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.
As we continue our study of Hebrew’s mention of Melchizedek’s priesthood in chapter 7, we come to the main purpose behind the Lord inspiring the author to mention the Old Testament priest in the first place. The overall purpose of the book of Hebrews was to show the superiority of Christianity over Judaism to encourage Jewish Christians to not fall back into Judaism due to pressure from persecution. Hebrews already introduced the concept of Christ serving as the Christian’s high priest (2:17-18; 4:14-16). The mention of Melchizedek shows how Christ’s priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood of the law of Moses.
“Perfection” (v. 11) comes from a Greek word which literally means completion. The Levitical priesthood was not complete or adequate. Hebrews will later show that its major failing was its failure to provide forgiveness of sins (10:1ff). Thus, God deliberated for another priest to arise from an order different than Aaron’s priesthood, a priest who had more in common with Melchizedek than Aaron (v. 11). This was prophesied (Psalm 110:4), showing that it had always been God’s plan for Jesus to serve as the high priest mankind truly needed.
Verse 12 is significant because it shows the difference between the Old and New Testaments. As Hebrews will bring out in chapter 8, the Old Testament law of Moses and its Levitical priesthood has been replaced by the New Testament law of Christ, who also serves as the Christian’s high priest. With Christ now serving as our high priest and the Levitical priesthood no longer needed, it stands to reason that the Law of Moses is likewise no longer in place and has been replaced with the New Testament. The fact that the new covenant has replaced the old is one of the reasons Christ serves as high priest in the first place (vs. 13-14). Christ came from the tribe of Judah. Under the Law of Moses, priests were commanded to come from the tribe of Levi. Nothing was said in the Old Testament about priests coming from Judah, and yet Christ serves as our high priest. The only way that could happen is if the Law of Moses was no longer in effect and replaced with a new covenant which propagated a different priesthood.
The Hebrew writer’s mention of Christ being “descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests” (v. 14) also gives insight into how one properly ascertains authority from Scripture for one’s religious beliefs and practices. If the Old Testament were still in effect, Christ – a descendant of Judah – could not be high priest. This would be so not even though there is no Old Testament verse stating, “Thou shalt not have priests from the tribe of Judah.” The only commands God ever gave Moses concerning the Old Testament priesthood mentioned descendancy from Levi. Thus, all other tribes were excluded from being priests.
When you go to a restaurant and tell the waiter you want a cheeseburger and fries and mention no other items on the menu, the waiter automatically understands that your silence concerning everything else on the menu indicates that all you want is a cheeseburger and fries. As a customer, you would be upset if he brought you something different from or in addition to what you ordered and expected you to pay for it.
Our Lord purchased the church with his own blood (Acts 20:28). He has revealed in Scripture what he wants concerning how we are saved, how we worship, and how we organize and conduct ourselves in his church. If we add anything to what he has revealed he has wanted, we sin and displease him even if he had not condemned what we do with a “Thou shalt not” (Galatians 1:6-9; Proverbs 30:6; Revelation 22:18-19).
Next week’s article will continue our study of chapter 7, Lord willing.