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Themes in Hebrews – Lesson 5


Themes in Hebrews – Lesson 5

Text. Genesis 14:18-20, Hebrews 7

The Hebrew Christians, possibly in Italy, are facing a fierce period of persecution, and they are worried.  Who wouldn’t be?  A suggestion must have been made in the church, that they would be better off returning to their old Judaistic religion.  After all Jews enjoyed a measure of protection, and they had so much in their favour.  The Jews had angels watching over them.  The Jews had Abraham.  The Jews had Moses. All that the Christians seem to have is Jesus!  So, the author goes on to explain that Jesus is far superior to the angels, and far superior to the prophets (for Moses was the greatest of the prophets). Because Jesus is superior, we must never go back to anything we had before.  The great test of our salvation is that we will persevere, right to the end of life, and we will enter into the rest that God has prepared for us. To help us, the author tells us that we must read God’s Word, and we must pray.  There’s yet another reason to resist the temptation to  apostatise, for while the Jews have a High Priest to whom they can look for inspiration and leadership, Christians have a far greater High Priest, and that priest is Jesus.

In this study we must turn to an important aspect of that priesthood, one which the author has been reluctant to introduce because of the doctrinal dullness and spiritual immaturity of the Hebrew Christians, – The Preeminence of Christ’s Priesthood, which is of THE ORDER OF MELCHISEDEK.   So let’s remind ourselves briefly of what we have already learned about the qualifications for priesthood.   The qualifications of the High Priest…

He must be a man. 5:1 For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.  The purpose of the Priest is to represent men before God.  To adequately perform that task he must be a man himself.      The priest’s function was to show a way for the sinner to come back to God, so long as he was willing to acknowledge his sin and repent. Hebs 5:2 

He must have empathy with other men.  Jesus perfectly meets the requirement for empathy, and to illustrate this point the Hebrew author reminds of of Christ’s agony in Gethsemane.

He must be chosen for the task.  Hebrews 5:4-6  No-one chooses this work for himself.  Only God can ordain someone to this office.

But we still have this major problem. A High Priest cannot come from the tribe of Judah.  He MUST be of Aaron’s line.  How could the Hebrews ever accept that Jesus was a better High Priest than the earthly High Priest in Jerusalem?  The Author tells the Hebrew Christians that Jesus is a High Priest of an order that is better than Aaron’s.

Hebrews 5:6-10, As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.

The High Priest in Jerusalem is a temporary priesthood, Christ’s priesthood is eternal!

So the Christians facing persecution in Italy do have a figurehead, someone to look to, and to follow.  Someone who understands them and helps them in time of need and who pleads their case before God’s immediate presence.  That One is Jesus, and we must never go back to what is inferior, when we have Christ.

It is to the subject of Christ’s position as Great High Priest to which we must now turn.  There are two great priests in the OT.  Melchizedek and Aaron, and of these two, Melchizedek is the greater.  So Christ is greater than the priests of the Jewish religion, because he is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek, not the order of Levi.   Psalm 110:4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

The Priesthood of Melchizedek

So, what do we know about Melchizedek?

Melchizedek and Abraham.

Now Melchizedek is an intriguing OT figure – some would call him a ‘type’ of Christ.  (I don’t like to overdo this notion of typology, it sometimes becomes more eisegesis than exegesis.)  But we are going to be confronted here was a strong link between an OT character and the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is of itself, important, because some people seem to think that the OT and NT are totally separate books, with different teachings and different doctrines.  They are not.  The OT is CHRIST-CENTRED.  Here’s what Jesus says about the OT, John 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.  The OT TESTIFIES TO CHRIST.  It anticipates his coming, it describes his earthly ministry, it foretells the manner and purpose of his death and its benefits for mankind.  It looks to the glorious future that he has prepared for his people.  We see this Christocentric principle amply demonstrated in Melchizedek.

Melchizedek in Genesis.  We first read of the ‘Battle of the Kings’ – Gen 14:1-11, in which Lot is captured, and then rescued by Abram (Abraham).  Upon his return, Abram is met by Melchizedek.  who is ‘king of Salem’.  (possibly later Jerusalem?) and who is also designated as the ‘Priest of the Most High God.’  18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.  Two things then happen.

* Melchizedek blesses Abram.  19 And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: 20 And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand.

* Abram pays a TITHE to Melchizedek.  And he gave him tithes of all

Melchizedek in Hebrews.  The author of Hebrews summarises these events…

* How Melchizedek met Abram and blessed him. 1 For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him;

* How Abraham gave a tenth part of all to Melchizedek.  2 To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all;

Hebrews also gives an interpretation of Melchizedek’s name. first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;   Melchizedek is the King of RIGHTEOUSNESS and PEACE.

This is very significant.  There are plenty of people searching for peace, but without righteousness, there is no such thing as peace!  Paul sums this up in Romans 5:1,  Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: Too many want it the other way around, but that simply won’t do.  Right-ness with God is always the precursor for peace in the heart of men and women.  Romans 14:17,  For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.

So, who exactly was Melchizedek?

Some, like Origen and Didymus suggested that he was an angel.

Others have taken the statements in Hebrews 7:3 to mean that he was a ‘theophany’ – a ‘pre-incarnate appearance of Christ’ –  and there are some remarkable similarities.  Like Jesus, he is designated as the ‘King of Peace’.  3Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually. 4Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. 5And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: 6But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. 7And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better. 8And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.   There is the possibility that his lack of recorded genealogy in Hebrews is due to the actual lack of ancestors, rather than the mere absence of historical record.  He is said to remain a priest ‘continually’.  he is contrasted with mortal men in v8.  It is witnessed in hebrews 7:8 that he ‘lives.’

There are also commentators who simply point out that Melchiszedek was a man. 4 Now consider how great this man was, Nothing more or less.  That his lack of recorded parentage was due only to his sudden appearance upon the Biblical page, and his equally sudden departure from it.

While the true personality of Melchizedek may remain a mystery because of the briefness of the scriptural information, he is obviously of great significance, as an illustration of how Christ’s priesthood far exceeds the priesthood of the Jews.

Melchizedek and Christ.

So, how do we safely relate Melchizedek with Christ?  There is one sure conclusion that we can draw.  It is that Jesus is ‘a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek’, as God swore that he would be in Psalm 110:4. So Hebrews points out some similarities:

* In ‘status’ – Melchizedek is a priest, and so is Christ.  A priest intercedes before a throne, and a king sits on a throne.

* In ‘authority’.  He is a king and so is Christ.  His saving work now accomplished, he sits at the right hand of the Majesty on High – worshipped, enthroned, crowned with glory and honour.  In Israel a King could never be a priest!  Yet Melchizedek was, and Jesus is.

* In ‘name’.  Jesus is the One who was truly JUST (righteous) and the King of PEACE.  As a King he is JUST, and as a PRIEST he justifies all who trust in his sacrificial work upon the Cross.

* In ‘uniqueness’.  Melchizedek is unique in his timelessness, – without ancestors or descendants – so he remains a priest forever.  So with Christ.  Matthew Henry helps us here…  He was without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, 3. This must not be understood according to the letter; but the scripture has chosen to set him forth as an extraordinary person, without giving us his genealogy, that he might be a fitter type of Christ, who as man was without father, as God without mother; whose priesthood is without descent, did not descend to him from another, nor from him to another, but is personal and perpetual.

* In ‘superiority’.  Abraham was a great man, the Father of the nation of Israel – a key figure in the Jewish race – yet even this great man accepted a blessing from the Priest-King Melchizedek.  As Hebrews points out – the inferior is blessed by the superior.  Even Abraham is inferior to Melchizedek.  7 And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.  KJV OR, 7It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior  ESV.

In fact Melchizedek is greater than any of the priests of Israel.

Melchizedek and Levi.

Now, the problem of Christ’s eligibility for priesthood is about to be solved.

7It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. 8In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. 9One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him

There is a doctrine that is well illustrated in Melchizedek.  It is a Christian belief which theologians call THE DOCTRINE OF SEMINAL IDENTITY.  It is illustrated here.  The priesthood of Levi, which the Jews so respected and venerated, actually paid homage, acknowledged the superiority of the priesthood of Melchizedek.  When did that happen?  Well, Abraham did it on their behalf.  When Abraham paid his tithe to Melchizedek and received the blessing from him, Levi, and the Aaronic priesthood was represented – they were ‘STILL IN HIS LOINS!’  It is an excellent example of Seminal Identity.  Now, this is very important indeed, for two reasons:

Firstly, because we were all in Adam’s Loins when Adam sinned and fell.  Paul explains this in Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned  

This is the very basis of the doctrine of original sin.  Because of Adam’s sin, we sin now, and we have fallen short of God’s standards of righteousness now, and the reason for that is that the whole human race was IN ADAM when Adam sinned.  he was our father, our representative, we were in his loins.  There is no use in denying our sin.

Secondly, and this is the antidote to all of this, – when Christ died at Calvary, all of those who would come to Him were IN CHRIST when atonement was made.  He died for me, but through God’s amazing love and grace, I died IN HIM.  For those who are saved, Christ is our representative, and that is what Paul means when he speaks of us being ‘In Christ’.

Romans 5:15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. 16And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. 17For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) 18Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous

So, Hebrews demonstrates well that Jesus is not only eligible to High Priest, but that his High Priesthood is greater than the than that of the Priests of Israel.

The Greater Priesthood

Hebrews 7:11ff

What was Old Testament religion about?  It was about gaining access to the presence of God our creator, through maintaining a steady, obedient relationship with him.  There were two ways in which that obedience was effected and and the relationship with God maintained.  The first of these was utter and complete obedience to the Law of God.  (There is no doubt that if you could keep the law, you could be right with God.)  The problem then, and now, of course was that not one man from Adam to the most recent arrival in the Ulster Hospital has ever been able to keep the law!  It is beyond us, for we are by nature sinners.  Thus the second aspect of the OT system.  The Sacrificial System.  When a man was guilty of breaking the law, he was supposed to come to the temple and offer a sacrifice for his sin, and that sacrifice would heal the breach between man and God.  In fact that system was ineffective in restoring fellowship between God and man, as we learn from the sad continual state of backsliding and apostasy in OT Israel.  So Hebrews…

11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron

A new priesthood was needed.  It would not be a fleshly priesthood, but one that depended upon the indestructibility of the priest.

So now the Author contrasts the Levitical Priesthood with the priesthood of Christ.

1. The Levitical priesthood could not achieve our redemption.

Christ can do something that all the priests of Israel could never do.  He could bring us to that state of perfection which would render us able to enter heaven.  V19.

It’s a simple argument.  There is OT evidence that the Messiah would not be Levite.  Ps. 110:4  The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.

So, the argument is that if the Levites could bring us to heaven, why did God say that that he would raise another priest, of a different order, who could accomplish that task?  The simple fact that the Messiah would belong to another tribe – a different order of priesthood, is enough to prove that the Levites did not and could not meet the sinner’s needs.

11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?

And, if the Levitical priesthood is to be abolished, then obviously all the rites and ceremonies connected with it must be abolished too.  That whole system was intended to be temporary, pictures, signs, shadows, types, of what would letter come in Christ.  The reality has come, and the shadow has been removed.  (But not the moral law, which reflects God’s nature). V19

12For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. 13For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. 14For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. 15And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, 16Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. 17For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. 18For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. 19For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.

2. Christ’s Priesthood has a more solid foundation.

To be a priest required no training, no calling, no initiation, no ordination, not even an oath of allegiance.  A man was born into the tribe of Levi, and at the age of 30 he began his priestly work, whether he was fit for it or not.  It was inherited by right of birth and nothing else.  Not so Christ’s priesthood.  He was called to the task, and confirmed in it by an oath, sworn by God Himself.  20 And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest: 21(For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:) 22 By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.

3. Christ’s is an eternal priesthood.

Every OT priest died.  Generations of priests came and went.  Old priests passed away and new priests came along, and it was continually changing.  There was no continuity, no one priest upon whom you could depend or rely.    The OT priests were frail, dying creatures, not able to save their own lives, much less could they save the souls of those who came to them. Christ’s priesthood is much different than that.  Because Christ lives, because he is never going to die, there will never be a time when he will not be a priest, he will always be there for us.  He is reliable, trustworthy, able to save.  23 And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: 24 But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. 25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

4. Christ’s priesthood is exactly what fallen humanity needs.

Where the Levitical priesthood failed, Christ’s priesthood is right for us.  We are sinners, who need a saviour.  Christ, who was sinless, took our place, became our representative and our substitute and took upon himself our sin, and died on the cross for us.  He was different from the Levites. They were sinners, just like us. He is free from all habits or principles of sin, not having any inclination to it in his nature.

No sin dwells in him, not the least sinful inclination, though sin dwells in even the best of Christians.

He is harmless, free from all actual transgression; he did no violence, nor was there any deceit in his mouth.

He is undefiled. It is hard to keep ourselves pure, so as not to partake the guilt of other men’s sins.

But none need be dismayed who come to God in the name of his beloved Son. Let them be assured that he will deliver them in the time of trial and suffering, in the time of prosperity, in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment

26For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; 27Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. 28For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.


Matthew Henry makes a number of points here…

1. There is a change in the tribe of which the priesthood comes. Before, it was the tribe of Levi; but our great high priest sprang out of Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning the priesthood, 14. This change of the family shows a real change of the law of the priesthood.

2. There is a change in the form and order of making the priests. Before, in the Levitical priesthood, they were made after the law of a carnal commandment; but our great high priest was made after the power of an endless life.

3. There is a change in the efficacy of the priesthood. The former was weak and unprofitable, made nothing perfect; the latter brought in a better hope, by which we draw near to God, 18, 19.

4. There is a change in God’s way of acting in this priesthood. He has taken an oath to Christ, which he never did to any of the order of Aaron.

5. There is a change in that covenant of which the priesthood was a security and the priest a surety; that is, a change in the dispensation of that covenant. The gospel dispensation is more full, free, perspicuous, spiritual, and efficacious, than that of the law. Christ is in this gospel covenant a surety for us to God and for God to us, to see that the articles be performed on both parts He, as surety, has united the divine and human nature together in his own person, and therein given assurance of reconciliation; and he has, as surety, united God and man together in the bond of the everlasting covenant. He pleads with men to keep their covenant with god, and he pleads with God that he will fulfil his promises to men, which he is always ready to do in a way suitable to his majesty and glory, that is, through a Mediator.

6. There is a remarkable change in the number of the priests under these different orders. In that of Aaron there was a multitude of priests, of high priests, not at once, but successively; but in this of Christ there is but one and the same.

7. There is a remarkable difference in the moral qualifications of the priests. Those who were of the order of Aaron were not only mortal men, but sinful men, who had their sinful as well as natural infirmities; they needed to offer up sacrifices first for their own sins and then for the people. But our high priest, who was consecrated by the word of the oath, needed only to offer up once for the people, never at all for himself; for he has not only an immutable consecration to his office, but an immutable sanctity in his person. He is such a high priest as became us, holy, harmless, and undefiled, &c., 26-28.

Finally, for devotional purposes, let us meditate for a moment on a single phrase.   25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

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