Posts Tagged 'Melchizedek'

The Mystery of Melchizedek

He lived in the mists of antiquity. He was a king and a priest of God during a time when a great spiritual darkness shrouded the world; when mankind was worshiping gods created by the work of their hands and from the imaginations. The Bible describes Melchizedek as a priest without beginning and without end. He is mentioned very briefly only a couple of times in the Old Testament and discussed in one chapter in the New Testament. Yet he is important; he is such a key character in Scripture that he is compared to the Son of God.

Who was this enigmatic man? Where did he come from? Why is he so important? What can we learn from Melchizedek?

A brief encounter

We first read of Melchizedek in Genesis 14 –

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 praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:18 – 20 | TNIV)

And that’s it. Abram’s chance meeting with Melchizedek came about in an odd way. The patriarch’s scurrilous nephew, Lot, had moved into the thoroughly godless and wicked city of Sodom and became enmeshed in its political life. After a group of Eastern kings defeated Sodom, they took Lot and other citizens captive and it was up to Father Abraham to rescue Lot and the others. Though he was not a military man or a man of violence whatsoever, Abraham led a highly successful campaign and rescued his wayward, troublesome nephew and the others.

On his way home, he passed by Salem, or as it later became known, Jerusalem, where he met Melchizedek, paid him a tithe and was blessed by this strange priest.

But just who was Melchizedek? He was the ruler of Salem, which became Jerusalem. Salem was a city-state, not a country, and in the ancient Near East these city-states dotted the landscape and many of them were ruled over by men who were referred to as “king.” These were not countries or kingdoms, just very large, often influential cities. Many of these city-states were ruled by men who functioned as both a king and a priest. Religion was very important back then and while the Israelites would distinguish between a king and a priest – the king descending from the line of Judah through David and the priests coming from the line of Levi through Aaron – the two offices were usually mixed together among the cities and nations that surrounded ancient Israel. Interestingly, Sumerian cities of the time were ruled by the ensis, priests who claimed to be representatives of the gods themselves and the Egyptians were ruled by men who had supposedly close ties to the various deities they worshipped.

But Melchizedek is an anachronism. It is said that he was a priest of El Elyon, or “the most high God.” El Elyon was one of the names of the God Abram worshipped and he saw in this priest of Salem a kindred spirit. They worshipped the one true God. That’s an amazing thing that even during those days of widespread idolatry and idol worship there were those few who worshipped the one true God who were not part of Abram’s family.

A New Testament teaching

We don’t read anything else of substance about Melchizedek until the writer to the Hebrews brings him up in Hebrews 6 –

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:19, 20 | TNIV)

That Jesus has become a high priest forever isn’t news. Many verses in the New Testament teach this. But that phrase, “in the order of Melchizedek” is a baffler to be sure. To understand that phrase, we need to understand the nature of this letter written to Hebrew Christians.

The writer of this letter is unknown to us. Some think it was Paul; perhaps it was. Whoever it was, his (or her) purpose was to show these Hebrew Christians how superior Jesus Christ and their new faith based on His divine teachings were over their former religion, Judaism. The author wasn’t dissing Judaism, but rather showing his readers that Christianity was better; that Judaism was a thing of the past; that the New Covenant was in every way superior to the Old Covenant. This involved demonstrating the superiority of Jesus over the priests of that Old Covenant.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:14, 15 | TNIV)

The readers of this letter were apparently beginning to wander away from the teachings of the apostles and the truth of the Gospel, back into their old faith of Judaism. Part of the teachings of Judaism involved complete dependence upon the priests. To discourage a return to that, the writer to the Hebrews had to prove that Jesus Christ was a new and improved priest. Why go back to the old priest who didn’t empathize with the people and their problems when they could enjoy the ministry of the new Priest who had gone through everything they were going through? That new priest is Jesus Christ! Not only that, this new priest isn’t ministering in a temple here on earth, but He is in Heaven, ministering before God. You can’t do better than that!

In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. ” During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:5 – 10 | TNIV)

Furthermore, this new priest was appointed by God Himself! He didn’t become a priest because that’s what His father did and His grandfather did. God the Father made Jesus the Son the last priest man would ever need. That in itself makes Jesus superior to any priest that came before Him or was practicing in the days of the Hebrews.

Part of the argument the writer to the Hebrews used in proving the superiority of Jesus over any priest, was declaring that He was a priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” He took an obscure character from his ancient history to drive home the point that Jesus Christ was the last, best priest.

The greatness of Melchizedek

To prove the superiority of Jesus Christ, first the writer proves the greatness of Melchizedek. He already wrote that Jesus is a priest “like” Melchizedek, so it follows that he must show why he thought so highly of Melchizedek by rehashing the only thing anybody knows about him: His run in with Abram, or Abraham, the father of the Jewish faith. As far as the the writer to the Hebrews is concerned, Melchizedek was great and he himself was superior to any Jewish priest because the great patriarch paid him tithes and in return, Melchizedek blessed Abram. Further, there’s this observation:

Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever. (Hebrews 7:3 | TNIV)

That verse makes Melchizedek sound all mysterious and supernatural, but he wasn’t. That phrase, “without father or mother,” was used in Greek literature mostly of orphans whose parentage was unknown, or for illegitimate children, or in referencing people from the lower classes or from unimportant, or questionable families. All that is being said here of Melchizedek is that we have no record of his family or of his lineage and that his priesthood – not his life – was without beginning or end. In other words, there was simply no account of him ever becoming a priest nor of his retirement. To the Jew who was obsessed with the very strict Levitical law, it was not possible for anybody to serve as a priest if he didn’t have priestly parents. But – and here’s his point – Moses himself in the book of Genesis called Melchizedek “the priest of the most high God” even though the man himself had zero credentials! Melchizedek had no official pedigree. In that respect, Melchizedek was similar to the Son of God, who was without the normal priestly pedigree. You should have noticed something significant here: It is Melchizedek being compared to Christ, not the other way around. The great earthly priest Melchizedek is “like” the heavenly priest Jesus Christ in three ways which will be emphasized in the verses to come:

• Jesus Christ’s priesthood is not a Levitical one. It’s better.
• Jesus Christ’s order of priesthood is far superior to the Levitical order.
• Jesus Christ’s priesthood will last forever; it will never end.

The tithe

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, from their kindred—even though their kindred 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. (Hebrews 7:4 – 6 | TNIV)

That’s a powerful paragraph that most of us don’t see as being powerful. But had you been a Hebrew reading it, it would have knocked your socks off. What’s being said here is truly profound. The tithe was a requirement of the Law. It was not voluntary. Add to that the fact that Levi himself was a descendant of Abraham, the tithe then is seen as a “family matter.” But Melchizedek was a complete outsider; he was not entitled to collect anything from Abram, so paying homage to Melchizedek in the form of a tithe was a sign of subservience on the patriarch’s part. Or to put it another way, Levi (earthly priests) can’t claim to be great because the tithes paid them are, (1) a matter of Law, not voluntary; (2) part of a family obligation, that is, people paid priests the tithe and the priest was a always a relative.

The blessing

So Abram honored Melchizedek by voluntarily paying him a tithe, something he was in no way obligated to do. But Melchizedek turned around a blessed Abram. The Old Testament blessing was a huge deal, even though it may not be to us. The older, the wiser, the highly respected always blessed the younger, the lesser. The fact that Melchizedek blessed Abram showed that the priest of Salem was in a superior position to that of the patriarch. The one receiving the blessing was always in the inferior position to the one giving the blessing, and in receiving the blessing, Abram was essentially testifying that he needed it – that he was in need of a blessing.

In paying tithes, Abram was paying homage, which was a religious act, and in receiving Melchizedek’s blessing, he was willfully putting himself in the position of beneficiary. Both of these events showed Melchizedek’s superiority over Abram.

Greater than Levi

But what does Abram have to do with the priests of Levi? Levi wasn’t even born yet!

In the one case, the tenth is collected by those 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. (Hebrews 7:8 – 10 | TNIV)

How great was Melchizedek? Well, tithes are received by priests who will die. No earthly priest was eternal; they all died. The writer to the Hebrews isn’t saying that Melchizedek is eternal but that his memory is. That is, who remembers a priest after he has died? Sure, he collected the tithe during his years of service, but when he died another priest stepped in and the former priest was soon forgotten. That’s not the case with Melchizedek. Centuries after Abram paid tithes to him, he was still being talked about! It was as if he was eternal, in that sense. What’s more, Abram in paying tithes to Melchizedek was acting on behalf of all those who would descend from him, even Levi, from whom would come all the priests of Judaism. That’s quite an argument, bolstering the greatness of this man, Melchizedek.

Perfection finally in another Covenant

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. (Hebrews 7:11, 12 | TNIV)

The Jews firmly believed that their system of approaching God was as good as it gets. But the fact that another Priest came who was not of the Levitical priesthood proved that what they had was not all there was. A new Priest, not of Levi but of Judah, meant a change in the Law was necessary, hence the New Covenant. This new Priest, Jesus Christ, was appointed by God Himself, and He Himself sidestepped the rules of the Old Covenant, therefore His Priest would be administering this New, divinely given Covenant.

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. 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.” (Hebrews 7:13 – 17 | TNIV)

Beginning with the last verse first, the writer quotes from Psalm 110. The point of Psalm 110 is to give us some information about the Messiah, namely that the Messiah would be a Warrior King:

The Lord says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of your enemies.” Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy splendor, your young men will come to you like dew from the morning’s womb. (Psalm 110:1 – 3 | TNIV)

But, at the same time, the promised Messiah would also be a priest:

The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. “. (Psalm 110:4 | TNIV)

That verse is the climax of the whole psalm. God the Father has submitted Himself to an irrevocable oath that the Messiah is, or will be, a Priest. But – and here’s the big point – not a Levitical priest; He will be a “Melchizedek priest.”

That’s the whole emphasis of Hebrews 5 – 7: Jesus Christ is far superior to the ancient line of earthly priests. As royalty, He descended from the tribe of Judah:

For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. (Hebrews 7:14 | TNIV)

But as a priest, He did not come from Levi. He will be a priest like Melchizedek. This ancient priest was a priest of God yet he preceded Levi just as Christ is a Priest distinct from and superior to the Levites.

Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant. 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. (Hebrews 7:22 – 24 | TNIV)

You can see, I hope, how clever the writer to the Hebrews was. He took a historic person his readers would have been familiar with and used him as way to explain why Jesus Christ, the Messiah-Priest, is superior to the earthly priests they seemed to have been so loathe to give up.

We can also see how wonderfully the New Testament interprets and reveals the Old Testament, showing the relevance of obscure passages so that believers in the 21st century can see the integrity and majesty of God’s Word.

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JESUS CHRIST: EVERYTHING YOU NEED

Hebrews 4:14—16; 5:1—10; 7:1—8:6

The high priest was of singular importance in Jewish worship. Since Christians do not have an equivalent office, it is difficult to grasp the power of the comparison of Christ to the Jewish high priest. In a nutshell, the primary duty of the high priest was to represent the people before God and to represent God before the people. His was a position of mediator; teaching the people God’s Law and seeking God’s will for the people. Without a high priest, there could be no temple worship.

In Hebrews, we learn that Jesus Christ fulfilled the high priest’s duties flawlessly; so perfect and effective was His work that Jesus far surpassed any earthly high priest. The high priest of the Jewish faith wasn’t perfect; his work was not perfect. Jesus, though, is different. David Wilkerson captured this when he wrote:

Jesus is capable of bringing all the needs, pain, cries, and prayers of His people before the Father—at one time, at any time—and making intercession simultaneously for all of them. You Advocate knows your address. He has counted ever hair on your head. He knows your every thought, feels your every pain, hears your every cry.

1. Christ’s Eternal Priesthood, Hebrews 5:1—10

An understanding high priest, verses 1—3

Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.

A major purpose of this letter to the Hebrews was to show how superior Jesus Christ was to certain “heroes” of the Jewish faith. He was a Redeemer, Ruler, and Revealer of God far superior than was Moses. Jesus is also a high priest far superior to another Jewish hero, Aaron.

To establish Jesus’ qualifications to serve as a high priest, the writer of this letter stresses three well-known prerequisites for earthly high priests that Jesus, in fact, fulfilled:

  1. He was selected from men. Why is this so important as it relates to Jesus? It’s because only a man is able to completely empathize with another man. For example, a man cannot know what a dog is thinking and a dog cannot know what a man is thinking. Jesus isn’t so far above man that He is so far removed from us that He cannot relate to us! It’s clear that the Son of God was also the Son of Man; He can completely identify with the people He is interceding for.

  2. He represent men before God. Jesus, as One perfect man is able to represent all men before God.

  3. He offers gifts and sacrifices to atone for sins just as the earthly high priest did. The first term, “gifts,” refers to all offerings of the Jewish faith, bloodless or bloody. The second term, “sacrifices,” has a reference to the shed blood of the particular offering. How do these two things relate to Jesus? In theology, Jesus is said to have practiced both “active” and “passive” obedience. In His life, Christ obeyed His Father perfectly and never stepped outside of His will. This was Christ’s “active obedience.” But when Christ submitted to the bloody death on the Cross for the sins of all men, He demonstrated “passive obedience.”

But the high priest’s work also involved compassion; he had to be able to totally identify with the needs of the people. He didn’t side with the sinner against God, but he did have an understanding of human weakness and frailty. He was able to be like this because, as was stated previously, he came from the ranks of sinners, even though He Himself never sinned. How perfectly does Jesus meet this requirement? Our Lord knows that we are not perfect; He understands the weaknesses of human nature and He is able to, while not excusing our failings, at least represent them accurately before God in a reasonable way. Compassion does not equal tolerance, however. It simply guarantees that our sins will be dealt with with complete understanding, never in an over-the-top, heavy-handed manner, nor will they ignored. Thanks to Jesus’ perfect intercession on our behalf, God knows our hearts absolutely perfectly.

b. An ordained, suffering, perfected high priest, verses 4—10

No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

A high priest, according to the Jewish faith, had to be called of God. For just anybody to do the work of a high priest was a terrible and punishable offense, as King Saul found out the hard way. Personal choice didn’t figure into becoming a high priest; it all rested on a divine call.

Jesus, even though He was not of Aaron’s family line, as all high priests were to be, was nonetheless called and ordained of God, as noted by God Himself in Psalm 110:4. This would have been a very powerful argument in support of Jesus’ high priestly qualification. It was a big deal to the Jews, and it should be for us as well. God is totally sovereign and called and appointed His perfect Son to be our intercessor.

Our great High Priest “learned obedience” and was “made perfect.” What does that mean? Was Jesus lacking something? Not at all. While He was suffering on the Cross, our Lord could have called 10,000 angels to save Him. He had all the power of heaven available to Him, but Jesus exercised perfect discipline and submitted to His Father’s will. Discipline is a mark of sonship. Jesus executed His assigned duties and completed His mission perfectly, without error. That’s the sense of the use of the word “perfected,” that is, there was nothing left for Jesus to do.

2. Melchizedek, a type (example) of Christ, Hebrews 7:1—17)

This is a fascinating chapter and the character of Melchizedek has fascinated people for centuries. Who was this man, where did he come from, and why is Jesus like Him?

The only time Melchizedek is mentioned in the Bible is in Genesis 14, where he is referred to as the ruler of Salem, a city which would later become Jerusalem. In the ancient near east, cities were often ruled by men who were called “kings.” In the Jewish faith, which didn’t exist in Genesis 14, kings could not be priests, but Melchizedek is also referred to as a “priest.” So we see in this one man, Melchizedek, two offices or two duties: king and priest.

Melchizedek is also said to have been a priest of El Elyon, or “the most high God,” one of God’s names in the Old Testament. The really interesting thing about this is that we learn there were other people besides Abraham who knew of and worshipped the one true God! We aren’t told how these isolated people found God. Did He reveal Himself to the people of Salem?  The Bible is silent about this, but there is no doubt that Melchizedek was a true believer.

The name, Melchizedek, is given as a reason why he is a type or example of Christ. “Melchizedek” is, in fact, a compound name. “Melech” means “king” and “zedek” means “righteousness.” So, “Melchizedek” means “king of righteousness.”

But he was also the “melech” or king of Salem. “Salem” is a word related to the Hebrew “shalom” (or “salam” in the Arabic, a language not dissimilar to Hebrew) meaning “peace.” So the man who blessed Abraham was both a king of righteousness and a king of peace! This brings Psalm 85:10 to mind:

Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.

This is an ideal combination, and it is found in Christ. “Righteousness” is an attribute of God that means He is absolutely right in all His judgments, thoughts, opinions, and so on. It means that He treats human beings correctly. And “peace” is one of the names of the promised Messiah (Isaiah 9:6). No wonder the author of Hebrews sees parallels between Jesus and Melchizedek! But the similarities don’t end with their names or titles.

Genesis is a book full of genealogies; they are all over the place. Melchizedek, though, has no genealogy. All this means is that for some reason Moses, author of Genesis, was unable to trace Melchizedek’s family line. We shouldn’t read any more into it than that. But the writer to the Hebrews notes that that didn’t stop Melchizedek from becoming a priest! His priesthood was not inherited from his father or grandfather. What was true of Melchizedek symbolically—he is without beginning of days or end of life—is true of Jesus in the literal sense! In other words, Jesus’ priestly office had nothing to do with His family or lack of family. He was a priest independent of anything but the call of God.

Consider how powerful this group of verses would have been to these first century Hebrew Christians:

For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priest. 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.” (verses 14—17)

Jesus could trace His earthly ancestry through the tribe of Judah; therefore in the strictest sense He could not have been a priest for priests had to come from the tribe of Levi. Here’s the powerful part: although priests did not descend from Levi, kings did! So Jesus Christ came to Israel, called and ordained of God as a priest, yet born of the tribe kings came from. Jesus, then, like Melchizedek before Him, was a priest because God called Him to be not because of a law. Furthermore, also like Melchizedek, Jesus was a king, or more accurately, He will be THE King of Kings.

What does this tell us? It teaches in no uncertain terms that the priesthood of Christ was not the result of man’s ideas or traditions but a result of God’s calling in eternity past. This makes Christ’s priesthood as endless as eternity itself. Christ’s priesthood and His work on behalf of sinners, then, operates way, way beyond the Law.

3. Christ’s priestly ministry, Hebrews 4:14—16

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

The emphasis on this paragraph is that Christians have a High Priest just as the Hebrews did. It may have been that some of the readers of this letter missed the ministry of their high priest, believing that ministry to have been unique to Judaism. Not so, wrote the writer of this letter. In fact, Christ is the High Priest of all Christians! We all need an intercessor; we all need help. This was something Job understood well:

If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both… Job 9:33)

We have, in Christ, what Job longed for but didn’t have! That is, somebody to come and bring two sides together in peace.   Christ is that mediator; He is the One through Whom every single believer has personal access to God.

Jesus was not a High Priest, or any other kind of priest, while He was here on Earth. He assumed His High Priestly duties when He went “through the heavens,” or when He ascended to Heaven.

In fact, the amazing thing about Jesus Christ is that He actually occupies a three-fold office:

  • He was a prophet, when He came to us two thousand years ago. This was in the past, obviously.
  • He is a priest in Heaven, at the Father’s right hand. This is in the present.
  • He will be the King of Kings. This will be in the future.

The writer uses an interesting phrase: let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. This does not refer to our salvation, but rather “the faith we profess,” or our testimony, our witness to the world. Christ died on Earth to save us and He lives in Heaven to keep us saved enabling us to have a positive witness. In truth, we are unable to live the kind of life that pleases God, but we are empowered and enabled to do so through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; Christ’s presence in us.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

Thanks to the fact that we have an Advocate in Heaven; One who is able to take us by the hand and introduce us to God the Father, we are able to come before God, not in fear and trepidation, but with confidence, not in our selves, but in Christ, our Advocate. Jesus Christ is the One who has everything we need to have fellowship with the Father.

HEBREWS, Part 11

Melchizedek blesses Abraham

A man without beginning of day or end of life

Hebrews 7

As we begin looking at this chapter of Hebrews, we need to understand and appreciate what its author is trying to do. He is building an exegetical and logical position hoping to eliminate any remaining dependence on Judaism that may have existed in is readers. It seems he had decided to convince his Hebrew-Christian readers of three things:

  • The priesthood of Christ is so superior to that of the Jewish religion, that it has replaced it. The old wine skins cannot hold the new wine, in other words. The old way of “doing worship” is finished, having been abandoned by God it must be abandoned by Christians.

  • Jesus Christ in His priesthood established a brand new covenant between God and His people, making the old covenant, with its reliance on ritualism and priestly forms completely obsolete. This new covenant is really a fulfillment of what the old covenant foreshadowed. Therefore, this new covenant is qualitatively superior to the old in every way possible because it is made up of substance, not shadow.

  • The work of Jesus Christ, and indeed His Person, are final and cancel out all other options. Having come to know Jesus Christ, having entered into a person relationship with Him, they could not go back to the old religion.

Many Christians find Hebrews hard to understand because they aren’t Jews; they don’t come from a Jewish background, so much of Hebrews is just so many words. But, while the non-Hebrew Christian does not have to contend with ghosts of his former religion coming back to haunt him, he does have to watch out for other ghosts. Ghosts like religious pride, legalism, compromise, worldliness, and others come back to haunt believers all their lives. Paul contended with this all-too common problem when he wrote a letter to the church in Galatia:

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? (Galatians 3:1—3)

The remainder of Hebrews deals with the living Christ who is currently in Heaven, ministering at the right hand of God the Father. This subject isn’t dealt with much these days. You may hear a lot about the birth, death, and the resurrection of Christ, but it might be helpful if we stopped and considered the living Christ, and what He is doing right now, in Heaven, for us.

The writer to the Hebrews will help us with that, and be begins with a subject he brought up in the last chapter, but will explore much more in depth here in chapter 7: Melchizedek.

1. The order of Melchizedek, 7:1—10

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.

This brings us back to 6:20, which indicates that this man Melchizedek is a type—a foreshadow—of Jesus Christ. In other words, there is something about Melchizedek that should remind us of Jesus. Melchizedek is a key figure in the Bible, yet he is mentioned only in a handful of verses in Genesis 14. In fact, his story is so brief, most Bible readers would be tempted to just forget all about him, except that his name pops up in Psalm 110:4, in reference to the coming Messiah:

You [the Messiah, Christ] are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

So, right away, we know that this man, Melchizedek, must be important if Jesus Christ is compared to him. And that’s why he deserves to be studied. The author briefly reviews the facts of Melchizedek as found in Genesis 14:18—20, then gives the reader an interpretation of the identity of this mysterious man.

a. His history, vs. 1—3

As the story goes, Abraham’s nephew, Lot, had moved into Sodom, the wicked city, and become one of its prominent citizens.  When a coalition of kings from the East defeated Sodom, Lot and many other citizens were taken away as captives. Abraham, feeling a sense of responsibility for his nephew, formed an army and went out and conquered those who had defeated Sodom, rescuing Lot and the other captives.

As he returned home from battle, Abraham stopped at Salem, which would later be known as Jerusalem, where he paid tithes to the priest-king of that great city, Melchizedek.

…and [Melchiedek] 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. (Genesis 14:19, 20)

Melchizedek was king of Salem, and priest of God Most High (verse 2). Nations outside of Israel combined the two roles—king and priest—into a single office, and single person. The Jews separated the two offices, but this combination of king-priest in one person becomes very important in this section as it relates to Christ.

Like Abraham, Melchizedek worshiped the one true God. It is truly remarkable that these two men, in a sea of heathens and pagans, found each other! Even during these dark times before the establishment of Israel and the giving of the Law, we find true believers. Somehow, Abraham sensed that Melchizedek was his superior, and Melchizedek in turn blessed Abraham in a way which only a greater person could do.

Abraham’s “tithe” was a kind of “thank offering” to God for victory in battle. This offering of a tithe showed the superiority of this Melchizedek and his right to receive it.

“Melchizedek” means “king of righteousness.” We need to note this carefully because, among other reasons, Jews viewed names with great significance; they revealed the nature and character and sometimes the position of a person.

“Salem” was another name for Jerusalem. It comes from the Hebrew word shalom, meaning peace. So Melchizedek was also the “king of peace.” In Ephesians 2:14 Jesus Christ is called “our peace.” So we can see the similarities between earthly Melchizedek and the Son of God: both are known as “kings of righteousness” and “kings of peace!”

Verse 3 gives us even more similarities between Melchizedek and Jesus. He is described as being “without beginning of days or end of life.” This trait of the king of Salem sort of sounds like Jesus, who lives eternally and therefore has en eternal priesthood.

Some Bible readers, based on what is said in verse 3, take Melchizedek to be some kind of divine being—a heavenly creature in his own right. But that can’t be possible; the whole point of Hebrews concerning Melchizedek is to point out that he was a mere human being who bore a resemblance to Christ in a handful of ways. The fact that the Bible gives us absolutely NO information about Melchizedek’s past and future is taken by the author to be inspired: it shows that his birth, death, and genealogy was a type or foreshadow which resembled, in an imperfect way, the eternal priesthood of Christ.

So we can see how Jesus bore similarities to Melchizedek. The question, though, is why did the author feel the need to do this? It was Moses, the man his readers had so much regard for and who wrote Genesis, who declared Melchizedek to be a priest of God, even though he had no formal credentials, no official pedigree, no record of his birth date or even the date of his death. In these things, or in spite of these thing, Melchizedek was still considered, by the great Moses, to be high priest and like the Son of God!

For the Hebrew readers, this would have cinched the argument about Jesus being our great High Priest.

2. The greatness of his priesthood, vs. 4—10

Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! (vs. 4)

Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek and this fact demonstrates how great this priest-king was. Consider the greatness of Abraham for a moment. He had been given the ultimate “divine land grant!” To him and his descendants had been given the greatest promise even given to a human being from God. To Abraham, God appeared time and time again to reiterate and re-state His promise. God had the kind relationship with Abraham that He never had with any other human being. Yet this great man, Abraham, acknowledged the superiority of Melchizedek by paying tithes to him.

Now, Jews normally gave tithes to the Levites according to the Law, and the Levitical priesthood owed it existence to Abraham. But Melchizedek was not a Levitical priest, yet still received tithes from father Abraham! Not only that, this priest-king actually blessed the patriarch, further proving how much greater Melchizedek was than Abraham and his descendants, including Levi.

If this is the case, then, the the priesthood of Melchizedek must have been far superior to that of Aaron, since Levi in figure paid tithes to Melchizedek through his forefather, Abraham.

3. The old displaced by the new, vs. 11—22

The Jews believed that their access to God through their Temple worship was the high-water mark of possibilities; that things couldn’t get any better than that. But we read this:

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? (vs. 11)

Obviously, then, the Levitical priesthood was not perfect; it was, in fact, not the high-water mark of possibilities. Hebrews actually presents Jesus Christ as our great High Priest—the true high water mark; the greatest High Priest who ever lived. However, His genealogy is through the tribe of Judah, a tribe with absolutely no connection to the priesthood. So, then, how could Jesus Christ be considered to be a true High Priest? The answer is crystal clear, especially since the groundwork had just been laid—the discussion about the priesthood of Melchizedek. Jesus was not a typical Lecitical priest, but He is, in fact, part of a more ancient and honorable order of high priests than that of Levi:

For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 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.” (vs. 14—17)

In other words, the Law gave the Jews their priesthood, but that priesthood was meant to be temporary in duration. It met certain needs among the people of God for a time, but that Levitical priesthood was always meant to be a “stop-gap” measure, proposed by God, until another Priest came along, who, like Melchizedek, had no relationship with Law in regards to the preisthood. And when this great High Priest would eventually come along, the old priesthood would come to it’s predetermined end, replaced by the New Order—the New Covenant.

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. (vs. 18, 19)

So the Law did not make anybody perfect in any way, nor could it fulfill God’s purpose for man, but it did serve a purpose: it introduced a better hope. The Law prepared the way for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Law forced sinful man to stand away from God, but through Jesus Christ, the “better hope,” we can come boldly into God’s presence.

4. The upshot, vs. 23—27

Now, why is all this “Jewish stuff” so important to Christians? This group of verses, for the most part is why gives this whole discussion of Melchizedek its universal application. Think about what the writer says:

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. (vs. 23—25)

The old priesthood, even though it came from the mind of God, was woefully inadequate to meet the needs of man for all time, therefore it had to be replaced by something much better. Jesus Christ is what makes the New Covenant work. He is more than a man. He is the only One able to save completely those who come to God. Why? Because unlike any earthly priest—or pastor, or spiritual leader, or parent—Jesus Christ will never stop working on your behalf and He will never give up on you because He cannot die. He is alive and will remain so forever and ever!

How shocking all this must have been for the Jews! Bound by rules, rituals, and regulations as they were, this was a whole new way of thinking. No wonder this letter was written. There is always the temptation to wander back into old habits, old attitudes, and old ways of thinking.

Jews and Christians alike should rejoice that both have such a great High Priest, representing them before God the Father in Heaven. Jesus is perfectly suited to that task. In Jesus Christ, God has given His people a great and powerful representative in His very presence. The high priests under the Old Covenant, as good and as effective as they could have been, did not produce godly people, But Jesus’ ministry for us is different; it is completely effective because it is permanent and it does change lives.

We can rejoice and praise God for the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ. We can find everlasting hope in Christ because He is able to save completely. We are able to cast all our cares—our burdens and our failures—on Christ because He has paid for all our sins.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

HEBREWS, Part 8

Our Great High Priest, Part2

Hebrews 5

The author has just affirmed the priesthood of Jesus Christ, with the emphasis on the identity of Jesus’ Person—He is our great High Priest, superior to any earthly high priest because He is both the Son of God and the Son of Man, perfectly able to empathize with human beings. With this new chapter, the emphasis shifts from Jesus as the superior High Priest to His role as High Priest.

Remembering that this letter was written to Hebrew Christians, we can well understand how important this section must have been to them. Here was Jesus Christ, the Object of their faith, fulfilling His Messianic role to perfection. Yes, He was the Savior, but He was the Son of David, whose return to earth as King was, for the time being, interrupted, yet expected. Now, presently from Heaven, He was fulfilling His role as High Priest, the great Mediator between God and man.

To help his readers grasp Jesus’ role as High Priest, and us as well, the teacher will now explore the nature of the high priesthood, and he begins by showing that the priesthood worked both God–ward and man-ward.

1. The requisites of priesthood, verse 5:1—3

Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. (vs. 1)

Here the role of the earthly high priest given succinctly. He was chosen from among the people, actually from the descendants of Aaron, and was “ordained” or appointed to represent the people before God, and to offer sacrifices for their sins. We read verse 1 so quickly, sometimes it comes across as sounding very glib. In fact, sin is never taken lightly by God. What the high priest did was not a mere exercise of religious form and ritual. It was done with the understanding that through his actions alone, the rebellion of the people against God would be forgiven.

Sin is the only thing that can separate man from God; this is why some kind of priestly mediation was necessary and is necessary today. This was the God-ward direction of his ministry. This is also Jesus’ direction, for Jesus represents His people before God the Father in Heaven.

The high priest under the Levitical system did not assume his office by his choice, nor was he elected by the people. It was God who established the office and the one who assumed the office had to be called by God, just as Aaron was.

In terms of how the high priest functioned man-ward, verse two gives us a clue:

He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.

This brings our minds back to 2:5—18, but spells out both an important quality of the earthly high priest and at the same time great weakness. First, he is “able to deal gently” with the sinners he represents before God. The Greek here is difficult. The word, metriopathein, refers to a state some place between anger and apathy. A good high priest could never be indifferent to the sins of his people, but he could not respond in anger, either. But because he has the same weaknesses as they do, he is able to respond in patience and compassion.

This, of course, is also the weakness of the earthly high priest: he has experienced not only human weakness and frailty, but also sin. In contrast to our Lord, who hungered, thirsted, was sad and lonely, Jesus never experienced sin, only the temptation to sin. Because the earthly high priest sinned, he had to make sacrifices for himself and his people. The implication of verse 3 is that because of this sin-weakness, the Levitical priest, even though he was divinely appointed, could not serve as an effectual mediator.

So we learn that while the traditional order of high priests had an “official superiority,” it did not have superior moral authority. It is true that in office and function the earthly high priest was above the people, spiritually speaking they were on the exact same level, for they too were sinful human beings. For this reason, more was needed.

And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was. (vs. 4)

Verse 3 is slightly negative, so verse 4 is added by the writer as if to make sure his readers understand that the call of the priest originated with God Himself. Not just anybody could be a high priest and not just anybody could do his work. One time King Saul tried to offer a sacrifice, something only the priest could do, and he was reprimanded by Samuel and told that what he did was so heinous in God’s sight that His judgment would not only fall on the King but on his whole family.

This is important in relation to Jesus Christ. Though not of the line of Aaron, He was called of God to His priestly work. Thus we read this:

My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34)

Just like nobody could do the earthly high priest’s work before God—not even the king of the land—so nobody can do the work of Jesus Christ! He is uniquely qualified to be our great High Priest. There is no substitute for Him in the life of a believer.

2. Christ’s qualifications, vs 5—11

Jesus, though not from the priestly line of Aaron, was clearly called of God to His priestly work.

In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. (vs 5a)

The author refers to our great High Priest as “Christ,” not Jesus, so as to stress His divinity. He, God’s own Son, became our great High Priest not of His own volition. To explain the first sentence, the writer cites two Old Testament passages, both from the Psalms. The first one brings Christ’s Sonship to the fore, but Sonship isn’t the same thing as priesthood. So a second quote from the Psalms is given:

You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. (vs. 6)

That’s a quote from Psalm 110, and gives us the main reason why the priesthood of Christ is superior to that of Aaron and his sons. While it is true that all the priests of Israel were to come from the family line of Aaron, the Law spoke of a priest before Aaron who was recognized by Abraham himself as a priest from God. Melchizedek was the priest and king of Salem, that is Jerusalem, long, long before it became the City of David. Here is the crux of the matter: Melchizedek was God’s chosen priest. He did not descend from a priest nor did any priest descend from him. Not only was Melchizedek a priest, but he also a king. Remember that as we read Zechariah 6:13—

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.

So Melchizedek is a sort of foreshadow of Christ, who functions at the present time as Priest, and will function as King. Psalm 110 is a Messianic psalm teaching that the ruler of the Hebrews would be able to reflect in His person the role of priest and the role of king.

Combining the high priesthood of Aaron and the special high priesthood of Melchizedek Jesus exhibited the second qualification—He is one with man.

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (vs 7)

Remember, Aaron’s sons could empathize with his people because they too had the same weaknesses, both physical and spiritual, and so could Jesus. The idea here is that Jesus’ sufferings qualified Him perfectly to be the Author of our salvation. Jesus’ sufferings throughout His life and His crucifixion enabled our Lord to perfectly identify with the plight of all human beings. He prayed the way you pray when your back is against the wall with no one else to turn to.

Jesus prayed to be saved from “death.” What does that refer to? Some infer that Jesus was afraid of permanent death; that is, physical death. This doesn’t seem likely in view of the fact that Jesus repeatedly spoke of His coming death and since Jesus knew the Scriptures better than any man who ever lived, then He surely knew Psalm 16:10—

you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.

It seems more plausible that our Lord shrank from the spiritual aspects of death; His coming face to face with sin and the cold loneliness and isolation from His Father that He would face. In some way no human being can fathom, Jesus must have experienced—however briefly—what it must feel like to be a lost soul, with no hope. He who never knew the taint of sin or saw His Father frown at Him suffered those things and more so He could be our perfect High Priest.

The final thing that qualified Jesus to be our great High Priest is given in the remaining two verses:

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became thesource of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

This passage is not teaching in any way that Jesus was either disobedient or ignorant about something. Jesus learned obedience by obeying; the “creative pain” of suffering taught Jesus something about obedience to the Father and submission to His will. He had always done these things, yet doing them as a Man showed Jesus something more about obedience and submission and added something to His character.

The “perfection” Jesus achieved does not mean that He was previously imperfect, it means He accomplished something through His death and Resurrection; His qualifications as our great High Priest were finally completed when His mission was completed. Like Aaron’s sons, Jesus’ humanity was so total that somehow, mysteriously, He “learned” obedience through the things He experienced throughout His life. His temptation to sin taught Him something. The feelings He experienced at the death of His friend Lazarus taught Jesus something. Jerusalem’s refusal to listen to Him, Peter’s denial, Pilate’s harsh sentence, and the agony of the Crucifixion all taught Jesus what it feels like to be you.

And that is why He is perfectly suited to be your great High Priest.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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