The Meat of Melchizedek: Christ as High Priest

 

In the seventh chapter of Hebrews, the Author returns to the discourse begun in chapter 5 on Melchizedek (Heb. 5:9-10), before it was broken off with a rebuke and warning against apostasy (Heb. 6:4-6).  There we saw how he had a desire to communicate something about Melchizedek, but had to restrain the discussion due to the spiritual immaturity of the audience, “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.” (Heb. 5:11)

Then, after the warning, towards the end of chapter 6, Abraham is held up as an example of faithfulness and patience in waiting on the fulfillment of God’s promise.  Interestingly, and a further example of the masterpiece that is Hebrews, Abraham is not simply a random figure to emulate.  Instead, it is with Abraham that we are re-introduced to Melchizedek from Genesis 14.  Here, in Hebrews 6 and 7, the placement of Abraham in the flow of the passage serves to transition into the discussion of the mysterious figure of Melchizedek as we arrive at the meat of the author’s sermon, namely the High Priesthood of Christ.  However, this transition point from Abraham to Melchizedek to Christ the High Priest is nothing less than hope in the promises of God, which gets a name, “we have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Heb. 6:19-20

Chapter 7 begins with the  re-introduction to Melchizedek

“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham appointed 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.” Hebrews 7:1-2

Here, the context brings us back to Genesis 14 and reminds us that Melchizedek was a king-priest who met Abraham after the return from war.  The scene was a skirmish of four kings verses five.  Two of the five kings were those of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The armies led by the four kings took all of the possessions of these two cities, including Abraham’s nephew, Lot.  When Abraham received word, he led an army of 318 men to bring back all the possessions that had been stolen, including Lot.

Upon Abraham’s victorious return, he was met by the King of Sodom and the King of Salem, Melchizedek, who greeted Abraham with bread and wine (perhaps a topic for another day).  Additionally, Melchizedek blessed Abraham saying

“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!” Gen. 14:19-20

In return, Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything, commonly called a tithe.  By way of contrast, the king of Sodom requested all of the people, but said that Abraham could keep the possessions.  Consider this, the king of Sodom, whose meaning should be obvious, requested the people, again for obvious reasons, but will reward Abraham by allowing him to keep the possessions.  Abraham’s response is noteworthy

“I have lifted my hand[c] 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.” Genesis 14:22-24

Thus, the end of the Scriptural account of Melchizedek.  Nevertheless, God saw fit to use the pre-Israelite king-priest as a type of priesthood for Christ.

Returning to Hebrews 7, we gain some additional context and insight on the person of Melchizedek.  We find that he is

  • King of Righteousness
  • King of Peace (Salem is the early name for Jerusalem)
  • No record of mother/father or geneaology
  • No beginning or end
  • Resembling the Son of God
  • Continual priest[hood]

These characteristics of Melchizedek serve the purpose of introducing the typological relationship with Christ.  Note also that Melchizedek resembles the Son of God.  In this relationship that is about to be unfolded for us in the seventh chapter of Hebrews, we actually see that although Christ is after the order of Melchizedek, it is this mysterious figure that actual resembles the Son.  This means that the Son of God is the Archetype, Melchizedek is the type, and Christ as High Priest is the antitype.  Wow!

Progressing further into the chapter, we see the discussion on tithing, mentioned above, that serves to highlight the superiority of Melchizedek over Abraham.  In Hebrews 7:4-10 we find this recap of the event from Genesis 14 where Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek.  The facts are not simply recited, but are used to establish a principle, namely that Levi, head of the Levitical priesthood, was in the loins of Abraham, thereby Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek.  Through this example of seminal headship, the principle of the superiority of the Melchizedekian priesthood is established over the Levitical priesthood, paving the way for the discussion of Jesus Christ, a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Verse 11 begins this transition by showing the futility of the Levitical priesthood to attain perfection, or completion, or we might even say salvation.  Because this was inherent in the law, and subsequently the Levitical priesthood, there was a need for a new priesthood and by necessary consequence a change in the law (Hebrews 7:12).

This brings up an interesting point in the passage as the author likely feels the tension from his audience, who at this point would be questioning how Jesus could be a priest, since He was from the tribe of Judah and not from the tribe of Levi.  The answer comes in Hebrews 7:16 by declaring that Christ’s priesthood did not come by way of bodily descent, or genealogy, “but by the power of an indestructible life.”

This statement, indestructible life, sets up a second Old Testament reference of Melchizedek, but this time from Psalm 110:4b, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”  The link forms between the basis for the new priesthood, indestructible life, and the statement of ordination from the Psalm, a priest forever.  This allows for the “better hope” to again be brought up from chapter 6:19.  Again it is stated that by this better hope, now given a fuller meaning of the High Priesthood of Christ, we are able to draw near to God, which would have been prohibited under the Old Testament law.

Finally, the last section of this passage that brings to the forefront the change in priesthood from Levi (Aaron) to Melchizedek (Christ) is the basis for the change, namely the promise of God.  Woven throughout the discussion from Abraham in chapter 6 to Melchizedek in chapter 7 has been the foundation of God’s promise.  Not only that, but His faithfulness in guaranteeing the promise by an oath.  This brings us to a second citation from Psalm 110:4, only this time the first part of the verse is referenced in order to highlight the promissory nature of the verse, The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’”

With this statement of God’s oath, we are introduced to another “hook word,” covenant (7:22), which will be the subject of the upcoming chapter.  Finally, Hebrews 7:23-25 offers a word of conclusion culminating with the pinnacle of this newly defined priesthood, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”

The establishment of Christ’s priesthood, associated with the New Covenant, after the order of Melchizedek is critical to establishing its superiority over the Levitical priesthood, associated with the Old Covenant.  Oh the wisdom and knowledge of God to create an obscure figure,  Melchizedek, like the Son of God, and use him for the model of a superior priesthood, namely that of the One Mediator between God and Man, the Lord Jesus Christ.

For the entire series on the Book of Hebrews, see the Scriptural Index link.

 

 

 

Humble Like a Child

 

Originally published January 6, 2013.

“1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:1-4

This past Lord’s Day, the pastor of our local congregation challenged us to take time and meditate on what it means to be a child of God, specifically the love of God toward His children as spoken of in 1 John 3:1a, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

The other night, as I was checking in on my sleeping daughter before going to bed, I paused extra long (I most always pause, just to be thankful, admire, and wonder) and just thought about her sleeping so peacefully.  The mind of this near 3-year old was perfectly relaxed, and at rest.  No worries or stress about the next day.  No anxiety over physical ailments or future ones.  No fear of what tomorrow brings.  No worry over life, job, finances, food, clothing, shelter.  By all respects, not a single worry to distract the mind.  The word free comes to mind.  Free from burden.

As I watched her with tears welling in my eyes, it occurred to me that this is exactly how God wants His children to live, free; free from burden, free from worry, stress, anxiety about what will come tomorrow or what life may bring next.  Not living irresponsibly, mind you, but freely reliant upon our Heavenly Father, much like a child is reliant upon his/her own parents.  Isn’t this what it looks like to be a child of God?

Too often it seems instead of being a child of God, we’re more like a teenager of God.  Rebellious, self-centered, selfish.  We want control of our lives and want so much to break free from the control of our parents.  What do teenagers call this?  Freedom.  Free to make their own choices and do what they want.  But this isn’t freedom, it’s bondage, or better a false-freedom.  This inward focus and inward reliance upon self is the foundation for those things mentioned earlier such as worry, stress, anxiety, or even worse an eerie calm that self-strength and determination can carry you through any problem, i.e. over-confidence.  Each of these are ultimately sin and are in fact the opposite of faith.  To be a child is to be reliant; at its very essence, helpless.

Which brings me to the passage from Matthew cited above.  Note the question of the disciples, “Who is the greatest?”  Isn’t that just like the question of an over-confident teenager holding out hope that maybe they would be the greatest.  Or at the very least, desiring to know who #1 is so that they can work harder to beat them.  But notice how Jesus responds, by placing a little child in their midst and saying, “unless you turn and become like children,” and answers their question accordingly, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

It’s so simple to understand that we miss it everyday.  Why didn’t Jesus point toward one of the disciples?  Why not point out a “righteous” man whom they could model their lives after?  Why not say a teenager, or an adult, or a mom or dad?  Why a child?  In fact, Jesus could have even said unless you become like Me.  Certainly He was the perfect example of reliance upon the Father.  Yet He chose the simplest, most basic example that the disciples (and us) could understand, a child.  The humility of a child speaks of their reliance upon their parent for everything: food, clothing, shelter, basically life.

My little girl does not sit around and worry where her next meal is going to come from.  She relies.  She doesn’t wonder how she will clothe herself or whether she will have a roof over her head.  She relies.  She doesn’t worry about health, her future, what obstacles may or may not come her way in a month, year, or 10 years.  She lives free from day to day.  What a beautiful picture of what it looks like to live as a child of God.  Reliant upon Him, not only for our material needs, but for all sustenance in life both now and in the life to come.  Practically, this is what faith in Christ looks like in the everyday.

We are to humble ourselves as little children.  Turn from our teenage, over-confident, self-reliant ways, and become like a child.  Reliant.  Free.   Such are the greatest in the kingdom.

Ephesians 4:15 "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ"