Digging in Deeper: Hebrews 7:11-22

“Now if perfection came through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the law), what further need was there for another priest to appear, said to be according to the order of Melchizedek and not according to the order of Aaron? For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must be a change of law as well. For the one these things are spoken about belonged to a different tribe. No one from it has served at the altar. Now it is evident that our Lord came from Judah, and Moses said nothing about that tribe concerning priests. And this becomes clearer if another priest like Melchizedek appears, who did not become a priest based on a legal regulation about physical descent but based on the power of an indestructible life. For it has been testified: You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. So the previous command is annulled because it was weak and unprofitable (for the law perfected nothing), but a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. None of this happened without an oath. For others became priests without an oath, but he became a priest with an oath made by the one who said to him: The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever.” Because of this oath, Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

Have you ever upgraded your phone? I suspect so. Wireless companies will leave you alone for a little while, but then the pressure begins to ratchet up until you just about can’t avoid it. You can try to hold out just to stick it to them, but sometimes it’s easier to bite the bullet and play their game. I held out on even joining the smart phone revolution until the fifth generation iPhone released. I went from that to an 8 Plus, and from there to the 12 I currently have. I am not at all the kind of person who looks to upgrade to whatever the latest model is. I try to use one device until it just about doesn’t work anymore before stepping up. Either way, when you get a new phone, my guess is that you don’t continue using your old phone at all. It has been replaced by something better. The odds are good that your upgrade came with the condition of the trade-in of your old one. Once you do that, it’s gone and you’re never going to see it again. The author of Hebrews here is talking about the transition of the old covenant to the new with the appointment of Jesus as high priest. The whole thing works a little like upgrading your old phone. Let’s join the conversation to try to wrap our heads and hearts around his argument.

I know this is another really long block of text, but I just couldn’t beat to break this up. It all goes together. And, it all connects back to the second half of chapter 6. The author has been building a consistent case and we are seeing it develop as he goes. He’s going to keep building this case through chapter 10.

As a reminder, in chapter 6 he took us back to God’s promise to Abraham to bless him. In the new covenant, God is making an even stronger covenant in Christ and His greater priesthood. This priesthood is in the order of Melchizedek. That led him in the first half of chapter 7 to finally unpack Melchizedek’s identity and importance. He also unpacks the nature of his priesthood and explains why Jesus is a part of it. Jesus is a part of this priesthood that is greater than the Levitical priesthood. Having made that connection, in this next section he dives into all of this in even more detail.

His opening point here is to observe an obvious flaw in the Levitical priesthood. This observation is rooted in his already made argument that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek. That is, He is a priest subsequent to the Levitical priesthood. The author’s point is this: if the Levitical priesthood accomplished everything we needed it to accomplish, why would someone like Jesus from this extra-legal priesthood need to come in the first place? Jesus’ very appearance as a new representative of this old order of priests—one that came before the Law was given—suggests that the Levitical priesthood was not sufficient to the task we needed it to accomplish. If it had been, no further priest would have been necessary.

Yet if a new kind of priest was to be recognized as interceding for us before God, a new law was going to have to be given to govern this priesthood and to describe where we fit into it. Indeed, there was nothing in the Law of Moses about anyone from the tribe of Judah serving as a priest before God. In this sense, without a change in the Law—or, better yet, a change to the Law—Jesus’ priesthood was technically illegal. Jesus want a priest according to the Law of Moses. He was a new kind of priest. The best example of His priesthood was something old, but Jesus was news.

After making this argument, the author says something even more radical. When Jesus was declared a priest by God, a declaration that necessarily brought with it an entirely new law, the question remains what happened to the old Law? The author here tells us: it was annulled. It was fulfilled and replaced and because of this, it no longer holds any power or authority over our lives.

Why was it replaced like this? What was wrong with it? The author has an answer here too. This is an answer that likely didn’t sit well with his audience. There are still many audiences of Jesus followers today who neither understand nor accept this answer. And what is his radical, challenging answer?

It was weak and unprofitable. That is, it wasn’t strong enough to accomplish what we needed it to do. What we needed was a way to be in an ongoing right relationship with God. The Law could not give us that. It could not give us that because it could not make us fit for such a thing. In order to be in a right relationship with a God who is holy, we too have to be holy. That is, we have to be completely without sin; morally pure and utterly set apart from the world around us. The Law could not accomplish that. He’ll get into the reason why it could not accomplish that in a couple of chapters, but for now, the fact alone is enough to know. The Law could not do the job we needed it to do, and so it had to be replaced with a new system—complete with a new priesthood—that could. Enter Jesus and the order of Melchizedek.

Because of all of this, what we have in Jesus is not just the forgiveness of sins and the way to eternal life, but an entirely new way of relating to God. We have a new and better covenant. By this new covenant rooted in better promises we find real hope and a pathway to righteousness that will actually get us there. This pathway is nothing less than Jesus Himself.

This means a couple of things worth your knowing now. First, if you aren’t walking the path of Jesus, you aren’t getting to God. There is no other way to reach Him. No other path will actually get you there. Many others promise they will, but they always fail in the end. The reason for this is simple: The only kind of righteousness that makes us for for God is His on righteousness. Ours won’t due. And the only way to get God’s righteousness is from God. Every other path starts with us. And if it starts with us, it won’t be able to end anywhere other than us.

The second thing is this: there is no law that will get you to God. No amount of doing good or keeping the rules or toeing the line or whatever other language you want to use will do what you are aiming for or to do. This goes with any human system of law. It also goes for the old covenant. If you are relying in any way on any part of the Law of Moses to get you to God, you are setting yourself for failure and a stifling legalism that will ruin not just your life, but the lives of the people around you as well.

To put that in slightly more shocking terms, learning things like the Ten Commandments is fine. Believing they’ll somehow make you right with God or get you close to Jesus if you keep them is not. Because it won’t. Jesus replaced that system with a new one in which He is at the center. The old covenant is gone. The new one is here. Let’s keep going with the author of Hebrews to learn more about how and just how good it is.

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