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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

May 23, 2012

Hebrews 7:4-26

I.    The main point of chapter 7 is that Jesus Christ is fulfillment of the messianic prophecy in Psalm 110 as the one who would come in the order of Melchizedek. When the scripture uses that phrase "in the order of Melchizedek,” it refers to a type of priesthood outside of the law. Jesus is a priest outside of the law, just like Melchizedek was a priest of the Most High outside of the law. So when David prophesied that one would come and be a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek, David was prophesying that the Messiah would be the Great High Priest forever, but not a priest according to the law, but outside of the law. The writer will argue that all the priest under the law fell short, but Christ who was outside of the Law is a priest forever and is able to meet our needs as a true High Priest.

II.    Verses 4. On last week, we began to show how the writer is demonstrating that Abraham considered Melchizedek to be greater than himself by giving the priest an offering (tenth) of the spoils from the war. The ancient tradition of the Canaanite people was to give tribute to the king as a token of honor. Abraham must have considered Melchizedek greater than himself to offer the traditional gift. This was the first argument that Abraham considered the priest to be greater. The goal of this argument is to show that Abraham recognized a priest of the Most High that was outside of the law. This becomes important because the argument was that Jesus could not be the Messiah because he couldn‘t be a real High Priest because the law stated a priest must come from the tribe of Levi and Jesus was born through the tribe of Judah. The writer counters that argument by showing that Abraham considered Melchizedek a true priest 430 years before there was ever a law concerning the priesthood. This fact lays down the precedent to consider Jesus as the Great High priest, especially since King David prophesied nearly 1000 years after the law in Psalm 110 that one would come "in the order of Melchizedek" outside the law.

III.    Verses 5-10. The Levite priest only collected a tenth because it was commanded, but Melchizedek collect a tenth because Abraham considered him greater. The old covenant required the Israelites to give 10 percent to the Levites, but Abraham gave 10 percent to Melchizedek even though Melchizedek was not a Levite. He was getting priestly honors before Levi was even born. From this, the author constructs a hypothetical argument: “One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor” (vs. 9-10). The author knows that Levi didn't actually pay tithes to Melchizedek, but in a figure of speech he did. The point is that Abraham is greater than Levi, since Abraham is Levi‘s ancestor, and Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, since Abraham paid tithes to him, so Melchizedek is greater than Levi, Verses 6-7 emphasize Melchizedek’s greatness: He not only received a tithe, he also blessed Abraham. “And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater,” Abraham is the lesser person--but the real point of comparison being made is with Levi. Since Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, he is also greater than Levi and most important for the book of Hebrews--his priesthood is more important than the Levitical priesthood. The Levitical priests die, but Jesus has been made a priest forever, a priest not under the law, but outside the law after the order of Melchizedek,” a priesthood that is more important for our salvation.

IV.    Verses 11-17 The law was given on the basis of the priesthood. The law was designed with the Levitical priesthood in mind. The law and the priesthood went together. But neither the law nor the priests could bring people to perfection. That is why Psalm 110 spoke of another priesthood. The descendants of Aaron would be replaced by a better priesthood, a better priest--and that has enormous consequences: “For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law” (v. 12). What law is changed? The law that said only Levites could be priests. Which law said that? The old covenant. This will become clearer later in this chapter, and in the next few chapters. But first, the author wants to make certain basic facts clear using verses 13-16. Jesus was appointed as priest not by a law that focused on genealogy, but because he lives forever as our Great High Priest. From this fact alone, we can see that the Law of Moses is no longer in force.

V.    Verses 18-19. The law that restricted the priesthood to Levites was ineffective. How much was “set aside?” Certainly, it was the regulation restricting the priesthood. But no one expected that restriction to produce perfection, anyway. There is more involved than just one regulation. It is “the law” as a whole that is under discussion here. The Law of Moses did not have the power to make anyone perfect. The best that the old covenant could offer was not good enough. Instead of the law, we are given a better hope, and since we have something better than the law, we are now able to draw near to God in a way that was not possible under the Law of Moses.

VI.   Verses 20-26. The descendants of Aaron became priests without any oath, but Jesus became priest by a special oath. The old covenant was given by God, but here is a new word from God--not just an oath but also a promise of permanence: The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever” (v. 21). Oaths are special, serious declarations. Since ancient times, people have used them whenever a matter is extremely serious. And they are still important, even in our modern world. The Bible gives two accounts of the ceremony to appoint Israel’s priests. Exodus chapter 29 records God’s instructions about the ceremony. Leviticus chapter 8 records what actually happened at the ceremony. It was a complex ceremony, and each action during it seems to have special meaning. We might expect on such an important occasion that the new priests would have to make an oath. But in fact, there was no oath. Israel’s priests became priests without an oath. But Psalm 110:4 declares that Christ became our great chief priest with an oath. And it was God the Father who made that oath. No oath could ever be stronger than the oath that God makes! Here is something that is absolutely certain and definite. It can never change, even as God himself never changes. God himself has declared that Christ is our priest! The old priesthood is obsolete. The old regulation was set aside. A new and better hope is given to bring people to a perfection that the law could not give. “Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (v. 22). Here the word covenant is used for the first time in this letter, almost casually. It will be picked up again in the next three chapters for more detailed comment, but even here it is implied to be a replacement for the inferior, ineffective Law of Moses. The discussion is not just about a minor priestly regulation but a covenant, which includes many laws. The author then contrasts the mortality of the Levitical priests with the immortality of Jesus Christ: “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” (vs. 23-24). So the fact that there were many Levitical priests is actually an illustration of their weakness, not of their effectiveness. The genealogy that validated them also testified to the weakness of the entire system. Each high priest held office only temporarily, and the entire priesthood itself was temporary. In contrast, because Jesus lives forever, he will forever continue to be our High Priest, because his priesthood is effective in bringing us to perfection: “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (v. 25). “Such a high priest meets our need,” the author says (v. 26). Jesus is exactly what we need. He was human, so he knows our needs (2:14-18), and he is now in heaven, in power, so he can effectively intercede for us.

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