Christ: The Eternal High Priest
(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)
The writer continues illustrating the superiority of the priesthood of Christ. He says in verse 20, 'And inasmuch as it was not 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. As one will recall, He has used this argument already in 6:13 and following when He backed up His promise to Abraham with an oath.
Continuing in verse 21, the writer says, '...for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, 'The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, Thou art a priest forever.' Again, the writer quotes from Psalm 1 10:4, showing that God has taken an oath that there will not be any change in His plan for our salvation. He promises that Christ will be a priest 'forever.'
Because the Levitical system was tied into the Mosaic Law, the priesthood of Christ necessitates a new covenant; 'so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.' This truth will be further developed in Hebrews 9, where we see that Jesus, by His death, institutes this agreement just as the Mosaic Law was instituted by the sacrificing of animals. The point is that with the old priesthood, there was an old covenant. Now, with the new priesthood, there is a new covenant.
The writer illustrates the truth of Christ's eternal priesthood in verse 23: 'And the former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers, because they were prevented by death from continuing.' Usually, when there exists a large number of people certain to occupy an important position (such as the Levitical High Priests) it means that position is superior in strength because it will last for a long time. However, just the opposite is true regarding the priesthood of Jesus Christ. He is the one and only, superior, eternal high priest that God has appointed to provide eternal salvation for those that believe in Him. No one else was needed to step in and take His place because He still lives.
In contrast to verse 23, verse 24 further emphasizes Christ's eternality compared to the mortality of human priests; 'but He, on the other hand, because He abides forever, holds His priesthood permanently.' 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.
Verse 25 makes it clear why me must have a solid understanding of the priesthood of Melelchizedek. So often we say things like, 'If it is biblical I will believe it, but is it so important that I have to really understand it?' In order to understand the eternal security of the believer (which is of utmost importance) it imperative that we understand the Melchizedekian priesthood. Why? Verse 25 says, 'Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him since He always lives to make intercession for them.'
The word 'forever' in verse 25 has a two-fold emphasis. It 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.
There are only a certain group of people who are given eternal and complete salvation: 'those who draw near to God through Him.' Only those who believe in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ are saved. This is what those in Hebrews were in danger of missing if they turned back to their old ways. Why? The only way to be saved is through Jesus Christ. It does not matter how often you go to church, it does not matter how many good things you have done and it does not matter if you have been baptized. The only thing that matters is your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
In John 14:6 Jesus Himself said, '..I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.' 1 Timothy 2:5 declares, 'For there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.' You see, God has narrowed it down. You either draw near to Him through Christ, or you cannot draw near to Him at all.
That is pretty cut and dried. There is no such thing as middle ground when it comes to salvation. You are either saved through the person and work of Jesus Christ, or you are not saved. This is equally important regarding the eternal ministry of Christ. In other words, you cannot say, 'Yes, I believe that Christ died for my sins 2,000 years ago, but I do not believe that He is still alive.' You cannot deny the deity of Christ and draw near to Him. Why? Eternal salvation depends on an eternal priesthood.
Romans 8:31-32 illustrates the truth of Christ's ministry to the believer. Paul says, 'What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?' This puts things in perspective. It is not that God the Father is angry with us, looking to judge us, and Jesus has to defend us. God the Father loves us, and that is why He provided His Son to die for us. Paul continues, 'Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us' (Romans 8:33-34). Here we see the intercessory ministry of Christ. Christ is at the right hand of God to represent us, to intercede for us, forever! What can take away the love of Christ? '...neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans 38-39).
The truth is clear. In order to have salvation, we must have Christ representing us before the Father. In order to have Christ representing you in heaven, you must first believe in His person and work. That is the foundation for Him representing you in the presence of the Father.
Verses 26-28 illustrate the personal superiority of Jesus Christ, demonstrating His worthiness to be functioning in the capacity of high priest. In verse 26 the writer says, 'For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens.'
First, He is 'holy.' The word 'holy' as used for Christ is not the normal word 'hogaos' that is used to describe saints. It 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...'
Secondly, Christ is 'innocent,' or 'blameless.' Literally, He is free from everything that is evil or harmful.
Third, Christ is 'undefiled.' This refers to His purity of character and ties to the fact that He is the sacrifice. This is the unique thing about the priesthood of Christ. Not only does He make an offering for us, He is the offering. 1 Peter 1:18 stresses the fact that we are not saved by material goods or tradition; 'knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers.' Have you ever asked someone 'Why should God let you into His heaven?' And they respond something like, 'Well, I have gone to church since I was a little baby, and I give money every week.' Peter makes it clear that salvation is not measured by how many years you have gone to church, or how much money you give. How are we saved? 1 Peter 1:19 says, '...with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.' This is what the writer of Hebrews is referring to when he says that Christ is 'undefiled.'
The Jews had begun to identify the external displays of worship with salvation. But the reality was always personal faith in the revelation that God gave of Himself. We do the same thing today. We get caught up in the traditions and rituals of our church, and we feel good when we go through them, but we lose sight of the fact that they have nothing to do with salvation. Only through personal faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ can we be brought into an eternal relationship with God.
Fourth, Christ is 'separated from sinners.' '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.
Finally, Christ is 'exalted above the heavens.' The writer is referring to the atmospheric heavens that we can see. He has passed through these heavens into the presence of God the Father. This is where Christ performs His current ministry; at the right hand of God.
Verse 27 stresses the finality of Christ's sacrifice. The writer says, 'Who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.' A Levitical priest had to offer up sacrifices for his own sin first, then offer sacrifices for the people. But Jesus did not have to do that because He was without sin. He does not need to offer a regular sacrifice because He did that 'once for all when He offered up Himself.'
This is the problem with a system such as that of the Catholics. They carry out rituals like 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. The 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.
The following four things must be taken into account regarding sacrifices. (1) What is offered? As we have examined the only thing God accepts is Jesus Christ. (2) To whom is it offered? (3) By whom is it offered? It could ultimately be offered only by the high priest. We as believer-priests offer sacrifices acceptable to God because they are offered by us through the great high priest, Jesus Christ. (4) For whom is it offered? Who is being represented by this sacrifice? When these questions are asked, it is clear that the only sacrifice that meets God's standards is Jesus Christ.
The author concludes this section of Hebrews in verse 28; 'For the Law appoints men, as high priests, who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.' The Levitical priests were weak in two areas: mortality and sin. 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.
Christ, on the other hand, is the Son of God, 'made perfect forever.' Only He can give us a perfect, eternal salvation, because He Himself is perfect and eternal. The point is, Christ is superior. There is nowhere else to go for salvation. There will never be another high priest because Christ is perfect.
Have you come to the point in your life that you have recognized your sinfulness before God, and have placed your faith in the superior king-priest, Jesus Christ for eternal salvation? If you have, you will be in the presence of God forever, but if you have not, your worship system is empty and worthless. You are on your way to an eternity in hell, separated from God. There is nothing you can do to save yourself, and there is no other name under heaven by which you can be saved (Acts 4:12). In which group are you included?
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