High Priest in the Order of Melchizedek

SERMON: “High Priest in the Order of Melchizedek”「メルキゼデクの位に等しい大祭司」
TEXT: Heb. 7:1-14


The author of Hebrews has already mentioned Melchizedek in chapter 5:11. There he wrote, “concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.” In our passage today Hebrews begins to explain his “difficult” teaching about this mysterious figure from Old Testament history. Why is this character whose name appears only twice in the Old Testament so important? Why was his brief encounter with Abraham even recorded in Scripture? And what connection has Melchizedek with the Savior Jesus Christ? The writer has told us in 5:9-10, “He [Jesus] became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” What does this all mean? These are difficult questions. However, if we think carefully about the explanation here in Hebrews, we can learn some important principles about interpreting God’s word. And we will learn some vital information concerning our Savior Jesus Christ.
In order to understand our passage this morning we will need to learn who this historical character named Melchizedek is. Verses 1-3 remind us about what is recorded about Melchizedek in Genesis. Next, in verses 4-10, Hebrews explains how the historical record of Melchizedek—brief though it is—proves his eminent greatness among the famous Old Testament figures, including Abraham. Finally, in verses 11-14, Hebrews tells us how David’s Psalm 110 connects the ancient priest Melchizedek with the promised Savior called the “Christ.”


First, let’s look at the biblical record concerning the man Melchizedek. The historical evidence is found only in Genesis 14:18-20. According to this record Melchizedek was both king of Salem (or Jerusalem) and priest of “God Most High” (whom Abraham identifies with the Lord God in v. 22). Genesis 14: 1-12 describes a military campaign in the region around the Dead Sea by an alliance of four kings from the north and east. The invaders defeated the combined armies of five local kings. Genesis 14:11-12 says, “The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.” When Abraham learned of Lot’s capture, he immediately raised a small army himself and went in pursuit. Attacking his enemy at night, Abraham defeated them. He recovered Lot and his possessions, together with all the other hostages and much plunder. As Abraham was returning home after his successful rescue mission, Melchizedek came from Salem to meet him. He brought bread and wine to Abraham and, as priest of the Most High God, Melchizedek blessed Abraham in God’s name. He said, “Blessed be Abraham by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand” (Gen. 14:19-20). After receiving the priest’s blessing, Abraham gave to Melchizedek a tenth of everything he had taken from his enemies. This is the only information that is recorded in Scripture about Melchizedek.
But notice how Hebrews interprets the biblical data. First, Hebrews provides a translation of Melchizedek’s name. In Hebrew “melech” means “king,” and “zedek” means “righteousness.” So “Melchizedek” might be translated “My king is righteousness” or simply, “the king of righteousness.” Hebrews also translates the name of the city “Salem” as “peace,” because the name is related to the Hebrew word “shalom” or “peace.” Hebrews implies that Melchizedek’s name and title reflect his true character. Melchizedek is a king who reigns with righteousness and brings peace to his people. In this description, Hebrews tells us, we can see a prefiguring or “type” of the Savior promised by God.
But this is not the only way that the historical figure of Melchizedek serves as a “type” of Christ. In v. 3, Hebrews says, “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.” Some scholars have thought that Hebrews in this passage declared that Melchizedek was actually a “spiritual being”—an angel of the Lord or even an earthly appearance of God’s Son, the second Person of the Trinity. But the Greek word used here means “resembling” the Son of God, so it is not likely that Hebrews intends his readers to perfectly identify Melchizedek with God’s Son. The key word in verse three is “genealogy.” For all other priests of God named in the Bible, their genealogy was of great significance. In order to serve as a priest, it was necessary for a man to prove his physical descent from Aaron, the first priest of the tribe of Levi. But the priest Melchizedek provides no genealogical information at all! Not even his father’s or his mother’s names are recorded in Genesis. We have no record of his birth or of his death. As “priest of God Most High,” Melchizedek is a mysterious figure. He neither receives his priestly office from his father, nor does he pass the office on to a son after him. As far as we can judge from the Genesis account, Melchizedek continues to hold his unique office of priest “forever.” In this manner he is an appropriate “type” of Christ, who also lacks the usual genealogical “credentials” to prove His right to the priestly office. Maybe it was for this reason that David wrote concerning God’s Messiah some 800 years later, “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind: ‘You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.’”

After considering the brief historical record of Melchizedek’s life that is provided in Genesis, Hebrews proceeds immediately to explain his next major point: the surpassing greatness of Melchizedek as priest of the Lord God. In vv. 4-10 Hebrews declares that Melchizedek is vastly superior to the priests of Israel who were descended from the tribe of Levi. This startling claim is based upon two facts: First, Abraham paid a tithe to the priest Melchizedek; second, Abraham willingly received a blessing in God’s name from Melchizedek. Look at v. 4. “Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder!” According to the Law of Moses, it was the tribe of Levi that was authorized to collect a tithe from the other tribes in Israel. Since the Levites were not promised any territory as their “inheritance” among the twelve tribes of Israel, they were to receive their income in the form of a tithe paid to them by their fellow Israelites. The tithe would sustain the members of the tribe of Levi, including the priests descended from Aaron. Supported by the tithe, the Levitical priests could devote themselves to the spiritual services of the tabernacle (later temple) of the Lord. But listen to what Hebrews says about Melchizedek in v. 6, “This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.” Not only was Melchizedek not descended from the priestly tribe of Levi, but he was actually serving as priest of the Lord God long before Levi was even born! Melchizedek was a priest before the birth of Abraham’s son Isaac, who later became the grandfather of Levi! But Melchizedek’s superiority to the Levitical priests does not just rest upon his chronological priority. Hebrews tells us in v. 9, “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.” In other words, when Abraham paid the tithe to Melchizedek, he acted on behalf of all of his descendants; he acknowledged the right of Melchizedek to serve as priest of the Most High God. And in a sense, through Abraham’s act his descendant Levi also acknowledged the superiority of the priestly “order of Melchizedek.” One further point, Hebrews tells us, establishes the greatness of Melchizedek’s priestly office. That is the fact that Melchizedek blessed Abraham in the name of the Most High God. Abraham was certainly one of the greatest figures in Israel’s history. He was the physical “father of his people.” He was also the great spiritual leader and example for his descendants to follow. He was a true man of faith. And God Himself calls Abraham “my friend” (Isa. 41:8; Jas. 2:23). But it was Melchizedek who blessed Abraham! As Hebrews says in v. 7, “And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater.” So Melchizedek was even greater than Abraham whom he blessed in God’s name.
In the last few verses of our passage, Hebrews comes to his primary purpose: that is, to show that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the prophetic words of Psalm 110:4. It is Jesus of whom David has spoken, saying, “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind: You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” First, Hebrews tells us that the Levitical priesthood was only temporary and imperfect. In fact the Levitical priests could not perfectly restore the broken relationship between Israel and their Creator God. The Levitical priesthood was only a temporary system that God had established. But according to God’s perfect plan, at the right time, God promised that He would send another priest. This particular priest—“not in the order of Aaron,” but “one in the order of Melchizedek”–would accomplish perfectly what the Levitical priests could not do.
But what about the law of Moses concerning the descendants of Levi and Aaron? If anyone argues that “the Levitical priesthood has been established by God’s law,” one need only reply, “Yes, but God who gave the Law to Israel can also change the Law.” “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind” concerning this priesthood, which is actually far older than the Levitical priesthood. God, who has given us a perfect high priest—“according to the order of Melchizedek,” has changed the former law. It is that simple.

The priest that God promised through the prophetic word of David long ago has now come. His name is Jesus–the Christ–descendant of David, of the tribe of Judah. But, no one from the tribe of Judah has ever before served God as priest! This Hebrews freely admits: “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 the Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests” (v. 14). But Jesus is the One God has promised. He is the One of whom the Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” He is our priest forever, and He performs His priestly work perfectly, so that through Him we have real peace with God. “Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to make intercession for them” (7:25) Jesus, like Melchizedek, is both our High Priest and our King. He is our perfect “King of Righteousness” and the “King of Peace.” He will reign forever as “Son of David,” and, more importantly, as “Son of God,” for His kingdom has no end.


Hebrews has still more to teach us about Jesus Christ, who has become our glorious and perfect high priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” Lord willing, we will continue next week to think about this very special role that Jesus has taken up for our sakes. For now, as we conclude today’s study, I hope you will remember that what Christ has done, and is doing even now, He does for you who believe and obey Him. He is our only, eternal priest, who intercedes for us with His Father. And we need His intercession! He is our only hope of salvation, for no one comes to the Father except through Him. Hebrews 5:8-9 says, “Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.” As the apostle Paul explained to the Philippian Christians, “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).

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