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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

May 30, 2012

Hebrews 7:20-28

I.    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 The old priesthood is obsolete.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.

II.    Verses 27-28. The New Testament tells us that Jesus is our intercessor, our mediator, our Savior and King. But only the book of Hebrews tells us that he is our priest. This unique concept is the central message of Hebrews, the main idea from which the others flow. Priesthood is the purpose for which Jesus was made human (2:17); his priesthood is the reason we should hold fast to our faith (4:14); and the proof that the old covenant has been set aside (7:12). Jesus guarantees a better covenant, a better relationship with God. And because he lives forever at God's right hand, "he is able to save completely those who come to God through him" (7:25). The old covenant priests could not save anyone, but Jesus is fully effective at what they could only picture. Jesus does it not by adding himself to the old covenant, but by fulfilling the old so thoroughly that the old becomes unnecessary. He supersedes the old covenant, replacing it with a better covenant (7:22). When we have Jesus, we do not need the old covenant. The practices commanded in the Old Covenant (circumcision, various rituals, Sabbaths and festivals) have no spiritual merit for the Christian. All we need is Jesus. The Old Testament priests had to make sin sacrifices every day, showing that the final solution had not yet arrived. But Jesus was so effective that once was enough. It did not have to be repeated. The Levitical priests had to offer sacrifices for their own sins, but Jesus did not, because he had no sin. When he offered himself, it was not for himself, but for everyone else. He was the kind of sacrifice we really needed — without blemish, fit even for the holiest place in heaven. The old covenant appointed imperfect men as priests (7:28), but God promised to appoint another priest, a permanent priest — which implies someone who is perfect in himself and perfect in his work (Psalm 110:4).

III.    Christ lived a sinless life under the Old Testament Law, something that no human had ever done or will ever do again. This is why the Law has changed. Through Him we have been released from the Law of Moses and the sacrificial system. The Law requested a priesthood with sacrifices, but the new priesthood allows us to lean on one eternal Sacrifice, that of Jesus Christ. Not only is the priesthood a return to the beginning, but our hope has also returned to its beginning in faith. Abraham was the father of the nation of Israel, but he was also the father of faith. Before we see the Levitical priesthood established, we see a man with a true faith and trust in God. This was a faith that preceded the Jewish sacrificial system and Levitical priesthood. Genesis 15 says that Abraham was a man who “believed in the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” In Christ, we are returning to a priesthood that is based in faith in another, not faith in self. The new covenant that Christ brings is much better than the covenant God initially made with Israel. The main reason is that the new covenant through Christ has eternal elements, not temporary ones. Christ is able to save forever, not just temporarily. Christ’s priesthood is also eternal. Since Old Testament priests were mortal men, they naturally died. In Christ, we will never need another priest because Jesus Christ is eternal and is constantly interceding on our behalf. His priesthood is permanent. We must realize that Christ never abolished any of the Old Testament Laws or systems, He fulfilled and perfected the Law. God, once and for all through Jesus Christ, fulfilled everything necessary to bring mankind back into relationship with Him. Our sacrifice, representation and covenant have been perfected through Christ for eternity. Since Christ is the High Priest of the Most High God (or Universal God) and can save forever those who draw near to Him.


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