The Melchizedek Priesthood
Hebrews 7:1-7:28 (NIV, NIRV, TNIV, KJV)
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High.
And he blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand." And he gave him a tenth of all. (Genesis 14:15-20).
Genesis 14 is a chapter from the family history of the origins of Israel. It tells the story of how Abraham’s nephew, Lot, was swept up into the military doings of the ancient world and of how Abraham himself played a role in that history.
Lot and Abraham had parted company. Uncle Abraham had given Lot free reign to choose whichever part of the land he wished and he chose the Valley of Siddum, known today as the Dead Sea. But it was not dead in that day. Rather it was a lush, fertile valley, reminiscent of the Garden of Eden. Lot settled in Sodom, the sin city of antiquity.
And then a day came when a messenger arrived at the tent of Abraham with terrible news. A coalition of kings from the east had invaded and had taken Sodom and enslaved all of its inhabitants — including Lot. Abraham immediately organized a rescue party. In a brazen display of faith and courage, he caught up with the raiders and attacked them by night, putting them to route and recovering not only his nephew, but all of the wealth and citizens of Sodom.
However the most unusual part of this tale took place on the return journey. It was here that Abraham was met by a new figure; a mysterious priest-king known as Melchizedek. The Scriptures tell us that they met, that Melchizedek brought bread and wine and a blessing, and that Abraham rewarded him with a tenth of all. And that is all. Melchizedek is not mentioned again in the rest of Genesis nor anywhere in any of the historical books of the Old Testament. And although there is a veiled prophecy in the Psalm concerning him, the significance of this figure is an unsolved mystery. Until now.
The writer to the Hebrews has already made mention of Melchizedek and that Jesus is a priest after that ancient order (Hebrews 5:6; 5:10: 6:20). The last such mention was in the last verse of the previous chapter. And this time, the writer will explain fully what he means.
1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace.
3 Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually. (Hebrews 7:1-3).
The theme of the epistle to the Hebrews is that Jesus is better. He is better than the prophets and He is better than the angels and He is better than Moses and He provides a better rest than that which was promised by Joshua. In the last several chapters, we have seen that Jesus is a better high priest. This automatically brings a objection: How can Jesus be a better priest if He is from the tribe of Judah? All priests in the Old Testament were required to be of the tribe of Levi and specifically from the descendants of Aaron. The answer to this objection will be that Jesus is of a priesthood which predates that of Aaron — one which goes back all the way to Abraham.
We don’t know a lot about Melchizedek. He emerges from the pages of antiquity to have his brief encounter with Abraham, he pronounces a blessing, accept Abraham’s gift, and then once again disappears into the pages of history. We don’t know much about Melchizedek, but there are several things that we do know.
1. His name: By the translation of his name, king of righteousness (7:2).
The name "Melchizedek" is a compound of two Hebrew words which have been joined together.
Melech is the Hebrew word for "king."
Zedek means "righteousness."
What’s in a name? When we name children, it is often only because we like the sound of it. But names in the ancient world were full of meaning, especially among the Jews. Names were given to tell something about the character of the person.
This is why you occasionally see a person whose name is changed. This was the case of Abraham - his name was changed from Abram ("father of high places") to Abraham ("father of a multitude").
2. His Domain: King of Salem, which is king of peace (7:2).
"Salem" was evidently one of the ancient names for the city of Jerusalem. Before this city became the capital of Israel, it belonged to a people known as the Jebusites. Their city was alternately known as "Jebus" and "Salem." Its name today reflects a composite of these two names: Jeru-salem.
But remember, names have meaning. And the meaning of which we are reminded is the fact that it was named as a city of peace.
Now that is an interesting name for Jerusalem, for the history of this city has been a history of war and of conquest. It has been anything but a city of peace — with one notable exception. It was the city where the Prince of Peace came to present Himself. It was the city where the God of Peace located His temple.
Here is the point. The kingship of Israel could only trace their roots back to David. The priesthood of Israel could only trace their roots back to Aaron. But there was a priest-king residing in Jerusalem, the city of God, long before the time of either David or Aaron. And He is a pattern of God’s true priest-king, Jesus Christ.
3. His Genealogy: Without father, without mother, without genealogy… (7:3).
The past kings of Israel before the Babylonian captivity traced their genealogy back to king David. The priests of Israel traced their genealogy back to Aaron — those priests returning from Babylon who could no longer give evidence of their genealogy were not permitted to serve any longer as priests.
But the first priest-king had no genealogy. He appears from obscurity out of the pages of history. We know nothing of his origins and we know nothing of his death. And in like this, he is likened to the Son of God.
You might be thinking, "Wait a minute, Jesus had a genealogy! How can you say that Jesus is like Melchizedek because he has no genealogy?" The answer is found in the pre-existence of Jesus. Though he has a human genealogy, He also existed before He was born. He appears in the very beginning: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1).
Here is the point. The priesthood of Jesus is a better priesthood because He never had a beginning and His priesthood has no end. He will ALWAYS be our high priest. He will always be the basis for our forgiveness and our fellowship with God.
This is the basis for our disagreement with Islam. Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet from God, but that they have a better prophet in Mohammed. But the Bible teaches us that the priesthood of Jesus is an eternal priesthood. It will never go out of date. It will never be superseded the way that the Old Testament priesthood has been superseded.
MELCHIZEDEK AND THE TENTH
4 Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils.
5 And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest's office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham.
6 But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises.
7 But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater.
8 In this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on.
9 And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. (Hebrews 7:4-10).
The superiority of the Melchizedek priesthood is evidenced by the fact that Abraham gave a tithe — a tenth of all the spoils of war. Why did Abraham give this offering to Melchizedek? It was because Abraham recognized in Melchizedek a priest of the Most High God.
Now we come to the point of comparison. Both Melchizedek and the Aaronic priesthood are legitimate priests of God. But the most that you could say about the Levitical priests is that they receive tithes from the children of Abraham. They never received tithes from Abraham himself. But Melchizedek did.
Sons of Levi
Descendants of Aaron.
No father or mother mentioned.
Priests of God.
Priest of God.
They receive tithes of the descendants of Abraham (7:5).
He received a tithe from Abraham (7:6).
The Israelites were commanded to give a tithe (7:5).
Abraham voluntarily gave a tithe.
They are mortal - subject to death (7:8).
He lives on (7:8).
They can be said to have paid tithes while being "in the loins of Abraham."
He never paid tithes to anyone.
Abraham was special to the Jews. He was the Patriarch — literally, the "first father." Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, was blessed by Melchizedek and responded to that blessing by giving to him a tithe of all of the spoils.
This is significant. It is significant because of the underlying principle of blessing. The principle is that the lesser is blessed by the greater (7:7). We see this principle illustrated in our relationship with God.
You might bless God in the sense that you praise His name. But you are not able to do anything for God to assist Him or to help His condition or to improve His situation. You aren’t big enough to do anything to help God.
But God is able to bless you. He is able to bless you because He is greater than you are. When He blesses you, then you stay blessed.
Verses 8-10 give another reason why Melchizedek is a better priest than the sons of Levi. It is because they can be said to have paid tithes to Melchizedek in the sense that Abraham paid those tithes and they were in the loins of Abraham.
THE SUPERIORITY OF MELCHIZEDEK
11 Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron?
12 For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.
13 For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar.
14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests.
15 And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life.
17 For it is attested of Him, "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." (Hebrews 7:11-17).
The principle here is that the Levitical priesthood was always meant to be temporary. It did not bring perfection or completeness ( ). The reason that we know that it was meant to be temporary is because the Old Testament Scriptures promised a future priesthood in Psalm 110:4 — one who would be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
Now if there was to be a change of the Old Testament priesthood, and such a change was promised in that same Old Testament, then it follows that there was also to be a change in the Law which mandated the that Old Testament priesthood (7:12). This is why the Lord could be of the tribe of Judah instead of from the tribe of Levi.
Is it a problem that Jesus was not of the tribe of Levi? It is not a problem if the new Melchizedek priesthood is not on the basis of a law of physical requirement (7:16).
The priests of the Aaronic priesthood had no moral or spiritual qualifications to pass in order to become priests. That is evident when you look at some who served as priests. God struck dead two of the sons of Aaron for using improper methods of worship. He condemned the immoral acts of the sons of Eli who were turning the Tabernacle into a brothel. The only requirement for the Aaronic priesthood was that the priest must be able to trace his ancestry back to Aaron.
What then is the requirement for the Melchizedek priesthood? Can simply anyone claim to be a Melchizedek priest? After all, the Mormons make exactly that claim. What is to stop such a claim? The answer is seen at the end of verse 16. The requirement for belonging to the Melchizedek priesthood is the power of an indestructible life (7:16).
We read in the Bible of the death of Aaron, of his sons, and of every other priest. But the Scriptures are silent regarding any death for Melchizedek. And though Jesus died upon the cross as our sacrifice for sins, He has risen from the dead and has demonstrated the power of an indestructible life. It is because of the resurrection that was can say of Him that He is a priest after the order of Melchizedek.
PERFECTION AND A PROMISE
18 For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.
20 And inasmuch as it was not without an oath 21 (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘you are a priest forever’"); 22 so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. (Hebrews 7:18-22).
The writer continues to contrast the priesthood of the Old Covenant with the priesthood of the New Covenant.
Old Covenant Priesthood
New Covenant Priesthood
A priesthood of the descendants of Aaron
A priesthood after the order of Melchizedek
On the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness
On the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God
They became priests without an oath.
His priesthood was sealed with an oath from God.
In what way was the Law "weak and useless"? It was weak and useless in that it did not accomplish that which it mandated. The only thing that the Law was able to do was to condemn the transgressor of that Law. It could only drive men away from God. But Jesus is able to do that which the Law could never do. He is the One through whom we are able to draw near to God.
Furthermore, the priesthood of Jesus is a better priesthood because it was accompanied by an oath. We saw in the last chapter that when the Lord could swear by no greater, He swore by Himself (6:13). He did not do this lightly. And He did not do this often. There are not a lot of oaths which the Lord swore. But one of those oaths was regarding the Melchizedek priesthood. The priesthood of Aaron was never accompanied by an oath. But the priesthood of the Messiah was. And this means that Jesus is our guarantee that the Lord’s promise of a better covenant has come to pass.
PERMANENT VERSUS TEMPORARY
23 The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, 24 but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently.
25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:23-25).
Someone might want to advance the argument that the priesthood of Aaron was better because there were so many priests. Isn’t it better to have a history of hundreds of high priests rather than to only depend upon one?
But the reason there were so many high priests throughout this history of the Old Covenant is because they kept dying out. The high priest would die and then it would be necessary to find a successor to become the high priest. And then he would grow old and die and they would need another. And another and another.
The Levitical Priesthood
The Melchizedek Priesthood
They existed in greater numbers
There is only Jesus.
They were prevented by death from continuing
He continues forever, holding His priesthood permanently
There is no replacement for Jesus. None is needed. When He died upon the cross, He arose from the dead and ever lives to perform His priestly duties.
SINLESS VERSUS SINFUL
26 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.
28 For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:26-28).
The final point of comparison between the Levitical Priesthood versus the priesthood of Christ is a moral comparison. We have a high priest who is holy, innocent, and undefiled. Though He was identified with our sins upon the cross, He is separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens. This is in contrast to the Levitical Priesthood.
The Levitical Priesthood
The Melchizedek Priesthood
Before any high priest entered into the temple, he first had to offer up a sacrifice for his own sins.
Jesus was without sin and so was able to enter, not an earthly tabernacle, but heaven itself.
For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak.
The word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.
Both Aaron and Melchizedek served as a type of Christ. But there is nonetheless a difference between the two. Aaron served as a type of Christ with regard to his position as High Priest. Melchizedek served as a type of Christ with regard to his person.