Context is so important in coming to a proper understanding of what is spoken. That is true for our day-to-day conversations about earthly activities. It is equally true as we study the Bible. Disregarding the context of a biblical statement can bring about unwarranted conclusions, cause confusion, and even lead to teachings which contradict God’s truth.
The text of Hebrews 7:12 consists of one sentence: “For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.” Let us break that declaration down into three thoughts and then examine them one by one.
“For the priesthood being changed” – To get a grasp on this passage’s meaning, you guessed it, context is of the utmost importance. In the previous verse, two distinct priesthoods are mentioned: (1) something called “the Levitical priesthood” and (2) a priesthood “according to the order of Melchizedek.” It is crystal clear from the first ten verses of this chapter (Hebrews 7:1-10) that there is a definite distinction between those two priesthoods named above.
First of all, “the Levitical priesthood” refers to the priesthood which was ordained by God to function in the nation of Israel under the law of Moses. “Levi” originally was the name of one person – the third oldest son of Jacob (Genesis 29:34). “Levi” later was used to identify the tribe of Levi, and any person who was from that tribe (and thus a descendant of Levi), was called “a Levite.” Per God’s arrangement, under the old law all priests came from the tribe of Levi (Deuteronomy 18:1). Thus, the terminology “the Levitical priesthood” that we read in Hebrews 7:11.
In addition, in that same verse we read of a priesthood “according to the order of Aaron.” That expression is another way of designating “the Levitical priesthood.” You see, under the law of Moses, not only were all authorized priests from the tribe of Levi, but they also were required to be the descendants of Aaron, Moses’ older brother. Thus, the priesthood “according to the order of Aaron” and “the Levitical priesthood” were one and the same.
What about the priesthood that is according to the order of Melchizedek, which is mentioned in Hebrews 7:11? That priesthood is introduced in this letter in Hebrews 5:6. According to the prophecy of Psalm 110:1-4, the Messiah was to be a priest after the order of Melchizedek. In the book of Hebrews, Jesus is the one who is pictured as the high priest of Christians and a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Prophecy made, prophecy fulfilled. But, wait a minute: Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, not the tribe of Levi (Hebrews 7:14). That being true, how can He function as our priest? Answer: Per God’s decree, the priesthood has been changed. That is, the priesthood which is in force has been changed. That leads to the important conclusion which the Holy Spirit spelled out for the Christians to whom the book of Hebrews was addressed:
“There is also a change of the law” – That does not mean that the message of a particular law itself was changed. Rather, it means that, per God’s plan, there was a change in which law is in force. The law of Moses was a covenant between Jehovah and the nation of Israel (Deuteronomy 5:1-3). It was God’s will for the old law to be a temporary law, serving to bring the Israelites to the Christ (Galatians 3:23,24). Jesus took that law out of the way in order to establish His new covenant (Hebrews 10:9). In the language of Ephesians 2:15, Jesus abolished the old law, meaning that it was no longer in force.
The old law/law of Moses came from God, so it was a good law (Romans 7:12). It was in force for about 1500 years. It fulfilled its purpose. Then what? God said since the priesthood changed, then the law changed, too. Anyone today who continues to attempt to follow the old law is following a system of instruction that no longer is in force. Do not miss the powerful point of Hebrews 7:12: if the priesthood has changed, so has the law.
“Of necessity” – Someone decided that this logic applies: if the priesthood has changed, then the law must change, too. Whose reasoning is that? The Lord’s. That has to count for something, correct?! Why was it necessary to change the law? Because God said so. Trying to be joined to two laws at the same time would be a form of spiritual adultery. For Christians to be married to the Christ, they must be dead to the old law (Romans 7:4). The law of Moses served its purpose, but it was not suitable for the spiritual kingdom over which Jesus reigns through “the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). If God said the plan governing which law is to be in effect had to change, then that change cannot be brushed aside.
A person recently told me that for God to take away the old law and put in its place a new system “is rude.” Not rude at all, friend. It is God’s wisdom at work and God’s love on display. Thank God for them!
— Roger D. Campbell