JESUS, THE PERFECT HIGH PRIEST
A Better Priest & A Better Covenant
These verses continue the theme of the passage: Jesus, as a priest after the order of Melchizedek is superior to the Old Covenant priests descended from Aaron. The writer is still preaching from Psalm 110:4.
The “it” in verse 20 is the “better hope” of verse 19. This better hope is the new covenant of salvation through Christ’s priesthood. The new covenant offers a better hope than the old covenant.
So verse 20 is saying the new priesthood, the priesthood of Christ, was not made without an oath. Or, stated positively, the new priesthood of Christ was made with an oath. The implication is that Jesus’ priesthood, is superior to the old covenant priesthood because it was inaugurated with an oath. The old covenant priests were not appointed with an oath, but God the Father appointed Christ as priest of the new covenant with an oath. And, of course, he quotes yet again Psalm 110:4, where that oath is expressed.
Additionally, there was no promise that the old covenant would last forever. In fact, it was always God’s intention that the old covenant be temporary. Paul, in Galatians 3:17, tells us God’s promise to Abraham and his offspring continued until it was fulfilled in Christ. The old covenant, or “the law”, did not annul the Abrahamic covenant, rather the law was added to show man’s sinfulness and point to the need for a savor. But God’s appointment of Jesus as our high priest was not just a promise, but God’s oath, that the priesthood of Jesus would last forever. The concept of the oath is to make it final, eternal and unchangeable.
So, verse 22 is the summary. The new covenant, of which Jesus is the guarantor, is a better covenant than the old covenant. And Jesus can guarantee it because of God’s oath. A guarantor in this sense if one who offers his life as the guarantor of another person.
This is important because the writer is trying to convince these Jews to continue in the faith and not return to Judaism. You can apply this truth today to those who claim Jews can be saved without coming to Christ. And, in my opinion, you can apply it to those who teach that there will be a latter day return to the temple and old covenant by the Jews, and that it would be a good thing.
Jesus The Eternal Priest
In verse 23, the writer points out that the old covenant priests, being human, died. Death prevented them from continuing their ministry as priests. So, your high priest would only be your high priest during his life time. Once he died, he could no longer intercede for you. He could no longer offer sacrifices for you.
In contrast, verse 24 shows that Jesus holds his priesthood permanently. Or we might say, his priestly office is eternal. It goes on forever. It does so because Jesus is eternal. He lives forever.
Because Jesus lives forever, he intercedes for us forever. Therefore, as verse 25 says, he is able to save to the uttermost. The eternal priest mediates an eternal salvation.
Who does Jesus save? He saves “those who draw near to God (the Father) through him”. (25)
“Saved to the uttermost” (ESV) is another way of saying we have eternal life. The NIV says “completely” and the NASB says “forever”. He saves us for eternity and he completely saves us.
This appears to be another vindication of the doctrine of the perseverance or preservation of the believer. The one who truly believes does not lose his salvation because he or she commits a sin, because Jesus continues to intercede for him or her forever.
What is eternal life? Eternal life is a permanent relationship with God the Father through Jesus the Son. Jesus said “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) Eternal life is not that you will play golf on the perfect course in heaven. It is that you know God beginning at your conversion and continuing forever. And by “know God” I do not mean know facts about him, but that you come into relationship with him because you come into relationship with Jesus.
Here is an example. The American colonists knew many facts about their king, who was George III, King of Great Britain and Ireland, of the House of Hanover. But they did not have a relationship with him. They did not love him, they did not serve him, and the did not obey him. In fact, they rebelled against his authority and rejected his rule over their lives.
In the same way, you can know facts about Jesus and even believe those facts, but not have a saving relationship with him, because you do not love him, serve him and obey him. In fact, you rebel against him. We call that rebellion sin.
The only people who have eternal life are those who have believed in and committed themselves to Jesus Christ. Verse 25 says he saves those who draw near to the Father through the Son. The idea here is that man was once near to God. Genesis tells us God made man in his image. He gave him rule over the earth as God’s representative. God made a special garden for man’s home. And he communed with them in that garden.
But, man rebelled against God’s authority and sinned. Sin separated man from God. Genesis portrays this separation both in the judgment of death and the banishment of man from the garden. This idea of separation is why gospel tracts show a picture of a great canyon between God and man. Isaiah 59:2 says it clearly: “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”
Jesus came and provided reconciliation. Although men and women were separated from God, they now could draw near to God through the sacrifice of Jesus, if they believed on him. Romans 5:10 says “for if while we were yet enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more now that we are reconciled shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
Notice, though, that Hebrews 7:25 does not say that everyone on the planet comes to know God. That is the false doctrine of Universalism. It does not say you can come to God through another religion or practice or person.
Jesus said the same thing. Here are some examples from the gospel according to John:
you have given him (Jesus) authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. (John 17:2);
no one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6);
to all who did receive him, who believed in his name,he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12); and
whoever believes in him (Jesus) should not perish but have eternal life.
So, can you obtain eternal life without believing in Jesus as the Son of God? Not according to Jesus, who said “whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18)
Jesus is the Perfect High Priest
Verse 26 says it is fitting that we have this kind of high priest. “Fitting” means appropriate and beneficial. It is appropriate for and beneficial to us to have this permanent, superior high priest. The NIV tries to capture this thought by saying he “meets our need”.
What kind of high priest is he? The writer gives us several adjectives, or descriptions of Jesus. He is:
separated from sinners and
exalted above the heavens.
These are all ways of saying Jesus even in human form did not sin. He was perfect. He is perfect. Remember in 4:16 he said Jesus has been tempted as we are in every respect, yet without sin.
Verse 27 points out to us that the old covenant priests were not perfect and sinless. They sinned. So, before they offered sacrifices for the people, they offered sacrifices to themselves so that they would, in effect, be sinless when they offered sacrifices for the people.
But Jesus did not have to do this. Since he was without sin, he did not have to offer sacrifices for himself. And because, as sinless, he was the perfect sacrifice, he did not have to offer himself as a sacrifice over and over. Verse 27 points out that he did this once for all when he offered up himself.
The old covenant sacrifices pointed to this truth. The animal sacrificed had to be “without blemish”. For example, the burnt offering must be a male animal without blemish. (Leviticus 1:3) This requirement of “without blemish” was to be a picture of the ultimately perfect sacrifice, the man of no sin, Jesus. Hebrews will discuss that in more detail later in the book.
Verse 28 is a summary verse. it says that the old covenant high priest was weak (sinful) and Jesus is greater than them. He is greater because he was appointed with God’s oath, he is greater because he was appointed after them and therefore to replace them, and he is greater because he is perfect forever. And, finally, he is greater because he is the Son who is perfect forever.