In a previous article, we discussed the beginning and ending of the Levitical priesthood. Priests were needed to offer sacrifices for sins. Their lives were lives of distinctiveness, but their humanity gave rise to their downfall. Their weakness and the weakness of the law made it evident that another, greater priest was needed, one not constrained by the weakness of the flesh or the law. Let us consider the nature of the priesthood of Christ.
In contrast to the sinfulness of the Old Testament priests, Christ is altogether holy and perfect. John declared him to be the lamb of God (John 1:29), indicating he had not been marred by sin. Paul writes of Jesus, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians. 5:21 ESV). Jesus never committed sin (1 Peter 2:22), but God placed upon him the punishment for sin.
We have a high priest who was tempted in every way, yet never succumbed to sin (Hebrews 4:15). We not only need a perfect offering, but a perfect offerer, so that the offering is not tainted by sin (Leviticus 16:16).
While priests in the Old Testament served from earth, Christ serves from heaven. Since he is sinless, he must not be from earth (Romans 3:23). Rather, our high priest is “seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 8:1).
In fact, he could not serve as high priest while on earth: “Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law” (Hebrews 8:4). But “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens” (Hebrews 4:14).
While Christ’s priesthood has similarities to Aaron’s, they are fundamentally different. The Levitical priesthood had a beginning and an ending. But Jesus is not a priest after the order of Levi, but Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:10).
Melchizedek is thrust onto the scene in Genesis without a beginning and without ending. “He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever” (Hebrews 7:13). In this way Melchizedek is a forerunner of the timeless priesthood of Christ (see Hebrews 5:6; 6:20; 7:17, 21, 24, 28).
We do not await another priest. There is none to take his place. He is timeless.
Melchizedek was superior to Abraham because the patriarch was blessed by and made an offering to the king of Salem (Genesis 14:18-20). The Hebrews writer argues that Melchizedek was therefore greater than Levi and his descendants (Hebrews 7:4-10). Since Christ is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, his priesthood is also superior to Levi’s.
Because of the sinless, heavenly, and timeless nature of Christ’s priesthood, we can be confident in it’s superiority as well (Hebrews 7:1-14).
Christ is the ultimate priest. His sinless life, his heavenly and eternal service, and the superior nature of his priesthood give us confidence that his ministry on our behalf is perfect.