Sunday, 2 December 2018
Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. Hebrews 7:23
The author now provides another case for the supremacy of Christ’s priesthood over that of the Levitical priesthood. He first says, “Also there were many priests.” The Greek more literally reads, “Also, there have been made priests many.” There was a long succession of priests, each being consecrated to the priesthood in order to meet the needs of the requirements specified by the law. There was any given number of priests at any given time, and there was also a high priest among them. In this, they continued on for a duration and then they were replaced. The basic fact that there were many priests throughout the years shows the weakness of the Levitical priesthood, but the reason that there were many is “because they were prevented by death from continuing.” This shows an even greater weakness in the law and its priesthood.
Death prevented them from continuing on in the priesthood. However, Christ is “a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” This is because of “the power of an endless life” (verse 7:16). The supremacy of Christ’s priesthood is clearly established in this.
The first high priest of Israel was Aaron who descended from Levi through his grandfather Kohath and then through his father Amram. From Aaron came others sons and through his sons the line continued for about 1500 years. There were strict regulations for these men including who they could and couldn’t marry. In addition to this, there were other requirements. Some of these requirements were so precise that if they deviated from them, they would die for not properly performing them –
“Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. 2 So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.” Leviticus 10:1, 2
These were two of the four recorded sons of Aaron at the establishment of the tabernacle in the wilderness. Nadab was the eldest but never attained to the office of high priest because of his unauthorized action. Instead, his younger brother Eleazer became the high priest at the time of Aaron’s death. Other high priests came and went, some being considered failures in their appointed office. But even the successful ones couldn’t continue forever. Being sons of Adam, they inherited his sin and also added their own sins in life. Such sin, then as now, results in death. Here in this verse, as in other verses, the author is demonstrating the insufficiency of the Levitical priesthood. No high priest of Israel attained the perfection necessary to carry on the office, but rather died and left his duties unfinished.
1) The wages of sin is death, 2) these priests died and their time in the priesthood ended, therefore, 3) their time in the priesthood failed to resolve the sin problem in their lives. If this is so, then those on whose behalf they ministered also failed to have the sin problem resolved in their lives as well. In this, the entire system is shown to be a failure. However, Christ, being a “priest forever,” is shown to have no sin. As this is so, then His ministry is able to resolve the sin problem for those He ministers to. The system is shown to be a success.
Life application: Time and again it is shown that the Law of Moses failed to accomplish what it was intended to do, which is to restore man to God. This doesn’t mean that the law itself was defective, but that sin in man rendered it ineffective. Christ, who was born without sin and who lived without sin, fulfilled the law for us. Why would we ever want to go back and live out the precepts of a law which could never save anyone? The author is not wasting words through useless repetition, but he is rather showing – again and again – the supremacy of what Christ has done for us. It is the strongest appeal possible to his readers – “Come to Christ and be saved from what the law could never save you from.”
Lord God, no matter how many times we hear the good news, it is always fresh and new to our souls. The law stood against us and condemned us. Jesus took that burden from us and delivered us from the penalty of sin. In Him, we have the surety of eternal life, because He is the fount of that same eternal life. Thank You for Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.