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

The prominence of prayer in the new covenant

INTRODUCTION. The new covenant, which was announced in Jeremiah 31:31-34, inaugurated by the Lord Jesus on the night that He was betrayed, and established by Jesus’ death on the cross, was wholly different from the old covenant, which had been in effect since the Fall and which the LORD formalized when He gave the Law on Sinai. These two covenants differ in their forms and in their foundations. The old covenant was a covenant of works whose purpose was to bring the awareness of personal sin (Romans 3:20) and of sin’s corresponding condemnation (Romans 5:16a), while the new covenant brings with it forgiveness of sin (Ephesians 1:7) and imputed righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).

Not only do these two covenants differ in their purposes, but they also differ dramatically in the day-to-day practices of each covenant. One of the most apparent ways that the new covenant differs from the old is in the area of prayer.

These next two posts will consider the practice of prayer in the old and new covenants, show how they are dramatically different, and give reasons why they are different.

First, we will examine prayer under the old covenant.

UNDER THE OLD COVENANT, PRAYER WAS RARE

The first observation is that “Under the old covenant, PRAYER WAS RARE.” Most prayer in the Old Testament was limited to the prophet or the priest or the king. When the people needed to hear from the LORD, they would usually go to a prophet or perhaps to a priest, but there is little evidence in the Old Testament that the average Hebrew prayed directly to the LORD. Also, in the Law, there was no command to pray and there was no instruction on prayer, so the typical Israelite was not expected to pray.

WHY WAS THERE LIMITED PRAYER UNDER THE OLD COVENANT?

There are reasons for this paucity of prayer under the Law, though. Under the old covenant, the LORD was perceived as distant and unapproachable. At Sinai with the giving of the Law of condemnation, the LORD had appeared in billowing smoke and blazing fire and thunder and the loud blaring of a trumpet. Then, in the temple, the LORD was behind the veil in the inner holy of holies and could be approached only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and even then, only by the high priest with the shed blood of an animal. The old covenant was dominated by the Law, and under the Law, God was a consuming fire. Men do not have the courage to approach or to pray to the consuming fire.

The result is that, for the Israelite who saw God as a God of judgment and as the God of the Law, there was no need to pray. God required obedience to the Law. That was clear. If I failed to obey the Law, there was a just recompence. The Law was black and white. So, why would I bother to pray and for what would I pray? The Law required me to perform, not to pray. And so, the people of Israel and Judah rarely prayed.

BUT THERE WERE THOSE WHO PRAYED

There were those, however, who lived during the time of the Law who prayed, even prayed fervently and frequently. In the Psalms we see David and Asaph and the sons of Korah and others pouring out their heart to the LORD in intimate, emotional prayers. These prayers are raw and powerful as the psalmist gives unhindered voice to the deepest feelings and secrets of his heart. We see the same thing when we look to the prayers of Hannah and Jacob, the prayers of Daniel and Habakkuk, the prayers of Hezekiah and Jeremiah. These prayers have passion and heat, and they display none of the fear engendered by the Law. The ones who pray to the LORD in the Old Testament pray to One whom they know intimately, whom they know to be gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. Those who pray, pray to the LORD because they know the LORD. There is certainly the fear of reverent awe, the sense of approaching One of unimaginable power and holiness and glory, but there is no fear of judgment or condemnation or retribution. The feelings of awe are consumed not by the fire of judgment but by the immensity of His everlasting love. And so, the one who prayed to the LORD as Redeemer and Savior during the old covenant did not pray from the Law, but they prayed from the love of God that had been given to them by grace.

What are we saying? Those who know the LORD, pray, and those who do not know the LORD do not. We are saying that those who know the LORD long to pour out their heart before Him in prayer. In the old covenant, those who knew the LORD as their Savior and their Redeemer, as their rock and refuge and strong tower; those who knew the LORD as their God of salvation, prayed to the LORD. And those who did not know the LORD, but had merely heard of the God of Israel, the God of Sinai, the God of the Law, these did not pray to the LORD. And, from what we read in the Old Testament, the great majority of people fell into this latter category. Since few people knew the LORD, few people prayed.

In the next post, we will take a look at prayer in the new covenant and begin to see how prayer is different between the covenants and why.

SDG                 rmb                 1/13/2022                   #483