20 And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 21 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.’” 22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. 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.
When I was a kid I frequently walked down this hallway in the church our family went to—Grace Baptist Church in Sumter, SC—and on the wall of that hallway was a long line of equally-sized framed pictures of all the pastors of the church. The first one looked old, old, old! And the last one was of our pastor at the time. This used to be more common in churches. Many of you have undoubtedly seen the same.
The effect was always a bit moving but also a bit sobering. It was moving because it reminded me that the line of pastors and the church itself had been there for a long time. It was sobering because it was a standing reminder of the temporal nature of human ministry. The vast majority of men in those pictures were deceased.
That hallway was a statement: we are here and we have been here for a long time doing ministry.
That hallway was a memorial: stop and remember those who have gone on before us.
The writer of Hebrews has been walking down the hallway of the priests of Israel, but now He is stopping and lingering long on the last picture. The last picture is not like the first. Our final priest is different from the others.
In fact, the writers of Hebrews is going to argue that the last priest, Jesus, is the greatest priest and that, in fact, there will never be a picture to the right of his because He still holds His office! No more wall space is necessary. No more frames need be bought! Our final priest is our greatest priest and our final priest breaks the mold in many ways.
Jesus is the surest priest because His priesthood was established by a divine oath.
Our author first contrasts the surety, the certainty, the solidity of Jesus’ priesthood with all other priests. He does so by returning to the idea of oaths that he discussed earlier (6:13-20). The priests of Israel looked to genealogy and law as the foundation of their priesthoods. But Jesus bore the direct oath of almighty God over His priesthood. Speaking of Jesus’ priesthood, the author writes:
20 And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 21 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.’” 22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.
Once again, the writer quotes Psalm 110:4 (in verse 21) and applies the oath sworn there (i.e., “You are a priest forever.”) by God to the Son, Jesus. This oath, then, means that Jesus’ priesthood is greater than the earthly priesthood over which such an oath was never made. Donald Guthrie explains:
The argument seems to depend on the fact that where God adds an oath to his own word the matter becomes doubly certain (cf. 6:18). Compared with this the Levitical order was dependent only on the law.
He returns again to this idea in verse 28 when he writes:
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.
All the former high priests and priests were necessarily limited and “weak.” But the Son bears the oath of the Father and so is exalted above all others!
Ministers today must remember this. We must remember that our ministry is necessarily limited and inferior. This should engender humility in the ministry. Some years back Richard John Neuhaus noticed what he saw as an increase in grandiose titles among Protestant clergymen. He wrote:
Something odd is happening in Protestant groups that used to be strongly opposed to bishops, according to a story in the Atlanta Constitution. Once it was “Mister,” then “Reverend,” then “Doctor,” and now it is “Bishop.” Or more. The Rev. Miles Fowler of Big Miller Grove Baptist Church is now Bishop Miles Fowler. The popular television preacher is Bishop T. D. Jakes. Earl Paulk of the International Communion of Charismatic Churches is nothing less than Archbishop Paulk. Not to be outdone, Jamie Pleasant of Kingdom Builders Christian Center in Norcross, Georgia, is Apostle Pleasant. The way this is going, we may yet see a return to the time of anti–popes.
That is a point well made. I agree. Though I do note with irony that Neuhaus was a Catholic priest and his own communion could rightly use a radical walking back and down of titles for their men of the cloth.
I have a friend who works at a seminary. I inquired some time back about a popular speaker that they frequently had speak there. I asked how this speaker was doing. My friend responded that the seminary no longer had him speak there and likely would not. When I asked why he responded with some hesitation that this speaker had become a bit big for his britches and demanding of more and more perks when invited to speak: first class airfare, the nicest hotel, etc.
It is a sad but recurring story.
No, we must not elevate ourselves! There is not priesthood like Jesus’ priesthood! He and His is beyond compare, as it was founded and validated on and by divine oath, by the very pronouncement of God Himself!
Jesus is the final priest because He overcame that which ends all other priesthoods.
It is not just that Jesus’ priesthood was more sure by virtue of the divine oath. It is also that Jesus’ priesthood will never be limited by that which limits all other priesthoods. Listen:
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.
Ah! The reason there were so many priests of Israel—so many pictures on the wall—was because they all had the same fate: they died! “They were prevented by death from continuing in office”! Not so, Jesus. “He holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.”
This contrast between earthly priests and Jesus is profoundly important. The 16th century Swiss Reformer, Heinrich Bullinger, leaned heavily into this distinction when he wrote
…the Levitical priesthood is mutable, weak, and useless in this regard, whereas the priesthood of Christ is perpetual, perfect, and the only necessary priesthood in the world.
…the Levitical priesthood is weak and useless, but…the priesthood of Christ is single and perpetual…Christ remains a priest in perpetuity, he has not gone away, nor has he resigned his priesthood to us…
This is so, yet we must be careful here not to disparage the necessary role that the priests played in their proper time in the unfolding story of salvation. Thomas Schreiner is surely correct when he writes, “The author is not suggesting that the Levitical priesthood was contrary to God’s will or intention; he is simply emphasizing that it had a built-in obsolescence.” This is so. It is, as they say, what it is! Earthly ministers do not last forever.
This fact—the necessarily temporal nature of earthly ministries—may be upsetting to some and it may be encouraging to others! I will never forget the first church I pastored out of seminary. I had done something that an elderly lady in our church did not like. She was expressing her irritation with me. She said, “You know, I was here before you and I will be here after you!” I chuckle about it now and, in truth, I chuckled about it then, for, at that time I was in such a mind as to think, “I bet you will sister, and I am good with that!” Ha!
Yes, however you view it, our earthly ministers are temporary. We have, as Schreiner put it, “built-in obsolescence.” Not so our High Priest Jesus! He will never be obsolete! There is no expiration date on Jesus! Heaven will never put together a pastor search committee! There will be no more pictures on the hallway of priests. Jesus is it! There is no other! There will be no other! His priesthood is without end!
But there is more than that. It is not just that Jesus has staying power. He is not concerned with winning the tenure contest. No, Jesus’ unending priesthood is more important than that. It is more important because Jesus is not inactive in His ongoing priesthood. No, look at what Jesus is doing:
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.
He “always lives to make intercession for them.” Do you see that the unending reality of Jesus’ priestly function of intercession is what grounds and drives our hope? There is never a moment when His eye is not on you and when His heart is not bent toward your salvation! There is never a moment when Jesus is asleep at the wheel or out to lunch or just taking a break! “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him.”
Bullinger wrote of this verse that Jesus “always lives, and he lives for this purpose…so that he might intercede for us…that is, so that he might conciliate, intervene, and take our cause on himself. What, I ask you, could be said that would be clearer, more pleasant, or holier?”
This is the gospel!
This is our hope!
This is the foundation of our very lives!
Jesus is the perfect superior priest because He has made a superior sacrifice.
And it is not just that His intercession is ongoing. It is also that His sacrifice was superior in every way to the sacrifices that were offered before the cross. The author begins first with an exalted description of the amazing character and person of Jesus.
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.
The adjectives are powerful:
What a priest we have! What a savior! What an amazing picture of our amazing God!
But let us consider a question: Why is it necessary that Jesus be holy and innocent and unstained and separated and exalted? Why must He be perfect? After all, we would likely all agree that Jesus could be very good but not perfect and yet still be better than all priests who came before Him, right? Why was it not enough for Jesus simply to be very good or better? Why is the perfection of Jesus so important?
First, we note the simple fact, as verse 26 tells us, that Jesus simply was perfect in all of His attributes and ways! But, secondly, we observe that the text moves on to link the perfection of His character with the superiority of His sacrifice. The two are not unrelated.
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.
Ah! So we see yet another contrast between Jesus and the priests who came before Him. Their priesthood was on the basis of genealogy and law whereas Jesus’ was on the basis of divine oath and proclamation. They would reach the end of their lives and die, bringing an end to their priesthood, yet Jesus’ priesthood is forever and forever. And now we see that they were sinners and had to sacrifice for their own sins whereas Jesus had “no need” to do so because He had no sin!
And yet, He did indeed sacrifice Himself as a sin offering! Which means that the sinless became a sin offering on behalf of the sinful purely on the basis of His own grace and mercy! This is astonishing!
But it is not just the substitution that is astonishing, it is that Jesus, as perfect and as divine, was able to fulfill the entire sacrificial system that came before Him by being our “once for all sacrifice”!
The earlier priests had to sacrifice (a) for themselves and (b) over and over again. But our High Priest Jesus was able to sacrifice (a) himself for others and to do so (b) once for all!
He is the superior sacrifice!
The Jesus who intercedes for you is the Jesus who gave Himself for you. His intercession hinges on the perfection and potency of His sacrifice for you as well as on His perfect life. The Lamb of God who was slain and risen now is seated at the Father’s right hand saying your name!
You have never had a priest like this Jesus! You could never have a priest like this Jesus!
Ray Stedman summarizes these verses as saying that Jesus is “incomparable in greatness, inexhaustible in resource, infinite in patience, infallible in wisdom and interested in all that concerns us.”
And to this we say, Amen!
 Guthrie, Donald. Hebrews (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
 RJN, “While We’re At It,” First Things. June/July 2002.
 Ronald K. Rittgers, ed. Hebrews, James. Reformation Commentary on Scripture. Gen. Ed. Timothy George. New Testament XIII (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017), p.102-103.
 Thomas R. Schreiner, Hebrews. Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020), p.229.
 Ronald K. Rittgers, ed., 103.
 Ray C. Stedman. Hebrews. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Vol.15 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), p.86.