Second Reading: Hebrews 7:23-28

The Priesthood of Self-Giving

Popular Translation

23 Many people have become high priest. But death kept them from keeping the position. 24 However, since Jesus will live forever, he has a priesthood that cannot be passed to another person. 25 So, Jesus will forever be able to save everyone who goes to God with him. After all, Jesus lives to offer prayers for these people.

26 It’s right we should have such a high priest as Jesus. He is holy. He is without blame or the filth of sin. He is no longer with sinners but is now right next to God in heaven. 27 He does not need to offer sacrifice every day to God, like the high priests had to. They needed to offer sacrifice for their own sins and the people’s sins. No, Jesus did this once and for all time when he offered himself to God on the cross. 28 The Law appointed weak and sinful men to the position of high priest. But the oath God made after the Law was for his Son. This is the one God made perfect forever.

Literal Translation

23 On the one hand, (there) are many, having become priests, to be hindered by death to remain (so). 24 On the other hand, because HE remains into the (final) age, (HE) has an untransferable priesthood. 25 Wherefore, HE is able to save all into the fullness (of time) the ones approaching God through HIM, living always to make intercessions on their behalf.

26 For such a high priest is fitting for us, holy, without guile, undefiled, having been separated from sinners and (now) having been in the highest heaven, 27 WHO does not have the need to offer sacrifice day by day, just like the high priests, first on behalf of (their) own sins, then (on behalf of the sins of) the people. This HE did once for all, having offered HIMSELF up (to God). 28 For the Law appoints (as) high priest men having weaknesses, but the word of the oath taken (by God) after the Law (is for) the SON, having been made perfect into the (final) age.

7:24, 28: “into the (final) age” was a Semitic saying that means “eternal.”

“because HE remains into the (final) age” is literally “because of HIM to remain into the (final) age” The infinitive “to remain” acted as verb in a subordinate clause that modified “(HE) “ (i.e., Jesus).

These few verses acted as a conclusion to the arguments the author made for Jesus as High Priest. He based his insight on Psalm 110:4: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.’” (RSV) To flesh out his interpretation of this Psalm, he began with a study on the person of Melchizedek in Genesis 14:17-20.

Melchizedek was the king-priest of the Most High. He was not listed with parentage or descendants in Scripture. He offered sacrifice on behalf of Abram (later Abraham), who, in turn gave him a tithe. For the author, Melchizedek represented the eternal worship of the living God (the king-priest did not have a genealogy). Through the intercession of such worship, Abram would receive the blessing of God’s covenant. In return, Abram gave the leader of the eternal worship his due (a tithe). In this sense, Melchizedek was a symbol of the eternal worship offered to God in heaven. (Hebrews 7:1-10)

Scholars call a symbol like Melchizedek an “archtype;” for interpreters like the author of Hebrews, such an archtype would be the key to understanding the question of Hebrew priesthood. Melchizedek was found in the book of Genesis, which was, both by traditional chronology and by the order of the canon, before the appearance of the priesthood of Aaron (in Exodus). Because of its place of importance and its eternal status, the priesthood of Melchizedek was the measure of Aaron’s priesthood. The Levitical priesthood which descended from Aaron was human (as it was passed from father to son) and, so, had all the frailties of human nature. In light of the “order of Melchizedek,” the Levites would always turn out second best.

The author then separated the two priesthoods, as distinct. (Hebrews 7:11-14) One was human, based upon the Law which could regulate, but could not perfect humanity. The other was based upon God’s direct oath (found in Psalm 110:4) toward a Son. This Son would be perfected, since his priesthood was different from that of Aaron’s descendants. And since he would stand forever in worship. The result would be a new covenant between God and people. (Hebrews 7:15-22)

With this background, we can now address the verses in this reading. The author implied the chief impediment to the Levitical priesthood was death itself. Christ, who was THE priest in the order of Melchizedek, overcame death. So, he could not pass on his status. Those who approached God through his intercession could do so in fullest confidence.

In addition, Christ had no sin. He could succeed where the other high priests had failed. The author implied this was the reason Christ could overcome death. In the minds of his contemporaries, sin led to death. Only the One without sin could conquer death and fulfill the promise of Psalm 110:4. He did so in his self-offering death. While this might seem a contradiction, bring to mind the image of the Suffering Servant from Isaiah. The sinless Servant who suffered and died for the sins of others would see life again. His death led to new life. In this way, the Son was perfected; in this sense, perfection meant status. Christ acted as High Priest directly before the throne of God in heaven. No one had a high status than he had.

The book of Hebrews gives us much to think about. For much of our faith was contained in these compressed verses. The priesthood of Melchizedek was not one of ritual, but one of self-giving death. We join with Christ’s priesthood when we die to self for the sake of others. In this way, we join our worship with his in heaven. We must remember that self-giving is the essence of Christian worship.

How have you given of yourself for others this week? How has that self-giving helped your prayer life?