“Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Heb 7:23-25)
The Order of Melchizedek
Psalm 110, which is the basis of the author’s argument about Jesus being a high priest, doesn’t just say that God called the Messiah to be a priest forever. In this Psalm, David added, “in the order of Melchizedek.”
It’s not easy to understand this phrase because the name ‘Melchizedek’ only appears in one chapter in the Old Testament aside from David’s quotation.
So, why did David mention this person to explain the idea of the Messiah becoming a high priest? Who is this person that his name legitimizes it? These are the questions we naturally come to have in regard to Jesus being our high priest.
Nowadays, we really don’t resist the idea of Jesus being our high priest. But, the situation of the Jews was different.
The original readers of Hebrews were Jewish Christians, and since their thoughts and mindsets were deeply rooted in Judaism, the author had to give precise information about what he wanted to address about Jesus.
The biggest challenge that kept the Jewish Christians from accepting Jesus as a high priest was that he was a descendant of David from the tribe of Judah.
According to the Old Testament, only those from the tribe of Levi, more specifically, descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron, could serve as priests. Then, how could Jesus, a descendant of David from the tribe of Judah, become a high priest? The original readers likely had this kind of question.
That’s why the author of Hebrews brought up a new name and a new order to show that Jesus truly has the legitimacy to be a high priest despite the fact that he was from Judah. That’s why he quoted the phrase, “in the order of Melchizedek”.
The point is that Jesus’ high priesthood does not depend on being born into a priestly family because he follows a different order—the order of Melchizedek.
So, who is Melchizedek? As I said earlier, we don’t know much about him because information about him is very limited. But, there are a few things we can learn about him from the Bible.
His name only appears in Genesis chapter 14. In the previous chapter, Abraham and his nephew, Lot, decided to go in separate directions because they had so many possessions that there was not enough land for them to stay together.
Lot chose to set out toward the east and went to a city called Sodom while Abraham stayed in the land of Canaan. At that time, there was a war between a group of five kings and a group of four kings. And, the four kings won the war.
The problem was that the king of Sodom was among the five kings who lost. After defeating the five kings, the four kings who won seized all the goods of Sodom and carried off Lot and his possessions as well.
When Abraham heard about this, he chased after them with his trained men, defeated them, and recovered all the goods and brought back Lot. When Abraham came back from the battle, the king of Sodom came out to meet him.
Then, the name Melchizedek suddenly appears here.
Genesis 14:18-20 says,
“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” (Gn 14:18-20)
It is interesting how Genesis introduces Melchizedek. He was a king of Salem. He brought out bread and wine, which remind us of Jesus’ body and blood. He was a priest of God Most High even before Aaron was first appointed as a high priest hundreds of years later. The word ‘priest’ is first used in reference to Melchizedek.
He blessed Abraham just as God blessed him when God first called him. It’s also notable that Abraham gave him a tenth of everything.
In Leviticus, God commanded the Israelites to give their tithes to the Levites as their inheritance for the work they did as priests. But, even before God commanded this, Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything, which shows how special Melchizedek is.
This is everything we know about him. However, even though we only know a limited amount about Melchizedek, what we do know is that there was a different way of priesthood in Israel. All priests were from the tribe of Levi, except one—Melchizedek.
And, David wrote that God would appoint his eternal high priest in the order of Melchizedek, not Aaron. That formed the foundation of the author of Hebrews’ explanation of Jesus becoming a high priest in Hebrews chapter 7.
First, he said,
“This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.” (Heb 7:1-3).
Here, the author explains the meaning of the name Melchizedek. Melech in Hebrew means ‘king,’ and Zedek in Hebrew means ‘righteousness’ or ‘justice.’ So, Melchizedek literally means ‘king of righteousness.’ And, he was also introduced as a king of Salem, which means ‘peace.’ So, Melchizedek was a king of righteousness and a king of peace.
The points that follow this are even more surprising. He has no parents, he transcends human genealogy, he doesn’t have beginning or end, but remains as an eternal priest. All the wordings here reveal that he wasn’t a mere human being, but like God.
Then, the author continued,
“Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people - that is, from their fellow Israelites - even though they also are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.” (Heb 7:4-6)
Now, the author talks about tithes. As I said earlier, God allowed the priests from the tribe of Levi to collect tithes from the Israelites for their service. But, before Levi was even born, Abraham, who was the ancestor of all the Israelites, gave tithes to Melchizedek, the priest of God Most High.
It means that even the descendants of Levi gave a tenth to Melchizedek, as verses 9-10 say,
“One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.” (Heb 7:9-10)
These are the points the author of Hebrews used to explain how Jesus became our eternal high priest even though he was a descendant of Judah, not Levi. That’s because he followed a different and far superior order—the order of Melchizedek—that had been there even before the first high priest, Aaron, was appointed. These are the points we can find in the Old Testament about Jesus being our high priest.
Then, why is it so important that God appointed Jesus as our eternal high priest in the order of Melchizedek? The author of Hebrews emphasizes that Jesus is the Melchizedek-type high priest who is far superior to the Levitical priesthood. And, this leads to two important results.
First, all the things previous priests have done at the temple and their sacrifices are now made perfect in the new high priest, Jesus Christ.
Verses 18-19 say,
“The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God” (Heb 7:18-19).
Here, the author’s tone is strong and firm. He said that the former regulation was weak and useless. But, he’s not really saying that all the laws in the Old Testament are useless. His intention is like Paul’s. As we discussed while studying Romans, even though Paul used negative words when talking about the law, he still admitted that it is a spiritual and good thing.
The problem was sin. Sin makes the law weak and useless. As Paul said, “the law was powerless… because it was weakened by the flesh” (Rm 8:3).
Even though the law was weak and couldn’t make anything completely perfect itself, that was the only way the Israelites had access to God. Even the leaders of Israel—kings, priests, and prophets—were weak and vulnerable to sin. The effects of their sacrifices were temporary and limited so they had to offer sacrifices for sins again and again.
But now, we find a better hope in Jesus through which we draw nearer to God. As our perfect high priest, he provided purification for our sins with his blood and completed our salvation. All the things he does as our high priest are much better than what all other priests can do.
The sacrifice he offered one time with his one body is much better than all of the animal sacrifices offered by all other priests in the past. So, we don’t have to rely on the past regulations or sacrifices anymore since Jesus opened a new and perfect way through which we can have a close relationship with our heavenly Father.
The second result is that as high priest, Jesus made perfect not only laws and sacrifices, but also God’s people, us. Hebrews 7:28 says,
“For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.” (Heb 7:28)
Even though past priests could sympathize with God’s people and help them, they couldn’t make them perfect because they themselves were not perfect. But, the Son of God, our everlasting high priest, is perfect forever. Therefore, he can make us perfect.
Hebrews 7:23-25 says,
“Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Heb 7:23-25)
This is a very comforting passage for us. There have been great leaders in the history of Israel. But, their influence didn’t last long because death prevented them from continuing to serve.
But, our new high priest, Jesus, lives forever. He can help us eternally. Since he is perfect, he is also able to save us completely. Even when we stop praying, he never stops praying for us. That’s why perfect salvation is found only in Jesus.
These are the benefits we have in Jesus. As our high priest, he makes the way through which we’re saved perfect. And, he is able to make us perfect as well. If we really rely on him, put our hope in him, and allow him to work in us, he will surely help us, allow us to do things that we can’t do on our own, and make us complete with his perfect, never failing love.
Sometimes, we feel like we’re left alone in the world. All the things God requires us to do seem very hard. They come to be seen as huge burdens that we can’t carry ourselves.
But, we should remember that we have a high priest who lives forever and is perfect. Jesus calls all who are weary and burdened to his warm rest. He is able to empathize with our weaknesses and help us. He prays for us and makes us complete. That’s the better hope God gives us and that we should always hold on to. Then, we won’t rely on anything in the world, even ourselves, but only on Jesus and be complete in him.