Studies in the Book of Hebrews—Chapter 7

“After the Order of Melchisedec”


VERSES 1,2  “This Melchisedec, 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; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace.”

It is in chapter 5, verses 6, 10 and 11, that Paul first mentions Melchisedec as a type of Christ, and there he wrote that he had “many things” to say about him, things which to the Hebrews would seem “hard to be uttered” because, as the apostle explains, they were “dull of hearing.” Again, in the last verse of chapter 6, Jesus is referred to as “an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” In the seventh chapter, Paul itemizes the ‘many things’ about Melchisedec which prove him to be a type of Christ, the reigning priest of the Millennial Age. This entire chapter is devoted to showing how much greater in every way, typical and antitypical, was the Melchisedec priesthood than the Aaronic order.

Melchisedec was both a king and a priest, and from God’s standpoint a very highly honored priest. Abraham, a friend of God upon the basis of his faith, was highly honored by Jehovah, but Abraham paid tithes to Melchisedec—giving to him a tenth of all the spoils of battle on the occasion when he slaughtered the kings who had taken Lot, his nephew, into captivity.—Gen. 14:18-20

The title Melchisedec is a very significant one, being made up of melek, meaning ‘king,’ and tsedeq, meaning ‘righteousness.’ He actually was King of Salem. Salem means ‘peace,’ so Melchisedec was ‘King of peace.’ What a clearly defined type Melchisedec was, therefore, of the one concerning whom the Prophet Isaiah wrote that “of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.”—Isa. 9:7

VERSE 3  “Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.”

The evident thought of this text is that Melchisedec was without father or mother in the priesthood—he did not inherit the office from his parents. It was given to him directly by God. Paul emphasizes this point in order to offset the doubts some might have concerning Jesus, that not being of the Levitical tribe he could not therefore be a priest. In the Jewish Age arrangement, it was God who constituted the Levitical tribe the one from which priests were to be taken; so God had the authority and power to exalt others to the priesthood. This he did in the case of Melchisedec, and also Christ, the antitypical Melchisedec.

In the Aaronic order of priesthood there was an arrangement of succession, but not so in the higher, or Melchisedec order. Melchisedec had neither predecessor nor successor in the priesthood. In this respect he was like ‘the Son of God,’ who similarly is the only one in this highest of all priestly orders. Paul explains that the typical significance of this is that Christ ‘abideth a priest continually.’

VERSES 4-10  “Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the Law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better. And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth. And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.”

Paul’s reasoning in these verses is irrefutable. Abraham is counted one of the greatest, if not the greatest, hero of faith mentioned in the Bible. In Romans 4:13, he is designated the “heir of the world.” Yet he paid tithes to Melchisedec, and, as Paul states, ‘The less is blessed of the better.’ (vs. 7) The head of Israel’s priestly tribe, that is, Levi, himself paid tithes to Melchisedec while still in the loins of Abraham. None of the Levitical tribe, not even the priests could, therefore, be as great as Melchisedec.

‘Of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.’ There is no record of the birth or death of Melchisedec. All we know is that he lived. This makes him a fitting type of the perpetual priestly office of Christ, of whom it is prophetically stated, “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 5:6) In this statement Paul may also have been alluding to the testimony of the “two men” at the tomb of the antitypical Melchisedec, when they asked the women who were looking for Jesus’ body, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” or, as the marginal translation states, why seek “him that liveth.”—Luke 24:4,5

VERSE 11  “If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the Law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?”

In this verse Paul presents still another argument as to why believers should expect that the Aaronic priesthood would be succeeded by another and higher priestly order. It was the fact that the Levitical, or Aaronic, priesthood did not bring perfection to those who were served by it. “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners” (Heb. 1:1) had spoken to the Jewish fathers by the prophets had foretold that there would be another priesthood established, one after the order of Melchisedec, and now the inspired Paul is pointing out another reason why this was necessary.

VERSES 12-17  “The priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the Law. For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.”

Hebrews who had accepted Christ would not find it easy to understand why changes needed to be made in the Law in order for Jesus to serve as a priest, so in these verses Paul’s reasoning is to show why this change was the logical thing to expect, and quite in harmony with God’s arrangement. Priests of the Levitical order served by hereditary rights. One could not begin service until he was thirty years of age.

Jesus, however, was not of the tribe of Levi, so according to this hereditary arrangement of the Law, he could never be eligible for the priesthood. In the Divine plan a higher priestly order was designed for him. By the hereditary arrangement one could become a priest regardless of whether or not he was worthy of the office, but under the Melchisedec order this could not be. So far as his priestly service was concerned, Melchisedec was ‘without beginning of days, nor end of life.’ His genealogy is not recorded. None of his qualifications for the priesthood are recorded. His was simply a case of being chosen by God. It is this great fact that stands out in the case of Jesus, the antitype of Melchisedec.

The fact that priests of the Aaronic order inherited their positions was an evidence of the temporary nature of their service. But with the Melchisedec order the reverse is true. No time element entered into this arrangement. Thus Melchisedec is a suitable type of the endless life and continuing priesthood of Jesus. As Paul presents it, the ‘power’ or authority for Christ’s appointment as a priest was that of ‘an endless life,’ this being in harmony with the prophecy which foretold his appointment.

VERSES 18,19  “There is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. For the Law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.”

The “Law … was weak through the flesh,” Paul wrote. (Rom. 8:3) The reason the Law failed was not because there was something wrong with it, but because of the imperfections of those who attempted to obtain life under its provisions. Since the Israelites proved by their own failure under the Law that its arrangements were not adequate to bring perfection and life to fallen human beings, it was automatically disannulled and the way opened for a new arrangement.

Since the Law made nothing perfect, this was additional reason for the appointment of another priesthood, and it is in connection with this that we have been given a ‘better hope,’ a hope which, when it matures, will result in perfection. It is a hope which includes the prospect of serving and reigning with Christ in the future work of blessing the obedient of mankind with ‘restitution’ to perfection. Christ is not now a reigning priest, but we have the assurance that he “ever liveth to make intercession” for us, and that through the merit of his shed blood we are ‘reckoned’ perfect by God. (Heb. 7:25) Thus, being “justified by faith, we have peace with God,” and can “draw nigh” unto him, going “boldly unto the throne of grace.”—Rom. 5:1; James 4:8; Heb. 4:16

VERSES 20,21  “Inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest: (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.)”

Jesus was not only appointed by God to be a priest, but his appointment was confirmed by a Divine oath. Surely, then there should be no question in anyone’s mind concerning his right to be a priest, a greater right than those who became priests merely by heredity.

VERSE 22  “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.”

‘By so much’—this refers to the great authority of Jesus’ appointment to the priesthood as indicated by the fact that it was confirmed by God’s oath. God’s original covenant of blessing, which embraces the hope of both the church and the world, was confirmed by Divine oath. This was the covenant made to Abraham. This is probably why Paul associates the ‘better covenant’ with the assurance of the Divine oath.

The expression ‘better covenant,’ is in contrast with the Law Covenant. The covenant principally referred to is doubtless the promised “new covenant.” (Jer. 31:31) By his death and resurrection Jesus became the ‘surety’ for this covenant. By the same token he also made sure of our acceptance under the terms of the Sarah feature of the original Abrahamic Covenant—that part of the covenant which calls for the development of the “seed” which is to bless all the families of the earth. See Galatians 3:27-29; 4:19-31.

VERSES 23-25  “They truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”

Who could fail to see this advantage of the Melchisedec order of priesthood? Christ ‘ever liveth to make intercession’—a priest ‘for ever.’ We can well imagine the case of an earnest Israelite under the Law Covenant seeking to live close to God, and leaning heavily upon a certain high priest for counsel and encouragement. He would become acquainted with the priest, and the priest would get to understand him and be able thus to better serve him. But suddenly this high priest dies. What a tragedy this would be for the one who depended so largely upon him.

This is not true of our High Priest, Jesus, for he ‘ever liveth,’ and is ready at all times to make intercession for us. He understands us, too—knows our every weakness, yet loves us with an everlasting love. No wonder he is able to save ‘to the uttermost’ those who ‘come unto God by him.’ Those who desire to return to God and to his fellowship and blessing are helped and shown the way. Christ’s merit is imputed to them to cover their defects; and his intercession is able to make their earnest efforts successful. What a Savior! What a Priest!

VERSES 26-28  “Such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the Law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the Law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated [margin, ‘perfected’] for evermore.”

‘For such an High Priest became us’ or ours. He was ‘holy’—entirely devoted to his Heavenly Father, with a devotion prompted by love and based upon knowledge. He was ‘harmless’—his every influence was beneficial. He was ‘undefiled’—not only from the standpoint of the Law, but morally pure as well. He was ‘separate from sinners’—he did not derive his life from Adam, but merely his physical makeup, nor was he in any way tainted with human imperfections, as typified by the Levitical priesthood being separated from every contact with the dead or with impurity. He is now ‘higher than the heavens’—a reference to Jesus’ high exaltation when he was raised from the dead, “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named.” (Eph. 1:20,21) It was because Jesus was thus exalted that he is now able to appear in the presence of God for us.

The contrast between the sacrificial work of the Levitical priesthood and the sacrifice of Jesus is in the fact that they needed to keep repeating their work, but Jesus offered himself only once. The typical priests offered sacrifice, first for their own sins, and ‘then for the people’s,’ Paul states. Then he explains concerning Jesus that ‘this he did’ when he offered up himself; that is, he offered sacrifice for the sins of his body members, the church, and also for the people’s sins. Paul has just explained that Jesus, personally, was holy, and separate from sinners. He had heard Jesus inquire, “Saul, Saul, why persecuteth thou me?” (Acts 9:4) Jesus thus acknowledged his footstep followers as a part of himself, and it was for these that he offered himself in sacrifice, and also for the people of the whole world. The Apostle John says of Jesus that he became the “propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”—I John 2:2

Jesus was perfect as a man, and the experiences through which he passed while offering himself in sacrifice perfected him as a New Creature; in the sense, that is, of being developed, or made complete. Thus he became fully qualified to serve as our High Priest now, and for the world in the age to come. In that future work his church will serve with him.

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