Now if perfection had been attainable through the levitical priesthood—for the people received the law under this priesthood—what further need would there have been to speak of another priest arising according to the order of Melchizedek, rather than one according to the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. Now the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
It is even more obvious when another priest arises, resembling Melchizedek, one who has become a priest, not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life. For it is attested of him, ‘You are a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchizedek.’ There is, on the one hand, the abrogation of an earlier commandment because it was weak and ineffectual (for the law made nothing perfect); there is, on the other hand, the introduction of a better hope, through which we approach God.
This was confirmed with an oath; for others who became priests took their office without an oath, but this one became a priest with an oath, because of the one who said to him, ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest for ever” ’— accordingly Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant.
Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect for ever.
As we read this chapter, it might help to remind ourselves of the title of the book – it's the letter to the Hebrews. In other words, it's aimed at Jewish Christians deeply immersed in what we call the Old Testament. They were looking for traces of Jesus in the Scriptures they had grown up with. The author's exposition of Melchizedek, the mysterious figure who appears in one of the stories of Abraham (Genesis 14.17–21), sets Jesus aside from the priesthood of Aaron's dynasty. He is not just another priest, but owes his status to no one except God: 'He was made a priest, not by human rules and regulations, but through the power of a life which has no end' (verse 16).
All this bolsters the argument we see throughout Hebrews: Jesus is different. Because of his divine high priesthood, he is 'able, now and always, to save those who come to God through him, because he lives for ever to plead with God for them' (verse 25).
A priest is a link between two worlds, the human and the divine. The Latin word for 'priest' is 'pontifex', 'bridge-builder'; that's what they do, though they're personally weak and imperfect. Jesus is our bridge – but unlike the perilous rope bridges beloved of filmmakers, with their rotten planks and fraying cables, he makes a perfect way for us to God.
Let us Pray
God, thank you for reaching out to your fallen world and giving us a way back to you. Help me to be a bridge-builder too, leading others to Christ who is the way, the truth and the life.
This reflection was written by Mark Woods, Bible Society's Editor