The Expository Files.



Melchizedeck and Christ, The Levitical Priesthood

Hebrews 7


Right in the middle of the Hebrew epistle there is a lengthy passage about a man named Melchizedek. And the affirmation that comes from this discussion is: Christ is a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

"For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated "king of righteousness," and then also king of Salem, meaning "king of peace," without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually. Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. For He testifies: "You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek"." Heb. 7:1-17, NKJ.

A reading of this passage that isn't accompanied by a lot of deliberate study may leave the reader somewhat confused. There is this mysterious man, Melchizedek; he is somehow connected to Christ being High Priest; this is not the same as the Levitical priesthood... What is this all about? To deal with this, we must begin with some background.

A NEW ORDER WAS BEING INTRODUCED

In the days of the apostles, most of the Jews were bothered by the idea that with Christ and His apostles, a new order was being introduced. This means the old order was finished. This was a troubling thing to Jews who heard the gospel. Even some - after being baptized - still raised questions and entertained doubt in regard to this change from the old to the new.

Under the new order circumcision could not be bound as an essential to please God; the sacrifices and rituals of the law were no longer necessary or appropriate and Gentiles were being accepted into God's favor.

These changes disturbed most Jews. And some who had obeyed the gospel were being tempted to fall back... that is, to return to the old order of things (Old Testament Judaism, based on the traditions and enforcements of the Pharisees). The accusers of Stephen said, among other things, "...we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us," (Acts 6:14). The very idea of change or the notion of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple -- these things were utterly repugnant to the Jews. And militant Pharisees like Saul of Tarsus were disturbed to the point of action (persecution).

So, much teaching and writing had to be done through the apostles to explain these things to the Jews, and fortify them against apostasy. This is the kind of teaching there is in Romans chapters nine through eleven; also, in the books of Galatians and Hebrews. Inspired writers labored to convince the Jews - "there is made of necessity a change also of the law."

THE OFFICE OF HIGH PRIEST

The Jews placed stress on the office of High Priest, for it was through these men that the people had, for many generations, their access to God.

I think it could be said, many of the Hebrew people who had converted to Christianity missed the Levitical priests. No doubt, some of them were being tempted to go back to that old system.

Yet, the Hebrew writer sent them the message: YOU HAVE SOMETHING BETTER! He teaches them that Christ was "made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people," (2:17). "Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus," (3:1). "Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need," (4:14-16).

In the first ten verses of Hebrews five, the inspired writer shows that in every respect, Jesus Christ is qualified to be High Priest. And, in fact, God had put Christ in this position. God had said: "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek," (see Psa. 110:4; Heb. 5:6). [After making this affirmation, the writer went into a discussion about the condition his readers were in; they were "dull of hearing," see 5:11-6:19. He returns to his teaching concerning Melchizedek in chapter seven.]

Thus, the primary affirmation of this section of the Hebrew epistle is: Jesus became high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedeck.

BUT, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

It means that Christ was not a High Priest, as in Aaron and the Levitical order (according to the law of Moses). The High Priesthood of Jesus Christ -- the writer is affirming -- is of a higher order! Christ was and is a High Priest like Melchizedek; not like Aaron or Levi. Note the following:

1. Melchizedek's position as High Priest was not dependent on ancestry... neither was Christ's. (7:14).

2. Melchizedek was not in a succession of many priests... neither is Christ. (7:3).

3. Melchizedek's priesthood was higher than and separate from the Levitical order... so is Christ's. (7:4-7).

4. Melchizedek was priest and king... so is Christ! (See Zech. 6:9-15).

5. Melchizedek received tribute from Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation; this shows the superiority of Melchizedek's priesthood above the Levitical (which came out of the loins of Abraham). {See Gen. 14:18-20 with Heb. 7:4}.


CONCLUSION


All of this was set up, executed and revealed by God, for the purpose of convincing the Jews - their old Levitical priesthood was now history. The broader point of application was: Their old law was now abrogated. For the Levitical priesthood and the old law were bound together; one was a subordinate part of the other. Thus it followed -- if the priesthood is changed, "there is made of necessity a change also of the law," (Heb. 7:12).

For us what does this mean? It means that the law of Moses is not binding today. And it means that we have a high priest (access to God)! "For such a high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens. Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's; for this he did once, when he offered up himself." (Heb. 7:26-27).

"Wherefore, he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them," (Heb. 7:25).

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 5.1; January 1998

 

 

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