Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him,
“You are a priest
after the order of Melchizedek.”
For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 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.’”
This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 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.
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 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 thisonce for all when he offered up himself. 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. – Hebrews 7:11–28 (HCSB)
Our author continues his exposition of Christ’s role as a Melchizedekian priest by comparing the priesthood of Melchizedek with the priesthood of Levi. Having demonstrated that Melchizedek is superior to Levi previously, he points out that if the priesthood of Levi had the capacity to make people perfect, another priesthood would not have been necessary. This is why Christ was born of Judah, and not of Levi (Aaron specifically), because a new covenant was necessary.
Different priesthoods carry with them different covenants, as the author indicates. Making it clear that there is no basis for a priesthood coming out of Judah, that no one from Judah has ever served at the altar, and that Moses (presumably the Law specifically is in view here) never indicated that those from Judah could be priests of any sort, he points out that this reality is even more clear when a Melchizedekian priest appears.
This priest, says our author, is a priest not because of bodily descent, but because of his indestructible life. I would be remiss if I did not note the complexity of this section. Many read this concept of “indestructible life” as a reference to the divine aseity which the Son eternally possesses as a gift from his Father (John 5:26). Still others view this as a reference to the indestructible resurrection life the Son possesses according to his humanity. Both positions trace this to the fact that the quoted section of Psalm 110:4 (You are a priest forever…) is cited alongside a quotation from Psalm 2:7 in Hebrews 5:6. This citation (You are my son, today I have begotten you) is used to support Christ’s full divinity in Hebrews 1. This seems to support the former reading as it appears to be a reference to Christ’s divinity. However, in Acts 13:33, this passage is cited, with the resurrection being a fulfillment of the prophetic statement.
What are we to do with this? To be honest, I have not come to a full conclusion. However, I do have a preliminary proposal. The Psalm in question is a reference to both. It would take quite a bit of space to work out the details, but the basic argument is this: Because the one who was crucified and buried is the same one who was given life-in-himself by the Father in eternity past, he was able to be permanently raised bodily to life by that life-in-himself. This is one and the same life-in-himself that his Father possesses, and it is by that life-in-himself that he gives us new life. That is why the same life-in-himself which raised Christ from the dead according to his humanity is also what raises us to new life. (Romans 8:10-11) This is also why after the resurrection, Christ is said to be a life-giving spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45). Because the life-in-himself that he possesses as an eternal gift from his Father, which raised him from the dead according to humanity, he now gives to us and will raise us from the dead.
Thus, this reference to indestructible life is both the aseity of Christ according to his divine nature, as well as to the indestructible life he possesses as a resurrected human. This makes perfect sense since it is only because of his dual natures that he is able to be our high priest in the first place.
Continuing to establish the superiority of the priesthood of Christ is superior to the Aaronic priesthood, he comments that the former was set aside because of his weakness and uselessness. We must remember that he is not speaking in absolute terms, and he demonstrates this in verse 19. The Law of Moses was weak and useless in relation to making us perfect, which it was never intended to do. It was instead intended to point us to the better hope of the New Covenant.
Finally, our author points out that Christ was not appointed to his priesthood without an oath. This oath, however, happened in eternity past. The quoted phrase, as mentioned above, is from Psalm 110. This Psalm is quoted throughout the book, especially in chapter 1, to establish the divine identity of the Son. Here, it is continuing to identify the divine identity of the Son by showing that the Father has eternally considered him a priest, and swearing to that effect.
Because of this eternal oath, the Son is the guarantee of the New Covenant. Because he is a perfect priest, and the Father has sworn to eternally uphold that priesthood, his intercession is sure and will never fail or have to be repeated. “Therefore, He is always able to save those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them.” Because he has life-in-himself as the eternal Son of God, and because he has been raised bodily to live forever by that life-in-himself.
Finally, the author lists a set of attributes that are necessary for our high priest to have. Holy, Innocent, Undefiled, Separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Our priest has to be God. However, we saw earlier that our priest also has to be one of us. This is why the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union is so vital, because without it he could not save us.
- I referenced two reasons why I believe Melchizedek to be a Christophany rather than just a type of Christ. This is a third reasons. It makes little sense to me to say that Jesus is a Melchizedekian priest because of his indestructible life, when the man the priesthood was named only possessed a destructible life.
- While I do not often see this passage as a reference to the Pactum Salutis, it seems to me to be a clear instance. The Father here makes the Son a priest by means of oath, and the Son joyfully agrees.