The Better Priest

The book of Hebrews was written as an exhortation to men and women who had come to know the Lord Jesus and as a result departed from their former religion, Judaism. Due to this exodus, these early Christians were going through tremendous struggles and persecution from many fronts including being hunted by the Roman government who had outlawed it, attacks by their former religious leaders and pressured to return to their roots by family members. Their parting with Judaism came at a tremendous cost! Those religious figures from their former lives were insisting that they had left the truths that Yahweh had established. They were being under pressure to return to this religion because in the mindset of those closest to them, they had left the truth of the blessing of God.  The writer of Hebrews is penning this epistle to demonstrate that all that was given in Judaism by Yahweh was only a shadow of better things to come. These being the realities behind those shadows.

In these texts, the writer compares the priesthood of Aaron and Levi to the priest from the order of Melchizedek, Jesus Christ.  A priest was a man appointed by God to offer sacrifices, worship, and prayer on behalf of God’s people. He was a representative or a middleman between Yahweh and men. The writer argues that this Great High Priest that they had come to know was a far greater and a more powerful priest than anything they could have known under these other categories of priests.

Why is Jesus Christ a better Priest?

And inasmuch as it was not without an oath (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him,

“The Lord has sworn
And will not change His mind,
‘You are a priest forever’”);

so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.

The texts in vs. 20-28 are brought in here to explain what was said in vs. 17 & 21 which is an important quote from Psalm 110:4. You see a potential argument from their oppressors was this:  God had ordained this Old Testament priesthood along with these sacrifices and hence these things were legitimate. To leave these things was to leave the truths of God. The 2nd part of the argument they were facing was: How could God change His mind? How could they be sure that this priesthood was final, and that the priesthood of Christ and His sacrifice would be the last?  Psalm 110:4 is brought in to answer that question. How can we bank that this priesthood would not change? The answer is because the same God who ordained these other priesthoods, in the OT, gave a prophecy in Psalm 110:4 to say that one day it would change. This wasn’t new revelation! The reason it will never change is because His priesthood is “forever” as quoted. The final office of the priest of God would be held by none other than His Son, the descendant of David and it would have no end. It’s everlasting duration is due to it being established for the first time by an oath! The other priesthoods were never established in this way. What does this mean? It means that this priesthood was set up with a guarantee and in return it was established by a guarantor who would see its completion and authenticate its legitimacy.

The Covenant

Under the Old Testament and even in non-inspired Hebrew literature, the swearing of an oath was one of the obligations to formally make a covenant with another individual. Both parties had to swear an oath taking full responsibility and obligation to carry out this agreement. It’s unlike today where we sign our name on a contract and we can get ourselves out of it. To swear an oath was serious business to the point where the whole process that came with a covenant was sometimes just called “the oath”. (Luke 1:73) The priesthood of the Aaronic and Levitical order were never sealed with a guarantee or an oath from God. In the case of the Melchizedek priesthood, God binds Himself to this office with an pledge which gives us assurance that this priesthood He is faithful to. This is the covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34. With this priest the people would “know” God, not just know about Him and in this covenant their sins will be forgiven and remembered no more. This better covenant has Christ Jesus accepting the legal obligations of it and the pledge or better yet the down payment for this covenant was sealed by HIM. He is the surety or guarantee of this better covenant! (Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; 12:24)

There is no reason to fear God changing His mind since He has established this priesthood with a promise and nothing short of its fulfillment will happen. The oath is taken, He swore by Himself, the covenant is made, and the God of faithfulness will not change His mind. Glory be to God!

A Contrast
The writer now furthers the argument and stresses once again the contrast between the two priesthoods. This time focusing on the differences in numbers. The old priesthoods had “many” priests which meant there was always the potential for a replacement of the current priest.  These priests not only would die but there was never a satisfaction made in completing their work. Their priesthood was weak because they continuously needed to make the offering[1]. But this new priest, the Son of God, is a better priest because holds His position forever. The writer is contrasting that which is weak and non-effective with that which is powerful and effectual. You see this priest with one sacrifice got the job done. He offered one sacrifice that would put away sin forever and there is never a need for that sacrifice to be re-offered again.

The Ground Clause

The consequence of this one-time perfect sacrifice is found in verse 25. What are the implications of all this? Why is it so important that the priest be forever? Why is His priesthood better than all the other priests combined? Why would it be utter foolishness on their part to go back to their former religious ways? The answer is “Because He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by Him!” The former priests no matter how many in number and with all the sacrifices they offered couldn’t save anyone “to the uttermost”. Jesus saves them completely, perfectly and most of all, He saves them forever! Why is the permanence of His priesthood so important? He always lives to make intercession for them! He continuously “intercedes” for them. The term “intercede” means that He continuously approaches God on our behalf! Paul understood this truth as well in Romans 8:33-34: “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

There are three ways we can look at this:
We have been granted access to God through Him and without Him there is no access to God. I enjoyed how John Piper put it:

God is one great massive fire of holiness. He hates sin and cannot abide it. We are little ant-like cinders of sin and if we got within ten trillion miles of this God, we would be consumed… The problem that the bible was written to deal with is “I have no hope of drawing near to God without being consumed because I am a sinner”. Unless there is some kind of asbestos –like priest who can wrap me around with all that He is and take me into the center of this fire, there is no hope for me at all. (John Piper)

Secondly, not only does Christ save us at a particular point in time but, in a sense, He continues to save us because He continues to intercede on our behalf.

Thirdly, Christ Pleads or petitions on our behalf. We read in 9:24 that He has “appeared in the presence of God for us”.  He not only presents our prayers to God the Father, but I believe He is in heaven praying for us as well! We catch a glimpse of this work of intercession in Luke 22:31-32 where the Lord says to Peter: Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail, and once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. We also see this in John 17 where He prays that the apostles and those who come through the apostles might be sustained.

The Character of the Priest

The priesthood of Christ far exceeds that of the Old Testament priests because of His very character. The character of this priest was exactly what we needed to fit our needs.  As sinners, Christ became the priest who was “fitting for us” because He was:

•·         Holy- set apart and morally pure
•·         Innocent- there could be no blame from the law attributed to Him
•·         Undefiled- untouched by sin or evil
•·         Separated from sinners- has no moral resemblance to sinners
•·         Exalted- glorified

Unlike the other priests who were needing to be purified (Leviticus 16:6 21:11) to be able to function as priests due to their own sin, this priest had no need to be purified since He was perfectly pure.  The offering of bulls and goats was a repetitious ritual that could never finish or fully atone for the sins of God’s people. Christ on the other hand due to His fulfilling both priesthood and simultaneously the sacrifice itself finally put an end to sin and God’s people can draw near to Him in a way that is unprecedented. His priesthood is forever because His sacrifice is a onetime sacrifice that has made purification forever.  He offered Himself once and for all and that it is unrepeatable. The authenticity of this priest is guaranteed to endure forever and these Christians were the beneficiaries of what was promised in Psalm 110:4.


The first thing to keep in mind while examining these verses is that we have assurance of drawing near to God. When someone asks how I know I possess eternal life and won’t lose it tomorrow, I point them to Hebrews 7:25. I have an intercessor who is Christ Jesus the Lord not a man. He keeps me and no man including myself does.

Secondly, for those who are going through some tremendous trials with sin or circumstances of life including a marriage that is hanging by a thread or dealing with failing health or unruly children or conflicts at work. Maybe you’ve come to the breaking point and wonder what tomorrow will bring. It is important to remember this: There is one in heaven, with God, who never leaves the sanctuary, if you are saved, He is always there making intercession for you! You see our prayers are tremendously important and rest assured that they are heard.

The priesthood of Christ also teaches us how to be priests ourselves. We need to remember that our priesthood came with a price, we need to remember that we have a responsibility to intercede in prayer for others. This is a huge responsibility that too many don’t take seriously enough.  We have a responsibility to bring people to God through the gospel of His Son.

The priesthood of Christ also teaches us how to be priests as well. We should always pray for others as our priest prays for us. Too many don’t take this responsibility seriously and it has weakened the power within the people of God. We can also learn that a priest, though not perfect as the Lord Jesus, should abide in Christ and seek holiness in his/her life. Finally, we should help people draw near to God through the gospel of His Son and sacrifice our lives to get that gospel to others.

[1] The succession of the Aaronic priesthood started with Aaron, then his son Eleazar, then his son phinehas until the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 which the great Jewish historian Josephus records that at that time in history, there had been a total of 83 high priests since the establishment of the priesthood. In a person’s lifetime they could have known several high priests and countless sacrifice. Christ however, because He continues forever, because as it said in v. 16, has an indestructible life, never ever changes because it is permanent.


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