Guarantor of a Better Covenant
Topic: Incarnation/Humanity of Christ Passage: Hebrews 7:20–28
In talking with a number of you lately, I’ve learned of various needs you face. Some of you need more grace to endure these very uncertain times. Going on week seven, the social distancing restrictions are driving you crazy. Some of you need help being patient with family members where relational strains exist. Maybe your marriage is wrought with difficulty.
A few of you feel like you’re in a very fragile place. On a regular basis you wrestle with doubts and assurance, with whether God still accepts you. Others of you have grown bored with God. That frightens you, and rightly so—you need a renewed vision of his majesty and power. Still others simply need hope to keep on keeping on in the face of loss and pain and weariness. We’re all facing various needs…
This word from Hebrews 7, the word inspired by the Spirit centuries ago—that word addresses all of you right where you’re at. It is living and active. In this word you find grace for uncertain times. You find help in time of need. You find assurance to draw near to God with confidence. You see the majesty of God’s reign in Jesus. You also renew hope in the promise of Jesus’ priesthood. As I preach, I hope you sense the Father’s immediate care for you. He speaks to you in the Bible for your encouragement. So listen carefully to this amazing word. Verse 20…
20 And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 21 but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’” 22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. 23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. 26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
I wonder if you noticed a repeated contrast. Notice how he switches between the plural priests and the singular priest, Jesus Christ. Verse 20 speaks of “those who formerly became priests…” Then verse 21, “but this one was made…” Verse 23, “The former priests were many…” again in the plural. Verse 24, “but he holds his priesthood…” in the singular. Verse 28, “the law appoints men,” in the plural. That stands in contrast to the oath appointing “a Son,” in the singular.
He can’t stress enough the uniqueness of Jesus’ priesthood in contrast to all others. His goal is to magnify the singular, unique greatness of Jesus’ priesthood—and for good reason. Some Jewish Christians are wavering in their commitment to Jesus. Their old ways in Judaism start looking pretty attractive again. In response, Hebrews reassures the Christian that while the old priestly order served a great purpose, it was only a temporary one. It always anticipated a greater priesthood that would replace it.
That greater priesthood belongs to Jesus Christ. But how can we be so sure? Well, he gives us three more reasons to close out chapter 7. Three more characteristics make Jesus’ priestly role superior to all others.
Jesus’ Appointment by Oath
One, Jesus’ appointment by oath. Verse 20 says, “it was not without an oath.” All former priests became priests simply by who your daddy was. Did you belong to Levi’s tribe? God had arranged it that way. Under the Law, all priests would come from Levi and Levi alone. Never was there a special oath that swore them into the kind of forever priestly order you find later in Psalm 110.
That oath belonged to the Messiah alone. That becomes the point of contrast in verse 21: “but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’” No Levite could claim that for himself. The oath of Psalm 110 belonged to the Messiah alone, to a son in David’s line. Jesus’ priesthood is superior in that it wasn’t by lineage he entered his priesthood; he entered it by a divine oath given solely to the Messiah, who Jesus is.
Now, I want us to go read Psalm 110, because there’s something you must see to fully appreciate this priesthood. Psalm 110 is a psalm of David. David says, “The LORD [i.e., Yahweh] says to my Lord [i.e., David’s Lord]…” which is startling in itself. A son would come in David’s line who would also be David’s Lord. Father’s don’t normally call sons “lord,” but the other way around. How can this be that David calls his son “my Lord” in Psalm 110? Jesus reads that to be speaking about the Christ, the Messiah. Unlike David, God would give this unique Son absolute rule.
Still in verse 1: “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies!” To sit at a king’s right hand was to sit in the place of honor. Applied to Yahweh, it’s the place of absolute honor, absolute rule. This king would reign until his foot breaks the necks of God’s every last enemy.
In fact, verses 5-7 describe the nature of his victory: “The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.” He will so decimate his enemies that afterwards he will drink peacefully from a brook in his kingdom. We see here the majesty of the greatest Warrior-King. This is the Lion of Judah!
But what I find remarkable—this King has a people who gladly serve him in verse 3: “Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power. In holy garments [lit. in the beauties of holiness], from the womb of the morning [as soon as the sun cracks the sky], the dew of your youth will be yours.” The imagery is great. As youth, they’re full of vigor. Like the dew on the grass, they’re too numerous to count. Moreover, they’re all robed in the beauties of holiness. What a spectacular army!
But here’s a question: where’d they come from? We know from the Law that every law-breaker deserves to die. To be a law-breaker is to be God’s enemy. And everybody fits into that category—that’s why the priestly system existed. Yet this King will shatter every one of God’s enemies on the day of his wrath. Tell me, where’d this army come from? How’d they get clothed in the beauties of holiness?
Answer? Verse 4, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’” God made them holy by making this same Warrior-King into a priest who secures a people for himself. He has every right to crush them. But instead, he represents them; he becomes their priest to save them. No wonder the people of verse 3 offer themselves to his service so freely.
Back to Hebrews. Hebrews already identified Jesus as the great Warrior-King of Psalm 110. He did this in 1:13. But what he draws out in chapter 7 is that Jesus is also the great Priest-King of Psalm 110. God swore by an oath that Jesus, the true Son in David’s line, God’s very Son, the Son of all sons—he alone would be a priest forever.
Now, to that degree that Jesus entered his priesthood by divine oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant. The Law of Moses is the other covenant in view. It was a good covenant for the purpose God ordained it. But the Law was only in place until the oath was realized; until the oath brought a better priest to establish a better covenant. Now chapter 8 will develop the new covenant further and show why it’s so much better—so we’ll have to wait on that.
The point here is that God’ oath to Jesus guarantees that everything under the new covenant will come true—things like the forgiveness of your sins, a renewed relationship with God, the peace of the new heavens and earth. It’s all secure for you, Christian. How secure? Well, we have God’s oath backing it up—and we saw in 6:17 that God’s oaths reveal the unchangeable character of his purpose.
More than that, we have the incarnate Son of God who appeared in history and entered his priestly role just as Psalm 110 said he would. Both of those things—God’s oath and its fulfillment in Jesus Christ guarantee the new covenant blessings belong to us in full. That’s one massive rock to plant your feet on when you’re needing assurance. More on that in a minute.
Jesus’ Permanence by Resurrection
For now let’s turn to another characteristic that makes Jesus’ priestly role superior to all others: Jesus’ permanence by resurrection. Verse 23 says, “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office.” There was a priest. He served, died, and then was replaced by his son. He served, died, and then was replaced by his son. Over and over again—they served, died, and then were replaced by the next generation. Why’d that keep happening?
Because sin was in their bones. Death is God’s judgment against sin. Death keeps sinners from continuing. The old priestly order could never save, because death still had the upper hand. Not so with Jesus’ priesthood. Yes, Jesus died as well. But we know the rest of the story. God raised Jesus from the dead. Death couldn’t keep Jesus in the grave, because Jesus had no sin. The reason he willingly died was to take our sins to the grave, not his own sins; and that was proven when God raised him up never to die again. That has immense importance for his priesthood.
Unlike the other priests who kept dying and stayed dead, Jesus rose. As verse 24 says, “he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.” Death has no hold on Jesus. If death has no hold on Jesus, then sin was truly dealt with. Our faith is not in vain. We’re in our sins no longer. “Consequently,” verse 25 adds, “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him.”
That’s the only people he saves—those who draw near to God through him. He doesn’t save those who try to draw near to God by works, or by some ritual, or by some other sacrifice, or by some sort of meditation, or by any other way besides through Jesus’ priestly work. If you try to draw near to God in ways other than Jesus, you’re a dead man. If you want to know God, you must take him at his word, accept the truth about Jesus, and draw near with confidence on the basis of Jesus’ priesthood alone.
If that’s you, he saves to the uttermost. Some have debated whether that means Jesus saves us completely or that Jesus saves at all times. I’m not so sure we need to choose one or the other, though. He saves fully and forever. If he saves forever, it can’t be anything but fully. And if he saves fully, it can’t be anything but forever. All this “because,” verse 25 says, “he always lives to make intercession for them.”
Have you ever heard Christians talk in terms of Jesus pleading his blood before the Father? That when we sin Jesus pleads for the Father to accept us—as if the Father needs some further convincing by the Son to forgive us. That’s a gross misunderstanding of Jesus’ intercessory work. Not only does it pit the persons of the Godhead against one another, it also forgets that the Father was the one who gave his Son in the first place. To see Jesus’ priestly work is to see the Father’s love displayed. This view also treats Jesus’ atoning work as if it wasn’t complete, as if it didn’t satisfy God’s wrath.
Here’s the proper way to think about Jesus’ intercession. Think 2:18—“he is able to help those who are being tempted.” When you face temptation, he is praying for you like he did for Peter when he was on earth: “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” That’s the way Jesus intercedes for us. Or how about 4:16? “Let us…draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Jesus’ intercession includes helping us in times of need.
Romans 8:14 mentions Jesus interceding for us in the context of persecution and suffering and various trials that seek to separate us from the love of God. But Jesus’ intercessory work won’t allow it to happen. We get an example of that with Stephen in Acts 7, don’t we? It’s far better to think of Jesus’ intercessory work as applying the benefits of his finished work by the Spirit. Every grace the new covenant entails—not only did Jesus secure it once and for all; he also applies it such that we will enjoy the benefits of that new covenant until we meet God face to face.
That’s huge for a letter seeking to encourage Christians to persevere. Your high priest always lives to intercede for you! He will not fail you! How do we know? Resurrection and ascension into heaven.
Jesus’ Perfection by Obedience
One more characteristic that makes Jesus’ priestly role superior to all others: Jesus’ perfection by obedience. Verse 26 in the ESV has, “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest…” The CSB makes the point clearer, “For this is the kind of high priest we need.” We have a terrible problem as humans—sin. That’s what the priesthood exposed. Sin had to be dealt with before anyone could approach God.
The old priestly order could never actually deal with that, though. It could expose the sin problem. It could even picture how the problem needed resolution. But there was really no way for the old priests to make the fitting sacrifice for us. Why? The sin that so plagued the people was the same sin that plagued them. We need a priest who is perfect in every way. We need a priest to offer an unblemished sacrifice to cover all our sins. Only that kind of priest can meet our greatest need.
Hebrews is saying, “That’s what we find in Jesus.” Verse 26 says he is holy, innocent, unstained. Jesus is free from all evil in his person and character. Pontius Pilate was correct: “I find no guilt in him.” Jesus had no actual sin—he did nothing wrong and everything right. And Jesus had no inherent sin. That makes him “separate from sinners,” it goes on to say. Some take that to mean Jesus is presently separated from sinners in a spatial sense. He’s exalted in heaven; we’re still here. But the ideas expressed here seem to match what he already covered in 4:14-15; and there too we find Jesus’ exaltation alongside what separates Jesus from all others—that is, he’s without sin.
That’s why he goes on to say in verse 27, “He has no need, like those other high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people.” The old priests had to offer sacrifices daily. Meaning none of the sacrifices ever truly secured forgiveness. Moreover, they were sinners. But Jesus had no sin. He didn’t need a sacrifice for sin. He makes a different kind of offering. It’s a “once for all” kind of offering. It’s the offering of himself. It would never have to be done again because it was perfect; it accomplished salvation in full for his people.
“For the law appoints men in their weakness,” it says—and it’s referring to their moral weakness. “But the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son [a Son who had no moral weakness; that Son] who has been made perfect forever.” We’ve discussed this before in 2:10 and in 5:9. “Being made perfect” here doesn’t mean Jesus was previously lacking something morally. It has to do with Jesus’ vocation, his mission to qualify as our high priest.
As God the Son, Jesus lacks nothing. But as a man, in his humanity, the Son had to be tested. Whatever sufferings he endured throughout the whole of his life—those sufferings were the occasion for his obedience to be tested, proven. He had to experience what conforming to the Father’s will is like moment by moment under the pressures of suffering; and he did it all to perfection. He did it all with unwavering obedience. He has proven himself qualified to become our perfect high priest.
That’s why God exalted him above the heavens and nobody else. God made him a fitting high priest for our predicament. To summarize, Jesus’ priesthood is superior to the old priestly order because (1) Jesus enters his office by oath; (2) Jesus guarantees the new covenant blessings are permanent by resurrection; and (3) Jesus proves by his obedience that he is the only perfect priest to save us.
Your only hope for acceptance with God is through Jesus.
Now, let me close with a few ways these truths should impact us. One, this whole argument about Jesus’ priesthood may seem rather strange to the modern mind, especially when dealing with someone’s acceptance before God. At least among those willing to acknowledge God, many would say something to this effect: “God should accept me as I am. If he doesn’t, to heck with him!”
Hebrews says that’s the wrong mindset. Jesus’ priesthood exposes that such a mindset thinks far too little of God and far too much of self. After all what sort of god is he really, if you, being his creature, get to set the terms of the relationship? The true God, the God who made the world and everything in it; the God who can’t be tamed by man or contained by their temples; the God who reveals his eternal power and divine nature in the things he has made—this God is in a category all by himself.
If we are to relate to him, he will set the terms and not us. Those terms we find spelled out in Scripture. The terms are utter perfection, righteousness through and through, a pure love for his holiness, a conscience free from anything that opposes his character, a humanity that’s without sin. Otherwise, he will not accept you. Those are the terms; and they are terms no human can meet or ever has met—except One.
Jesus is holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners. He is God. But he also came as a man to meet the terms for us. Moreover, he sacrificed himself to ensure that everything you got wrong would also be forgiven. On the basis of Jesus’ worthiness, on the basis of Jesus’ obedience and Jesus’ sacrifice—any person, no matter what you’ve done or what kind of background you have or how badly you’ve strayed and wrecked your marriage and your parenting and your life—any person can draw near to God through Jesus and find acceptance.
Jesus and Jesus alone meets the terms set by God. He’s the one priest all the old pictures were pointing to; and he has come to bring us into God’s presence. Is he where you find your acceptance with God? Is he where your neighbors are finding their acceptance with God? When was the last time you asked them? We have glorious news to offer them in Jesus’ priestly work.
Draw near to the Lord in prayer.
Moreover, if Jesus’ priesthood has opened the way to God, draw near to him with confidence. I applied that to drawing near to the Lord in service last time. This time I want to apply it to prayer. You don’t need to go to a temple to draw near to the Lord. In the person of Jesus, you have access wherever you are and in whatever you’re going through. Jesus’ priestly work not only explains how we can pray—that is, his sacrifice cleanses us fully and gives us confidence to enter God’s presence with boldness. His priestly work also explains why we would pray—we have access to God, God.
God receives us. God is our help in times of need. One of our members lost his wife last year to cancer. We still miss her deeply. But this past week George wrote a poem; and I thought it was a great picture of how the believer can draw near to the Lord in times of need. It’s called There Is a Breach:
There is a breach in my heart
It was not there a year ago
It will sure to stay for a long time
The breach can only be repaired by the Master builder
He mends the wounded heart
He specializes in cases like mine
He closes the open wall
He alone can stop the bleeding and the sorrow of a breached heart
I took it to him and bowed down
I lifted up my eyes and noticed his pierced feet
I cried when He said, “Give it to me and I will heal it”
I gave it to Him, then He said
“The breach is deep, it will take time to close it.
Brick by brick it will be, but the scar will always be there
But rest assured child it is there for a reason bigger than you think
Please fear not, I will be gentle and slow
But I am the Master builder, the breached-heart fixer.”
This is a good example for us. Anything that you’re going through, beloved—you too can bow before the Lord. He saves to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Draw near to the Lord in prayer. Bring him your needs. Lay them at his feet and rest assured in his care.
Give yourself freely to serve the King.
Also, serve the Lord willingly. Give yourself freely in service to the King—the Warrior-King became our Priest-King. I’m returning to Psalm 110. Because of his priestly work, he has arrayed his people in the beauties of holiness. If you are trusting Jesus, he has arrayed you in the beauties of holiness; and you stand with countless others whom he has prepared for his kingdom. Give yourself to him in the day of his power.
Beloved, this is the day of his power. He has begun his reign. He sat down at the right hand of majesty in heaven. Yes, we still wait the fullness of his kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Yes, he must reign until God makes all his enemies a footstool. But to him belongs all authority in heaven and in the earth. To him belongs all majesty and dominion and power…at least that’s what my Bible says.
Therefore, give yourself freely to serve him until he comes again to shatter all false kingdoms. Lay your life down to see the nations bow their knee to him. None of it will be in vain. Christ and Christ alone will lift up his head on the day of his victory. And when you’re exhausted from a long day with the kids, when you’re facing tension with family members, when you’re cooking another meal and changing another diaper and submitting another form at work and responding to another layoff in the company and wishing the pandemic would end and the economy would turn around—remember who represents you. Remember who stands by you. Remember who arrayed you in the beauties of holiness and serve him with a glad and thankful heart.
Find your assurance in Jesus' finished work as our High Priest.
And finally, for those of you needing re-assurance in the Christian life—plant your feet firmly on these decisive words: “Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.” He is your guarantee. Also, “He holds his priesthood permanently because he continues forever.” He’s never going to let you down or stop caring for you or be stopped from anything outside himself. He always lives to make intercession for you.
You know, once you became a Christian, sin didn’t end altogether for you, did it? I have the same problem. We know from Scripture that, for the Christian, the reign of sin has ended. Jesus broke its power over us. But remaining sin is still an issue. We face temptations every week; and sometimes we cave. I didn’t just need Jesus priestly work back then; I need his priestly work every day. I need his help every day. I need access to God every hour. And Jesus is my assurance for that. And he’s your assurance too.
Your own skills and upkeep and discipline is not your assurance; he is your assurance. He is your assurance of forgiveness. He is your assurance that you will have a helper for every situation. He is your assurance that the covenant blessings will never fade away. On days when you can barely pray, he is praying with a fervency and zeal you can hardly imagine. He is our assurance that things won’t always be this way—a day will dawn when all is made well again, and the beauties of holiness will cover the earth. To that end we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus…”