Forever: Thoughts on Christ’s Priesthood

March 3, 2020
Rick Morse

Inasmuch as Hebrews draws numerous comparisons between the priesthood of Aaron and that of Christ, numerous questions arise from these comparisons. As an immoveable principle, one must always endeavor to neither go beyond nor fall short of what God has revealed.

One question which comes up is this: Will Christ’s priesthood continue after the rapture? Will there even be a need for a great High Priest in the same manner which our Lord currently functions? We could perhaps address the issue by attempting to answer the following two questions: what are the functions attached to Christ’s priesthood and will any of these functions continue after the rapture?

If the answer to the second question is “yes,” then it will be apparent that Christ’s priesthood will still be needed. Before we go further, some preliminary textual analysis will assist us. After that, we will look at several passages which refer to a priesthood in existence after the rapture. And finally, we will look at several levels of comparison between the Old Covenant and the New.

Five Verses in Hebrews 7

Hebrews 7:3

Here it says, “Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.”

We would not suppose for a moment that Melchisedec did not have a mother or father, or ancestors, or experience death. Yet the fact that these events are not recorded, provides us with a vignette of a Priest-King who steps into the Genesis 14 narrative suddenly, and then leaves it just as quickly. The Holy Spirit then uses this account to depict the priesthood of our Lord, also having no beginning nor end. The key phrase for our purposes is contained in the final four words, “abideth a priest continually.” The word “abideth” is the Greek “meno”, here rendered in the present, active indicative. This construct denotes a state of existence or condition. G. R. Berry’s Interlinear New Testament translates “abides a priest in perpetuity” and Young’s Literal Translation “doth remain a priest continually.”

It is clear that the original text indicates that not only does our Lord Jesus Christ abide continually, but His priesthood also abides continually. There is no indication in the text that there is a defined period to this office.

Hebrews 7:17

Here we read, “For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.”

The phrase “for ever” (eis ton aiona) indeed has varying shades of meaning throughout the New Testament. The word “aion” on its own can sometimes refer to a defined age, and is the Greek word from which our English “eon” is derived. Here is where the context serves to shape the exact meaning, as happens with many terms in many languages.

The plain literal sense which one derives from the words as they read them is always to be favored.  The best translations follow a literal method of translation, taking great pains to convey exactly what the original says. When the context of “eis ton aiona” was so clear that a defined age was intended, they typically render the phrase “end of the world” (Matt 13:39, 49; 24:3; 28:20) However, the primary meaning of this phrase is captured in these select verses, where it is translated “for ever.”: 

“For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” (Matt. 6:13). 

“I am the living bread which came down from Heaven; if any man eat of this Bread, he shall live for ever…” (John 6:51). “To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever” (Rom. 16:27). 

“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and for ever” (Heb. 13:8). 

“And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” (1 John 2:17)

In these examples, translating “eis ton aiona” as “to the end of the world” or “to the end of the age” would be either contextually or doctrinally incorrect. Unless the context or fundamental doctrine clearly indicates otherwise, the plain sense is to be the common sense one would take from reading the words. This is sometimes called “The Golden Rule of Interpretation.” In reference to the duration of Christ’s Priesthood, the contextual and doctrinal setting must preside.

Hebrews 7:21

It says, “The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.”

This is the same phrase repeated from Hebrews 7:17, which is quoted from Psalm 110:4. The Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament (LXX) uses the same construct as in the verses quoted above, that is “eis ton aiona.” The LXX translation was rendered from the Hebrew word “owlam” (transliteration), which the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon defines as “forever, always, continuous existence, perpetual, everlasting, indefinite or unending future, eternity.” One cannot help but be impressed with the level of detail and accuracy employed, obvious indicators that God Himself presided over this work.

Hebrews 7:24

Here we read, “But this Man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.”

The phrase “because He continueth ever” is stated as the primary fact which establishes the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over that of Aaron’s. The key word found 13 times in Hebrews is “better.” Summarily put, the Christian enjoys better blessings and better promises, because we have been brought into a better covenant, established upon better promises, made by a better Priest, Who offered up a better sacrifice. What could be better?

This verse states several important facts, dealing with our Lord’s perfect Manhood, His eternal existence, and His unchangeable priesthood. His Manhood is essential to His priesthood, as every other high priest was also taken from amongst men (Heb. 5:1). His firsthand experience of being human gives us the confidence that He has both the empathy (Heb. 4:15) and the capacity (Heb. 5:2) to identify with our state.

His eternal existence is also brought to bear on His priesthood, as this testifies of His priesthood never needing to be changed. Here we have—in the original—the identical phrase found in 7:17, 7:21, etc., being “eis ton aiona.” Here it is simply rendered “ever”, following the words “menein auton” which is translated “abiding”, or could be more properly “His abiding.” Because this obviously refers to His eternal existence, His priesthood is “aparabatos,” or unable to be passed on to a successor. The continuous thought is obvious, in that He will have no priestly successor because He will always be the great High Priest.

Hebrews 7:25

Finally, “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”

Again, this verse contains a number of crucial points concerning the priesthood of Christ, well worthy of consideration. Only He saves (Acts 4:12), because only He is able. Furthermore, the salvation He provides is a not a temporary deliverance, as the word “uttermost” in the original conveys that His salvation is perfect and utterly complete. He is then depicted to us in His mediatorial glory, which is again a function of priesthood. And finally, we learn of His intercessory work, enabled because “He is always living to intercede for them” (Berry’s Interlinear rendering).

We typically think of intercession as making a request on someone else’s behalf. While this is true, it only speaks to a small portion of what the original word “entugchano” encompasses. The lexicon expands upon this word as “to light upon a person or thing; to go to meet a person, especially for the purpose of conversation, consultation, or supplication.” It is translated “have dealt with” in Acts 25:24, and encompasses the notion of communion with it. Among other things, this priestly work of intercession will never cease.