With Jesus as our High Priest, we have a better hope, and are living in a better covenant. It is not that the “old” covenant has passed away – Paul taught us that a covenant enacted later cannot nullify a covenant which was ratified earlier (Gal 3:17). In our better covenant, instead of the blood of bulls and goats needing to be offered daily to atone for sins, the blood of Messiah Yeshua was offered once for all to atone for sins (Heb 7:27). In our better covenant, instead of the Law of God being written without us on tablets of stone, that same Law is written within us by the power of the Holy Spirit, on the tablets of our hearts (Jer 31:33). Now we are not compelled to obedience from without, out of fear or some other motive; now our own heart compels us to obedience from within, out of love for God.
When the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood” (Heb 7:11), what is he talking about?
The purpose of the Levitical priesthood was to attend to the sanctuary. The purpose of the sanctuary, was so that God could dwell among Israel, even with Israel’s imperfections. The Levitical priesthood offered sacrifices for sins, to make atonement for the imperfections of the children of Israel. Aaron was charged to do the work of his priesthood, that no more wrath come upon Israel (Num 18:5).
However, the Levitical priesthood did not erase Israel’s imperfections. It did not make perfect. But through them, atonement was made for Israel’s imperfections, that no more wrath came upon Israel. So the Law concerning the priesthood and the sacrifices made nothing perfect. Obedience to the Law did not make perfect – it does not solve man’s fundamental problem of the sin nature.
However, making perfect, salvation, setting a person in right standing before God, was never the Law’s purpose, and I believe there was a misunderstanding about this ingrained into the Hebraic pysche and culture of Jesus’ day. You can see this misunderstanding manifest in Jesus’ clashes with the Pharisees, and Paul’s subsequent clashes with the circumcision party. The misunderstanding was that salvation can be obtained by obedience to the Law. They believed perfect obedience perfected, or made one perfect before God.
As we have seen over and over in Paul’s epistles, justification, right- standing, or salvation cannot be obtained by obedience. Salvation is a free gift of grace, not something that we earn or deserve. The Levitical priesthood cannot perfect, for the Law made nothing perfect.
However, just because obedience to the Law does not save a man, this does not mean obedience to the Law has passed away and is without a purpose. Moses was very clear to explain the purpose of obedience all through Deuteronomy, the book in which he undertook to explain this Torah (Deu 1:5).
Continued in hebrews 8, is the old covenant obsolete?