Summary of the Text
A friend of mine has a slate roof business that has been passed down in his family. He is a true artisan in copper and slate, and has completed custom work on buildings as famous as Heinz Hall. His step-father, Joseph Jenkins wrote The Slate Roof Bible and is famous the world over for proclaiming the value of slate roofs which can last many hundreds of years. He refers to asphalt shingle roofs as “temporary” roofs, and speaks of how inferior they are with their constant need to be replaced, at ever increasing cost. Every twenty or so years new shingles must be installed as the old ones disintegrate. Whereas a stone roof might just be getting started after its first century. How foolish it is to be in love with the temporary when the permanent is available to us.
According to Josephus there were 83 High Priests from Aaron through the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Time and time again, the priesthood would need to be passed on to the next generation, to an imperfect vessel who needed atonement for their own sins before atoning for the sins of the people. They were a temporary shelter that would soon perish; themselves just as needy as the ones who would come to them for atonement.
The author of Hebrews is speaking to a thoroughly Jewish audience whom are familiar with every detail of the Levitical priesthood and the intimate theology behind the Mosaic covenant. They have believed in it, lived it, and relied upon it for their acceptance by God. From the context of Hebrews chapter 10, the sacrifices in the temple were still being made, year by year, and day by day. The readers of Hebrews could conceivably chose to return to the temple and participate in that sacrificial system once again.
Our author goes to great lengths to convince his readers that the priests of that system were always flawed and a much better covenant is now in force. The sacrifices they offered were almost unmeasurably inferior to the sacrifice offered by our Lord Jesus. Speaking of priests in 10:11, the author says: “again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” Ten thousand sacrifices would be insufficient to accomplish what Jesus did through his one sacrifice, being nailed to a tree.
God made it clear from the very beginning that the priesthood would be comprised of deeply flawed human actors. As Moses is coming down the mountain with the tablets in hand, we witness the inconceivable actions of Aaron and the golden calf (Exodus 32). The people of God were throwing themselves at an image fashioned by their own hands. But God was gracious, and accepted Aaron once again because his purposes were greater than the failings of his people (Exodus 34:30-32).
Something much greater than Aaron and his progeny has been revealed! Jesus has ushered in a permanent priesthood, occupied by himself, forever, in the order of Melchizedek. One of the most beautiful roles of Christ is his constant intercession for those who seek to know the Father through him. “He always lives to intercede for them” should be a deep encouragement as we navigate difficult seasons. Our Savior is alive and is constantly petitioning for our acceptance into the kingdom eternal.
Aaron failed from the very beginning. Jesus will never fail us.
John Calvin writes about how the priestly vestments actually served to cover up the shortcomings of the priest himself. Jesus needs no vestments because he has no shortcomings.
“for why were those costly and splendid vestments used with which God commanded Aaron to be adorned while performing holy rites, except that they were symbols of a holiness and excellency far exceeding all human virtues? Now, these types were introduced, because the reality did not exist. It then appears that Christ alone is the fully qualified priest.” Calvin’s Commentaries – Hebrews 7:26
Calvin also explains that there was some good in those who served as priests, but in a very small way. Only the Son of God himself is pure in the core of his nature and therefore able to offer something unique to the world. We know that whatever goodness was present in the Levitical priesthood was itself also a gift from God.
“For there was some holiness, and harmlessness, and purity in Aaron, but only a small measure; for he and his sons were defiled with many spots; but Christ, exempt from the common lot of men, is alone free from every sin; hence in him alone is found real holiness and innocency.” Calvin’s Commentaries Hebrews 7:26
This section, as the sections of text before it, continues to lean upon Psalm 110 as a primary source.
- Many flawed Priests (v23) – The death of generations of priests is a reminder of the insufficiency of that system.
- A Permanent Priesthood (v24) – Jesus is eternal, therefore he has a permanent priesthood.
- Constant Intercession (v25) – The salvation offered by Jesus is a complete restoration, to full relationship with the Father, because the Son is providing intercession on behalf of those who come to God through him.
- The Purity of the Son (v26) – Christ is uniquely positioned to atone for the sins of the world because he is set apart from sinners.
- Freedom and Sacrifice (v27) – Unburdened by his own sin, Jesus was able to make the ultimate sacrifice.
- The Appointed Priest (v28) – A reference again to the oath in Psalm 110:4 and the role that the Father placed upon the Son forever.
Verse 28 is a climactic summary of the argument begun in Chapter 5. This pericope itself is beautifully balanced. It begins and ends with a contrast and reminder of the limitations of the old priesthood verses the superiority of Christ. The center of the text functions as a presentation of the characteristics of Christ that make him uniquely qualified for the role.
Peter O’Brien joins a chorus of commentators in referring to this section of Hebrews as a “concluding rhapsody” on the heavenly high priest. The term is fitting as Dictionary.com defines it: 1) an ecstatic expression of feeling or enthusiasm. 2) an epic poem, or a part of such a poem, as a book of the Iliad, suitable for recitation at one time. 4) an unusually intense or irregular poem or piece of prose.
Our author is very excited about the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and the glorious way in which Jesus has more than filled in the gaps and weaknesses of the Levitical priesthood. His writings in this chapter are lofty and beautiful and rightly shape our understanding of our Lord and Savior.
Hebrews presents a High Priest who is intensely personal. Our God is not lofty and far off but intimately concerned for our welfare, he “truly meets our need.” Peter O’Brien points this out and highlights personal pronouns used for Jesus in Hebrews 4:14 & 15, 8:1, and 10:21. Ours is not a God who is far off or disconnected from his people. Our High Priest is accessible to us and perfectly qualified to intercede on our behalf. O’Brien continues saying this opening phrase of verse 26 could be translated more literally: “Now such a high priest was precisely appropriate to us.” How incredible that God gave us a Savior who is perfectly matched to our need. Human remedies have side effects. Our remedy, The Lord Jesus Christ, High Priest forever in the order of Melchizedek, is perfect, and what a pleasure it is to rely on him.
Justin Amsler is the pastor of McDonald Presbyterian church in Western Pennsylvania. His passion lies in helping people come into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ by engaging the Scriptures in a way that everyone can relate to. His degrees include a Bachelor of Science from Grove City College, a Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and he is currently enrolled in a Doctor of Ministry program. He is blessed by his wife Sarah and four children: Julia, Jonah, Selah, and Silas.
In Christ as sacrifice, God our judge is judged in our place, reveals our perpetration of and collaboration with sin, ends our rebellion, forgives our guilt, cleanses us, makes us righteous, and establishes us in the kingdom of peace.
Jesus the Only
We must continue to affirm the uniqueness and finality of Jesus Christ. For he is unique in his incarnation (the one and only God-man), unique in his atonement (only he has died for the sins of the world), and unique in his resurrection (only he has conquered death). And since in no other person but Jesus of Nazareth did God first become human (in his birth), then bear our sins (in his death), and then triumph over death (in his resurrection), he is uniquely competent to save sinners. Nobody else possesses his qualifications.
So we may talk about Alexander the Great, Charles the Great and Napoleon the Great, but not Jesus the Great. He is not the Great—he is the Only. There is nobody like him. He has no rival and no successor.
Taken from The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling by John R. W. Stott Copyright (c) 2010 by John R. W. Stott. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com