NOTES on Hebrews
7:23-28 (click here for study)
The author of Hebrews has just explained how Jesus' priesthood is in the order of Melchizedek. He now continues by explaining that the permanence of Jesus' high priesthood is what sets it apart from the Levitical priesthood.
Death, one common characteristic that afflicted all earthly priests, is a mark of sin. "The wages of sin is death," says Romans 6:23. When Adam and Eve committed the first sin, God cursed them and the human race with death. (Gen. 3) No priest or high priest born in natural flesh could offer a sacrifice perfect enough to remove humanity's guilt. The Levitical priesthood was imperfect because of its own inherent sin. The Israelite priests could never function as our true priests. An effective priest had to live forever, always opening the way for us to know the Father, always presenting God with an everlasting sacrifice, always forgiving sin with his own death.
Jesus, the one perfect high priest, is "able to save completely those who come to God through him." (v.25) The word "complete" can also be translated "forever". Because Jesus lives forever, this passage declares, he is able to permanently save those who accept him. His eternity gives him the right and the power to effect our unending salvation. Nothing can stop his intercession. Nothing can undo his perfect sacrifice. Nothing can depreciate his resurrection and his victory over the death of sin. Jesus' birth, death, and resurrection are singularities. They changed reality eternally, and we who embrace him receive this eternal new reality in ourselves. Evil's power is broken; never again can Satan claim humanity for his own.
Qualifications for Complete Salvation
Those who receive this complete, forever salvation will have certain things in common. They will discover that the law makes nothing perfect, and they will draw near to God by "a better hope" than the law. (Hebrews 7:19)
When we are eternally saved, we will approach the Father through the grace of Jesus. We will receive mercy and find grace to cover our sins. (Hebrews 4:16) We are able actually to enter the presence of God. We no longer depend on a human priest or intermediary. By the blood of Jesus we can enter "the Most Holy", and we can "draw near to God" because Jesus has sprinkled our hearts and cleansed them from guilt. (Hebrews 10:19-22)
Jesus came and preached peace between God and humanity. Through Jesus we have access to the Father and we enter his peace. (Ephesians 2:17-18) We can enter the presence of God through Jesus and in Jesus, and we can do it with freedom and confidence. (Eph. 3:12)
When we are saved we submit to God. We resist evil, and we come near to God, thereby washing our hands and purifying our hearts. (James 4:7-8)
This complete, forever salvation is possible because Jesus "always lives to intercede for them." (v. 25) Jesus' intercession is more than an unseen ministry in which he declares to his Father that his blood has covered our sins. His intercession has direct results in our lives right now.
Because of Jesus' resurrection and intercession, the Holy Spirit intercedes for the saints, and nothing can separate them from the love of Christ. (Romans 8:27, 34-35) Further, Jesus is in heaven, appearing in God's presence on our behalf. (Hebrews 9:24)
Our Redeemer pleads with God on behalf of his people (Job 16:19-21), and he alone bears all our sins. (Isaiah 53:12) He speaks in our defense if we sin. (1 John 2:1)
Jesus' intercession makes it possible for us to be one with each other and one with God through him. We can have complete unity with other believers, and that unity tells the world that God sent Jesus and that God loves us as he loved Jesus. Because of his mediation for us, Jesus himself is in us, and we are filled with God's love. (John 17:20-26)
Set Apart and Exalted
Jesus, our Creator, became a human being in order to be our perfect sacrifice and also to be a high priest who could meet our needs. As a human he could bear the curse that humanity had inherited along with sin. As a human Jesus suffered in the same ways we suffer, and he is able to understand and help us when we are tempted and hurting.
At the same time Jesus is "holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens." Jesus' sinless perfection, his living soul with which he was born, set him apart from the rest of humanity. Because he was different-set apart-in this way, Jesus was the only person in all of eternity who could take up our infirmities and carry our sorrows. (Isaiah 53:4) He "became a curse for us." (Gal. 3:13)
Jesus was born as a "new creature". He was not born in death. He was born alive with the Holy Spirit, and he was intimate with his Father and did his will. His perfect sinlessness is what qualified him to take on our sin. He came to earth as a human for the purpose of taking into his sinless self the sins of all humanity. He "bore our sins in his body." (1 Peter 2:22,24) God "made him who had no sin to become sin for us that we might be the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21) He appeared to take away sin, but in him there was no sin. (1 John 3:5)
Jesus was set apart by his perfection, by his living soul, by his being fully God and fully human. He is the only such person in all eternity. His unique status, however, did not put him at arm's length from people. Quite the opposite was true. Jesus was able to take into himself the pain of his human brothers and sisters. His unique status is the reason he, perfect and one with God, bore all sin in himself on the cross and died the death of sin. He died from separation from God.
Jesus' uniqueness didn't end with his death, however. He rose again, forever breaking the eternal hold of sin on humanity. He was "exalted above the heavens". Jesus entered the presence of God his Father, and he sat down with him, his atonement complete. Jesus experienced the consequences of sin, even though it was not his own sin, more intensely than any other person in the history of mankind. He also experiences the glory of victory and eternity. Only God could be both sin-bearer and sin-breaker. Only a human alive from birth with the living presence of God could pay the price of sin and promise humanity's redemption. Only Jesus, set apart and yet exalted, could have changed reality for eternity. Only Jesus could give us the gift of passing from death to life.
Priests by Law, Priest by Oath
The Levitical priests were weak because they were sinners and because they were mortal. Their terms of office were temporary; when they died, a new generation of priests took over. The Levitical priesthood changed continually. It was defined and designated in the law-only the descendants of Levi could serve in the temple, and only the descendants of Aaron could become high priests. But the priests did not serve because they were holy or good. They served only because of their physical inheritance. As humans, they had nothing except the law to recommend them for their office. They were limited by their innate sinfulness.
The weak priesthood and the law, however, was God's plan. Without the system of laws requiring holiness, of people continually failing to keep the laws, and of priests killing animals and presenting them as sin offerings, humanity would not have become conscious of its hopelessness. People had to know they were sinners and needed saving. A priesthood of sinners, unqualified to enter the presence of the holy God without specific observances and unable to offer an adequate sacrifice, made Israel conscious of its spiritual failure. God wanted them to understand that they needed a Savior.
Jesus, the perfect high priest, was the answer to the desperation the Israelite priesthood revealed. From the beginning his priesthood was different from that of the Levites. While the Levitical priests served on the basis of inheritance defined by the law, Jesus' priesthood was appointed with an oath of God.
The Israelite priests kept the requirements of the law. They performed every ritual and ceremony demanded of them. But they did these things in their human sinfulness. No matter how often they sacrificed an animal for sin, they could not become cleansed from it. No matter how scrupulously they adhered to the law's minutia, their offerings and sacrifices were not adequate. Israel lived under the curse of the law, and the priests continually repeated their services of mediation. No matter what they did, sin still claimed the souls of men and women. Their keeping the law was not enough to break the curse that bound them.
God first proclaimed his oath of a better, eternal priest when David conquered Jerusalem. "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek," David prophesied. (see Psalm 110:4-7) This oath came after the law, and it superceded the law. This oath promised a high priest who would not be constrained by adhering to the law that held mankind in bondage to death. This new Priest would not fulfill the requirements of inheritance and repetition that defined the Levitical priesthood. This new Priest would be of a different order-an eternal, sinless order that had nothing to do with physical inheritance. Jesus would be a priest because of God's oath and because of his own perfect sinlessness.
The priesthood in the order of Melchizedek takes precedence over the law because it is not a priesthood of sinners. Jesus would be a sinless priest. He would offer a sacrifice that really could pay the price for sin. The requirements of the law could never effect permanent atonement. The sacrifice, death and resurrection of the Priest in the order of Melchizedek would destroy sin. Jesus would restore humanity's connection to God by breaking the curse that kept them distant. Jesus would replace the law.
As New Covenant Christians we have a unique privilege. We can praise God not just for the hope of a Savior but for the finished work of our living High Priest. The Israelites had only a dim understanding of the process of their salvation. They could not have fully understood how their temple service represented the way for them to reach God. Before Jesus came, God's people could not have known that their priesthood represented the mystery of the church-Jews and Gentiles united in Christ by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. They could not have seen that the veil between the Holy and the Most Holy Place represented the body of Jesus. They would not have understood that even before the cross, it was Jesus who protected humanity from the glory and consummate holiness of God.
Today God's temple is the living hearts of his church. He doesn't live in a tabernacle made of skins or a temple made of cedar wood and gold. His law isn't carved in stone, enshrined in an ark in a temple compartment where no human can see it. Jesus has died the death of our sin and has risen to life. He sits by the side of his Father, and he also lives in us through his Holy Spirit. His presence in our hearts is his living law. Instead of measuring ourselves against an external standard, we live by the constant instruction of God himself in us.
The temple in the wilderness was a representation of the sanctuary in heaven. God was kept at arm's length from humans. People were disconnected from God. Humanity did have to constantly supplicate for forgiveness, killing countless animals and birds. God was external, and he was kept out of reach of all men but one.
Today, in the New Covenant, the sanctuary in heaven is still real. But it's not the same reality as during the time of Israel. God is no longer at arm's length. All people who accept the sacrifice and grace of our High Priest, Jesus, can enter the presence of God. In fact, God lives in us. He's no longer external.
The temple in the Old Testament was not a literal representation of a physical reality, complete with compartments, in heaven. Rather, it depicted the process of salvation. The whole temple service was a living example of the reality of humanity's disconnection from God, the deadliness of his visible holiness, the inadequacy of their sacrifices, and the hopelessness of the people's attempts to be holy. The temple service was also the representation of hope for a better sacrifice, for a better priesthood, for a better law.
Now, since Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, the sanctuary in heaven is entirely the Most Holy Place. There is no place where God hides from men. Jesus has opened a living connection between us and Him, and he no longer has to protect us from contact with God. We are now one with Christ who is one with God who is one with us.
It is our incomprehensible privilege to be part of a new order of priests. Jesus is our High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. He has presented our sin offering to God, and he mediates continually between us and him. We are his priests, and we are also his temple. We bear the reality of Jesus to the world. When people approach us, they are either drawn to the presence of God in us or they are repelled by it.
"For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?" (2 Corinthians 15-16)
We mediate the grace and accountability of Christ to each other and to the world. We are priests not by inheritance but by the grace and call of God. Just as God appointed Jesus to be our eternal High Priest, he has appointed us to be his priests physically living his love to our fellow men and women.
Jesus asks us to offer every part of our selves to him. He has already defeated sin, and he asks us to trust his love and power to remove and heal its scars in our lives. As our High Priest he cleanses even our deepest hurts and secrets. He doesn't ask us to fix our life's messes before turning them over to him; he asks us to give them to him in whatever state of disarray they're in right now.
He is faithful. His righteousness is even for our most shameful memories and sins. He asks us to accept his atonement not only for our salvation but also for our growth in this still-sinful body. He calls us to walk in the light. He calls us to embrace truth. He asks us to be willing to know the realities of our own lives so we can experience his redemption even of our painful pasts.
Let Jesus love you deeply. Let him heal your hurts. Let him bring order to your chaos. Let him make your relationships honest. Let him bring peace to your heart.
"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may
have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and
high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses
knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."
All contents copyright (c) 1999-2001 Graphics
Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised February 15, 2001.