Tag Archives: High Priest

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.

 

 

 

On Guard

 

In the opening chapters of the book of Numbers, we find Israel in the wilderness of Sinai.  The LORD is speaking to Moses instructing him to take a census of Israel and to subsequently divide and arrange the 12 tribes.  While these arrangements concerned both the camping and the marching of Israel, it may be properly said that God was forming battalions for war (Numbers 1:3).

As the census of chapter 1 is undertaken, we find the people of Joseph, “namely, of the people of Ephraim,” constituting one tribe, while, “the people of Manassah” constitute another tribe.  On the surface, this would create a problem numbering the tribes- creating an additional tribe – recalling the blessing of Jacob from Genesis 48, unless one of the original twelve were not counted.  This is precisely the case as God commands Moses not to count the tribe of Levi.

“For the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, Only the tribe of Levi you shall not list, and you shall not take a census of them among the people of Israel.” Numbers 1:48

Following this, we see the role that the Levites were to have in the camp of Israel, namely their oversight of the “tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings, and over all that belongs to it.  They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it and shall camp around the tabernacle.  When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down, and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up.  And if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death.” Numbers 1:49-51

The Levites were the only tribe to whom this responsibility of caring for the tabernacle and all of its appurtenances were given.  In addition to the tasks of oversight of the tabernacle and its furnishings, care and camping around it, and set up and tear down, the Levites were also the guardians of the tabernacle.

52 The people of Israel shall pitch their tents by their companies, each man in his own camp and each man by his own standard. 53 But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the people of Israel. And the Levites shall keep guard over the tabernacle of the testimony.” Numbers 1:52-53

The Levites were exempt from day to day military campaigns, but were explicitly charged with guarding the tabernacle.  On the one hand, they guarded the tabernacle from outsiders.  In other words, the access to God was restricted by the Levites, lest those who encroached were to be put to death.  In this light, there is also guardianship to protect the people from the wrath of God.  In this respect, the Levites function as two-way guardians to prevent the common from coming into contact with the holy and also providing protection from the holy, namely God, from coming into contact with the common via His wrath.

As to the particularity of their guardianship, this is the same word used in reference to Adam in Garden.  Recall that in Adam’s Rest, we looked at Genesis 2:15 and determined that Adam was “rested” in the Garden in order to “tend and keep” it.  There we saw that this particularly phrase was priestly and is elsewhere translated in priestly contexts as guard and minister or serve.  Our passage under consideration from Numbers is one such example of this priestly context of guardianship.  This reinforces our conclusions regarding Adam’s role and function as a priest in the garden-temple of God. For the combination of both terms, see Numbers 3:7-8, where the Levitical guardianship and service are further defined.

Flowing out of a passage that discusses the mediation of God’s holiness by a Levitical Priest, one cannot help but see the parallels with the priestly ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, the One Mediator between God and Man 1 Tim. 2:5).  However, as Hebrews tells us, His priesthood is after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:10; 6:20; 7:17).  Access to God comes only through Christ (John 14:6).  It is through Him that we, the common, have access to the holy, namely the Father (Eph. 2:18).  But also it is through Christ that God’s wrath has been placated, or propitiated, towards us who have repented and placed our God-given faith in Christ (1 John 2:2; Heb. 2:17).  The typological picture painted for us in this Old Testament priestly passage is a picture of Christ.

With this in mind, the imagery of guardianship over God’s dwelling place can be used as an illustration for personal, individual duty of believers to guard God’s dwelling place, though not of a tabernacle made with hands, but the very temple of believer’s bodies in which God’s Spirit indwells (1 Cor. 6:19-20).  Our guardianship is likewise against the common, or profane, to keep it from coming into contact with where the holy dwells.

We are to guard against corruptions, those external and internal that would defile the tabernacle of God.  We are to guard against the placement of idols, high places if you will, that would attempt to subvert the worship of God in our hearts.  We are to guard with a recognition of the fear of God, knowing that the discipline of God is meted out against all unrighteousness.

Through this passage, perhaps somewhat obscure in its details of the Levitical guardianship of the tabernacle, we have opened up for us a gateway into meditation on the High Priestly ministry of Christ.  It should draw our hearts and minds unto Christ who stands on guard daily at the right hand of the Father to make intercession for us.  This is the direction that the passage points us.  But we also have a picture drawn for us, one that shows a priestly duty is still required by God’s priests (1 Peter 2:5-9; Heb. 4:16, 10:19), a duty unto holiness in guarding the temple of God from being profaned by the common and unholy.

 

 

Assuming the Role of Priest

 

In the 5th chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, the author enters into the great theme of Jesus as High Priest. Having alluded to it in several verses prior (most notably 1:3, 2:17, 3:1, 4:16), his attention is now focused near-exclusively on this and it begins with an overview of the Levitical-Aaronic priesthood. The first four verses of the chapter set the tone for what will follow:

“For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. 3 Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.” Heb. 5:1-4

The author’s intention here is not a full-scale review of the Old Covenant priesthood, but instead to serve as a baseline for a priesthood ordained by God for the purpose of comparison and contrast with the Priesthood of Christ. Here we may observe several qualifications and duties of the Aaronic priests. First we see that every high priest is chosen and appointed by God. We’ll pick up on this again later, but for now let’s note the background for this concept of familial priesthood in Exodus 28 & 29, “Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests…” Ex. 28:1.

Next, we see that their appointment was from among men. No angelic being would suffice in the representation of men to God. The reason, as we see in verse 3, is that, “he can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.” These statements will serve as a point of comparison and contrast along with providing further basis for the incarnation of Christ, namely that He had to be made a man in order to represent them to God; likewise He had to remain God in order to represent Him to man. The two divergent streams of God and man are brought together in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore the perfect Mediator, our Great High Priest, can only be the God-Man Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5).

Returning our focus to the Aaronic priesthood we see that in their role on behalf of men and in relation to God that they offered gifts and sacrifices to Him, first for their own sins, then for their family, and then for the sins of the people (Israel). This statement finds its basis in Leviticus 16 which is largely in mind as Hebrews reviews the Old Covenant priesthood. This verse (5:3) informs us that the fundamental weakness and chief insufficiency of the Aaronic priesthood was that the priests themselves were sinners. How can a sinner effectively represent other sinners before an all-holy God? Simply put, they can’t. Therefore a greater Mediator is needed, one who is not beset with sin and does not half to make atonement for His own sins first. The office of priest under the Old Covenant was always pointing forward to a better priesthood, with better sacrifices, and a better Mediator.

Summarizing thus far we see that the Aaronic priesthood was by way of an appointment from God, chosen from among men, sacrificed not only for the people, but for themselves because of their own sin.

In verse 4, we return our attention to the appointment of the priesthood by God Himself, “no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.” Note how this verse forms the frame with verse 1 to highlight the significance of the author’s point, namely that the priesthood must be by way of appointment or calling from God. This is an extremely important point given the understanding of the priesthood in our modern vernacular. Today we have priests in Catholicism, some forms of Orthodox Christianity (Eastern, Greek, Russian, etc.), Anglican, Episcopalian, and even Mormons all holding to some office of priesthood, though among these the most visible is the papacy of Catholicism. Each of these, and most notably the Catholic office of priest, has assumed their role. The priesthood which Christ is being compared and contrasted with above, namely that of Aaron, was clearly established by God. He called and appointed each man to the role of high priest, yet today we have men in modern time claiming their role as priest. What are we to make of that?

Thankfully, the Bible is not silent concerning man’s self-elevation into the office of priest apart from the Divine appointment by God. In Numbers 16 we get our first example. Here God’s Word informs us that Korah, along with several other men, stood up against the leadership of Moses with the following bold statement, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” Num. 16:3 Korah had a fundamental problem with God’s establishment of leaders and roles within the nation of Israel, specifically the Aaronic priesthood. He, and the men with him, were expressing dissatisfaction with their own role and lot that God in His divine providence had allowed them. If God had so chosen, they would have been worthy only to collect the cattle dung from the Israelite animals, but in His grace even they were given a more noble position. Note Moses’ response,

Hear now, you sons of Levi: 9is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, 10and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also?” Num. 16:8-10

As we read in verse 1, Korah was from the tribe of Levi, those chosen to minister to God and serve Him in the tabernacle. However, from within the tribe of Levi was the family of Aaron, those who were specifically chosen to serve as high priest. It’s not difficult to see then that source of Korah’s discontentment and the basis for Moses’ response. As the chapter continues to detail the unfolding rebellion of Korah and the other men we find them burning incense (a priestly function) before the Lord at His command. In essence, God granted them the desire of their hearts or we might say He allowed their discontentment to go unchecked. Ultimately God judges Korah and those participating in the rebellion in a most public and terrifying way,

“And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34 And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up!” 35 And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men offering the incense.” Num. 16:32-35

And later in the chapter we are given the reason for this public display of God’s judgment as the men’s censors that contained the incense were hammered into a covering for the altar,

“to be a reminder to the people of Israel, so that no outsider, who is not of the descendants of Aaron, should draw near to burn incense before the Lord, lest he become like Korah and his company.” Num. 16:40

A second example of assuming the role of priesthood without the divine appointment from God comes by way of King Saul 1 Samuel 13:8-10

“He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. So Saul said, ‘Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.’ And he offered the burnt offering. As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him.”

Here we find King Saul’s intrusion into the office of priest as he fails to wait for the arrival of Samuel and assumes for himself the role of priest in making burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. Upon Samuel’s arrival, he rebukes Saul for his disobedience of the Lord’s commandments (1 Samuel 13:13) and alerts him of God’s forthcoming punishment to strip the kingdom from him.

“But now your kingdom shall not continue…because you have not kept what the Lord has commanded you.” 1 Samuel 13:14

Finally, our third example of man assuming the role of priest apart from the divine appointment from God is found in the actions of King Uzziah again providing for us a witness of God’s attitude towards those who would attempt to undermine the authority of God’s commandments in establishing a particular lineage of priests.

“But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the Lord who were men of valor, and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, ‘It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn inces to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the Lord God.’ Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the Lord, by the altar of incense.” 2 Chronicles 26:16-19

Swallowed by the ground, deposed as king, and succumbing to leprosy are all realized consequences of assuming the role of priest, of the Aaronic order, when one has not been called and appointed by God. Following the author of Hebrews argument from the lesser to the greater, we may ask given our examples of those who assumed the priesthood under the Old Covenant, how much worse of an offense is it to those who assume the priesthood under the New Covenant now that Christ has fulfilled the priesthood in a far superior way.

How much greater of an offense is it to the person and finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ for a man to assume the role of Christ in acting on behalf of men in relation to God? Simply stated, it’s blasphemous! The office of priest in Catholicism, which includes the papacy, let alone those others mentioned previously, is nothing less than a blasphemous impersonation of the great High Priesthood in which Christ alone now resides. He alone is qualified to hold this position because of His incarnation, sinless life, sacrificial death, glorious resurrection, and exaltation at the right hand of the Father. How dare anyone attempt to usurp His authority and assume the role for themselves!

Every religion or so called denomination that puts a man into the office of priest for the purpose of acting as mediator between God and man undermines the authority, dignity, and majesty of Christ’s Priesthood, for which He has suffered, bled, and died for. Granting validity to this office by participating with, being accomplice to, or residing under the ministry of their intrusion is equivalent to blaspheming the name of Christ, for His name is synonymous with Great High Priest.

As we will see in the next section of verses, not just any old priest will do. We must have one of divine appointment, Christ Jesus alone.

Solus Christus!

Post script: 2 additional points must at least be mentioned in regards to this post. 1) Christ’s priesthood is of the order of Melchizedek, a superior priesthood to that of the Old Covenant; bearing in mind that the Old Covenant has reached its fulfillment in Christ.  This includes the sacrificial system and Aaronic priesthood  2) 1 Peter 2:5 establishes the preisthood of every believer in the true Israel sense, not intending to usurp Christ’s role as High Priest much the same way that Exodus 19:5 intended the statement for the nation of Israel, but certainly held the office of Aaron in higher regard.  This is no way means that those priests mentioned above are attempting to fulfill the role mentioned by Peter, instead in every way they are attempting to fulfill the role established by Christ.