SERMON on Hebrews 7:23-28

Our Greater-Than-Great High Priest  


The last time I spoke, I made reference to Psalm 103:14, where the Psalmist said that God “… remembers that we are dust”

The main text at that time was Hebrews 4:12-16  … which shows that He didn’t just remember … He did something about it … He became one of usso that He could die in our stead as our substitute … but, also, to be able to empathize with us as our High Priest

  • Hebrews 2:17 says He has become our merciful and faithful High Priest …
  • Hebrews 4:14 says we have a great High Priest.

Today, I want to look at another text that shows He is not just a merciful HP or a great HP … He is our greater-than-great HP.

As we look at the passage ….

  • begin with last verse … which provides the basis for the title … why Jesus Christ is our greater-than-great High Priest …
  • How can one be be greater than great? …
  • Answer : By being perfect.

SPS … To show why Jesus is THE PERFECT High Priest.

The writer of Hebrews gives two (2) proofs in this passage.

Before we look at them, however, let’s remind ourselves of the context of the passage … to encourage persons who may have been wavering and thinking about going back into Judaism by showing them how much greater the new covenant in Christ is, when compared to the Old Covenant.


20 And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest: 21 (for those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:) 22 by so much was Jesus made a surety (guarantor … ) of a better testament. 

Hebrews 7:23-28 (KJV)   And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered (allowed/able) to continue by reason of death: 24 but this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood

25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost (completely) that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

26 For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens27 who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. 28 For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.    

Hebrews 7:23-28 (NET)  23 And the others[bb] who became priests were numerous, because death prevented them[bc] from continuing in office,[bd] 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently since he lives forever. 25 So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 26 For it is indeed fitting for us to have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need to do every day what those priests do, to offer sacrifices first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people, since he did this in offering himself once for all28 For the law appoints as high priests men subject to weakness,[be] but the word of solemn affirmation that came after the law appoints a son made perfect forever.

Hebrews 7:23-28 (NIV)    23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood.

25 Therefore he is able to save completely[g] those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

26 Such a high priest truly meets our need — one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people.  He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.

28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weaknessbut the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.




The writer to the Hebrews is still accumulating his proofs that the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek was superior to the Aaronic priesthood. In order to do this he brings forward two other proofs.

First, he stresses the fact that the institution of the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek was confirmed by the oath of God while the ordinary priesthood was not. The reference is to Ps.110:4: “The Lord hath sworn, and will not change his mind, `You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.‘”  The very idea of God taking an oath is startling. Long ago Philo saw this. He pointed out that the only reason for taking an oath is because a man’s bare word may be disbelieved; and the oath is to guarantee that his word is true. God never needs to do that because it is impossible that his word should ever be disbelieved. If, therefore, God ever confirms a statement by an oath, that statement must be of extraordinary importance.  So then it is possible that the ordinary priesthood can pass away; but the priesthood of Jesus Christ can never pass away; because God has sworn an oath that it will last for ever.

Because this priesthood has been confirmed by an oath, Jesus is the surety of a better covenant. Let us remember that the function of the priest and of all religion is to open a way of access to God. Here we come upon the word covenant. We shall soon have to examine it in more detail. It is sufficient at the moment to say that a covenant is in essence an agreement between two people that if one faithfully performs certain undertakings, the other will respond in a certain way.

There was an ancient covenant between Israel and God that if the Israelites faithfully obeyed God’s law, the way of access to his friendship would always be open to them. We see the nation entering into that covenant in Exo.24:1-8. We see Moses taking the book of the law and reading it to the people; and we see the people responding with the words: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Exo.24:7). The old agreement was based on obedience to the law; and the agreement could be kept open only when the priests kept on making sacrifice for every breach of the law.

Jesus is the surety of a new and a better covenant, a new kind of relationship between man and God. The difference is this–the old covenant was based on law and justice and obedience; the new covenant is based on love and on the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The old covenant was based on man’s achievement; the new covenant is based on God’s love.

What does the writer to the Hebrews mean by saying that Jesus is the surety (egguos, GSN1450) of this new covenant? An egguos is one who gives security. It is used, for instance, of a person who guarantees someone else’s overdraft at a bank; he is surety that the money will be paid. It is used for someone who goes bail for a prisoner; he guarantees that the prisoner will appear at the trial. The egguos (GSN1450) is one who guarantees that some undertaking will be honoured.

So, then, what the writer to the Hebrews means is this. Someone might say: “How do you know that the old covenant is no longer operative?  How do you know that access to God now depends, not on man’s achievement of obedience but simply on the welcoming love of God?”  The answer is: “Jesus Christ guarantees that it is so.  He is the surety who promises that God’s love will be forthcoming, if only we take him at his word.”  To put it in the simplest possible way — we must believe that when we look at Jesus in all his love we are seeing what God is like.

The writer to the Hebrews introduces a second proof of the superiority of the priesthood of Jesus. There was no permanency about the old priesthood. Those who were priests died and had to be replaced; but the priesthood of Jesus is for ever. The thing that matters in this passage is the overtones and implications of the almost untranslatable words the writer uses.

He says that the priesthood of Jesus is one that will never pass away (aparabatos, GSN0531). Aparabatos is a legal word. It means inviolable. A judge lays down that his decision must remain aparabatos (GSN0531), unalterable. It means non-transferable.  It describes something which belongs to one person and cannot ever be transferred to anyone else. Galen. the medical writer, uses it to describe absolute scientific law which can never be violated, the principles on which the very universe is built and holds together. So then the writer to the Hebrews says that the priesthood of Jesus is something which can never be taken from him, is something that no one else can ever possess, is something that is as lasting as the laws which hold the universe together. Jesus is and will always remain the only way to God. The writer to the Hebrews uses another wonderful word about Jesus and says of him that he remains for ever (paramenein, GSN3887). That verb has two characteristic flavours.

First, it means to remain in office. No one can ever take the office of Jesus from him; to all eternity he remains the introducer of men to God. Second, it means to remain in the capacity of a servant. Gregory of Nazianzen provides in his will that his daughters will remain (paramenein, GSN3887) with their mother so long as she is alive. They are to stay with her and be her help and support. The papyri talk of a girl who must remain (paramenein, GSN3887) in a shop for three years in order to discharge by her work a debt that she cannot pay. There is a papyrus contract which says that a boy, who is being bound as an apprentice, must remain (paramenein, GSN3887) with his master for as many days extra as he has played truant. When the writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus remains for ever, there is wrapped up in that phrase the amazing thought that Jesus is for ever at the service of men. In eternity as he was in time Jesus exists to be of service to mankind. That is why he is the complete Saviour.
On earth he served men and gave his life for them; in Heaven he still exists to make intercession for them.  He is the priest for ever, the one who is for ever opening the door to the friendship of God and is for ever the great servant of mankind.


Still the writer to the Hebrews is filled with the thought of Jesus as high priest. He begins this passage by using a series of great words and phrases to describe him.

(i) He says that Jesus is holy, (hosios, GSN3741). This word is used of Jesus in Ac.2:27 and Ac.13:35; it is used of the Lord in Rev.15:4 and Rev.16:5; it is used of the Christian bishop in Tit.1:8; it is used of the hands that a man must present to God in prayer in 1Tim.2:8. Behind it there is always one special idea. It always describes the man who faithfully does his duty to God. It describes a man, not so much as he appears before his fellow-men but as he appears before God. Hosios (GSN3741) has in it the greatest of all goodnesses, the goodness which is pure in the sight of God.

(ii) He says that Jesus never hurt any man (akakos, GSN0172). Kakia (GSN2549) is the Greek word for evil; and akakos (GSN0172) describes the man who is so cleansed of evil that there is nothing left in him but good. It describes a man in his effect upon his fellow-men. Sir Walter Scott claimed for himself as a writer that he never corrupted any man’s morals or unsettled any man’s faith. The man who is akakos (GSN0172) is so cleansed that his presence is like an antiseptic and in his heart there is nothing but the loving kindness of God.

(iii) He says that Jesus is stainless (amiantos, GSN0283). Amiantos describes the man who is absolutely free from any of the blemishes which might make it impossible for him to draw near to God. The blemished victim cannot be offered to God; the defiled man cannot approach him; but the one who is amiantos (GSN0283) is fit to enter into God’s presence.

(iv) He says that Jesus is different from sinners. This phrase does not mean that Jesus was not really a man. He was different from sinners in that, although he underwent all a man’s temptations, he conquered them all and emerged without sin. The difference between him and other men lies not in the fact that he was not fully man, but in the fact that he was manhood at its highest and its best.

(v) He says that Jesus was made higher than the heavens. In this phrase he is thinking of the exaltation of Jesus. if the last phrase stresses the perfection of his manhood, this one stresses the perfection of his godhead. He who was a man amongst men is also he who is exalted to the right hand of God.

The writer to the Hebrews now introduces another aspect in which the priesthood of Jesus is far superior to the Levitical. Before the High Priest could offer sacrifice for the sins of the people, he had first to offer sacrifice for his own sins, for he was a sinful man. It is of the Day of Atonement that the writer is specially thinking. This was the great day when atonement was made for all the sins of the people, the day on which the High Priest performed his supreme function. Usually it was the only day in the year when he personally carried out the sacrifices. On ordinary days they were left to the subordinate priests but on the Day of Atonement the High Priest himself officiated.

The very first item on the ritual of that day was a sacrifice for the sins of the High Priest himself. He washed his hands and his feet; he put off his gorgeous robes; he clothed himself in spotless white linen. There was brought to him a bullock which he had purchased with his own money. He laid both hands on the bullock’s head to transfer his sin to it; and thus he made confession: “Ah, Lord God, I have committed iniquity; I have transgressed; I have sinned, I and my house. 0 Lord, I beseech thee, cover over the sins and transgressions which I have committed, transgressed and sinned before thee, I and my house.”

The greatest of all the Levitical sacrifices began with a sacrifice for the sins of the High Priest. That was a sacrifice Jesus never needed to make, for he was without sin.

The Levitical High Priest was a sinful man offering animal sacrifices for sinful people; Jesus was the sinless Son of God offering himself for the sin of all men. 

It was the law which had appointed the Levitical High Priest; it was the oath of God which gave Jesus his office; and because he was what he was, the sinless Son of God, he was equipped for his office as no human High Priest could ever be.

Now the writer to the Hebrews does what he so often does. He drops a marker to indicate the direction he is going to take. He says of Jesus that he offered himself. Two things were necessary in a sacrifice.  There was the priest and there was the sacrifice.  With long and intricate argument the writer to the Hebrews has proved that Jesus was the perfect High Priest; now he is going to move on to another thought.  Not only was Jesus the perfect High Priest, he was also the perfect offering.  Jesus alone could open the way to God because he was the perfect High Priest and he offered the one perfect sacrifice — himself.

There is much in this argument which for us is difficult to understand. It speaks and thinks in terms of ritual and ceremony long since forgotten; but one eternal thing remains. Man seeks the presence of God; … his sin has erected a barrier between him and God … but he is restless until he rests in God; …  and Jesus alone is the priest who can bring the offering that can open the way back to God for men.


It seems the only thing permanent in our lives is change. Change often adds some spice to life, some excitement and expectation. Change can be a very good thing. But not all change is good. In fact, change can sometimes be of the sort that disrupts and cripples our lives in very serious ways. When we find ourselves in the middle of these types of changes, we can find ourselves discouraged and possibly even in despair.

Where are you today? It is probably a safe bet to say that through your life you have had to deal with some rather earth-shattering changes. The last couple of years have no doubt been a period in history of epic change. For the most part, it hasn’t been the kind of changes we get excited about. Life as we once knew it has changed. But even beyond the world-changing events that affect us all, it would be naïve to assume that each of us do not deal with some sort of threatening changes closer to home. Maybe it’s a detrimental change in health, or worse, the disorienting change that comes by way of the death of a loved one.


These types of changes can overwhelm us, especially on top of the chaos we are enduring in our world today. Even smaller negative changes can prompt in us a despondent and disheartened outlook. Loss of employment, for example, may seem trivial compared to loss of health or life, but it still exacts a toll on individuals and families. I’m sure many of you can share times of such loss that were marked by painful doubts and sorrow.

Change can threaten our sense of security, meaning and purpose. And we are not alone in these unprecedented times of unsettling upheaval. As we look out our stained-glass windows, we see a world grasping for something, anything, that can give it a sense of permanence or some hope that all will return to stable ground.

As the church, we know where to look for this permanence. We look to Jesus.  We place our hope in the one who does not change, and who is our permanent, perfect and promised High Priest.

Today, as we look at the passage in Hebrews 7, we can be encouraged once again by this hope. After all, that is why the author of Hebrews wrote this letter. The original recipients of this letter are our brothers and sisters in Christ who were also facing major changes in their lives, changes that included suffering and extreme threats in their time of witness. This letter was written to encourage them to remain faithful to the one who remains faithful to them. Like those Christians living in perilous times, the church today is still called to proclaim to a frenzied world the salvation that it longs for that can be found only in its rightful King, Jesus Christ. So, as we go through this passage, let us do so with open hands to receive the hope and encouragement the Lord has for us. We will always face change, but we can do so knowing and sharing the good news of hope that Jesus holds for us and for all we know and love — our family, friends and neighbors.

Furthermore, 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. (Hebrews 7:23-24 NRSV)

Our selected passage begins with the word “Furthermore…” which means we will need to look back a little further in the text to discover more of what is being said. If we back up to the beginning of this chapter we find the author is laying out the case that Jesus is the perfect High Priest for his people by referring to the royal messianic Psalm 110 and the pattern of Melchizedek. The author is arguing that Jesus is the “priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4). This is part of the author’s sustained argument of Jesus as a superior High Priest that he began back in chapter 4. Many points about the superiority of Jesus as High Priest over the Levitical priesthood and Aaron are made. But in this section, the author is going to show three specific ways Jesus is the ultimate High Priest. These three points will be an important reminder for us during our times of changing challenges that threaten our faith and confidence in the Lord.


The first thing we see the author bring to our attention by referring to the “order of Melchizedek” is that Jesus as High Priest is permanent.

Notice how the author makes his argument: “the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office…” In short, no matter how good a high priest each of these “former priests” might have been, they were not permanent. Death meant there was always a need for a change in the office of high priest. The fact that these “former priests were many in number” meant that there were many changes along the way. Maybe we can relate to this with our own histories marked by successions and transitions. Perhaps in school you had to memorize all the presidents from Washington to the present. Or perhaps you have a long-standing local church that has a wall with pictures of previous pastors who once served as its chief overseer. There are plenty of reminders such as these all around us that force upon us the transient nature of our existence. All things tend to pass on sooner or later. Death changes everything. The believers who first received this letter of encouragement had certainly been accustomed to these many changes throughout history and were in some ways finding themselves at the end of their rope, so to speak.

According to Josephus, there were 83 high priests from the time of Aaron till the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. We don’t know the exact date Hebrews was written, but it is very likely to have been written shortly before the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. The Jewish believers this letter was written to likely knew of many of those high priests through the stories and traditions passed along. Many had witnessed the passing of a few high priests. How relevant this author was to point them to the permanence of Jesus as the ultimate High Priest by telling them Jesus “holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.”

The author doesn’t just tell us that fact, but goes on to tell us the implications it has:

Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25 NRSV)

These words were written a long time ago, but it makes clear that what is true of Jesus for these early Christians in their time of crisis is true for us today. Jesus the High Priest is “for all time” the one we look to for salvation. The word used here for “all time” carries an even deeper meaning as well. It’s the Greek word panteles which means all and whole along with perfect and complete.

When Jesus as High Priest saves, we can count on it to be a lasting, permanent, complete and whole salvation in every conceivable way. Nothing gets left out.

In addition, the word translated “save” carries the meaning of deliverance and rescue for the purpose of restoration and healing. The concept behind the word is the picture of bringing a person who has been locked away in bondage out into the open and into freedom.

Jesus was and is the one who sets the captives free. In our present time, words like “lock-downs,” “isolation,” “quarantine” were recently commonplace as they articulated the shape of bondage our world had been experiencing. These modern expressions of bondage point us to our deeper bondage of sin in which we all need to be saved and set free. This is found only through Jesus, who is our permanent High Priest.

If doubt and despair are setting in because of the onslaught of changes that leave us feeling locked away with little hope of freedom, take courage in knowing that Jesus is still serving as our intercessor as “he always lives to make intercession for them.” This means that Jesus is interceding for you and me in this present moment, even when our faith falters, and he will continue to do so forever. As our permanent High Priest, we can count on him to bring us to the Father along with all our burdens and sufferings that need his healing touch of restoration.


The second thing to take note of in the “order of Melchizedek” is that Jesus as High Priest is perfect.

For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:26-28 NRSV)

This is quite the resume for a high priest: “holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” If Mary Poppins were to translate this verse, she would probably say that this High Priest is “practically perfect in every way.” This certainly could not have been said about any of the other 83 high priests in Israel’s history. The author is not trying to disparage the high priestly system God had put in place for Israel. That system was an act of grace by God to provide a way for his people to dwell in his presence even though they were a fallen and sinful people, just like the rest of the world.

The priest and the sacrificial system also served to point Israel to their true and ultimate High Priest who would be a “fitting” intercessor. It is important to know that God did not need people to offer him sacrifices as a way of twisting his arm for forgiveness. He does not need to be appeased in any way. God himself will do the reconciling and has done just that in Jesus Christ.

We may ask at this point, why is it “fitting” that Jesus be perfect as our High Priest? To answer this, it may be helpful to understand “perfection” in terms of relationship. This High Priest’s relationship to the Father is…well, perfect. It is holy. It is blameless. It is undefiled and devoid of sin. In short, there is no lack of trust between the Father and his Son. It is what we can rightly call a perfectly faithful relationship. And Jesus remained faithful to the Father even with all the changing chaos that comes in a fallen sinful world. His faithfulness was lived out through the thick of it. In other words, the Son of God became Jesus, the God-man who took on all of our sinful and fallen human nature and lived out his life in perfect obedience and faithfulness to the Father. In Jesus, we have the perfect man fitted for relationship with the Father.

Now, we can see why it is “fitting” that Jesus be perfect as our High Priest. The role of the high priest was to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people to mediate reconciliation between the people of Israel and God. Only, they also had to offer a sacrifice for their own sins as well. Jesus does not need to offer such a sacrifice. Instead, he offers himself as the perfectly fitted sacrifice who mediates reconciliation between humanity and God “once for all.” Only Jesus could be both the High Priest and the sacrifice at the same time. In Jesus, our High Priest, we have been reconciled to the Father to enjoy the perfect relationship the Son has had with the Father for all eternity.

This High Priest is “exalted above the heavens,” meaning he is presently and eternally with the Father. In this way, Jesus is the perfect High Priest for us. Today, no matter what changes you may be experiencing, Jesus does not change as your High Priest. He continues, even now, and tomorrow and the next day, regardless of what changes come your way, to intercede for you before the Father. He is completely capable and willing to restore you, save you, set you free and make you whole. In him you will find that his relationship with the Father is a perfect fit for you as well.


One final point this passage brings out about Jesus as our High Priest is that Jesus is a promised High Priest.

The author draws again from Psalm 110 to point out that Jesus as High Priest was sealed with “the word of the oath.” The Levitical priests were not installed with such an oath. Note the Psalmist’s words:

The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4 NRSV)

Unlike the other high priests, Jesus has been given God’s approval, spoken as a promise that his priesthood would have no end. And the Father always keeps his word. Now we have something that never changes. No matter what changes come our way and challenges our lives in the here and now, we have a great High Priest who comes to us with the promise that our heavenly Father will never change his mind about us, today, tomorrow or forever. The Lord Jesus is faithful and one to be trusted with all the changes in your life. There is nothing he cannot and will not save you from in order to bring you into the perfect life of relationship he has with his Father.  




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