In 4:15 the author of Hebrews begins his ascent into the heart of his message. But he interrupts himself in 5:11-6:20 to give a sharp warning to his audience. He’s about to expound on the priesthood of Christ but he needs their full consideration. So, the hard words of chapter 6 are the gateway into next section. Hebrews 7:1-10:18 is the heart of the epistle. A better priesthood has arrived.
A priest atones for the sins of the people to restore the connection between a holy God and sinful man. But God is not satisfied with a mere sacrificial system, where we do something and he responds. God moves toward us. So, he makes covenants with his people. He puts himself on the line for us. When a covenant was made, like the one between God and Israel in the Old Testament, an animal would be taken and cut in half and the parties of the covenant would walk between the halves of the animal. This ceremony was symbolically saying “May I be torn in half and killed just like this animal if I am not faithful to this covenant.”
Israel was unfaithful, and you and I have been unfaithful. God has not been unfaithful. So, what should happen? Under the covenant terms we should be torn in two. But God has provided a way for us to still be near to him when we sin. That way is through the sacrificial priesthood. The comparison the author begins in 5:10 he now restates and explains. Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek. He’s a better priest – the one we always needed, and now finally have.
Chapter 7 is one big unit. Stuart Olyott breaks it down into five major sections:
- Christ’s priesthood is of a higher order than that of the priests of Judaism (7:1-10).
- Christ’s priesthood is more effective than that of the priests of Judaism (7:11-19).
- Christ’s priesthood is more firmly established than that of the priests of Judaism (7:20-22).
- Christ’s priesthood is of longer duration than that of the priests of Judaism (7:23-25).
- Christ’s priesthood is exactly suited to the sinner’s need (7:26-28).
1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 3 He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.
4 See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! 5 And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. 6 But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. 8 In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. 9 One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.
A Higher Order of Priesthood
Who is Melchizedek? He first appears in Genesis 14. The king of Elam and his allies raid Sodom and plunder the city. They carry off captives, including Abraham’s nephew, Lot. Abraham pursues them, overpowers them, and defeats them, rescuing Lot. On his return home, he is met by Melchizedek and his ally in battle, the king of Sodom. The next few verses are the backdrop for Hebrews 7.
17 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). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. 21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.” (Geneses 14:17-24)
Melchizedek is described as both “king of Salem” and “priest of God Most High”. This is an unusual combination. The law, which was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai years after this event, established the priesthood and the kingship as two distinct, mutually exclusive offices of leadership in Israel. So for the two offices to be combined points to the superiority of this priesthood over the Levitical priesthood.
Melchizedek’s name means “king of righteousness” and his title is “king of peace” (v. 2). He is the first priest mentioned in the Bible. This occurs well before the official priesthood is established among Israel through Aaron. Much is unknown about him but one thing is clear: Abraham honored him as priest. We see from the account of Genesis 14 that Abraham refused the offer from the King of Sodom but he accepted the blessing and gave tithes to Melchizedek, indicating that he recognized his priesthood from God.
Verse 3 further highlights the uniqueness of Melchizedek as priest. “He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.” The Bible does not record his genealogy at all. Therefore, we do not know where he came from or who came from him. In the Levitical priesthood, this would be a problem because lineage was everything.
“Having neither beginning of days nor end of life” seems to be saying he’s eternal. But that’s not the case – this is not a suggestion of immortality but a deviation from the way in which the rest of the Bible presents the priesthood, with distinctive succession. Melchizedek is clearly an outlier.
His existence can only be made sense of as a pointer to the person of Christ. There is no other explanation for him. The author of Hebrews indicates this in the phrase “resembling the Son of God” (v. 3).
The interpretative key to the life of Melchizedek is that “he continues a priest forever” (v. 3). This is the key connection that the author intends to draw out. Jesus, by his lineage in relation to Israel, coming from the kingly tribe of Judah, not the priestly tribe of Levi, cannot be a priest according to the law. So, he must be a priest of a different order. To make sense of this, the author went back to the Old Testament and what he found was a man named Melchizedek, mentioned only twice in the Scriptures who existed before Christ so that we could understand Christ when he came.
7:4-10 continues the discussion regarding Melchizedek showing his superiority in two ways:
- He is superior to Abraham. “See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils!” (v. 4) Abraham is the patriarch of the entire Jewish race. Therefore, for Abraham to be submissive to someone indicates that everyone flowing from Abraham is also in subordination to him.
- He is superior to the Levitical priests. “One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.” (vv. 9-10) We see again how Abraham is representative of the entire Jewish race, including the priesthood. Melchizedek is superior to Levi, and therefore, to the Levitical priests.
This is not to say that Melchizedek himself is superior, but the office that he holds is. The Levitical priesthood had its problems. The Melchizedekan priesthood resolved those problems, namely of eternity and continuity. It was a priesthood of a higher order.
A More Effective Priesthood
11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
15 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” 18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
Melchizedek shows up in Genesis 14, disappears, and doesn’t resurface again until Psalm 110, and there in only one verse. “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, you are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Ps. 110:4)
Melchizedek disappears again until chapter 5 of Hebrews. Without the book of Hebrews, this reference to Melchizedek in Psalm 110 would be an incomplete revelation. Jesus ties up the loose ends of the Spirit’s inspired word to David. Now that Jesus has appeared, we can understand what Melchizedek was pointing us to, namely, the office of an eternal high priest.
Jesus brought a change in the priesthood. This was radically important. There were several limitations to the Levitical priesthood: Perfection was not attainable (v. 11). Therefore, the law was inadequate to do what God ultimately wanted (v. 12). Legal requirements and bodily descent cannot lead to everlasting life (v. 16). It was weak and useless (v. 18). It was insufficient to bring us as near to God as God desired (v. 19). There was no oath from God regarding this priesthood (v. 20). The priests were many in number and prevented by death from continuing in office (v. 23).
The Old Testament was pregnant with a better hope for God’s people. The Levitical system was not a system leading to perfection. It was a placeholder for the coming Son who would bring a more effective priesthood – one that his people need for all time.
A Firmly Established Priesthood
20 And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 21 but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’” 22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.
Let’s look back at the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 15. God has called Abraham out of his city and promised him land, children, and that he would be a blessing to the nations. Abraham believed, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
7 And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”
What do we notice about the covenant God made with Abraham? Only one person walked between the torn animal. Only one person promised to be torn if the covenant was broken. Only one person put his life on the line. And years later, after Abraham’s offspring have multiplied into a nation, and that nation has drifted from God time after time, God keeps his promises. He continues to come to them, continues to care for them, continues to call them his people. And then Jesus comes that Christmas morning, and begins to make all things new.
The guarantor is one who guarantees that the covenant terms will be met. If one party refuses to pay, the guarantor will pay on their behalf. Jesus is the guarantor of the new covenant on our behalf. And he didn’t wait for us who live now to fail him. He paid for our failures in advance. He made himself like us to fulfill the requirements of the law in his perfect life. Then, because God is gracious and kind, Jesus became not just the payment for us but the mediator on our behalf. He became a high priest that would offer the sacrifice by becoming the sacrifice.
Now what he gives us is the freedom to come before God knowing that we have been fully cleansed and cleared of all wrong doing. And to guarantee that this is the case, Jesus is alive now interceding on our behalf before the Father. When you come to God in your sinfulness, the Father looks to his right hand and sees the Great Reconciler sitting there presenting his wounds for your life. The covenant is better because it is guaranteed by the Son of God to be eternally effective. The priesthood of Christ firmly established.
An Enduring Priesthood
23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
Hebrews 7:25 is the heart of the message. There is not greater point that the author wishes to make. This is the climax, the supreme word from God to these people through this author.
“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
We need a high priest like this – an enduring priest. The Levitical priests could not accomplish the deepest desire of God for his people. We need a high priest who is radiantly holy and completely innocent and eternally effective to bring us to be with the Father. Jesus is the perfect priest.
“He is able to save to the uttermost.” Another translation for “uttermost” is “at all times.” It an expansive word. The more our need, the more Christ’s ability to save. There is not a time, not a season or second of your life that Jesus is not able to save you. His power to save is limitless. The grace of God in Christ extends further than you can imagine to the deepest, most outrageous sin that you have ever committed. Never believe the lie that you are beyond saving. Satan brings guilt to the uttermost. Jesus saves to the uttermost. He will save the unsaveable.
“Those who draw near to God through him.” One of the key responsibilities of a priest is atoning for the sins of the people to bring them back into right relationship to God the Father. Jesus does this perfectly. We go to God through the person of Jesus Christ. He is our merit. He is our entry fee. He is the one who brings us into God’s glory.
“He always lives to make intercession for them.” Jesus is alive in heaven at the right hand of the majesty on high. His purpose is to pray for you. I remember someone asking the question, “What would you do if you knew Jesus was in the next room praying for you?” Hebrews 7:25 tells us Jesus is in the next room praying for you. Your sin – past, present, and future – is covered because there is a high priest in heaven praying for you. And he will never leave. There’s never a moment when you want to come to God that he will not be there to receive you because of Christ. Jesus’ priesthood is always successful.
John Bunyan said,
“Many there be that begin with grace, and end with works, and think that this is the only way…But to be saved and brought to glory, to be carried through this dangerous world, from my first moving after Christ, until I set my foot within the gates of paradise, this is the work of my mediator, of my high priest and intercessor. It is he that fetches us again when we are run away; it is he that lifts us up when the devil and sin have thrown us down; it is he that quickens us when we grow cold; it is he that comforts us when we despair; it is he that obtains fresh pardon when we have contracted sin; and he that purges our consciences when they are loaded with guilt…We are saved by Christ; brought to glory by Christ; and all our works are no otherways made acceptable to God, but by the person and personal excellences and works of Christ.”
The Priesthood We Need
26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
The author has been drawing a comparison between the Levitical priests and Jesus. He wraps it up now.
|Many in number||Alone|
|Prevented by death from continuing in office||Overcame death to continue in office|
|Offers sacrifices daily||Offered sacrifice once for all|
Jesus, our great High Priest, is fitting for people with as great a need as us. The original audience was facing an uncertain future. There was another person who faced an uncertain future. Her name was Mary, the mother of Jesus. Luke tells us in 1:26-38 that the angel Gabriel appeared to her and promised God would give her a child, conceived by the Holy Spirit. His name would be Jesus, and he would be the savior of the world. In that announcement, the angel uses a particular name for God, “Most High.”
There may be many reasons he used that name, but I think one reason is because it was used in Genesis 14. There someone else faced an uncertain future. We saw this already. Abraham didn’t have the covenant yet. He just had a promise and a hope. He’s offered worldly riches from the king of Sodom. But he has another choice: the blessing of God Most High through the priest, Melchizedek. Abraham spurns the worldly riches to be blessed by the priest. In accepting the angel’s words, Mary was forsaking any worldly riches she may have hoped for. She embraced the priest of God.
And when that priest was born, he too faced an uncertain future. He had the weight of the universe upon his shoulders. He was God incarnate, sent to save the world. How would he make it through? How would he succeed? He was offered the riches of the world. Satan himself brought that temptation (Matthew 4:8). But he refused to seek his own comfort and instead put himself under the kind care of God Most High. He could not deny himself. And because he succeeded, he cannot deny you, either.
The Hebrews faced an uncertain future. And, in many ways, we do as well. What do we really face when we consider the misty road ahead? We face a choice. Will we trust God or will we seek alternative routes? Here’s what we can know, even if we can’t know all that is ahead. If we choose the path of God, we will always end up with Jesus. Abraham’s acceptance of God’s word resulted in offspring that turned into a nation that funneled down to a man, Jesus. Mary’s acceptance of God’s word placed Jesus in her womb. What will your acceptance of God’s word place in you?