11 Now 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? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 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. – Hebrews 7:11-16 (ESV)
Last week we covered verse 11 from this passage and noted this as we got started:
Remember, this book’s original audience was a group of Christians who were most likely brought up as Jewish, or who were very familiar with Jewish practices and customs. As such, any reference to the “Levitical priesthood” would have been very clear to this audience. For us, this difference isn’t always so clear, so this verse helps us all to understand the significance of Jesus’ role as high priest – and how His priesthood is different from a Levitical priest – and even better.
A different priesthood is a big deal. It brings a change in so many ways – customs, culture, etc. – and has the effect of shaking people to their core because they have to ask and answer questions like “why wasn’t the old priesthood good enough?” and “why do we need a new one?” and “how is the new one better?” The writer of Hebrews understood these questions and objections and addressed them upfront in verse 11:
Now 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?”
The system that was setup, by God I might add, had a place and a purpose, but “perfection” was not “attainable” through it. But though perfection wasn’t attainable, it wasn’t because the Levitical priesthood was set up by God and failed in its purpose. No, it did what it was designed to do, but ultimately – and this was known before the foundations of the earth – “another priest” was necessary. Verses 12-16 help us understand this change to “another priest” better.
(v. 12) “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” – The change from the “order of Aaron” to the “order of Melchizedek” would not be done and could not be done based on a whim. For this to be a successful transition, there needed to be a “change in the law.” Who gave the law? God. And, therefore, God would ordain the transition to a different order.
(v. 13) “For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar.” – Again, this points out that a priest from the order of Melchizedek had never participated in the things associated with the order of Aaron. No one from Melchizedek’s order had “ever served at the altar.” This underscores the need to explain what is happening and why.
(v. 14) “For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.” – Ahhh, now we’re getting somewhere. Now the story is starting to make sense. When the writer refers to “our Lord” who “was descended from Judah,” he’s talking about Jesus. And the reader would have known that Jesus’ earthly lineage was through Judah and not Aaron. The writer highlights this by noting that Moses never said anything about priests serving from the line of Judah.
(v. 15) “This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek,” – Here we see the key phrase again, “another priest” and when this priests “arises in the likeness of Melchizedek,” it makes something “even more evident.” Well, what does that mean? This refers back to v. 14 and the comment, “For it is evident that our Lord…” (italics added). This entire discussion is helping us to understand why there needed to be a change in the priesthood and that topic is made evident because we have to reconcile Jesus to the “order of Aaron.” And part of what we see in Jesus’ role of priest is that is “in the likeness of Melchizedek.”
(v. 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.” – And how did Melchizedek become a priest? Well, as we’ve seen, it wasn’t because he was part of the order of Aaron, which dictated that “bodily descent,” or the family tree, would determine who qualified to be a priest. To the contrary, a priest from the “order of Melchizedek” became one by “the power of an indestructible life.” That’s a little harder to understand related to Melchizedek because we don’t know everything about him. But it’s not hard to understand about Jesus. He lives. He defeated sin and death and was resurrected. He now sits at the right hand of God Almighty. He indeed has an indestructible life.
Perfection was not going to come through the “order of Aaron.” The Levitical priesthood pointed us to our sin and to our need for atonement – and it also pointed us to the fact that our sin is ever before us. No, we needed “another priest,” one with the “power of an indestructible life.” And as we will see later, because He lives, we can too.