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

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