Meditations in Hebrews 7: 35. The Certainty of the New Priesthood
Heb 7:20,21 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath
We concluded the previous study by reflecting on the fact that the writer of this book is saying that the coming of Jesus replaced the Law and the Levitical Priesthood, and that was a major cultural and intellectual change being put before these Jewish Christians. Now our writer is aware of this and so he knows he has really got to set this on concrete, so to speak, if his readers are to really accept this. He does this in a number of ways.
Priest by Oath: Earlier in this book the writer spoke about God confirming His will by making an oath based on Himself. In fact, the word ‘oath’, in this context, comes up 9 times in these chapters of Hebrews. It is a big thing for this writer that God confirms His will by making an oath. There can be no more profound or intense way of conveying His will. So, for the fifth time, he uses the word: “And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: `You are a priest forever.’” (v.20,21) Jesus becoming a priest was done in a much more solemn way to the ways that all other priests were brought into that role; he came with an oath.
Now we need to realise that again and again he is citing Psa 110:4 so we had better have it before us: “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek,” and we should also observe that was a prophetic psalm where David the psalmist sees the Messiah before God and these verses apply to the Coming One, who is also revealed, as we have seen earlier, as the Son of God. He now, therefore, emphasises the fact that this prophetic word had God swearing an oath, the most solemn way possible of confirming His will, that His Son will operate as a priest for ever in the same way that Melchizedek operated.
He then makes a further loaded comment: “Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.” (v.22) Notice the words, “a better covenant”. The writer has already inferred that it was the Old Covenant instigated on Mount Sinai that had “not done the job” and thus he is speaking of nothing less than that covenant being replaced by a new covenant based upon Jesus.
An Undying Priest: He explains: “Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood.” (v.23,24) i.e. all previous high priests died and had to be replaced by yet another one who would pick up the baton, so to speak, to carry on the ministry, but Jesus, having been raised from the dead, lives for ever and so, “Therefore he is able to save completely (or forever) those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (v.25) i.e. Jesus is always there for us!
A Perfect Priest: The third thing he points out is that although we may have doubts about some of the men who stood in the role of high priest, you need have no doubt whatsoever about Jesus: “Such a high priest meets our need–one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” (v.26,27) The priest stands before God on our behalf. We may wonder if some of the men who took that role really had God’s approval because they were so imperfect (consider Eli, for example in 1 Samuel), but when it comes to Jesus it is completely different. He satisfies all our doubts – meets our need first of all from an intellectual standpoint – because he is holy, blameless and pure and, even more, he is now exalted at God’s right hand, as we’ve seen before. Unlike the other priests of history, he doesn’t need to offer sacrifices for his sins because he never sinned. Even more, he doesn’t need to keep on offering sacrifices for our ongoing failures, because he did it once for all by dying on the Cross for us. In that way he also meets our moral needs as well.
Summary: He summarises what has happened: “For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.” (v.28) Let’s look at this verse carefully:
“For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak.” The Levitical priesthood established by the Law of Moses had to rely on frail human beings to perform the role. That was the Old Covenant.
“….but the oath, which came after the law…..” David’s prophetic word from God (which came long after the Law of Moses) instigated an oath to establish God’s will. There can thus be no question as to God’s intent in all this.
“…appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.” The New Covenant came into being through the Son of God dying on our behalf, once and for all, on the Cross at Calvary, to deal with all our sins, past, present and future.
Recap the argument: Now a good teacher is like a lawyer who works his way through the text in great detail to ensure everything has been covered. Our writer started the book showing the greatness of the Son, a Son infinitely greater than the angels, a Son greater than Moses, a Son who has been exalted to the Father’s right hand where he rules over all things, because he had perfectly carried out God’s will by coming to the earth, revealing the Father, and then dying for us, before being raised from the dead and then lifted back to heaven where he now reigns.
In doing this he acted as a high priest but his ‘priesthood’ is different from the Levitical Priesthood, more like that of Melchizedek with no beginning and no end, but superior to the previous priesthood. He is confirmed in this superior priesthood by his Father prophetically through David confirming it with an oath, and thus there is no doubt about him. He acts as our high priest by offering the ultimate sacrifice for sins – himself – and then being there at the Father’s right hand to intercede for us.
It is, rather like we used the illustration earlier, the writer has this check list that he has been working through to ‘cover all the bases’:
- The previous old covenant failed “to do the job”
- It has been administered by frail human beings
- The new covenant is based on Jesus operating as a new high priest with an eternal priesthood, presenting his own body as a sacrifice for sins
- Operating with the eternal will of God confirmed by a prophetic oath
- Thus we can be assured that our sins have been dealt with perfectly and the way is open for us to experience that ‘rest’ spoken of earlier in the book, where everything has been done by Jesus so all we have to do is receive the fruits of it.
Now it may have been a bit of a struggle to work through all this argument, but wasn’t it worth while! Live in that ‘rest’, completely at peace with God, free from striving and struggle and from guilt. Hallelujah!