1 For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; 2 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; 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. 4 Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. (Hebrews 7:1–4, KJV 1900)
There is so much content in these four verses that it is too much to cover in one post. So, there will be more to come.
I want you to put yourselves into the sandals of the Jewish audience to whom the writer of Hebrews addressed. He just repeated that Jesus had become a high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. Understanding this would be very important for the Jews receiving this letter.
Remember that those to whom the author wrote were moving from Judaism to Christianity. Some were truly born-again believers and others were merely intellectually enlightened to the gospel. These likely had pressures to return to Judaism and questions regarding Christianity. One of their great questions would have been in the area of the priesthood. “What qualified Jesus to fill the role of a high priest?”
Jesus’ lineage would have been a huge stumbling block for this Jewish audience. Jesus was of the lineage of Judah and not Levi. They understood from the Law that only a descendant of Aaron, a Levite, could serve as high priest. Only the high priest could offer the blood of the sacrifice in the Holiest Place to make atonement for the sins of the people. Yet, the author states that Jesus had become the high priest.
To answer this, the author uses a relatively obscure figure named Melchizedek. By obscure, I mean that he is only mentioned twice by name in the Old Testament. Once in Genesis 14:18, speaking of his meeting with Abraham and again in the Psalm 110:4, which the author quoted referring to Jesus as being a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
To understand how Jesus could be the high priest, we must understand some facts regarding Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God. First, he points to a meeting Abraham had with Melchizedek. This was after Abraham rescued his nephew, Lot, by defeating the kings who had captured him during their conquest of Sodom and Gomorrah. Understanding the chronology of this meeting is crucial.
Abraham met Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God, hundreds of years before the Law and the establishment of the Levitical Priesthood. Moreover, the meeting occurred years before the Nation of Israel had formed. First, this means there was a priesthood ordained by God prior to the establishment of the Levitical priesthood. Second, it means that this priesthood would not have been restricted to the Nation of Israel, for it had not yet been birthed. Thus, this priesthood would have been for all the people. It was a priesthood of a different order than that of the Law.
David in Psalm 110, refers to a person, the Messiah who is a “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Ps 110:4). The author of Hebrews attributes this prophetic reference to Jesus. Thus, Jesus is a priest forever. Moreover, he is a priest of a different order, not of the Levitical order, but after the order of Melchizedek. It is one not restricted to Israel, but one that is for all, Jew and Gentile alike.
(Well, more on this topic tomorrow.)