For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:
“The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest forever.’”
This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.
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 forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
(Hebrews 7:18-28 ESV)
Right at the heart of the Gospel message is what Evangelicals in the 20th century have called “a saving knowledge” of Jesus Christ. I know what their intention was. They were trying to say, “knowing Jesus personally.” But what they ended up communicating was “knowing Jesus scholastically.” That is, there are certain truths to which you must give mental assent or else you aren’t saved.
I’d say it is a toss-up as to which is the more academic book, Romans or Hebrews. Both have a great deal to say about doctrine. I think that may be where we got this mistaken idea in the first place. But was that really the writer’s intent? It seems more like these guys were interpreting Jesus to a late-first century audience, rather than trying to construct a new set of rules by which Christians had to work in order to acquire the blessings of God. You know… say the right set of things… have the right content stored in your head, and you’ll find your name in the Lamb’s Book of Life at the End? Can it really be that complicated?
In fact, the author of Hebrews is using the least complex Old Testament example he possibly could have found to explain Jesus: a priest named Melchizedek. This guy, he says, sprang full-blown into Israel’s history. He has no lineage, no parents, no children. Nothing about his life is known except that at some point he was King of Salem. His name means “My King is Righteous,” and he appears only once, in Genesis 14 bringing bread and wine (communion?) to bless Abram. Melchizedek, Hebrews tells us, and not one of the Levitical line (of whom there are many great examples of faith), is the type of Christ.
The writer says, “a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect)”. Wow! That’s the summary verse on the effectiveness of the Law when it comes to salvation? In Matthew 5:48 Jesus commanded it, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The word he used is “teleios,” a word of completion, of fullest extent. You shall be whole to the fullest extent, because that’s the way your Father is. A written code simply couldn’t do that in us.
Let’s get this right. It is Jesus’ perfection toward the Father, his complete obedience, his absolute wholeness, that qualifies him to be our high priest. Romans says, “Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ch. 5:6b-8) His was a full and complete obedience to God. His high priesthood is a priesthood of loving obedience to his Father, not of sacrifice according to a law.
Because Jesus’ life was a life of teleios – a life of completeness to the uttermost – he is able to save to the uttermost those who place their trust in him. We perfected before God by the One who was perfect before God. And so, because Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law, the law which stood against you and me is set aside.
But back to our original question. Do I really need to know all that academically in order to be saved? If so, then what is to become of the simple, the innocent, and little children? The writer embedded the answer at the beginning: we have a better hope than the Law.
Luke 10:25-28 says, “And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” There it is, Mr. Lawyer. Can you live up to the written code? No.
Jesus went on to tell the man the story of the Good Samaritan. The punchline of that story is, “which one was a brother to the injured man?” The Lawyer answers, “the one who showed him mercy.” So all his legal knowledge didn’t do him any good. It all came down to simply knowing Jesus and knowing that this was where he could go to receive mercy.
Have you run to Jesus just because you know he’s got what you need? Don’t think it out any further than that. Have you run to Jesus just because you know he’s got what you need? Be glad if God gave you a wise and discerning brain so you can understand a Greek word like teleios and so you can be wowed by what it means! But really: Have you run to Jesus JUST because you know he’s got what you need?