A Superior Priesthood

Hebrews 7:11-19

(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)

In our last study, we moved into the heart of the book of Hebrews in chapter 7, which is the heart of Scripture as well. We examined the high priestly ministry of Jesus Christ, and proved His superiority as a priest from the order of Melchizedek compared to the priesthood of Levi.

We learned that Melchizedek was a 'type' of Christ. A 'type' is something that 'pre-figures' something that is to come. Melchizedek was like Christ in certain ways that were written about him. For example, Melchizedek was without a traceable genealogy-without an official beginning or end. His birth and death were never recorded. This is similar to Jesus Christ in that Christ, as the Son of God, has no parents, and He is eternal- without beginning or end.

The first three verses of chapter 7 dealt with the historical Melchizedek. We examined Genesis 14, which is the only historical account concerning Melchizedek found in Scripture. Melchizedek was a king-priest of Jerusalem separate from the tribe of Levi. The way in which things were recorded and omitted in the account of Melchizedek serve to illustrate that he was a 'type' of Christ.

Verses 4-10 illustrated four ways in which the Melchizedekian priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood. The writer proves that Christ, as a king-priest from the order of Melchizedek, is superior to Levi, superior to Aaron, superior to Abraham. How do we know this? In verse 4 Abraham paid Melchizedek tithes, acknowledging the greatness of the person of Melchizedek; 'Now, observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils.' Abraham, noting Melchizedek's superiority, gave him one tenth of the spoils of the battle that he had won. The point that was made was not that the person of Melchizedek was to be exalted, but rather the 'type' of Melchizedek: an eternal king-priesthood that brings eternal salvation. p10*****

The final proof of Melchizedek's superiority was that Levi paid him tithes as well (vs. 9-10). We might say, 'That makes sense. Abraham paid Melchizedek tithes, therefore Levi should pay him tithes.' The problem was, Levi was not even alive at the time of Melchizedek. How could he pay him tithes? Levi paid Melchizedek tithes in that he was a descendant of Abraham, so Abraham stood as his representative. We noted that this is the same concept that when Adam sinned we, being his descendants, sinned (Romans 5). Levi was inferior to Melchizedek before he was even born.

Introduction 7:11-28

Now if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need (was there) for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has of officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become (such) not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed (of Him), 'Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek, 'For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. And inasmuch as (it was) not without an oath (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''); so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. And the (former) priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers, because they were prevented by death from continuing, but He, on the other hand, because He abides forever, holds His priesthood permanently. 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. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 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. 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. Beginning in Hebrews 7:11, we turn our attention to the specifics of Christ's priesthood. The primary subject of the superiority of Christ's priesthood, has not changed, but the writer develops it more, pointing to the fact that the Levitical priesthood is inseparable from the Mosaic Law, while Christ's priesthood is complete, perfect, and eternal.


The writer begins verse 11; 'Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law)....' This is just the opposite of how one would expect this truth to be expressed. As we read the Old Testament, we get the idea that the Levitical priesthood was given on the basis of the Mosaic Law. But verse 11 conveys the opposite. The writer is saying that the Mosaic Law was given in order to validate the Levitical priesthood. If the Levitical priesthood is taken out of the Mosaic Law, nothing of meaning is left. Why? Because the whole purpose of having a religious system is to bring people into a personal relationship with the living God. If there are no priests to represent the people, then there is no reason to have a religious system.

It is very important that we understand what the writer is communicating in this verse. The concept is that the Levitical priesthood and the Mosaic Law are inseparable. If someone wanted to incorporate the Mosaic Law into their religious system today, they would also have to incorporate the Levitical priesthood because it was the basis for the Mosaic Law. This truth contradicts the efforts of some Christians today who mix in bits and portions of the Mosaic Law with their worship system. Hebrews makes it clear that this cannot be done.

The word 'perfection' in verse 11 means 'to be brought to completion.' We are perfect when we are everything that God says we ought to be. The writer asks 'If we can be perfect through the Levitical priesthood, what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron?' This is an obvious question. God had no need to raise up another priest out of the order of Melchizedek if the Levitical priesthood was already perfect.


The writer expands on his previous statement in verse 12; 'For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.' This is a pivotal verse in Scripture. When God changes the priesthood, 'of necessity,' there is a change in the law as well. In other words, if one understands the book of Hebrews, he will understand that the priesthood of Jesus Christ has replaced the Levitical priesthood and the Mosaic Law is no longer operative in any way.

VERSES 13-14

Why does the Law change when the priesthood is changed? In verse 13 the writer says, 'For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the 'altar.' If one looks at Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, the Law repeatedly establishes a priesthood for those who are descendants of Levi through Aaron. But now God is changing the priesthood to a line that has never officiated 'at the altar.'

Verse 14 continues, 'For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests.' The Mosaic Law never even remotely implied that it would be acceptable for a person from the tribe ofJudah to function as a priest. If there is going to be a new priesthood, the old Law has to be replaced as well.

We see an example of this in 2 Chronicles 26:16-19. In this account, Uzziah, a godly king for most of his life, transgressed the Law by attempting to burn incense on the alter before the Lord. But this was an act of worship reserved only for the Levitical priests. Azariah, the priest, confronts him but Uzziah defies the priests, and receives judgment from the Lord; '...the leprosy broke out on his forehead before the priests in the house of the Lord, beside the altar of incense' (vs 19). This was God's way of saying, 'I told you that only those who are descendants of Levi can be priests, and when I say something, I mean it.'

This is the reason that it is important that we understand why it is impossible to have Jesus as our high priest, while at the same time attempting to filter in pieces of the Mosaic Law in our worship system. It cannot be done because the Mosaic Law forbids anyone who is not a descendant of Levi from being a priest. It is clear then, according to verse 14, that the Mosaic system no longer has any validity in the plan of God.

VERSES 15-17

The writer continues to illustrate the superiority of Jesus Christ as high priest in verses 15 and 16; 'And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life.' The requirements of a Levitical priest were all physical: they were descendants of Levi through the family of Aaron, they could not be married, etc. What they had was a bunch of men who met physical requirements, but who were ungodly, running their religious system.

Melchizedek has his priesthood based on something else: 'the power of an indestructible life.' When a Levitical priest died, he was succeeded by another man who met the same physical requirements. But Melchizedek's priesthood cannot be destroyed or dissolved.

The Melchizedekian priesthood does not depend on physical requirements because 'For it is witnessed of Him, 'Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek' ' (vs 17). He is an eternal priest, therefore he is not regulated by physical requirements. When one studies the characteristics and attributes of God, he cannot look at a list. He finds out who God is when He reveals who He is in His Word. The same is true for the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ. There are no physical requirements that He must meet in order to be priest. He is eternal, He is indestructible, and He is superior.

Psalm 11O , a messianic psalm, illustrates the priest-king role of the 1 one who comes up from the order of Melchizedek; 'The Lord says to my Lord: 'sit at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.' The Lord will stretch forth Thy strong scepter from Zion, saying, 'Rule in the midst of Thine enemies.' ' The picture here is of the Messiah sitting on the throne, ruling as king. Verse 4 continues, 'The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, 'Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek'' God promises that the Messiah will also be an eternal priest 'according to the order of Melchizedek.'

Who is an eternal priest today? Is it the Pope of the Roman Catholics? No. Are the leaders of the religions of Islam or Buddhism eternal? No. The only eternal high priest that can offer you and me eternal salvation is the Lord Jesus Christ.

VERSES 18-19

Verses 18 and 19 draw together this section of Hebrews. The writer says, 'For on the one hand ,there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness.' This is truly an amazing statement. God is promising to set aside the Mosaic Law and the Levitical system. A thousand years later when Jesus Christ established Himself as the king-priest from the order of Melchizedek, the prophecy of Psalm 110 became reality.

Here, the writer is going to tell the Hebrews that they must set aside the Law and the Levitical priesthood. Most of them were raised with this system from the time they were born, and it had become ingrained in them. They had a tough time setting it aside, because it was so familiar to them. This is not any different from what goes on today. Many of us come from different backgrounds, and sometimes we think, 'I really miss that particular ritual we used to practice at my old church. It was really a strong part of my worship system, and it gave me such a warm feeling toward God. I wonder why we do not do that here? That is exactly what the Jews were doing in the book of Hebrews. Their old way of worship was ingrained in them. They wanted to mix it in with the worship of Christ. But God says we cannot do that. He set it aside 'because of its weakness and uselessness.'

It made no sense for the Jews to return to the Law because it is useless. Why would anyone return to something that is of no use? We have to remember that worship is more than 'a warm feeling.' Jesus did not say 'Those who worship God must worship Him with a warm feeling.' He said we must worship Him in 'spirit and truth' (John 4:23). We may have a warm feeling when we worship God sometimes, and sometimes we may not. But, the point is, the Old Testament law is weak and useless in light of the full revelation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Of course, the Law is profitable in a sense. It is a shadow of Christ before He came to earth. It also illustrates the activity of God's people as they obey and disobey Him. But it is useless to offer us eternal salvation. It cannot do that.

The first statement of verse 19 is '(for the Law made nothing perfect).' This is the issue. If we are not made perfect before God, our efforts and worship are worthless. The law did not make us perfect, therefore, it is worthless. Why? The Law can be summed up in two words: be perfect. The problem is, we cannot be perfect. This kind of attitude still exists today. We have lowered our standard. When they are asked, people routinely say that they will get to heaven by 'being good,' or by 'doing the best that I can.' If we could get to heaven by our actions we would have to 'be perfect.'

However through the order of Melchizedek, God has provided a solution. Verse 19 declares, 'and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.' What is that solution? Jesus Christ, the eternal high priest and king. Only He can bring us near to God through His death on the cross.

If we can only be brought near to God through the death of Christ, how then were the Old Testament saints such as Abraham, David, and Moses saved? Hebrews 9:15 states, 'And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant (the Law and Levitical priesthood), those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.' Chapter 10:4 also says, '...it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.' Men were never saved by sacrificing the blood of bulls and goats in the Old Testament. They were saved by placing their faith in God and the revelation that He had given of Himself. And God saved them because Jesus Christ, of the Melchizedekian priest-hood, would offer a sacrifice that was eternally sufficient to save them.

When we place our faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, we are set free '...from the law of sin and death' (Romans 8:1-2). The weakness of the Law was not the Law itself, but that it commanded those who are imperfect to be perfect. It is like saying 'Gil, fly to the moon, and you will be saved.' Sounds good to me, but no matter how hard I try, I cannot fly to the moon on my own power. I need something to bring me there because I am weak.

In like manner, God provided His own Son for the fulfillment of the Law; 'For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit' (Romans 8:3-4). The law simply communicates how sinful we are, and serves as a means of judgment for the unsaved (1 Timothy l:8-10).

The point is clear: we cannot save ourselves by obeying the Law, because we cannot obey the Law. Jesus Christ, the priest-king from the order of Melchizedek is the only one who has fulfilled the Law, and therefore is the only one through whom we may have eternal salvation.

Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.

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