Hebrews 7:11-28 Part One - Jesus Our Great High Priest
Our text this morning is found in Hebrews 7:11-28. I really tried to make this whole text one sermon but I was not able to do it. Therefore, we will divide this text into two sermons. The first sermon will address the question that is asked in Hebrews 7:11. Next week we will look at Hebrews 7:12-28. We will read the whole text today so that you can see the argument that the author is making.
Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
15 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is witnessed of him,
“You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”
18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
20 And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 21 but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:
“The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’”
22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.
23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
The other day Mindy and I dropped our car off at the mechanic to get new tires. As we left I noticed a vacant building that was sitting empty. This particular store did not close because of the troubles brought about by Covid19. Nor did that store close because of inflation.
No, this business closed because there has been a complete change in the industry that it was associated with. The building used to be a Family Video store. Over the years that entire industry has changed so much that there is really no need for these types of stores anymore. At one time our communities were littered with Family Video stores, Blookbuster stores and other places where someone could rent videos and games but they are all gone now.
I am sure that the speed with which this change took place shocked many people. The building that I noticed was not that old. One minute the owners of that business built a building with the expectation that their company would continue to thrive but then something changed and they closed the doors forever.
In a similar way, this is what the author of Hebrews is saying has happened with the Temple and to the Levitical priesthood. He is making the point that the Levitical Priesthood no longer mediates between God and man. He is also saying that if this is the case then the Law has been changed as well.
There was a time whentheJewish people could not imagine that the coming of the Messiah would have changed everything so drastically. For about 1500 years the Jewish people had worshiped according to the Law. They were used to taking long pilgrimages to Jerusalem to worship and to attend the religious festivals. It would have been unthinkable to the Jews that there would come a day when all of this would change.
Yet, this is exactly what had happened when Jesus Christ came. Jesus’ coming caused everything to change. With the coming of Jesus Christ an entire industry of religious worship had come to an end. God had instituted all of these things and He had commanded that the people obey every part of the Law but these things were to point to something better and greater that He had promised to do. God intended that when these greater things appeared they were to pass away. The author of Hebrews will say in Hebrews 8:13, “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”
We know exactly when it was that all of this change took place because Scripture teaches us this in Matthew 27:50-54. It all changed when Jesus died on the cross. We read, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
Despite the tearing of the Temple curtain from top to bottom, the religious leaders quickly replaced that curtain and pretended as though nothing had changed. The centurion witnessed the death of Christ and testified, “Truly this was the Son of God”, but the Levitical priests rejected Jesus and all that He had accomplished. In unbelief they continued to operate the Temple and the priests continued to act as the mediators between God and His people.
Even as this letter was being read by these Jewish believers the Temple was bustling with religious activity. Sacrifices were being offered and Jewish feasts were being held. After Jesus’ death most of the Jews were trying to return to some form of normalcy. This was hard to do because Jesus’ apostles were preaching the Good News and this teaching was turning the whole world upside down(Acts 17:6). The Jewish leaders tried to silence the church and its leaders but it was not working. They went to every city and attempted to convince the Jewish people to continue to worship according to the Law. If some Jews did not listen they would persecute them and put severe pressure on these believers.
Because of this the believers who received this letter were tempted to return to the Temple and to allow the Levitical priesthood to mediate between them and God. Therefore, the author of Hebrews reminds them in Hebrews 7:11 that perfect righteousness could not be attained through the Levitical priesthood but it was possible to have this through the New Covenant which was mediated by Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 7:11begins with an important question that desires some thought. It asks, Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron?
The word ‘perfection’ (τελείωσις) in this verse speaks of something being completed, fulfilled, perfected and accomplished. There were many believers who received this letter who believed that they could be perfected by the Law and gain favor and access with God on the basis of their works.
It seems to be so easy for us to believe that if we will keep God’s laws, statutes, commandments and His rules that this will give us greater access to God and that we will earn God’s pleasure and approval. Perhaps it is because we believe these things that we so easily convince ourselves that we can fully, completely and perfectly accomplish the law and have God’s blessing upon our lives.
Let me give you an example of this type of self-righteous zeal from Scripture. At the end of the book of Joshua there are two chapters, Joshua 23-24, that are dedicated to exhorting and charging the people of Israel to love God, to reject all forms of idolatry, to carefully follow all of God’s laws, and to cling to God and to serve Him faithfully.
When you read Joshua 23 you discover that Joshua is old and he summons all of Israel’s leaders to come to him. All of Israel’s elders, leaders, judges and the officers came and stand before Joshua. The first thing that Joshua does is to remind them that it was the LORD who has fought their battles and who had given them a great victory (23:3). Because of this the people had been given the Promised Land as an inheritance (4). Yet Joshua reminds them that some enemies still remain in the land but the LORD has promised to drive them out so that they will have complete victory if they will prove to be faithful to the LORD and to the covenant that they had been given (5).
We are told in Joshua 23:8 that the people are to continue to cling to the LORD their God as they had done to that very day. In other words, this generation of Israelites that Joshua was talking to had been faithful to the LORD and they were to continue to do this. After this Joshua reminds them once again that it was the LORD who has fought their battles and has given them victory.
Joshua seems to want to remind the people often that it is the LORD who delivers, saves, and fights for His people.
Then in Joshua 23:11 Joshua tells them to be very careful to love the LORD their God because if they turn away and become faithless the LORD will not continue to drive out their enemies from among them. If they turn from the LORD and become faithless there will come upon them great evil and they will perish quickly (15-16).
Then when you come to Joshua 24Joshua renews the covenant with the people. The people are told to make a choice as to whom they will serve. Joshua leads by example as he stands before the people and says, “...as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (24:15) After Joshua does this all of the people recount the faithfulness of God towards them and they also commit themselves to serve the LORD their God (16-18).
Consider for a moment that these two chapters have been used to exhort God’s people to serve God faithfully and to bring them to a moment of decision and re-committal to the covenant. This happens near the end of Joshua 24 when all the people agree to faithfully and sincerely serve the LORD. They say, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods...We will serve the LORD, for He is our God.” (16-18)
This moment appears to have been a great moment of success. The people have unanimously committed to serving God faithfully. They have promised to love God, to cling to Him, to obey Him and to forsake all other god’s. In doing this God’s people have renewed their covenant with the LORD.
This appears to be the perfect place for the story to climax and then end with Joshua sending each person home where they can live happily ever after as God’s faithful covenant people in the land of their inheritance. That is how Hollywood would end this story but that is not what happens at the end of this text. This will not necessarily be a story that has a happy ending.
After this commitment is made to the LORD Joshua says to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for He is a Holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.” (24:19)
I would like you to picture this scene. Picture Joshua standing in front of all of the people as he says these things. He is standing before all of the leaders of God’s people and he is telling them that none of them are able to serve the LORD.
As you picture this scene and you survey the crowd who is standing in front of Joshua you will see the leaders of Asher, Dan, Ephraim, Gad, Issachar, Zebulun, Manasseh, Naphtali, Reuben, Simeon, Judah and Benjamin. As you continue to look at the people standing in front of you you’ll see one more tribe – the tribe of Levi.
In other words, when Joshua spoke those words, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for He is a Holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions or your sins”, he was speaking to the priestly tribe too.
Joshua did not separate the Levites out from the other tribes. He did not remove them from the rest of the people so that when he tells the people that they are not able to serve the LORD he can then point to the tribe of Levi and say, “You are not able to serve the LORD but the Levites are the perfect solution to this problem!”
In this moment Joshua does not even say, “You are not able to serve the LORD but this is why the Law has been given to you through Moses.”
Joshua did not say, “The Law was given so that you can be perfected and so that you can fulfill all of the statutes, the commands, the laws, and the requirements that God has given.”
It seems as though the LORD is showing us in these things that the Law and the Levitical priesthood were not the ultimate solution for the peoples sin problem. God would have to send another High Priest who had a better covenant. God would have to send His own Son who would love the Father and obey Him in every way (Joshua 23:11).
Just as Joshua had reminded the people that it was the LORD who had fought their enemies and who had given them victory and an inheritance, it would have to be the LORD who would deliver them from their sin and from His wrath. To do this the LORD would send a different priest from the tribe of Judah and a priest from an altogether different priestly order.
The people, however, did not understand these things. Even after Joshua tells them that they are not able to serve the LORD perfectly and warns them about what the consequences would be for their sin against a Holy and jealous God the people say, “No, but we will serve the LORD.” (24:21)
Would we respond the same way that the Israelites do here?
Even after Joshua confronted them with the truth about their sinful condition and their inability to faithfully serve a Holy and jealous God, the people are still confident in their own ability to serve the LORD. The Jews did not see their need for a New Covenant and a better High Priest who would mediate between them and God. Instead they looked to themselves as the solution.
Throughout the New Testament we see that even believers are often doing this same thing. We see this when the apostle Paul confronts the Galatians about these same things by using a series of questions. He said in Galatians 3:1-6, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain? Does He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith – just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
In the coming chapters the author of Hebrews will teach us that it is impossible for the law to perfect anyone. For example, he will write in Hebrews 10:1-4, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
The question that the author of Hebrews asks in our text reveals the theme that the rest of this text will build upon. The argument that the author of Hebrews is making is that the Law and the Levitical priesthood could not perfect anyone. The Law and the Levitical priesthood could not give access into the presence of a holy God. And because of this there was a great need to have a New Covenant established with a Better High Priest who was able to perfect those who would draw near to God.
After the author of Hebrews asks this question in Hebrews 7:11the remainder of our text gives five reasons why Jesus’ priesthood is able to perfect those who would draw near to God by faith in Him whereas the Law and the Levitical priesthood could not do this. Let me briefly give you these five reasons that we will speak more about next week.
In Hebrews 7:12-17 the author of Hebrews will argue that because Jesus Christ has come there has been a radical change not only in the priesthood but in the Law.
In Hebrews 7:18-19 the author of Hebrews contrasts the weakness and uselessness of the law, with the introduction of a better hope through which we can draw near to God.
In Hebrews 7:20-22 the author of Hebrews contrasts the priesthood of Jesus who received His office through an oath and the Levites who received their priesthood by birth.
In Hebrews 7:23-25 the author of Hebrews contrasts the temporary ministry of the Levitical priests with the permanent priesthood of Christ.
Finally, in Hebrews 7:26-28 the author of Hebrews contrasts the holiness of Jesus with the sinfulness of the priests under the Old Covenant. They were weak but Christ is the perfect Son who has been made a priest forever.
Those last words, “They were weak but Christ is the perfect Son who has been made a priest forever”, remind me of the end of Joshua 24. By the end of the that book that faithful generation had all died off. Joshua died, the people all died off, and the very last verse of the book closes with these words, “And Eleazar the son of Aaron died, and they buried him at Gibeah, the town of Phinehas his son, which had been given him in the hill country of Ephraim.” (24:33)
Even that last verse reminds us of one of the problems with the Levitical priests – they were all weak and they all died. But now Jesus has been made a priest forever. This is ‘Good News’ for you and I! We will study these things more next week