The Book of Hebrews
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.
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. And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. 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.
If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared:
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”
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.
And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:
“The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind:
‘You are a priest forever.’”
Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.
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.
Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 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.
Under Israel’s law, all priests came from the tribe of Levi (Deut. 18). The function of this office was to mediate between God and man in the temple for the purification of sins, and thereby allowing man to draw near to God. The temple represented God’s home-His sanctuary. The duties included making sacrifices and offerings for various sins, so as to purify the people. Out of the 12 tribes of Israel, God set aside the tribe of Levi as a holy tribe whose function within Israel was solely to be priests. When Melchizedek visited Abraham however, it was before the Law was given to Moses, and before the introduction of the Levitical priesthood through Aaron-the 1st Levite priest. But Abraham honored Melchizedek by giving him a tenth (tithe) of the goods he had gained from war. In doing so, he approached him as one would approach a priest. And, since Levi (a son of Jacob), was Abraham’s descendant, in a sense, all Levite priests in this moment honored Melchizedek as priest. Where does that then place the preeminence of the Levitical priesthood?
In reference to Jesus, Psalm 110 says, “the Lord has sworn… you are priest forever… according to the order of Melchizedek.” Not to the order of Aaron or Levi! No Levitical priest had ever lived forever, none was ever sworn into office by God, and none had ever held the two offices of king and Priest. Furthermore, Jesus’ lineage was not of the priesthood tribe of Levi, but from Judah-the tribe from which kings came!
The writer to the Hebrews demonstrated to his audience the imperfection and insufficiency of the Law, the old covenant, and the Levitical priesthood together to make mankind perfect or whole. And not only that, but also that a new era had come bringing with it a new and better covenant, and a new and perfect priesthood.
But for a people who had known of no other system by which they could draw near to God and be made clean of their sins, hearing this could have been tantamount to religious trauma. His goal, however, was to help them to understand how Jesus, by the sacrifice of His life for us, became our Priest, made the last necessary sacrifice on our behalf, and by His resurrection, lives forever as our King-Priest, continually mediating for us and thus allowing us to draw nearer to God. Because of Jesus, we too have become priests (1 Peter 2:9-10).
But why would God give a system He knew was insufficient? His past experience with Israel was a consistent theme of wanting to rely on men rather than God. He used this human desire to prove its imperfection, and through it set them on a journey that would prepare them to receive His better and perfect way.
Question to ponder:
- In what ways do you struggle with the idea of being a priest?