The author identified neither himself nor the people to whom he was writing. However, the content of the book, including the frequent references to the Hebrew Scriptures, makes it clear that he was writing to Jewish Christians who were sorely tempted to leave the Christian church and revert to Jewish worship.
The author spends the first ten and a half chapters of this thirteen chapter book (1:1 – 10:18) emphasizing the superiority of Christ and the new covenant to Moses and the old covenant.
THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT:
In Hebrews 4:14 – 5:14, the author emphasized the superiority of Jesus the high priest over the high priests of Aaronic descent. In 5:5-7, 10, he cited scripture to show that Jesus was God’s Son (in a sense that Aaron was not)––and that Jesus belonged, not to the order of Aaron but of Melchizedek––making Jesus “a priest forever” (5:6).
In chapter 6, the author warned of the peril of falling away (6:1-12) and the certainty of God’s promise (6:13-20).
Then in chapter 7, he returns to the theme of the priestly order of Melchizedek––how great Melchizedek was (7:4-10), and the significance of another priest like Melchizedek (Jesus) arising (7:11ff.).
HEBREWS 7:23-25. JESUS LIVES FOREVER––AND SAVES FOREVER
23 Many, indeed, have been made priests, because they are hindered from continuing by death. 24 But he, because he lives forever, has his priesthood unchangeable. 25 Therefore he is also able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, seeing that he lives forever to make intercession for them.
“Many, indeed, have been made priests, because they are hindered from continuing by death” (v. 23). The priests of the order of Aaron came and went––lived and died––necessitating their frequent replacement. Thus, there were, over time, many of them––both priests and high priests.
“But he, because he lives forever, has his priesthood unchangeable” (v. 24). But Christ is eternal, having no beginning and no ending. Other New Testament passages support the idea that Jesus was eternal:
- “The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that has been made” (John 1:2-3; see also Colossians 1:16-17).
- “Being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:8-11).
No longer being subject to death, there is no need for high priests to replace Jesus when he dies. This is one of the ways that Jesus the high priest is superior to Aaron the high priest.
“Therefore he is also able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him” (v. 25a). Jesus came to save the world “to the uttermost,” but the salvation that he offers is limited to those “who draw near to God through him.” John captured this same thought in one of the most popular verses in scripture, John 3:16. Unfortunately, we are prone to quote that verse and stop, but verses 17 and 18 show that there are limits imposed, not by the Son, but by those who reject him.
“For God so loved the world,
that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish,
but have eternal life.
“For God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world,
but that the world should be saved through him.
“He who believes in him is not judged.
He who doesn’t believe has been judged already,
because he has not believed in the name
of the one and only Son of God” (John 3:16-18).
“seeing that he lives forever to make intercession for them” (v. 25b). See the comments on verse 24 above.
Intercession is intervening in behalf of someone else––or praying for that person. Jesus interceded for people when he was on this earth. In his High Priestly Prayer shortly before his death, he prayed:
“I pray for (to the people whom you have given me out of the world).
I don’t pray for the world,
but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours….
“Holy Father, keep them through your name which you have given me,
that they may be one, even as we are….
“I pray not that you would take them from the world,
but that you would keep them from the evil one.
“They are not of the world even as I am not of the world.
Sanctify them in your truth. Your word is truth….
“Not for these only do I pray,
but for those also who believe in me through their word,
that they may all be one;
even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you,
that they also may be one in us;
that the world may believe that you sent me….
“Father, I desire that they also whom you have given me be with me where I am,
that they may see my glory, which you have given me,
for you loved me before the foundation of the world”
(John 17:9, 11, 15-17, 20-21, 24).
This is but one example of Jesus’ intercessory prayers. He prayed for Lazarus (John 11:41-42). He prayed for a deaf man (Mark 7:34).
But Jesus’ intercessory ministry was limited because of the human limitations that he accepted at his incarnation. Now Christ has a much broader intercessory ministry, which is a continuation of the work that he started while on the earth:
- Paul said that Christ intercedes for us (Romans 8:34).
- The author of Hebrews says that Christ has entered heaven “to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24).
- John says, “If anyone sins, we have a parakletos (a counselor, an advocate) with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous” (1 John 2:1).
HEBREWS 7:26-28. SUCH A HIGH PRIEST WAS FITTING FOR US
26 For such a high priest was fitting for us: holy, guiltless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; 27 who doesn’t need, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices daily, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. For he did this once for all, when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men as high priests who have weakness, but the word of the oath which came after the law appoints a Son forever who has been perfected.
“For such a high priest was fitting for us: holy, guiltless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens” (v. 26). Christ is the high priest that we need. The salvation that he made possible is the solution to our problem of sin, guilt, and spiritual death.
Unlike Aaron and Aaron’s descendants, Christ is “holy, guiltless, undefiled, separated from sinners (in the sense that he did not sin), and made higher than the heavens.”
That last phrase, “made higher than the heavens,” is significant. We know how helpful it can be to have friends in high places––i.e. in a higher echelon of our workplace, or in Congress, or better yet in the White House. People in high places can make a phone call in our behalf, and that which we could not accomplish, no matter how diligently we worked, suddenly falls into place with only minimum effort on our part.
If it would be helpful to have a friend in the White House, just imagine the benefit of having a friend––an intercessor––someone to help where help is needed––in a place “higher than the heavens.”
If we think that Christ, being in a place higher than the heavens, might be of benefit when we die, that is true. However, he also helps us day in and day out––always ready to listen to our prayers––always willing to share our burdens––always able to bring us the peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7).
“who doesn’t need, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices daily” (v. 27a). The word “daily” presents a problem. The law prescribed daily burnt offerings (Exodus 29:38-42 and Numbers 28:1-8). As nearly as I can determine, these were not for atonement, but were instead gifts presented to God as a pleasant aroma (Exodus 29:41; Numbers 28:6).
However, the consecration of Aaron and his descendants ran for seven days. For each of those seven days, they were required to “offer the bull of sin offering for atonement: and you shall cleanse the altar, when you make atonement for it; and you shall anoint it, to sanctify it” (Exodus 29:36).
The most significant work of the high priest took place on the Day of Atonement, when he made atonement for the sins of the nation.
But Jesus has no need to offer sacrifices, whether daily burnt offerings of the annual sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. His sacrifice on the cross was once-for-all-time.
“first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people” (v. 27b). Leviticus says:
“No one shall be in the Tent of Meeting
when he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place,
until he comes out, and has made atonement FOR HIMSELF
and for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel….
“Then he shall bathe himself in water in a holy place,
and put on his garments,
and come out and offer his burnt offering
and the burnt offering of the people,
and make atonement FOR HIMSELF and for the people.
…and he shall make atonement FOR THE PRIESTS
and for all the people of the assembly.”
(Leviticus 16:11, 17, 24, 33).
So it is clear that God considered the high priest and the other priests to be sinners in need of atonement––just as was true of the rest of the people.
“For he did this once for all, when he offered up himself” (v. 27c). Jesus’ death on the cross was a once-for-all-time sacrifice that needs no repetition.
“For the law appoints men as high priests who have weakness, but the word of the oath which came after the law appoints a Son forever who has been perfected” (v. 28). The author closes this section by contrasting the appointing by law of “high priests who have weaknesses” with “the word of the oath” appointing a Son forever who has been perfected.
“The word of the oath” is apparently a word from God appointing the Son.
The author contrasts “A Son forever who has been perfected” with “high priests who have weakness.” The Son’s perfection took place on the cross, where he offered himself in perfect compliance with the Father’s will––and with the Father’s plan of salvation.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2016, Richard Niell Donovan