A Comparison of Priesthoods
In our last study, we looked at the significance of Melchizedek in light of his superiority over the Levitical priests. The superiority of Melchizedek was seen in the fact that Abraham, the father of Levi, gave him tithes. The thought continues by looking at the superiority of Jesus’ priesthood over the Levitical priesthood, in Hebrews 7:11-28.
In this section, the writer of Hebrews begins by pointing out that the Levitical priesthood was unable to perfect (make complete, bring to spiritual maturity) the worshiper. Therefore, since the Levitical priesthood and the Mosaic Law were tied together, “for on the basis of it the people received the Law,” there needed to be another priesthood and another covenant. A change in the priesthood, from Levitical to Melchizedekian, the writer emphasizes, requires a change of the Torah as well, as the Law and the priesthood were joined together. The prediction of another priest to come after the Order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4) meant that the Levitical priesthood would be changeable. The interesting aspect of the prophetic statement in this Psalm of David was that it was written after the Levitical priesthood had been functioning for many centuries. Continuing his thought, the writer reminds us that since Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah, is from the line of David, the Tribe of Judah, He could not serve in the Levitical priesthood, as the Tribe of Judah was not given the task of serving as a priest. According to Torah, only someone from the Tribe of Levi could serve in that way.
Beginning in Hebrews 7:15, the writer contrasts the two priesthoods focusing on the fact there would be another kind of priest, of a different order. To be a Levitical priest one had to be descended from a Levitical priest, “on the basis of a law of physical requirement.” Unfortunately, as in the case of Eli’s sons Hophni and Phineas (1 Samuel 2:12-17), historically there had been some awful, ungodly men serving as priests to the Lord. On the other hand, the other kind of priest “has become such” (was made) “according to the power of an indestructible life.” Jesus became Our Great High Priest after His resurrection from the dead and therefore, since He lives forever, “Thou Art a Priest Forever,” according to the Order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:17). Since Melchizedek, according to the Bible, appears to have lived forever, Jesus is a priest in the same way, by virtue of His resurrection. Verses 18 and 19 are a summation of the writer’s argument that God has surpassed the Levitical priesthood and the Torah with a new order. He has replaced that system with a system that could do what the other one could not do, namely, bring us to spiritual maturity, into an intimate relationship with God—what Hebrews 7:11 calls “perfection.”
The priesthood of Messiah is contrasted with the Levitical priesthood by the fact that it was instituted with an oath. Clearly, the descendants of Aaron assumed their jobs without any divine oath. They virtually inherited their position as priests. Quoting the divine oath of Psalm 110:4 once again, the writer states that because of it, Jesus has become “the guarantee of a better covenant.” The Greek word translated guarantee or surety is used only here in the New Testament. In describing Jesus as the guarantee of a better covenant the writer is using a legal term which states that the Lord Jesus Himself is our security that this better covenant will never be set aside. The word “covenant” is used first in Hebrews 7:22 and will be used sixteen more times in this epistle as an important concept in Hebrews.
The last verse of the chapter concludes the argument, “For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever” (Hebrews 7:28).