23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 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.
26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 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. 28 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 7:23-28 ESV
The sacrificial system of the Jews (and the priests who administered it) was designed to be temporary, not only in its duration but also in its efficaciousness. As the author clarifies in chapter ten, “The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship” (Hebrews 10:1 NLT).
And the author explains why those repeated sacrifices were ultimately ineffective.
For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. – Hebrews 10:4 NLT
He goes on to say that God never really wanted and was never pleased or satisfied by the sacrifices that consisted of the blood of bulls and goats – even though they were required by the law of Moses (Hebrews 10:12). They were intended to be a foreshadowing of something far greater to come. The blood offerings were meant to demonstrate the costliness of sin. This is why the author says, “under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).
Even the priests who ministered under the old covenant, the covenant of law, were impermanent, hampered by the reality of their own mortality. And as long as they lived, they had to continually offer sacrifices for their own sins before they could come into God’s presence on behalf of the people. Their own susceptibility to sin and vulnerability to death made them less-than-perfect representatives for the people. They couldn’t stop sinning and they couldn’t keep from dying. And eventually, with the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of the people in Babylon, the temple would become non-existent and the priesthood, non-essential.
This brings us back to chapter seven, where the author continues to present Jesus as the better high priest. While there were many priests under the old covenant, the new covenant requires only one. Jesus is enough. He is sufficient. And the sacrifice He made was a one-time sacrifice, never needing to be repeated. His offering, which required the shedding of His own blood, completely appeased or propitiated the requirements of a holy God.
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. – Hebrews 7:27 ESV
His sacrifice was completely efficacious or effective. It accomplished exactly what was intended, paying the penalty for the sins of mankind and securing a verdict of “not guilty” from the lips of the Judge of the universe.
All the sacrifices under the old covenant were little more than bandaids on a much larger problem. They could not provide the sinner with complete and permanent absolution from sin. That’s they had to be offered repeatedly, year after year. God had given the law to the people of Israel in order to expose their sinfulness and to demonstrate His holiness. As the apostle Paul wrote, “the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good” (Romans 7:12 NLT). Paul would provide his young protégé, Timothy, with the following explanation of the law and its purpose.
We know that the law is good when used correctly. For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders. The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching that comes from the glorious Good News entrusted to me by our blessed God. – 1 Timothy 1:8-11 NLT
Jesus came to change all that. With His death, burial, and resurrection, He inaugurated a new covenant that would be available to all – not just the nation of Israel.
In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” – 1 Corinthians 11:25 ESV
And this new covenant, made possible by the shedding of His blood, provided all of humanity with a remedy to the lingering problem of sin and the dark shadow of condemnation and death that came with it.
When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. – Romans 5:12-15 NLT
With His sacrificial death, Jesus paid the penalty for sin – once and for all. And because He was sinless, He made the perfect sacrifice. His sinlessness meant that He needed to offer no sacrifice on His own behalf. And rather than offering the life of a bull or goat to pay for the sins of mankind, Jesus sacrificed His own life. He became both the priest and the offering. He gave His life so that we might live and never die.
Peter tells us, “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 NLT).
The bulls, goats, and lambs that were sacrificed on behalf of the people of Israel died permanent deaths. But Jesus died, only to be raised again to life by the power of the Spirit of God. Paul reminds us, “Yet now he [God] has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:22 NLT).
Jesus is the better high priest. He has accomplished what no other priest before Him could have ever hoped to do. He has reconciled sinful men to a righteous, holy God. He made possible the unbroken fellowship between a sinless God and sinful people. There would be no more need for anyone to try and earn their way into God’s good graces. No more striving to keep the law in an attempt to keep God satisfied.
Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. – Hebrews 7:25 NLT).
But there’s the rub. We have to come to God through Him. It has to be based on His efforts, not our own. Salvation is the result of the work of Christ, not our human effort. As Jesus told Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT).
Jesus is our high priest. He has offered Himself as the perfect, sinless sacrifice. He has paid the debt we owed. And as John so clearly reminds us, “We also know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know the true God. We are in union with the one who is true, his Son Jesus the Messiah, who is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20 ISV).
We need no other priest. God requires no other sacrifice. There is no debt still owed. Jesus has taken care of our sin problem, once and for all.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.