Melchizedek: Priest of God Most High

Dr. Brian Allison

Who is this person called Melchizedek, and what is his place in sacred history? The most extended teaching on him is found in the epistle to the Hebrews. The writer of this epistle, in introducing this topic of Melchizedek, identifies this particular teaching as that which constitutes the more difficult teaching of the Christian faith. In Hebrews 5:11, this writer says, "Concerning him [Melchizedek] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing." Understanding the doctrine of Melchizedek requires mature thinking and spiritual discernment. This doctrine is not a part of "the elementary principles of the oracles of God" (Hb. 5:12b); and those who penetrate to its core and drink from its depth shall be greatly strengthened and encouraged in their spiritual pilgrimage. This doctrine is the "solid food" (Hb. 5:12c) of God's Word which shall sufficiently nourish the beleaguered soul in order that he or she may continue to persevere in the faith with confident hope.

The writer of the Hebrew epistle introduces the name of Melchizedek in chapter five; he refers to him again in chapter six; and he formally and extensively teaches on him in chapter seven. Our study will concentrate on the teaching of this seventh chapter. The passage reads:

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, to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he abides a priest perpetually.

Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest's office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham, and blessed the one who had the promises. But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. And in this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.

Now 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? For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of Him,

"THOU ART A PRIEST FOREVER

ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF

MELCHIZEDEK."

For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. And inasmuch as it was not without an oath (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him,

"THE LORD HAS SWORN

AND WILL NOT CHANGE HIS MIND

'THOU ART A PRIEST FOREVER'");

so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. And the former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers, because they were prevented by death from continuing, but He, on the other hand, because He abides forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hb. 7:1-25).

The Status of Melchizedek

The writer of this epistle identifies Melchizedek as he who was the king of Salem and the priest of the Most High God. This same person occupied two formal offices. Interestingly enough, the simultaneous assumption of these two offices, of kingship and of priesthood, by one person was foreign to the Old Testament economy of Israel (though Melchizedek preceded the formation of the Israelite nation by about 800 years). In ancient Israel these two offices were viewed as separate and distinct, except for the prophesied and anticipated arrival of the Messiah (i.e., the anointed One) in whom the two offices would be conjoined. The Psalmist prophesies, "The LORD says to my Lord: 'Sit at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet'...The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, 'Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek'" (Ps. 110:1,4; cf. Ps. 2).

Jesus, the Christ (i.e., the anointed One), occupies the twofold office of a king and a priest. The Scriptures record, "But of the Son He says, 'THY THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER, AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM'...But to which of the angels has He ever said, 'SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I MAKE THINE ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR THY FEET'?" (Hb. 1:8,13). Jesus Christ is the eternal King. Moreover, the Scriptures say, "Therefore He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (Hb. 2:17). Jesus Christ is also the church's high priest.

Melchizedek is a King

A king reigns over a people. He has subjects under him to whom he has the right and power to give orders. Further, a king rules over a dominion or jurisdiction. Melchizedek exercised his reign within the jurisdiction of Salem. Now apart from the reference to Salem in Hebrews 7, and Genesis 14 from which the writer quotes here in Hebrews 7, only one other Bible passage refers to this place of Salem. That passage is Psalm 76:1,2 which reads, "God is known in Judah; His name is great in Israel. And His tabernacle is in Salem; His dwelling place also is in Zion." According to the Hebrew literary device of parallelism, we can conclude that Salem is synonymous with Zion, the city of God. Hence, this king Melchizedek reigned over a place in which God himself dwells.1

Melchizedek is a Priest

A priest mediates between a sovereign and his subjects. He intercedes and atones for the sins of a people. Now certain questions arise: For whom was Melchizedek a priest? and for what purpose or end was he appointed a priest? In response to the first question, in light of the information provided us, Melchizedek was at least a priest for Abraham. We read that this Melchizedek met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and he blessed Abraham, and subsequent to that blessing, Abraham gave a tenth part of all the spoils to him. These two acts coincide with the practices which pertained to the Levitical priesthood. One responsibility of the Levitical priesthood was to pronounce blessing upon the people Israel, and one responsibility of the people of Israel was to give a tenth of their material increase to the priesthood. Melchizedek was at least the priest of God on behalf of Abraham.

In response to the second question, I believe that Melchizedek's purpose as a priest was to mediate the covenantal blessings or promises of God to Abraham. A divine covenant requires mediation. For example, we read, "But now He [Jesus] has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises" (Hb. 8:6). We find similar language used in Galatians 3:19, "Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made." An intricate association exists between a divine covenant and the need for mediation.

It seems that Melchizedek was a mediator for the Abrahamic covenant (in its Old Testament character), which was a covenant of grace. That mediation was signified and symbolized in the bringing of the bread and the wine to Abraham by Melchizedek, and was actually realized in his very pronouncement of blessing on Abraham. This covenant of grace, of course, is one of salvation, which leads us to a discussion of the traits of Melchizedek.

The Traits of Melchizedek

Melchizedek's status was one of a priest and a king. His traits were those of righteousness and peace. Again Hebrews 7:2 reads, "By the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace." This language is very impressive. Melchizedek was not simply associated with righteousness, but he is identified as one profoundly characterized by righteousness. His character is one of righteousness, his ways are one of righteousness, his behaviour is one of righteousness - he is the king of righteousness. He is also profoundly characterized by peace. Again, his character is one of peace, his ways are one of peace, his behaviour is one of peace - he is the king of peace. So this Melchizedek reigned in peace and in righteousness. His reign in peace results from his reign in righteousness.

Again, we observe parallel language used of both Melchizedek and the Messiah. The Old Testament prophets prophesied that the Messiah's reign would be in righteousness and peace. For instance, Isaiah 9:7 reads, "There will be no end to the increase of His [the coming Messiah] government or of peace, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will accomplish this." Similarly, Isaiah 32:1,15 reads, "Behold, a king will reign righteously...until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fertile field and the fertile field is considered as a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness will abide in the fertile field. And the work of righteousness will be peace, and the service of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever." This peculiar language used of Melchizedek, which parallels the language used of the Messiah, suggests that Melchizedek is not a mere man who reigned over a mere earthly city. This language used of Melchizedek suggests spiritual connotations. The traits of his person, which are the characteristics of his reign, are those which pertain to salvation and God's restorative grace. He is the king of righteousness and the king of peace.

The Nature of Melchizedek

Not only do the Messianic overtones associated with Melchizedek suggest that he is more than a mere man, but the actual biographical sketch strongly indicates the same. We read, "Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like [or resembling, or just like] the Son of God, he [Melchizedek] abides a priest perpetually" (Hb. 7:3). These statements, contrary to the opinion of many commentators, are true or literal descriptive ones concerning Melchizedek and not simply statements based on how he appears in the Old Testament account from the New Testament writer's point of view. The biographical sketch outlines what actually is the case and not how it seems to be. These statements do not have mere prophetic value in reference to Christ, but have intrinsic value concerning Melchizedek himself.

Melchizedek is Divine

So, first, the passage indicates that Melchizedek was without human parentage. He did not appear through human agency or physical birth. Also, he had no racial genealogy; no national lineage, no human ancestry. Hence, on the basis of the plain language of the Scriptures, we must conclude that Melchizedek is associated with the spiritual, rather than with the human or physical. Since that is the case, the very least that we may say about him is that he is angelic; the most, that he is divine. Second, the passage indicates that Melchizedek has always existed and shall never cease to exist. The point is that he is eternal, and hence he must be divine and not just angelic.

I submit that Melchizedek is the Son of God.2 He is a divine appearance and a prophetic foreshadowing of the Christ. One person, the Son of God, appears in both his pre-existent and incarnate states, Melchizedek and Christ, respectively; and because Melchizedek is the Son of God, he is "a priest perpetually." Christ's priesthood is in the direct line of, and a continuation of, the priesthood of Melchizedek (which we shall demonstrate further below). We are not faced with two priests here, but only one (for two eternal priesthoods would be impractical, unnecessary, and unthinkable). Hebrews 7:15,16 reads, "And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such, not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life." Now, because it is according to the power of an indestructible life, it is witnessed of Him that He is a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek (Hb. 7:17). Again, the priesthood of Christ is the extension, and the New Testament realization, of the priesthood of Melchizedek; that is the only way that we may understand Christ's priesthood as being "according to the order of Melchizedek."

A Practical Word

The believer's comfort and encouragement is that Christ's priesthood (in keeping with Melchizedek's priesthood) is eternal. The eternal priesthood of Christ provides for an eternal relationship and fellowship with God. His eternal priesthood and the eternal covenant of grace go hand in hand. The priesthood sustains and makes viable a covenant relationship, providing the means for atoning for sin (and allowing fellowship with God), as well as making possible the communication of God's blessings. You cannot have a covenantal relationship of this nature without the mediation of a priesthood. We can thank God for our great high priest who ever lives to make intercession for us; who first offered himself up in the eternal Spirit as a sacrifice on our behalf in order that we might receive eternal grace. We are in eternal fellowship with God because of the merits of Christ, our eternal priest.

Moreover, our eternal priest is an eternal king. Jesus Christ is the king of righteousness. Our Lord reveals His righteousness, imputes His righteousness, and imparts His righteousness to those who believe in His name. Maybe some of you are burdened with a sense of guilt and of shame; maybe you have fallen into sin again and again. Keep in mind, my believer friend, that you have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous, and it is only because of His righteousness that you are able to stand before a righteous God. You are accepted in the Beloved. Come and confess your sins, and He will forgive and restore you. Through your repentance and by His grace, He has clothed you in His righteousness, a righteousness that is eternal. Therefore you are forever secure in Him.

Jesus Christ is also the king of peace. Some who are reading this booklet may be troubled in their minds. Maybe this past week you have been afflicted by illness, disturbed by financial loss, or upset by a family tragedy. Not only does Christ bring you, the believer, into a peaceful relationship with His Father (as if that were not enough to cause us to rejoice and to be comforted), He actually gives that peace to us inwardly in order that we might be composed in our minds and be assured that all is well. Are you troubled? Is something bothering you, disturbing you, causing you to fear and be anxious? Our eternal king is one of peace, and that peace is the legacy He has left to us as His Church. Our eternal priest reigns.

Melchizedek: Greater Than Abraham

The writer of the Hebrew epistle, having treated the status, traits, and nature of Melchizedek, proceeds to comment on his person in relation to Abraham and the Levitical priests. First, the writer states that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham in honour and in status. He presents two reasons for this claim.

Abraham Paid a Tithe to Melchizedek

The Scriptures state, "Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils."3 Now in order to appreciate what the writer is teaching, and indeed to draw justifiably the conclusion that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, some background understanding concerning this matter of giving tithes is in order. First, according to the Law, a tithe or a tenth of one's material increase belonged to the Lord. For instance, Leviticus 27:30 reads, "Thus all the tithe of the land, of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD's; it is holy to the LORD." God is the great Creator, the great Provider, the great Sustainer. God graciously provides for the needs of His people, and His people are to respond in an act of worship and thanksgiving by returning to Him a portion of what He has first given to them. God demanded a tithe from His people in acknowledgement of His goodness and of His love.

Second, with the formation of the nation of Israel, the Lord's tithe of one's increase was to be channeled to the Levites and the Levitical priesthood. The Levites and, of course, the priests were consecrated unto the Lord and considered God's own possession in exchange for the first born of Israel. God requested the tribe of the Levites in exchange for the first born of Israel who were not slain when God destroyed all the first born of Egypt (Ex. 13:11ff; Lev. 3:11ff.) In being consecrated to the Lord, the Levites and the Levitical priesthood were to serve God by ministering in the tabernacle, and subsequently in the temple (Lev. 3:5ff; Nu. 18:21). In response to their service, God assigned them an inheritance, a recompense - the one tenth of the possessions of Israel that God claimed for himself.

So the Scriptures record, "And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest's office have commandment in the law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham" (Hb. 7:5). Though ancestral privilege and honour marked every Israelite, the nation of Israel had to respond in giving a tenth of their increase to the Levitical priesthood, indicating that the priesthood was of a higher and more honourable status.

Now Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek. Recall that Abraham was the ancestral founder of the chosen nation of Israel. He was a man divinely privileged and honoured, being promised a multitudinous offspring and eternal blessings. He was a man of great reputation. This man Abraham paid homage to Melchizedek, clearly indicating indeed how great this priest really was. Melchizedek was a priest consecrated to the service of the Lord. He, the priest of the Most High, received a tithe from Abraham, a tithe which rightfully belonged to God.

A Practical Word

This fact of Abraham's tithing raises an important, and often neglected, matter for the church of Christ. This matter of tithing has New Testament relevancy and application. Some well-meaning Christians maintain and teach that tithing is an Old Testament practice, now obsolete. They state that the Israelites, by law, were commanded to give a tithe to the priesthood. Now, though tithing is not explicitly stated as a commandment in the New Testament writings, I submit that the tithing principle still carries force and significance for the people of God. God materially prospers His people; He financially increases His people. He remains the Creator, the Provider, the Sustainer, and His people are to respond, as Israel did, in acknowledging His provision and His goodness by setting aside a tithe for Him.

Remember, Abraham paid a tithe before the formation of the nation of Israel, before the promulgation of the Law. Tithing was not peculiar to the nation of Israel. It was not merely a law stipulation, but rather it is a divine covenant expectation. Abraham paid a tithe to the Lord; Jacob also pledged a tithe to the Lord (Gn. 28:22). Both Abraham and Jacob paid a tithe to the Lord as members of the covenant of grace. Christians are also members of that covenant of grace and, as Abraham, in acknowledgement of the goodness and grace of this covenant-keeping God, should pay a tithe of their increase to this same Melchizedek, even Christ. So Hebrews 7:8 reads, "And in this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is written that he lives on." This Melchizedek lives on, and thus He should continue to receive tithes from His people. To be sure, we are no longer under law, but under grace. Yet even though we as Christians are under grace, we have a duty to give as the New Testament instructs us. Having entered into the age of the Spirit, the New Testament dispensation, we are now to give out of love and not out of compulsion. So the Scriptures exhort us, "Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully. Let each one do as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed" (2 Cor. 9:6-8). The Scriptures direct Christians that "on the first day of every week, let each one of you put aside and save as he may prosper" (1 Cor. 16:2a).

Further, as one tenth of the material increase of Israel went to the Levitical priesthood, in parallel fashion, one tenth of the Christian's material (or financial) increase ought to go to Christ's church and His ministering servants in that church. So the Scriptures instruct:

For it is written in the Law of Moses, "YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING." God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it is written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you?...Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel (1 Cor. 9:9-11,13,14).

Diversity, as well as unity, exists between the Old and New Testament teachings. Abraham paid a tithe to God's priest, Melchizedek, and Christians are to pay a tithe to God's priest, Christ, who is our Melchizedek. So Melchizedek is greater than Abraham in honour and in status because Abraham paid a tithe to him.

Melchizedek Blessed Abraham

The second reason why Melchizedek is greater than Abraham in honour and in status is because Melchizedek blessed Abraham. The Scriptures state, "But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham, and blessed the one who had the promises" (Hb. 7:6). This priestly act of blessing was the bestowal of favour or privilege. Abraham had been set apart by the Lord, and given honour and privilege. God had entered into a divine covenant with him, promising prominence and possessions. This chosen one of special divine recognition, Melchizedek blessed. Yet the Scriptures record, "But without dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater" (Hb. 7:7).

According to Old Testament teaching, the one who blessed occupied a position of superiority in reference to the one who received the blessing. For instance, after the temple was built by Solomon, he prayed; and after praying he arose and blessed the people, invoking God's favour and His privilege (1 Kg 8:54ff). It is the one who is superior, the one who is in a position of authority, that invokes the grace or the favour.

Remember also that this act of blessing was an essential part of the ministry of the Levitical priesthood. Being set aside by God and representing Him, the priests were given the responsibility of blessing the people of God, invoking His favour and grace. So, for instance, 1 Chronicles 23:13 states, "The sons of Amram were Aaron and Moses. And Aaron was set apart to sanctify him as most holy, he and his sons forever, to burn incense before the LORD, and to minister to Him and to bless in His name forever." The Aaronic blessing is recorded in Numbers 6:22ff, "Then the Lord spoke to Moses saying, 'Speak to Aaron and to his sons saying, "Thus you shall bless the sons of Israel, you shall say to them: The LORD bless you, and keep you; the LORD make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance on you and give you peace. So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them"'." The Levitical priesthood, having been set aside by God to minister His holy things, in representing Him and interceding for the people, were to pronounce and invoke His divine blessing upon Israel. Through the act of priestly blessing, God Himself blessed. So Melchizedek is greater than Abraham in honour and in status because He blessed Abraham.

A Practical Word

Our Melchizedek also blesses those for whom He intercedes. Thank God that He does. He bestows upon us grace and favour in our time of need. He knows when we are hurting. He knows where we are struggling. He knows how the heart aches; and He responds. We, as believers, have much about which to be encouraged. There is one who ever stands ready to bless.

Perhaps you are reading this booklet, and you are not a Christian. My friend, what you need to understand is that our great high priest blesses not only His people, but He has grace sufficient to bless you too. Having been appointed on behalf of His people, He is pleased to grant favour to you also. However, His blessing has a spiritual design. The goodness of God should lead you to repentance. The air that you breathe, the food that you eat, the good health that you possess, the job that you have, the family that you cherish - everything that you own and enjoy - is a blessing of the Lord. You would do well to take note of that my non-Christian friend and give honour to Whom honour is due.

Melchizedek's Priesthood:

Superior to the Levitical Priesthood

The writer of the Hebrew epistle considers this person Melchizedek not only in relation to Abraham, but also in relation to the Levitical priests. He contrasts Melchizedek's priesthood with the Levitical one. He claims that Melchizedek's priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood. He presents at least two reasons for this claim. Melchizedek has an eternal and an effective priesthood, whereas the Levitical priesthood was temporary and ineffective.

Melchizedek Has An Eternal Priesthood

First, the inferiority of the Levitical priesthood partly lay in the fact that mortal men assumed the priestly functions, whereas the superiority of Melchizedek's priesthood partly lay in that fact that He Himself is immortal; and because Melchizedek is immortal, His priesthood must be eternal. The Scriptures read, "And in this case [the Levitical priesthood] mortal men received tithes, but in that case [Melchizedek's priesthood] one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on" (Hb. 7:8). On the one hand, many Levitical priests served. The reason why many priests served was that those priests were mortal and thus eventually died. The Levitical priesthood involved a continual succession of priests. On the other hand, the Melchizedekian priesthood consisted of only one person. Only one priest served, for this one priest is immortal, "he lives on," which thus excluded any essential succession. Succession presupposes death. So the one is set over and against the many. 4

This characteristic of immortality is a crucial point of similarity between Melchizedek and Christ, which again forces one to draw the conclusion that Melchizedek is indeed the Son of God. Hebrews 7:15 reads, "And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek." Melchizedek is set forth as a prototype whom Christ resembles. Christ is a priest after the fashion of Melchizedek. Melchizedek Himself constitutes the prior standard to which Christ conforms. The point of conformity or resemblance, again, is defined in terms of an endless life, as the following verse (Hb. 7:16) explicitly indicates, "...who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life." Melchizedek lives on, and this Christ who arises in the likeness of Melchizedek also lives on. They are one and the same person.

A criticism may arise in the light of Hebrews 7:3 which says that Melchizedek was "made like the Son of God," and not as the Son of God. In fact, we could translate this phrase, in order to avoid confusion, as "appeared or became like the Son of God." Now there are two ways to interpret this phrase. First, we may interpret this phrase "made like" as meaning a "mere resemblance or reflection." So, for example, an artist may draw or paint a picture which resembles a real object or scene. The drawing or painting may be like the real object or scene, but is not the same as that object or scene. Second, we may interpret this phrase "made like" as meaning an "exactitude or equivalence." The other day I saw a car that looked the same as mine. I have seen many cars that look the same as mine. In fact, they are exactly like mine. The make of car that is first off the assembly line is exactly like that car that is the tenth one or the twentieth one or the one hundredth one off the assembly line. It is not a mere reflection, it is an exact equivalence. This is how that phrase is used in Hebrews 7:3. Hebrews 2:17 uses a similar phrase, "Therefore, He [Christ] had to be made like His brethren in all things." Is Christ a mere reflection or an exactitude of humanity? The Scriptures teach that Christ sustained complete identification with humans. He was not some ghost-like figure, not a mere image of humanity. He integrally participates in humanity. He was made exactly like, equivalent to, His brethren, sin excepted. Melchizedek appeared like the Son of God because He is the Son of God. Thus Christ arises as a priest "according to the likeness of Melchizedek [who]...lives on...[and] abides a priest perpetually" (Hb. 7:15b,8c,3d). So Melchizedek's priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood because Melchizedek has an eternal priesthood.

A Practical Word

Hebrews 7:25 reads, "Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them." Our Melchizedek, even Christ, has an eternal priesthood; therefore, His saving work has eternal consequences. He is able to apply the fruit of His saving work during every stage of our lives, in all circumstances of our lives, and at any moment in our lives. He ever lives to make intercession. Maybe you are looking for direction in your life at this time, a matter which has caused you no end of worry and anxiety. He ever lives to make intercession. Maybe you have been disappointed by a sour relationship and you are bleeding emotionally. He ever lives to make intercession. Maybe you have a great deal of distress as you look at your financial situation; and you wonder where the money will come to pay the bills. He ever lives to make intercession; He has an eternal priesthood.

Melchizedek Has An Effective Priesthood

The second reason why Melchizedek's priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood is that Melchizedek's priesthood is an effective priesthood, whereas the Levitical priesthood proved to be ineffective. So Hebrews 7:11 reads, "Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people receive 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?" The Levitical priesthood was an ineffective priesthood because it could not adequately deal with sin and completely remove it. The Levitical priesthood, with its offerings of animals and beasts, could not achieve moral and spiritual cleansing for the worshipper. Thus the failure of the Levitical priesthood to achieve such cleansing resulted in the need for, and the revelation of, another priesthood - the Melchizedekian priesthood.

So the Levitical priesthood functioned as a deficient system. It could not produce a renewed and transformed conscience. Its religious provisions and means left the inner life of the worshipper untouched. The Melchizedekian priesthood, however, effectively deals with sin, removing its guilt and consequences, providing grace and mercy which renews the mind, regenerates the spirit, and cleanses the conscience so that the worshipper may enter into a living and right relationship with God. The Scriptures say, "For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God" (Hb. 7:18,19). The law was weak and useless because of the inability of humans to fully obey and apply it, and not because of some inherent deficiency. Because of the intrinsic corrupt state of humans, no one can achieve moral or spiritual perfection through attempting to keep the law. The law itself is good and holy, but because of the sin condition of humans, the law can result in no real and lasting spiritual and moral benefit for its adherents. Yet repentant sinners can have a right relationship with God, which is made possible because of a new priesthood, in association with a new covenant. Melchizedek's priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood because Melchizedek has an effective priesthood.

A Practical Word

I now address another word to my non-Christian friend. You have fallen far short of God's standards and expectations. You have failed to keep His commandments and His law. You have been rebellious. Besides, you could never keep the law of God anyway. No one can keep that law, at least not perfectly. As a result no one can produce the righteousness that God requires. Only through keeping the law perfectly can one produce the righteousness which God accepts. Hence, in your natural state, you cannot have that right relationship with Christ. That's why a new arrangement, a new law, a new covenant, was needed. The Son of God identified Himself with a lost and dying humanity, by assuming human flesh, and perfectly kept God's law and commandments. He alone produced that righteousness which God demands and accepts. He effectively dealt with sin by the sacrifice of Himself on the cross, and triumphed over sin's curse with His resurrection. Christ has secured righteousness for lost sinners. Jesus Christ imputes (i.e., puts to someone's account) His own righteousness to the sinner who repents and believes in Him. Through that imputed righteousness, repentant sinners are thus made acceptable before God. Now Christ savingly applies that righteousness as a priest.

My unbelieving friend, you need His righteousness because your own righteousness is worthless before God. You can not successfully stand on your own merit, or by your own good deeds, before Him. Are you trying to save yourself? You cannot do it. Are you resting on your neighbourly ways? You will avail nothing. Christ has provided a better hope. You are not too dirty, or too rebellious, or too sinful. You have not sunk deeper than the grace of God can reach. You can be a new creature in Christ. He has an effective priesthood. He really saves.

According to the Order of Melchizedek

The Levitical priesthood was according to the order of Aaron; Christ's priesthood is according to the order of Melchizedek. The writer of this Hebrew epistle asks, "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?" What does the phrase "according to the order of" mean? On the one hand, there is the order of Aaron and, on the other hand, there is the order of Melchizedek. These two orders are contrasted with each other.

The Meaning of "Order of"

Only one other place in the New Testament uses this term in a way similar to its use here in the Hebrew epistle, which provides background understanding for determining the exact usage of the term in this epistle. Luke 1 presents us with an account of the birth of John the Baptist, whose parents were Zacharias and Elizabeth. The Scriptures record, "In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth...Now it came about, that while he [Zacharias] was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense" (Lu. 1:5,8f.). The phrase "in the...order of his division" has Old Testament roots and significance. Thus the Scriptures read:

These were the sons of Levi according to their fathers' households, even the heads of the fathers' households of those of them who were counted, in the number of names by their census, doing the work for the service of the house of the LORD, from twenty years old and upward...For by the last words of David the sons of Levi were numbered, from twenty years old and upward...For their office is to assist the sons of Aaron with the service of the house of the LORD, in the courts and in the chambers and in the purifying of all holy things, even the work of the service of the house of God, and with the shewbread, and the fine flour for a grain offering, and unleavened wafers, or what is baked in the pan, or what is well mixed, and all measures of volume and size...Thus they are to keep charge of the tent of meeting, and charge of the holy place, and charge of the sons of Aaron their relatives, for the service of the house of the LORD (1 Chronicles 23:24,27-29,32).

The Levites were set aside to attend unto the ministry pertaining to the temple. Various family groups or divisions comprised the tribe of Levi. 1 Chronicles 24:1-3 says, "Now the divisions of the descendants of Aaron were these: the sons of Aaron were Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. But Nadab and Abihu died before their father and had no sons. So Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests. And David, with Zadock of the sons of Eleazar and Ahimelech of the sons of Ithamar divided them [the Levites] according to their offices for their ministry." The Levites were separated into different divisions or groups, and assigned responsibilities respectively in the temple. The different divisions related, or corresponded, to specific offices designed to fulfil particular services or ministries in the temple. So, for example, one division assumed the office of being gate keepers. The gate keepers were assigned to watch over the treasuries and the chambers. Another division assumed the office of keepers of the sanctuary. The keepers of the sanctuary were to care for the utensils and oversee the food supplies and spices. An assigned office corresponded to particular service or ministries, which the divisions of the Levites assumed by lot. Accordingly, by way of example, 1 Chronicles 24:10,19 reads, "The seventh [lot] for Hakkos, the eighth for Abijah [Zacharias' division]...These were their offices for their ministry, when they came in to the house of the LORD according to the ordinance given to them through Aaron, their father, just as the LORD God of Israel had commanded him." These Levite divisions were given specific instructions on practice and procedure in temple worship. They performed an established or predetermined ministry.

With that brief historical background, the language used of Zacharias becomes more meaningful. Zacharias performed his priestly service before God in the established or designated way of his division, and thus in keeping with that way, "he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense according to the custom of the priestly office." The phrase "order of" (in this context) means a prescribed procedure or an established manner or format. John Knox, during the period of the Reformation produced a document called "The Common Order" or "The Book of the Order of Geneva." It was a reform English manual of worship which he introduced to the English congregation in Geneva. The "Common Order" consisted of normative principles of public worship in order to ensure a common practice. An established way, a prescribed manner, was set forth. So God gave the Levites, through Aaron, a prescribed procedure, definite instructions, on how to worship Him.

A Practical Word

God prescribed proper worship not only for Israel, but also for the church. He is a God of order and standard. God determines how His people will worship Him. We cannot, we dare not, approach or worship God on our own terms, or according to our own opinion, desire, or feelings. God reveals to us how to serve Him, not society, nor church hierarchy, nor even church tradition. Now God has revealed to us how to worship Him through His Word. We dare not perform worship pragmatically, nor expediently, but Biblically.

The Orders of Aaron and Melchizedek

The orders of Aaron and Melchizedek are a prescribed or instituted procedure relative to, and commencing with, Aaron and Melchizedek, respectively. Aaron was instructed to perform certain priestly duties and functions in a certain way, and we can assume that Melchizedek, as the priest of the Most High God, also carried out his duties and functions in a prescribed manner. Now these original priestly duties and functions would comprise an established precedence and format for successive priests; hence successive priests would enter into the instituted or prescribed way of ministry, and thus such successors would serve "according to the order of."

Simply, then, what was true of, and pertained to, Aaron and his sons becoming and being priests remained in force for other Levites who successively entered into that priestly office. They thus became priests "according to the order of Aaron." Likewise, what was true of, and pertained to Melchizedek being a priest remains in force for (if I might say) His successor, even Christ, who thus became a priest "according to the order of Melchizedek." In the 13th century, an organization called "The Order of the Brothers of the Sword" was established. It was an organization of crusading knights who began the successful conquest and Christianization of Livonia, which is modern Latvia and Estonia. An established way, or an instituted procedure, impinged on every candidate who would participate in that order. Each candidate for that order had to be of noble birth and had to take a vow of obedience, poverty and celibacy. An order entails defined and requisite stipulations.

Melchizedek's Order is Heavenly and Antitypical

The order of Aaron is contrasted with the order of Melchizedek. Now what is the contrast, or wherein lies the difference? The order of Aaron was earthly and typical; the order of Melchizedek is heavenly and antitypical. What is the reason for making this claim concerning the order of Melchizedek? The reason is this: Christ's priesthood conforms to the prescribed manner of Melchizedek's priesthood. Melchizedek is viewed as a prototype. Again, Christ is a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Accordingly, the characteristics and aspects of Christ's priesthood must comprise the elements of this order into which He has entered, an order which supposedly defines the nature of His priestly ministry; and Christ's priesthood is both heavenly and antitypical.

So Melchizedek has a heavenly priesthood. His sanctuary is in heaven. Further, He has an antitypical priesthood. That is, His priesthood is the fulfilment of the Old Testament shadows and types (i.e., pictures pointing ahead to the real, the perfect, or the complete), even though his priesthood historically pre-dated the Levitical priesthood. The Melchizedekian priesthood comes to full expression with Christ. Aaron's priesthood, and the practices of the tabernacle and temple, set the stage, and prepared for, the revelation of Christ's priesthood, which is the extension and realization of Melchizedek's priesthood. Hebrews 8:4 says, "Now if He were on earth [but He is not], He would not be a priest at all, since there are those that offer gifts according to the Law." God established one earthly priesthood, which, by implication, means that the other one He also established must be heavenly. Christ's priesthood can not be according to an earthly fashion. So Hebrews 8:5 reads that the Levitical priests serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, 'SEE,' He says, 'THAT YOU MAKE ALL THINGS ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN'." A previously existing heavenly priesthood served as the model for the earthly Levitical priesthood, of which it was a reflection. A previously existing priesthood suggests a previously existing priest. Hebrews 9:1 says, "Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary," which implies that a heavenly sanctuary existed. So Hebrews 9:11 reads, "But when Christ appeared as a high priest [according to the order of Melchizedek and entering into a previously established format] of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation;" and Hebrews 9:23,24 states, "Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens, to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us."

A Practical Word

Aaron's priesthood pointed ahead to Christ's priesthood (a priesthood adumbrated by Melchizedek's priesthood). Now as we understand this relationship between a type and an antitype, the shadow and the real, we are again struck with the marvelous truth that God has a plan, and that that plan had its roots in eternity past. God orders the unfolding of the ages and the centuries in fulfilling His purposes. God has harnessed the forces and the powers of history in order to bring His plan to completion. God, in wisdom, set the stage for real salvation through the Old Testament practices and teaching, preparing for the coming of Christ. You who doubt the integrity of the Word of God, consider its organic unity. Genesis relates to Leviticus, which relates to 1 Samuel, which relates to Malachi, which relates to Matthew and 1 Thessalonians and the Revelation; all of Scripture harmonizes because God has one truth. Perceiving this unity of the Scriptures draws one to worship God, marveling at His wisdom. Rebels and heretics have honestly studied the Word of God, and have been brought to the conclusion that the Bible has a divine source. Do you doubt the integrity of the Word of God? Do you wonder, when you read the Bible, if it really has a divine source? I would suspect that some reading this booklet would have to answer 'yes'. Some believe that the Bible is simply a collection of human opinions, a record of religious experiences. Have you read the Bible all the way through from Genesis to the Revelation, in a studious manner? Have you done an internal comparative study of the Scriptural content? The various parts of the Bible complement each other. The Bible truly reveals the wonderful plan of God.

So the priesthood of Christ is antitypical; it is the fulfilment of the Old Testament types, but it is also heavenly. The ways of God are not earthy, but spiritual. His ways are not according to this fallen world's system. The ways of God are of another dimension, of a different order. His ways are heavenly, and so, for example, the Scriptures say that we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. Maybe you find yourself today wondering how God is going to provide for you. Maybe you find yourself physically disabled, materially deprived, emotionally distraught. His blessings are ultimately not of this world. Christians have a higher hope.

Further, because Christ has a heavenly priesthood, He is able to save us to the uttermost. Thank God we no longer have to bring our bulls, our goats, and our pigeons to a physical place here on the earth. That kind of a system cannot save. But, now, Christ has offered up Himself once for all, one perfect sacrifice by one perfect priest, whereby we are saved forever. My non-Christian friend that is the good news that I present to you. There is an escape from death; there is a way out of eternal destruction; there is indeed a heaven to be gained, and a hell to be shunned; but that way is only through Jesus Christ. I invite you to believe in Him, to accept Him, to embrace Him, confessing that you have sinned and that Christ has died for you. Jesus Christ, the great high priest stands ready to save you.