“And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest: (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:)” (Hebrews 7:20–21, KJV 1900)
In 1974, I received a commission to serve as an officer in the United States Army. In receiving the commission, I gave an oath of office. It went like this, “I ___, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
An oath is a solemn calling upon God as a witness to the truth of what one says. In my entrance to the military, I corroborated my promise by an oath of office. The author now makes a point to show that Jesus’ appointment to the position of high priest after the order of Melchizedek was made by an oath. However, unlike the oath I made upon receiving my commission, the Lord God, Himself, appointed Jesus with an oath.
He brings out some important points. First, the Levites were not made priests by an oath. In that God did not give an oath to Aaron that his priesthood would be eternal. It was in fact temporary. On the contrary, Jesus’ appointment was with an oath, as the author quoted Psalm 110:4, “The Lord sware . . . ‘Thou art a priest for ever.’” Second, again quoting David, this solemn oath will stand forever for the Lord God “will not repent,” In other words God will not change His mind. The eternal priesthood to which Jesus has been appointed will never end.
So, why is this so important? The author’s audience needed this point reinforced because they likely would never have anticipated the cessation of the priesthood after the order of Aaron. At the time of this letter to the Jews, the Temple, the Levitical priesthood, and the sacrificial system under the Law were still in full use. The most important thing they needed to grasp was that this made Jesus a guarantor of a better covenant.
It is not that the Old Covenant was bad, but the New Covenant is better. Jesus mediates the New Covenant, which is permanent and eternal. This is something that the priests after the order of Aaron could not do because their ministry was temporary and needed to be repeated. God’s solemn oath that Jesus is “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” guarantees us that our eternal salvation is secure.