Back in verse 10 of chapter 5, the author of Hebrews said that the Lord Jesus was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. ‘We have much to say about this’, he said in the next verse. However, he went on to add that it is hard to explain because his readers were slow to learn. And he went on to say that they ought to be teachers by now, but they’re still stuck on the ABCs of the faith. So, he said, let’s leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity. And that means: Let’s move beyond the ABCs to the faith to learn new things about Christ.
And after warning his readers once again about the danger of falling away, the writer went on to talk about the certainty of God’s promise and how we have a hope that is firm and secure, because it’s grounded in the promise and oath of God who has sworn by his own unchangeably nature to give eternal life to all who believe in his Son. And God’s Son, the writer said, has become a high priest in the order of Melchizedek. And so, having mentioned Melchizedek in chapter 5, he comes back to Melchizedek at the end of chapter 6. And now, he spends much of chapter 7 explaining to us how the Lord Jesus is a high priest in order of Melchizedek.
But before we get into the chapter, let me make two preliminary points. And the first is really to reiterate what I said a couple of weeks ago. When the writer describes the Lord Jesus as our priest, or as our high priest, he’s not saying the Lord Jesus is like a priest. He’s not speaking metaphorically. When we describe God as a rock, we’re speaking metaphorically. God is not literally a rock, but he’s like a rock in that he’s unchangeable. Or when we describe God as a shepherd, we’re speaking metaphorically. God is not literally a shepherd, but he’s like a shepherd in that he cares for his people. But when the writer describes the Lord Jesus as our high priest, he isn’t speaking metaphorically. He’s not saying the Lord Jesus is like a high priest. The Lord Jesus is our high priest. He’s the real high priest. He’s the true high priest. He’s the original high priest. The other high priests, the ones we read about in the Bible and who served in the tabernacle and the temple, were only copies of him. They were like him, whereas he’s the true high priest. Just as the temple in Jerusalem was an earthly copy of the true temple in heaven, so the high priests in the Jerusalem temple were earthly copies of the true high priest who is in heaven.
And the same goes for Melchizedek. The reason the writer brings up Melchizedek is because, in some important ways, he is like the Lord Jesus. In fact, if you glance at verse 3 of chapter 7, he says ‘like the Son of God, Melchizedek remains a priest forever.’ That is, Melchizedek is like the Son of God. He resembles the Son of God. But the Son of God, our high priest, is the true high priest.
And as I said a couple of weeks ago, we need to remember this otherwise we might get impatient with all this talk about high priests. ‘Why does the writer say so much about high priests? After all, we don’t have high priests today. So, it’s all irrelevant for us. It makes no difference to us, because we don’t have priests now.’ That’s the way we might think. But it is of relevance to us, because we all need a high priest; and we have a high priest. We need a high priest because we’re all sinners who are weak; and we need a high priest to represent us before God. And we have a high priest; and our high priest is the Lord Jesus. As our high priest, he offered up to God the perfect sacrifice for our sins to reconcile us to God. And as our high priest, he intercedes for us before the Father in heaven. So, we need to pay attention to what we read in the Bible about priests, because those earthly priests help us to understand what Christ has done for us and what he is doing for us even now in heaven.
And the second preliminary point is to say that sometimes, after I preach a sermon, I continue to think about it. Sometimes I forget the last sermon and move on to the next one. But sometimes, even though I have to move on to the next one, I continue to think about an old one. Usually this happens if there was something about the sermon which I was unhappy with. I perhaps didn’t explain something clearly enough, or perhaps I have a nagging suspicion that I didn’t quite understand the passage properly or missed an important point. And I’ve been thinking about that sermon I preached a couple of Sundays ago on the passage which runs from verse 11 of chapter 5 to verse 12 of chapter 6. That’s the passage about leaving the ABCs of the faith and going on to maturity. And it contains the warning about the danger of falling away from Christ. And if you read that sermon on my website, you might notice that I’ve made a couple of changes to it. I’ve changed in a small way what I’ve said about the warning. But I’ve also changed the ending, where I said that the Christian life is like riding a bicycle. Why is the Christian life like riding a bicycle? Because if you stop pedalling, you’ll fall over. In other words, we have to keep believing. We have to keep believing in Christ. And as soon as we stop believing in him, we’ll fall.
But how do we keep believing in him? We keep believing in him by learning more and more about him, because the more we learn about him, the more we’ll understand his greatness and glory and why we should keep trusting in him. And in particular, we need to learn that he’s our great high priest who represents us before the Father and who is praying for us. When the writer outlined the ABCs of the faith, he referred to repentance and faith, which mark the beginning of the Christian life. He also referred to baptism and to the laying on of hands. We’re not sure what he means by the laying on of hands, but baptism takes place at the beginning of the Christian life. And then he referred to the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment, which take place at the end of the Christian life. So, the ABCs of the faith are about the beginning and the end of the Christian life.
But what about the middle of the Christian life? What about our life in this world as believers? What about our daily life and all the troubles and trials we have to face and to endure? What about when we suffer and how, when we suffer, we can be tempted to give up the faith? We need help with that. And that’s why we need to hear that Christ is our great high priest who always lives to intercede for us. We need to be reminded that we don’t face these troubles on our own, but the Lord Jesus is praying for us. Just as he prayed for Simon Peter, when the Devil wanted to crush Peter’s faith, so he prays for us, asking our Father in heaven to help us and to shield us and to uphold us. And so, that’s why the writer wanted his readers to leave the elementary teachings about Christ which are about the beginning and the end of the Christian life. He wanted to teach them that Christ is their high priest and he hasn’t abandoned them, but he always lives to intercede for them. And, if you’re a believer, then he’s interceding for you. He’s praying for you. He’s appealing to God the Father for you.
And so, look how chapter 7 ends. Having explained to us the significance of Melchizedek and how the Lord Jesus is a better high priest than the Levitical high priests, the writers says in verse 25, ‘Therefore….’ So, given all that I’ve said, here’s my conclusion. And it’s this: he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. That’s why he wants to tell us about Christ’s priesthood. He wants us to know that Christ is our priest and he’s praying for us so that we will not fall.
Verses 1 to 3
Having said all that, let’s turn to chapter 7. And in verses 1 to 3 he tells us about Melchizedek, who was king of Salem or Jerusalem and priest of God Most High and who met Abraham when Abraham was returning from the defeat of the kings. So, he’s referring to a time, which we read about in Genesis 14, when a coalition of kings attacked Sodom and Gomorrah and seized all their goods. And they also carried away with them Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and all his possessions. Abraham heard what happened and he went out with his men and attacked the coalition of kings, defeated them, recovered all the stolen goods and rescued Lot. On his way home, Abraham met two men. The first was the king of Sodom and the second was Melchizedek. And Moses tells us that Melchizedek, who was priest of God Most High, blessed Abraham; and Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything. That is, he gave him a tenth of the spoils. And that’s all that is said about Melchizedek in the book of Genesis. He appears in just three verses.
Well, the writer to the Hebrews explains that the name Melchizedek means ‘king of Righteousness’ He also explains that since he was king of Salem, then he can also be described as ‘king of peace’, because salem means peace. The writer doesn’t say more about his name, but presumably the point he’s making is that his name is one of the ways he’s like Christ, because Christ is the true King of righteousness and the true King of peace. He’s the true King of righteousness because he always did what was right and through faith in him sinners are declared right with God. And he’s the true King of peace, because through faith in him sinners have peace with God and we can look forward to enjoying perfect peace and rest in the life to come.
But he’s like Christ in another way. He is without father or mother and he’s without genealogy and he’s without beginning of days or end of life. Now, Melchizedek was an ordinary man. And as an ordinary man, he had a father and mother and he had a birthday and at some point he also died. He was just like you and me. However, the writer is saying that it’s ‘as if’ he didn’t have a father or mother or genealogy or a beginning of days and an end of days. It’s ‘as if’ he had none of these things, because he just appears and then he disappears. He appears in Genesis 14 and we’re not told anything about his ancestry. And then, he just disappears and we’re not told anything about his death. He just appears and then he disappears. So, as a character in the book of Genesis, he’s a priest without a beginning and without an end. And in that way he is like the Son of God. He’s like the Son of God, because the Son of God is a priest forever. The Son of God is a priest forever, because he’s God, who is eternal. And therefore, he’s without beginning and without end. But he’s also a priest forever in the sense that, though he died, he was raised from the dead to live forever.
Verses 4 to 10
Having introduced us to Melchizedek, and made the connection to the Lord Jesus, the writer goes on in verses 4 to 10 to explain to us how Melchizedek was a greater priest than the Levitical priests. And so, he says in verse 4: ‘Just think how great he was….’
Now what follows is a bit tricky, but I’ll try to explain the main points briefly. Melchizedek’s greatness as a priest and his superiority to the Levitical priests is demonstrated by the fact that Melchizedek blessed Abraham and received a tenth of the plunder from Abraham. So, look at verse 7 where it says: ‘And without doubt, the lesser person is blessed by the greater.’ That is, Abraham is the lesser person; and he was blessed by Melchizedek who is the greater person. And when Abraham gave a tenth of the plunder to Melchizedek as a tribute to him, it was as if all the Levitical priests were paying tribute to Melchizedek as well. That’s in verse 9 where it says: ‘One might even say that Levi… paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.’ The people in those days believed that you embodied all of your descendants. Or we might say today, the DNA of all your descendants is in you. And therefore, in a sense, you represent your descendants. And that means that Abraham represented Levi and all the Levitical priests. And so, when Abraham paid tribute to Melchizedek, it was as if the Levitical priests also paid tribute to Melchizedek and acknowledged that he was a superior priest to them.
And then, Melchizedek is a superior priest to them for another reason. Look at verse 8. The Levitical priests are men who die, but Melchizedek is a priest who, in a sense, is declared to be living. He’s declared to be living, because the Bible nowhere records his death. And that makes him a superior priest, doesn’t it? A priest who lives forever is better than a priest who dies and who must be replaced by another.
And so, Melchizedek was a superior priest to the Levitical priests. But why is he telling us about Melchizedek? It’s simple really. He’s making the point that there are two orders of priest in the Bible. There’s room in the Bible for two kinds of priest. And what are the two orders of priest? Well, there’s the inferior Levitical priesthood; and then there’s a superior order of priesthood, which was foreshadowed by Melchizedek and which was fulfilled, ultimately, by God the Son.
But why were two orders of priest necessary? Why not just one? Because one of them was not ‘fit for purpose’. I’m sure you know what ‘fit for purpose’ means, don’t you? You buy something for a particular purpose. For instance, you buy a vacuum cleaner to help you clean the house. But it doesn’t suck up the dirt properly. And since it’s not fit for purpose, since it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, you can ask for your money back.
And the Levitical priesthood was not fit for purpose, because it couldn’t bring perfection. And when the writer refers to perfection in verse 11, he’s referring to the forgiveness of sins, which we all need so that we can draw near to God and dwell in his presence. But the Levitical priesthood was not fit for purpose, because those priests were not able to make anyone perfect. Though they offered up sacrifices for sins, the blood of bulls and goats could not take away anyone’s sins. And so, instead of bringing sinners near to God, they had to keep sinners away from God.
And so, since the Levitical priesthood was not ‘fit for purpose’, this other kind of priest was needed. And in verses 20 to 28 the writer lists for us some of the ways the Lord Jesus is a better kind of priest than the Levitical priests.
Verses 12 to 19
But before he gets to that, the writer deals in verses 12 to 19 with one potential objection. So, someone might say, ‘Hang on!’ Hang on! According to the law of Moses, the priesthood belongs to the family of Aaron, which belonged to the tribe of Levi. And according to the law of Moses, only the descendants of Aaron can serve as priests. And therefore, the Lord Jesus can’t be a priest, because he’s not from the tribe of Levi and he’s not from the family of Aaron. He’s from the tribe of Judah. And so, the Lord Jesus is ineligible. He can’t be a priest; not according to the law of Moses.
So, that’s the objection. But the writer has an answer. He explains that a change in the priesthood entails a change in the law. Do you see that in verse 12 where it says, ‘For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must be a change in the law.’ The Levitical priesthood and the law of Moses were inextricably bound together, so changing one changes the other. And so, that rule about the priesthood belonging to Aaron’s family doesn’t apply any more.
Now, that rule about priests having to come from the family of Aaron used to be necessary, because those Levitical priests used to die. And since they used to die, and someone else had to succeed them, then it was necessary to have a rule in place to decide who should be next. It’s the same with the royal family. There needs to be a rule in place so that we know who will succeed the queen. Imagine if there was no rule: it would lead to chaos when the queen died, because you’d have all kinds of people putting themselves forward as a contender for the throne. Having a rule in place clarifies matters. And so, when one priest died, who should replace him? Well, that’s easy. What does the law say? The law says it should be the priest’s son.
But we don’t need that law any longer, because the Son’s life is indestructible. He’s not just a priest for the time being, he’s a priest forever. And this is confirmed by those words from Psalm 110 where God the Father said to the Son, ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’ He’s not a priest for a while like the Levitical priests, but a priest forever.
And since God has appointed his Son to be a new kind of priest, the former regulation about the Levitical priests can be set aside. It can be safely set aside, because those priests made no one perfect. No one could ever hope to come to God through the work of those priests. So, the former regulation has been set aside and a better hope has now been introduced. It’s been introduced by the Son, who is a better kind of priest than the Levitical priests ever were. And because of him, sinners like us can draw near to God.
Verses 20 to 22
And having dealt with that objection about priests having to come from the tribe of Levi, the writer goes on to list three ways in which the Son is a better kind of priest than the Levitical priests.
Firstly, in verses 20 to 22, he was appointed high priest with an oath. The Levitical priests were not appointed by an oath, but by a command. So, in Exodus 28, God commanded Moses: ‘Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons … so they may serve me as priests.’ It was a command. But the Son of God was appointed priest with an oath: ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: You are a priest forever.’ And because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. Well, the writer will say much more about this better covenant later. And so, let’s go on to the second way the Son is a better kind of priest.
Verses 23 to 25
I’m looking now at verses 23 to 25 where the writer says, ‘Now there have been many of those priests….’ Someone has calculated that there were 83 high priests from the time of Aaron to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD70. That’s a lot of high priests. Why have there been many of the Levitical priests? It’s because death prevented them from continuing in office. In other words, they all died. You had a priest who was very faithful and he often prayed for you and helped you in other ways. But oh no! He died. But the Lord Jesus lives for ever. His is a permanent priesthood. As I said earlier, it’s permanent because he’s the Eternal Son of God who is without beginning and without end. And it’s permanent because though he died, he was raised to live for ever. And so, whether we think of his divine nature, or whether we think of his human nature, he is a priest who lives forever. And therefore, consequently, since this is true, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him.
If you’re looking at the NIV, you’ll see the little footnote beside the word ‘completely’. The Greek word can mean ‘completely’ or it can mean ‘forever’. However, we can probably combine both meanings, because the Son saves his people fully and forever. And he’s able to save us fully and forever, not only because he offered up to God the perfect sacrifice for sins, but also because he always lives to intercede for us. As I said near the beginning, just as he prayed for Simon Peter, when Satan wanted to crush Peter’s faith, so he also prays for us. When the Devil is prowling around you, like a roaring lion, wanting to devour you, the Lord Jesus is praying for you. He’s appealing to the Father on your behalf for the help and strength you need. And this is not to say the Father is reluctant to help us and he has to be cajoled by Christ. No, it was the Father who appointed his Son to fulfil this role on our behalf. And because the Son became one of us, he knows what we’re going through and what it’s like to suffer and to be tempted. And so, he knows just what you need and he’s able to appeal to the Father to give it to you.
Verses 26 to 28
And then, thirdly, he’s a better kind of priest because look at his character and look what he accomplished. I’m looking at verses 26 to 28. So, he is holy; and blameless; and pure; and set apart from sinners in the sense that he’s not affected by our sin; and he’s exalted above the heavens. And, unlike those other priests, he doesn’t need to offer sacrifices for himself, because he never sinned. And he doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day for the sins of his people, because he offered himself as the perfect, once-for-all, never-to-be-repeated sacrifice for sins. And so, because of his sacrifice of himself, we who believe have peace with God, because he paid for our sins with his life and he shed his blood to cleanse us.
And therefore we know that — because of him — we are forgiven. And because of him, we can approach God in prayer. Because of him, we will one day approach God in glory and live with him forever. And because of him, we need not fear what happens in this life, because he’s in heaven on our behalf, interceding for us, appealing to God on our behalf, asking the Father to give us what we need to persevere and to keep going. He knows what we’re going through. He knows how hard life can be. He knows the Devil is a roaring lion. He knows an unbelieving world puts us under pressure. He knows the ways we suffer. He knows what it’s like to be pilgrims on the way to the Promised Land of Eternal life. And he knows the troubles and trials we encounter on the way and the temptation to turn back. He knows, because he became one of us. And now he’s interceding on our behalf. The writer warns us not to drift away. Not to fall away. Not to turn back. But God has not left us on our own to struggle through by our own strength. He’s provided us with a perfect high priest who always lives to intercede for you.