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JESUS IS PERFECT HIGH PRIEST FOREVER (Melchizedek and Jesus)

Hebrews 7:1-7:28
Key Verse: 7:25

We thank and praise God for our hope in Christ Jesus. We have the hope of great and eternal salvation in him, which we have fled to take hold of in this world. May we have this hope as an anchor for our soul in this ever drifting and changing world. In this hope God wants us to grow mature, leaving behind all the infancy. The way to do so is by training ourselves with the words of God which are living and active. Today’s passage is solely about priesthood. In Hebrew chapter 7 the word “priest” or “priesthood” is written 18 times. And all these point to Jesus’ priesthood, which is according to the order of Melchizedek. The author traces the origin of Melchizedek, who remains a priest forever, and thus provides the historical and Scriptural background of Jesus’ priesthood, which is life-saving, perfect and permanent. In this study we can be assured of Christ Jesus’ priesthood, and encouraged to draw near to God through him.

First, Melchizedek, priest of the Most High (1-10). In verses 1-2a, “This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of the Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything.” This is a factual description from Genesis 14:18-20, which says, “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’ Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.”

Then the author elaborates it in verses 2b-3, “First, his name means ‘king of righteousness’; then also, ‘king of Salem’ means ‘king of peace.’ Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.” Melchizedek is king of righteousness and peace and a priest. Surprisingly, he has a coalesced ministry as a king and priest. And while Melchizedek’s kingship is important as a king of righteousness and peace, the author primarily develops the significance of Melchizedek’s priesthood to relate it to Jesus. For Aaronic priests, genealogy was vitally important in order to establish the legitimacy of their priesthood. So their genealogy was carefully searched and recorded in great detail, as we find in Chronicles. In contrast, Melchizedek was without genealogy. He is like the Son of God and remains a priest forever. These are all the author could say based on the Scriptures. The writer did not go beyond what is written in the Scripture. He did not try to go further to know more about the origin of Melchizedek out of curiosity. We are reminded of Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” God has given us what is necessary for us to live as his people in the world. We should stop where the Bible stops, and take what the Bible says wholeheartedly.

Then in verses 4-10, the author talks about the greatness of Melchizedek especially through the matter of the giving of a tenth. In verse 4, “Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder!” Abraham is introduced as a patriarch. Abraham was the greatest of the Jewish patriarchs. Then what does it mean that even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder?

In verse 5, “Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, their brothers—even though their brothers are descended from Abraham.” Collecting a tenth was the role of Levites from whom priests comes. And the Hebrews knew that the one receiving the tithe was honored by the one giving the tithe. Then the author says in verse 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.” The descendants of Levi collected a tenth from their brothers, other descendants of Abraham, but Melchizedek received a tenth directly from Abraham. Abraham was the father of the nation Israel, the most honoured man in their history. This Abraham gave a tenth of the plunder to Melchizedek and thus honoured him as priest of the Most High. Abraham’s tithe is one of the most unexpected and one of the most fascinating parts of the whole Old Testament.

And Abraham was the one who received the promises of blessing from God, when God said to him, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Ge 12:2-3). Abraham appears to be the most blessed human being on the planet. Who could possibly bless Abraham? But Melchizedek blessed Abraham, which means that he was greater than Abraham, as verse 7 says, “Without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater.”

Then in verses 8-10, the author expounds further that Melchizedek’s collecting a tenth was greater than Levi’s collecting a tenth. First of all, in terms of collector, the one is by men who die, and the other by him who is declared to be living. And it is mentioned above that the one collected from the descendants of Abraham, and the other directly from Abraham. More than that one might even say that Levi paid the tenth to Melchizedek, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor. This could mean that all the Israelites paid each one’s tenth to Melchizedek in advance. So the Melchizedekian priesthood must be superior to the Levitical priesthood. In this way the author explained the greatness of Melchizedek related to priesthood, solely based on the Scriptures. This can be the historical background for the claim of Jesus’ priesthood which will be referred in the next part.

Second, a priest in the order of Melchizedek. Now in verse 11, “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come…?” It means that perfection could not be attained through the Levitical priesthood, so there was need for another priest to come in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron. Then how another priest in the order of Melchizedek came is written in verses 12-16. “For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.” According to the law, all priests should come from the tribe of Levi. But here another priest is from the tribe of Judah. This is a change of the law. It says, “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 our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.” The tribe of Judah had nothing to do with priesthood. Moses, through whom the law was given, said nothing about priests. So the priesthood of Jesus who descended from Judah was apart from the law, as the gospel was apart from the law.

Then in verses 15-17, “And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry, but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared: ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’” This quotation from Psalm 110:4 is made twice in Hebrews, here and 5:6. And the expression “in the order of Melchizedek” is written three times, 5:10, 6:20, 7:11, and “a priest like Melchizedek” (7:15) one time. Thus it is stressed that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek, and he is a priest forever, for it is on the basis of the power of an indestructible life, which refers to the power of God who raised Jesus from the dead.

Why did the author write repeatedly that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek? The author traced the historical and Scriptural background of Jesus’ priesthood. As for Jesus’ kingship it was traced that Jesus was known as a descendant of David. So Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew chapter 1 includes that Jesus is from the kingly line of David. However, Jesus’ priesthood is in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron from the tribe of Levi. One point is that Jesus’ priesthood is not groundless, but has a solid ground in the history of God.

And another point is this. The priesthood defined the Jewish people. The particularity and preservation of the line of Levi was paramount to Israelite society. But the author of Hebrews sets the superiority of Christ as our great high priest over the entire Levitical priesthood. He is proclaiming that Christ brings an end to the Levitical priesthood, which continued for the past 1500 years as the backbone of Jewish society and a major feature of God’s covenant with Israel. It must have been shocking to the Hebrew believers. So this repetition was necessary to let them know that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek forever.

Third, a priest with a perfect and permanent priesthood and complete salvation (18-28). In verses 18 and 19, “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless, for (the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced by which we draw near to God.” Certainly, the former regulation is related to the law. It was weak and useless in terms of salvation. A better hope is definitely related to Jesus who is a priest in the order of Melchizedek. In the last lesson, 6:18-20, we had thought of this hope, the hope of great and eternal salvation that enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain through Christ Jesus our great high priest. The former regulation (or the old requirement) was weak and useless, for under the law people were condemned and could not draw near to the holy God. Then what a grace it is that we can draw near to God by the better hope. Here “better” is superior in excellence or quality. Surely, a better hope is far superior hope to the previous one, and virtually incomparable. We now really get into “the ‘better’ series” in Hebrews: “better things” (6:9), here “better hope” (7:19), “better covenant” (7:22), “better promises” (8:6), “better sacrifices” (9:23), “better and lasting possessions” (10:34), etc. (5 more). Again, we thank and praise God for the better hope in Christ Jesus by which we draw near to God.

Then in verses 20-21, “And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever.”’” So Jesus’ priesthood is assured with God’s swearing, his oath. And his oath is related to the truth that it is impossible for God to lie.

Then verse 22 says, “Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.” The word, “covenant” appears first time here in Hebrews. We will think about it in detail in the next lesson. Yet, at this point it is good enough just to know that a better covenant is related to our salvation. Oath and guarantee are applied to only Jesus, a priest in the order of Melchizedek forever. In Jesus only there is assuredness, surety and guarantee. Through these expressions the author wants the readers to get rid of any hint of doubt for the hope in Jesus and remove any hindrance from drawing near to God through Jesus.

Look at verses 23-25. “Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” As we thought of in verse 16, Jesus’ priesthood is on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. He lives forever. He always lives. So he has a permanent priesthood, definitely present. This is one of the major differences between Jesus’ priesthood and that of all others. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him. “Save completely” means complete salvation. There is no such a thing as “half or incomplete salvation” in Jesus. Complete salvation, great salvation and eternal salvation are all on the same line. He saves completely those who come to God through him. Surely, it includes that he saves us from any of our life situations as we come to God through Jesus, for he is there always to intercede for us. He can solve any of our life problems. So our coming to God is never in vain. He hears all our prayers in his way, the prayers offered to him through Jesus. What an encouragement it is that Jesus always lives to intercede for us! We can come to God through Jesus more and more.

This is a great encouragement the author of Hebrews wants to give us in this letter. He has stated that Jesus is our merciful and faithful high priest (2:17). He is the apostle and the high priest on whom we should fix our thoughts (3:1). He is our great high priest who has gone through the heavens (4:14). He is a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weakness (4:15). In him we can approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we can receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (4:16). We can enter the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, following Jesus (6:19). We can draw near to God through him (7:19). We can come to God through him (7:25). Again, it is because he always lives to intercede for those who come to God through him. The author used the word “intercede” sparingly only here in Hebrews. Now Jesus’ powerful ministry is his interceding for his own.

Apostle Paul also wrote in Romans 8:34-35, “Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution…or danger or sword?” Life is not easy to anyone. There are troubles of life time and again. No one is free from troubles in life. It is also true to Christians. As for young people, marriage is a huge problem, along with study and job problems. For others there are health problem, children problem and relationship problem etc. And it seems to be harder and harder to do gospel work in this ever-unbelieving and secular time. Yet, Christ Jesus still lives and he is able to save complete those who come to God through him, interceding for them. So amid many and various kinds of life problem what matter is whether we come to God through Jesus or not. And for the attitude to come God, we learn from Jesus, who during the days of his life on earth, offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and who was heard because of his reverent submission (5:7). Through the study of Hebrews we all may deeply learn to come to God through him.

Then in verse 26, “Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” He is the lily of the valley, and truly precious one outstanding in human history. He meets all our expectation, and our needs also through his complete salvation as we have previously considered.

And in verse 27, “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” Offering himself as a sacrifice for the sins of people once for all is another major difference between Jesus’ priesthood and that of all other high priests on top of his permanent priesthood. So his offering and sacrifice is a perfect one. We will continually learn about this in the following chapters.

Then in verse 28, “For the law appoints as high priest men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.” Perfection and permanency go together and these are only in Jesus, who was appointed as a high priest by oath. His person is perfect, his work is perfect and his sacrifice is perfect.

In this study we thought of the historical and biblical backdrop of Jesus’ priesthood, which is perfect and permanent. In his solid foundation we are encouraged to come to God through him for his complete salvation. Let’s remember the key verse, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”

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