Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? 12 For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. 13 For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar.
14 For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. 15 And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest 16 who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. 17 For He testifies:
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”
18 For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, 19 for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.
This is an incredible passage of Scripture. It’s one of my favorites. It details clearly that the change in priesthood necessitates a change in the law. The Levitical priesthood was appointed by God and served to define and manage every detail of the Old Covenant. If God has now appointed a new order of priest, then a change in the law must follow.
Jesus belongs to the tribe of Judah. No one from that tribe was appointed to the Levitical priesthood. By definition, the Levitical priesthood is of the order of Aaron, descendant of Levi. This priesthood was appointed under the law of works, the “fleshly commandment” of verse 16. But Jesus, the Lion of Judah, is appointed according to the order of Melchizedek. Recall that Melchizedek has “neither beginning of days nor end of life.” Jesus is High Priest not according to works, but “according to the power of an endless life.”
Why is all of this important? The author of Hebrews is laying out the clear pattern for establishing the New Covenant. God is just, and there has to be legal legitimacy to ending the Old Covenant. So far in Hebrews, we’ve seen that the Old Covenant was mediated by angels, and Jesus is greater than they. We saw the the key figurehead, Moses, was a servant of the house but Jesus is greater, being the Son. We now also see that the Levitical priesthood, appointed to the work of the Old Covenant, is an inferior priesthood. The order of Melchizedek is superior, of which order Jesus is. God was meticulous in every detail of the Old Covenant, and is just as meticulous in the process of annulling it to establish the New.
Why is a New Covenant necessary? According to verse 18, the Old Covenant was weak and unprofitable because it could make nothing perfect. No one could ever be justified by the law. God’s heart is not that we would strive to attain perfection, but that He would make us perfect through the work of His Son. The Old Covenant demanded our fruitless striving. It was unprofitable not only for our sakes, but also for His. Under the law, He couldn’t do what He truly wanted to do, which was to give us His perfection.
Now, under the new priesthood, we are ushered into a better hope. When we live under the law, we hope one day to succeed, knowing that we can’t. We hope to be judged righteous, knowing that we have fallen short. We hope for mercy from the judgement that we truly deserve, yet live with dreadful expectation. If we live under the mindset that we must earn God’s favor, there is little hope. When we brave grace and understand that God’s favor is unmerited, we are free to rest our hope fully on Jesus.
In this new hope, we draw near to God. We are not pushed away. You might feel distant from God because of something you did, but those feelings are lying to you. The law that demanded your performance is no longer valid. We don’t have to wait outside while the high priest takes a sacrifice into God’s presence for us. We draw near to God ourselves based on the finished work of the new High Priest. Brave grace! There is a new order.