The Christ Church Wednesday Bible Study Group is doing a study through the New Testament book of Hebrews. The word better is used thirteen times in the book of Hebrews as the writer shows the superiority of Christ and His salvation over the Hebrew system of religion. Another word that is repeated in this book is perfect; in the original Greek it is used fourteen times. It means a perfect standing before God. Eternal is a third word that is important to the message of Hebrews. When you combine these three words, you discover that Jesus Christ and the Christian life He gives us are better because these blessings are eternal and they give us perfect standing before God. This study is not a diet for “spiritual babes” who want to be spoon-fed and coddled. In this letter you will find “strong meat” that demands some chewing and enjoying.
In this session we talk about the mysterious Melchizedek who the writer of Hebrews references when he argues that Christ's priest priesthood is superior to that of Aaron as established by the Law. Because both the priesthood and the law were imperfect, and being, being imperfect, the priesthood and the law could not continue forever.
These are the notes to Session 8.
The Mysterious Melchizedek
Chapter 7 of Hebrews introduces a section on A Superior Priesthood (Heb. 7—10).
In Hebrews 7, the writer argued that Christ’s priesthood, like Melchizedek’s, is superior in its order.
In Hebrews 8, the emphasis is on Christ’s better covenant; in Hebrews 9, it is His better sanctuary; and Hebrews 10 concludes the section by arguing for Christ’s better sacrifice.
We are going to start by talking about this guy Melchizedek whose name was mentioned in chapters 5 and 6
Hebrews 5:5-6 NLT That is why Christ did not honor himself by assuming he could become High Priest. No, he was chosen by God, who said to him, “You are my Son. Today I have become your Father. ” And in another passage God said to him, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”
Hebrews 6:20 NLT Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.
The Jewish nation was accustomed to the priesthood of the tribe of Levi. This tribe was chosen by God to serve in the tabernacle.
Aaron was the first high priest, appointed by God. In spite of their many failures, the priests had served God for centuries, but now the writer has affirmed that their priesthood has ended! To defend this statement, and to prove that the order of Melchizedek is superior to that of Aaron, he presented three arguments.
A historical argument which we are going to get into today. The historical argument will include interaction between Abraham and Melchizedek
A Doctrinal Argument which will talk about Aaron and Christ.
The Practical Argument which will address Christ and the Believer.
The Historical Argument: Melchizedek and Abraham (7:1–10)
Hebrews 7:1-10 NLT This Melchizedek was king of the city of Salem and also a priest of God Most High. When Abraham was returning home after winning a great battle against the kings, Melchizedek met him and blessed him. Then Abraham took a tenth of all he had captured in battle and gave it to Melchizedek. The name Melchizedek means “king of justice,” and king of Salem means “king of peace.” There is no record of his father or mother or any of his ancestors—no beginning or end to his life. He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God. Consider then how great this Melchizedek was. Even Abraham, the great patriarch of Israel, recognized this by giving him a tenth of what he had taken in battle. Now the law of Moses required that the priests, who are descendants of Levi, must collect a tithe from the rest of the people of Israel, who are also descendants of Abraham. But Melchizedek, who was not a descendant of Levi, collected a tenth from Abraham. And Melchizedek placed a blessing upon Abraham, the one who had already received the promises of God. And without question, the person who has the power to give a blessing is greater than the one who is blessed. The priests who collect tithes are men who die, so Melchizedek is greater than they are, because we are told that he lives on. In addition, we might even say that these Levites—the ones who collect the tithe—paid a tithe to Melchizedek when their ancestor Abraham paid a tithe to him. For although Levi wasn’t born yet, the seed from which he came was in Abraham’s body when Melchizedek collected the tithe from him.
The record of the event discussed is in Genesis 14:17–24.
Genesis 14:17-24 NLT After Abram returned from his victory over Kedorlaomer and all his allies, the king of Sodom went out to meet him in the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). And Melchizedek, the king of Salem and a priest of God Most High, brought Abram some bread and wine. Melchizedek blessed Abram with this blessing: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who has defeated your enemies for you.” Then Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the goods he had recovered. The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give back my people who were captured. But you may keep for yourself all the goods you have recovered.” Abram replied to the king of Sodom, “I solemnly swear to the Lord , God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will not take so much as a single thread or sandal thong from what belongs to you. Otherwise you might say, ‘I am the one who made Abram rich.’ I will accept only what my young warriors have already eaten, and I request that you give a fair share of the goods to my allies—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre.”
There are some things that the writer of Hebrews wants us to notice about Melchizedek.
First He was both king and priest. And it is important to note that Melchizedek was not a “counterfeit” priest: He was the “priest of the most high God” (Gen. 14:18). His ministry was legitimate.
Second His name is significant
Hebrews 7:2 NKJV to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,”
Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham. This is important and it is explained later, but for now let’s just say that tithing didn’t originate with Moses and the law.
Abraham practiced tithing long before the law was given. In fact, archaeologists have discovered that other nations also tithed in that day; so the practice is an ancient one.
So we know that Melchizedek was a priest and king, his name was significant in that it was translated king of righteousness and also king of peace. Thirdly Melchizedek’s family history was different.
Hebrews 7:3 NKJV without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.
Hebrews 7:3 NLT There is no record of his father or mother or any of his ancestors—no beginning or end to his life. He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God.
Melchizedek was a man (see Heb. 7:4), so he had to have had a mother and a father. But there is no record of his genealogy (“descent”) in the Old Testament, and this is significant because most great persons in the Old Testament have their ancestry identified. It was especially important that the priests be able to prove their ancestry.
Ezra 2:61-63 NLT Three families of priests—Hobaiah, Hakkoz, and Barzillai—also returned. (This Barzillai had married a woman who was a descendant of Barzillai of Gilead, and he had taken her family name.) They searched for their names in the genealogical records, but they were not found, so they were disqualified from serving as priests. The governor told them not to eat the priests’ share of food from the sacrifices until a priest could consult the Lord about the matter by using the Urim and Thummim—the sacred lots.
Nehemiah 7:63-65 NLT Three families of priests—Hobaiah, Hakkoz, and Barzillai—also returned. (This Barzillai had married a woman who was a descendant of Barzillai of Gilead, and he had taken her family name.) They searched for their names in the genealogical records, but they were not found, so they were disqualified from serving as priests. The governor told them not to eat the priests’ share of food from the sacrifices until a priest could consult the Lord about the matter by using the Urim and Thummim—the sacred lots.
Here the writer of Hebrews used an argument from silence, but it is a valid one.
Melchizedek was not an angel or some superhuman creature; nor was he an Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ. He was a real man, a real king, and a real priest in a real city. But as far as the record is concerned, he was not born, nor did he die.
In this way, he is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. Though Jesus Christ did die, Calvary was not the end, for He arose from the dead and today lives in “the power of an endless life”.
Since there is no account of Melchizedek’s death, as far as the record is concerned, it seems that Melchizedek is still serving as a priest and king. This is another way in which he is like the eternal Son of God.
The application is clear: Neither Aaron nor any of his descendants could claim to be “without genealogy”.
They could not claim to have an endless ministry. Nor could they claim to be both kings and priests, like Jesus Christ.
Mel also had authority to receive tithes and to bless Abraham.
Hebrews 7:4-10 NLT Consider then how great this Melchizedek was. Even Abraham, the great patriarch of Israel, recognized this by giving him a tenth of what he had taken in battle. Now the law of Moses required that the priests, who are descendants of Levi, must collect a tithe from the rest of the people of Israel, who are also descendants of Abraham. But Melchizedek, who was not a descendant of Levi, collected a tenth from Abraham. And Melchizedek placed a blessing upon Abraham, the one who had already received the promises of God. And without question, the person who has the power to give a blessing is greater than the one who is blessed. The priests who collect tithes are men who die, so Melchizedek is greater than they are, because we are told that he lives on. In addition, we might even say that these Levites—the ones who collect the tithe—paid a tithe to Melchizedek when their ancestor Abraham paid a tithe to him. For although Levi wasn’t born yet, the seed from which he came was in Abraham’s body when Melchizedek collected the tithe from him.
The greatness of Melchizedek is seen in the fact that Abraham gave him tithes from the loot of a miniwar. Abraham acknowledged the authority of Melchizedek. Furthermore, Melchizedek blessed Abraham in a special way, and “the less is blessed of the better” (Heb. 7:7). In giving Melchizedek tithes and in receiving his blessing, Abraham affirmed the greatness of this king-priest.
But how does this relate to Aaron? In an interesting way: Aaron and the tribe of Levi were “in the loins” of Abraham, yet unborn! So, when their father, Abraham, acknowledged the greatness of Melchizedek, the tribe of Levi was also involved.
The Jewish people believe strongly in “racial solidarity,” and this is one example of it. The paying of the tithes involved not just the patriarch Abraham, but also the unborn generations in his loins.
Since Jesus Christ came of “the seed of Abraham” (Heb. 2:16), does this mean that He, too, was a part of this experience? No, because Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. His identification with Abraham was for “the days of his flesh” (Heb. 5:7). Since Christ existed before Abraham (John 8:58), He could not have been “in Abraham” as were Aaron and his family.
The Doctrinal Argument: Christ and Aaron (7:11–25)
Hebrews 7:11-25 CEV Even though the Law of Moses says the priests must be descendants of Levi, those priests cannot make anyone perfect. So there needs to be a priest like Melchizedek, rather than one from the priestly family of Aaron. And when the rules for selecting a priest are changed, the Law must also be changed. The person we are talking about is our Lord, who came from a tribe that had never had anyone to serve as a priest at the altar. Everyone knows he came from the tribe of Judah, and Moses never said priests would come from that tribe. All of this becomes clearer, when someone who is like Melchizedek is appointed to be a priest. That person wasn't appointed because of his ancestors, but because his life can never end. The Scriptures say about him, “You are a priest forever, just like Melchizedek.” In this way a weak and useless command was put aside, because the Law cannot make anything perfect. At the same time, we are given a much better hope, and it can bring us close to God. God himself made a promise when this priest was appointed. But he did not make a promise like this when the other priests were appointed. The promise he made is, “I, the Lord, promise that you will be a priest forever! And I will never change my mind!” This means that Jesus guarantees us a better agreement with God. There have been a lot of other priests, and all of them have died. But Jesus will never die, and so he will be a priest forever! He is forever able to save the people he leads to God, because he always lives to speak to God for them.
In this section, the writer took his argument one step further. Not only is Melchizedek greater than Aaron, but Melchizedek has replaced Aaron! It is no longer the order of Aaron or the order of Levi. It is forever the order of Melchizedek. Why would God effect such a radical change?
Because both the priesthood and the law were imperfect.
Hebrews 7:11-14 CEV Even though the Law of Moses says the priests must be descendants of Levi, those priests cannot make anyone perfect. So there needs to be a priest like Melchizedek, rather than one from the priestly family of Aaron. And when the rules for selecting a priest are changed, the Law must also be changed. The person we are talking about is our Lord, who came from a tribe that had never had anyone to serve as a priest at the altar. Everyone knows he came from the tribe of Judah, and Moses never said priests would come from that tribe.
The words translated “perfect” and “perfection” are key words in this epistle (Heb. 2:10; 5:9; 6:1; 7:11, 19; 9:9; 10:1, 14).
They essentially mean “completed, fulfilled.” The Old Testament priests could not by their ministry complete the work of God in the heart of a worshipper. “For the law made nothing perfect” (Heb. 7:19). The animal sacrifices could not give any worshipper a perfect standing before God.
We are going to talk about this later but go to;
The Law of Moses is like a shadow of the good things to come. This shadow isn't the good things themselves, because it cannot free people from sin by the sacrifices offered year after year. If there were worshipers who already have their sins washed away and their consciences made clear, there would not be any need to go on offering sacrifices. But the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins. It only reminds people of their sins from one year to the next.
Hebrews 10:1-4 CEV
The Mosaic system of divine law was not a permanent system. It was “added” to serve as a “schoolmaster” to prepare the way for the coming of Christ. We remember that from our study of Galatians
Galatians 3:23-25 CEV The Law controlled us and kept us under its power until the time came when we would have faith. In fact, the Law was to be our teacher until Christ came. Then we could have faith and be acceptable to God. But once a person has learned to have faith, there is no more need to have the Law as a teacher.
Since the priests received their authority from the Old Testament law (Heb. 7:28), and since the priesthood has been changed, there has also been a change in that law.
The law of Moses made no provision for a priesthood from the tribe of Judah (Heb. 7:14). Since our High Priest is from the tribe of Judah, according to His human ancestry, then there must have been a change in Moses’ law. There has been! The entire system of Old Testament law has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ and has been taken out of the way.
You were dead, because you were sinful and were not God's people. But God let Christ make you alive, when he forgave all our sins. God wiped out the charges that were against us for disobeying the Law of Moses. He took them away and nailed them to the cross.
Colossians 2:13-14 CEV
The believer has been set free from the law.
Galatians 5:1-6 CEV Christ has set us free! This means we are really free. Now hold on to your freedom and don't ever become slaves of the Law again. I, Paul, promise you that Christ won't do you any good if you get circumcised. If you do, you must obey the whole Law. And if you try to please God by obeying the Law, you have cut yourself off from Christ and his gift of undeserved grace. But the Spirit makes us sure God will accept us because of our faith in Christ. If you are a follower of Christ Jesus, it makes no difference whether you are circumcised or not. All that matters is your faith that makes you love others.
and is dead to the law.
Romans 7:2-4 CEV For example, the Law says that a man's wife must remain his wife as long as he lives. But once her husband is dead, she is free to marry someone else. However, if she goes off with another man while her husband is still alive, she is said to be unfaithful. That is how it is with you, my friends. You are now part of the body of Christ and are dead to the power of the Law. You are free to belong to Christ, who was raised to life so we could serve God.
This new arrangement does not suggest that a Christian has the right to be lawless. “Free from the law” does not mean “free to sin.” Rather, it means that we are free to do the will of God. We obey, not because of outward compulsion, but because of inward constraint (2 Cor. 5:14; Eph. 6:6). The indwelling Holy Spirit enables us to fulfill the “righteousness of the law” as we yield to Him (Rom. 8:1–4).
Because, being imperfect, the priesthood and the law could not continue forever.
Hebrews 7:15-19 CEV All of this becomes clearer, when someone who is like Melchizedek is appointed to be a priest. That person wasn't appointed because of his ancestors, but because his life can never end. The Scriptures say about him, “You are a priest forever, just like Melchizedek.” In this way a weak and useless command was put aside, because the Law cannot make anything perfect. At the same time, we are given a much better hope, and it can bring us close to God.
The word another in Hebrews 7:15 means “another of a different kind.” The Levitical priests were made priests by the authority of a temporary and imperfect law. Jesus Christ was made Priest by a declaration of God.
Because the law was “weak and useless” (Heb. 7:18 NIV), it could not continue forever. But because Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, He lives by “the power of an endless life” (Heb. 7:16). What a contrast between the profitless law and an endless life!
Since Jesus Christ is Priest forever, and since He has a nature to match that eternal priesthood, He can never be replaced.
The annulling (Heb. 7:18, “disannulling”) of the law meant the abolishing of the priesthood. But nobody can annul “the power of an endless life”! The logic holds: Jesus Christ is a Priest forever.
The writer kept in mind the temptation his readers were facing to go back into the old temple system. This is why he reminded them (Heb. 7:19) that Jesus Christ has accomplished what the law could never accomplish: He brought in a better hope, and He enables us to draw near to God. To go back to Judaism would mean losing the enjoyment of their fellowship with God through Christ. The only hope Judaism had was the coming of Christ, and that blessing these believers already had.
Because God’s oath cannot be broken (vv. 20–22).
Hebrews 7:20-22 CEV God himself made a promise when this priest was appointed. But he did not make a promise like this when the other priests were appointed. The promise he made is, “I, the Lord, promise that you will be a priest forever! And I will never change my mind!” This means that Jesus guarantees us a better agreement with God.
No priest in the order of Aaron was ever ordained and established on the basis of God’s personal oath. The Aaronic priests ministered “after the law of a carnal [physical] commandment” (Heb. 7:16). Their moral or spiritual fitness was not examined. The important thing was that a priest belonged to the right tribe and met the right physical and ceremonial requirements.
Leviticus 21:17-24 CEV to say to Aaron: No descendant of yours can ever serve as my priest if he is blind or lame, if his face is disfigured, if one leg is shorter than the other, if either a foot or a hand is paralyzed, if he is a hunchback or a dwarf, if an eye or his skin is diseased, or if his testicles have been damaged. These men may not serve as my priests and burn sacrifices to me. They may eat the food offerings presented to me, but they may not enter the sacred place or serve me at the altar. Remember—I am the Lord , the one who makes a priest holy. Moses told all of this to Aaron, his sons, and the people of Israel.
Jesus Christ’s heavenly priesthood was established on the basis of His work on the cross, His character (Heb. 2:10; 5:5–10), and the oath of God. “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 7:21; Ps. 110:4).
Notice what it says in 7:21
Hebrews 7:21 NKJV (for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him: “The Lord has sworn And will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek’ ”),
The matter is finally settled and it cannot be changed.
The presence of this oath gives to the priesthood of our Lord a greater degree of permanence and assurance. Jesus Christ is the “surety of a better testament [covenant]” (Heb. 7:22). The word surety means “one who guarantees that the terms of an agreement will be carried out.”
As the Mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5), Jesus Christ is God’s great surety.
1 Timothy 2:5 CEV There is only one God, and Christ Jesus is the only one who can bring us to God. Jesus was truly human, and he gave himself to rescue all of us.
Our risen and ever-living Savior guarantees that the terms of God’s covenant will be fulfilled completely. God will not abandon His people. But our Lord not only guarantees to us that God will fulfill the promises. As our Representative to God, He perfectly meets the terms of the agreement on our behalf. We of ourselves could never meet the terms, but because we have trusted Him, He has saved us and He has guaranteed that He will keep us.
John 6:38-40 CEV I didn't come from heaven to do what I want! I came to do what the Father wants me to do. He sent me, and he wants to make certain that none of the ones he has given me will be lost. Instead, he wants me to raise them to life on the last day. My Father wants everyone who sees the Son to have faith in him and to have eternal life. Then I will raise them to life on the last day.
Very important word covenant
Hebrews 7:22 CEV This means that Jesus guarantees us a better agreement with God.
In Hebrews 7:22, we have the first occurrence of a very important word in Hebrews “Covenant,” is used twenty-one times in the letter, and it is the equivalent of “last will and testament.” We will examine the word more closely in our study of Hebrews 8. We are not going to talk about it right now just keep in mind how important that word is in this letter.
The writer has given three reasons why God changed the order of the priesthood from that of Aaron to that of Melchizedek: (1) The priesthood and the law were imperfect; (2) being imperfect, they could not continue forever; (3) God had sworn by His oath that the new order would be established. Then the writer of this letter to the Hebrews closed this section with a fourth reason.
Because, being men, the priests died (vv. 23–25).
Hebrews 7:23-25 CEV There have been a lot of other priests, and all of them have died. But Jesus will never die, and so he will be a priest forever! He is forever able to save the people he leads to God, because he always lives to speak to God for them.
Not only was the priesthood imperfect, but it was also interrupted by death. There were many high priests because no one priest could live forever. In contrast, the church has one High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, who lives forever! An unchanging priest means an unchangeable priesthood, and this means security and confidence for God’s people. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Heb. 13:8). “Thou art a priest for ever” (Ps. 110:4).
The fact that the unchanging Christ continues as High Priest means, logically, that there is an “unchangeable priesthood” (Heb. 7:24). The Greek word translated “unchangeable” carries the idea of “valid and unalterable.” The word was used at the end of legal contracts. Our Lord’s priesthood in heaven is “valid and unalterable.” Because it is, we can have confidence in the midst of this shaking, changing world.
What is the conclusion of the matter? It is stated in Hebrews 7:25:
Hebrews 7:25 CEV He is forever able to save the people he leads to God, because he always lives to speak to God for them.
The emphasis is on the fact that He saves completely, forever, all who put their faith in Him. Because He is our High Priest forever, He can save forever.
The word translated “make intercession” simply means “to meet, to approach, to appeal, to make petition.”
Intercession involves our Lord’s representation of His people at the throne of God.
Jesus Christ’s priesthood after the order of Melchizedek is superior to that of Aaron and has replaced it. Both the historical argument and the doctrinal argument are sound. But the writer adds a third argument.
3. The Practical Argument: Christ and the Believer (7:26–28)
Hebrews 7:26-28 CEV Jesus is the high priest we need. He is holy and innocent and faultless, and not at all like us sinners. Jesus is honored above all beings in heaven, and he is better than any other high priest. Jesus doesn't need to offer sacrifices each day for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. He offered a sacrifice once for all, when he gave himself. The Law appoints priests who have weaknesses. But God's promise, which came later than the Law, appoints his Son. And he is the perfect high priest forever.
No matter how devoted and obedient the Aaronic priests were, they could not always meet the needs of all the people. But Jesus Christ perfectly meets all of our needs. “For such an high priest became us” means “He was suited to us; He meets our needs completely.” The emphasis here is on His sinlessness. Being perfect, He is able to exercise a perfect ministry for His people. Because of their sins, some of the Old Testament priests not only were unable to serve the people, but actually abused them. This could never happen with Jesus Christ and His people.
The Old Testament priests were “set apart” for their ministry, so in that sense they were “holy.” But they were not always holy in character. They were sinners like the people to whom they ministered. “Harmless” (Heb. 7:26) means “blameless.” No Jewish priest could claim this distinction. “Undefiled” means “unstained.” Again, only Jesus Christ can claim these characteristics.
Another proof of His sinlessness is the fact that our Lord never had to offer sacrifices for His own cleansing, as did the priests. On the annual Day of Atonement, the high priest first had to sacrifice for himself before he could sacrifice for the people (Lev. 16). There were also daily sacrifices offered as a part of the temple ritual, and, if a priest had sinned, he had to bring a sacrifice for his own cleansing (Ex. 29:38–46; Lev. 4:3ff.). But Jesus Christ offered just one sacrifice for our sins and settled the matter forever.
Hebrews 9:23-28 CEV These things are only copies of what is in heaven, and so they had to be made holy by these ceremonies. But the real things in heaven must be made holy by something better. This is why Christ did not go into a tent made by humans and was only a copy of the real one. Instead, he went into heaven and is now there with God to help us. Christ did not have to offer himself many times. He wasn't like a high priest who goes into the most holy place each year to offer the blood of an animal. If he had offered himself every year, he would have suffered many times since the creation of the world. But instead, near the end of time he offered himself once and for all, so he could be a sacrifice that does away with sin. We die only once, and then we are judged. So Christ died only once to take away the sins of many people. But when he comes again, it will not be to take away sin. He will come to save everyone who is waiting for him.
This is the kind of High Priest we need! We are prone to sin daily, even hourly, and we need to be able to turn to Him for spiritual help. As our High Priest, Jesus Christ gives us the grace and mercy that we need not sin. But if we do sin, He is our Advocate at God’s throne (1 John 2:1–2). If we confess our sins to Him, He forgives us and restores us (1 John 1:9).
The application is obvious: Why turn away from such an adequate High Priest? What more can you find in any other person? The men who served under the law of Moses had human infirmities and weaknesses, and they often failed. Our heavenly High Priest has been “consecrated [perfected] for evermore” (Heb. 7:28) and there is no spot or blemish in Him. Such a High Priest “suits us perfectly”!