Legal Implications


Hebrews 7:11-19
11Now 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? 12For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. 17For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” 18For 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.

Now the writer of Hebrews makes a legal case for Jesus as High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. He speaks first of the placement of the Levites as the priest class, a legal designation made by God Himself. As such, those who are the descendant of Levi / Aaron are endowed by their heritage with the power to act as God’s representatives in the spiritual lives of His people. (Side note – later in Israel’s history, as a part of their apostasy, sometimes the tribal leaders would place whoever they wanted into the priesthood. This was outside of God’s command and was a problem.)

The Law of Moses authorizes the priests to act as God’s agents in the Divine Service and empowers them to do his work. Without the Law they have no authority to act. Their authority is mediated. It depends on God’s Law, which established the order of Aaron, the requirement of their physical descent from Aaron within the tribe of Levi, and their appointment as priests with the divinely instituted rite of ordination. So from that perspective the claim that Jesus is God’s new High Priest is problematic and illegal because he does not meet these basic ritual requirements. In fact, his membership in the tribe of Judah disqualifies him from the Levitical priesthood. Without the priesthood of Aaron, the people had no atonement and no access to God and his blessing in the Divine Service at the tabernacle and temple.
Kleinig, J. W. ©2017. Hebrews. (p. 346). Saint Louis, MO: CPH.

God introduces something far better than the rather limited access to him through the Levitical priesthood, “a better hope” by the installation of Jesus in the order of Melchizedek. That “better hope” does not mean that God merely makes people more hopeful. Rather, he gives them something “better” to hope for. Through his priestly ministry, Jesus makes the whole congregation perfect by giving them access to God in his heavenly sanctuary. He does what the law for the priests and their ministry was unable to do. Jesus perfects the congregation by qualifying them for service together with him as their High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. That is God’s goal for them. It does not just mean, as many claim, that he brings them individually into a right personal relationship with God through the cleansing of their conscience; he gives them corporate access to God by their participation in the Divine Service. Like the high priest and his deputies in the OT, they “draw near to God,” something no ordinary person was ever allowed to do in the order of Aaron. Yet, unlike the priests, they do not draw near to God in his tabernacle in the earthly Jerusalem but to him in the heavenly sanctuary. The use of the present tense verb, “we draw near”, is significant. That is not just a future hope but a present liturgical reality, something that we hope for and actually receive as we participate in the Divine Service.
Kleinig, J. W. ©2017. Hebrews. (p. 349). Saint Louis, MO: CPH.

All too often people fancy that they can reach spiritual perfection by their observance of God’s Law, liturgically by participation in worship, devotionally by the disciplined exercise of piety, and morally by leading a good life. In response to that temptation, the writer of Hebrews reminds us that the Law has never made anything or anyone perfect. Even though God’s Law prescribes and requires perfection, it cannot accomplish spiritual perfection. The perfection God desires is the purity of the human heart that comes from a clear conscience and participates in God’s holiness. God’s Law lacks the power to deliver perfection in a fallen world because it depends on the efforts of weak and sinful people to enact it perfectly. Thus even the most conscientious attempts to obey God’s Law end in failure, at some point or in some respect, and so burden the conscience still further.

So to free us from this problem which we have no power to solve, God sends Jesus as our High Priest. He alone has the power to free us from our bondage to sin and our perpetual ability to disobey God. He is not bound by the Law of Moses, because He never broke it. He fulfilled it perfectly and thus is able to stand before God on our behalf.

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