In many high schools and colleges, there are athletes who are a real standout. They win awards for their achievements, or lead their teams to championships. The same can be true of those skilled in the arts, who are known for their abilities and may lead a group (like an orchestra) to regional stardom.
However, when it comes to the world of professional sports (or arts or other competitive domains), there is a great division. In professional sports or skilled careers, the stakes, the environment, and the competition are part of a whole other ballgame (so to speak). When it comes to making a career out of one’s skill, these tests have a way of separating out those who are very good, from those who are the best. (By the way, if you aspire to any of these careers, and God has gifted you with the ability to do so, I encourage you to do so. Just don’t expect to coast through life based only on what you were acclaimed for as a teen, especially without continuing to invest and grow in those skills.)
This topic has been covered on this site before, but it seems to be important for the author of Hebrews to establish clearly that we cannot be saved by keeping the law, nor through the priesthood associated with the law.
If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also.
Hebrews 7:11-12 NIV
I’m pretty sure that verse 11 is a rhetorical question: “if” we could be made perfect through the law then why would we need something different? Clearly we can’t, though, as described elsewhere. So, verse 12 suggests (to me, at least) that changing the priesthood changes the law.
Now, the Levitical priesthood wasn’t inherently bad, even if it was composed of imperfect priests. God established that priesthood, after all, and it served a key role in the faith and practices of God’s people for centuries, as it served as a guardian to the people of Israel until something better came along. However, it was not meant to last forever. It was administered by mortal men, and couldn’t actually save people from their sins. God knew all along that it would be replaced someday.
Notice the logic in these two verses, although there seem to be a couple of ways of translating the content:
- In one case, the Law (i.e., the Law of Moses, as I read it) set up a priesthood led by the Levites, but when Jesus came, he became a new high priest, and the law was changed.
- At Mount Sinai, the new law created a new priesthood.
- At the cross, a new priesthood changed the law.
- Law and priesthood were related, but Jesus didn’t just come and create a new law in the sense of more rules. He didn’t bring another “pretty good” covenant. Instead, He brought news of salvation (and He became the means of that salvation) by grace through faith, which superseded the need for the law (which was ineffective to save us, anyway).
- Another way of reading this verse is that the Levitical priesthood (or perfection) brought the Law to the people of Israel, and then Jesus brought us something new.
Regardless of which of the readings is most correct, though, the author is drawing parallels between the Levitical priesthood and the previous law that the Israelites were under, just as Jesus was a high priest and (having fulfilled the Law of Moses) brought an all-encompassing way of life and salvation.
The Law of Moses wasn’t bad, but Jesus showed us a better way.
If you aren’t sure at this point where the author is going with this, I don’t think that anyone would blame you. However, more connections start to be made in verse 15. Let’s pick up there in the next article.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for October 17, 2021
- The Lookout, October 17, 2021 © 2021 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Hebrews, by Jim Girdwood and Peter Verkruyse. College Press Publishing Company, © 1997.