The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. – Hebrews 7:23-24
There is a depth to these verses that is often missed. The basic truth is clear, under the old covenant, though there was only one high priest at a time, there had to be many of them because they were prevented from continuing in the office by death, but think about this a little deeper.
The priesthood under the old covenant was a wonderful picture or shadow of the reality that Christ would fulfill. Some people, including the original readers of the book of Hebrews were tempted to go back to the old system for several reasons, but one of the benefits was that it was tangible. You could see the sacrificed animal, you could smell the incense burning, and hear the priest make intercession for you. This was undoubtedly a comfort, but in this picture of our true salvation in Christ there was a gaping hole. The priests kept dying.
The role of the priest was to mediate between God and man, and they would illustrate atonement from sin, but the wages of sin is death and even the priests continued to die. If you are in desperate need of salvation and you understand that death is part of what you need to be saved from, how much hope could you receive from priests who continue to die? You could only gain hope if you understood that it typified something greater that God was going to provide.
Every one of us, unless Christ returns, is going to face death. Some of us may already be feeling its effects. We are unable to do many of the things we used to do, and the older we get the more illness and health issues we have to deal with. When death becomes more of a reality for us, to whom are we going to turn and place our hope? To priests who still die? Your own goodness or heath regimens? Since none of these have defeated the enemy of death, there must be something greater in which we can place our trust.
V. 24 But he [Jesus] holds His priesthood permanently. He will never stop being our high priest because he continues forever. He has defeated death, even after tasting it on our behalf! So when your body starts to break down, when your work hours begin to outlast your physical strength, when you begin to see the doctors more frequently, you will know you have the correct High Priest if he has defeated death and continues forever. No other priest will ever truly be able to mediate between God and man and make atonement for sin and its wages. Never shrink back from Christ, and never lean on any substitute, for Christ and Christ alone is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
For those who have faith, we have peace with God. He bore our wrath and His righteousness is accounted as ours so we can be co-heirs with Him, and since He lives forever, exalted with the Father, His work as our mediator is an ever present reality in the true tabernacle. In Christ, because of His priestly work, all of God’s actions toward you are grace, and none of it wrath. Even His chastening hand is moved by love.
Draw near to Christ today, approach the throne of grace with confidence, and if you are feeling the effects of a body tainted by sin, let it drive you to your Savior’s side, for all those who are in Christ will live with him forever. Though we are sown in weakness we will be raised in power, and though we are sown perishable we will be raise imperishable.