Meditations in Hebrews 7: 34. Why the Need?
Heb 7:12 For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.
Why all this? The writer has taken us into a series of thoughts about Jesus being a priest after the order of Melchizedek who was both a king and a priest. As the odds are that you are non-Jewish, you might be wondering why he is taking us down this particular path? Well, previously he had spoken of Jesus as our high priest, and he will go on to talk about his high priestly work in some detail in the chapters ahead, but there is a problem in the back of his mind and he realises it may also be in the back of the minds of his Jewish Christian readers, and it is that the high priest always came from the tribe of Levi – but Jesus comes from the tribe of Judah. How to reconcile these two things? He does it by reference to this priest-king, Melchizedek we have been considering.
He has paralleled Jesus with Melchizedek, first on the basis that nothing was known about that priest’s ancestry or subsequent history, he appears mystical and eternal. Next, he points out that Melchizedek blessed Abraham and so was greater than him. Abraham gave him a tithe of all his battle spoils and being the great grandfather of Levi, it was like the Levitical priesthood was submitting to this new priest. We concluded the previous study by noting the question that will shortly be asked, why was there a need for another priesthood, and the answer will be that that Levitical priesthood couldn’t get people into a good place with God. So, let’s see how that works out in the following verses.
Failure of the old order: “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come–one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?” (v.11) i.e. if the working and service of the Levitical priesthood could make people perfect in God’s sight that would have been fine, but it didn’t. That priesthood, says the Message version, “provided the framework for the giving of the Law.” The Law and the subsequent priesthood both came through Levi (Moses & Aaron were both Levites) and were the means for administering God’s plans for Israel, yet all the offering of sacrifices could do was appease the conscience of the offender but that did little to make he or she a better person. It put them on a right footing with God but that was all.
The Law and the Levitical priesthood, as the Message version puts it, “didn’t get the job done.” Now, goes on our writer, because the Law and the priesthood are so intertwined, “when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.” (v.12) i.e. if we start talking about another priesthood, we are also going to have to be talking about another Law because Moses’ Law only spoke about the Levitical priesthood.
Jesus from Judah: Now, before going further, he backtracks to consider Jesus: “He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.” (v.13,14) As we said before, the problem is that Jesus came from the tribe of Judah, not the tribe of Levi, and the Law said nothing about Judah.
The Melchizedek analogy: Of his own argument, he continues, “And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (v.15-17) The Message version puts it well for us: “But the Melchizedek story provides a perfect analogy: Jesus, a priest like Melchizedek, not by genealogical descent but by the sheer force of resurrection life—he lives!—“priest forever in the royal order of Melchizedek.” i.e. Melchizedek as a mystical figure who just turns up once and then disappears, seems to have no beginning or end. Jesus, because he has risen from the dead, also continues to live on and on, and is thus available today to act as our high priest of a new order.
So, he continues, “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” (v.18,19) i.e. the coming of Jesus replaces the Law and the Levitical priesthood, which really just didn’t work, didn’t enable people to have a living relationship with God.
Impact on the Jews: Now perhaps we should pause there and continue in the next study for there is something here that is highly significant. Who is our writer writing to? The Jewish Christians. What does the New Testament show us is the main problem the Jewish Christians (for that is all there was to start with) faced? How to reconcile their new faith with the Law of Moses which had been their foundation of life for many centuries? More than that, the Levitical Priesthood was still there operating and would continue to operate until AD70 when the Temple was destroyed and Israel scattered and the sacrificial system ended.
What this present writer is doing here is the equivalent of removing the Monarchy in the UK and substituting it with something else, or removing the Presidential system and Congress in the USA and substituting it with something else. By putting Jesus forward as a new high priest of a completely new priestly system, he is saying to his readers, the old system – Law and priesthood – has been replaced. That is possibly the most dramatic thing that could possibly happen to their culture and way of living, but that is exactly what God did when He sent Jesus. This is about as dramatic as you can make things. This new faith is not to be run alongside the old, it is to replace the old.
Practically for us today, we might suggest that many of us had a religion that existed on rules – things you should do and shouldn’t do. That is what made you a good person. Then along comes the Christian faith with Jesus at its head and says, sorry that is all gone. You are justified not on the basis of what you do, but upon who you believe in. Got it? Awesome! An entirely new way of living and looking at life!