The new covenant priesthood not based on ceremonial law.
Look at verses 12-17 and perhaps we ought to stop there. In verses 12-17, the author then tells us that there is a connection between this new priesthood and the change in the law.
He teaches us there that the New Covenant priesthood (And I want you to notice that this New Covenant priesthood is not multiple, it’s not plural, it’s singular. In the Old Covenant, there were many priests.), in the New Covenant, there is one priest. There are not multiple priests in the New Covenant. That is why we Protestants don’t refer to our ministers as priests, because there is only one priest in the New Covenant, that is the Lord Jesus Christ.
I had a Brazilian roommate from a Roman Catholic background, although he hadn’t been in a Roman Catholic church in 30 years when we were rooming together at the University of Edinburgh. But he couldn’t get it into his head that I was not a priest. So when I would walk in the door at night after hearing various other words coming out of his mouth, he would often say, “Hey, priest, I want to ask you a question,” and then off he would go. I would say, “Houy, I’m not a priest. I’m a preacher and there is a difference.” There is a difference. There is one priest in the New Covenant and that priest is the Lord Jesus Christ.
And in this passage, the author tells us that this new priesthood is not based on the Law of Moses and the ceremonial Law. It’s not the Aaronic priesthood set forth at the time of the Exodus. It’s a different priesthood. He argues that since the Old Covenant priesthood was based upon God’s law given at the Exodus, when we see a change in priesthood, it must mean that there was a change in the law. He carries that out by two arguments. One you will see in verses 13 and 14, and the other you will see in verses 15-17.
First he says it is obvious that there has been a change in the law because the law of the Old Testament did not allow someone from the Tribe of Judah to be a priest. Look at his words there. “It is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests.” Never there was a priest from the Tribe of Judah. They were all from the Tribe of Levi, and yet Jesus was a priest. That must mean He is not a priest in accord with those ceremonial laws established at the time of the Exodus. He goes on to argue furthermore that this is obvious in light of the requirements for Jesus’ priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek. Look at his argument in verses 15-17. “It is clearer still if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who had become such not on the basis of the law of physical requirement (in other words, He was not descended from Aaron, he was not descended from Levi), but according to the power of an indestructible life.”
What is he saying? He is saying that Jesus’ resurrection is confirmation that His priesthood is not temporary. It is eternal. Remember, one of the points that the author of Hebrews draws from the life of Melchizedek that is presented in the Book of Genesis is, the Book of Genesis never tells us when Melchizedek was born and it never tells us when he died. So, the author of Hebrews draws from that fact the eternality of the Melchizedekian priesthood and he says Jesus’ priesthood is eternal. It is eternal and you can see it because He was raised from the dead. His priesthood did not end. He continues to be a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
This is very important for us in understanding Jesus’ priesthood. His ongoing intercession for us is very important to the assurance that the author of Hebrews is talking about. But it is important for us as we understand New Covenant ministry. The early church made a serious mistake when it attempted to model the Christian ministry since Pentecost on the priesthood of Leviticus, on the priesthood of Aaron and Levi. Cyprian in the North African church was one of the first ones to argue this, that the New Covenant priesthood ought to have priests in the New Testament just like in the Old. And that’s a serious mistake.
The author of Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus’ priesthood, itself, was not patterned on that Old Covenant priesthood, but furthermore, the author of Hebrews stresses that He is the culmination of that priesthood. That priesthood is not to be repeated, because the sacrifices are not to be repeated. No human, but the Godman, the Lord Jesus Christ, is to intercede for you, needs to mediate for you. You have one mediator. I’m not your mediator. The elders are not your mediator. The ministers are not your mediator. Oh, we will and do gladly intercede for this congregation. We praise the Lord that the Lord has called us to often lift up public prayers and private prayers on your behalf. But, you don’t get to God through us. You are in fellowship with the living God through the one priest, Jesus Christ; and that is something to sing about. That’s where we will stop tonight and we’ll come back and look at this passage as the Lord brings us together again. Let’s look to Him in prayer.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You that You have given us one priest through Whom we now have concourse with the very Triune God of heaven and earth. It’s an amazing thing, O Lord, that You have called sinners like us into fellowship with Yourself and that You determined to sanctify and assure us by the power of the Spirit. As we study Your word, we pray that these would become not simply realities that we talk and read about, but which are actually worked out in our lives. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.”