The old covenant was not the culmination of God’s plan.
I want to point to four or five things that this passage emphasizes. First in verse 11, which is in a sense a capsule summary of what the author is going to be arguing for the rest of the chapter.
He sort of tells you ahead of time an outline of his argument and then he expands on it for a number of verses. In fact, you could argue that verse 11 is an outline for verses 12 all the way down to verse 25. Then the author enters into a new stage of argumentation.
Notice the words, “if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood, what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek. It’s not so much that the priests of the order of Aaron were deficient. That’s not so much the argument here. The argument is that they were not designed in the economy of God to bring about the fullness which God envisioned occurring in the New Covenant, after the time of the Lord Jesus Christ, after the time of Pentecost, in the time of New Covenant ministry. He is saying that those Old Covenant priests, by God’s own design, were never intended to represent the fullness and the culmination of God’s work amongst His people. Jesus’ ministry was that culmination. And we live in that era of the New Testament, of the New Covenant. We live in the era of that culmination of the ministry of God, expressed in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of His people.
So his point is, God never intended the Old Covenant priesthood to be permanent and to achieve the things that He did intend for the permanent priest of His Son to achieve. The argument of verse 11 is very simple. It goes like this: If sanctification and assurance had been achieved through the old system, through the old priesthood, there would have been no need for Christ’s priestly work. But in view of the fact that Christ did come as a priest, it must mean that the old system was not able to bring full assurance of hope, full sanctification as God desires for His children now.
The argument is very simple. If the old priesthood had been capable of bringing about the kind of believing maturity and assurance that God desires for His people, then there would have been no need for Jesus Christ. And the very fact that Jesus Christ has come is a reminder that the old priesthood was a shadow of the reality to come in the Lord Jesus Christ.
That reminds us among many other things that God’s purposes for us as believers, as He works His grace in our lives. His purpose for us is a maturity, a moral likeness to God which will culminate when we stand before the Lord. In glory, in our glorified humanity, we will be perfect before the Lord. God intends us to be perfect as He originally created us. He will be satisfied with nothing less; and even in this life, He intends there to be a sanctification and an assurance of hope as the norm amongst believers. This is something He desires in His new covenant ministry.
By the way, that’s a theme that runs throughout the Book of Hebrews. You will see it especially when we get to chapter 10. The author of Hebrews makes a great point of the fact that the Old Testament sacrifices weren’t able to bring peace of conscience to the Old Covenant people’s minds. But Jesus’ sacrifice is able to bring peace of conscience. We sang that stanza, “My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin, not in part, but the whole, was nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, it is well, it is well with my soul.” No Old Covenant believer could have said forcefully what we can say because of the finished of the Lord Jesus Christ, and because of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.
And oftentimes we don’t think of those benefits that we have as New Covenant believers because we have never experienced the other. We’ve never experienced what it would have been like to go year after year after year, down to Jerusalem, laying our hands on those bulls and goats, taking them off and watching the priests slaughter them, and know that we’re going to have to come back and offer another one next year, reminding us over and over that our sins need forgiven. Because we’ve always looked at the cross and known that our sins were dealt with there and there is not further sacrifice to be offered. What a tremendous thing the author of Hebrews is point us to. He is pointing us to the very basis of our security and assurance before God.
What stands us before God? Nothing about us. Nothing in us. But Christ stands us before God. Christ in His priestly work stands us before God. This is a very important message that the author of Hebrews is teaching us.