Two Special Benefits of Jesus’ Superior Priesthood, part 3 (Hebrews 7:20-28)

The big idea of Hebrews 7 is that we can each draw near to God and be saved completely because of the superior priesthood of Jesus Christ.  We have seen that (1) the Levitical priesthood and the Law are inferior because they cannot make anyone perfect—that is, they cannot so cleanse a person’s life so that they are able to draw near to God.  We have also seen that (2) the New Covenant and the priesthood of Jesus are superior because they do provide a way for us to draw near to God.  Today we’re going to explore (3) the superiority of Jesus priesthood in that it provides for a complete salvation.

We see this in Hebrews 7, verses 20-28.

20 And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 21 but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.'” 22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant .23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. 26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

Jesus’ priesthood is superior because, unlike the Levitical priesthood, Jesus’ priesthood is backed by God’s oath (7:20-22).

In contrast, the Aaronic priests ascended to their position, not on the basis of divine oath, but rather because of divine instruction.  God said, “Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests” (Exodus 28:1).  This was followed by an extended ceremony, but there was no oath (cf. Exodus 28, 29; Leviticus 8, 9).  Certainly God did not swear to Aaron, or any other priest, that his priesthood would be forever.

But when it came to the priesthood of His Son, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’” (7:21, citing Psalm 110:4).

We saw a similar thing back in Hebrews chapter 6, in vv. 13-18, regarding God’s promise to Abraham, that He swore by Himself to make the promise to Abraham that much more secure.  God’s bare word, of course, is enough to make His promise certain.  But when He adds His oath, it is like underlining the promise, highlighting it in bold print and putting it in brackets with multiple exclamation points after it!  And to this He adds, “and will not change his mind.”  God is emphasizing that this is a permanent priesthood.

An oath was not necessary, because God’s word is enough.  But because humanity is a race of liars, God accommodated himself within the sphere of human undependability (Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), p. 267). 

His oath is a double-assurance to fallen, duplicitous humanity of the eternality of Jesus’ Melchizedekian priesthood.  Whatever “God confirms by an oath becomes something so utterly unchangeable that it is woven into the very fibre of the universe and must remain forever” (William Barclay, The Letter to the Hebrews (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1957), p. 85).

On the basis of the fact that Jesus is a “priest forever,” he adds (7:22) “This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.”  In the Greek text, the name Jesus is placed last in the sentence to emphasize that this covenant depends upon his priesthood.  That name “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves.”  As the angel told Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Since the old priesthood was the heart of the Old Covenant, and God terminated both of them, the new priesthood must be connected to a new covenant that is superior to the Old Covenant.  Since the new Priest has come, so must the New Covenant have come (cf. Luke 22:20).  It is not only a new covenant, but a “better covenant.”  It is qualitatively better than the Old Covenant because the Old Covenant could not make mankind perfect, could not enable us to draw near and could not ultimately save us.  All of these things are now possible through the New Covenant.  Our author will expand upon this New Covenant in Hebrews 8:7-13.

This is the only time that the word “guarantee” is used in the New Testament.  Jesus, who offered Himself on the cross for our sins, is our surety or guarantee of this better covenant, assuring its effectiveness to do that is promised.  Also, this emphasizes to us that we are not the guarantor of our salvation, Jesus is.  It doesn’t depend upon our hold on Him, but His hold on us (John 10:28-30).

Philip Hughes (A  Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews [Eerdmans], p. 267] observes, “It is a matter of exceptional significance that the covenant with Abraham and the declaration concerning the priestly order of Melchizedek were both confirmed by God with an oath, for under these two heads all the gracious promises and prophecies which precede the coming of Christ are gathered, and with the coming of Christ both the evangelical covenant and the evangelical priesthood burst into fulfillment.”

In other words, God’s oath stands behind the two crucial prophecies and promises about Jesus Christ.  It’s like a double warranty from the God of truth Himself backing our salvation!  It therefore cannot fail.

John MacArthur puts it, “All of God’s promises in the New Covenant are guaranteed to us by Jesus Himself.  He guarantees to pay all the debts that our sins have incurred, or ever will incur, against us” (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Hebrews [Moody Press], p. 198).

Because Jesus still lives and will live forever, his priesthood provides a perpetual petition for our salvation before God.

Verses 23-24 reinforce the contrast between the human priests who live and die, and Jesus Christ, who lives forever.

23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.

A glance at the old Aaronic priesthood demonstrates its impermanence.  When Aaron, the first priest, had served his term, God took him and his son Eleazar to the peak of Mount Hor. And there, the Scriptures tell us, “Moses stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son.  And Aaron died there on the top of the mountain.  Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain” (Numbers 20:28).  Later, when Eleazar died, his son Phinehas succeeded him (Joshua 24:33).  Aaron—Eleazar—Phinehas—the priestly succession continued on.  The concluding comment for every priest was inevitably, “and he died.”

Josephus reckoned that some eighty-three priests served from Aaron until the destruction of the second temple in AD 70 (Antiquities, 20.227). But the Talmud lists even more—eighteen during the first temple and over three hundred for the second (Yoma 9a).3

In marked contrast to this, the author asserts that Jesus “holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever” (v. 24).  The Greek word for “permanently” can have the sense of unchangeable or permanent as our translation has it, or it can mean that the priesthood is non-transferable.  Hebrews scholar Philip Hughes thinks that “The term is enhanced by its ambivalence: the priesthood of Christ does not pass to another precisely because it is a perpetual priesthood” (Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews , p. 268).  The word may, indeed, have both senses.

Some of the Levitical priests were good, some were bad, but Jesus remains the same forever, so we can expect to receive the same benefits from His perfect and perpetual priesthood.  We never need to worry about a “bad priest” replacing Him!

The high point of the benefits that we receive from Jesus as our high priest is found in verse 25.

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

First, notice that Jesus is “able to save.”  The angel promised Joseph, “He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).  Born spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1) and blinded to the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4) and enslaved by Satan (2 Timothy 2:25-26), we could do nothing to save ourselves and need help from the outside.  According to John 3:19, we didn’t even want to be saved because we “loved the darkness” (cf. Ephesians 4:18-19).  On our side, salvation is an impossibility.

But thank God Jesus IS “able to save.”  In Ephesians 2:1-5 Paul writes…

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved—

That ability to save is put in the present tense.  Thus, it refers not just to the past act of justifying sinners, but also to the present process of sanctifying us.  Raymond Brown says, “He saves us, not only in the moment of initial commitment, but day by day and moment by moment” (Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1982), p. 139)—through all time!  His perpetual saving work brings about our growing sanctification as we are made ever more like him.

Not only is Jesus “able to save” but He is “able to save to the uttermost.”  That word “uttermost” could have the connotation of “forever” (the ultimate in time) or “completely” (the ultimate in effectiveness).  Both are true but the context probably stresses the idea that our salvation has been completely accomplished.  There is nothing left for us to do.  Nothing that we can do; nothing even that He has to do else.  “It is finished” regarding our salvation.

Whoever we are, whatever we have done, no matter how heinous our sin—whether it is murder, infidelity, perversion, betrayal, embezzlement, lying, jealousy, hateful gossip, or whatever—Christ can save us completely and eternally.  We must take greatest pride in this gospel, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

This salvation enables us to “draw near to God through Him.”  There is no salvation, no relationship with God as our Father, except through Jesus Christ.  There is no salvation apart from Jesus Christ.  “No one comes to the Father except through me” Jesus says in John 14:6.  And Peter preached, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

And that salvation comes to us because “He always lives to make intercession for [us].”  Jesus sits eternally at the right hand of the Father, petitioning the Father in our behalf.  John 17 and Luke 22:32 are good examples of this from his earthly life.  Peter would not have survived Satan’s attack if Jesus hadn’t prayed for him.  Peter didn’t realize how vulnerable he was to Satan and he didn’t realize how valuable He was to Jesus.  But Jesus prayed for him and he succeeded as an apostle.

In Romans 8 Paul says that God will work all things “together for good” for those who are His.  The good is to become conformed to His Son Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28-29).  Paul then gives the golden chain of salvation in verse 30.

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

How can we be sure that God will do this, to glorify us together with Christ in heaven?  Paul presented it as absolutely sure by putting this future event in the past tense, “those whom he justified he also glorified.”

But also Paul gives four evidences of this sure salvation in vv. 31-39.  First, God shows that He is for us by doing the hardest thing imaginable, giving up His one and only Son (vv. 31-32).  Then, he says we don’t have to fear any charge against us, because the ultimate judge of the universe, God Himself, has already declared us righteous (Rom. 8:33).  Can anyone condemn us?  Listen to his answer:

Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Jesus doesn’t condemn us; He prays for us.

Finally, vv. 35-39 tells us that absolutely nothing in all time or space can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We also see the value of this present intercession for us in 1 John 2:1, where the apostle tells us, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”  Jesus Christ stands before the Father, showing the wounds in his hands, feet and side, that He received from paying for our sins.  They are already paid for and we cannot be charged with them!

By the way, notice that it is not the prayers of the saints that saves us, but the intercession of Jesus Christ.

Our author continues showing the superiority of Jesus’ priesthood by pointing out his sinless life.

26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

This kind of priest meets our need.  He, and He only, is suitable for our salvation.  He “answered exactly the requirements of the predicament” we were in as sinners. 

It is absolutely amazing, overwhelming marvelous, that after we have rebelled against God, spitting in His face, betraying Him with treachery after treachery, that He Himself provides the One—His only beloved Son—who accomplishes our salvation by being everything God intended us to be—totally and devotedly and joyfully obedient—so that we can now become what God intended us to be.  God gives us that kind of priest.  He truly treats us as precious in His sight!

The author here piles up five terms that emphasize the perfect purity of Jesus Christ.

First, he is “holy”, which points to His character and position as “set apart” to God, dedicated to His purpose.  He is uniquely God’s holy one.

Second, he is “innocent,” meaning that He is “entirely free from all that is evil and harmful, both in action and in motivation.”

Thirdly, “unstained” comes from the sacrificial system, in which animals had to be without blemish or injury.  It refers to “freedom from any moral or spiritual blemish.”  Although the Levitical priests may have been ritually pure, inwardly they were still defiled as sinners.  Jesus, however, was pure outside and inside.

And this is the unique thing about Jesus’ priesthood: not only does he make an offering for us, but He is the offering for us.  1 Peter 1:18 stresses the fact that we are not saved by material goods or religious traditions, but “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”

The next quality “separated from sinners” does not mean that Jesus didn’t associate with sinners.  He wasn’t separated in a spatial sense, but in a spiritual sense.  Despite the fact that he was a “friend of sinners,” and touched unclean lepers (Mark 1:41) and even the dead (Luke 8:40-56), yet He was able to remain pure because of the power of His holiness.

He had to share our humanity to be our Savior, but He didn’t share our sinfulness (Heb. 4:15).

Finally, Jesus is now “exalted above the heavens,” referring to his resurrection, ascension and now present session in glory at the right hand of the Father.  Thus, He serves as our perpetual high priest in the heavenly temple.

In their weakness, the Levitical priests had to offer up sacrifices first for themselves.  Jesus didn’t need to do that, because He was without sin.  Therefore, the offering of His body for us means our sins are forgiven once for all.

We don’t need more sacrifices.  Everything has been done, through the death of Jesus Christ, for our salvation to be complete.  He saves us completely.

So God meets our need to become truly human by giving us the kind of priest we need, one who is sinless and eternal.

  • The father wants us to draw near to Him and become like Him.
  • The Son came that we might draw near, and askes the Father that He might enable us to do so.
  • The Spirit moves in our hearts to move us closer to God.
  • Every person of the Godhead is wanting and working for us to draw near.

What’s holding you back?  If there is any anxiety within you that maybe God doesn’t want you to draw near, this passage in Hebrews shatters that!  God definitely wants us to draw near.  God wants you to draw near!

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s