“You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek,” Psalm 110:4
Hebrews chapter seven can be difficult to understand. This chapter presents Jesus as a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. Were you aware that Hebrews is the only book in the Bible where Jesus is called a High Priest, Hebrews 3:1, 7:26 and 8:1? Check it out and you will see that this is true. Who was Melchizedek? We know he was a king and priest but was he a man? Was he an angel? Some believe he was manifestation of Christ in the Old Testament? For certain, he was a type of Christ.
We first meet this great king and priest during the days of Abraham. Read Genesis 14:14-17. In the entire Old Testament he is only mentioned twice. He is mentioned in Genesis and in Psalm 110:4, a psalm of David, (cited above). In the New Testament Melchizedek is mentioned in Hebrews 5:6, 5:10, 6:20, 7:1, 7:10-11, 7:15, 7:17. Those citations in chapters 5 and 6 quote Psalm 110:4. For such an important Old Testament King and priest, we are not given very much information. The teaching found in Hebrews chapter seven must be studied very carefully because it can easily be misunderstood. If you have studied this passage in the past you will likely acknowledge that it is difficult to comprehend. I confess that I have often been confused by this important passage of scripture.
Over the years I have bounced back and forth in my efforts to understand it’s meaning. In recent weeks I read an explanation of Hebrews chapter seven from a commentary on Hebrews written by Arthur W. Pink. It has helped me immensely. I think he is right on target when he defines Melchizekek as a human being just like other High Priests in history.
SOME BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Before going any further into our study of chapter seven it is important to consider the writer’s purpose in writing the book of Hebrews. The book of Hebrews was written to warn Jewish Christians against forsaking Christianity and going back to the Law of Moses. The book presents the superiority of Jesus and the New Covenant by presenting the following truths:
- Jesus is superior to the angels, Chapters 1-2.
- Jesus is greater than Moses, Chapter 3:1-6.
- Jesus delivers a greater (promised land) than the one delivered by Joshua, 3:7-4:13.
- Jesus is a greater priest than Aaron, 5:1-6:20
- Jesus’ High Priesthood is after the order of Melchizekek, 7:1-28.
- Jesus offers a better covenant than the one given to Moses, 8:1-13.
- Jesus’ kingdom offers better ordinances than Moses Law, 9:1-10.
- Jesus offers true redemption through His perfect sacrifice (His blood), 9:11-10:18.
- Do not forsake the new covenant – endure – Don’t shrink back to destruction. 10:19-39.
- Examples of faith from ancient worthies, 11:1-40.
- Do not grow weary because of earthly trials, 12:1-17.
- Jesus established a better kingdom, 12:18-28.
- Some requirements for those in Jesus’s kingdom, 13:1-24.
This outline is my own and it clearly shows that the Hebrew writer was encouraging Jewish Christians so they would not go back to Judaism. When the book was written the Christians were suffering persecution from both Jewish leaders and from Rome. It appears they were considering a return to their former religion with the expectation they would have more peace and comfort. The book of Hebrews shows that the Way that Jesus brought to us is far superior to the one delivered to Moses. The Old Covenant has been removed and we live under the New Covenant that brought us salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The emphasis of Hebrews is: Do not go back to your former religion – Stay the course! It is only through the one who is better than angels, better than Moses, better than Aaron and Joshua who can save us from our sins. Only the great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Jesus) was able to offer the greatest sacrifice for sin. The old ways are over and the new covenant has come. When times are difficult, stay the course. Going back to your former way of life is not the answer. Jesus is the answer! That is the thrust of the book of Hebrews.
THE KINGLY PRIEST
“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.” Hebrews 7:1-3.
The word “Melchizedek” is not a name but a title. It means “King of righteousness”. During Abraham’s day he was King of Salem, meaning “peace”. This city is none other than Jerusalem. The term “Jeru” means city. Thus, through the passing of time, Salem came to be known as Jerusalem.
The greatness of Melchizedek is seen when Abraham, “the friend of God” and the one through whom Christ was to come, gave a tenth part of everything to this King. Thus this man, the king of peace, who was not descended from Abraham, was greater than the patriarch Abraham, Hebrew 7:7-10.
So far so good, Right? However, the meaning of verse three gives great difficulty to those of us who attempt to explain what it means. Arthur Pink (mentioned above) gives great insight when he explains this verse. Basically, the difficulty comes when one misunderstands just what the writer is talking about in verse three. Here it is again, 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,” Hebrews 7:3. According to Pink, this verse is not talking about the person of Melchizedek but it is speaking of his office as high priest. This helpful observation helps us understand the verse more clearly. It is the priesthood of Melchizedek is eternal not his person.
Under the Law of Moses the Levite priests (and High Priests) had to be of the lineage of Aaron. Otherwise they could not serve. Thus from Aaron onward it was necessary to establish one’s father or mother or genealogy in order to serve. Without such proof they could not serve as priests. Read Ezra 2:62 to see some of the difficulties among the priests who returned to Jerusalem after the 70 years of Babylonian captivity. Those who could not prove their pedigree were excluded from serving.
However, when God placed Melchizedek as a High Priest He did so without any consideration of his genealogy. Hebrews 7:3 points out the difference between the Levitical priesthood and that of the King of Salem. The priesthood of Melchizedek was not dependent upon his lineage. In that sense his office was without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life. No one preceded him as High Priest and no one followed him after he was gone. This made his priesthood perpetual. Consequently, he is a type of the Son of God who continues as a priest forever. The office Melchizekek is what continues forever in the book of Hebrews not his physical life.
Some people interpret verse three to mean that Melchizedek was an angel. It is evident that the King of righteousness was not an angel. Read my blog from last week on angels and you will learn that angels were created beings. Those who interpret Hebrews 7:3 to teach Melchizedek was an angel use the lack of genealogy as a proof text that he was not a man. However, since angels were created this argument fails completely. Yes, there was a time when there were no angels. God created them sometime before He created the earth.
There are others who believe that Melchizedek was some sort of Divine being. Perhaps he was even Christ Himself. Hebrews 7:3 states Melchizedek resembled “the Son of God he continues a priest forever.” Note the text says, “resembling” and not that he “was” the Son of God. It is more likely that the phrase merely means he is a type of Christ. While we all want to know the meaning suggested by this verse, it is irreverent to speculate on areas where the Bible is silent, Deuteronomy 29:29.
Since Melchizedek was not an angel or some other Divine being, who was he? Do we have biblical evidence that Melchizedek was a man? Yes we do. Reading Hebrews 5:1 completely destroys all arguments that Melchizedek was not a human being like the rest of us. “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” Read the text again! It says, “every high priest chosen among men is appointed to act to behalf of men in relation to God”. Melchizekek was a High Priest. He was chosen among men. Therefore he was a man, a human being. “See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils”, Hebrews 7:4. Based on the verses cited our conclusion it is evident that Melchizedek was a man. The Bible verses mentioned confirm this reasonable conclusion.