There is no salvation from sin apart from Jesus Christ. All our religious efforts cannot possibly make us right with God, since the best we can do falls woefully short of His holy standards. His Law proves this by relentlessly and justly condemning us to death. The only hope we have of being reconciled to God is found in His totally righteous Son. Jesus perfectly obeyed God for us, and His death on the cross provides an atoning sacrifice for our transgressions. This is the promise of God revealed in Scripture.
That promise — the Gospel — was announced in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15) and initiated in the course of history through God’s covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15). The LORD swore an oath to bring His promise of redemption to the human race through the Hebrew nation, but He revealed His Law in the interim to emphasize sin and the need to believe the promise. His commandments were never intended as a means of achieving righteousness, but they were given to instruct sinners to trust in the Savior He would provide to fulfill the promise (cf. Gal. 3; Mk. 12:28-34).
The superiority of the promise over the Law is made clear in the Old Testament even before God established the Hebrew nation. The interaction between Abraham and the king of ancient Jerusalem known as Melchizedek proves this point (Gen. 14). God later declared by way of prophecy that the Christ would come as a priest in the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110).
The Epistle to the Hebrews teaches that Melchizedek is similar to Jesus Christ in that he was a righteous king whose high priestly ministry emphasized peace with God through the promise (7:1-3). His priestly order continues forever in God’s faithful Son whose atoning death on the cross effectively reconciles God’s children with the heavenly Father.
Although a contemporary of Abraham, Melchizedek was nonetheless superior to the Hebrew patriarch in that he was a type of Christ (7:4-10). That is, he exemplified the ministry of God’s Son. Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek recognized him as an important representative of God’s promise of redemption. The Levitical priesthood is descended from Abraham and received tithes from Israel, but its representation of the Law means that it also represents an inability to provide salvation.
The writer’s point is that the priesthood of Melchizedek emphasized reconciliation and eternal life with God, while the Levitical priesthood emphasized condemnation and eternal death. God’s promise is revealed as infinitely superior to His Law in that it provides the only hope of salvation.
Hebrews 7:11-19 establishes a rationale for believing that the promise of God in Jesus Christ is our only hope of salvation.
Our Only Hope (7:11-19)
First, the writer asks a rather obvious question given that the biblical record distinguishes Melchizedek’s priesthood from the Levitical priesthood. Since (“Therefore”) Abraham and his descendants recognized Melchizedek as a representative of God’s redemptive purpose and plan (vv. 4-10), how can we believe that “perfection [is] through the Levitical priesthood,” which emphasized the Law? It is clear “the people received the law” under their priesthood, but it did not save anyone.
Throughout the letter, the “perfection” mentioned here refers to a complete righteousness before God, which constitutes salvation (cf. 5:14 – “full age”; 6:1; 7:19, 28 – Jesus’ perfection; 9:9; 10:1, 14; 11:40; 12:23). The righteousness of the Law demands absolute perfection, but the righteousness of the promise demands faith in Jesus Christ who kept God’s commands perfectly on our behalf (Rom. 10:3-5). The just do not live by the law, since it only delivers the curse of death. Rather, to be justified by God we must live by faith in the Son of God (Gal. 3:10-14).
Righteousness is clearly by faith. If it were by the law, then “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” (the father of the Levitical priesthood)? But God has quite obviously declared that Christ would be an eternal king and priest in Melchizedek’s order (v. 17; Ps. 110:4). Secondly, if the “priesthood…changed,” then “of necessity there is also a change of the law” (v. 12). But in what way did it change? Well, it certainly did not lose its authority. God’s Law is still in full force and effect; it continues to condemn sinners to death for their rebellion against the Creator. Jesus said that He did not come to destroy the Law but fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-20).
For those who believe God’s promise in Christ, there is no longer any condemnation because Jesus suffered the death the believer deserves. The penalty of death has been paid in full on the cross, and now the regenerate Christian sincerely desires and pursues God’s will from the heart. It is an imperfect obedience in this world that will one day be fully perfected in the glory of resurrection, but the current imperfections are covered by Christ’s atoning sacrifice (Rom. 8:1-11).
And that is the change in regard to the Law. Righteousness cannot and does not come by our perfect obedience. Our hope is only through the perfect obedience of the faithful Son of God (Heb. 2:10; 3:1-6; 5:5-10; 6:18-20). He is the High Priest who actually, effectively brings us in true worship to the Father (4:14-16). Christ is the One “of whom these things are spoken” (v. 13).
However, Jesus does not come from the tribe of Levi but “belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar” (v. 13), namely the tribe of “Judah” (v. 14). Our Lord’s human lineage is without question from Abraham through Judah. He is a descendant in the royal line of David (Matt. 1:1-17; Lk. 3:23-38), but there is nothing in the writings of “Moses” about any priest coming from Judah’s tribe. This is very “evident” from Scripture.
This brings us to the writer’s third point, which is: “it is yet far more evident” that the Christ will be “in the likeness of Melchizedek” (v. 15). That is, He will be a king/priest associated with the promise. But He is superior to Melchizedek in that He is an absolutely righteous King and, therefore, a High Priest who effectively provides peace with God. Thus He is the fulfillment of the promise.
Christ’s priesthood comes from an order completely unrelated to Israel. And “if (i.e. since)…there arises another priest” of a different order, then He “has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life” (v. 16). This means His priesthood provides salvation because He is inherently righteous. His perfection as God’s Son rests in His incarnation as the eternal, living God (Jn. 5:26; 17:2-3). So the promise in Christ delivers life, but the Law delivers only death because its only purpose is to condemn the sins of the flesh (Rom. 8:3).
The Law emphasized human sin and death vividly portrayed in Israel’s ceremonial worship. But Jesus’ priesthood brings life, since He is Himself truly righteous (Rom. 6:8-10). His ministry as High Priest is, in every way, disassociated from the Law. Why? Because true righteousness can only come through God’s Son who is righteous; our religious efforts provide no hope of life whatsoever (Is. 64:6). Righteousness must be given to us because it cannot be earned by us (2 Cor. 5:21). True religion on our part is the result of the righteousness He provides (cf. Eph. 2:8-10; Phil. 2:12-13; Jas. 1:21-27). This is why the LORD God swore that the Christ would be an eternal priest “in the order of Melchizedek” (v. 17).
The concluding point is that all hope of salvation rests in God’s promise. While, “on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment…on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope” (vv 18, 19). Because of the Law’s “weakness” as only a means of condemnation, it is therefore useless (i.e. “unprofitableness”) to provide righteousness before God. It could not and did not make anything “perfect” (v. 19a) and offered only a true standard of righteousness rather than a true hope of righteousness. But there is real hope in God’s promise “through which we draw near to God” (v. 19b) — an infinitely “better hope” than anyone could imagine in pursuing righteousness by the Law.
There is absolutely no hope of salvation apart from Jesus Christ. We need His righteousness, since we cannot provide our own. And His priesthood ensures that righteousness for everyone who trusts in Him. The faithful Son of God kept the Law of God perfectly and gives that perfection to those who trust in Him.
That is the promise of salvation God makes to you. Do you believe it? It is your only hope of eternal life.
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