The Undying Priesthood

14 For it is evident that our Lord [Jesus] was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses said nothing concerning priests. 15 And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is attested of Him,

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews 7:14-17

After reading Hebrews 7:14-17, the significance of the name “Melchizedek” is likely a little vague or obscure to you, but relax, there’s no wonder. “Melchizedek” only shows up in ten rather indescriptive verses of the Bible: Genesis 14:18; Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1, 10, 11, 15, 17, and 21.

You might think, and I agree, that ten verses are more than enough to illustrate any Biblical persona; however, these ten scenes offer us very few biographical details.

Nevertheless, this is an important passage. So let’s try and unriddle it.

We read in Hebrews 7:14-17 that because Jesus was descended from the line of Judah and not from the Levitical priesthood, he couldn’t, according to Jewish Law, fulfil the role of a priest.

We know, however, that Jesus’ claim for such authority can be validated in two ways. Firstly, the life of Jesus parallels that of Melchizadek, who was known as the King of Righteousness and King of Peace. Secondly, Jesus was 100% man as well as 100% God. His priesthood is, thereby, perfect, whole, and everlasting.

The legal genealogy of Jesus is given in Matthew 1, and traces the family of Joseph, the adopted father of Jesus. Joseph was a descendant of King David through David’s son Solomon. Luke 3 gives a slightly different genealogy, one which is understood to be the biological heritage of Jesus through His mother Mary, and her father, Heli, who was a descendant of King David through David’s son Nathan. This double lineage placed Jesus firmly in the tribe of Judah through both his mother, and through his adopted father.

Jonathan McAnulty, Biblical Family Tree, Gallipolis Daily Tribune

Christ’s preaching and priesthood were of an infinitely superior level to that of Aaron’s, the first high priest over the Israelites. We see in Exodus that when Aaron and Moses performed great wonders (albeit plagues) in front of Pharaoh and upon the people of Egypt during the first Passover, “it was not under any innate ability or individual initiative but only by divine command.”

Moses and his brother Aaron, the first high priest of Israel, before Pharaoh.

We’re introduced to Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18,

18 And Melchizedek the king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High.

Genesis 14:18

Melchizedek served as both a High Priest and King of Salem (sa’-lem; Shalem), the city renamed Jerusalem during the time of Abraham, ~2000 B.C. Melchizedek’s blessing of Abraham inaugurated this priestly function. Melchizedek follows his blessing of Abraham by giving praise to God, reminding Abraham that it was God’s victory, not his.

1God is renowned in Judah; in Israel his name is great.

2His tent is in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion.

Psalm 76:1-2

In the work of Flavius Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews), we see that Salem was “afterwards called Jerusalem.”

2. So Abram, when he had saved the captive Sodomites, who had been taken by the Assyrians, and Lot also, his kinsman, returned home in peace. Now the King of Sodom met him at a certain place, which they called The King’s dale, where Melchisedeck, King of the city Salem, received him. That name signifies, The righteous King: and such he was without dispute; insomuch that, on this account, he was made the Priest of God. However, they afterward called Salem “Jerusalem”.

Now this Melchisedec supplied Abram’s army in an hospitable manner, and gave them provisions in abundance: and as they were feasting, he began to praise him, and to bless God for subduing his enemies under him. And when Abram gave him the tenth part of his prey, he accepted of the gift.

The Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus (I, x, 2)
Melchizedek, statue in Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome.
Marie-Lan Nguyen

Our Sages identify Shalem with Jerusalem and Melchizedek with Shem, son of Noah – a righteous gentile who served as priest to the Universal Lord of peace, morality and righteousness.”

“Jerusalem Day: City of peace”, Shlomo Riskin, The Jerusalem Post

Melchizedek, the king of Salem, presented them with bread and wine to honour and congratulate Abram and his soldiers for their victory over Kedorlaomer and the four evil kings allied to him. He also blessed Abram, which illustrates that he was actually more significant (in regards to holiness) than Abraham, the father of many nations.

By offering Abraham bread and wine (the food and drink we continue to use today in the Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist), Melchizedek foreshadows the liturgy of Jesus Christ and the Christian Church everlasting.

In addition, Abraham’s gift of ten per cent war spoil in response to Melchizedek’s blessing expounds the great respect he had for him. This episode also foreshadows God’s instruction towards tithing in Leviticus 27:30-32, Numbers 18:21-30, and Matthew 23:23.

“The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek,” Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1625.

Melchizedek means “King of Righteousness”, and as Jerusalem means “city of peace“, the title “King of Salem” literally means “King of Peace”; analogous with Isaiah’s prophecy towards Jesus Christ,

6For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

Abram considered Melchizedek to be the first high priest of God, Jehovah, and it’s clear that the unknown author of Hebrews saw a parallel between the eternal priesthood of Melchizedek with that of Jesus Christ through King David.

4 The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind,

“You are a priest forever

 according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Psalm 110:4

The priesthood God had assigned to Melchizedek was perfect, absolute, and irrevocable. As we’ve seen above, Melchizedek was both a high priest and a king. Likewise, we see in the Davidic Covenant that God ordained King David with the same role, and in Psalm 110:4, we see that God also made the line of David an eternal priesthood. As Jesus Christ was both the Son of God and a descendant of David through his mother Mary through David’s son Nathan, Jesus fulfils the roles of king and priest forever.

just as He also says in another passage,

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews 5:6

10 being designated by God as High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. 11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand.

Hebrews 5:10-11

We see in Hebrews 5:11 that the apostle is clearly frustrated. He’s reproving, admonishing and exhorting to the Hebrews. There were clearly many things he’d have loved to teach them, but they were both slow in considering and dull in appreciating the elemental attributes of God.

The Greek word for “designated” or “called” here properly signifies a surname: “the Son of God”. The Holy Spirit appears to have deliberately concealed who Melchizedek was so that he might be a more prominent type of Christ. The author was, and is, writing to an audience who’d become too lazy to understand. They needed to be retaught the essential elements of faith and the principles of God’s revelation.

20 where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 6:20

This is a rather curious verse. A forerunner is typically lower in status, value or maturity than its subsequent. Not so here. As believers, we’re each blessed to have the Son of God, the perfect priest who is infinitely more valuable than ourselves, testifying before God the Father on our behalf.  

The author of Hebrews was clearly not ascribing a doctrine of apostasy (the abandonment of religious tradition or belief). Instead, they were calling on the Hebrews to remember and further their faithful service and spiritual maturity.

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him,

Hebrews 7:1
The Levites served Israel as warrior priests.

10 for he was still in the loins of his forefather when Melchizedek met him. 11 So if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron?

Hebrews 7:10-11

The Jewish Levitical Priesthood was founded in the order of Aaron, but the priesthood of Jesus Christ is grounded in the order of Melchizedek. The author of Hebrews drew from the Old Testament to illustrate that the order of Melchizedek was timeless in origin and scope.

15 And this is clearer still if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest not based on a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is attested of Him,

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews 7:15-17

Although we don’t know who wrote the book of Hebrews, its author clearly appreciated the link he saw between life and ministry of Jesus Christ (the son of David, the Son of God) and Melchizedek (the King and High Priest of Salem).

21 (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec) 22 By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.

Hebrews 7:21-22

Whilst the Levitical priesthood of the Old Covenant was one of fallible flesh, the perfect priesthood of the New Covenant was authorised by the power of an infallible and endless life. So the eternal sovereignty of Melchizedek is reflected in that of Jesus Christ.

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