priests. For, because of the weakness and uselessness (7:18) of their sacrifices, those priests offered up sacrifices daily, morning and evening, year in and year out, the same sacrifices that could never take away sins (Hebrews 10:11). And not only did the Law require that these daily sacrifices be offered, but the priest had to offer sacrifice first for his own sins, then for the sins of the people. But Jesus, being sinless, had no need to offer sacrifice for His own sins, but instead He offered one perfect sacrifice for all time for all the sins of His people.

7:28. The author concludes this chapter by driving home his main point: Everything about the old covenant priests appointed under the Law revealed them to be weak and temporary, but the word of God’s oath, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,” appoints as high priest the Son of God, who is made perfect forever.

CONCLUSION

Throughout the letter of Hebrews, the author has been demonstrating the superiority of Jesus and of the new covenant which He has ushered in. Jesus is superior to any and all angels (chapters 1-2). He is superior to Moses (3:1-6). True belief in Jesus will allow you to enter into the Lord’s rest (3:7-4:16). Jesus is a perfect priest according to the order of Melchizedek- Part 1 (5:1-10). Now in chapter 7, we have seen that Jesus is in every way a superior high priest to the priests of the Levitical order.

SDG                 rmb                 11/2/2022                   #584

Speaking of Melchizedek (Part 5) Hebrews 7:18-22

POST OVERVIEW. This fifth post in our series on Melchizedek from Hebrews 7 explores why the priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to the Levitical priesthood established by the first covenant at Sinai. (See post #574, #575, #576 and #577 for previous posts in this series.)

The objective of this series of posts is to explore and interpret Hebrews 7, which is devoted almost exclusively to a discussion about how Melchizedek relates to Jesus Christ. Our fifth post will continue to follow the author’s argument about how our High Priest, Jesus, is far superior to any old covenant priest and how the priesthood of Melchizedek is far better than the weak Levitical priesthood created by the Law.

REVIEW

In post #577 covering Hebrews 7:12-17, we concluded by saying that “the author has (in these verses) shown how Christ is far greater than any of the Levitical priests, for Jesus was not of the dying, sin-stained Levitical priests appointed to fulfill a commandment of the Law. Rather, He was a sinless Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek who was appointed by an oath from the LORD.”

THE AUTHOR’S POINT IN THE CHAPTER

It is true that it is difficult to follow the flow of the author’s argument in these verses, but the meaning will be revealed with persistence and diligence.

So, before we tackle these verses (7:18-22), we should begin by taking a step back from the details of the text and reminding ourselves of the author’s main point in the chapter. As he proved that Jesus is greater than angels (chapters 1-2), and as he proved that Jesus is greater than Moses (chapter 3:1-6), so here the author is demonstrating that Jesus is a greater High Priest than any priest of the Levitical order. Keeping that in mind will tend to keep us from wandering too far off the exegetical trail.

7:18. Before we again look at the details of these verses, some preliminary work is necessary. Here is Hebrews 7:18 (NAS):

18 For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness

A “former commandment” has been set aside because it was weak and useless. But the question is, “What is this ‘former commandment’?” As we scan back in the preceding verses of the chapter, we see no reference to “commandment.” What is going on here?

The solution involves a translational decision in 7:16. Where the NAS has “law of a physical requirement,” the literal Greek reads “law of a fleshly commandment.” The Greek word for “commandment” in 7:16 is the same Greek word for “commandment” in 7:18. Thus, the readers of the original Greek text would have seen the connection between 7:16 and 7:18. Therefore, the “former commandment” of 7:18 refers to the “fleshly commandment” of 7:16. The “commandment” here should be understood not as a single instruction in the Law, but rather as the entire temporary, weak Levitical priesthood and all its ceremonial laws, including the law of appointing mortal, sin-stained priests solely on the basis of physical descent.

Our exegetical work so far has yielded something like this: “For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of the old-covenant Levitical priesthood . . .” “Setting aside” is probably too weak a translation for the Greek word in the original. More to the author’s point would be “the cancellation.” Thus, “on the one hand, there is a cancellation of the old-covenant Levitical priesthood . . .”

But why was the Levitical priesthood cancelled; abolished? It was cancelled “because of its weakness and uselessness.” We have already seen the weakness of the Law’s priestly system, in that the priests were all subject to death and they were all sinners like the rest of the people. The sacrifices had to be repeated day after day and year after year because the Levitical sacrifices could only cover some unintentional sins but could not remove any. The priesthood was useless because it was unable to help men draw near to God and it was unable to bring about the justification of sinners before God. Thus, the priesthood failed at both of its chief functions.

“For, on the one hand, there is a cancellation of the old-covenant Levitical priesthood because of its weakness and uselessness”

7:19. After acknowledging what we have already shown in our exegesis, that “the Law made nothing perfect,” the author concisely states how Christ and His priesthood of Melchizedek surpass the useless Levitical priesthood. [NOTE. The word “perfect” in this verse does not convey the idea “sinless” or “without a single flaw,” as much as it means “complete” or “in its ultimate stage of development.”]

“On the other hand . . .” signals the complement to the “on the one hand” in 7:18. The Levitical priesthood has been cancelled because it was weak and useless, but Christ and His priesthood have been brought in (“there is a bringing in”). The idea is of replacement. The priesthood of Melchizedek with Christ as its great High Priest has replaced the temporary, weak, and useless priesthood of the Law.

And what do we know about this Priest according to the order of Melchizedek? We know that Christ brings in “a better hope.” He is a Priest who is able to remove sin and to provide forgiveness for any sin because He lives forever to make intercession for His people and because He has made His one all-sufficient sacrifice to atone for sin. Our Priest offers us a better hope for He has guaranteed our entrance into the heavenly dwellings.

But also, through Christ our High Priest we can draw near to God. Whereas the Levitical priests were unable to draw us near to the throne of grace because they, like us, were also sinners, through Christ the sinless one we can draw near to the Majesty on high.

So, Christ accomplishes for us all that the Levitical priests failed to do.

7:20-22. When God is going to make a solemn promise to someone, He seals that promise with an oath. Of course, all of God’s promises are certain to come to pass because God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18), but those promises which last forever are validated with an oath. The author has already given us an example of this when, in chapter 6, God guaranteed His promise to Abraham by means of an oath (6:13-18). So here in 7:20-22 we see the superiority of the priesthood of Melchizedek because this priesthood was established to last forever by an oath from the Lord. The Levitical priests became priests without an oath (7:21), but the LORD confirmed His promise to the Messiah with an oath: “You are a priest forever” (7:21, quoted from Psalm 110:4). Since an oath is far superior to a mere law of physical requirement, Jesus our High Priest “has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (7:22). The author is saying that, since the old-covenant Levitical priesthood has been replaced by the superior priesthood of Melchizedek, then the new covenant ushered in by this new priesthood is a better covenant.

Simply put, a better High Priest from a better priesthood guarantees a better covenant.

Our next article will be Part 6 and will conclude this series by covering Hebrews 7:23-28.

SDG                 rmb                 10/10/2022                 #580

Speaking of Melchizedek (Part 4) Hebrews 7:11-17

POST OVERVIEW. This fourth post in our series on Melchizedek from Hebrews 7 explores why the priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to the Levitical priesthood established by the first covenant at Sinai. (See post #574, #575, and #576 for previous posts in this series.) (Updated October 5, 2022)

The objective of this series of posts is to explore and interpret Hebrews 7, which is devoted almost exclusively to a discussion about how Melchizedek relates to Jesus Christ. Our fourth post will begin to unpack the author’s argument about how our High Priest, Jesus, is far superior to any old covenant priest and how the priesthood of Melchizedek is far better than the weak Levitical priesthood created by the Law.

REVIEW

We ended the last post by listing the weaknesses of the Levitical priesthood and then showing the ways that Christ’s priesthood, the priesthood of Melchizedek, was superior. (see post #576) Now we are going to go through Hebrews 7:12-17 verse-by-verse to follow the author’s theological argument.

As I had mentioned before, I will not generally be quoting the verses from the biblical text, so I am assuming that the reader has an open Bible as they go through this post. I use the NAS as my study Bible, but an ESV Bible should also work well.

Hebrews 7:12. This verse, is to be understood as parenthetical, since it does not address the subject of priest or of priesthood but speaks about the changing of the law. Also, note that, in this context, “law” and “covenant” can be used interchangeably.

The point that the author makes is that, when the Levitical priesthood, established by the old covenant (the Law), changes and is replaced by the priesthood of Melchizedek, then the old covenant must also be replaced by a new covenant. Simply put, old priesthood, old covenant, but now new priesthood, new covenant. This point is established here but comes into focus in Hebrews 8:6-10:18, when the author will demonstrate the superiority of the new covenant over the old.

Hebrews 7:13-14. Jesus was never associated with the imperfect, temporary priesthood of the first covenant, for Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, and the Law (first covenant) mentions nothing about priests from Judah.

Hebrews 7:15. Not only was Jesus definitely not part of the weak Levitical priesthood, but He definitely was “according to the likeness of Melchizedek” (7:15), and thus is a Priest of his order.

Remember in post #575, we had carefully collected the characteristics of Melchizedek given in Hebrews 7:1-10 (from Genesis 14:18-20) to arrive at his “likeness.” We saw that Melchizedek was king of righteousness, king of peace, priest of God Most High, without father, without mother, having neither beginning of days nor end of life (7:2, 3). It is apparent that Jesus conforms exactly to this “likeness” and, therefore, is the priest according to the permanent order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4).

NOTE. Having established that Jesus is the High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek, we will see that it becomes difficult to distinguish High Priest from priesthood, since the two are essentially one. The order of Melchizedek has only one Priest, and Jesus is our High Priest from the order of Melchizedek. Because this is the case, I may use priest and priesthood interchangeably in the rest of the passage.

Hebrews 7:16-17. The author now shows the superiority of Christ’s priesthood by comparing the appointment of the Levitical priests with Christ’s appointment to His priesthood. Every priest under the first covenant was subject to death and was appointed to fulfill a commandment in the Law, but Christ was uniquely appointed “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” by an oath from the LORD (Psalm 110:4). Clearly Christ’s appointment is far superior.

SUMMARY

In this short passage, then, the author has shown how Christ is far greater than any of the Levitical priests, for Jesus was not of the dying, sin-stained Levitical priests appointed to fulfill a commandment of the Law. Rather, He was a sinless Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek who was appointed by an oath from the LORD.

Our next post will continue our verse-by-verse exegesis of this passage.

SDG                 rmb                 9/28/2022 (updated 10/5/2022)                    #577

Speaking of Melchizedek (Part 3A) Hebrews 7:11-22

POST OVERVIEW. This third post in our series on Melchizedek from Hebrews 7 begins to dive into the heart of the passage as we explore why the priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to the Levitical priesthood established by the first covenant at Sinai. (See post #574 and #575 for previous posts in this series.)

The objective of this series of posts is to explore and interpret Hebrews 7, which is devoted almost exclusively to a discussion about how Melchizedek relates to Jesus Christ. Our third post will begin to unpack the author’s argument about how our High Priest, Jesus, is far superior to any old covenant priest and how the priesthood of Melchizedek is far better than the weak Levitical priesthood created by the Law. This post will cover only Hebrews 7:11.

Now that the author has discussed the person of Melchizedek and described his priestly order (Hebrews 7:1-10, see post #575), he turns to consider the significance of there being a permanent priesthood which is better than the priesthood of Aaron. The author’s main purpose for presenting Melchizedek in such detail is to give us a clear picture of his “likeness” (see Hebrews 7:15). This “likeness” defines the characteristics of his priesthood and thus shows us the nature of the High Priest of that order.  

In addition to the “likeness” of Melchizedek, the author’s argument will also draw on the profound truths revealed by Psalm 110:4, in which the LORD (YHWH) makes an oath to Adonai.

The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.” – Psalm 110:4

In this study, I will not generally be quoting the verses from the biblical text, so I am assuming that the reader has an open Bible as they go through this post. I use the NAS as my study Bible, but an ESV Bible should also work well.

Hebrews 7:11. It is evident that perfection (completion, finality, fulfillment) was never possible from the Levitical priesthood, because Psalm 110:4 speaks about another priesthood, the order of Melchizedek, in which the priest abides forever. This logical conclusion establishes the point that the Levitical priesthood under the first covenant was a temporary priesthood and was in place only until “another priest arose according to the order of Melchizedek” (7:11).

But there is more here than merely realizing the temporary nature of the Levitical priesthood. Notice the author states that “perfection” (Greek  τελείωσις) was not through the Levitical priesthood. Because perfection was not through the Levitical priesthood, it was necessary that another priesthood arise which was perfect. This would be the answer to the question, “Why did we need another priesthood?” But that leads to another question: “What was imperfect or incomplete about the priesthood under the first covenant and how is Christ’s priesthood better?” It is the answering of this second question that constitutes the rest of the chapter and that reveals the glory of our great High Priest, Jesus Christ.

But, before we go on in the verse-by-verse interpretation of this passage, we should pause to make a preliminary list of answers to this second question. This will give us a good idea of where we are headed as we proceed through the rest of the chapter. To repeat the question,

“What was imperfect or incomplete about the priesthood under the first covenant? “

  • The Levitical priesthood was temporary, not permanent
  • Priests were appointed solely based on a law of physical descent from Aaron
  • The Levitical priests all died
  • The Levitical priests were all sinners
  • The priest under the first covenant could not offer forgiveness or salvation

“and how is Christ’s priesthood better?”

  • Because Jesus is a priest forever (Ps. 110:4), He holds His priesthood permanently
  • Jesus was appointed a priest forever by an oath from the LORD (YHWH)
  • Jesus never dies, but lives forever
  • Jesus is “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners”
  • Jesus is able to save completely and entirely because He lives forever

Now everything is in place to proceed through the rest of the chapter verse-by-verse. That is what we will do when we pick up our study in the next post.

SDG                 rmb                 9/26/2022                   #576