A better high priest (part 2)

Nov 4, 2007 by: Sam Hestorff| Series: The Book of Hebrews | Category: Hebrews

After coming out of retirement and packing up everything he owned in order to follow the call of God, Abraham had found a place to temporarily plant his roots. It was called Mamre - named after the Amorite chieftain who owned the land and it was located in Hebron.


The property that he and Sarah agreed upon was absolutely stunning. Lined with majestic oak trees, it was everything they desired. Everyday they would sit on their front porch sipping on drinks and imagine their children playing tag in the front yard, climbing the limbs of these majestic oaks and maybe even building a tree house. They were happy because they knew that they had found the place that God could begin fulfilling His promise to them.


But one day, as they were enjoying the comfort of their front porch, a man approached them. He was out of breath from running a great distance and clearly he was in distress. Abraham knew that something was wrong but he never imagined that it was his nephew Lot that was in trouble.


A coalition of kings from the east had invaded and taken Sodom and enslaved all of its inhabitants - including Lot who had settled there.


Abraham immediately organized a rescue party of 318 trained men. And in a display of faith and courage, he attacked them by night and won, recovering not only his nephew but all of the wealth and citizens of Sodom.


On his journey home from the victory, atop his camel and covered in sweat and blood from the battle, out of nowhere, he was met by a man whose name has never been mentioned in scripture prior to this time.


His name was Melchizedek and he brought bread and wine and this blessing . . .


Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.

And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.


And as a response to this blessing, Abraham gave a tenth of all that he had plundered in the battle to Melchizedek.


And then nothing . . . just as quickly as this man appeared, he disappeared.

And for another 1,000 years, there is never any mention of the name Melchizedek. And then suddenly out of nowhere again, his strange name is heard in the words of King David in Psalm 110 as he speaks prophetically of a great and ultimate king that God would send to his people. A king that is described as one who will sit at the right hand of God and would crush his enemies and use them as a footstool .


And right in the middle of this description of this great King, David says

"And he will be priest forever in the order of Melchizedek".


Now, there are two strange things about this phrase that David uses.


First, David says that the One God will send is both king and priest . . . this is unheard of because it was strictly forbidden in the laws of God that any man should serve the dual role of King and Priest. But David says that this one sent by God will be both and that his reign will never end.


And the second strange thing is that God is going to send to his people, a royal priest in the likeness of one from long ago, Melchizedek - this random man who shows up in the middle of this great story of Abraham. Melchizedek - a man who seems to be simply a blip in the screen of a great narrative.


How odd to compare this great one from God with such a miniscule character in a greater narrative and yet how consistent with the character of God.


And then after much time and no mention of his name, the writer of Hebrews picks up the language of King David and He says


Jesus is this great high priest that will reign forever.


In fact, by the time we get to chapter 7, he has already referred to Jesus as a great high priest 5 times and 2 of those he has said that Jesus is the great high priest in the order of Melchizedek.


The first time we hear this comparison is in chapter 5 verse 10, perhaps you remember from a few weeks back.


He says "He was designated by God to be a high priest in the order of Melchizedek" and then goes on to say "we have much to say about this but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn"


And then he admonishes them and give them warnings about being sluggish in their spiritual growth and at the end of this section, he once again says in chapter 6 verse 20

"He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek"


But this time, he wants to fully explain what he means and he does this by anticipating three questions that the readers are going to have when making this comparison.


The first question is who is this Melchizedek?

When I first read this, I assumed that Melchizedek was a great figure in Jewish tradition - why else would the writer make this comparison? - but the Hebrew people were just as confused by this name as we are today, who is he?


Other than hearing his name mentioned a couple of times in scripture, nobody really knows.


In fact, there has been a lot of speculation and debate over the identity of Melchizedek over the years but the simple answer to who Melchizedek is this . . .


He was a man whose life would foreshadow the ministry of Jesus Christ.



The author of Hebrews points out that his given name Melchizedek means "King of Righteousness" and that his role was King of Salem or Shalom, which means "peace". Ironically, it is believed that Salem or Shalom is the ancient city of what has become Jerusalem - a city that has never been described as a city of Peace but a city that the Lord will return to bring peace.


So Melchizedek is both the "King of righteousness" and the "King of Peace", both terms appropriate for one who foreshadows Jesus Christ - who is the king of kings and the Lord of lords and the prince of peace who will reign forever with righteousness.


But not only is Melchizedek a king, the author of Hebrews says that that he is a high priest of the God most high, pointing out the evidence of his priesthood through the two acts.


First, he brought a blessing to Abraham and second that Abraham gave him a tithe - these were two functions of a priestly ministry, to bless and receive tithes - but these functions were the responsibility of the descendants of Levi. This set them apart as unique among the children of Israel.


Which brings up the second question, how could Jesus be our new high priest when he is not from the Tribe of Levi?


This Jewish audience knew that when God entered into a covenantal relationship with the people of Israel, and when he established the priesthood he chose Aaron a member of the tribe of Levi to be the high priest and from that point on, God made clear that all high priests were to be direct descendents from Levi, who was one of the original brothers that comprised the nation of Israel.


And so these Jewish readers would be confused, how could Jesus Christ who is from the tribe of Judah be our high priest?


Now we might be tempted to think that that question is irrelevant but the answer to that question is vital to your spiritual livelihood. It is the basis for our faith.


To answer this question we have to understand the process by which one became a High priest. Simply, there were two questions you had to answer . . .


Who is your father and who is your mother?


And if you could not trace your family lineage directly back to Aaron or your mother was not 100% Hebrew blood than you were out.


But the writer of Hebrews says that Melchizedek - who is the foreshadowing of Jesus - was without genealogy. The qualifications for Melchizedek's priesthood did not come from family lineage and he says that it has no beginning or end.


I want to stop there for a second because I want to make clear that Melchizedek was a real person - by saying that he has no beginning or end, the writer of Hebrews is using a common exegetical practice known as "argument from silence". And he is capitalizing on Genesis 14's lack of any reference to Melchizedek's ancestry, birth, or death.


His point is not that Melchizedek is some kind of supernatural being but rather he is trying to distinguish the difference between Melchizedek's priesthood and the Levitical Priesthood.


The Levites were priests by virtue of heritage and they had a beginning and end as defined by the laws of Moses but scripture, in it's silence, puts no limitations on the priesthood of Melchizedek.


By saying that there was no beginning or end, implies eternity. He is saying that Melchizedek's priesthood transcended the temporal limitations of the Levitical priesthood and confirms what is clearly stated in Psalm 110 - priesthood in the order of Melchizedek that lasts forever.


Then the writer goes on to say that this is like the son of God - literally translated "having been made like" the son of God.


This means that God directly appointed Melchizedek to resemble Jesus Christ in order to establish a priestly order that would be greater than Aaron and Levi and would foreshadow a greater one who would occupy the position; a priest that would not be constrained by temporal limitations but would be eternal.


Jesus Christ therefore occupies the role of our great priest by virtue of divine appointment by God himself and therefore is greater than the Levitical priesthood.


And having accomplished the work of eternal redemption, Jesus Christ ascended into heaven was put on the throne and God said to him "You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek".



The third question is why is Jesus our ultimate and final high priest?


In the last image we have of Melchizedek in scripture, Abraham was giving a tithe to Melchizedek. Now, tithe giving was not all that uncommon - it was a way of acknowledging a role of subordination and to receive a tithe was to accept the honor of superiority. So, the image that the author of Hebrews is reminding us of is of Melchizedek being in a position superior to Abraham.


And he says in verse 4, "Just think how great he was, even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder!" Even Abraham - the founder of the great nation of Israel - the greatest figure in Hebrew tradition submitted to Melchizedek by giving him a tithe.


And not only did he give him a tithe, he gave him a tenth of the plunder. The word used here refers to the part of the plunder that was the best! Abraham gave him the best - not the left over's but the best.


This is important for us to understand because in the Levitical priesthood, the law required the children of Israel to give and it had nothing to do with worthiness but Abraham gave freely - He gave his best to a worthy priest and this is significant because of one fact that perhaps you have not thought of . . . Abraham precedes Levi.


Remember, Abraham is the one who received the promise but the promise had not yet been fulfilled. There were no children of Israel at this time. Levi did not exist.


So what is happening here is that Abraham, who is the great patriarch and the one through whom God will fulfill his promise, is freely giving his best on behalf of his people who were yet to com.


This means that all other priests are less than Melchizedek because symbolically, through Abraham, they have tithed and submitted themselves to Melchizedek - who foreshadows Jesus.


And then, scripture says that Melchizedek blesses Abraham - the one who had the promise.


What was the promise? "That all people will be blessed through you."


Abraham was the man of blessing and yet when he came into the presence of Melchizedek he bowed down before him and took a subordinate role.


The writer of Hebrews is saying to his Jewish audience, why would you ever go back to Judaism when you have a priest who surpasses your very heritage?


And this text speaks just a clearly to us in the 21st century as it did to a 1st century Jewish audience.


Why would we ever choose anything but Jesus Christ, who is both King and Priest and has gone before the father on our behalf and separated the gap between us and the creator and is now building the kingdom of God in which he will reign forever in peace and righteousness?


When Abraham returned from war and Melchizedek come out to meet him he brought 2 things to refresh him . . . bread and wine.


Jesus also meets us with the same 2 manifestations to remind us of what he did as our high priest and tonight I ask you . . . Is Jesus Christ your high priest?


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