Melchizedek – Part II

God made a promise to redeem sinners long before He ever revealed His Law to condemn them. While everything about the Law emphasizes our lack of righteousness and peace with our Creator, the promise actually ensures both. So even as God justly condemns sinners to death, He is also pointing them to the gracious promise of life He provides through faith in Jesus Christ.

The Letter to the Hebrews presents Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the oath the LORD swore to Abraham. He promised to bless the nations of the earth with salvation through Abraham’s descendant (Heb. 6:13-20; cf. Gen. 3:15; 22:15-19). Jesus is that Seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:15-18) — the ultimate Son of promise — and His personal righteousness qualifies Him as our Great High Priest who reconciles us to the Father (2:10-3:6; 4:14-5:10).

Christ’s priesthood is in the order of Melchizedek, a contemporary of Abraham, and not that of the Levitical priesthood associated with the Mosaic Law. Unlike Aaron’s descendants, Melchizedek’s priesthood had nothing to do with his lineage. Because the Levitical priesthood was forever associated with the Law, which emphasized death, a genealogy was kept to identify them with sinful humanity. But the writer of this letter declares Jesus to be in the order of Melchizedek, whose priesthood reflects hope in the promise (6:18-20).

Melchizedek is a type of Christ. That is, he was similar to Jesus in that he was a righteous king. His righteousness was, like Abraham’s, imputed by faith in God’s promise (7:2a). But he was also a king of peace because of his ministry as a priest of God Most High, which taught people how to have peace with Him through faith in the promise (7:2b). Melchizedek has no recorded lineage, and so the order of his priesthood did not end. Rather, it continues in Jesus Christ the eternal, Great High Priest (7:3). Christ is the fulfillment of the type, being God’s only truly righteous Son through whom God’s children are brought to the Father (Heb. 5:1-10).

As Hebrews 7:4-10 will explain, Melchizedek was physically unrelated to Abraham and superior as a type of Christ. This makes his priesthood superior to the Levitical priesthood descended from Abraham. Since Christ’s ministry as High Priest is in Melchizedek’s order, His priesthood is likewise unrelated and superior to Aaron’s (5:4). That is to say, the promise of God fulfilled in Christ’s High priestly ministry is superior to the Law of God represented by the incomplete and ineffective ministry of the Levitical priesthood (7:11-10:18).

By explaining Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek in Genesis 14, the writer establishes Jesus Christ as the King and High Priest declared by God in Psalm 110. This proves that God’s promise is salvation by faith in Christ who alone provides the righteousness necessary to have eternal life with the Father (Jn. 17:3).

Melchizedek – Part II
Superior to Abraham (vv. 4-10)
The writer immediately calls us to “consider how great this man [Melchizedek] was” in relation to Abraham. Although his ministry was contemporaneous to the events of Abraham’s earthly sojourn, and both were righteous by faith in God’s promise, Melchizedek was great by virtue of his being a type of Christ. Abraham is great as the patriarch of Israel, but he was not a Messianic type.

This was reflected in the biblical record when “the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils” of battle to this priest of God Most high after returning from a victory over his nephew Lot’s captors. This was referred to in verse one as “the slaughter of the kings” (cf. Gen. 14:1-20). It was customary in ancient times to give a tithe to the representative of the deity viewed as responsible for the military victory. Abraham obviously recognized the king and priest of Salem as a legitimate representative of the true and living God. Since he blessed Abraham, Melchizedek likewise recognized God’s choice to establish heaven’s promise through Abraham (7:1).

The “tithes” of the Israelites to the Levitical priesthood also acknowledged them as God’s representatives. Although all Hebrews are the result of God’s promise to Abraham through Isaac and Jacob (Rom. 9:4-5), it was only the tribe of “Levi” that was chosen to “receive the priesthood.” The people were commanded to support their ministry, and the priests and Levites had 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” (v. 5b; cf. Num. 18).

The key difference between the recognition of Melchizedek and the Levitical priests was that the latter only ministered “according to the law.” The Law given through Moses was of great significance, and the tribe of Levi was elevated above the rest only in the sense that they represented God’s Law to the nation. Yet the Law was not given until 430 years after the covenant of promise (Gal. 3:17). As noted earlier, God’s Law — its commands and ceremony — were intended only to condemn sin and point the way to the promised Savior. The promise was always to be viewed as superior.

And that is obviously the writer’s point as he compares Melchizedek’s superiority over even that of the Levitical priesthood. This man “whose genealogy is not derived from” the tribe of Levi nonetheless “received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises” (v. 6). That is, long before the Law — before Levi was even born — Abraham recognized Melchizedek as a superior representative of God’s redemptive promise; Melchizedek likewise recognized Abraham as the one through whom that promise was being initiated. The encounter between these two men clearly acknowledged the promise many generations in advance of the Law.

The Hebrews to whom this letter was written would certainly grapple with this concept. The Mosaic Law was central to their identity as a nation; it permeated their way of life. However, Judaism had elevated the Law as superior rather than the promise. They had come to seek righteousness in the Law instead of through faith in the Christ. With so many in this Hebrew congregation obviously on the fence regarding true faith in Jesus, it becomes vitally important for the writer to pursue this line of reason with them.

It is clear (“beyond all contradiction”) that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, since “the lesser is blessed by the better” (v. 7). Verse eight further establishes this by identifying the Levitical priests as “mortal men” but Melchizedek (“he”) as one who “lives” — yet more emphasis on the Law as bringing death and the promise as brining life. Since the Levitical priesthood was still active at the time the letter was penned, it is said that they received “tithes” at that present time (“Here”). Melchizedek received them “there” (i.e. earlier in the historical record). Melchizedek’s received tithes first.

Although the Levitical priests received tithes, God never makes mention of the Christ being in their order. Rather, their priesthood had an obvious beginning and ending associated with the Law, but Melchizedek’s continued in Christ. In fact, “Even Levi, who receives tithes” (i.e. at that time), is considered to have “paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak” (v. 9). What does that mean?

Quite simply, the writer is saying that, since Abraham represented the entire nation, which was a part of God’s plan to bring the promise to fruition, it can be said that even Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek. As verse 10 concludes, Levi “was still in the loins of his father (Abraham) when Melchizedek met him.” This implies that all Hebrews paid him tithes. Since God views it that way, then even the readers of this letter paid tithes.

They had no logical choice than to recognize Melchizedek as superior to Abraham and, therefore, to the Levitical priesthood. It only stands to reason that the promise, which Melchizedek represented, is greater than the Law. So how could they not believe that Christ is the fulfillment of the promise?

The priesthood of Jesus Christ, like that of Melchizedek, is superior to the Levitical priesthood descended from Abraham. The promise came to Abraham (and therefore to the Hebrew nation) long before the Law. Therefore, God never intended to bring sinners to Himself by the Law (v. 11). God plainly justifies sinners by grace through faith in Christ, for Jesus provides the righteousness necessary to reconcile sinners to the Father.

The doctrine of Jesus’ priesthood being in the order of Melchizedek can be particularly confusing if we do not know our Old Testament Scriptures. But if we follow the writer’s logic as he reasons through what God reveals there, then we can essentially boil its teaching down to the superiority of the promise over the Law. Knowing this, we can be sure that God only saves sinners by faith in His Son whose life, death, and resurrection ensures the promise for us. We cannot possibly be righteous enough to earn peace with God, but Jesus has earned it for us if we will but trust in Him.

Do you believe God’s promise in Christ, or are you trying in vain to deliver yourself from the Law’s condemnation?

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© Copyright 1997-2017 Richard E. Clayton, Jr. All rights reserved.

Melchizedek – Part I

From beginning to end, the Scriptures are clear that sinners are graciously justified by God through faith in His righteous Son. There is no amount of human effort that can achieve what only God can do. He has promised and provided a way of reconciliation, which He clearly established in Old Testament ceremonial worship.

The sacrificial worship led by the Levitical priesthood vividly portrayed the need for the sacrifice of the sinless Son of God as an atonement for sin; it further established the promise of the Redeemer. God’s entire purpose for the creation rests in His promise, and that promise is fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ who is the subject of the Letter to the Hebrews.

The writer establishes Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the promise in the first six chapters. He is presented as God’s faithful Son and the ultimate High Priest who leads the believer into the presence of the heavenly Father (3:1). Everyone who reads this letter is urged to make certain that their faith is in the Christ whom God has plainly revealed in Scripture (1:1-3; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12).

Having emphasized God’s promise (6:13-20), the writer now expands on the truth that Jesus Christ is the realization of it. He particularly elaborates on Jesus’ priesthood as being in the order of Melchizedek (6:20) — that somewhat mysterious Old Testament figure mentioned only in Genesis 14 and Psalm 110.

Hebrews 7:1-10 identifies Melchizedek as being similar to Christ but superior to Abraham. Therefore, his priesthood and Christ’s priesthood are inherently superior to the Levitical priesthood. This is to highlight that the promise of redemption has always been by grace through faith in God’s Son and not by the works of the Law. We consider Melchizedek’s similarities to Christ in this study.

Melchizedek – Part I
Similar to Christ (vv. 1-3)
Melchizedek’s priesthood was first introduced in chapter five, but before the writer could explain its significance, he had to address the spiritual immaturity of his readers (5:11ff). Now he returns to the subject and identifies this as “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…” In other words, this is the Melchizedek of Genesis 14:18-20 in whose order the Christ serves as Great High Priest (Ps. 110:4). His interaction with Abraham is the specific focus of the first 10 verses of this chapter.

But here the writer gives us three ways in which “this Melchizedek” is similar to God’s Son (i.e. a type of Christ). The first deals with the meaning of his name, and the second speaks to his title. The last pertains to his lineage. This sets up his next point in verses 4-10 and the broader point of chapter seven, which is the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over the Levitical priesthood.

He tells us that, “first,” Melchizedek is similar to Christ in that he was a “king of righteousness.” This is the translation of his name, Melchizedek (lit. “my king is Sedek” i.e. “righteousness”). Not only was he a king and a priest, but he was a righteous man. That is, he believed God’s promise of a faithful Son, and his service to the Most High as a priest in ancient Jerusalem (Salem) was based upon what God had already revealed of the promise.

Melchizedek would have known that the offspring of the woman would destroy the work of the devil (Gen. 3:15; cf. 1 Jn. 3:8), and he would have understood the symbolism of the blood sacrifice as an atonement for sin pointing to the sinless Christ (Gen. 3:21; 4:4; 8:20-22; 12:7). Like Abraham, Melchizedek’s faith in the Promised One as the ultimate righteous King made him righteous before God (Gen. 15:6; cf. Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6; Jas. 2:23).

We know that Christ is the faithful Son sent by the Father (i.e. the Apostle) to lead His children into the eternal rest of salvation (3:1-4:10). He lived a completely righteous life, which He proved by His total obedience to the Father in all things (5:8-9). He was in every way tempted as we are yet without sin (4:15), and this makes Him our sympathetic but effective High Priest to lead us to the Father (2:14-18; 4:14; 5:6-10; 6:19-20). He both bore our sins and provided the necessary righteousness for us to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:6-11).

Secondly, Melchizedek was similar to Christ in that he was a “king of peace” — a translation of his title, “king of Salem.” In other words, he ruled as a righteous man whose ministry as a priest of God Most High taught others the true way to peace with the Almighty. By doing what was right in God’s eyes and worshiping God in the way He prescribed, Melchizedek demonstrated faith in God’s promise (cf. 6:12) — a promise to reconcile sinners and provide eternal peace. He was an imperfect priest like Aaron and his descendants (5:3), but his ministry was that of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19).

The Lord Jesus Christ is, however, the Great High Priest who effectively makes peace with God. He satisfies the wrath of God toward our sins by the sacrifice of His own righteous life (2:17-18), and by faith in Him, we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1) He is, therefore, the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6). He not only reconciles sinners, but He will bring peace to this fallen world at His return (Rev. 20:4-6; Ps. 72:7) and ensure peace in the righteousness of the new creation (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21-22).

Thirdly, Melchizedek was similar to Christ in that his priesthood was not inherited. When the writer says he was “without father, without mother,” it does not mean he has no parents. Rather, it signifies that he is, as clearly stated, “without genealogy.” That is, his lineage is not recorded. That he has “neither beginning of days nor end of life” simply means there is no record of his birth and death that evidenced an inherited priesthood.

Melchizedek is not the pre-incarnate Christ as some teach, nor is he an ancestor of Christ (Matt. 1:1-17; Lk. 3:23-38). But he was “made like the Son of God” in that he “remains a priest continually” (i.e. as a type of Christ, his priesthood continues in Christ the eternal Son of God; cf. 7:16).

Unlike Levitical priests, the lineage, birth and death of Melchizedek have nothing to do with his priesthood (cf. Num. 20:22-29; Ex. 6:14-27). The Law is not emphasized and, therefore, neither is his humanity. Like Aaron and his descendants, the king of Salem was called by God to act as a priest (5:4), and the ceremonial worship both conducted foreshadowed Christ’s atoning death. But the similarities end there.

Neither the priesthood of Melchizedek or Christ were in the order of Aaron’s. Why? The answer becomes abundantly clear as the writer continues his treatise in the next several chapters. But what we need to understand now is that Jesus is both a king and a priest. However, He is the truly righteous King who truly provides a peaceful relationship with the Father in heaven. Therefore, our King’s role as the Great High Priest — like that of Melchizedek — is unaffiliated with the Levitical priesthood; it highlights the promise rather than the Law.

Like the Law itself, the ceremony conducted by the Levitical priesthood was unable to perfect the sinner (7:11; Gal. 3:19-25). The emphasis was always on a lack of righteousness and peace. They taught that man is a sinner in need of a Savior. Melchizedek’s priesthood emphasized the promise of salvation in the Christ, since it came before the Law and was contemporaneous with the promise made by God to Abraham (cf. 6:13-20; Gen. 15).

Jesus is the Great High Priest who actually brings the promise of God to fruition, which will now become the writer’s focus. His point being that righteousness and peace with the Father are available to you by His grace through faith in His Son (6:9-20). You cannot save yourself by your religious efforts. Only God can justify you, and He does that through Jesus Christ alone. This letter and, indeed, the entire Bible is crystal clear on that issue.

Do you understand that you are a sinner in need of a Savior? Have you placed your faith in the Christ of Scripture to receive salvation? If you are a Christian, are you pointing others to your righteous King who provides eternal peace with God?

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© Copyright 1997-2017 Richard E. Clayton, Jr. All rights reserved.