Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 7:15-19

15 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is witnessed of him,

“You are a priest forever,
    after the order of Melchizedek.”

18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

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Last week’s entry discussed the Hebrews author’s explanation of a change in priesthood — from the Jewish (Aaron) to the universal (Melchizedek) — with Jesus Christ as our everlasting Great High Priest.

The theme of today’s passage is Jesus Christ as ‘a better hope’.

Hebrews 7:14 says:

14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

From that, the author goes on to say that another priest has arisen in the likes of Melchizedek — a universal priest. The author is referring to Jesus (verse 15).

John MacArthur points out that Scripture tells us this early on — in Genesis 49:10 (emphases mine):

10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;[a]
    and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

MacArthur says:

Verse 15, “And it is yet far more evident: for after the similitude of Melchizedek, there ariseth another Priest.” Far more evident. In other words, the evidence – the logic is overwhelming that the Levitical priesthood is now obsolete. It’s evident. It’s as evident as is the fact that Jesus came from Judah, which is also evident, Genesis 49:10 tells us Messiah would be from Judah. Even the genealogy of Jesus, if anybody wanted to check into it, they all have to find out is that He went to – His parents went to Bethlehem to pay their taxes, which meant they were from the tribe of Judah. “Bethlehem, though thou be little among the sons of Judah,” said Micah, “out of thee shall He come forth who is to be ruler over my people Israel.” So, it was evident that He came from Judah. It was more evident, because of that, that the whole Levitical system had been set aside, and after the similitude of Melchizedek, there arises another priest, a greater priest. The priesthood of Christ was no temporary thing; it was sufficient; it was permanent; it was abiding. It was the fulfillment of prophecy.

Jesus evidently, obviously fulfilling that promise. So, He says, “Don’t cling to Judaism. In effect it’s defunct. We have a superior Priest.”

MacArthur draws our attention to two words in verse 15: ‘another’ and ‘arises’.

With regard to ‘another’, he explains the Greek used in the original:

Now, watch this word “another.” Mm-mmm, that’s interesting. “It is far more evident for after the similitude of Melchizedek, there arises another priest.” Now, in the Greek there are two words for “another.” We may have talked about them before. This word here is heteros. There is one word for another allos, and it means another of the same kind. This one, heteros means another of a different kind. Let’s assume that I wanted to get rid of my Volvo. I don’t want to get rid of it necessarily, but let’s assume, for illustration, that I did. So, I drive my Volvo down to the car dealer, and I drive it in, and I say to the car dealer, “I would like to trade my Volvo for another Volvo.” That would be allos Volvo. But let’s say I say to the man, “No, this time I’m not happy; I want to trade my car for another car; my Volvo for, say, a Rolls Royce.” I mean why not? It’s only an illustration; live it up.

In the first case, I’m trading a Volvo for a Volvo. That’s the same thing. In the second case, I’m saying, “I don’t like my Volvo; I want another kind of car that’s different than mine.” That is the word used here. We do not have another priest just like the other ones; we have another One who can do what the other ones couldn’t do. That’s the point of another – a rich, rich word showing the distinction between Christ and Aaronic priests. So, another priest had to come, and it was evident that He did, not like Aaron, but a different priest of a different order, who could do what Aaron couldn’t do.

Moving on to ‘arises’, he says:

There’s a wonderful note on that word – anistatai – this won’t mean anything to some of you. Paul will understand this. It’s a present middle indicative. And what it comes from is anistēmi, which means to arise. But anything in the middle voice is reflexive. That means to arise by myself. No Aaronic priest could ever use that in the middle voice, “There ariseth by himself another priest.” No. No. He would arise by virtue of his mother and father, not of himself. In other words, the Aaronic priest would have to say, “I am a priest not by myself, but because I’ve inherited the right.” Jesus said, “I just arose a Priest by Myself.”

Let me give you another thought. Anistēmi is used in Acts 2:32 to refer to His resurrection. He Himself raised Himself from the dead. And so, when that little word says that there ariseth another priest, He arose and declared Himself a priest uniquely on His own character, and He arose from the dead to establish that He indeed was a Priest. What an exciting thing to get into the words and see what God is really saying.

So, a different priest.

The Hebrews author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, reminded his audience that the Jewish priesthood depended upon heredity and physical perfection, to a degree, whereas Christ’s priesthood is dependent upon His indestructible life (verse 16). He lives and reigns forever.

MacArthur describes the ordination ceremony of Jewish priests:

To be a priest, you had to be a pure descendant of Aaron, and there were at least 142 physical blemishes that could disqualify you. Those were the only disqualifications. If you made it through as a physical specimen, it didn’t matter what you were spiritually, you were in. You can read Leviticus 21 and you’ll find some of those qualifications.

The ordination ceremony is outlined in Leviticus 8, and it goes like this: first of all, the man who was being inducted into the priesthood was bathed in water to be ceremonially clean. All external. All physical. He was clothed in four priestly garments: the linen knee breeches, long linen garment, the girdle, and the bonnet or the turban. He was anointed with oil. He was dabbed with sacrificial blood on the tip of his right ear, his right thumb, and his right big toe. Every single item in the whole deal had to do with his physical body. It was all a fleshly rule. It was all a physical issue. And once he had been ordained, he had to go through certain washings and anointings with oil and had his hair cut a certain way and so forth and so on. It was all physical. It had nothing to do with character, ability, personality, or holiness at all. Their whole ministry was physical. Even in chapter 9, verse 13, it indicates this, “For if the blood of bulls and goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the” – what? – “flesh.” You see? The whole thing was physical. It was only physical. And all these things make up the law of a fleshly commandment. They were priests because of bodily rules. It had to do with their physical body. Watch this, “Who is made” – verse 16 – “not after the law of a fleshly commandment, but after the power of a indestructible life.” That’s a different kind of priest isn’t it? Nothing to do with the physical body, but to do with eternal power. That’s the kind of priest Jesus was.

In the case of the Levitical priesthood, no matter how ill suited he was and reluctant to take the office, the law made a man a priest by his pedigree. It was outside compulsion. In the case of Jesus Christ, it was the inside compulsion of a life that couldn’t dissolve, of an eternal kind of power. He was a Priest by eternal power. He had an inward priesthood. Not a physical claim, but an eternal claim. And thus, by His eternal power, He can do what no priest could ever do; He can give us access to God.

The author cites Psalm 110:4 (verse 17), the only other mention of Melchizedek in the Old Testament. God is speaking to His Son:

The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
    after the order of Melchizedek.”

The author of Hebrews says that the old law regarding priesthood was set aside because it could not achieve anything of lasting benefit (verse 18).

Matthew Henry explains:

The Levitical priesthood brought nothing to perfection: it could not justify men’s persons from guilt; it could not sanctify them from inward pollution; it could not cleanse the consciences of the worshippers from dead works

As such, the author says the old law made nothing perfect, but that, with Christ, we have ‘a better hope’ and, through Him, we are finally able to draw near to God (verse 19). The veil in the temple, shielding the Holy of Holies, was rent upon His death on the Cross. That meant Christ became our only Mediator and Advocate with God the Father.

Indeed, Christ offers a far better hope than Aaron or any of the other priests of the Old Covenant.

MacArthur analyses verses 18 and 19 for us:

He takes us to God and anchors us there. And that no Aaronic priest could ever do. He is the one who brings us to perfection. His priesthood, based upon eternal power, accomplishes access to God.

And that is the theme of verses 18 and 19. This is the climax of the text. Aaron is replaced by Christ. Let me read you 18 and 19, correcting the punctuation so it become clear. “For there is verily an annulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness of it.” God set aside the old standard. Now watch – now put a parenthesis at the beginning of verse 19 – “For the law made nothing perfect” – close parenthesis – but the bringing in of a better hope, by which we draw near unto God.” Or you chose “and.” Let me read it this way, “For there is verily an annulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness of it (for the law made nothing perfect) and the bringing in of a better hope” – cross out “did” – “by which we draw near unto God.” You see?

God says, “I am setting aside the old one, and I’m bringing in a new one.” And in the new covenant, you have – what? – access to God. Now the word “disannulling” – athetēsis – has to do with the doing away of something that is established. It is used, for example, of annulling a treaty; of annulling a promise, a law, a regulation; of erasing a man’s name from something. It has to do with removing what is established. The whole paraphernalia of the sacrificial system, the whole ceremonial system is wiped out. It is annulled; it is done away with. God wipes it out. And he wiped it out for good in 70 A.D. when He destroyed the temple.

The old system could reveal sin; it could cover sin; it could give a relative measure of drawing near to God, but not full perfection; it brought nothing to conclusion. But the priesthood of Jesus Christ made all that Israel looked forward to a reality: access to God.

Many of us have been brought up in the Christian faith all our lives. So often, we have taken it for granted, myself included. This is why I appreciate reading Hebrews. It reminds me of the great gift and the great hope that God has given us in His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Privately, I plan to reflect upon Hebrews during the weeks of Advent, which will make the prophecies of the Sunday readings even clearer and more profound.

The theme of priesthood in light of Psalm 110:4 continues next week.

Next time — Hebrews 7:20-22