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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Hebrews 7

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A Better Priesthood, a Better High Priest

A. The theme of Hebrews 7.

1. The writer to the Hebrews now explains a theme that he introduced back in Hebrews 2:17: Jesus as our High Priest.

a. He began to discuss the issue in Hebrews 5:10 but had to spend some time warning these discouraged Christians about the danger of not continuing and progressing in their Christian life.

b. Like the writer of a good detective story, the writer to the Hebrews draws out a character from the Old Testament that many might think insignificant, and he brings that character into real prominence.

2. These Christians from a Jewish background were interested in Jesus as their High Priest, but had a significant intellectual objection to the idea. This is because Jesus did not come from the priestly tribe (the tribe of Levi) or the priestly family in that tribe (the family of Aaron).

a. The writer to the Hebrews wants to remove these intellectual problems the Jewish Christians had with the gospel. These intellectual hang-ups kept them from continuing on to maturity in Jesus.

b. In the same way, many Christians are hung up on intellectual issues that could be resolved, allowing them to move on with Jesus. If a Christian is hung up on issues like creation and evolution, the validity of miracles, or other such things, they should get the issues resolved so they can move on with Jesus.

3. This chapter is also important because it shows us how we should think of the Old Testament institutions of the priesthood and the Law.

B. Melchizedek and his relation to the Aaronic priesthood.

1. (Hbr 7:1-3) What we know of Melchizedek from Genesis 14:18-20.

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.

a. Who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings: After Abraham defeated the confederation of kings who took his nephew Lot captive, he met with a mysterious priest named Melchizedek, who was also king over the city of Salem (an ancient name for the city of Jeru-salem).

i. History shows the danger of combining religious and civic authority. Therefore God did not allow the kings of Israel to be priests and the priests to be kings. Melchizedek, who was king of Salem and priest of the Most High God is an unique exception.

b. Priest of the Most High God: Melchizedek was not merely a worshipper of the true God. He had the honored title priest of the Most High God. The greatness of God magnified the greatness of Melchizedek’s priesthood.

i. “Any priesthood is evaluated according to the status of the deity who is served, which means that Melchizedek’s must have been of a highly exalted kind.” (Guthrie)

c. And blessed him: Melchizedek blessed Abraham, and Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe, which is a tenth part of all (all the spoils of battle, as mentioned in Genesis 14:20).

d. First being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace”: The name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness,” and he was also “king of peace” (because the name Salem means “peace“).

i. The order is subtle but important. First, Melchizedek in his very name is called “king of righteousness.Then he is called “king of peace. As always, righteousness comes before peace. Righteousness is the only true path to peace. People look for that peace in escape, in evasion, or in compromise, but they will only find it in righteousness. “Peace without righteousness is like the smooth surface of the stream before it takes its awful Niagara plunge.” (Spurgeon)

ii. The fact that these names have meaning, and that the Holy Spirit explains the meaning shows that each word is important and inspired by God. “A teaching was intended by the Holy Spirit in the names: so the apostle instructs us in the passage before us. I believe in the verbal inspiration of Scripture; hence, I can see how there can be instruction for us even in the proper names of persons and of places. Those who reject verbal inspiration must in effect condemn the great apostle of the Gentiles, whose teaching is so frequently based upon a word. He makes more of words and names than any of us should have thought of doing, and he was guided therein by the Spirit of the Lord, and therefore he was right. For my part, I am far more afraid of making too little of the Word than of seeing too much in it.” (Spurgeon)

e. Without father, without mother: There is nothing said about the genealogy of Melchizedek in the Genesis 14 passage or anywhere else. As far as the Biblical record is concerned, he has no father or mother, no beginning of days nor end of life. “We see but little of him, yet we see nothing little in him.” (Spurgeon)

i. Though virtually all the commentators disagree with each other on this point, some think that without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God means that Melchizedek was a heavenly being, if not a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Himself.

f. Made like the Son of God: Melchizedek was made like the Son of God. It really isn’t that Jesus has Melchizedek’s kind of priesthood. Instead, Melchizedek has Jesus’ kind of priesthood.

i. Made like in Hebrews 7:3 translates the ancient Greek word aphomoiomenos, a word used nowhere else in the New Testament. “It is a suggestive word, used in the active of ‘a facsimile copy or model’ and in the passive of ‘being made similar to’.” (Guthrie)

ii. “It was as if the Father could not await the day of His Son’s priestly entrance within the veil; but must anticipate the marvels of His ministry, by embodying its leading features in miniature.” (Meyer)

g. Remains a priest continually: Either this refers to the continuation of the priestly order of Melchizedek, or it is evidence that Melchizedek was actually Jesus appearing in the Old Testament. Jesus’ priesthood does remain to this day, and into eternity.

2. (Hbr 7:4-10) Melchizedek is greater than Abraham because Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek and because Melchizedek blessed Abraham.

Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.

a. Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils... the sons of Levi... have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law: The priesthood of Levi received tithes from Israel as a commandment. Abraham voluntarily gave tithes to Melchizedek. This makes Abraham’s giving to Melchizedek greater than Israel’s payment of tithes to the priesthood instituted by Moses.

i. A tenth of the spoils: Spoils is literally the top of the heap, referring to the choicest spoils of war. When Abraham tithed to Melchizedek he literally “took it off the top.”

b. Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him: Because the whole tribe of Levi was genetically in the loins of Abraham when he did this, we see the Old Testament priesthood paying tithes to the priesthood of Melchizedek. This shows Melchizedek is in a position of authority over Abraham and his descendant Levi.

i. The phrase, “so to speak” in Hebrews 7:9 is important. The writer to the Hebrews knows he is making an allegorical point, so he doesn’t want to be taken too literally.

c. The lesser is blessed by the greater: This principle also shows that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham because he blessed Abraham. On his part, Abraham accepted that Melchizedek was greater when Abraham received the blessing.

i. “The blessing here spoken of... is not the simple wishing of good to others, which may be done by inferiors to superiors; but it is the action of a person authorized to declare God’s intention to bestow good things on another.” (Macknight, cited by Clarke)

C. The need for a new priesthood.

1. (Hbr 7:11) The Levitical priesthood never made anything perfect.

Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron?

a. If perfection were through the Levitical priesthood: This shows the need for a different order of priesthood. If perfection could come through the Levitical priesthood, there would be no need for another priesthood.

i. The simple fact that God describes a priest... according to the order of Melchizedek in Psalm 110:4 shows there is something lacking in the priesthood according to the order of Aaron. God would not establish an unnecessary priesthood.

ii. The term Levitical priesthood simply describes the Jewish priesthood of the Old Testament. It is called Levitical because most of the instructions for the Old Testament priesthood are found in the Book of Leviticus.

b. Under it the people received the law: The Old Testament priesthood is the priesthood associated with the Law of Moses. The priesthood of Melchizedek is associated with Abraham, not with Moses.

2. (Hbr 7:12) The changing priesthood and the change of the place of Moses’ Law.

For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.

a. The priesthood being changed: This is logically developed from Psalm 110:4. God would never introduce a new priesthood if it were not necessary, and He would never introduce an inferior priesthood. The mere mention of the order of Melchizedek shows that God wanted the priesthood to be changed.

b. Of necessity: The priesthood of Aaron was connected to the Law of Moses. So if the priesthood is changed we should also anticipate some change of the Law’s status or place.

3. (Hbr 7:13-14) Jesus could not be a priest according to the Mosaic Law because He is from the wrong tribe.

For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.

a. Another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar: Under the Law of Moses, God strictly commanded that only those from the family of Aaron could serve at the altar in sacrifice.

b. He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe: Jesus is obviously not from the family of Aaron or even the tribe of Levi. The tribe of Judah (the tribe of Jesus’ lineage) had nothing to do with Aaron’s priesthood, the priesthood associated with the Law of Moses. Therefore according to the priesthood of Aaron and the Law of Moses, Jesus could never be a priest. If He is our High Priest, it must be under another principle.

4. (Hbr 7:15-17) God’s declaration that the Messiah belongs to another order of priesthood in Psalm 110:4.

And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. For He testifies: “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.”

a. Not according to the law of a fleshly commandment: Jesus’ priesthood is not based upon law or heredity (a fleshly commandment), but upon the power of God’s endless life.

b. You are a priest forever: This could be said of the Messiah, who was a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. It could never be said of a priest according to the order of Aaron, none of who had the power of an endless life and each of who served a limited term as priests – limited to their own life span.

c. According to the power of an endless life: Matthew 27:1 says, When morning came, all the chief priests and elders of the people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death. Among those who conspired to put Jesus to death, there were priests of the order of Aaron. But by the power of an endless life Jesus showed that His priesthood was superior when He triumphed over death.

5. (Hbr 7:18-19) Why the law is set aside as the way of establishing our relationship and access to God.

For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.

a. Because of its weakness and unprofitableness: In its weakness and unprofitableness, the law made nothing perfect. The law does a great job of setting God’s perfect standard but it does not give the power to keep that standard.

i. “Let all legalists mark this: The Law made nothing perfect. Let the Seventh Day Adventists mark: The Law made nothing perfect. Let all those who dream of the Law as a rule of life remember: The Law made nothing perfect.” (Newell)

b. The law made nothing perfect: Therefore, the law is valuable as it shows us God’s perfect standard, but it was not ultimately intended to be the basis of a man’s walk with God. This is because the law is weak and unprofitable when it comes to saving my soul or giving me power over sin.

i. The law provides expert diagnosis of our sin problem, which is absolutely essential. But the law does not provide the cure to our sin problem. Only Jesus can save us from our sin problem.

c. On the other hand: Since now, in Jesus, we have a better hope, through which we draw near to God, we are wrong to go back to building our Christian walk on the law. Therefore the law is “annulled” or set aside in the sense that it no longer is the dominating principle of our life, especially of our relationship with God.

i. “The Greek word translated disannulling [annulling], athetesis, is the same as appears in Hebrews 9:26 for the putting away of sin ‘by the sacrifice of Himself.’ The disappearance of the Law is as absolute, therefore, as the putting away of sin!” (Newell)

ii. The law does not give you a better hope. The law does not draw you near to God the way God’s grace given in Jesus does. Yet many Christians live a legal relationship with God instead of a grace relationship with Him.

iii. “Although the law performed a valuable function, its essential weakness was that it could not give life and vitality even to those who kept it, let alone to those who did not. In fact its function was not to provide strength, but to provide a standard by which man could measure his own moral status. Its uselessness must not be regarded in the sense of being totally worthless, but in the sense of being ineffective in providing a constant means of approach to God based on a totally adequate sacrifice.” (Guthrie)

d. Annulling of the former commandment... bringing in of a better hope: The writer came to the same conclusion about the law as Paul did in Galatians 3:19-25, but he got there in a totally different way. In Galatians, Paul showed the law as a tutor that brings us to Jesus. In Hebrews the law is associated with a priesthood that has been made obsolete by a superior priesthood.

i. “Cease to think of cleansing, and consider the Cleanser; forbear to speculate on deliverance, and deal with the Deliverer.” (Meyer)

e. A better hope, through which we draw near to God: Because we have a better priesthood and a better High Priest, we also have a better hope and draw near to God. Our hope is in Jesus, not in the Law of Moses or in our ability to keep it.

i. This should temper our excitement about the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. The small cadres of dedicated Jews absolutely committed to rebuilding the temple have an exciting place in God’s prophetic plan. But anyone who restores the Aaronic priesthood and resumes Levitical sacrifice (especially for atonement of sin) denies the superior priesthood and ultimate sacrifice of Jesus.

D. The superiority of our High Priest.

1. (Hbr 7:20-21) Jesus was made High Priest by the direct oath of God.

And inasmuch as He was not made priest without an oath (for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him: “The Lord has sworn and will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’ “),

a. He was not made priest without an oath: The priesthood of Jesus was established with an oath. It is recorded in Psalm 110:4: The Lord has sworn and will not relent, “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.”

a. They have become priests without an oath: The high priest of the order of Aaron was appointed by heredity, not by personal character or by an oath of God. Not so with Jesus and the priestly order of Melchizedek. God even sealed His choice by an oath.

2. (Hbr 7:22) Jesus: our guarantee of a better covenant.

By so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant.

a. Jesus has become a surety: The ancient Greek word translated surety (egguos) described someone who gave security, who cosigned a loan to guarantee payment, or put up bail for a prisoner. Jesus Himself is the guarantee of a better covenant.

b. A better covenant: The Old Covenant had a mediator (Moses), but no one to guarantee the people’s side of the covenant. Therefore they continually failed under it. But the New Covenant – a better covenant – has a cosigner to guarantee it on our behalf. Therefore, the New Covenant depends on what Jesus did, not on what we do. He is the surety and we are not.

c. Covenant: The word used for covenant (the ancient Greek word diatheke) is not the usual term for “covenant” (syntheke). The literal meaning of diatheke is closer to the idea of a “testament” in the sense of a “last will and testament.” Perhaps the writer is trying to stress that while a covenant might be thought of as an agreement that two equal parties arrive at, the testator dictates a testament. The “agreement” under which we meet with God through Jesus is not something we have negotiated with Him. He has dictated the terms to us, and we will accept or reject the terms.

d. By so much more: This much more – the overwhelming superiority of Jesus Christ – proves He is worthy and able to be our guarantee, our cosigner of a better covenant.

3. (Hbr 7:23-25) An unchanging priesthood means a lasting salvation.

Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

a. Also there were many priests: The priesthood under the Law of Moses constantly changed, and so was better or worse through the years depending on the character of the priest. In contrast, Jesus has an unchangeable priesthood. Jesus will never die and has a permanent priesthood. We don’t need to worry about a “bad priest” replacing Him.

b. Continues forever: This ancient Greek word has the idea of “remaining as a servant.” Jesus continues forever, and He continues as a servant, even after He ascended into heaven.

c. He is also able to save to the uttermost: The unchanging nature of Jesus’ priesthood means that the salvation He gives is also unchanging, permanent, and secure. Most people read this verse as if it says Jesus is able to save from the uttermost. But it really says Jesus is able to save to the uttermost. Because He is our High Priest forever, He can save forever.

i. The evangelist Billy Sunday had a great sermon, speaking passionately about how God saved him “from the gutter-most,” because he was a gutter-drunk when God saved him. This was a great line from a great preacher, but it was not true to what the Bible says – we are saved not from but to the uttermost.

ii. “The verb ‘to save’ is used absolutely, which means that Christ will save in the most comprehensive sense; he saves from all that humanity needs saving from.” (Morris)

d. Those who come to God through Him: This tells us whom Jesus is able to save. It means those who abide in the Son and have fellowship with the Father. It also shows where we have to come for salvation – to God. It is one thing to come to church; it is another thing to come to God.

i. This shows the place of abiding in the security of the believer. When we come to God through Him, He saves us to the uttermost. In Jesus there is complete security of salvation.

e. He ever lives to make intercession for them: It strengthens us to know that Jesus prays for us, and that He ever lives to pray for us. This is tremendous encouragement to anyone who feels like giving up.

i. Romans 8:33-34 shows that the Apostle Paul considers this intercessory work of Jesus on our behalf important. There, he pictured Jesus defending us against every charge or condemnation through His intercession.

ii. “Our blessed Lord is interceding for us, but He is in no sense appeasing God. All that God’s holy Being and righteous government could demand was once for all, completely and forever, satisfied at the Cross.” (Newell)

iii. Jesus’ intercession on our behalf is not a matter of placating an angry Father who wants to destroy us. It is not a matter of continually chanting prayers on behalf of His people. It means that He continually represents us before the Father so that we can draw near through Him, and that He defends us against Satan’s accusations and attacks.

iv. Luke 22:31-32 gives an example of Jesus’ intercession for His people: Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren. Jesus prays to strengthen us in trials and seasons of attack, and against Satan’s accusations.

4. (Hbr 7:26-28) Jesus is better qualified to be a High Priest than any priest from the order of the Law of Moses.

For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever.

a. For such a High Priest was fitting for us: The priests under the Law of Moses did not have the personal character of the Son of God. Jesus is holy, harmless (without guile or deception), undefiled, separate from sinners (in the sense of not sharing in their sin). Jesus is far superior in His personal character than any earthly priest.

i. The believer should glory in these passages exalting Jesus and showing His superiority. “The superiority of our Lord Jesus Christ is a topic that will not interest everybody. To many persons it will seem a piece of devotional rapture, if not an idle tale. Yet there will ever be a remnant according to the election of grace to whom this meditation will be inexpressibly sweet.” (Spurgeon)

b. Has become higher than the heavens: Two facts prove the perfect character of Jesus. First, His exaltation in heaven. Second, that He did not need to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins – which the other priests needed to do daily.

c. When He offered up Himself: This is totally unique. A priest may bring a sacrifice and offer it on the altar. But Jesus was both the priest and the sacrifice. This is the best sacrifice brought to God the Father by the best priest.

i. When He offered up Himself it was a willing offering. “Oh, this makes the sacrifice of Christ so blessed and glorious! They dragged the bullocks and they drove the sheep to the altar; they bound the calves with cords, even with cords to the altar’s horn; but not so was it with the Christ of God. None did compel him to die; he laid down his life voluntarily, for he had power to lay it down, and to take it again.” (Spurgeon)

d. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weaknesses: Under the Law of Moses the priests were always men with weaknesses. But Jesus is a Son who has been perfected forever. Because He is a perfect High Priest, He was able to offer up Himself as a perfect sacrifice for our sin. Jesus is perfectly qualified to be our perfect High Priest – perfected forever.

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

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