Sunday, June 16, 2013

THE MELCHIZEDEK PRIEST - HEBREWS 7




Chapter 7 resumes the discussion of Jesus as our high priest. In particular, it discusses Jesus as a priest “after the order of Melchizedek”. 

The last verse of chapter 6 is a nice transition sentence to this discussion. It says Jesus was our forerunner into the presence of God, “having become  a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek”. (6:20 English Standard Version-ESV) 

The ultimate point of chapter 7 is to describe the priestly office of Jesus and to prove it is superior to the Old Testament, Levitical, priesthood. Further, it shows that Jesus replaced the Levitical priesthood. Melchizedek was the priest who was a type of Christ and his priesthood; he foreshadowed the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ. 

To make these points, the writer knows he must first explain who Melchizedek was and why he is important. 

Verses 1 through 3 are one long sentence. If you take out the subordinate clauses, the sentence says “For this Melchizedek ...continues a priest forever.” In the New International Version (NIV), it would be “remains a priest forever”. 

Verses 1 through 3 recount the story of Melchizedek in abbreviated form. The story is the subject of Genesis 14. You might remember that Abraham and Lot had separated. Lot went down to live in the fertile plain around the city of Sodom. He eventually moved into the city. A war broke out between two groups of kings. The group that included the king of Sodom lost. The winning kings took all of the people of Sodom captive and took their possession. Abraham found out what happened, then went and defeated the kings, freed the captives including Lot, and took a great amount of property as spoils of war.

On the way back to his home, Abraham encountered Melchizedek. Genesis 14:15 calls him priest of God Most High. (This event happened before God instituted the covenant priesthood with Aaron.) Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe of the spoils.

The only other mention of Melchizedek in the Old Testament is Psalm 110:4. There God the Father appointed the “Lord” as a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. As we discussed in an earlier lesson, much of Hebrews is an explanation of Psalm 110.

The writer of Hebrews points out three things about Melchizedek in Hebrews 7:2. First, he says “He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness”. The word Melchizedek, in Hebrew, comes from “melek”, meaning “king”, and “zedek”, meaning “righteousness”. So, his name means king of righteousness. 

Second, the writer points out that he was the king of Salem. (This may have been an ancient city on the site of Jerusalem. Psalm 76:2 makes this reference.) The word “Salem” means peace. Therefore, he was also “king of peace”. Although the writer points this out, he does not do anything with it. His emphasis is on Melchizedek as priest.  

Third, the writer reminds us that there is no history given for Melchizedek. No father or mother are named, no genealogy, no beginning or end to his life. The writer then draws a conclusion from these facts. He said in verse 3, that Melchizedek resembles the Son of God for he seems to continue as a priest forever. This statement shows us that the writers of the New Testament used typology to interpret the Old Testament. He is saying Melchizedek was a type of Christ in that he appears to be without end, an eternal priest. Melchizedek is the type and Christ is the antitype in literary terms. Christ has no beginning or end and, therefore, serves as our high priest for eternity.

In verses 4 through 10, the writer argues from the Old Testament text that Melchizedek was greater than Aaron. He begins this argument by saying “see how great this man was”. Then he demonstrates it by describing th events of Genesis 14. 

First, he says in verse 4 that Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek. The unwritten thought here is that the lesser person gives a tithe to the greater person. Melchizedek then blessed Abraham. The one who blesses is greater than the one who was blessed. (7:8) So, Melchizedek was greater than Abraham. 

Remember that Abraham had a son named Isaac. Isaac had sons named Esau and Jacob. Jacob was the one through whom God chose to work. He renamed him Israel. Jacob\Israel had 12 sons. One of them was named Levy. Levy was the father of Moses and Aaron. The priests all came from Levy. 

But at the time Melchizedek blessed Abraham, Levi was not yet born. Verse 10 says he was “still in the loins of his ancestor”.  That just means he was not yet born. This is also the point of referring to Abraham as the patriarch in verse 3. A patriarch is the head of the family or tribe. 

So, Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, greater than Levy and greater than Aaron. The unwritten conclusion is that, since Jesus is a priest like Melchizedek, or after the order of Melchizedek, he is greater than the priests who are after the order of Aaron.

Hebrews goes on to explain why this is important.

In verses 11 through 14, Hebrews explains that the Levitical priesthood was flawed. It could not make the worshipper perfect. Verse 11 says “if perfection had been attainable”, which implies it was not. When God gave the covenantal priesthood to Israel through Aaron, God extended grace to Israel. He provided a way for the to receive atonement. When they sinned, they came under the sentence of death. Romans 6:23 tells us the wages of sin is death.

But the old covenant sinner could make a sacrifice of an animal through the Levitical priest. God allowed for the death of the animal, the shedding of its blood, to atone for sins. Then on the Day of Atonement, the high priest could make a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the whole nation of Israel.

But the Levitical priests could not make the Israelites perfect. They kept on sinning and needed continual sacrifices to atone for their sins. Romans 3:20 says “For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin”. 

Since the priesthood of Aaron, of the covenant, could not make people perfect in God’s sight, that priesthood was imperfect. The people needed an new priesthood after a different order. Verse 12 says that a change in priesthood means there is a change in law also. I believe “law” here means the same as “covenant”. There was a need for a new covenant with a new priest. Since there will be a new order, the priest must be of a new order, not of the line of Levy and Aaron.

In verses 13-14, the writer shows that Jesus is this kind of priest. When he wrote “the one of whom these things are written”, he meant Jesus Christ. Jesus came from another tribe than the priests. Jesus was descended from Judah, not Levy. 

Matthew 1 recited the genealogy of Jesus. It shows he was descended from Judah. (Matthew 1:3) Judah was the 4th son of Jacob. (Genesis 29:35) His oldest three brothers were disqualified from heading the family because of grievous sins they committed. Levy’s family redeemed itself by supporting Moses to destroy the Golden calf and, then, became the line of priests.   That left Judah to inherit the blessing and stature of his father as head of the family of Israel. Jacob affirmed this at his death. He prophesied to Judah that “our brothers shall praise you; your and shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you.” (Genesis 49:8) Then he said “the scepter shall not depart from Judah nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet until tribute comes to him and to him shall be the obedience of all peoples.”  (49:10)

Jesus, as David before him, came from the line of kings, not the line of priests. 

So, his priesthood came from a different source. Hebrews 715 says the source was not “bodily descent”. It was not that he descended from Aaron. The source of his priestly office is the power of his indestructible life. Jesus’ resurrection makes his life indestructible. Every priest in the line of Aaron died. Jesus lives. 

At Jesus’ resurrection, based on his sinless life, the Father appointed him as a priest after the order of Melchizedek. The writer quoted Psalm 110:4 again to show that. Again, we see the writer is giving an exposition, an explanation of Psalm 110 when he applies this to Jesus.

Let’s look at Psalm 110 again briefly. Past lessons has explained this in detail. This Psalm is a picture of the resurrected Jesus coming to the Father in heaven. “The LORD” in verse 1is the Father. “LORD” is a way to express God’s name, Yaweh. “Lord” translates “adonai” for master or Lord. So, we see the Father, Yaweh, say to the resurrected Son, adonai. sit here at my right hand. Then in verse 4, he takes an oath and makes him a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. 

Hebrews 7:18-19 show us that the old covenant passed away and jesu brought a new covenant with a new and better hope for his people. Verse 14 says the former commandment is set aside. The Levitical priesthood is set aside. The old covenant is set aside.

Remember Jeremiah 31:31 and following from our last study. Read that passage. God said he would make a new covenant which would not be like the old covenant. Instead of a law written on stones, he would write his law on the hearts of his people. In Ezekiel 36:27, he said he would put his Spirit in us and cause us to walk in his statutes and to obey his rules. 

Paul, in Galatians 3, explained that God intended all along for the law to end when Christ came. He said the law was added (to the promise made to Abraham and his offspring) until the offspring (Christ) should come. 

So, the writer of Hebrews said the old covenant is set aside, so you lose that. But you gain a better hope in Christ,through whom we draw near to God. (verse 19)

This statement about hope connects back to Hebrews 6:19-20, which said we hold fast to our hope in Christ, who leads us into the presence of God. Even though this sermon is written primarily to Gentiles, this thought of Christ bringing us into God’s presence is very meaningful to those of us who are not Jews, but Gentiles.

In the Bible, Gentiles were those who were “far off”. Only the Jews and converts to Judaism got anywhere near to God after the institution of the covenant. But, Ephesians 2:11and following  says we Gentiles who were separated from Christ and alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, were brought near through the blood of Christ. And now we have access in the Spirit to the Father. 

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