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From Good to Great: A Better Priest and a Better Covenant (Hebrews 7:11-25)

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11 So if perfection had in fact been possible through the Levitical priesthood - for on that basis the people received the law - what further need would there have been for another priest to arise, said to be in the order of Melchizedek and not in Aaron’s order? 12 For when the priesthood changes, a change in the law must come as well. 13 Yet the one these things are spoken about belongs to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever officiated at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord is descended from Judah, yet Moses said nothing about priests in connection with that tribe. 15 And this is even clearer if another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest not by a legal regulation about physical descent but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For here is the testimony about him: “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” 18 On the one hand a former command is set aside because it is weak and useless, 19 for the law made nothing perfect. On the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

20 And since this was not done without a sworn affirmation - for the others have become priests without a sworn affirmation, 21 but Jesus did so with a sworn affirmation by the one who said to him, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,You are a priest forever’” - 22 accordingly Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. 23 And the others who became priests were numerous, because death prevented them from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently since he lives forever. 25 So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.1

Introduction

“This does not bode well.” I’m sure we’ve all heard this expression, and many of us have experienced it. There are times when things just start out badly and then they continue downhill from there. That’s kind of the way I feel about Aaron and the Levitical priesthood. Aaron is no David. David’s story begins with him standing up to Goliath in the name of the Lord, and as a result of the death of this giant, he brought Israel a great military victory over their enemies, the Philistines. He is a man of character, who twice spares Saul’s life while the king is seeking to destroy him. It is not until later in David’s life that we are greatly disappointed by David’s sin against Uriah in the taking of his life and his wife.

Aaron on the other hand is a man who starts badly, and so we are not surprised to find that the Aaronic priesthood was less “weak and useless.”2 Aaron’s bad beginning began when he assumed the role of Israel’s “worship leader” at the base of Mount Sinai, where he fashioned a golden calf for the people to follow and to worship, and then led them in a heathen worship ritual:

1 When the people saw that Moses delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Get up, make us gods that will go before us. As for this fellow Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!” 2 So Aaron said to them, “Break off the gold earrings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people broke off the gold earrings that were on their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 He accepted the gold from them, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molten calf. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it, and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow will be a feast to the Lord.” 6 So they got up early on the next day and offered up burnt offerings and brought peace offerings, and the people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play (Exodus 32:1-6).

Think about this for a moment. In Hebrews 4:14-16, the readers are exhorted to “hold fast to their confession” and to “draw near” to their Great High Priest, from whom they will “receive mercy and find grace in their time of need.” This, of course, refers to the Lord Jesus. But contrast this with what we have just read about Aaron’s role in the Israelites’ great sin at the base of Mount Sinai. The people drew near to Aaron and what did they get? He helped them plunge into sin. He did not lead them in drawing near to God, but rather in forsaking Him. This most certainly does not “bode well.”

Our disappointment with Aaron goes beyond this. There was a time when Aaron and his sister Miriam spoke against Moses, with the result that Miriam became leprous for a short time:

1 Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married (for he had married an Ethiopian woman). 2 They said, “Has the Lord only spoken through Moses? Has he not also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard it (Numbers 12:1-2).

Finally, in what might be viewed as an argument from silence, I recall that Aaron did not seem to be the one who saved Israel from God’s wrath through his mediation. It was the high priest who was to mediate with God on Israel’s behalf.3 But as I think through Israel’s many failures, it would appear that in virtually every instance where God extended mercy to Israel, it was Moses who had interceded on behalf of the nation, sparing them from God’s wrath.4 Thus, it was Moses and not Aaron who was Israel’s mediator, so that they were spared from God’s wrath.

All of this prepares me for the first words of our text in Hebrews 7:

11 So if perfection had in fact been possible through the Levitical priesthood - for on that basis the people received the law - what further need would there have been for another priest to arise, said to be in the order of Melchizedek and not in Aaron’s order? (Hebrews 7:11)

There was something inherently weak and ineffective with the Aaronic priesthood. Some of this weakness was to be found in the Old Covenant (a subject to be taken up much more in depth in chapter 8), and some was to be found in the weakness of those men who were Israel’s high priests, starting with Aaron.

The Context of our Text

The subject of our Lord’s priesthood is not new in Hebrews. The author has made some reference to our Lord’s high priestly ministry in every chapter leading up to our text in chapter 7:

The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high(Hebrews 1:3, emphasis mine).

17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 For since he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:17-18, emphasis mine).

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, partners in a heavenly calling, take note of Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess (Hebrews 3:1, emphasis mine).

14 Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help (Hebrews 4:14-16, emphasis mine).

1 For every high priest is taken from among the people and appointed to represent them before God, to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal compassionately with those who are ignorant and erring, since he also is subject to weakness, 3 and for this reason he is obligated to make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people. 4 And no one assumes this honor on his own initiative, but only when called to it by God, as in fact Aaron was. 5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming high priest, but the one who glorified him was God, who said to him, “You are my Son! Today I have fathered you,” 6 as also in another place God says, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” 7 During his earthly life Christ offered both requests and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his devotion. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered. 9 And by being perfected in this way, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 and he was designated by God as high priest in the order of Melchizedek(Hebrews 5:1-10, emphasis mine).

19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast, which reaches inside behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus our forerunner entered on our behalf, since he became a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:19-20, emphasis mine).

1 Now this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, met Abraham as he was returning from defeating the kings and blessed him. 2 To him also Abraham apportioned a tithe of everything. His name first means king of righteousness, then king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 3 Without father, without mother, without genealogy, he has neither beginning of days nor end of life but is like the son of God, and he remains a priest for all time. 4 But see how great he must be, if Abraham the patriarch gave him a tithe of his plunder. 5 And those of the sons of Levi who receive the priestly office have authorization according to the law to collect a tithe from the people, that is, from their fellow countrymen, although they too are descendants of Abraham. 6 But Melchizedek who does not share their ancestry collected a tithe from Abraham and blessed the one who possessed the promise. 7 Now without dispute the inferior is blessed by the superior, 8 and in one case tithes are received by mortal men, while in the other by him who is affirmed to be alive. 9 And it could be said that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid a tithe through Abraham. 10 For he was still in his ancestor Abraham’s loins when Melchizedek met him (Hebrews 7:1-10, emphasis mine).

Very early in chapter 1, the author of Hebrews calls attention to the atoning sacrifice of the Son, after which He was seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven (1:3). All of this serves as a preview to what will be a much more thorough exposition on our Lord’s work as our Great High Priest as the book progresses. In chapter 2, we read of our Lord’s incarnation, which identified the Son with mankind in such a way as to qualify Him as “a merciful and faithful high priest” (2:17-18). These first two chapters depict the adequacy of our Lord to be our Great High Priest. The next two chapters highlight man’s sinfulness, and thus our need for the Son as our Great High Priest. Chapter 3 begins by referring to the Son as “the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (3:1). The author then calls our attention to the failure of the first generation of Israelites to enter into God’s rest, in spite of God’s Word and His mighty works. At the conclusion of chapter 4, we find the author exhorting his readers to hold fast to their confession of faith and to draw near to Jesus the Son of God for “priestly” mercy and grace in our time of need (4:14-16).

The first 10 verses of chapter 5 compare and contrast our Lord Jesus, a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, with Aaron and the Aaronic priesthood. As he prepares to delve more deeply into the priestly order of Melchizedek, the author finds it necessary to digress momentarily, due to the readers’ dullness in deeper spiritual matters (5:11-6:20). Then, when we approach chapter 7, we find ourselves once again pondering the weightier matter of Melchizedek. In verses 1-10, we are reminded of the account of the encounter of Abraham (Abram) and Melchizedek in Genesis 14. The author demonstrates from this account that Melchizedek was superior to Abraham and to his offspring, Aaron, who was yet to be born.

Now we approach our text in verse 11 of chapter 7. The author sets out to demonstrate that the Lord Jesus is a superior high priest to Aaron and to the entire Aaronic priesthood. He introduces his argument in verse 11:

11 So if perfection had in fact been possible through the Levitical priesthood – for on that basis the people received the law – what further need would there have been for another priest to arise, said to be in the order of Melchizedek and not in Aaron’s order? (Hebrews 7:11)

I like to summarize this introductory verse in this way:

If it weren’t broken, it (the Aaronic priesthood) wouldn’t have needed fixing.

If the Levitical priesthood were a success, then there would have been no need to replace it with something better.

Several things need to be clarified in verse 11. First, the “if” (“So if perfection. . .”) is stated in such a way as to indicate to the reader (of the Greek text)5 that perfection was not possible through the Levitical priesthood. This is why a new, superior, priesthood was required. Second, we are told that the Levitical priesthood was foundational to the law. It was the priests who taught the law, who interpreted and applied the law. It was the priests who declared a person clean or unclean. It was the Levitical priesthood that offered the sacrifices specified by the law. The law could not function apart from the Levitical priesthood. As we shall soon see, the law and the Levitical priesthood were inseparable. In order for the priesthood to change, there must also be a change in the law.

Third, it is important that we understand how our author is using the term “perfection.” “Perfection” does not refer to “sinless perfection,” but rather to the fulfillment or accomplishment of a task or goal. Specifically, perfection would be reaching the goal of drawing men near to God. Nearness to God is the goal, and “perfection” is reaching that goal. Our author is saying that the Levitical priesthood was not capable of bringing men near to God. We will discuss this later in the lesson, but the law and the Levitical priesthood actually distanced men from God by placing boundaries between them and God. These boundaries, like the veil of the temple, would be removed by the work of Christ and the New Covenant.6

Fourth, the replacement for the Levitical priesthood would be of an entirely different order; not the order of Aaron (Levi), but the order of Melchizedek.It wasn’t just a new (Aaronic) priest that was needed, but a whole new order of priest. Let me attempt to illustrate this. Suppose that traffic control on Interstate 45 was the responsibility of a mounted (as in “on horseback”) patrol. It simply would not be effective, no matter who the patrolman or the horse might be. What is needed is a new order of enforcement, with radar, pursuit cars, and so on.

A New Priesthood Requires a New Law, a New Tribe, a New Basis
Hebrews 7:12-17

12 For when the priesthood changes, a change in the law must come as well. 13 Yet the one these things are spoken about belongs to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever officiated at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord is descended from Judah, yet Moses said nothing about priests in connection with that tribe. 15 And this is even clearer if another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest not by a legal regulation about physical descent but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For here is the testimony about him: “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 7:12-17).

We have already observed from verse 11 that the Levitical priesthood and the law were “joined at the hip.” As the words of the old song go, “You can’t have one without the other.” Thus, for the priesthood to change, so must the law. Furthermore, for a new order of priest to be installed, He must come from a different tribe than Aaron. Aaron descended from Levi; the Messiah was of the tribe of Judah. No one from this tribe had ever served as high priest in Israel. If the law prescribed that high priests must come from the line of Aaron, then it is obvious why a new law (or covenant) would be required.

If our Great High Priest, Jesus, was not a descendant of Aaron, then what was it that qualified Him to be our High Priest at all? He was not a priest after the order of Aaron, but a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Psalm 110:4 tells us what it is that designates Jesus as our Great High Priest:

4 The Lord makes this promise on oath and will not revoke it:

“You are an eternal priest after the pattern of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4, emphasis mine).

That which sets Jesus apart from all other possible priests and identifies Him as the Great High Priest is that He is eternal. That is what the author says in verses 14-16, based upon David’s inspired words in Psalm 110:4:

14 For it is clear that our Lord is descended from Judah, yet Moses said nothing about priests in connection with that tribe. 15 And this is even clearer if another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest not by a legal regulation about physical descent but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For here is the testimony about him:You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek(Hebrews 7:15-17, emphasis in verse 16 mine).

The resurrection and ascension of our Lord proved Him to be an eternal member of the Godhead. He is in a class of one, and thus it is clear (on the basis of Psalm 110:4) that He is the Great High Priest of the order of Melchizedek.

Summation and Transition
Hebrews 7:18-19

18 On the one hand a former command is set aside because it is weak and useless, 19 for the law made nothing perfect. On the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God (Hebrews 7:18-19).

Here our author gives two reasons why it was necessary to replace both the law and the Levitical priesthood. The first reason is set forth in verse 18 and the first half of verse 19: the law was not able to perfect anything. It was unable to fulfill God’s covenant promise to Abraham and his descendants. It was unable to fulfill the Davidic Covenant. It was unable to draw men near to God. At best, it established boundaries to keep men from getting too close to God, and dying as a result.

The second reason why the law and the priesthood must be replaced is that a better hope has been introduced (I take it by Psalm 110:4), and by this means – the priesthood of our Lord Jesus, after the order of Melchizedek – we have a better hope, and we can thus draw near to God. So, to sum it up, the law and the Aaronic priesthood needed to be replaced because the law failed to draw men near to God, and the new priesthood would do so. The Old is inferior and inadequate; the new is better because it does perfect (draw men near to God).

A Better Covenant and a Better Priesthood Replaces the Old
Hebrews 7:20-25

20 And since this was not done without a sworn affirmation - for the others have become priests without a sworn affirmation, 21 but Jesus did so with a sworn affirmation by the one who said to him, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind,You are a priest forever’” - 22 accordingly Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. 23 And the others who became priests were numerous, because death prevented them from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently since he lives forever. 25 So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:20-25).

These words take me back to chapter 6, where we read:

16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and the oath serves as a confirmation to end all dispute. 17 In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, 18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:16-18, emphasis mine).

In my mind, we have now come to the second thing our author has in mind which is guaranteed by God’s oath. The first is the Abrahamic Covenant, which God swore to Abraham with an oath (6:13-15). The second is the oath God swore to the Son in Psalm 110 concerning His priesthood after the order of Melchizedek:

4 The Lord makes this promise on oath and will not revoke it:

“You are an eternal priest after the pattern of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4, emphasis mine).

As the author points out, this oath regarding Christ’s priesthood was confirmed by God’s oath. This was not the case with the priesthood under the Old Covenant, for those priests were selected on the basis of their genealogy. Not so with the Lord Jesus. The oath God swore made this new order of priesthood certain and changeless (7:20-22).

The new order of priesthood will have but one priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, because He lives forever. This is a far cry from the old order of Aaronic priests. Over Israel’s history, there were many such high priests, and for a very simple reason – they all died, and thus they were replaced by another high priest. Our Lord is, and will continue to be, our Great High Priest forever. And so He is able to save those who draw near to Him forever.

But how does the fact that He lives forever assure us that He is able to save us forever? I believe that the author is referring to His ability to initially save us through His atoning death on the cross of Calvary, as well as His on-going preservation of the saints through His continual intercession for us as our Great High Priest.

It works something like this. When I go to the computer store to purchase a new hard drive for my computer, the store sells it to me. And when I go to the checkout counter to pay for it, I am certain that this person will attempt to sell me a kind of add-on warranty. If I pay a little more money, the store guarantees that if the hard drive fails within the warranty period, they will exchange it on the spot when I return the defective part. In a similar way, I enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ by faith when I trust in Him for the forgiveness of my sins and the gift of eternal life. But I also realize (soon, if not immediately) that I will still sin. It is His high priestly ministry on my behalf that assures me that the salvation I initially experienced will be secure forever. This is because my salvation depends upon Christ, and He lives forever, to save and to keep everyone who draws near to God by faith in Him.7

Conclusion

Let us begin by summing up what the author has told us in our text. The author has shown us the weakness of the Aaronic priesthood and the law, which were not able to perfect us by drawing us near to God in an intimate relationship. Indeed, rather than draw us near to God by removing the offense of our sin, the law served to expose our sin.

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20).

Instead of drawing us near to God, the Aaronic priesthood and the law placed barriers between sinners and God, so that they would not be destroyed.

10 The Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and make them wash their clothes 11 and be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 You must set boundaries for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves not to go up on the mountain nor touch its edge. Whoever touches the mountain will surely be put to death!’” (Exodus 19:10-12, emphasis mine)

20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain, and the Lord summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21 The Lord said to Moses, “Go down and solemnly warn the people, lest they force their way through to the Lord to look, and many of them perish. 22 Let the priests also, who approach the Lord, sanctify themselves, lest the Lord break through against them” (Exodus 19:20-22, emphasis mine).

3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go up among you, for you are a stiff-necked people, and I might destroy you on the way” (Exodus 33:3).

The priesthood was composed of a limited number of men who would stand before God on behalf of the many. Thus, the priests were able to draw nearer to God than the multitudes. But even the priests were restricted in their access to God. So, too, with the high priest, for he was permitted to enter into the holy of holies only once a year.

When the people possessed the Promised Land, the temple was built and men could approach God, but only through the priesthood, and still the holy of holies was accessible only to the high priest once a year. And remember that the Israelites did not all live in or near Jerusalem. Most Israelites lived at a distance from Jerusalem. Three times a year the men of the nation were required to appear in Jerusalem for one of the three feasts.8 This is not anything like the intimate fellowship we can have with God through the Lord Jesus on a daily, moment-by-moment, basis.

And so, as our author has shown, while the Old Covenant and the Aaronic priesthood provided a means whereby men could enter into a relationship with God, it was weak and powerless to enable sinners to draw near to God in intimate and constant fellowship with Him. Thus, a New Covenant and a new priesthood were required by the weaknesses of the Old (covenant and priesthood).

What application did all this have to the original readers of this Epistle to the Hebrews? We know that they were Jewish Christians who had trusted in Jesus as the promised Messiah. By now9 they had either withdrawn from Judaism or had been cast out by unbelieving Jews. But some were tempted to fall back into their old practices and beliefs, especially as persecution loomed on the horizon. So what did our text mean to this audience?

I was teaching a Bible study in the Gospel of John this past week, and I came across these verses in chapter 12:

31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 (Now he said this to indicate clearly what kind of death he was going to die.) 34 Then the crowd responded, “We have heard from the law that the Christwill remain forever. How can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 Jesus replied, “The light is with you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he went away and hid himself from them (John 12:31-36, emphasis mine).

42 Nevertheless, even among the rulers many believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they would not confess Jesus to be the Christ, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue. 43 For they loved praise from men more than praise from God (John 12:42-43).

I found it very interesting that when the people in Jerusalem heard Jesus speak about being “lifted up,” they (rightly) understood Him to be speaking of His death.10 They understood the Scriptures to teach that the Christ would live forever, and thus they struggled with Jesus’ words concerning His death. My point here is that they expected Messiah to live forever, and they much preferred this to a Messiah who merely died (as did the Aaronic priests).

In verses 42 and 43, we find another indication of the tremendous pressure the unbelieving Pharisees exerted on those who believed in Jesus. They had such power that they were able to silence some of the Jewish rulers (folks like Nicodemus – see John 7:45-53). No wonder some of the Hebrews were considering falling away from their profession of faith in Jesus as Messiah.

Our text very plainly points out the weakness of the Old Covenant and of the Aaronic priesthood. It could not perfect men by enabling them to draw near to God in intimate fellowship. It could not deliver them from sin, but could only expose them as sinners. The New Covenant and the new priesthood, however, are able to perfect men. Men and women can experience the forgiveness of sin, and thus they can draw near to God through Christ’s priestly work. To fall back into Judaism, then, was to fall away from what is superior and to settle for what is inferior. It is to fall back from Him who can save and keep to a system that can neither save nor keep. No wonder falling back is seen as such a serious matter.

So, having considered the application of our text to its first readers, what does this text have to say to Christians today? First, we should appreciate how privileged we are to live under the New Covenant, and to have the Lord Jesus Christ as our Great High Priest. We have it so much better than the ancient people of God who lived under the Old Covenant. We can draw near at any time, without fear or hesitation. And all of this is made possible by our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ. He atoned for our sins on the cross of Calvary, and He continually intercedes on our behalf with the Father. He saves and He keeps His own.

Our text underscores the absolute and complete sufficiency of the Lord Jesus. We need nothing else than that which He has accomplished and that which He continues to provide. The “old” is not better; it is inferior. We need to draw near to God and to persevere in the faith, confident in the person and work of Jesus. We need to recognize that falling back to the old is really falling away, and that it has dire consequences.

For most of us, the temptation is not to fall back into Judaism. Our temptation is to trust in some “priest” or some system of rules, rather than Jesus. If Jesus is our Great High Priest, then we dare not seek to follow any other priest. The Corinthian saints seemed to be following men, rather than Jesus.11 Sometimes, in the name of discipleship or mentoring, we are tempted to place too much trust in men, rather than in our Great High Priest. Discipleship and mentoring can be a wonderful thing, but not if it puts men before our Great High Priest. We need most of all to draw near to Him, to seek His wisdom and His guidance. Godly mentors and disciplers will always point us to Jesus, and not to themselves. John the Baptist is surely our model in this regard:

25 Now a dispute came about between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew concerning ceremonial washing. 26 So they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you on the other side of the Jordan River, about whom you testified – see, he is baptizing, and everyone is flocking to him!” 27 John replied, “No one can receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but rather, ‘I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. This then is my joy, and it is complete. 30 He must become more important while I become less important.” 31 The one who comes from above is superior to all. The one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is superior to all (John 3:25-31).

So, too, with counselors and shepherds. Those of us who are elders understand that we are to shepherd the flock of God, but we are to do this as “under shepherds” (1 Peter 5:1-5). We are not to usurp the preeminence, glory, or authority of our Lord. In secular psychiatry and counseling (and in some Christian versions of this as well), counselors have become the “high priests” of our age. People confess their sins to their counselors, and not to Christ, or to those they have wronged. Counseling can be a wonderful blessing, but let us always remember that Christ is our Great High Priest, and no man should dare to take His place in the life of the Christian. To Him be the glory!


1 Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 17 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on November 2, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

2 I have taken the terms “weak and useless” from Hebrews 7:18, where they apply more directly to the Old Covenant, but this surely includes the Aaronic priesthood as well, as we see in 7:11.

3 See Hebrews 2:17; 5:1-3.

4 See Exodus 32:7-14; Numbers 14:1-20.

5 This is a second class condition in the Greek text, indicating that what was proposed was not really a possibility. It would be like saying, “If I could fly to Mars, I’d stay there forever.” What is implied in English is more clearly indicated in the Greek text.

6 Just as the Levitical priesthood was “married” to the law, so the priestly ministry of our Lord was “married” to the New Covenant.

7 In the sermon which I preached, I continued on to the end of the chapter, but in this written message, I have chosen to stop at verse 25 and to take up my next message from verse 26.

8 See Exodus 23:14-17.

9 See Acts 8:1-2; 11:19ff.

10 Having said this, we must also point out that while these folks believed “lifted up” referred to our Lord’s death (by crucifixion), they did not understand that He would rise from the dead and thus be “lifted up” in His resurrection, ascension, and glorification. “Lifted up” is also used in this sense (see Isaiah 52:13).

11 See 1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:1-9.


Related Topics: Christology, Law