In the last three chapters of the book of Hebrews the author has demonstrated how Jesus, as High Priest, was superior to the Aaronic line of high priests in Judaism. The idea was that formerly, under the Mosaic system, the hope of the Jewish people was based on the fact that their priests could go before God and intervene on their behalf (give thanks, appeal for forgiveness, offer praise, etc.).
The author makes the argument that Christians have a better hope because they have a better "type" of high priest in Jesus. He explains that Jesus is in the mold and character of a different kind of high priest; not like Aaron who died and needed a continued lineage to carry on his work; but like Melchizedek who was an "eternal" type and figure in the Old Testament. In this chapter, therefore, the author will elaborate on the person of Melchizedek and Jesus' relationship to him. Keep in mind that the author has explained to his readers that these ideas and teachings were the "meat" of the word, not "milk," meaning that these ideas were part of the more mature teachings about Christianity and not for the immature.
Background of Melchizedek - Hebrews 7:1-28
Before we look at Jesus' relationship to Melchizedek we need to review the passage that refers to this person.
11Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food supply, and departed. 12And they also took Lot, Abram's nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom.
- Genesis 14:11-12
There was a local war between rival kings where Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, lived (Genesis 14:1-10). Lot, Abraham's nephew, was taken prisoner in battle.
13Then a fugitive came and told Abram the Hebrew. Now he was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner, and these were allies with Abram. 14and when Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. 16And he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the people.
17Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). 18And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. 19And he blessed him and said,
"Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
20and blessed by God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand."
and he gave him a tenth of all.
- Genesis 14:13-20
Abraham defeats the attackers and saves his nephew, Lot, and family. Melchizedek, one of the local kings, blesses Abraham and receives from him one tenth of the spoils taken in battle as tribute. Now, nothing is ever mentioned of Melchizedek's family, genealogy, work or death. He appears only here and not seen again. (Mentioned in Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 7:1-ff). Briefly, this is what we know about him:
- He was king of Salem (Jerusalem).
- He used the same word for God that Abraham used: God Most High (Jehovah).
- He is referred to as a "Priest of God Most High" by Moses, the writer of Genesis.
- He takes the initiative to bless Abraham, and Abraham receives the blessing.
- He spoke the Word (prophesied).
- He received tithes from Abraham.
It is important to remember that all of this was done long before (400-500 years) Moses had given the Law to the Jews and instituted the sacrificial system.
Melchizedek and Jesus - Hebrews 7:1-10
The author here reviews who Melchizedek was in relationship to Christ.
1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. 3 Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.
He provides a brief review of events from Genesis 14:18-20. He gives the meaning of Melchizedek's name (my king is righteous). Salem is Jerusalem geographically but the word means "peace." The author focuses on the fact that nothing of his genealogy is mentioned and emphasizes that this is significant. He is suggesting, with these opening statements, that Melchizedek was a "type" or preview of the Messiah-King that would ultimately come. This is demonstrated by:
- His name - my king is righteous
- His position - both king and priest
- His work - the blessing of Abraham
- His genealogy - endless, no mention of father, no death recorded
Melchizedek was a preview of Jesus, in that he appeared in history as a type that would embody the qualities possessed by the Messiah when He would finally appear. He was a model to demonstrate what to look for when the real thing appeared.
4 Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. 5 And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest's office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. 6 But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises. 7 But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. 8 In this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. 9 And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.
He demonstrates Melchizedek's greatness in comparison to Levi (the source of the priestly line) by showing that:
- The greater gives the blessings and receives the tithes.
- As the patriarch through whom the Levitical priesthood came, Abraham was the father of all the Aaronic priests.
- In their meeting it was Abraham who paid tithes to Melchizedek and, in a way, so did all of his descendants, including Aaron and the Levitical priests after him.
When comparing the Levitical priesthood to Melchizedek we see:
- Melchizedek blessed the father of the Levites, the one who had the promises. The significance of this was that the superior individual was the one who offered the blessing, and the inferior (because of age or position) received the blessing.
- Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham who gave voluntarily (not like his descendants, the Levites, who collected the tithes as a requirement of the Law). The significance of this was that Melchizedek's greatness and position was not derived from the Law and was recognized by Abraham, the father of those who gave and administered the Law.
- Melchizedek's priesthood was of an eternal nature. As a man, he died, but by not recording his genealogy or death, Scripture symbolized that his ministry was of an eternal nature. The Levitical priesthood, on the other hand, kept careful genealogical records. This demonstrated that theirs was a temporary ministry continually interrupted by death and succession from one generation to another.
The author is going to great lengths to show that there are two types of priesthood.
- One, embodied by Aaron, that served the Jews throughout the Old Testament period preparing them for the arrival of the Messiah. It was temporary, earthly and under Law.
- The other, embodied by Melchizedek, served as a type pointing to Christ. It was eternal, heavenly, righteous and not under Law.
The conclusion was that the priesthood previewed by Melchizedek was greater. He summarizes his case:
11 Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.
If perfection (salvation, a true relationship with God, a clear conscience) could be achieved through the Levitical sacrificial priestly system (and the Law upon which it was based), then there was no need to change. On the other hand, if perfection was not through Aaron, then a change to another type of priest and system was needed (because if the Aaronic line goes, so does the system of Law upon which it is based).
13 For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests.
He admits that as far as Jesus is concerned, He could have never served as a Jewish high priest since the Law clearly taught that only the descendants of Levi could serve in this capacity, and Jesus was descended from the tribe of Judah.
15 And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is attested of Him,
"You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek."
The author shows that Jesus isn't trying to be an Aaronic priest, He is a priest after another type, the type embodied by Melchizedek, a type whose features were different than Aaron's priesthood. These differences were seen in its eternal nature. Not a priesthood that was earthly or perishable like Aaron's. He quotes Psalm 110 to show that Jesus' priesthood was based on the power of indestructible life, not Law as Aaron's was, and this feature was spoken of by David long before.
18 For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.
The result of this change of priesthood from the Aaronic type to the Melchizedek type is that the basis of each is changed also; Aaron based on Law, Melchizedek based on the power of eternal life. The result is that there will be a different outcome.
The Law (and its priesthood) could not resurrect men, clear consciences or draw men nearer to God. It could only remind them of sin and death. However, Jesus could accomplish all of these and thus He, as our High Priest, replaced the Law of sin and death as the basis for priesthood with the power of life and freedom as the basis for priesthood, clearly demonstrated by His miraculous ministry and resurrection.
20 And inasmuch as it was not without an oath 21 (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him,
"The Lord has sworn
And will not change His mind,
'You are a priest forever'");
22 so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.
In addition to this power, His followers have the guarantee of salvation because God has sworn that Jesus will accomplish all of this as High Priest forever. Old Testament high priests did not have God or themselves taking any oaths, but Jesus is in His place as High Priest based on divine power and an oath from God.
23 The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, 24 but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. 25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
The important feature of Jesus' eternal priesthood is that He is always and will always be there to make intercession for those who believe in Him and come to God through Him. The Levitical priesthood had highs and lows. It was scattered during times of persecution. It suffered lapses in commitment and service caused by sinfulness, but the priesthood of Christ is steadily interceding for the saints every day - forever. It is the reason why sinful men can have eternal life. Eternal life is now possible because an eternal priest intercedes eternally for them (something the Levitical priesthood could not do and never claimed to do).
The writer makes a final comparison and review of the facts with a hook or bridge to the next section.
26 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens;
When comparing the two it becomes evident that Jesus is exactly the kind of high priest that we (they) needed.
- Holy - separate unto God
- Separate from sinners
- Exalted - with God in heaven
This is the kind of high priest we really need to act on our behalf, and Jesus is like this.
27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.
Here he introduces the idea that Christ offered Himself as sacrifice (hook to next section). Sinful men offered countless dead animals as sacrifice for sin, but our High Priest offered His own perfect life once, for all time, to atone for all sin. The important point here is that this was possible because Jesus did not have to offer sacrifice for His own sins first as the Levitical priests did. He had only one life and because it was sinless, He could offer it for others; because it was eternal, it covered sins from the beginning to the end of time.
28 For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.
A final comment on the difference between the two. The Law (given by Moses) established the Aaronic priesthood and sacrificial system. It was temporary, and not meant to save but to remind and prepare. It was served by weak and sinful men. God's Word, confirmed by an oath, later revealed the priesthood of Christ, as seen in Melchizedek, spoken of by David and fulfilled by Jesus. The author's unspoken conclusion asks his readers, "Do you really want to abandon this effective, eternal high priest for the former sinful and temporal ones?"
The author gives details concerning Melchizedek who was a type or model for the kind of high priest needed by men to complete their salvation, and he demonstrates how Jesus fulfills this type (righteous - without sin / eternal - without death).
He introduces two new ideas and changes:
- If the priesthood changes, so does its base. Aaronic priesthood based on Law - Melchizedek priesthood based on the power of life.
- The nature of the sacrifice. Aaronic priesthood offered animals and produce - Melchizedek priesthood offered the life of the high priest.
These ideas are introduced to form a bridge to the next section where the actual system of law and sacrifice will be examined.
This exhortation was meant to encourage these Jewish Christians to continue trusting in Jesus for salvation because He was a better high priest than Aaron. None of us today are in danger of returning to the Aaronic priesthood for salvation, so how does this encouragement apply to us? The issue we share with these first century Christians is the sense of sin and the fear of judgment we often experience. They were tempted to find someone else to guarantee their salvation. We also have our periods of doubt and fear. The message of Hebrews is clear, even for the modern reader, Jesus is always there for you!
25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
Don't ever let sin and failure of any kind discourage you because Jesus always intercedes on your behalf with the Father.