Few things better illustrate anticipation than a child on his way to Disneyland. Yet, by the end of the day, there are fewer places where you will hear more whining and complaining than Disneyland. Life is full of examples when reality does not live up to our expectations. We build up our goals and spend so much energy trying to achieve them, only to be left disappointed that the reward was not worth the effort.
It is difficult to imagine the expectations Jews had for their Messiah. When the Jewish authorities became the recipients of Jesus’s harshest criticisms, it is easy to understand why they convinced themselves that he was someone else. The appearing of a suffering servant was like a child anticipating Disneyland, but being filled with disappointment by the end of the day. Jesus simply did not meet their expectations.
Hebrews is about the superiority of Jesus over everything that preceded him. After comparing Christ to Melchizedek earlier in this chapter, now the author shows how Christ surpasses the Levitical priesthood. We find in Jesus a better hope because he ushers us into a better covenant.
This audience had already made their profession of faith in Jesus Christ (Heb 2:1-4; 3:1-2; 4:14), but it is apparent from the argument and the numerous warnings, that they are beginning to veer off course. Maybe they were questioning the efficacy or sufficiency of Jesus’s death on the cross. Or they could have been uncertain about how they were supposed to participate in worship under the new covenant. Whatever it was, the author saw the need to address the matter of Christ’s priestly office for a large portion of this sermon/letter.
If we do not view Jesus Christ as the only Mediator of the covenant of grace, we will search in vain for any alternative.
We can rest completely in our salvation because our Savior perfectly represents us before God in heaven.
Pray and Read Hebrews 7:20-28.
Jesus Is Our Security (20-22)
The author earlier acknowledged that all high priests are called by God (Heb 5:4), but they were called and appointed to take their office “without an oath” (20). The author is not suggesting anything improper about the Levitical priesthood in terms of the rules that governed its operation, but he is elaborating on the ways it was inferior to the priestly office of Jesus.
There is a superiority recognized for the one of whom God attached an oath to his calling (21). Jesus was not only promised to hold his priestly office, but the Lord promised that he would uniquely hold that office forever. Once again, the author quotes Psalm 110:4, but here, for the first time, he includes the phrase before that emphasizes the oath.
Those who take an oath are committing themselves to fulfill their promise or face whatever stipulations have been outlined ahead of time. This is covenant language that implies a significant shift away from the Levitical law that governed the priesthood (28).
How does this make Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant (22)?
This is the only time the term translated “guarantor” occurs in the New Testament. The KJV translates the word as “surety”, which is the language we also find in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms (WCF 8.3, LC 71). The word indicates the assurance of a promise or the acceptance of responsibility on behalf of someone else. It involves the pledging of one’s life and/or resources on behalf of another. Here, it refers to the security believers have in covenant with Jesus. “Before the throne my surety stands, my name is written on his hands” — Charles Wesley. Jesus paid the penalty for our debt of sin at the cost of his life.
This is the first time we have seen the word “covenant”, but it will occur another sixteen times in the rest of this letter. The author is making the point that believers find their greatest sense of covenantal security in the Messiah, whose priestly appointment was accompanied by an oath.
Resting in the Rescuer
It might be helpful to think about the security we have in Christ as the lifeguard who rescues a drowning person.
Have you ever seen someone trying to save themselves from drowning when they don’t know how to swim? Even worse, there are many examples of people unintentionally drowning their rescuer. In their panic they flail about trying to grab onto anything that will keep them above the water. They will grab onto whoever is nearby and thrust them downward in order to lift their head.
The best thing a lifeguard can do is keep their distance until the drowning person calms down. They might throw a floating device their way so the individual can hold onto that before bringing them to safety.
Oftentimes we are spiritually like the person who is drowning. We know we cannot save ourselves, but we still find ourselves latching onto those people or things that cannot ultimately bring us the peace we’re seeking. What we need to hear most of all is the gospel. It teaches us to rest in the Rescuer. Rather than flailing about, spiritually endangering ourselves and everyone around us, we trust in the only One who has the power to carry us to safety.
Christ Alone Maintains Peace With God
Every other priest is inferior to Christ because all of them relate to God through an expired covenant. Not only do the Levitical priests provide less security, their access has been eclipsed and overridden by a superior Mediator.
If Jesus is the guarantor of a better covenant, then he provides something that every other priest lacks. We can only have an assurance of our faith through Christ. He is the one who established the peace that we enjoy with God. Therefore, Christ alone is able to maintain that peace.
We never go beyond Jesus. Rather, we learn to become all the more dependent upon him. This becomes most prevalent when our faith is being tested. When we feel like our soul’s are in jeopardy of hell or we’re overly concerned about earthly affairs. Whether we are paralyzed with fear or anxiously striving to earn our salvation — we need to be reminded of this — Jesus is our security.
Samuel Stone says it well in “The Church’s One Foundation”:
’Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace forevermore;
till with the vision glorious
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.
Yet she on earth hath union
with God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won:
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we,
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may dwell with thee.
Whenever we commune with God we are also united to the church, universal and invisible, that has already entered into their rest. We are as secure as if we are dwelling with them in glory.
› Jesus is our security because he is also…
Jesus Is Our Savior (23-25)
The number of Levitical priests were many because they couldn’t continue to perform their duties after their death (23). Now, this may seem obvious, but it would be good to pause here. Priests died because they were still subject to the power of sin. The sinlessness of Jesus is expressed in the next section, but the author begins by pointing out that these priests died. Their lives were not indestructible (16). This is an elaboration on the “weakness” of the “former commandment” (18).
Jesus, on the other hand, conquered death and is therefore able to remain in his priestly office forever (24). This is the only way the priest after the order of Melchizedek could remain in his office. Psalm 110:4 is fulfilled by Jesus’s resurrection.
Jesus is always ready to Mediate between God and man. He is able to completely save those who draw near to God through him (25). Jesus saves comprehensively and for eternity. This is the same point Paul makes to the Romans.
Romans 8:34 ESV
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Intercession was a role that Israel’s high priests practiced on the day of atonement when they wore the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on the breastpiece that was over their heart (Exod 28:29). They were representing the people before God. Jesus not only saves comprehensively, but he also intercedes for us continually.
One of the reasons our Mediator had to take on human nature was in order suffer and intercede in our nature (WLC 39). Only then could we receive adoption as sons and gain access to the comfort of the throne of grace.
If Jesus provides complete salvation and becomes our permanent Mediator, then we need to avoid two grave errors:
1. Using anyone else as our intercessor, whether it be a dead saint or Mary, is a serious slight against Jesus. He died to save us — granting us access to God through Him alone. It’s idolatrous and blasphemous to approach God through anyone else.
2. We should not view Jesus as appeasing a reluctant Father. He doesn’t have to stand before his Father constantly pleading with him to show mercy. H.B. Swete said our Lord intercedes, “as a throned Priest-King, asking what he will from a Father who always hears and grants his request.” The Son perfectly reflects the will of the Father. Again, Paul said it well in Romans 8:32 “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
› Jesus provides us with the security we need as our Savior because he became…
Jesus Is Our Substitute (26-28)
The author lists five ways that Jesus is better than the Levitical priests (26):
1. Holy — While this term can refer to humans (Titus 1:8), Jesus is the embodiment of holiness, such that he is the fulfillment of David’s reference to “The Holy One” (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27; 13:35).
2. Innocent — Jesus does not deceive others (Rom 16:18), but he is open and honest, without guile.
3. Unstained — Jesus is pure and undefiled.
4. Separated from sinners — While Jesus came and dwelt among us, he did not succumb to our temptations. He remained perfectly holy, innocent, and unstained by the flesh! This is precisely why he could become our substitute (2 Cor 5:21).
5. Exalted above the heavens — Another reference to his resurrection and ascension that proved the Father’s acceptance of his Son.
Each of these descriptions set Jesus apart from the former priests who were sinful, thus they had to offer sacrifices for themselves first (27). Jesus, on the other hand, offered up himself once as a perfectly holy sacrifice.
He concludes this section the way he began, with a reference to the oath that God made when appointing his Son as high priest (28).
Intercession and Perseverance
One of you asked a good question a few weeks ago. In what sense will Jesus remain our high priest after his return? His intercessory work will not be necessary in glory since believers will be made perfect in holiness. On the other hand, Jesus’s intercession is essential in our present life.
WSC 25: “Christ executes the office of a priest, in his once offering up of himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and reconcile us to God; and in making continual intercession for us.”
WCF 17.2: This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.
We often think of intercessory prayer as a responsibility we fulfill on behalf of other believers. When we learn of a prayer request and lift that person up to God in prayer, we are interceding on their behalf. So, what is the confession saying when it argues that the “perseverance of the saints depends…upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ?” It means that we remain in the covenant with God because Jesus remains a perfect representative for us.
Because Jesus is our security, Savior, and substitute, we can rest assured that he will bring us all the way home!