Tag Archives: Melchizedek

Always and Forever

 

In Hebrews 7, following upon the extended discourse of Melchizedek as the type or pattern for Christ’s own priesthood, we arrive at a profound statement on the application of this better priesthood.

“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25

The contextual basis for this summary is derived from the earlier comparison between the numerous priests, under the Levitical priesthood, and their temporary office, limited due to death, with the singular, permanent, and perpetual priesthood of Christ. Consequently, or based on this, Christ always lives to make intercession, and is able to save, those who draw near to God through Him.

Working through this passage, we arrive at the first point of application built upon the establishment of this better priesthood, namely that this Priest, Christ, is able to save to the uttermostFirst we must ask, save from what or whom?  This salvation is first and foremost from the all-holy God who has every right, first as Creator, then as Sovereign Lord, to distribute punishment to all those whom He sees fit.  As we saw in our overview of the Levitical priests relationship with the tabernacle, keeping the people from wrath of God, much more with Christ who shields His people from God’s wrath on the basis of His propitiatory sacrifice.  All of humanity, by birth, is under the wrath of God as a consequence of our sin.  Which brings us to the second point, this salvation is a saving from sin, both its guilt and its defilement.  Through His sacrifice, which Hebrews reminds us is by His own shed blood, Christ purifies the consciences of those who have placed their faith in Him while likewise purifying, or literally cleansing them from sins defilement.  Third, it is a salvation from ourselves, our internal corruption, old man, or flesh, that has been integral to our beings since birth.  The new man that began in Christ at salvation is brought through unto final salvation in glorification.  Finally, it is a salvation from death, both spiritual and physical.  Because of Christ’s validation as Lord and Savior through His own resurrection, He defeated death thereby defeating death for all those united to Him by faith.

Therefore Christ, the author says, is able to save, to the uttermost.  This peculiar word choice here is vague as to whether it refers to complete, meaning in time, i.e. forever, or whether this means completeness in its extent, essentially the aspects we have just enumerated above.  Its likely, especially when this concept is traced throughout Scripture, that both are true.  The salvation that Christ secures is complete in its eternal duration as well as complete in what it provides; salvation to the uttermost.

Next, we arrive at those who receive the action of this salvation, which we’ve hinted at above as those who are in Christ by faith. Here, however, we find the phrase, those who draw near to God through Him.  The concept of drawing near to God is not unique to this verse in Hebrews, as it as been previously mentioned in Hebrews 4:16, which calls us to draw near to God with confidence on the basis of our sympathetic high priest.  Then in Hebrews 7:19, our drawing near to God is upon the basis of a better hope, namely Christ.  Finally, and coming up in 10:22, “since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with a pure water.” 

Back to our verse in Hebrews 7:25, the little prepositional phrase, through him, is not a throw-away, but is integral, not only to understanding the group identified as those who draw near, but also the relationship between Christ and those who would draw near.  Through him implies union with Christ.  Christ, by means of election before the foundation of the world, then dying for them, and uniting them to Himself by faith, becomes the channel through which the blessings of salvation, not the least of which is His priestly intercession, flow.

One final statement draws this passage to conclusion and supplies the basis for this salvation, that “he always lives to make intercession for them.”  The implication of Christ’s resurrection and His eternality let us know that this priesthood is not limited by death, as the Levitical priesthood was.  Additionally, it is not simply a passive priesthood, but Christ is actively, always and forever, making intercession for those who draw near to God through Him.

Though extensively removed from the time and culture of those who were under the Levitical priesthood, Hebrews calls our minds to understand the role of this priesthood instituted under the Old Covenant so that we might better, more clearly, understand the nature of our Lord’s Priesthood under the covenant that He mediates.

What a comfort it should be for us to know that He always lives to make intercession for those who draw near.  It should be an overwhelming assurance to know that our salvation is guaranteed on the basis of our eternal High Priest who saves always and forever.

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

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.

 

 

 

Christ our Great High Priest

 

The book of Hebrews is largely dedicated to establishing the supremacy of Christ’s person and the superiority of Christ’s work over against the Old Covenant for the purpose of exhorting Jewish professors of Christ from returning to the former system which had become largely corrupt by the time of this epistle’s writing. The author establishes the authority for his message on the prior revelations of the word of God and rests on Scripture alone to speak in defense of his message. In doing so, he relies on the familiarity of the Scriptures, which his readers likely had, allowing him to build off of them and show clearly the similarity and superiority of Christ.

Perhaps this is seen most clearly in the establishment of Christ as High Priest. Notions of Christ’s fulfillment of this priestly office can be seen from the very beginning of this epistle through the language of Hebrews 1:3 “After making purification for sins,” Hebrews 2:11 “For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source,” and Hebrews 2:17-18 “17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” While these passages offer hints of more to come, the real exposition on the priesthood of Christ is developed in chapter 5, beginning in verse 1,

1For 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.

5So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,

“You are my Son,

today I have begotten you”;

6 as he says also in another place,

“You are a priest forever,

after the order of Melchizedek.”

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.”

This discourse begins by providing a reminder of the Aaronic Priesthood established under the Old Covenant. Several passages present a helpful background to aid in this understanding, Exodus 28, Leviticus 9, Leviticus 16, Numbers 16; 18, 2 Samuel 7:13-14. The features of this older priesthood are enumerated by the author:

  • Chosen from among men
  • To act on behalf of men (in relation to God)
  • To offer gifts and sacrifices for sins
  • Beset by weaknesses; allows him to relate
  • Offers sacrifices for his own sins
  • Not self-appointed, but called by God

Interestingly, this passage follows the chiastic structure(1), named from the greek letter chi represented by an X, to better illustrate the point of superiority that the author is hoping to make. The use of this literary device, the chiasm, is meant to create a mirror of a particular idea or concept. Generally the most important point can be found in the middle of the “X”. This can be seen below(2):

A The old office of high priest (v.1)

B The sacrifice offered by the high priest (v.1)

C The weakness of the high priest (vv. 2-3)

D The appointment of the high priest (v. 4)

D` The appointment of Christ, the new High Priest (vv. 5-6)

C` The suffering of the new High Priest (vv. 7-8)

B` The sacrificial provision of the new High Priest (v. 9)

A` The new office of High Priest

As the passage transitions from the Aaronic priesthood (vs. 4) to the priesthood of Christ (vs. 5), we can begin to see the aforementioned similarities and superiorities, beginning with the appointment of Christ to the priesthood by His Father:

5So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,

“You are my Son,

today I have begotten you”;

6 as he says also in another place,

“You are a priest forever,

after the order of Melchizedek.”

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.”

The features of this newer priesthood are enumerated by the author:

  • Christ’s Priesthood was an appointment to the priesthood by God the Father.
  • Christ’s Priesthood is grounded in His Sonship.
  • Christ’s Priesthood is based on the authority of God’s Word.
  • Christ’s Priesthood is eternal.
  • Christ’s Priesthood is “after the order of Melchizedek” not Levi (Aaron).
  • Christ’s humanity AND Divinity are essential to His Priesthood.
  • Christ’s Priesthood is not beset by “weakness”; instead His is marked by His impeccability.
  • Christ’s Priesthood is efficacious and salvific.

Jesus was declared to be priest on the divine orders of His Father and the author of Hebrews points out that this declaration was recorded in the older testament, specifically Psalm 2 and Psalm 110. This quotation is interesting because it grounds the authority of Christ’s office as High Priest in the Scriptures and again references Psalm 2:7 to show that just has His kingship flowed forth from His Sonship, so too does His priesthood.

The relationship between the Aaronic (Levitical) priesthood and Christ’s priesthood can best be understood as typical, meaning that the Levitical priesthood was a type pointing forward to the antitype or greater reality that is Christ’s priesthood. Christ was a man like Aaron, but the God-Man (greater). By establishing Christ as High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, we can observe another great reality, namely that His Priesthood was pre-Mosaic law (covenant). Melchizedek was both king and priest, providing a type for better understanding the relationship of Christ as Priest-King, bringing together both offices and fulfilling the prophecies of Psalm 110. The Melchizedekian priesthood will be further defined by the author of Hebrews in chapter 7 and following, but we may conclude with an observation by A.W. Pink. In his commentary on this epistle, he notes that the Aaronic priesthood was typical of Christ in an earthly fashion. i.e. Christ being both the priest and the sacrifice once for all, while the Melchizedekian priesthood was typical of Christ’s in a heavenly fashion, as He rules now as both Priest and King.

What a glorious Savior! He who serves as both the sacrifice and the Priest now seated at the right hand of the Father having begun His heavenly session to make intercession for His people. Would that we would understand how powerful and significant this is in our lives as believers.  May it draw us nearer to Christ and cause us to love Him more.

 

[1] A chiasm (also called a chiasmus) is a literary device in which a sequence of ideas is presented and then repeated in reverse order. The result is a “mirror” effect as the ideas are “reflected” back in a passage. Each idea is connected to its “reflection” by a repeated word, often in a related form. The term chiasm comes from the Greek letter chi, which looks like our letter X. Chiastic pattern is also called “ring structure.”

Read more: http://www.gotquestions.org/chiasm-chiastic.html#ixzz3OvjR4HZz

[2] Modified from George Guthrie, The NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews (Zondervan, Grand Rapids MI), 1998.