By: Daniel Goepfrich
A New Priesthood and a New Law
Hebrews 7 returns to the theme of “Jesus the High Priest,” picking up the teaching on Melchizedek left off in Hebrews 5:10, with a specific focus on the nature of his priesthood (as opposed to the Aaronic priesthood) and how Jesus fulfills it. Proving yet again that Jesus is better than an Old Testament hero, the writer showed that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham because he received a tithe from Abraham and blessed Abraham, something that only someone greater can do (Heb. 7:1-10). Using the seminal argument that Levi (Abraham’s grandson) was in his grandfather’s “loins,” Levi (who received tithes under the sacrificial system) had also paid tithes to Melchizedek.The writer’s point was that the Levitical priesthood was inferior to Melchizedek’s; thus, Jesus’ priesthood is also greater than the Levitical priesthood, because of God’s promise that Jesus would be “a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”
The very fact that God promised a greater priesthood proves that the Levitical priesthood could not accomplish everything the people needed (Heb. 7:11-28). However, because the priests mediate the law, if the priesthood is inferior, so is the law. Thus, with Jesus’ new priesthood came a new law that only Jesus can mediate. Unlike the old law which was useless for making anyone spiritual, Jesus introduced “a better hope…through which we draw near to God.”Additionally, because the old law was based on an old covenant, Jesus has become a mediator of a better covenant as well. All of this was to prove that Jesus now offers something that the old priests, old law, and old covenant could never offer – complete salvation with everything it includes. Strengthening this position is the truth that Jesus ministers as a priest forever since he will never die.
A Shadow of What Is to Come
Hebrews 8 through ten shifts the focus from the better High Priest to the better covenant itself, expounding one primary Old Testament text – Jeremiah 31:31-34. This is exceptional because it is the longest Old Testament passage quoted in the New Testament in its entirety.
The writer first noted that everything that Moses had built was simply a “shadow” of the archetype in Heaven, including the tabernacle, altar, and sanctuary (Heb. 8:1-6). Even though the New Covenant had not yet been promised at that time, Moses himself knew that what he was setting up, including the covenant, was not the final form. Jesus’ ministry, then, also includes “better promises.”
Chapter eight ends with the writer quoting the primary New Covenant passage (Jer. 31:31-34) and noting that the coming of the New, by necessity, invalidates the Old. Within conservative dispensationalism there is much debate over 1) whether the New Covenant is in full effect right now for Church Age believers, 2) whether there are separate “New Covenants” for the Church and Israel, or 3) whether the New Covenant applies only to Christians who are Jewish. Each position has godly men and women who support it, and this article cannot explore all the details, but it is an important topic that should be investigated further.
It is significant that the writer used three keywords in chapters eight through ten to describe the inferiority of the old sanctuary, promises, system, etc., and all of them are found in Hebrews 8:5. Compared to what Jesus accomplished, Moses’ system was only a ὑποδείγμα (hupodeigma; “sketch,outline”; Heb. 8:5; 9:23); a σκιά, (skia; “shadow”; Heb. 8:5; 10:1); and a τύπος (tupos; “copy, pattern”; Heb. 8:5).
This seminal argument is often used to show how the sin nature can be imparted to all of Adam’s descendants, because when Adam sinned, “all sinned” in and with him seminally (Rom. 5:12).
Each Thursday, DPH runs a Chapter-by-Chapter blog by Daniel Goepfrich, progressing readers chapter-by-chapter through the New Testament. This series is taken from New Testament Chapter-by-Chapter, published by Trust House Publishers, a division of DPH. Daniel serves as Pastor of Oak Tree Community Church in South Bend, Indiana, and blogs at www.TheologyIsForEveryone.com
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