The Guarantee of a Better Covenant: Hebrews 7:1-28
A young couple was called to heaven before they could be married. The disappointed groom took St. Peter aside and asked him if it was still possible for them to be married. “I’m afraid you’ll have to wait,” St. Peter replied. “Check back after five years, and if you still want to be married we will talk about it.” Five years passed and the couple came back, repeating their request. “Sorry, you must wait another five years,” St. Peter told them. Fortunately after the wait St. Peter said they could be married. The wedding was beautiful and at first the couple was happy, but then they realized they had made a mistake. They went to see St. Peter, this time to ask for a divorce. “What?” St. Peter asked. “It took us ten years to find a minister in heaven, and now you want a lawyer?”
If you have ever been traumatised by a wrongful arrest, or suffered an acrimonious divorce, or experienced a long drawn out litigation, or agonised over a contested family will, you will know how important it is to have a good lawyer. You will know how grateful you were to have a competent mediator, how reassuring to trust in a compassionate advocate.
Someone able to represent you, someone to speak for you, someone to negotiate on your behalf. Last year was the first time in my life that I needed a solicitor. I was so grateful to find one who was competent, diligent and on my side. So far you may have been fortunate in never needing a mediator. But before the judgement seat of a Holy God, you will need the very best. That is what we have supremely in the Lord Jesus Christ. And that is why getting to grips with Hebrews 7 is worth it.
What makes Hebrews so Challenging
The reason passages such as Hebrews 7 appear so difficult to interpret is because the world in which its original readers lived was so different from our own. The original readers were Jewish. They had come to embrace Jesus as the Messiah. Today’s readers are mostly Gentile. We have little acquaintance with Jewish traditions, the priesthood and with Temple worship We find it difficult even pronouncing the name Melchizedek, let alone understand his significance.
That is why we need to remind ourselves of the central theme. The central theme is the superiority of Jesus Christ. He is the holy and exalted Son of God, equal with the Father and Spirit, co-eternal, co-existent, co-equal. Because Jesus is supreme, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, because he is our maker and will be our judge, he is worthy of our allegiance. Many of the first-century Hebrew converts, however, had become soft regarding Christ’s superiority. They had begun to experience persecution for being Christ followers and they were seeking security by turning back to their traditional ties – their families and local synagogues – the Levitical priesthood, the Mosaic Law, the Old Covenant, ceremonial sacrifices and ritual requirements. These young Jewish Christians to whom the letter was originally written had begun to depreciate what they had found in Jesus. And they were being tempted to back to the mediating work of their local rabbi, back to the Law, back to the synagogue. In doing so they were in danger of turning their back on Jesus.
The message of Hebrews is simply this “Don’t even think about it!” Because it is Jesus, not the priests, who is your true mediator. Now that the Messiah has come, a whole new era has dawned, eclipsing the Old Covenant traditions and leaving Judaism behind in the shadows. Here is a breakdown in the argument of Hebrews:
A Superior Person: Christ (Hebrews 1-6)
Better than the Prophets (1-1-3)
Better than the Angels (1:4-2:18)
Better than Moses (3:1-4:13)
Better than Aaron (4:14-6:20)
Superior Priesthood: Melchizedek (Hebrews 7-10)
A Superior Order (7)
A Superior Covenant (8)
A Superior Sanctuary (9)
A Superior Sacrifice (10)
A Superior Principle: Faith (Hebrews 11-13)
Examples of Faith (11)
Endurance of Faith (12)
Exhortation to Faith (13)
It is in this context that I would like us to
consider Hebrews 7 under three headings (for which I am grateful to Charles
Jesus and Melchizedek: Comparison (Hebrews 7:1-10)
Jesus and Moses: Contrast (Hebrews 7:11-14)
Jesus and Me: Conclusion (Hebrews 7:18-19)
and Melchizedek: Comparison (Hebrews 7:1-10)
“This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, 2 and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness;” then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” 3 Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever. 4 Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! 5 Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their kindred—even though their kindred are descended from Abraham. 6 This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. 8 In the one case, the tenth is collected by those who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. 9 One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, 10 because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor. (Hebrews 7:1-10)
was the king of Salem, reigning over the region we now know as Jerusalem. What
is remarkable is how little we are told about him, given his significance. In
Genesis 14:18-20, nothing is said about his parentage, ancestry, descendents,
birth or death. He reigns as priest and king without beginning and end. The
writer emphasizes this in verse 3. He wants us to note:
1. Melchizedek blesses Abraham (7:1, 6)
2. Abraham gives Melchizedek a tenth of everything (7:4-6)
3. Therefore, Melchizedek is superior to Abraham (7:7)
The Jewish believers were tempted to trust in their Priests and Rabbis to give them security and stability they so desperately needed. But this was futile because another priestly order older and superior to the Levitical line through Aaron. As such Melchizedek is mentioned here in the argument of Hebrews as a type – a proto-type of Jesus Christ, who ever lives and reigns and intercedes on our behalf. Melchizedek, the king-priest, foreshadowed the coming of a still greater king and priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus and Melchizedek – a comparison.
Jesus and Moses: Contrast (Hebrews 7:11-14)
“If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. 13 He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.” (Hebrews 7:11-14)
Remember the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices was only one half of the deal. The offering of sacrifices was linked with the keeping of the Mosaic Law. That is why sacrifices had to be offered – and offered continuously, because there was no respite, no ultimate forgiveness, no peace with God. People could not attain a right relationship with God through the Law and a sacrificed animal was not sufficient to atone for their sin. Both were temporary and therefore both remained necessary, unless and until God provided a better way. And he did – in Jesus Christ.
“And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 7:15-17) How could these young Jewish believers go back to a defective system that had outlived its sell by date. “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” (Hebrews 7:18-19)
The law and sacrificial system had been a tutor, to lead them to Jesus Christ. Melchizedek preceded not only the Priesthood of Aaron but also the Law of Moses. Melchizedek represented something prior to both and separate from either. The fulfilment of God’s purpose would be achieved by a perfect priest and perfect sacrifice.
Jesus and Melchizedek – a comparison.
Jesus and Moses – a contrast
Jesus and Me: Conclusion (Hebrews 7:22, 24-28)
“Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant… but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.” (Hebrews 7:22, 24-28)
The contrast could not be clearer. Law and Grace. Do and Done. Only by grace can we enter God’s presence. We need a mediator, an advocate, a representative. And Jesus is God’s provision. Our security is not in a system of rigid rungs on some legalistic ladder to God. The reason these Jewish believers were tempted to go back to the Law and Temple sacrifices is the same reason people are tempted to rely on a religious code of behaviour today. That is why rigid adherence to Anglican or Roman Catholic or Orthodox liturgy is so tempting to some. Say the right words, do the right things and you will get to heaven.
Not so. Do you want to be near God? It doesn’t take a moral make-over in a monastic gym or a ceremonial deep cleansing in a religious health spa. You don’t need to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Rome or Mecca. You don’t need to be able to trace your religious family tree or gain a perfect score in Sunday attendance. What you need is a perfect ambassador. You need an indestructible mediator. You need an impeccable advocate who lives permanently to intercede on your behalf.
You need Jesus Christ. You need Jesus Christ first, because not only does he know where we are coming from, but more importantly where we are going to. Second, we need Jesus Christ to ensure we get there for spiritual maturity and eternal security. Third, we need Jesus Christ because only he can diagnose our spiritual state, and tell us we are weak and empty in ourselves but, more importantly, how we can be strong and complete in Him. No, there won’t be any ministers or solicitors in heaven. Only children. Children of our heavenly father.
Jesus is our Guarantee. Our guarantee of a Better Covenant. Lets pray.
[i] Charles Swindoll, The Preeminent Person of Christ: Hebrews 1-10. (Insight for living)