Hebrews 7:1-3… 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.
In Judaism the patriarch Abraham was the father of the Jewish race and highly regarded by the Jews. God called Abraham and gave him all of His eternal promises. In Abraham all nations would be blessed, for God had told Abraham that whomever blessed him would be blessed, and whomever cursed him would be cursed. God gave him and his seed, through his son Isaac, the land of Canaan forever (modern Palestine). Jesus Christ descended from Abraham’s son Isaac, and he was the promised Seed, God’s Son, who died and rose again, and who lives to make priestly intercession for all of God’s true children. Christ as priest is seen throughout Hebrews, although other NT writers also speak boldly about it (cf. Rom. 8:34; 1 John 2:1-2).
In Genesis 14 Abraham went into a battle against four kings in order to rescue his nephew Lot who had been captured by them. After rescuing Lot and obtaining much spoil following his victory he traveled through Salem (short for Jerusalem) where a mysterious priest-king named Melchizedek met him. Genesis 14:18-20 says, “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ He Abram gave him a tenth of all.”
The only other time that Melchizedek, the mysterious priest-king, is spoken of in the OT is in Psalm 110:4 where David looks into the future and speaks of the coming Messiah and his likeness to Melchizedek: “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’” Therefore Melchizedek was a type of Christ with Jesus being the antitype in Hebrews 5-7. A type is an OT figure or ceremony which has a NT antitype. The type functions as a picture while the antitype is the real thing. In Numbers 21:8, for example, Moses lifted up a bronze serpent in the wilderness for those had been bitten by poisonous snakes as a type of salvation. If one looked at the bronze serpent they were saved. The NT, however, pictures Christ as the antitype lifted up on a cross for anyone who seeks to be saved. Now Melchizedek is introduced as the picture of Christ in the OT. He was a type.
Melchizedek was a king (of righteousness) and a priest according to v. 2 – both of which he was unto “the Most High God.” As King of Salem, he was a king of peace (Salem means peace). And his name itself literally means “king of righteousness.” He existed as a unique king-priest apart from any relation to Abraham, but Abraham offered him a tenth (tithe) of his spoils. The mystery of Melchizedek is that, unlike the Hebrew people, he had no genealogy. No one knew his mother or father, his date of birth, or the time of his death (v. 3). Therefore, his priesthood and monarchy never ended, and “like the Son of God he remains a priest perpetually.”
Food for Thought
Types are found throughout the OT. They function to point the way and illustrate their fulfillment in the NT. This is why OT study is so important. Without it a true understanding of Jesus Christ is impossible. The OT is the facsimile; the NT is the genuine article. Having peace with God is based upon the righteousness of God – the two features of Melchizedek in the OT.
Hebrews 7:4-10… 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.
When Abraham met up with Melchizedek in Genesis 14, without any law that required him to tithe to the priest-king, Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of the choicest of the spoils he had gained in the battle he had just won. Hebrews notes how great Melchizedek must have been in the sight of Abraham – the first father (patriarch) of Israel – who tithed to him.
Now in keeping with the author’s purpose, which was to shame his Jewish audience who were considering a return back into Judaism from Christianity, beginning in v. 5 the author makes a comparison of the Levitical priesthood with the priesthood of Melchizedek. It was the tribe of Levi who received tithes from the people of Israel who came to them for mediation as priests unto God. They did this because they were descendants of Abraham put in charge of God’s tabernacle. And Moses put the Levites’ responsibilities in the Law which made it binding.
So now in v. 6 the author shows how peculiar Abraham’s actions were when he tithed to Melchizedek. Melchizedek was not a descendant of Abraham, the patriarch of Israel, and God had not ordained a priesthood through him, at least none that Israel knew of. But here he was receiving a tithe from Abraham. Then Melchizedek blessed Abraham – the patriarch blessed by God with God’s eternal promises! No wonder v. 7 notes Melchizedek’s superiority to Abraham in that he blessed him – the lesser (Abraham) being blessed by the greater (Melchizedek).
In the expression “mortal men receive tithes” (v. 8), the word “mortal” is a participle that means “dying,” and it describes men. In other words, the Levites are mere mortals who continually die and are replaced by others, yet they receive tithes as part of God’s Law. Now the record concerning Melchizedek does not record his death like the record in Israel records the death of the priests. So, his priesthood never passed to another, and he is still receiving tithes as one who lives. The fact that his death was never recorded means that his priesthood is perpetual.
Verses 9-10 bring the argument to a conclusion showing that when Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, his unborn great-grandson Levi, still in his loins, was himself paying tithes. So, Melchizedek was superior to Levi in this respect. And if Melchizedek is superior to Levi, then he was superior to the Jewish priesthood. And so if the Levitical line is inferior to Melchizedek’s order, and since Jesus Christ is of Melchizedek’s order, then Jesus’ priesthood is superior to Israel’s. Therefore, the New Covenant is better than the Old. This is the entire theme of Hebrews.
Food for Thought
The entire New Testament (NT) was written and inspired by God, handed down through time as an infallible document, in order to show the supreiority of one thing over another. Like a side-by-side comparison laid out for consumers to make the best choice, the NT presents Jesus Christ as better than anything or anyone. But unlike name-brand products that surpass the rest in quality which have a huge price tag, Jesus enters our life by grace, through faith – with no works.
Hebrews 7:11-14… 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.
Once the Israelite priesthood was set up during the days of Moses, some 700 years after Abraham, Israel brought tithes to the priests and Levities to honor and worship God. They could only bring their sacrifices and tithes to the priests who would then make intercession for them. Because the priesthood atoned for the sins of the people of Israel, it was vitally important, for it gave Israel an avenue to God an inferior avenue that Christ would perfect. Israel’s tithes were done in obedience, but when they sinned unintentionally their sins could be atoned for through the priests. So, Jews exalted the priesthood and the high priest who mediated their atonement.
Now after establishing that the Jewish priesthood was inferior to Melchizedek’s priesthood in 7:1-10, the author draws a conclusion for those Jews pondering a retreat from Christianity back into Judaism. He asked them about the perfection they thought the priesthood brought to them through animal sacrifices. After all, the Levitical priesthood was the medium through which the Jews received the Law. Moses and Aaron were from the tribe of Levi, and it was through them that the Law (Ten Commandments and the Torah) came to Israel. Now the Law itself was perfect, for it reflects God perfection and His perfect will, but the Law did not (and does not) make people perfect. On the contrary, the Law of God was given to show people that they are sinful and imperfect (Rom. 3:20). But it’s not God’s plan to simply show mankind his sin which is all the Law truly did. Showing mankind his sin was only half of God’s plan. That’s why the Law did not make anyone perfect and needed to be replaced. It was inferior.
Now the author argues that if perfection had indeed come from the Jewish priesthood (the line of Levi and specifically Aaron, the first priest) then there would never have been a need for another priest to arise from the order of Melchizedek like Jesus. But since Jesus did come to mankind as a priest in the line of Melchizedek there had to be a change of the Law of God according to v. 12. A man could not just be a priest without being from the tribe of Levi and having his descent through Aaron. As to his birth, Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, and the Law said nothing about a priest from that line. Only kings came from Judah (of which Jesus is). All priests, however, were from Levi, specifically Aaron. So if Jesus, from the tribe of Judah, was THE priest, then the Law had changed. And it needed to change because it only revealed man’s sins. Another priest had to arise as an eternal priest – one who grants eternal forgiveness.
Food for Thought
Jesus Christ is King in that he descended from Judah. All genealogies in the Bible reveal this. But Hebrews also reveals Jesus as a priest. Why does it matter? It matters, first of all, if you are Jewish. Today the Jews don’t have a priesthood and haven’t had one since their temple was destroyed in AD 70. Therefore they cannot atone for sins because they have no priesthood. Ironically, one of their own, Jesus Christ, proved himself a superior Priest and gave salvation by offering himself as a blood sacrifice. So Jews can receive salvation the way the rest of us do, by believing in Jesus Christ. He is the Lamb of God, both King and Priest, who atoned for all sin.
Hebrews 7:15-19… And this is clearer still, if another priest arises in 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, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” 18 For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (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.
Jesus was born as the son of Mary and Joseph, descendants of David. This is vital, for God had promised David that his seed would always have claim to the throne in Jerusalem (2 Sam. 7:12ff.). God’s promise to David was merely an offshoot of his former promise to Abraham (Gen. 12-50). God had promised Abraham a “seed,” so when one traces the descendants of Abraham through the Scriptures they see that Abraham begat Isaac who begat Jacob who begat Judah (the kingly line) whose line produced David whose line produced Jesus. So when Jesus was born, and after he proved who he was, he revealed himself as the promised seed of Abraham and David – the King of the Jews. But a priest? Priests had to descend from Levi, not Judah.
The author proves himself a capable expositor of Scripture through his ability reveal Christ as the Priest of priests from the OT. His reference to Genesis 14, which introduced the priest-king Melchizedek, also becomes the narrative that proves Jesus is a priest, and not only a priest but the Priest. Jesus sacrificed his life to atone for the sins of the Jewish people (and for the whole world), and the fact that his offering was received by God proves something vitally important – that his priestly service in offering a sacrifice on Passover meant that he was a Priest. But his priestly order was not from the line of Levi; it was from another line of priests who pre-dated the Levitical priesthood by at least 700 years! It came from the line of Melchizedek who was not only a priest but a king – a king of both righteousness and peace (7:2-3), like Jesus.
And how did Jesus prove himself of the order of Melchizedek? Verse 16 says that his indestructible life – a life that overcame death – proved him to be a priest like Melchizedek whose death was never recorded. Possibly Melchizedek, like Enoch (Gen. 5:24), was taken by God without ever experiencing death. Or maybe the fact that his death was never recorded simply made his life a type of Christ since Christ’s death, though recorded, was not permanent, for he came back to life and lives eternally making priestly intercession for God’s people.
Then in keeping with his brilliant exposition of the OT, the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 110:4 where King David saw the pre-incarnate Christ and wrote of him 1,000 years BC: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” So even the OT saw another priestly order, and now Jesus Christ is said to be of that order. His indestructible life proved it!
Now because a new Priest arose in Israel, Jesus Christ – far superior to the Israelite priests, that meant that a change of Law was in order. After all, the Law made nothing perfect (v. 19) but only revealed God’s perfection and man’s sinfulness. And because it was unable to make men perfect in God’s sight, the inferior Law had to be set aside in favor of the superior Law of grace which brings in “a better hope” one which allows man to “draw near to God” (Heb. 4:16).
Food for Thought
Being able to defend the Bible while sharing Christ with unbelievers is a vital supplement to our evangelism. Hebrews was written by a man defending Jesus to a Jewish audience as One superior to all priests. Whether anyone listened is beside the point. We should just be able to defend what we believe and have a coherent argument for the hope that is in us (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).
· Begin with the example of Bob Flott talking to the Jewish man at the mall who told him that he could talk me into thinking that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah.
Οὗτος γὰρ ὁ Μελχισέδεκ, βασιλεὺς Σαλήμ, ἱερεὺς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ὑψίστου, ὁ
This for the Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of God of the highest, the one
συναντήσας Ἀβραὰμ ὑποστρέφοντι ἀπὸ τῆς κοπῆς τῶν βασιλέων καὶ
having met (AAPtcp) Abraham having returned (PAPtcp) from the slaughter of the kings and
εὐλογήσας αὐτόν, 2 ᾧ καὶ δεκάτην ἀπὸ πάντων ἐμέρισεν Ἀβραάμ, πρῶτον
having spoken well (AAPtcp) him, to whom also a tenth from all divided (AAI) Abraham, first
μὲν ἑρμηνευόμενος βασιλεὺς δικαιοσύνης ἔπειτα δὲ καὶ βασιλεὺς Σαλήμ,
indeed being interpreted (PPPtcp) king of righteousness then but also king of Salem
ὅ ἐστιν βασιλεὺς εἰρήνης, 3 ἀπάτωρ ἀμήτωρ ἀγενεαλόγητος, μήτε
which is (PAI) king of peace, no father no mother without genealogy, neither
ἀρχὴν ἡμερῶν μήτε ζωῆς τέλος ἔχων, ἀφωμοιωμένος δὲ τῷ υἱῷ τοῦ
beginning of days nor of life ended having (PAPtcp), having been made like (RAPtcp) but to the Son
θεοῦ, μένει ἱερεὺς εἰς τὸ διηνεκές. 4 Θεωρεῖτε δὲ πηλίκος οὗτος, ᾧ [καὶ]
of God, he remains (PAI) a priest into the perpetuity. You watch (PAM) but great thus to whom and
δεκάτην Ἀβραὰμ ἔδωκεν ἐκ τῶν ἀκροθινίων ὁ πατριάρχης. 5 καὶ οἱ μὲν
tenth Abraham he gave (AAI) from the spoils the patriarch. And the indeed
ἐκ τῶν υἱῶν Λευὶ τὴν ἱερατείαν λαμβάνοντες ἐντολὴν ἔχουσιν
from the son Levi the priesthood receiving (PAPtcp) command have (PAI)
ἀποδεκατοῦν τὸν λαὸν κατὰ τὸν νόμον, τοῦτʼ ἔστιν τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς
to collect a tenth (PAIn) the people according to the Law, that is (PAI) the brothers
αὐτῶν, καίπερ ἐξεληλυθότας ἐκ τῆς ὀσφύος Ἀβραάμ· 6 ὁ δὲ μὴ
their, and indeed having come out (RAPtcp) from of the hip of Abraham. The but not
γενεαλογούμενος ἐξ αὐτῶν δεδεκάτωκεν Ἀβραὰμ καὶ τὸν ἔχοντα τὰς
having genealogy (PPPtcp) from of him has taken tenth (RAI) Abraham and the one having (PAPtcp) the
ἐπαγγελίας εὐλόγηκεν. 7 χωρὶς δὲ πάσης ἀντιλογίας τὸ ἔλαττον ὑπὸ τοῦ
promises he spoke well (RAI). Without but all word against the lesser by the
κρείττονος εὐλογεῖται. 8 καὶ ὧδε μὲν δεκάτας ἀποθνῄσκοντες ἄνθρωποι
better is spoken well (PPI). And here indeed tenths dying (PAPtcp) men
λαμβάνουσιν, ἐκεῖ δὲ μαρτυρούμενος ὅτι ζῇ. 9 καὶ ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν, διʼ
receive (PAI), there but testifying (PPPtcp) that he lives (PAI). And as so to say (AAIn), through
Ἀβραὰμ καὶ Λευὶ ὁ δεκάτας λαμβάνων δεδεκάτωται· 10 ἔτι γὰρ ἐν τῇ
Abraham even Levi the tithe receiving (PAPtcp) has given a tenth (RPI). Still for in the
ὀσφύϊ τοῦ πατρὸς ἦν ὅτε συνήντησεν αὐτῷ Μελχισέδεκ.
Hip of the father he was (IAI) when met (AAI) him Melchizedek.
11 Εἰ μὲν οὖν τελείωσις διὰ τῆς Λευιτικῆς ἱερωσύνης ἦν, ὁ λαὸς γὰρ ἐπʼ
αὐτῆς νενομοθέτηται, τίς ἔτι χρεία κατὰ τὴν τάξιν Μελχισέδεκ ἕτερον
ἀνίστασθαι ἱερέα καὶ οὐ κατὰ τὴν τάξιν Ἀαρὼν λέγεσθαι;
12 μετατιθεμένης γὰρ τῆς ἱερωσύνης ἐξ ἀνάγκης καὶ νόμου μετάθεσις
γίνεται. 13 ἐφʼ ὃν γὰρ λέγεται ταῦτα, φυλῆς ἑτέρας μετέσχηκεν, ἀφʼ ἧς
οὐδεὶς προσέσχηκεν τῷ θυσιαστηρίῳ· 14 πρόδηλον γὰρ ὅτι ἐξ Ἰούδα
ἀνατέταλκεν ὁ κύριος ἡμῶν, εἰς ἣν φυλὴν περὶ ἱερέων οὐδὲν Μωϋσῆς
ἐλάλησεν. 15 καὶ περισσότερον ἔτι κατάδηλόν ἐστιν, εἰ κατὰ τὴν
ὁμοιότητα Μελχισέδεκ ἀνίσταται ἱερεὺς ἕτερος, 16 ὃς οὐ κατὰ νόμον
ἐντολῆς σαρκίνης γέγονεν ἀλλὰ κατὰ δύναμιν ζωῆς ἀκαταλύτου.
17 μαρτυρεῖται γὰρ ὅτι σὺ ἱερεὺς εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα κατὰ τὴν τάξιν Μελχισέδεκ.
18 ἀθέτησις μὲν γὰρ γίνεται προαγούσης ἐντολῆς διὰ τὸ αὐτῆς ἀσθενὲς
καὶ ἀνωφελές - 19 οὐδὲν γὰρ ἐτελείωσεν ὁ νόμος - ἐπεισαγωγὴ δὲ
κρείττονος ἐλπίδος διʼ ἧς ἐγγίζομεν τῷ θεῷ.