Hebrews 7:11-28 – How Do We Become Perfect?

This whole discussion about Melchizedek, it is complicated, so a couple of things to keep in mind. One is it’s helpful to remember that the first readers are struggling. They’re primarily Jewish Christians that are headed into persecution, but there is clearly some influence seeking to convince them to return to the old covenant, to the old ways. It was not so much abandoning Jesus as much as it was blending Jesus into the old covenant. For example, when Paul wrote to the Galatians, the concern was not an abandonment of Jesus but kind of the blending of Jesus into the old covenant system-cherry picking those laws—and that’s what these people are wrestling with, and that’s what the writer is talking about. If something far better has come, a new covenant, why would you do that? Why would you go back to something that was a shadow?

So the writer of Hebrews present Melchizedek very skillfully with limited details, and all the details are meant to fit this picture or type. We refer to it as a literary figure. We learned that he is the ultimate king priest and we learned that he’s greater than Abraham and greater than the Levitical priesthood. That’s pretty much where we left it last time.   We pick it up in verse 11: 

Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people [Jews] received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? (*NASB Hebrews 7:11)

Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood. In Colossians chapter 1, the end of it, when Paul talks about presenting every person complete, that’s this word perfect in Christ. So that’s what this whole discussion is about. How does that happen? How is someone presented perfect or complete before a holy God? This chapter will explain. Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood, sins would have been removed and man would have been reconciled to God. Perfection was not possible under the Levitical priesthood because there was no sacrifice that brought forgiveness of sins.

For on the basis of it the people [Jews] received the Law. So what is he talking about there? He’s basically saying, “If the Levitical priesthood, which is by necessity tied into the Law—in other words the two are inseparableso the Law is connected to the priesthood; and the priesthood is connected to the Law. The priesthood is the basis of the law. Through the priesthood, God’s people were furnished with the Old Testament law. One thing he’s not saying is that when this ultimate priest in the order of Melchizedek was to come, he was just going to open a new line of priesthood within the old covenant or that Law. What he’s saying is this would be a complete and total change. The change in the priesthood would mean a change in the entire law and the entirety of the old covenant. By the way, this is the Law of Moses (including the ten commandments), which was the Law of God given to the Israelite’s. The Levitical priesthood and the Mosaic Law are inseparable. If someone wanted to incorporate the Mosaic Law or parts of it into their religious system today, they would also have to incorporate the Levitical priesthood because it was the basis for the Mosaic Law. The Levitical Priesthood and the Mosaic Law are inseparable.

What further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron. If perfection comes by the Levitical priesthood, what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchizedek and not after the order of Aaron? The answer to this question is there would be no need for another priest if the Levitical priesthood had accomplished what man needed: forgiveness of sins.

For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. (*NASB Hebrews 7:12) 

The priesthood is the foundation of the Mosaic law. Since the priesthood was “changed”, there had to be a change in the entire law. The new priesthood was superior to the old; thus, the new law was also superior. Paul explains that Christians are no longer under the “law of Moses”, but under the authority of the “law of Christ” (which is the law according to Jesus’ teachings and the commandments which He gave the apostles), which of course restates all the moral principle of the Old Covenant, but also do not command many ritual laws such as sacrifices, circumcision, weekly, monthly, and yearly Sabbaths among many other things. Paul explains it this way:

“To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might gain Jews; to those who are under the Law [of Moses], I became as one under the Law [of Moses], though not being under the Law [of Moses] myself, so that I might gain those [Jews] who are under the Law [of Moses]; to those [gentiles] who are without the Law [of Moses], I became as one without the Law [of Moses], though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might gain those who are without the Law [of Moses]. (1 Corinthians 9:21-22)

When Paul was with Jews who were under the Mosaic Law (613 commandments including the ten commandments), he acted as if he were under the Mosaic Law (v.20). Paul, as a New Covenant Christian, was not under the Mosaic Law (v.20). When Paul was with Gentiles, who were never under the Mosaic Law, he did not observe the Mosaic Law either (v.21). New Covenant Christians are not without “the Law of God” (v.21). New Covenant Christians are under “the Law of Christ” (v.21). There are over 1000 moral commands and a few rituals (like Baptism, Lord’s supper) restated  and commanded in the new covenant, but the Law of Christ goes beyond a written code, for God’s perfect standard of righteousness cannot be confined to a limited list of do’s and don’ts (2 Corinthians 3:6).

So, it’s not a little change; it’s a complete change. Now to understand how tense this was felt with the Judaizers, the first Christian martyr that we know of is in Acts chapters 6 and 7—Stephen. When the Judaizers (a faction of Jewish Christians) are preparing to stone Stephen to death, they identify two reasons why he must die. One is because Stephen was proclaiming that Jesus was going to replace the temple, and number two is that Jesus was going to replace the Law (not just the ceremonial law, but the entire law of Moses). They accused Stephen, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law” (Acts 6:13). Similarly, it is a similar tension that arises when we discuss today with modern day Sabbath keepers (such as the Seventh-day Adventists, and many others), who insist on enforcing parts of the Mosaic Law.

So it’s the exact same two things that the writer of Hebrews is talking about here. They found that message so offensive that they stoned Stephen to death! So this was pretty intense stuff. What the writer, then, is saying is that with this change of priesthood—that there’s nothing in the old covenant law that identifies anyone from the tribe of Judah to somehow be qualified for the priesthood.

For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests (Hebrews 7:13-14) 

The one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe is alluding to Jesus, who is from the tribe of Judah, from which no one has officiated as priests. The only recognized priests came from Levites. “For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah”. Here the writer repeats his message to emphasize to his readers their need to choose between the Jewish traditions and the Christian faith. They must know it is Jesus, the new and better High Priest, came not from the family of Aaron but from the family of Judah. Now some were probably arguing that Melchizedek showed up in Genesis 14, but after that would come Moses and the Law (the old covenant), so perhaps some were saying that the old covenant, the Law, the Levitical priesthood superseded or was superior to Melchizedek. And that’s why the writer of Hebrews will keep quoting from Psalm 110 that there is still one coming in the order of Melchizedek who would be the ultimate priest/king and the writer of Hebrews has already identified Jesus as the fulfillment of that type. Verse 15: 

And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, (in other words genealogy) but according to the power of an indestructible life. For it is attested of Him, “YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.”(Hebrews 7:15-17)

Now that’s the fourth time the writer has quoted Psalm 110, verse 4. What he’s saying is, “If this new priest comes along, and he’s already identified Jesus as that person, and He does not qualify on the basis of His genealogy, or what tribe He’s from—but rather He qualifies on the basis of the fact that He lives forever—an indestructible life. This will be a critical part of the argument that he is going to make. The Bible mentions Jesus is the King, not because of his genealogical record, but because he is King. He’s the ultimate high priest, not because of his genealogical record but because he is the ultimate high priest, and what are his credentials? His credentials are that He conquered sin and death once and for all, and He lives forever. Those are pretty good credentials. He goes on to say, verse 18:  

For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment (meaning the old covenant; why?) because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect) (Hebrews 7:18-19a) 

The term “setting aside” (athetesis) means “abolition” and denotes an eradication of the commandment. For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also (Hebrews 7:12). The “commandment” refers not just to the priesthood but to the Mosaic law in its entirety. It is equivalent to the word translated “commandment” by Mark: “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:7-9).

Now it is not the case that when one is freed from the restraints of one legal system, that such disengagement automatically implies that he now is at liberty to pursue any conduct that was prohibited under the former regime. When the colonies declared their independence from Great Britain in the 18th century, that did not suggest that the inhabitants of this new country were free to live recklessly as outlaws in a land of terror. Common sense and maturity demand that the previous legal system would have to be superseded by a new framework of law that embodied similar moral ordinances. If one is driving at 70 m.p.h. on an Arizona interstate, and he crosses the state line into California, does he assume that he is now free to accelerate to 90 m.p.h.? Of course not. And why is that the case? Because he is aware that there is another law — a California law — that limits the speed at which he may drive. If one acknowledges the logic in the simple illustrations cited above, why should he have difficulty in recognizing that the same principle is applicable in the realm of religious law? The fact that the law of Moses, with its Ten Commandments, was abolished at the cross, does not suggest that man is bereft of moral or religious regulation under the Christian system. There is a “law of Christ” to which men are amenable (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2). Sin is condemned under the law of Christ, as it was under the Law of Moses, but the two systems are not parallel, in many respects (cf. Jn. 1:17).

So on the one hand, the old covenant is completed; it is fulfilled, it is set aside. It is weak in terms of its ability to make one perfect or complete or right before a holy God. Now this is not to say that somehow the old covenant failed. It accomplished exactly what God intended it to accomplish. It was never meant to be a means of salvation. It was never meant to make people right. It was added only until Jesus would come. “Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed [Jesus] would come to whom the promise had been made” (Galatians 3:19).

The fallacy of religion is to think religious activity somehow makes someone righteous in the presence of a holy God. The problem is sin, which is falling short of God’s perfection (which actually cannot be captured by a written code of laws, and certainly not 10 narrow set of laws) and sin is offensive to God and no amount of religious activity un-sins us. That’s just a ridiculous notion. You can do religion until the day you die; it doesn’t erase the sin. The old covenant was never meant to un-sin the people. It was meant to accomplish two things: One is it created a standard for those who think they can accomplish self-righteousness. Here’s the standard (613 commandments in total) by which everybody could measure themselves and realize, “We’re in real trouble here!” The second thing it was meant to accomplish was to create a shadow, a foreshadowing of the one who would ultimately come to be the Messiah of the world. The temple, the furniture, Sabbath day (weekly or other), the sacrificial system—all of that was meant to be a foreshadowing of the fulfillment of the promise.

The promise goes back to Genesis chapter 3, verse 15. God made a promise He would do something through the seed of a woman that would ultimately crush the head of the enemy and bring life back out of death. He re-ups the promise to Abraham in a covenant. It is pictured through the old covenant Law, but all the way through there was always an awareness that no amount of religious activity could make us perfect, could make us complete before a holy God. Therefore:

…on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. (Hebrews 7:19b) 

How could we as sinful men and women ever draw near to a holy God? There has to be some other way. The old covenant, with its laws—was weak and useless to do this. So God ushers in a better hope. This is language that the writer of Hebrews really likes and uses a lot. Why would you go back to something completely ineffective and useless, when God had provided something better? “For instance, You observe days (weekly) and months (monthly) and seasons and years (yearly). I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain (Gal 4:10,11). Something better is Someone better, who has done for you what you could never do for yourself.

He told us earlier in Hebrews, “Hope is what we anchor our souls to.” There’s no promise that everything is going to be rosy and make sense in this life. We anchor our hope to the promise that through Christ there is a world to come—a new heaven and a new earth—that will be everything that our souls long for today. How do we get there? Not through the old covenant, not through a religious system, or a special church, not through observing holy days in the last days, but through a Person, a new covenant, a better hope through which we draw near to God. Verse 20:   

 And inasmuch as it was not without an oath (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, “THE LORD HAS SWORN AND WILL NOT CHANGE HIS MIND, ‘YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER’”); (Hebrews 7:20-21) 

So what is he saying there? He’s saying that when God brought forth the Levitical priesthood in the old covenant, there was never a moment where God promised that the Levitical priesthood would last forever. It was always understood to be temporary. But when God promised—this is the fifth time he’s quoted Psalm 110 verse 4—there is an oath, a promise, that this new priesthood, this fulfillment of the order of Melchizedek—the writer has already identified Jesus as the ultimate High Priest, the fulfillment of the order of Melchizedek—that when this One comes, this will be the ultimate high priest forever. God says, “I promise I will never change my mind on this.” Verse 22: 

 …so much the more also, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. (Hebrews 7:22)  

This word covenant will be a really important term in the book of Hebrews, but this is the first time that he mentions it. This is the new covenant, this is a better covenant. The idea, then, is Jesus is the guarantee; literally the text says that he is the guarantor of the promise. We learned in the very first verses of Hebrews chapter one that Jesus is not another word from God; he is the last word from God. So no church should have any special message to us anything other than what Jesus has spoken to us. This is what the whole story has been working up to is the fulfillment of a promise from Genesis 3:15—that God would ultimately send one who would be the better hope, who would usher in a better covenant that would make it possible for sinful men and women to stand right before a holy God. How do we know that this covenant will endure? Answer: because God promised; He will not change his mind. How do we know? There’s a guarantee. What is the guarantee? It’s a guarantor. It’s a Person, and as long as this Person lives forever, the guarantee lives forever.  Verse 23:

The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers (Why?) because they were prevented by death from continuing, (in other words they died) but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God (How?) through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:23-25)  

So what he just said is under the old covenant there were hundreds of priests. Why?  Because they died. They lived and they died; they lived and they died. But along comes the ultimate high priest. What are His qualifications? An indestructible life! He’s conquered sin and death once and for all! Because He lives forever, He will be a priest forever! Therefore He holds the priesthood permanently; therefore the salvation that He offers is permanent. It will endure forever.

Can you imagine getting to heaven, getting a thousand years down the road and having God show up and say, “Alright, we have a problem! The ultimate high priest who was your salvation; He’s dead. Therefore I’m changing my mind: you’re out!” The whole idea is that could never happen. We are never without an intercessor!  Ellen White (the SDA a prophet) said, “In that fearful time the righteous must live in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor.—The Great Controversy, 613, 614 (1911)“. How erroneous! We are never without an intercessor!

God made a promise; this priest has an indestructible life; this priest will last forever! He will be the priest forever; therefore His salvation will be forever. How do we know that? He’s the guarantee and He’s forever.  The last verse then, 25, is often misunderstood, where it says …since He always lives to make intercession for them. Now intercession is not the same as making payment for sin. Nowhere in the Bible do the Scriptures say that Jesus is continuing to make payment for sin or making some kind of a final atonement or blotting out sin from heaven. He’s not! When He hung on the cross, Jesus himself uttered the words, “Tetelestai,” meaning, “It’s finished…paid in full.” We learned in the first part of Hebrews that as the ultimate high priest He offered the sacrifice, rose from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, indicating, “Mission accomplished; ultimate price paid; work is done; He is seated.” So it is just wrong that Jesus still is somehow making payment for sin or blotting sins out.

The point is that He is the priest forever. He is the guarantor forever. Therefore, correctly read: “Since He always lives—as long as He lives, the intercession is good.” How long will He live? Forever! How long is our salvation? Forever! How do we know? He guarantees it with a promise. He is the guarantor; He is the eternal Son of God. Verse 26:  

 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest… (Hebrews 7:26)    

 

Now in modern English that can be misleading. We sometimes say, “Well, that’s fitting,” kind of meaning, “Well, that’s what the person deserved.” That’s not what this is saying. It’s not saying that we somehow deserve this. What it is saying in the greek is what Jesus the ultimate high priest did, fit the problem. The solution fit the problem. We have a huge problem; we needed an ultimate high priest. What Jesus did for us fit the problem. Verse 26:

For it is fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, (which has to do with no sin in His behavior)separated from sinners (meaning He wasn’t a sinner) and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all (not for some, for everyone) when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, (the promise) which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.  ((Hebrews 7:26-28) 

So what the text is saying is that the Levitical priest had to first offer sacrifice for their own sins before they could offer sacrifice for the sins of the people, but because Jesus was sinless, He did not sacrifice for His own sins but rather, as the perfect spotless lamb of God, He sacrificed Himself for the sins of the world.

The very last line, a Son made perfect forever.  This has been the discussion, starting in verse 11: “How does one become complete, perfect before a holy God?” If it could be done through the old covenant, if it could be done through religious activity, if it could be done through good works, why the need for a Savior, why the need for the ultimate high priest making the ultimate sacrifice for sin? Answer is, “Because there is no other way.” We need a better way, a better hope, a better covenant that would come with a guarantee that as long as this Savior lives, then you stand right before a holy God if you have received His salvation.

Now back to that description in verse 26 …exalted above the heavens. We see this throughout the New Testament. He sits above all rule and authority. He is the King of the universe. He is the King in heaven. He is in charge!

Now we live in a culture where there’s a lot of argument as to whether or not all roads lead to God. But ‘There’s only one way.’” It’s through a better hope; it’s through a better covenant; it’s through the One who came as the ultimate high priest to offer Himself as the ultimate sacrifice in payment for sin, in order that we as sinful men and women might stand right before a holy God. There’s only one way. And as long as He lives, He says so! God promised, “I won’t change my mind; this is the way it’s going to be.” What are His credentials? An indestructible life! He will be the high priest forever…for the rest of eternity. He will acknowledge, “My payment was sufficient;” Christ is enough! Not Jesus plus some religion, not Jesus plus some other activity, not Jesus plus weekly Sabbath day, not Jesus plus anything. Paul in writing to the Galatians says that if you add one single religious work or activity to Jesus, it’s no longer grace. It’s Christ and Christ alone for salvation!

There may be some of us who’ve convinced yourself there’s no way I could ever be right before a holy God. I don’t know what you’ve done.  I don’t know what’s been done to you. I only know that God offers everyone salvation freely as a gift of His grace if you choose by faith to receive it. Christ died for your sins and He’s willing to offer you salvation today and forever as the ultimate high priest, if you just choose by faith to receive it.

There may be others who are up to their eyebrows in religion. One of the earmarks of religion is fear. There’s this restlessness, because in religion you never know how much is enough? How good is good enough? It’s full of despair; it’s full of fear; it’s full of this restlessness. Religion is this endless effort to somehow try to make yourself right before God. But what Hebrews tells us is that is weak and useless because you cannot un-sin yourself. Someone had to pay your debt. Someone had to die for you. Someone had to sacrifice for you and make payment for your sin in order to offer you salvation freely as a gift. It’s not religion; it’s not programming; it’s not activities. It’s a Person. It’s a Person, the ultimate high priest, who sacrificed Himself in order that you might know salvation forever! This is something to be very thankful for!

Our Father, we are thankful this day that when there was no hope, You sent Your Son to be the Savior of the world. Lord, you couldn’t be clearer. It can’t come through religion; it can’t come through religious activity or good works or end times sabbath day or feast day observance. Those ultimately are weak and useless to make us perfect. It would have to come through the ultimate high priest who would make the ultimate sacrifice for sin. God, my prayer is that none of us would end a day without having the experience, the salvation you freely offer today.  In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

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