Life Project: Hebrews
A large portion of the book of Hebrews is dedicated to the discussion of high priests,
priesthood and some obscure priest named Melchizedek. To be honest the mention of
priests conjures up images of medieval times with guys in long robes living in stone
castles chanting hollow sounding prayers. But I guess since this discourse is in the
Bible, it is probably important that I understand it. So if you, like me, have ever
wondered who the heck Melchizedek was and why priests are so important, read on.
In the Old Testament, high priests were a necessary part of the religious system.
Priests were actually God’s idea. But what exactly did they do? In Hebrews 5, the
author lays out the job description for an Old Testament priest. There are four main
principles regarding the priesthood. Principle 1- the priest was to be chosen from
among the people. Principle 2- the high priest was to represent the people in matters
related to God, especially by offering sacrifices. Principle 3- the weakness of the high
priest allows him to deal gently with the people; he is required to offer sacrifices for
himself as well as for the people. Principle 4- God is the one who appoints a high
priest. So basically the high priest was a guy that God chose to offer sacrifices for the
people for the forgiveness of their sins. Because a high priest was human and
understood weakness he was gentle with the people. But this also meant that he had
to offer sacrifices for his sin before he offered them for the people.
This makes a little sense. But why don’t we have priests today? We still sin right?
Hebrews says we do have a high priest and his name is Jesus. Hebrew 2:17, “For this
reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might
become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make
atonement for the sins of the people.” Hebrews 4:14-15, “ Therefore, since we have a
great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold
firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to
empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way,
just as we are—yet he did not sin.” These verses mean that Jesus met all the
qualifications for a high priest. He was chosen from among the people as He was
made fully human. He made the ultimate sacrifice for our sin, through His death on
the cross. He was gentle with the people, because even though He was without sin, He
understood weakness as He was tempted in every way. And He was chosen by God.
Jesus is the ultimate high priest.
I think I understand this concept, but then the writer of Hebrews throws in chapter 7
about Melchizedek and I am lost again. Who is this guy? Well Melchizedek was a
character mentioned in Genesis chapter 14. In this chapter we find that Abraham (then
Abram) went to Sodom to rescue his nephew Lot. On his way home he meets this
Melchizedek guy who was both the King of Salem and a priest of The Most High God.
When Abraham meets Melchizedek, the priest blesses Abraham. Then Abraham offers
Melchizedek a tenth of everything he had. There are a few interesting facts about
Melchizedek that are important to know. First of all, old Mel was both a priest and a
king which was very unusual. Typically men could be king or priest but not both. It
was a sort of separation of church and state thing. Also Mel’s name means king of
righteousness. And Salem means peace. This made him both the king of
righteousness and the king of peace. He was also not a priest in the lineage of Levi.
God had chosen Levi’s line to hold the priesthood, but Melchizedek was an exception.
We don’t, however, know what line he came from. There is no genealogy, no birthdate,
no date of death or any details listed in the Old Testament on Melchizedek. Again this
is highly unusual and makes old Mel seem almost eternal.
He is a pretty enigmatic character, this Melchizedek. We will never have more
information on him this side of Heaven. But what we do know is that the author of
Hebrews quotes Psalms in saying that Jesus is “a priest forever in the order of
Melchizedek”, he is using Melchizedek as a type of Christ, a foreshadowing if you will.
Isn’t Christ after all both a King and a Priest? (Not to mention a Son). Isn’t he both the
King of Righteousness and the King of Peace. He was not from the lineage of Levi, but
wasn’t He chosen by God? And isn’t Christ eternal making our need for another priest
Hebrews 7:26-28, “Such a high priest truly 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 in all their weakness; but the
oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect