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A Superior High Priest

Hebrews 7

Jim Davis

The author began the subject of Melchizedek in chapter 5:10, but he realized it would be hard to get his point across because of their slowness to learn (5:11). The subject of Melchizedek is sidestepped until he warns them of the dangers of their lack of spiritual growth and discernment. It is at the end of chapter 6 that he picks up the subject of Melchizedek again.

Hebrews 6:19-7:3
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. 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. (NIV)

Unlike Jewish priest, Melchizedek was both priest and king. This was something that was never allowed under the Old Testament law. He was king of Salem. Salem is what we now know as Jerusalem. The word "Salem" is a derivative of the word "Shalom", which means peace.

We read of Melchizedek in the following verses.

Genesis 14:17-24
After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). 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. The king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself." But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, 'I made Abram rich.' I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me-- to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share." (NIV)

Melchizedek’s greatness did not come from his ancestry; it came straight from God. He appears to us in the story out of nowhere, and we have no earthly idea where he came from or where he ended up. Melchizedek’s earthly ancestry, parentage, progeny, birth and death remain a mystery. The terms "without father" and "without mother" were used in ancient times for those without known parentage, for illegitimate children and for those who came from unimportant families.

Christ superiority is seen in the fact that his priestly function was after the order of Melchizedek. It was difficult for the Jews to accept Christ as their high priest because he a priest after the order of Melchizedek and was from the tribe of Judah. Only descendants from the tribe of Levi could serve as high priest according to Old Testament law. As they tracked the genealogy of Jesus Christ they could make no connection to the descendants of Levi. Jesus, like Melchizedek, represented something beyond the Law's requirement of a high priest.

However, Christ’s real superiority over Melchizedek came from his ability to enter the inner sanctuary into God’s presence. The writer says, "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." (6:19-20)

The Superiority of Christ

Hebrews 7:4-10
Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! 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. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by men who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. 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. (NIV)

Melchizedek’s superior standing over Abraham is witnessed in that the greater person is in a position to bless someone of lesser status. "This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater." (7:6-7) Melchizedek's importance is seen in that Abraham paid tithes to him, and he blessed Abraham in the name of the Most High God. Although Abraham was great, we find someone outside of Abraham's descendants greater than Abraham. Although Abraham had received the promises of God, Melchizedek’s standing with God was much higher. Melchizedek was a priest-king.

This actually made the Levitical priesthood inferior to the priesthood of Melchizedek.

Hebrew 7:11-16
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-- one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law. 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. 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. (NIV)

Jesus' priesthood is superior because he is superior to the law. "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-- one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?" (7:11)The Levitical priesthood was given on the basis of the law. One could not attain perfection on the basis of the law. It was not the law that made Christ perfect; it was his perfect obedience that made him superior. If the law could present one perfect, there would be no need of something better. Jesus came in perfect obedience to the law to show us a better way to live.

Christ outranks Melchizedek by virtue of his indestructible life. "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." (7:15-16)The Jews had difficulty recognizing anyone outside of Abraham as great. The writer's point is that there was a priest with a higher ranking than the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament. Now there is a high priest that out ranks them all as evidenced in his indestructible life when he rose from the dead.

Acts 3:13-15
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. (NIV)

Christ’s priesthood was superior to Melchizedek because God appointed him to his position as high priest. "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.'" Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant." (Hebrews 7:20-22 NIV)

Melchizedek superiority is seen in that he spoke with the authority of God. He had direct access to God's throne. The Levites were born into the role of priest. They also had to take an oath before entering into service. However, Melchizedek' position was appointed by God. Christ was also appointed by God as God made an oath to make him high priest forever. Therefore, his priesthood was much superior to the Levitical priesthood and to Melchizedek. "For it is declared: 'You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.'" (Hebrews 7:17 NIV)

Christ's Superior Covenant

"Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant." The change of priesthood also made it essential to have a new covenant. Christ’s superiority over the Levitical priesthood also gave superior standing to his New Testament. There are several things that guarantee the superiority of Christ's covenant.

Hebrews 7:22-28
Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. 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. Such a high priest meets our need-- one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 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. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever. (NIV)

Christ's covenant is superior because his priesthood is permanent. "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." (7:23-25) Christ lives forever; therefore his covenant is an eternal covenant. It will never grow obsolete with age. Moses and the Levitical priests died, but Jesus lives (7:8). Christ order does not depend on bodily descent, but on an indestructible life (7:16). Death prevents the old order of priesthood from continuing in office, but the new order "continues for ever" (7:23-24). It is with a much better covenant promising life rather than death.

Christ's covenant is superior because he is able to completely save those who come to him. "Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him . . ." (7::25) The priest under the Levitical system had to continue to offer up sacrifices for the people, but not so with Christ. He offered one sacrifice for all time, which completely saves all who come to him.

Christ's covenant is superior " . . . because he always lives to intercede for them." (7:25) His priesthood is permanent. Old Testament priest were subject to death, but not so with Christ. Christ works day-by-day, hour-by-hour and moment-by-moment on our behalf. His support comes to us the moment we need it. Christ has firsthand experience of our trials. He intercedes compassionately, for he knows exactly what we need.

While Christ was on earth, he interceded for his disciples. How comforting it is to know that his intercession for us continues in heaven. This gives us an enabling confidence to live better lives. Listen to Jesus' words:

Matthew 18:18-20
"I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (NIV)

Christ's covenant is superior because " . . . Such a high priest meets our need . . ." (7:26) Too many of us think of salvation as a past event. We fail to see our immediate needs, which results in our failure to realize Christ's ability to help us in the present. The Bible speaks of Christ blood continually cleansing us from our sins (1 John 1:6-10). Forgiveness is an ongoing process for us as long as we live in these sinful bodies. The Law and its sacrifices could never do that.

Christ's covenant is superior because of his purity. "Such a high priest meets our need-- one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 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. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever." (7:26-28) Christ's unstained life made it possible for him to be the sacrifice. Christ covenant is superior because he is holy, blameless and pure, and this sets him apart from sinners in his exalted position in heaven. He has no need to offer sacrifices for himself and then for the sins of his people.

1 Peter 1:18-21
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (NIV)

Christ's covenant is superior because he lived a blameless life.

1 Peter 2:21-25
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (NIV)

Christ's covenant is superior because he lived a perfect life. (7:28) Christ moved freely and lovingly among humanity. Yet, he was entirely given over to doing God's will. He repeatedly said that his will was to do the will of the Father. This is the one thing that separated him from us. But it is the very thing that makes his covenant a better covenant. He didn't come to tell us how to live; he came to show us how to live as he separated himself from the world.

Christ's covenant is superior because he offered up himself for our sins. (7:27) What Old Testament priest ever offered himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the people? He didn't just offer up the blood of animals, but he offered himself. Christ offered the final sacrifice for our sins. His sacrifice offers permanent atonement. Under the law weak priest first offered sacrifices for their own sins, then they were qualified to offer up a sacrifice for the people (Leviticus 4:1-5). Christ's blamelessness made it unnecessary for him to offer a sacrifice for himself.

2 Corinthians 5:20-21
We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (NIV)

Hebrews 10:19-22
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (NIV)

Christ's covenant is superior because presently he lives an exalted life. "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." (Hebrews 6:19-20 NIV) It is in that exalted position that he intercedes for us.

1 Peter 3:18-22
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also-- not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand-- with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. (NIV)

The writer sums up the point he is making in the following verses.

Hebrews 8:1-2
The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man. (NIV)

Christ's superior position gives us a sure and steadfast anchor for the soul.

Conclusion:

Every point we have made points to the weakness of the old covenant. Christ is doing for us what the Law of Moses could never do. Christ is doing for us what we can never do for ourselves.

We are not only to trust in the word, but we must also trust Christ’s ongoing work on our behalf. We must constantly renew our trust in him each day of our lives. He will never fail us.

 

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