“If the spiritual perfecting of men had been possible through the Levitical priesthood and the law, why was another kind of priest like Melchizedek still necessary, instead of designating one from Aaronic descent? For when the priesthood is altered, there must also be a corresponding change of the laws regarding it. For He to whom these things refer is from another tribe, no member of which ever officiated at a sacrificial altar. It is quite clear our Lord descended from Judah—a tribe which Moses taught nothing in connection with the priesthood. And it is abundantly clear that a different type of priest like Melchizedek has already arisen, who was not appointed under an earthly system, but after the power of an indestructible life. For the Scripture affirms, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’ The previous regulating code was set aside because it was powerless and ineffective. The law was incapable of bringing anyone to spiritual maturity, but the introduction of a better hope does: it gives us access to God.” (paraphrased)
The writer’s task is not an easy one. He must convince Jewish Believers that God has now set aside the ministry He instituted through Moses. As the epistle progresses, he proceeds on the supposition that the goal of priesthood is perfection.
The first ten verses of this chapter demonstrate the superiority of the Melchizedekian priesthood based on the historical record in Genesis. The writer now centers on David’s prophetic insight concerning the priesthood (Ps. 110:4). He takes his readers on a Scriptural journey, leading them to accept the fact that a change was inevitable. He reveals what this state of perfection entails and how it may be attained. In the eleventh verse, the writer asks if another priesthood is necessary and then answers his own question. His impeccable logic is as follows:
<> Imperfection is contrasted with perfection. The Levitical priesthood was imperfect and must be changed (v. 11).
<> Old carnal laws are compared to new spiritual laws. If the priesthood is changed, the laws regarding it must also be changed (v. 12).
<> Myriads of Levitical priests are weighed against a single Gentile Priest. The Messiah came from the non-priestly tribe of Judah (v. 13-16).
<> Restricted access to God is contrasted with unrestricted access to God. Although the old system is hopelessly flawed, hope in Christ is the solution (v. 17-19).
A powerless priesthood necessitated a complete change. “Perfection” (teleiosis) is defined as bringing something to the absolute completion for which it was designed. This term refers to the inability of the priesthood to remove the barrier of sin. Teleiosis was impossible under the Levitical system for it denied full access to God (v. 19).
The Mosaic law and the priesthood were inseparable. Because the work of the priests did not result in redemption, the Mosaic code regulating it was also inept. Although the law demanded righteousness, sinful priests were incapable of making men righteous. Had they done so, an entirely different kind of priest would have been unwarranted.
Because the priesthood was designed as temporary, the same is true of its regulations. Any change in the priesthood necessitated an extreme makeover of its regulatory system. To separate priesthood from law would require editing the entire Pentateuch. The Levitical priesthood was “changeable” in that its priests were expendable and its sacrifices repetitive. “Changed” (metatithemi) means “to transpose, set aside, or replace something”. It was the ceremonial laws that were in question, for God’s moral laws were not enforced by priests. Jesus constantly reaffirmed the validity of the Old Testament social guidelines in His teachings.
Most Jews were adamant that the law be obeyed (Acts 21:20-28). So sacred was the Mosaic law that Stephen was stoned to death when he suggested his murderers were not law keepers (Acts 7:53). Jesus promised that the law of Moses would not disappear until everything in it was fulfilled (Mt. 5:17-18). When Jesus perfectly fulfilled the demands of the law, it immediately became obsolete. To simply add Christ’s priesthood to the existing Levitical priesthood would be to pour new wine into old wineskins (Mt. 9:16-17). The results would have been disastrous. The writer asked why a different priesthood was necessary. The answer is found in Christ, who nailed the law and its ordinances to His cross (Col. 2:14).
God gave only Levites the authority to minister in the tabernacle (Lev. 1:50). No person from any other tribe dared to officiate. “Altar” is (thusiasterion), at term that specifically refers to the sacrificial altar. The genealogical record makes it evident the Messiah was from the tribe of Judah (Lk. 3:33). “Evident” is prodelos and describes something that is openly manifest and commonly known to all. The priestly qualifications of our Lord have nothing to do with His family tree. The priesthood was not transferred from the tribe of Levi to the tribe of Judah, but to the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5; Micah 5:2). Whereas Levites were bound to the earthly realm, Jesus came from the heavenly realm. This major shift in the priesthood involved the transference of authority from a multitude of tribal priests to one universal Priest who ministers to both Jews and Gentiles.
Although Jesus came from the tribe of Judah, the writer explains that there is something even more obvious. A priest with similarities reminiscent of Melchizedek initiated an entirely different priestly order, not based on heritage or mortality. Whereas the Aaronic was transient, the Messianic is permanent. Jesus’ indestructible life removes any doubt concerning His eligibility for priesthood.
Most of the laws regulating priests were based on physical perfection. Commandments regarding it are termed “carnal” or “fleshly” (sarkikes) because they are regulated by earth-bound rules. Specific stipulations regarding lineage controlled Levitical priestly succession. However, nothing carnal can last forever. All the law could do was pave the way for something infinitely better. “Endless” (akatalutos) refers to the eternal duration of Christ’s life. Unlike the Levites, His priestly work was not hopelessly repetitive. Because Jesus is omnipotent, He completely fulfilled what the law could only foreshadow.
Israel’s priesthood came to full fruition around 1,000 B.C. during the golden era when David ruled. At the zenith of this flourishing period, David hints of an inevitable change and reaffirms Melchizedek’s priesthood centuries after Moses wrote about him (Ps. 110:4 & Gen. 14). The ministry of the Son of God did not emerge through either Aaron or Melchizedek, but via divine appointment. Although Melchizedek’s priesthood was only a prelude of Messiah’s priesthood, it was the link connecting an ineffective system with an effective one. The writer again reminds His readers their own Scriptures testify concerning Christ’s position. He did not become a priest because of pedigree, but performs His duties by virtue of the divine power inherent within Him.
Because laws regulating the priesthood were specific, they could not simply be “upgraded” to accommodate a new priesthood. They must be completely canceled. “Disannulled” (athetesis) means to do away with something that was once established, but has become obsolete. It is often used in legal documents to refer to an official cancellation of a contract or treaty. Like a marital annulment, it points to the inability of one of the two parties to fulfill their obligations. The writer is not shy to share why the Mosaic law needed to be replaced: it was inept and ineffective. The longevity of human priests proved its defectiveness and inadequacy. The inherent weaknesses of the Aaronic priesthood were all designed to magnify the strength of the Messianic priesthood. Although the law could reveal and condemn sin, it could not eliminate it. Its fatal flaw was the inability to bring human beings into relationship with God through the complete expiation of sin.
God prepared the Hebrews to receive their Messiah by urging them to obey His laws. Even with the atoning sacrifices mandated by these statutes, its effectiveness was minimal. The word perfect means “to finish something and bring it to completion.” Although Levitical laws succeeded in restricting access to God, they subsequently failed to bring individuals into right relationship with Him.
The goal of any priesthood is effectual mediation between God and man. If a priesthood fails in this area, it is a total failure. The limitations of the Aaronic priesthood testify to the limitations of all priesthoods. Like the Levites, contemporary priests are powerless to expiate sin. The world no longer requires the services of mortal priests. True fellowship with God is based on the effectual priesthood of Christ alone. We have direct access to Him and He deems us His closest friends (Jn. 15:15).
QUESTIONS: CHRIST’S EFFECTUAL PRIESTHOOD
1. Jesus was from which tribe?
2. What did Stephen say the Jews had not done? (Acts 7:53)
A. They had not kept the law
B. They had disregarded tithing
C. They had killed their own priests
D. They had not kept the Sabbath
E. They had made false accusations
3. What word is used to describe Jesus’ high-priestly ministry in 7:24?
4. Melchizedek existed several centuries before David wrote about him. True or False?
5. In compliance with the laws of Moses, what did Jesus tell ten lepers to do? (Luke 17:14)
6. Name the high priests in Jesus’ day. (Luke 3:2)
7. Besides the elders and the council, who sought false witnesses to testify against Jesus? (Matthew 26:59)
8. According to Mark 15:31, who mocked Jesus while He was on the cross? (Mark 15:31)
9. In John 19:15, who did the chief priests claim was their true king?
10. List the inherent dangers of contemporary priesthoods. Why are human priests are no longer necessary?.
11. Name some differences between a pastor and a priest.