Hebrews 7 – The Priesthood of Jesus

Hebrews 7 – The Priesthood of Jesus

Welcome & Prayer

A. The Important Characters

We’re going to look at Hebrews 7 today, but before we dive in, I want to let you know that this is not the easiest passage to immediately understand for two reasons. First, it is written to a 1st-century audience that the author expects will have a significant understanding of the history and spiritual culture and customs found in the Old Testament. And second, it’s a continuation right in the middle of a line of argument of Jesus as the better priest, which begins back in Hebrews 4 and continues through Hebrews 10, and I’m not going to keep you all here long enough to read that entire section. 

So, I am going to invite you to pay close attention this morning to follow the line of argument in this chapter. There is a lot of explanation, but I am confident that if we can understand in depth math and science and English and engineering, then we absolutely can and should deeply understand God and His Word to us. I’m gonna go slowly, piece by piece, so hang with me here. Let me start by introducing 4 key characters:

1. Jesus 

The first is Jesus.

You may have heard of Him before. If you haven’t, I love that you are here because you really should hear about Him. But if you haven’t picked up on it yet, Jesus is God himself, creator and sustainer of the universe, stepped down to earth, taking on flesh, living a perfect life, dying on the cross as our sacrifice, and being raised back to life. More on that later.

Hebrews explains that Jesus is better than any man, better than any heavenly being, better than any leader, better than any other rest, and now is in the middle of describing how Jesus is better than any other priest.

The book of Hebrews is cycling through the best people that the Jewish people knew — their heroes of the faith — and comparing them to Jesus. He’s saying: you think Kaitlin Clark can get buckets? This guy invented buckets. You think she can feed off of a crowd? Jesus feeds the crowd! He’s got more range than Steph Curry and more rings than MJ. 

You think Tesla has put together some cool cars? This guy put together galaxies, gastrointestinal systems, and everything in between by the power of his word and holds all things together as we speak. 

Anything you can do, he can do better. He can do anything better than you. The GOAT is bested by the Lamb of God. Highly exalted, in glory vaulted, His kingdom never halted. He is the Christ, the man, the King Jesus.

2. The Priests 

The next character to know is actually a cast of characters known as the priests.

As mentioned before, Hebrews 7 is in the middle of a long explanation of Christ’s priesthood, and the reason why he takes so much time on this is because the priest, and particularly the high priest was incredibly important in the lives of the Jewish people. 

A priest is someone that represents people to God. He is an intermediary, a representative, similar to how our elected officials represent our needs and requests to our government (at least, that’s the idea). And the high priest was the highest office in the priesthood, the main representative with the greatest responsibilities and the most elite credentials and character required.

Why do we need a spiritual representative? Because 1) God is holy, set apart, perfect and unstained, without equal in glory and authority and justice, and 2) in our sin, we have broken God’s instruction so badly that we, on our own, are unable to even approach him without facing just judgement for our offenses against our Creator. 

Under the covenant that God made with his people through Moses, they were able to have human representatives that were allowed to approach God after first completing sacrifices for their own sins, and then offering sacrifices in faith for the people, allowing them to be made right with God, to have their sins covered. 

Without priests, their relationship with God would be largely severed, cut off, and they would stand under judgement. So the priesthood was absolutely critical, and that’s why the author of Hebrews spends so much time on this.

3. Abraham 

The third person to know is Abraham, the “artist” formerly known as Abram.

Abraham was a man that we read about in the book of Genesis that was around about 2,000 years before Jesus walks the earth. God made a covenant with Abraham, and a promise to him that “I will indeed bless you and make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore. …  And all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring because you have obeyed my command.” (Gen 22:17, 18)

Because of that promise, Abraham is known as the patriarch, the head, the elder of God’s people, and God ultimately goes on to fulfill that promise through Abraham’s great, great, great, great, etc. grandson Jesus who brought a blessing not just to the Jewish nation, but a new covenant to all people, an offer of forgiveness of sins through his life, death, and resurrection (spoiler alert). 

Because Abraham was at the start of this, he is highly regarded and honored by the Hebrews a lot like how Americans would think of George Washington and the founding fathers of this nation.

Now the connections are a little complex, but hang with me here as we look at Abraham’s family tree and his connection to these other characters. 

You have Abraham, and then his son Isaac, and then his son Jacob (who was also called Israel, hence the name the Israelites). You may have heard the phrase “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Now, Jacob had 12 sons (big family), one of which was Joseph (the coat of many colors guy) who would eventually rescue the family from famine and bring them into Egypt to prosper for many years. 

Another one of Jacob’s sons was Levi from which eventually comes Moses and Aaron who were God’s representatives leading the rescue out of slavery in Egypt. From the line of Aaron, were selected the Levitical priests. 

The other son of Jacob to know this week is Judah. From Judah’s line comes King David and Solomon and more kings and eventually, King Jesus. That’s why one of the titles of Jesus is “the Lion of Judah.”

4. Melchizedek 

Fourth, we come to the little-mentioned Melchizedek. 

You may have just gone “Melchize-what-now?” And that would be understandable, because in the entirety of the 39 books of the Old Testament writings, in those approximately 600,000 words, Melchizedek shows up only twice. He’s basically mentioned in passing. If he were listed in the ending movie credits, he would be the guy you have to wait all the way to the end to see, humbly noted among the 500 other visual effects artists.

And yet, here in Hebrews 7, we get an entire chapter drawing an important, even critical connection between this guy and Jesus. But what is that connection? Well, let’s dive in and see.

B. Hebrews 7

Let’s start in Hebrews 6:19:

Hebrews 6:19-7:3

19We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. 20Jesus has entered there on our behalf as a forerunner, because he has become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. 1For this Melchizedek, king of [Jerusalem], priest of God Most High, met Abraham and blessed him as he returned from defeating the kings, 2and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means king of righteousness, then also, king of Salem, meaning king of peace. 3Without father, mother, or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever

Hebrews 7 is calling back to an interaction that Abraham had with Melchizedek (recorded in Genesis 14) in order to remind them of key details that tie into this priestly argument. Here are the key details, the historical facts, and I would recommend underlining these in your Scripture journals.

Melchizedek was:

  • the King of Jerusalem (v2) (another name for Salem)
  • priest of God (v1) (by the term used for God and the recognition by Abraham, we know it was of the God of the Bible, hence the name God Most High, and not some other God that he was a priest of)
  • tithed by Abraham (v2) (in the ancient world, a tithe was offered to recognize someone as superior, and in worship, a tithe to a priest was to recognize that priest’s authority to intercede with God on their behalf)
  • blessed Abraham (v1)

Then, we see the characteristics of Melchizedek. He was:

  • “resembling” the Son of God (v3), Jesus in these ways
    • without recorded genealogy (v3) (which was very abnormal in the historical Scriptures, particularly for individuals who held a high office)
    • named king of righteousness and peace (v2)
      • Evokes the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 9, which says “a son will be given…prince of peace…he will reign…with justice and righteousness from now on and forever
    • a priest “forever,” not on the basis of genealogical line, but by appointment by God (v3)

What does it mean that Melchizedek was resembling the Son of God? Is this saying that Melchizedek was literally an eternal being like Jesus?

That term “resembling” is important, and the root of the word in the original language is used similarly in the gospels where Jesus is speaking in parables. The kingdom of heaven is like or resembles a mustard seed. God’s love for us resembles the love of a father for his prodigal son.

Here with Melchizedek we find something called “typology,” a term for when God orchestrates history, sometimes in the form of a person and series of events, in a way that is meant to point forward to something even better. It is a prophetic symbol, a foreshadowing representation, a wink and a nod to something bigger and better that is yet to come. Every good storyteller uses foreshadowing. It’s just that God is not writing fiction. He is writing history and just so happens to be the best story writer in the universe.

Melchizedek was a real man, a real king, a real priest, but he was not the real prophesied coming messiah. He was meant to point forward to that Messiah who would walk the earth 2,000 years later: Jesus of Nazareth.

Even still, the mystery surrounding Melchizedek, this figure that seemly comes out of nowhere and then disappears can peak our curiosity, and make us think “he seems important! Why don’t we know more about him? There has to be more!”

The reason we know there isn’t more to know about to this Melchizedek guy is because if we were meant to know more, we would have been told more. In the Scriptures, every detail included is there for a reason and every detail left out is not there for a reason. We are not meant to know more. We are not meant to speculate. In fact, in 1 Timothy, we are warned not to speculate about endless genealogies because it distracts and distorts away from the main point. So let’s continue with what is in the text.

4Now consider how great this man was: even Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the plunder to him.

Quickly, the point he’s making here is that Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek is a recognition of his superiority. But the author of Hebrews anticipates an objection in verse 5:

5The sons of Levi who receive the priestly office have a command according to the law to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their brothers and sisters—though they have also descended from Abraham.

He’s saying “if Abraham were to give a tithe to a priest, that would simply be an obedience to the law of God, and not a recognition of someone as better.” Verse 6:

6But one without this lineage collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises. 7Without a doubt, the inferior is blessed by the superior.

Melchizedek was not in the in the Levitical line and therefore was not owed the tithe by law, so then in fact the tithe was a recognition of his superiority. He’s saying “there can be no doubt, the inferior (Abraham) received a blessing from his superior (Melchizedek).”

8In the one case, men who will die receive a tenth, but in the other case, Scripture testifies that he lives.

Here, the inferior temporary nature of the Levitical priests (“men who die”) is contrasted with the superior representational “eternality” of the priesthood of Melchizedek (“he lives”), which is foreshadowed by the absence of a stated genealogy, but actually realized in Jesus. 

In simpler terms: priests that die = not good. Priests that do not die = good. I’m showing my work up there: you’re just moving “not” from one side of the equation to the other.

Levitical priests from the old covenant were only allowed to serve for a maximum of 30 years, usually significantly less, because they were mortal men who would eventually die (like all of us), so they had to pass on the priestly duties when they could no longer fulfill them, and there were a lot of duties. 

They had to rely on the execution of succession plan after succession plan, and hope and trust that someone new and good would be raised up. With an eternal priest, there is no doubt. There is no worry. You’re covered, and that is better. That’s the point here.

9And in a sense Levi himself, who receives a tenth, has paid a tenth through Abraham, 10for he was still within his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.

He’s saying: even if you discount all of what I just said, Melchizedek’s priesthood is still superior because Levi himself tithed to Melchizedek through his ancestor and generational representative Abraham before he was born. So Melchizedek is the better priest.

Next, he’s anticipating another rebuttal and just states it himself, directly:

11Now if perfection came through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the law), what further need was there for another priest to appear, said to be according to the order of Melchizedek and not according to the order of Aaron?

The argument is: so Melchizedek is greater, fine, but why would we need a different priest? We have the priestly system with Levi which is working perfectly. I mean, it is from God, right?

He continues…

12For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must be a change of law as well. 13For the one these things are spoken about belonged to a different tribe. No one from it has served at the altar. 14Now it is evident that our Lord came from Judah, and Moses said nothing about that tribe concerning priests.

What’s going on here? He’s observing that under the old covenant, the old law that God gave to his people, there was a requirement for priests to come from the line of Levi. The priests were the ones who fulfilled the duties required by God’s people, so to not abide by that would be to break the covenant. A priest from outside the Levitical line would need to have an entirely different covenant with God, an entirely different law to abide by.

Here’s the thing: Melchizedek was not from the line of Levi (who wasn’t born yet), but Jesus wasn’t either! Jesus was an ancestor of Abraham in the line of Judah, which is the primary line that produced kings. 

If you’re following here, you’re seeing the issue: how could a descendent of Abraham be a priest and a king if they came from different lines? Jesus did not have the credentials of a Levitical lineage, and couldn’t be a priest under the old covenant, but he could under a new covenant with a “change of law” noted in verse 12. He expands on that:

15And this becomes clearer if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16who did not become a priest based on a legal regulation about physical descent but based on the power of an indestructible life. 17For it has been testified: 

      You are a priest forever 

      according to the order of Melchizedek., 

He’s saying that Jesus could serve as a priest, not based on lineage, but based on “the power of an indestructible life.” This would require an eternal being, and Jesus fulfills that requirement. 

In verse 17, we get a direct quote from a messianic prophecy in Psalm 110:4. This Psalm looks forward to a time when an eternal priest would be directly appointed by God, just like Melchizedek, not from the Levitical line. 

Ultimately, what Melchizedek’s priestly position, along with the absence of priestly lineage credentials, along with the confirmation and recognition from the father of their faith (Abraham) proves is that a direct priestly appointment from God was valid. But remember that it comes with it a new covenant law.

18So the previous command is annulled because it was weak and unprofitable 19(for the law perfected nothing), 

Under Jesus, the entire sacrificial system of the Levitical law is annulled, fulfilled, moved on from, done away with. And the author of Hebrews says “good riddance.” He answers the question he posed back in verse 11: “why do we need something different because this is perfect.” He says it’s not! It perfected nothing. 

Even that sacrificial system was merely a temporary solution, not a permanent one, because it was based on temporary people performing continuous sacrifices and religious ceremonies.

19but a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. 

He’s saying: a new and better covenant is available. And it is better in several ways:

1. It is Assured

20None of this happened without an oath. For others became priests without an oath, 21but he became a priest with an oath made by the one who said to him: 

      The Lord has sworn 

      and will not change his mind, 

      “You are a priest forever.”, 

This covenant is based on a promise, a sacred oath. God always delivers on his promises. He never wavers. He never changes his mind. What God declares to be so, will be so, and nothing in hell or on earth can stop it. No amount of money could bribe him. No military arsenal could defeat him. No spiritual force could overcome him. No charismatic figure could persuade him. No measure of success could divert him. No depth of failure could dissuade him. 

What God declares to be, will be. And what God declared to be was his son Jesus as our great high priest. That is assured.

2. It is Permanent

22Because of this oath, Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant. 23Now many have become Levitical priests, since they are prevented by death from remaining in office. 24But because he remains forever, he holds his priesthood permanently. 25Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them. 

Have you ever thought about why Jesus is able to offer eternal life, eternal salvation? It’s available because Jesus himself is eternal and so is his priesthood. There is no end to it. Tomorrow he will still be our priest, and the next day, and the next year, and the next century, and the next millennium, and on and on. He always lives to intercede, so He is able to save completely.

3. It is Completely Fulfilled

26For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests do—first for their own sins, then for those of the people. He did this once for all time when he offered himself.

High priests could only approach and be in the presence of our holy, perfect, just God after performing ceremonial sacrifices for their own sins. They couldn’t represent their people before God until they did the work to get clean themselves. That required daily work. That is what we call a single point of failure. If our standing before God were entirely dependent upon the absolutely perfect competency and unwavering faithfulness of another human being, my goodness, that would be nerve-wracking.

Imagine for a minute if [Brad?] had a button in his house. And every day, all he had to do was press that button and you get breakfast delivered the next morning. Kind of like a wake-up call. Seems easy enough and kind of fun. 

But what if the stakes were different? What if he has to press that button every day or you die. Yikes! I’m sure you’d be texting Brad, calling Brad, driving over to see Brad, doing something every day to make absolutely sure he doesn’t forget to press that button. I mean, what if Brad gets caught in traffic or falls asleep or goes on vacation? He’s great, but he’s going to fail eventually.

The thing is, as our representative before God, a priest holds our spiritual life in his hands. No matter how good that priest is, that’s unsettling. It’s imperfect. It’s temporary.

But Jesus isn’t like that. He is holy, innocent, undefiled. He has no need to perform any sacrifices for himself or clean himself up because he’s as clean as clean can get, so He can represent us immediately, permanently, and completely for our every sin.

4. It is Perfect

28For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak, but the promise of the oath, which came after the law, appoints a Son, who has been perfected forever.

Remember our slide from earlier: a law dependent upon men that die = not good, because in their weakness they are unable to perfectly fulfill that covenant. But a law dependent upon the perfect, eternal Son, Jesus is good. 

2 Corinthians 5:21 describes this beautifully: “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in Jesus we might become the righteousness of God.” He is our perfect sacrifice, and he offers a perfect covenant.

Application: What other covenant are you living under? Are you resting in the covenant Jesus supplies or something different, something self-made or man-made?

Maybe instead of living under a covenant of assurance, you are living under a covenant of fear. Maybe ultimately you are trusting in the strength of your own faith or your own ability to obey, when you should be resting in the work of Jesus, trusting in Him alone as your high priest.

Maybe instead of the permanent covenant you are engaging in a covenant of temporary worldly pleasures, going from one thing to the next. Maybe you are so caught up in distraction through entertainment that you’re drawn away from the real, the true, the good. Maybe you’re rejecting the permanent covenant Christ offers because you’re just not sure yet and want to go have some fun first.

Maybe instead of resting in the completely fulfilled covenant, you are trying to add to that covenant. Maybe your lived experience is a “Jesus plus” covenant, thinking there’s still work left to be done.

Maybe we’re living under the weight of the shame of our failures, of our insecurities, of our fears, and not recognizing that for those of us in Christ, each and every one of our sins, no matter how big or small or long ago or recent, they all went to the cross and were eliminated from our debt once and for all. The covenant has been completely fulfilled. The work has been done. It is finished.

Maybe instead of resting in the perfect covenant, we in our imperfection are trying to make perfect what only Christ can. Maybe like in verse 11, we’re thinking “why do I need this Jesus covenant, I’ve got a pretty good thing going on already.” Maybe we think we don’t need God. Maybe we think we’re good enough on our own, that we’re a pretty good person. If that’s what you think, honestly, you’re in for a rude awakening, and I would urge you, plead with you to reconsider. There is only one man in the history of the world that lived the life required to approach God freely without blemish or spot, and to freely 

We aren’t living under the old covenant of the Levitical priesthood, but maybe we are living under an invisible but very real “covenant” that we have come up with ourselves. The call of Hebrews 7, is to turn away from any and all other things, and rest in the better covenant of Jesus. That leads to the 5th and final way that this covenant is better.

5. It is an Invitation of Nearness

Here is the invitation that Jesus offers to us: draw near! Unlike the Israelites under the Levitical covenant, we get to draw near, not just to our priest, our intermediary, but directly to God himself. 

Hebrews 4:16 says “Let us draw near to the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.” 

Hebrews 7:19 “Jesus introduced a better hope through which we draw near to God.” 

Hebrews 7:25 “Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him because He always lives to intercede for them.”

Jesus grants us eternal life and direct eternal access to the Father that is sure, that is guaranteed, that is never fading, 

access that never falters for even a second, 

access that is not dependent upon our ability to obey perfectly but upon the obedience of Jesus, 

access that is not based on the strength of our faith but on the strength of the one we have faith in, 

access that is not hanging on the purity of our offered sacrifice, but based on the perfect sacrifice offered once and for all of the lamb of God — Jesus — who takes away the sins of the world, 

access that is not delivered far away deep within the temple in a room we could never reach and could only imaging, but is delivered by God himself who invites us to come to him whenever and wherever

access that is not dependent upon our proper planning, but on the glorious plan of salvation that our God orchestrated for us from the beginning.

Look at this glorious plan with me that we read back in Genesis 14: when Melchizedek the priest-king came out to greet Abraham, the representative of God’s people to come and bless him, do you know what he brings? Genesis 14:18 “he brought out bread and wine.”

2,000 years later, the priest-king Jesus sits down with his followers. He breaks bread, and says this is my body, sacrificed for you. Remember me. He takes the cup of wine and says, this is my blood shed, my sacrifice for you. Remember me.

And those are his words do us: Remember me. Draw near to me. Follow me. And behold I am with you, all the way to the end.