The Epistle To The Hebrews, Part 5
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
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 himself 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 Old Testament 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 this context.
“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 grandson, 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 indestructible life.
“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. 7:18-22)
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. 7:23-25)
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, and no one is ever going to replace Him as our High Priest. The Lord swore an oath on it! We’ve been saved completely and irrevocably.
“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 Levitical priest.
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.