Melchizedek (or, That Section Everyone Skips) Hebrews 7:1-8:13

In the Book of Genesis, we read about when Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest of the Most High God, met Abraham as he returned from defeating King Chedorlaomer and his allies. Melchizedek blessed our ancestor, and 2 Abraham gave him a tenth of everything captured in the battle. Let’s look more closely at Melchizedek. First, his name means “king of righteousness”; and his title, king of Salem, means “king of peace.” 3 The Scriptures don’t name his mother or father or descendants, and they don’t record his birth or his death. We could say he’s like the Son of God: eternal, a priest forever.

4 And just imagine how great this man was, that even our great and honorable patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the spoils. 5 Compare him to the priests who serve in our temple, the descendants of Levi, who were given a commandment in the law of Moses to collect one-tenth of the income of the tribes of Israel. The priests took that tithe from their own people, even though they were also descended from Abraham. 6 But this man, Melchizedek, who did not belong to that Levite ancestry, collected a tenth part of Abraham’s income; and although Abraham had received the promises, it was Melchizedek who blessed Abraham.

7 Now I don’t have to tell you that it is the lesser one who receives a blessing from the greater. 8 In the case of the priests descended from Levi, they are mortal men who receive a tithe of one-tenth; but the Scriptures record no death of Melchizedek, the one who received Abraham’s tithe. 9 I guess you could even say that Levi, who receives our tithes, originally paid tithes through Abraham 10 because he was still unborn and only a part of his ancestor when Abraham met Melchizedek.

11 If a perfect method of reconciling with God—a perfect priesthood—had been found in the sons of Levi (a priesthood that communicated God’s law to the people), then why would the Scriptures speak of another priest, a priest according to the order of Melchizedek, instead of, say, from the order of Aaron? What would be the need for it? It would reflect a new way of relating to God 12 because when there is a change in the priesthood there must be a corresponding change in the law as well. 13 We’re talking about someone who comes from another tribe, from which no member has ever served at God’s altar.

14 It’s clear that Jesus, our Lord, descended from the tribe of Judah; but Moses never spoke about priests from that tribe. 15 Doesn’t it seem obvious? Jesus is a priest who resembles Melchizedek in so many ways; 16 He is someone who has become a priest, not because of some requirement about human lineage, but because of the power of a life without end. 17 Remember, the psalmist says, “You are a priest forever - in the honored order of Melchizedek.”

18 Because the earlier commandment was weak and did not reconcile us to God effectively, it was set aside— 19 after all, the law could not make anyone or anything perfect. God has now introduced a new and better hope, through which we may draw near to Him, 20 and confirmed it by swearing to it. 21 The Levite order of priests took office without an oath, but this man Jesus became a priest through God’s oath: “The Eternal One has sworn an oath and cannot change His mind:

You are a priest forever.”

22 So we can see that Jesus has become the guarantee of a new and better covenant. 23 Further, the prior priesthood of the sons of Levi has included many priests because death cut short their service, 24 but Jesus holds His priesthood permanently because He lives His resurrected life forever. 25 From such a vantage, He is able to save those who approach God through Him for all time because He will forever live to be their advocate in the presence of God.

26 It is only fitting that we should have a High Priest who is devoted to God, blameless, pure, compassionate toward but separate from sinners, and exalted by God to the highest place of honor. 27 Unlike other high priests, He does not first need to make atonement every day for His own sins, and only then for His people’s, because He already made atonement, reconciling us with God once and forever when He offered Himself as a sacrifice. 28 The law made imperfect men high priests; but after that law was given, God swore an oath that made His perfected Son a high priest for all time.

8:1 So let me sum up what we’ve covered so far, for there is much we have said: we have a High Priest, a perfect Priest who sits in the place of honor in the highest heavens, at the right hand of the throne of the Majestic One, 2 a Minister within the heavenly sanctuary set up by the Lord, not by human hands. 3 As I have said, it is the role of every high priest to offer gifts and sacrifices to God, so clearly this Priest of ours must have something to offer as well. 4

If He were on earth, then He would not be a priest at all because there are already priests who can offer gifts according to the law of Moses 5 in a sanctuary that is only a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary. We know this because God admonished Moses as he set up the tent for the Lord’s sanctuary: “Be sure that you make everything according to the pattern I showed you on the mountain.”[a]6 But now Jesus has taken on a new and improved priestly ministry; and in that respect, He has been made the Mediator of a better covenant established on better promises.

7 Remember, if the first covenant had been able to reconcile everyone to God, there would be no reason for a second covenant. 8 God found fault with the priests when He said through the prophet Jeremiah, “Look! The time is coming,” the Eternal Lord says,

“when I will bring about a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah.

9 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of slavery in the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to that covenant, so,” the Eternal One says, “I turned away from them.

10 But when those days are over,” the Eternal One says, “I will make this kind of covenant with the people of Israel. I will put My laws on their minds

and write them upon their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.

11 In those days, they won’t need to teach each other My ways or to say to each other, ‘Know the Eternal.’ In those days, all will know Me, from the least to the greatest.12 I will be merciful when they fail, and I will erase their sins and wicked acts out of My memory as though they had never existed.”

13 With the words “a new covenant,” God made the first covenant old, and what is old and no longer effective will soon fade away completely.

1. WHY MELCHIZADEK?

• He was a very important figure in all of the various forms of early Judaism (especially the Essene community).

• Philo (historian) and the rabbis wrote a lot on Melchizedek.

• The greatest of the patriarchs was Abraham, and he was blessed by someone greater: Melchizedek. What do they do with this passage?

I don’t think there is an equivalent in church history. Augustine? Aquinas? Calvin? Luther? They are important, but none of us would be rattled if we were told there was someone greater. Even to say there was someone greater than one of the apostles would be fine.

2. WHY THIS COMPARISON MATTERED THEN

Remember the big picture of Hebrews: Jesus is better or greater. In this case, Jesus the great High Priest is better than any other priest. The lineages of Jesus established that he was in the kingly line; now, we see he is in the priestly line as well. Here’s the argument condensed:

• Melchizedek received a tithe from Abraham, so… greater than Abraham;

• If Melchizedek has descendants, they will be greater than Abraham’s.

• The Levites (priests) come from Abraham; the resurrection of Jesus makes him a priest in the eternal order of Melchizadek, “not because of some requirement about human lineage, but because of the power of a life without end. ” (7:16).

• When the priesthood changes, the covenant (law) changes, which means the means of reconciliation to God changes

• Jesus is the high priest of a greater covenant than the one the Levites oversee.

• When the covenant changes, the means of reconciliation with God changes. Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice once and for all, “able to save completely” and who “does not need to offer sacrifices day after day… He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (7:27).

So Melchizadek was a “greater than” priest, and Jesus is the greatest in the greater line. However, there was more to it than this. Melchizedek was also a king.

In Israel, no one functioned as a king and a prophet. You could be a priest and a prophet like Samuel, or a king and a prophet like David, but never a king and a priest.

• The King was an enforcer, a lawgiver and a judge, responsible for law and justice.

• The priest was a friend, a counselor, a confidante, one who could sympathize with and help people when they messed up.

• The king’s job was to enforce the law, while the priest’s job was to offer sacrifices to reconcile those who had broken the law.

Think of our legal system today. Judges enforce the law so that lawbreaking is punished. A defense attorney seeks to clear the accused of the crime. Melchizedek was the King of righteousness to enforce the law, and the King of peace to reconcile men to God.

The King represented God to the people; the Priest represented the people to God. The King was a person of truth; the Priest was a person of tears.

The Israelites did not mess with this distinction. The King was never the priest, and the priest was never the king.

Yet Melchizadek was both. Even Abraham, the great patriarch, was not good enough. Now, Jesus is Great King and the Great High Priest in the order of Melchizadek. This fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah:

“Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the Lord, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.” (Zechariah 6:13)

WHY THIS MATTERS NOW

God’s righteousness demands the sinner’s punishment. God’s peace reconciles the guilty sinner to God through Jesus. In the crucifixion of Jesus, we see how God can require the punishment of sinners and at the same time be at peace with them. The one who must punish sin to exercise holy justice took the punishment on himself in an act of holy mercy. The King is also the Priest.

Verse 25 provides a great summary of the entire section:

" He is able to save those who approach God through Him for all time because He will forever live to be their advocate in the presence of God.”

What does this intercession look like? Perhaps we get a hint in the gospel accounts of his life.

• Jesus says to Peter: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:31-32)

• He prayed for God to protect us from the evil one, and sanctify us (John 17:11 – 15)

What do we get with Jesus as our King/Priest/Advocate?

• Salvation (rescued from the eternal penalty of sin and into life in the Kingdom of God)

• Protection from the Evil One (spiritual warfare on our behalf)

• Sanctification (maturity and growth through obedience)

• Strengthened Faith (trust in and loyalty to God)

• Ability To Strengthen Others