A Change in the Law

For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well” (Heb. 7:12).

- Hebrews 7:11–12

Thus far, we have seen that Melchizedek is superior to Abraham because Abraham received blessing from him (7:6–7). Melchizedek is also superior to Levi because Levi paid tithes to him through Abraham (7:8–9). Because Christ serves as the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, He is also superior to these two men.

We have seen that because Melchizedek is superior to Levi, his priesthood and, consequently, the priesthood of Christ, is far superior to the Levitical priesthood. And since His priesthood is superior, the whole of the new covenant is superior to the old covenant as well.

We see the beginnings of this idea in 7:11–12. We are told in verse 11 that if perfection was attainable under the Levitical priesthood, there would be no need for Jesus to come as a priest in the order of Melchizedek. Perfection, we see here, was the goal of the Law. This idea is found in the law itself. For example, Leviticus 11:44 tells us that we must be holy just as God is holy. God is perfect, without any blemish, and so to be holy as He is holy, we too must be perfect.

The guidelines of the Law tell us how our perfection is to be accomplished. However, the Law is not able to make us perfect. The existence of a sacrificial system demonstrates this to be the case. In effect, God gave the Law saying “you must follow all these things in order to be perfect, but since I know that you cannot follow the Law, I will mercifully accept sacrifices in order that you might be forgiven.”

The Levitical priesthood, and its attendant sacrifices, was meant to be a temporary fix to the problem because the Law in itself does not empower us to be perfect. It was a temporary solution that prefigured the ultimate solution — that of the perfect priest in the order of Melchizedek who will sanctify us once and for all.

When the change in priesthood occurred with Christ (v. 12), there also came a change in the Law. This is self-evident because there is no law without priesthood and no priesthood without law. The change is that the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices are set aside, not that all the demands of the Law are abrogated. The people of God were not justified by the Law and had to depend on God for their salvation. But while the old covenant could only look forward to God’s provision for our justification, it is a present reality under the new covenant.

Coram Deo

God’s righteous requirements are found in the Law. But this Law was given all the while knowing that man could never fulfill it on his own. The Law points us to Christ who alone could perform all that the Law requires. Remember that your salvation rests not on your ability to keep the Law but on the fact that Christ kept it for you.

Passages for Further Study

Lev. 16
Deut. 31:24–29
Gal. 3:15–29
1 Tim. 1:8

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343