The author of Hebrews has mentioned twice that Jesus is high priest after the order of Melchizedek. The first statement is found in Hebrews 5:10, but the author could not speak about what he wishes concerning Jesus’ priesthood and the priesthood of Melchizedek because the audience is dull of hearing. In chapter 6 the author spent his time challenging the readers to move away from the ABCs and move away from spiritual laziness. Then he concludes this discussion in 6:20 with the same point, “Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Notice the addition of the word “forever” because this is the direction of where he wants to go in his discussion in chapter 7.
The Greatness of the Priesthood of Melchizedek (1-14)
1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 and to him Abraham apportioned 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. 3 He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever. (ESV)
The author begins by bringing the history of Melchizedek to mind, who is found in Genesis 14. He was the king of Salem and priest of the Most High God. After Lot had been captured, Abraham conquers those kings and rescues Lot. Abraham paid a tenth to Melchizedek and Melchizedek blessed Abraham. Now the author is going to make a number of arguments based upon this very short narrative found in Genesis 14.
First, Melchizedek is special because of who he is. His name means “king of righteousness” and he was the king of Salem, and “Salem” (same root as shalom) means “peace.” So he is the king of righteousness and the king of peace. We should be able to quickly see that the author is building an allusion to Christ. Further, Melchizedek is “without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life.” Melchizedek suddenly appears on the sacred pages without any previous information about him. We do not know who his parents were. We do not know where he came from. We do not know how he died. He seems to have no beginning or end. Therefore the priesthood is perpetual. In particular, the comparison is explicitly stated that Melchizedek resembles the Son of God by continuing as priest forever.
Qumran and Melchizedek (11Q13)
The fascination of Melchizedek was certainly not lost on the Jewish people. There are 11 references to Melchizedek in Dead Sea Scrolls. The Qumran community (Dead Sea Scrolls) had a tremendous respect and doctrine concerning Melchizedek and the year of Jubilee is found on one of the scrolls. The Qumran community understood the remission of debts that took place during the year of Jubilee to also include the forgiveness of sins. The agent of this salvation was to be Melchizedek. Melchizedek is seen as a God-figure and a Messianic figure who is to atone for the sins of the righteous and execute judgments upon the wicked. Further, by the power of Melchizedek, dominion on earth was to pass from Satan to the righteous Sons of Light. Notice with me some of the teachings that Qumran has concerning Melchizedek:
“Then the Day of Atonement shall follow at the end of the tenth Jubilee period, when he shall atone for all the Sons of Light and the people who are predestined to Melchizedek […] For this is the time decreed for “the year of Melchizedek’s favor (Isaiah 61:2) and for his hosts, together with the holy ones of God, for a kingdom of judgment, just as it is written concerning him in the Songs of David, ‘A godlike being has taken his place in the council of God; in the midst of the divine beings he holds judgment’ (Psa. 82:1).”
Notice the substitution of “Melchizedek’s favor” for “Lord’s favor.”
“Therefore Melchizedek will thoroughly prosecute the vengeance required by God’s statutes. In that day he will deliver them from the power of Belial, and from the power of all the spirits predestined to him. Allied with him will be all the righteous divine beings (Isa. 61:3).”
This vi[sitation] is the Day of [Salvation] that He has decreed [through Isai]ah the prophet [concerning all the captives,] inasmuch as scripture sa[ys, “How] beautiful upon the mountains are the fee[t of] the messeng[er] who [an]nounces peace, who brings [good] news, [who announces salvat]ion, who [sa]ys to Zion, ‘Your [di]vine being [reigns'” (Isaiah 52:7). ] This scripture’s interpretation: “the mounta[ins” are the] prophet[s,] they w[ho were sent to proclaim God’s truth and to] proph[esy] to all I[srael.] “The messenger” is the [An]ointed of the spir[it,] of whom Dan[iel] spoke, [“After the sixty-two weeks, an Anointed one shall be cut off” (Daniel 9:26). The “messenger who brings] good news, who announ[ces salvation”] is the one of whom it is wri[tt]en, [“to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, the day of vengeance of our God;] to comfo[rt all who mourn” (Isaiah 61:2). This scripture’s interpretation:] he is to inst[r]uct them about all the periods of history for eter[nity … and in the statutes of] [the] truth. […] [… dominion] that passes from Belial and ret[urns to the Sons of Light …] […] by the judgment of God, just as it is written concerning him, [“who says to Zi]on ‘Your divine being reigns'” (Isaiah 52:7). [“Zi]on” is [the congregation of all the sons of righteousness, who] uphold the covenant and turn from walking [in the way] of the people. “Your di[vi]ne being” is [Melchizedek, who will del]iv[er them from the po]wer of Belial.
Concerning what scripture says, “Then you shall have the trumpet [sounded loud; in] the [seventh m]o[nth…” (Leviticus 25:9).]
Notice that last bit of that large paragraph: Zion is the congregation of the righteous and the divine being is Melchizedek who is act as the deliverer (Messiah).
The question we are certainly left with is how widespread was this think among the Jewish people concerning Melchizedek and the Messiah. But I don’t think we should ignore this information. The writer of Hebrews may be recalling this knowledge from these Jewish Christians and is now going to expand upon it.
4 See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! 5 And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. 6 But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. 8 In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. 9 One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him. (ESV)
The writer wants us to know the greatness of Melchizedek. Abraham paid a tenth to him. Levi (hence the Levitical priesthood) is a descendant of Abraham. Therefore, Levi is lesser than Abraham. Melchizedek is greater than Abraham because he does not descend from Levi, received the tenth from Abraham, and blessed Abraham. Obviously, the one who gives the blessing is greater than the one who receives the blessing. Therefore, Melchizedek is far greater than Levi and the priesthood of Melchizedek is far greater than the Levitical priesthood. Further, the scriptures record the death of the Levitical priests. But Melchizedek lives on. The writer is strongly playing upon the idea of the eternal nature of the priesthood of Melchizedek.
11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. (ESV)
If we could be made in a condition acceptable to God through the Levitical priesthood, then we would not need another priest. We would not need a savior. We would not need a deliverer. We could just stay with the priesthood of Aaron and continue to offer our sacrifices for our sins and we would be found acceptable and whole toward God. The implied argument is that we know that the Aaronic priesthood does not perfect us before God.
We needed a change in the priesthood. If there is a change in the priesthood, then there must be a change of law. Why? The law of Moses said that the priests would sons of Aaron through the tribe of Levi. If we change the priesthood then we must have a new law in effect. Particularly, since Jesus is our high priest (as the writer has argued repeatedly throughout this sermon) then we have a problem because he belongs to another tribe. Jesus our Lord came from the tribe of Judah, and no one from Judah ever functioned as a priest of God and Moses did not speak about that tribe being a priesthood. So there must be a change of law since there has been a change of priesthood.
15 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” 18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. (ESV)
Proof of the change in priesthood is the quotation from Psalm 110, which we looked when it was quoted by the writer in Hebrews 5:6. Remember that Psalm 110 is the prophecy of a priest and king maintaining the office forever in the order of Melchizedek. Since we have a new priesthood, there must have been a change of law. Therefore, the former law has been set aside (annulled; HCSB) because of its weakness. The weakness is not within the law itself but its effect to those who are disobedient. The law does not make us in an acceptable condition to God after our disobedience. In this, the law is weak and useless. It cannot reconcile us to God. But the new law that has been established because there is a new priesthood introduces to us a superior hope because this law and priesthood can draw us near to God. This is the way for us to be reconciled.
20 And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 21 but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.'” 22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. (ESV)
Superior Because of a Divine Oath. This priesthood is also superior to the Aaronic priesthood because established with the Lord’s oath. The Lord swore to the permanency of the priesthood of Christ. The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind — Christ is priest forever. Further, Jesus is the guarantee of this better covenant. He guarantees to men that God will fulfill his covenant of forgiveness, and he guarantees to God that those who are in him are acceptable.
23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 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. 26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. (ESV)
Superior Because of a Permanent Priesthood. The author returns to the contrast of the temporal nature of those who acted as priests on behalf of the people under the Levitical priesthood. They could not continue their role in office because of death. However, Jesus holds the priesthood permanently because he will never die. Therefore, Jesus is able to save completely those who draw near to him because he always lives to make intercession. Remember, the theme of this book has been not to turn back, not to give up, and not to drift away from God. Here is a reminder of that. Those who draw near to God have an advantage under the priesthood of Christ who is always making intercession and is able to completely save.
Superior Because of Our Priest’s Superior Character. We have a special high priest with his unique character. He is holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Because of this, he does not have the need to offer daily sacrifices on his own behalf, like the priests of Aaron had to. He made one offering for sins on behalf of the people because of his perfect nature. But the sacrifice was himself.