Pastor David B. Curtis


The Superiority of the New Priest

Hebrews 7:20-28

Delivered 04/15/2001

We are studying chapter 7 of Hebrews. It deals with the subject of the Melchizedekian priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Jews of the first century would have been very familiar with the Levitical priesthood and the Mosaic law. Think how difficult it would have been for them to grasp the truth of the annulling of the law and the Levitical priesthood. We all resist change. For centuries the Jews had worshiped God through the Levitical priesthood and now it is defunct, over, canceled.

Hebrews 7:12 (NKJV) For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.

The words "being changed" are from the Greek word metatithemi, which means: "to transpose, to put one thing in place of another.""...a change of the law." - "change" here is metathesis, a noun which means: "disestablishment, removing." Not only was the Levitical priesthood removed but so was the law.

In this chapter, our author develops his argument on the basis of four verses in the Old Testament. He takes the Jews own scriptures and expounds upon them. He is presenting to us the superiority of Christ's priesthood to that of the Levitical priesthood.

All the arguments that we find developed in these 28 verses, all of the details, all of the intricate and complicated points are derived from four verses in the Old Testament:

Genesis 14:18-20 (NKJV) Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. 19 And he blessed him and said: "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand." And he gave him a tithe of all.
Psalms 110:4 (NKJV) The LORD has sworn And will not relent, "You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek."

In verses 1-10, we are taught about the greatness of Melchizedek. Then in verses 11-19, we are taught that the new priesthood supersedes the old. And now in verses 20-28, the writer shows us the superiority of the new priesthood. These verses teach us that Christ has accomplished for us what the Levitical priesthood never could.

In verses 20-22, he draws one more point from those Old Testament verses. He uses Psalm 110:4 again to provide another link in the chain of the argument which demonstrates the superiority of the order of Melchizedek to that of Levi. The Melchizedekian priesthood is greater, because it was established with an oath.

In verses 20-21, the principle is stated, and in verse 22, the conclusion is drawn.

Hebrews 7:20 (NKJV) And inasmuch as He was not made priest without an oath

What the writer is doing is beginning a demonstration that Christ became a priest after the order of Melchizedek with an oath from God. He has used this argument already in 6:13 and following when He backed up His promise to Abraham with an oath.

Hebrews 7:21 (NKJV) (for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him: "The LORD has sworn And will not relent, 'You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek'"),

Again, the writer quotes from Psalm 110:4, showing that God has taken an oath - He promises that Christ will be a priest "forever."

Aaron was not made priest with an oath:

Exodus 28:1 (NKJV) "Now take Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister to Me as priest, Aaron and Aaron's sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.

This verse is the institution, the inauguration of the Aaronic priesthood. That priesthood rested on a divine commandment, but there was no oath. The Old Testament scriptures mention no oath in regard to the Aaronic priesthood. God never said that the Aaronic priesthood would be forever, but he did say that of Melchizedek's priesthood. The dignity and greatness of one's priestly office is in direct proportion to the solemnity with which it is instituted.

Remember the purpose of an oath from:

Hebrews 6:17 (NKJV) Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath,

An oath is not designed to make more sure or reliable the Word of God. God gives an oath to accent his word to accommodate our weakness. God considers the priesthood of Melchizedek to be of infinitely more value than that of Aaron.

He draws his conclusion in:

Hebrews 7:22 (NKJV) by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant.

Because the Levitical system was tied into the Mosaic Law, the priesthood of Christ necessitates a new covenant. The point is that with the old priesthood, there was an old covenant. Now, with the new priesthood, there is a new covenant.

The word "covenant" is from the Greek word diatheke. Here we have the first direct allusion to the New Covenant. We'll talk about that better covenant in chapter eight. Notice the word "surety" - it is the Greek word egguos. It is only used here in the New Testament. It is a rare word, it differs from mediator. A mediator is one who brings two parties together, but a surety is the one who takes it upon himself to make sure, to guarantee that the responsibilities imposed on the two parties will be fulfilled.

Let me give you an illustration of this idea of an individual guaranteeing something. If you remember the story of Joseph, you know that he had been sold into slavery by his brothers. After 14 years of slavery, he ends up the number two man in Egypt. At this time there is a great famine in the land so Joseph's dad sends his brothers to Egypt to find food:

Genesis 42:3 (NKJV) So Joseph's ten brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt.

Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they don't recognize him:

Genesis 42:9-15 (NKJV) Then Joseph remembered the dreams which he had dreamed about them, and said to them, "You are spies! You have come to see the nakedness of the land!" 10 And they said to him, "No, my lord, but your servants have come to buy food. 11 "We are all one man's sons; we are honest men; your servants are not spies." 12 But he said to them, "No, but you have come to see the nakedness of the land." 13 And they said, "Your servants are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and in fact, the youngest is with our father today, and one is no more." 14 But Joseph said to them, "It is as I spoke to you, saying, 'You are spies!' 15 "In this manner you shall be tested: By the life of Pharaoh, you shall not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here.

So they go back to get their younger brother, and Judah guaranteed the promise that he would return Benjamin to his father, standing as surety of the promise:

Genesis 43:8-9 (NKJV) Then Judah said to Israel his father, "Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. 9 "I myself will be surety for him; from my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever.

When they get back to Egypt Joseph wants to keep Benjamin, but Judah pleads with him saying:

Genesis 44:32-33 (NKJV) "For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, 'If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father forever.' 33 "Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad as a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers.

Judah pleaded the case of Benjamin as the guarantor of Benjamin's safe return.

Another example is found in the little book of Philemon. It's a story about a slave by the name of Onesimus who had apparently deserted his master named Philemon:

Philemon 1:10 (NKJV) I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains,

Paul had led this man to Christ while he was in prison.

Philemon 1:12 (NKJV) I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart,
Philemon 1:17-19 (NKJV) If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. 18 But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay; not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides.

Paul was saying that he would guarantee the repayment of everything Onesimus might have taken from Philemon. Paul was becoming a surety for Onesimus.

In the Old Covenant, there was no surety of the covenant between God and man. But in the New Covenant the Lord Jesus Christ is our surety. He has given Himself voluntarily as the one who has the responsibility to see that the obligations that we have toward God are met in full. Jesus Christ says to the Father, in effect: "Charge to my account whatever my people owe, and I will fully pay their debts. Whatever they owe, I'll pay it." Do you understand the significance of that?

Let me tie this in with what we talked about last week about disannulling of the law. I said that as believers in Jesus Christ, we are not under the law of Moses. What does it mean to be under the law?

Deuteronomy 6:24-25 (NKJV) 'And the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day. 25 'Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the LORD our God, as He has commanded us.'

To be under the law means that we obtain righteousness, a right standing with God by obedience to the law.

Matthew 5:20 (NKJV) "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

God demands perfect righteousness. Who lives up to this standard? No one!

Philippians 3:8-9 (NKJV) Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;

Paul had spent his whole adult life trying to gain a righteousness of his own by the law.

Let me give you a couple of problems with self-righteousness:

1. You can never be sure you have enough. What if more is required than what you've done?

2. What if you fail? God demands perfect righteousness.

When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, he gives us His perfect righteousness:

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV) For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

We are righteous not because of what we do, that is legalism, but because of what Christ had done for us.

Does God's moral law serve a purpose in the life of a believer? Yes! It reveals our sin and helplessness and causes us to look to God for grace. And it tells us how we may live in order to show our love for God. We live in obedience to God out of love, not out of fear of condemnation and judgement.

Jesus is our surety. He obeyed the law perfectly and he died a substitutionary death for our sins. We do not gain righteousness by obedience to the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus, as our surety, is the one who is responsible to see that the obligations that we have toward God are met in full. And not only that, but he is also God's surety. He is the guarantee on the part of God the Father that all of the divine promises will be fulfilled.

What the author of Hebrews is saying is that by reason of the oath attached to Christ's priesthood we can be assured that all of the obligations, both God's toward us and our's toward God, will be met in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 7:23-24 (NKJV) Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. 24 But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood.

He develops the thought of verse 16 further. Our Lord Jesus Christ's priesthood is not based on some physical requirements but on the basis of his person. They were mortal, and therefore, many. He is eternal and therefore one.

Verse 23 tells us that the Old Testament priests died, and thus they had to pass on their priesthood:

Numbers 20:23-28 (NKJV) And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron in Mount Hor by the border of the land of Edom, saying: 24 "Aaron shall be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the children of Israel, because you rebelled against My word at the water of Meribah. 25 "Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up to Mount Hor; 26 "and strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son; for Aaron shall be gathered to his people and die there." 27 So Moses did just as the LORD commanded, and they went up to Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. 28 Moses stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there on the top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain.

Aaron passes on his priesthood to Eleazar. Later, after the settlement in the land of Cannan, Eleazar died (Joshua 24:33) and was succeeded by his son Phinehas, and so the tale went on. In generation after generation the high priest died and his office passed to another, until in all eighty three high priests officiated from Aaron to the fall of the temple in AD 70, according to Josephus.

Hebrews 7:24 (NKJV) But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood.

In other words, if Christ never dies, His priesthood cannot ever be changed. This was true of the Levitical system as well. For example, Aaron could not be replaced as a priest until he died. And because Christ never dies, He will never be replaced, and His priesthood will never change.

Do you see the difference between the two priesthoods? Christ is eternal, his priesthood is unchangeable. The Greek word used here for "unchangeable" is aparabatos. It means: "not stepping across or not passing away", thus untransferable.

Now the Lord Jesus Christ died, but that wasn't the termination of his priesthood. His death in itself was a priestly act. The other priest offered sacrifices, but Christ offered himself:

Hebrews 9:26 (NKJV) He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

The Old Testament Israelite must have endured great anxiety over their priestly system. They may have loved and respected their high priest and would have found great comfort in going repeatedly to the same priest knowing that he would effectively secure for them a hearing in the presence of God on the day of atonement. But what about his successor, would he be a good man; would he adequately represent them before God? This never comes into question with our Lord Jesus Christ. His priesthood is perfect and it will never be succeeded.

Leviticus 4:3 (NKJV) 'if the anointed priest sins, bringing guilt on the people, then let him offer to the LORD for his sin which he has sinned a young bull without blemish as a sin offering.

According to this, an inadvertent sin on the part of the High Priest brought guilt upon the people.

1 Samuel 2:12-13 (NKJV) Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the LORD. 13 And the priests' custom with the people was that when any man offered a sacrifice, the priest's servant would come with a three-pronged fleshhook in his hand while the meat was boiling.
1 Samuel 2:17 (NKJV) Therefore the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD, for men abhorred the offering of the LORD.
1 Samuel 2:22-25 (NKJV) Now Eli was very old; and he heard everything his sons did to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 23 So he said to them, "Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people. 24 "No, my sons! For it is not a good report that I hear. You make the Lord's people transgress. 25 "If one man sins against another, God will judge him. But if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?" Nevertheless they did not heed the voice of their father, because the LORD desired to kill them.

The people were coming that the priest might represent them before God, and what do they see - sinful, vile individuals caring on at the very foot of the place where they have come to meet with God. That was one of the problems with the Old Testament priesthood. You could not guarantee the spirituality and purity of the one who was to represent you before God.

We don't have to worry about sin overcoming our High Priest. We have a perfect High Priest, he is not mortal, and he is not sinful, and he will never be succeeded:

Hebrews 7:25 (NKJV) Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

Jesus Christ is able to save completely. The word "save" here is the Greek word sozo. "The verb sozo has a wide range of possible meanings. It can mean: "physical healing, rescue from danger, spiritual deliverance of various kinds and preservation from final judgement and Hell." We must determine its meaning from its context. In this context in Hebrews, I believe that it is referring to strength to endure trials. In other words, "those who come to God through Him" will find the strength to endure, they will be delivered.

Not only does Christ's priesthood provide "grace to help in time of need", it also keeps us secure in Him no matter how bad we mess up. In order to understand the eternal security of the believer (which is of utmost importance), it imperative that we understand the Melchizedekian priesthood. He saves us to the uttermost. Because of His work, we will never be lost.

The word "uttermost" is the Greek word panteles, which means: "to perfection." The only other New Testament use of this phrase is found in:

Luke 13:11 (NKJV) And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up.

The words "in no way" are panteles. She couldn't completely stand up. But just as Jesus by his power enabled her to stand physically, he can empower us to stand spiritually.

"Uttermost" - can literally be translated: "forever and completely." Christ is able to save for the duration of eternity as well as thoroughly. How long is a believer saved when he trusts in the person and work of Christ? Forever! What is left for him to do in order to be sure he is saved? Nothing! He is saved completely! This truth takes away any claim by any denomination that says we must have good works in order be saved. There is nothing left for us to do after we become a believer in Christ. This is possible only because Jesus Christ is an eternal priest, and this is why believers are eternally secure.

The phrase "those who come to God through Him" has the same force as:

Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV) Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

He is always praying for us. What is the nature of this intercession?

Luke 22:32 (NKJV) "But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."

Jesus prays for our victory and strength when we come to him in faith. The salvation accomplished by the intercessory work of Christ is nothing less than bringing them through all trials to the ultimate victory and blessing God has for them.

Two thoughts on Christ's intercession:

1. He is not to be thought of as pleading our cause in the presence of a reluctant God, but as a throned King-Priest, asking what He will from a Father who always hears and grants His request.

2. To rely upon angels or saints or any other finite being for their intercession is not only futile, it also betrays a failure of confidence in the adequacy of Christ as our intercessor, and it is to honor the creature rather than him who is our Creator and Redeemer.

Hebrews 7:26 (NKJV) For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens;

The NEB Bible says, "Such a High Priest does indeed fit our condition." The new priesthood is superior simply because of who the new priest is. He is the Son of God. The word "holy" as used for Christ is not the normal word "hagios" that is used to describe saints. Hagios means: "to be set apart from sin to God." In verse 26, "hosios" is a word used to describe the personal character of Jesus Christ. Revelation 15:4 declares, "...Thou alone art holy." In like manner, Revelation 16:5 says, "...Righteous art Thou, who art and who wast, O Holy One..." This word hosios refers to holiness in an absolute sense; moral purity. This word "holy" has a messianic connotation to it:

Acts 2:27 (NKJV) For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
Acts 13:35 (NKJV) "Therefore He also says in another Psalm: 'You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption.'

As He uniquely is God's Holy One, it is essential if we are to be able to stand before God, that we stand in Him.

He is also said to be "harmless"; in person and character blameless. He is entirely free from all that is evil and harmful, both in action and motivation.

He is also "undefiled". The Old Testament priests were undefiled. It was a requirement that they be ceremonial purified before they could enter the Holy of Holies. They had to be undefiled physically. As we said last week, there were 142 blemishes that could disqualify a priest according to Lev. 21:1 - 22:16. He had to be a cross between Tom Cruise and Mr. Olympia. But the lack of defilement was external. All these external features had a purpose, it was God's way of telling the people that to enter into His presence, you had to be perfect. These physical aspects pointed that out.

When we read that Jesus Christ was undefiled, which is a clear reference to these requirements, he is undefiled inherently; He is the Son.

It says that he was also, "separate from sinners" - this is a reference to the first three. "Wait a minute," you say, "I thought Christ was identified with sinners." He is identified with us in that He became human, but He never sinned, so He could not be identified with sinners in that sense. This is the reason that He can bring salvation. If He had become a human being and sinned, He would have been in the same predicament as all other humans. He is separate from us in that he is sinless:

Hebrews 4:15 (NKJV) For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

"...and has become higher than the heavens" - speaks of Christ's resurrection, ascension, and glorification.

Hebrews 7:27 (NKJV) who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people's, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.

The nature of this contrast is the burden of chapter 10. The phrase "for this He did once for all" - attests the eternal completeness and efficacy of this one sacrifice for sins forever, and also confirms the abolition of every other sacrificial system.

It says, "He offered up Himself" - that is an advance in thought in this letter:

Hebrews 1:3 (NKJV) who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
Hebrews 2:17 (NKJV) Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
Hebrews 5:1 (NKJV) For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.

Jesus Christ is the priest and the sacrifice:

Galatians 2:20 (NKJV) "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

He didn't offer a goat or a bull, he gave himself.

This is the problem with a system such as that of the Catholics. They carry out rituals like the Mass that re-sacrifice the person of Christ. But Christ cannot be re-sacrificed, because He only had to die one time. Now, I am not anti-Catholic, but we need to be sure that our worship is biblically correct. Some Protestants do not understand this truth any better. They say we can be saved through baptism, or going through confirmation class. These types of activities are actually re-sacrificing Christ as well, because, in effect, what is being said is "Christ's death was not enough to save us." They fail to understand that no other sacrifice is needed in order to be saved.

Hebrews 7:28 (NKJV) For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever.

This is a summary statement. The word "weakness" refers to the fact that they were mortal and sinful. The fact that they died made their priesthood temporary, and the fact that they were sinners meant that they had to offer sacrifices on their own behalf.

In both respects Christ is far superior, He is eternal and sinless.

Jesus Christ is our High Priest, God's provision for help in our daily life, incomparable in greatness, inexhaustible in resource, infinite in patience, infallible in wisdom and interested in all that concerns us. Believers, come to Him with all your needs, he is able to save completely.

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