The Fittingness of Christ’s Priesthood
“It was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 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” (vv. 26–27).- Hebrews 7:26–28
We read much about the inadequacy of the Levitical priesthood in Hebrews 7, but this idea is not unique to the book of Hebrews. Romans 3:21–26, for instance, conveys the same idea, albeit more indirectly, by stressing that Jesus’ propitiation through His death on the cross is the true atonement, God having previously only passed over the sins of His people. That is, the old covenant sacrificial system did not actually provide what was needed to reconcile sinners to their triune Creator. It was a temporary order, pointing forward to Jesus’ atonement, which is the true wrath-averting sacrifice for sinners. John Calvin comments on Hebrews 7:26 that “there was no perfection in the Levitical priesthood; nor was it indeed in itself legitimate, unless it was subservient to that of Christ.”
Properly speaking, it is not exactly true that the Levitical system was inadequate. After all, it was never intended by God to finally solve the problem of transgression. Instead, the Levitical system—indeed, the entire Mosaic administration of the old covenant—was given to point us to Christ. It was adequate to point out the depth of our sin and our need for the perfect substitute, to be the guardian that would take us finally to Jesus, whose sacrifice alone is adequate—indeed, more than adequate—to save us.
Christ’s priesthood is, as today’s passage tells us, “fitting” for our needs. The idea here is that Christ’s priestly work gives us absolutely everything we need to be counted righteous before God and reconciled to our Maker. His priestly service does this because of the holiness of His person. Developing further the idea that Jesus was without sin (Heb. 4:15), the author of Hebrews notes that Jesus is “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners” (7:26). This separation from human sinners is not absolute, for Christ is truly human (2:5–18). The point, rather, is that Jesus is absolutely separated from sin, that He is human but not a human sinner. Hebrews 7:26, John Owen notes, teaches us that Jesus is in no way polluted by sin.
Thus, Jesus does not offer sacrifices daily for His own sin and for the sin of others as the Levitical priests did. He never sacrificed for His sin because He has none, and because He is perfect, His blood can cover our transgressions perfectly and the robe of His righteousness will clothe us forever. Because Jesus is perfect forever, God will regard us as perfect in Him forever (vv. 27–28; see Rom. 3:21–4:25).
The sinlessness of Christ is absolutely vital to our salvation, and it also sets Jesus apart from all other would-be “saviors.” We are not saying that Jesus is merely the most virtuous man who ever lived; we confess that He never broke God’s law and that at every point and at every moment, He kept it flawlessly on our behalf. Let us take care to remember the sinlessness of Christ as we share the gospel and as we meditate on His work.
Passages for Further Study
1 Peter 2:22