In Hebrews chapter 7:1-28 we are for the first time introduced to the thinking of why Jesus is described as a high priest “like Melchizedek (5:6,10; 6:20). Melchizedek is a historical figure who appears for a very brief moment in the story of Abraham.
In Genesis 14:17-20 we read, “After his return from the defeat of Ched-or-lao mer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, ‘blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
Melchizedek then drops out of history and there is no mention of him until an unexplained reference in Psalms 110:4. “The Lord has sworn, He will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever, just like Melchizedek.’ ” We need to keep in mind that the Levitical priesthood of Israel had been visibly present in the life of Israel for around 350 years and now suddenly in Psalm 110 we are introduced to something new. God is going to establish in the priestly office an individual who will be a priest like Melchizedek.
The priest who will be “like Melchizedek” will owe his appointment to the appointment of God and will be a priest forever. We need to notice that the promise is based upon God’s oath, the Lord has sworn, and therefore cannot be changed or annulled.
For our understanding of the Melchizedek priesthood it is very important that we recognize the difference between the Levitical priesthood and Melchizedek. In his commentary on Hebrews 1-8, William Lane shows the clear distinction between them:
“The appointment of the Levitical high priest was regulated by the Torah. According to Mosaic Law, the high priest had to be able to trace a line of physical descent back to Aaron on his father’s side. His mother had to be a pure Israelite woman. Melchizedek, however, was a priest solely through the appointment of God. The silence of Scripture concerning his parents and family line throws into bold relief the uniqueness of his priesthood. Since the new priest is characterized as a priest ‘like Melchizedek,’ and not, ‘like Aaron,’ the writer deduced that God was pronouncing a change in the law (7:11-12) William Lane, Hebrews 1-8, cxxxi.
A second difference between Melchizedek and the Levitical priesthood is that the Levitical priesthood has a very definite line of succession. But for Melchizedek this is not true and just like the fact that he has no predecessor, so he has no successor. Therefore, there are no limits to Melchizedek’s life and work.
Think about this for a moment because theologically it is a profound concept the writer of Hebrews is presenting. He required no priestly ancestors or priestly successors to authorize his unique and unending priesthood. The point that the writer of Hebrews is getting at is that Melchizedek is a permanent priesthood dependent upon the will of the Father and the initiator of the new covenant.
When we are introduced to Jesus as the high priest like Melchizedek in Hebrews we are to think of Him as our permanent high priest who owes His appointment to the will of God and not to any priestly linage. In fact with the coming of Jesus as our great high priest the old priesthood, as established by the law, is replaced.
Now notice Hebrews 7:12, “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” And not only that but the law that regulated the priesthood has been annulled and done away with as useless in verse 18. “On the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness.”
So why is all of this important? It is because Jesus, unlike the Levitical high priest, entered the heavenly sanctuary as the mediator of the new covenant. By means of his death at Calvary as the true covenant sacrifice, Jesus inaugurated the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34. And because Jesus had entered into the heavenly sanctuary we are guaranteed that all the promises concerning our salvation will happen. When the Father accepted Jesus sacrifice we were accepted with Christ into the realm of salvation.
Jesus, as our great high priest, lives to make intercession for us. We have assurance when we pray that God hears our prayers, we have assurance when we confess our sins that they are forgiven. We have assurance that we are not abandoned and the promise that no one can snatch us out of the hands of God. (see John 10: 28-30) We are assured that when we bring our sorrows, pain and struggles before God He hears and comes to our aid.
As our great high priest we have a friend in Jesus who will forever love us and care for us. You and I are not alone. In fact we are always within the arms of Christ. “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:15, 16
* Please remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who are subjected to persecution for their faith in Christ our Lord and Saviour. Go to http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ for more on the persecuted church