The passage at hand falls in the middle of the sermon to the Hebrews. Chapter seven starts with the author discussing the priesthood of Melchizedek referencing Genesis 14:17-20 when Abraham encountered the priest/king of Salem (Jerusalem). The author of Hebrews points out that Melchizedek had no lineage (instead of the Levitical line of priests, which were dependent on that family line).
With this context in mind, the passage at hand dives further into comparing the Levitical and Melchizedekian priesthoods. Vs. 11 starts with a rhetorical question that sets up the theme of the passage. The question pits the Levitical priesthood and the Law (Torah) against the Melchizedek priesthood The keywords in this passage, priest (ἱερεύς) and priesthood (ἱερωσύνη). In this passage, it is essential to remember and the Law and the priesthood are not separate entities but intimately tied together; the Law cannot operate without the priest. (Morris, 66). The Jewish Jesus followers reading and hearing this passage would have understood the concept of the priest. The Levitical priests and the Law pointed to an eventual perfection, but the works of the priests could not bring that perfection about (Wright, 75).
The priest, in the Jewish mind, would have been the intermediary between God and humanity. He stood in the presence of God and made the atonement for sin. However, these actions were incomplete because humanity (including the priests themselves) continued in their sin after having their sins atoned. The author claims that there is a need for a new priesthood (vss. 15-16). What is needed is a forever priest, as the author quotes Psalm 110:4b.
On the one hand, the author contrasts the Law is annulled because it was “weak and unprofitable” (CSB). On the other hand, a “better hope is introduced which allows us (all people) to draw near to God” (vs. 19 CSB). “Although the Law performed a valuable function, its essential weakness was that it could not give life and vitality even to those who kept it, let alone to those who did not. Its function was not to provide strength, but to provide a standard by which man could measure his moral status.” (Guthrie, 166-167).
The Levitical priests needed the Law, and the priesthood of Melchizedek needs an eternal oath (Vss. 20-21), again referring to Psalm 110:4 in its entirety and referring to the unchangeability of God (Guthrie, 168). The conclusion then is that Jesus is the forever priest who will never fall and has been perfected (vs. 22) and that God can be worshiped outside of the Law (Jobes, 104).
As an application, we can use this passage as a reminder that the only Law we need to live up to is the Law of the Savior. Humanity, in its power, will always fall short of perfection. However, when we are in Christ, we are freed from that sin that ensnares us. We can resist sin, not on our own power, but with the power of Christ.
Guthrie, D. (1983). Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Hebrews: An Introduction and Commentary (Logos ed., Vol. 15). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Jobes, K. (2011). Letters to the Church: A Survey of Hebrews and the General Epistles (Kindle ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Morris, L. (1981). The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation (Logos ed., Vol. 12). (F. Gaebelein, Ed.) Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing.
Wright, T. (2004). Hebrews for Everyone (Logos ed.). London, UK: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.