Melchizedek and the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ
Question#1: Please explain the meaning of Melchizedek in Hebrews 7:1-3. Also, do you ever feel that life is an up-hill journey? I am starting to get short-winded.
Response #1: Melchizedek was a real person, a human being who was a "priest of the Most High God" on the basis of the patriarchal priesthood that obtained before the establishment of the Levitical priest after the Exodus (see the link: "Gentile Patriarchy" from part 5 of the Satanic Rebellion series). What Melichizedek is not is 1) an angel, 2) a Christophany, 3) Christ. Melchizedek is a "type of Christ", and not an accidental one at that (see the link from CT#1: Typology and Sequence in Old Testament Prophecy). He is used by way of comparison in Hebrews 7:1-3 to explain by analogy the superiority of the eternal and spiritual priesthood of Jesus over the fleshly and temporal Levitical priesthood.
Hebrews 7:1-3 and the issue of the comparison of Melchizedek to Christ are often debated, as you are probably aware. Best to start with a translation:
Key to the translation here (and often misunderstood) is the phrase "made like". This is really a circumstantial participle in the Greek (aphomoiomenos), translated above as "[that is] in respect to this comparison of him". The true force of this participle is in its limitation of the main verb "continues as a priest". That is to say, Melchizedek's "continues" only in the sense of this comparison made by Paul. Paul is not saying that Melchizedek is still alive, or that he is Christ or that Melchizedek was a Christophany. Rather, Paul is using a comparison between this special priesthood and the Levitical priesthood which it predates. Based on the proof of Psalm 110:4, Paul is trying to explain to Jewish believers that the priesthood of the Messiah is superior to the priesthood that comes from the Mosaic Law (just as he has explained how the Messiah is superior to angels and to Moses and will later explain that the Messiah's new covenant is superior to the old one). In company with the Messiah, Melchizedek has two points of superiority over the Aaronic priesthood: 1) instead of receiving his office by birth, he was directly appointed by God (Heb.5:5; cf. Ps.110:4; Heb.7:3); 2) instead of holding his office for a limited time, he holds it for an undefined period (Ps.110:4; Heb.7:3). On the second point, it is true that the "unlimited" duration of Melchizedek's priesthood is due to the fact that scripture does not mention his birth, death or genealogy, but that is sufficient for Paul to draw the comparison and teach his audience the principle: Christ's priesthood is superior because it never comes to an end, and that is exactly the point made in the Messianic Psalm 110:4, "You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek".
The essence of Paul's point here (begun in Hebrews chapter five) is therefore that the Messiah's priesthood is superior both because it never comes to an end and also because it is not based upon genealogical considerations. Contemporary Jews would find the latter odd and the former a stumbling block, but the fact that Jesus lives forever does mean His priesthood will never come to an end, and that fact that He came from the tribe of Judah means that human birthright had nothing to do with his selection as priest by God Himself.
To explain to his audience how these things can be, Paul makes use of a comparison already established by the prophecy of scripture (Ps.110:4). David had already compared the Messiah to Melchizedek, proclaiming the priesthood of the coming King. This was a natural comparison for the Spirit to lead him to make, since, as Paul points out in that context, like the Messiah, Melchizedek was both a priest and a king. Scripture does not record anything about the genealogy of Melchizedek, neither does it record his death, so in this respect too Melchizedek is an excellent point of comparison because it is not Jesus' genealogy which qualifies Him to be a priest, and through His resurrection His priesthood will never end (analogous to the lack of any recorded end to Melchizedek's life). Both of these things mark the Messiah's priesthood out as superior to what Paul's audience are preferring, namely, the Levitical priesthood. Paul continues this analogy throughout the chapter, making it overwhelmingly clear that Jesus' priesthood, being declared by David as a Melchizedek-type priesthood rather than a Levitical one, is superior in every way. The kingship of Melchizedek and the etymology of his name also make it clear that this has not been an accident in the plan of God, but that the significance of the name ("king of righteousness" and "king of peace") was always meant to mark Melchizedek out as a type of Christ, and Abraham's submission to him also sends a clear message that there was always meant to be a priesthood which would be superior to the Levitical one (which comes genetically through the line of Levi), a priesthood which would not come into its full fruition until the advent of Messiah who would offer Himself for the sins of the whole world. After all, the main function of the high priest is to represent the people before God and particularly in the area of offering acceptable sacrifices for their sins (Heb.5:1-4). Beyond any question, our Lord's sacrifice of His own body was the true sacrifice to which all of the Levitical rites pointed (having passed into the true Holy of Holies into the presence of the Father: Heb.1:3; 4:14; 6:19-20; 8:1-5; 9:11-12), and the only sacrifice which expiates our sins in fact (for the Levitical rites conducted by the high priest only represent the saving work of our Lord). This is the ultimate point of superiority to which our Lord's priesthood "in the order of Melchizedek" points, namely, other priesthoods were only symbolic (as well as temporary and hereditary), but our Lord's is the one true mediation between God and man in the Person of and through the work of the God-Man Jesus Christ. What has caused the most problems of interpretation in the past vis-a-vis Melchizedek is the fact that he is introduced in Hebrews only as an analogy (albeit a powerful and divinely inspired one).
As to steepness of your road to glory, I will pray for you to catch your breath. I know that your day of victory will come. Those who put their faith in the Lord and hang on until He answers are never ever disappointed (Rom.5:5). That does not mean, of course, that we are not sorely tempted to turn off the steep path to Zion at many points. But, really, there is no alternative but to keep pressing on. That is especially so for all those who are completely dedicated to Jesus - because somewhere deep inside we realize that even if we were to sit down and take a rest we would only become miffed at ourselves for doing so and get right back on the road, ruing the loss of time. On particularly bad forced marches and long runs in the USMC, I used to tell myself that I only had to take another step and only had to worry about taking one more step. Taking in mentally and emotionally the whole thing at once is just too much sometimes. I believe that is why the Lord tells us to take one day at a time and not to become overly concerned about things beyond our view and out of our control (Matt.6:25-34). The alternative, of course, is to put out of our minds anything but that next step (which we know for sure we can take) and put everything else into the hands of the One who knows exactly where the road leads and will help us along it no matter how steep. In my experience, this is a hard perspective to gain and an easy one to lose hold of, but when I do lose sight of it, things always seem to get more difficult, and when I grab back hold of it through prayer and introspection and active "casting of my cares" onto Him, that next step always seems easier.
I'm praying for you to get your second wind soon. Please also see this link:
In Him who is able to carry all our burdens along that road, our Lord Jesus Christ.
The claim is that Jesus is our High Priest and that there are no other earthly high priests. Yet, in Hebrews 5:1-3 and 8:3-4, it indicates that there are still high priests among men. What are your thought on the makeup of the present-day priesthood? What new covenant truth are we supposed to glean from the old covenant priesthood? I know that Aaron, as the high priest, is a shadow of Christ. How about his sons, the priests and the Levites (Hebrews 7:5)?
In Numbers 4, the Kohathites would die if they saw or touched any of the tabernacle furnishings, yet they were to transport them from place to place. The incident with Kohath had not happened yet. Does this have to do with God's foreknowledge of all things? Also in Numbers 8, the Levites take the place of the firstborn of Israel. Could you explain this? What's the significance of the 273 excess Israelites being redeemed with silver?
Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful answers.
Jesus is indeed our high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Ps.110:4; Heb.4:14; 5:10; etc.). That is to say, His priesthood is qualitatively different and superior in every way to the Levitical priesthood (the very point that Paul is making in Hebrews chapters 4:14 and following). Now a priest is someone who represents human beings before God, a go-between, so to speak. We know of a certainty that no human being ever lived who could actually stand before God and offer any effective plea for the rest of humanity, because he/she could never hope to stand before God on his/her own account (let alone on behalf of others). Jesus, of course, is the one exception to this rule, being virgin born and thus without original sin, being sinless in His life, and therefore being qualified to make atonement for the sins of others - the very purpose of His mission here on earth (Heb.2:17: "He had to be made like His brothers 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" NIV). Of course, the atonement Christ provides, the sacrifice which covers the sins of the people, of all of us, is the sacrifice of His own life on Calvary's cross for us all. Every other previous legitimate priest of God (including all of the Levitical priests) could only stand before God on the basis of the promise of the coming sacrifice of Jesus Christ (that is what all the animal sacrifices and their blood foreshadow). So that all previous priesthood is shadow (along with every other aspect of the Law), while the sacrifice of Christ is real (and it is of that reality that we now partake).
The book of Hebrews is often misunderstood. Paul is writing this book (anonymously) with the purpose of explaining to Jewish Christians the folly and the danger of returning to the rituals in which they were weaned. At the time of writing (ca. 65 A.D.), the Levitical rituals were still being performed (and would be for another four years until the Romans destroyed the temple). So there were "high priests" at the time, but they no longer had any spiritual validity. We Christians are now "priests of God" (1Pet.2:5; 2:9; Rev.1:6; 5:10; 20:6) by being made one with our Savior (as indeed we share in everything He is by being baptized into Him through the Spirit). We no longer need any mediation (contrast with Ex.20:19; cf. Heb.12:22ff.), but now are to take our prayers, our petitions, our confessions of sin directly to our heavenly Father now that Jesus has removed all impediments (cf. Rom.5:2; Eph.2:18; 3:12), splitting the dividing veil that kept us apart (cf. Lk.23:45), and opening the way to our heavenly Father (Heb.6:19). All of the Levitical priests shared this function of symbolic intermediaries; now all believers share this privilege of being able to actually approach the throne of grace personally on the basis of our personal relationship with our Savior.
On the Kohathites, they are instructed to wrap up all of the holy articles (Num.4:6; 4:12), so that they did not actually have to handle them directly. As to "the incident with Kohath", I can only say he is one of the sons of Levi, so that their authority is also hereditary (Gen.46:11). On the Levites taking the place of the first born, once again there is a representation of Christ here. Jesus is "the first born of all creation" (Col.1:15), and because of His sacrifice on the cross, the fundamental, glorious act of all history, all first born are consecrated to the Lord and, for symbolic reasons (i.e., their symbolic relationship to the Messiah destined to die for us all) remain consecrated to the Lord unless redeemed. This distinction of the first born is transferred to Levi from Reuben because of 1) Reuben's sin (Gen.35:22; cf. 1Chron.5:1), and 2) the Levites' zeal for the Lord (Ex.32:25-29; cf. Num.3:11-13).
Finally, on the redemption of the 273, I am not sure that this number has any special significance. However, it does serve to demonstrate the principle of the need to redeem any and all first born for whom compensation has not otherwise been made (which would not have been the case were the figures exact or in excess of what was needed). Were I to draw an application from this number, it would simply be that in God's economy of things, those called to special service for Him and necessary for the spiritual provision of His people are never in so short a supply that they cannot be found (273 out of 22,000 is not a large number), but are in not in such superabundant supply that they may ever be taken for granted (cf. 1Cor.12:24; 12:31).
In Him who has gained for us through His blood this access we have to our Heavenly Father, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.