The Epistle To the Hebrews, Part 5
Having made reference to Jesus as a priest
in the order of Melchizedek, (Hebr. 5:10 & 6:26)
the author now explains how this connection
came to be and why His priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood of the
Old Covenant. Think of chapter 7 as
a commentary on Genesis 14.
After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the
kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of
Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). Then
Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most
High, and he
blessed Abram, saying,
"Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.
And blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand."
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Gen.14:17-20)
By the way there are two things to be aware of here.
First, the NIV has God's name reversed in this passage.
It's usually rendered “The Most High God”.
Also the Hebrew text has a different word for Creator than is normally
used, one which more accurately means possessor, as in the King James
translation. Some believe
this is a clue to the meaning of Satan's boast in Isaiah 14:14 and his
actions in the Garden. He said,
“I will be like the Most High” using the same name for God that's used in
Genesis 14. But he knew he
couldn't be Earth's Creator, so he set his sights on another one of God's
titles. He would possess the Earth
instead, by any means fair or foul. According to Luke 4:5-6 and 1 John
5:19 he succeeded, at least for now. Now for chapter 7.
Melchizedek the Priest
This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God
Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed
him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means "king of
righteousness"; then also, "king of Salem" means "king of peace." Without father
or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the
Son of God he remains a priest forever. (Hebr. 7:1-3)
Salem comes from the Hebrew word shalom which
means peace. The city of Salem
would later be called Jerusalem.
Some think that Melchizedek was a title rather than a person's name because of
its meaning and that the person being referenced was Shem, the son of Noah.
This was theoretically possible because Shem was the father of all the
Semitic people and actually outlived Abraham.
In fact Noah didn't die until 300 years after the Flood when Abraham was
50 years old. Shem would have been
highly revered, being the patriarch of the Middle East and the last pre-flood
man on Earth. Can you imagine the
stories he could tell?
But I think the writer is presenting Melchizedek as a model of
the Lord because he describes him as having no genealogy, no birth and no death.
He can legitimately do this because where Melchizedek is concerned the Bible is
silent on these matters. When the
Holy Spirit gave the text of Genesis 14:17-20 to Moses, he structured it
to allow this writer to make his point. So it's proper to see Melchizedek in
Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham
gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi
who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, their
brothers—even though their brothers are descended from Abraham. This man,
however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from
Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser
person is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by men
who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might
even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham,
because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his
ancestor. (Hebr. 7:4-10)
This is a particularly Jewish point of reference.
They have a saying that if you kill a man you've murdered a nation
because all of a man's descendants are present in the man whose life you've
taken. The Jews thought of Abraham
as their father and rightly so. And that made Levi, Abraham's great grand son,
present when Abraham paid his tithe to Melchizedek and received a blessing from
him. Both acts
place Abraham in a subordinate role to Melchizedek, making Levi a
subordinate as well. This alone
makes the priesthood of Melchizedek superior to the Levitical priesthood.
But there's more.
Jesus Like Melchizedek
If perfection could have been attained through the
Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people),
why was there still need for another priest to come—one in the order of
Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?
For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change
of the law. He of whom these things
are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever
served at the altar. For it is
clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said
nothing about priests. (Hebr. 7:11-14)
While Melchizedek was both priest and king, the Law of
Moses required a separation between the two.
The Kings were from Judah and the priests were from Levi through Aaron.
Jesus could be the King of Israel but he could not serve as a Levitical
priest. An earlier King of Judah
had learned a bitter and painful lesson in this regard.
Uzziah was a powerful king who had ascended to the throne of David at
only 16 years of age. But his
success brought pride and caused his downfall.
Ignoring the warnings of the High Priest and 80 other priests, he
attempted to burn incense at the altar in the Temple just outside the Holy of
Holies. This angered the
Lord who afflicted him with leprosy which tormented him to his dying day. His
son Jotham ruled in his place. (2 Chron. 26:16-21)
A new priesthood required a change in the Law.
The prophet Zechariah had this in mind when he wrote:
Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Here is
the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and
build the temple of the LORD. It is
he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty
and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And
there will be harmony between the two.' (Zech 6:12-13)
He was referring to the Messiah who would be both King and
Priest. This is one of four passages where the word Branch refers to the
Messiah. Each contains one of the
roles in His fourfold Mission. In
Jeremiah 23:5 He's the King.
In Zechariah 3:8 the Branch is God's servant.
In Zech. 6:12 He's the Man, and
in Isaiah 4:2 He's God.
By the way, each of the four gospels emphasizes one of
these roles. Matthew presents Jesus
as the Messiah, the king of Israel, and traces His genealogy from Abraham
through David and Solomon, the royal line.
Mark depicts Jesus as the suffering servant and as you'd expect with a
servant does not mention a genealogy.
In Luke Jesus is the Son of Man with a genealogy that goes clear back to
Adam. John wrote to show us Jesus
as the Son of God with the most remarkable genealogy of all.
He was with God in the beginning and has been God from the beginning.
And what we have said is even more clear if another priest
like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a
regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible
life. For it is declared:
"You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek."
[Psalm 110:4] (Hebr. 7:15-17)
Having been able to present Melchizedek as one who lives
forever, the writer can now close the loop by showing Jesus to have been
appointed to the priesthood of Melchizedek on the basis of his own
The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and
useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by
which we draw near to God. And it was not without an oath! Others became priests
without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:
"The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: 'You are a priest forever.' "
Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. (Hebr.
The law wasn't given to help us bring ourselves to perfection
but to demonstrate our need for someone who could do it for us. (Romans 3:20)
Levitical priests inherited their office, but God swore to make Jesus our
priest forever. Since the High
Priest was the guarantor of Israel's covenant, their fate was linked to his
acceptability to God. Our High
Priest is God's own Son, with whom He is well pleased. (Matt. 17:5)
How much more certain of God's favor are we?
Now there have been many of those priests, since death
prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he
has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who
come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (Hebr.
It was the High Priest's job to intercede with God for the
people. The Levitical priests
couldn't secure eternal life for themselves let alone for others.
But now comes a Priest who lives forever.
Therefore He's literally always available to meet our needs, saving us to
the uttermost. The word permanent
means unchangeable and non-transferable.
No new set of laws is going to come along and undo what our priest has
done for us. The Lord swore an oath
Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy,
blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the
other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first
for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their
sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests
men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who
has been made perfect forever. (Hebr. 7:26-28)
The Levitical priests were all hopeless sinners who had to
offer sacrifices for their own sins first before they could attend to the needs
of the people. But our High Priest
is sinless, and doesn't offer an endless succession of bulls or goats who can
never atone for our sins. No, He
offered His own blood, once for all time.
He's not only our High Priest, He became our perfect sacrifice. God has
accepted His sacrifice as sufficient in itself for our redemption.
As soon as we apply it in faith, the work of our salvation is finished
forever and we enter into our life long Sabbath rest.
Truly this Priest of the Order of Melchizedek is superior to any
In our next session we'll continue in this vein showing how
the Levitical priesthood was a copy of the priesthood of Melchizedek and served
in a copy of the sanctuary that is in Heaven.
Why would anyone go back to the copy when the original has come?
See you then. 12-01-07