The priesthood of Jesus Christ shares the spotlight with the kingship of Jesus Christ in the book of Hebrews. In chapter seven, verses one through three, we are introduced to the man whose priesthood prefigured the priesthood of our Lord Jesus.
In the early church era, Jewish believers in Jesus would have struggled with the idea that their whole system of religion had been swallowed up by the Person and work of a carpenter from Nazareth of Galilee. The pastor/writer of Hebrews makes his case for the superiority of Jesus Christ to anything or anyone in Judaism. In short, Jesus Christ was the antitype of all that was typified in the Old Testament.
One area of difficulty would be the priesthood, as these Jewish believers knew and understood it. Jesus was a son of David from the non-priestly tribe of Judah. He was not of the tribe of Levi, nor was he a member of the priestly family of Aaron. The fact of Jesus’ priesthood needed to be proved. Melchizedek was the illustration provided by the author. Thus, in Hebrews 7:1–10, there is the relationship between Abraham and Melchizedek, explained to show the superiority of Melchizedek’s priesthood. Then, beginning in verse 11 and through 28, we are introduced to the superiority of the antitype’s priesthood. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is our great high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb 6:20).
It is important for the reader of Hebrews 7 to remember that Melchizedek’s priesthood, not his humanity, is the focal point of the author. We find his historical account in Genesis 14. After defeating the rogue kings of the east, who had taken his nephew Lot captive, Abraham returned and was met by Melchizedek, King of Salem and priest of the Most High God (Heb 7:1).
God had an order of priests long before He set apart the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron (2000 B.C. vs. 1446 B.C.). The greater one always blesses the lesser one. Melchizedek blessed Abraham. In addition, Abraham paid tithes from the spoils of war to this man whose name means “king of righteousness” and whose location was Salem (an earlier name given to the site of Jerusalem). The writer of Hebrews adds the title to Melchizedek’s name, calling him “king of Salem.” Salem means “peace” (Heb 7:2).
Melchizedek’s role and function as king and priest, prefiguring Jesus Christ, brings Psalm 110 into view (this is the most quoted Old Testament passage in the New Testament). In this prophetic passage about the role and function of Jesus Christ, we again see Melchizedek as the key reference. This would be essential for Jewish Christians to see that the author of Hebrews is showing both an historical and theological basis for his Christ-priesthood argument.
Simply put, Melchizedek is greater than the later Levites; and Jesus Christ is greater than Melchizedek. Hence, Jesus Christ is far greater than the priesthood, the sacrifices, the temple, the city, etc. This is added to Jesus’ superiority to angels and to Moses (Heb 1–3). Because Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, we also see Jesus greater than Abraham.
In the comparison of the priesthood (Melchizedek vs. Aaron), we remember the restrictions of the Levitical priesthood of Aaron. First, your genealogy, your mother and father, would dictate whether a man was qualified to be a priest. Levi was one of the twelve sons of Israel (Jacob), which preceded the arrival of Moses and Aaron by some 450 years. Thus, one must be of the right tribe and right family to be a priest.
Melchizedek had no such restrictions because Yahweh chose this man to occupy the prefigured position of Christ. Melchizedek was made to be like the Son of God (Heb 7:3). So, other restrictions would not apply to either Melchizedek nor Jesus Christ.
Priests in the Levitical system entered the system at age 25 and served in the Temple from age 30 to age 50. In contrast, there was no beginning nor end to the days of Melchizedek’s priesthood. He served the Most High God until he died. It was continual service until the end of his days. This again shows us the difference in the priesthood; but it also shows us the superior extent of Jesus’ tenure as our great high priest. Jesus died in the performance of a high priestly task; but He was raised from the dead and now continues His priestly function, forever.
Our Lord Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven. He has been enthroned at the right hand of the Father, at the right hand of Majesty, where He ever lives to make intercession for His elect, redeemed, regenerated people who pray to the Father in faith and in the name and authority of the Son (Heb 7:25).
The eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ is proclaimed in the eternal Gospel that reveals the eternal salvation (Heb 5:9), including the eternal redemption of the better sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus, our great high priest (Jn 1:29; Heb 4:14; 9:12). As both priest and sacrifice, Jesus is our better hope (Heb 7:19). His one-time sacrificial offering of Himself on the cross (Heb 7:27; 9:12; 10:10), for the sins of His holy nation of chosen people (Mt 1:21; 1 Cor 15:3; 1 Pet 3:18), put an end to the Levitical system, which was a mere type of this reality of Messiah’s first advent.
In summary, we have learned that Melchizedek is different from Aaron. He predated both the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron. The writer of Hebrews has interpreted Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek as a recognition of Melchizedek’s superiority in both person and work. Once this has been established, he continues to show how much greater Jesus Christ is to him who is greater than the ancestors of the Jews and even their system of worship of Yahweh, the Most High God.
In conclusion, we must join with the Jewish believers in Jesus, from the days of the early church, in acknowledging the superiority of Jesus Christ in His kingship and His priesthood. All of these things revealed in God’s Word are for every believer to see and to worship the exalted Son of God, for all that He is in truth and for all that He has done to secure so great a salvation for us.
Spokane Valley, Washington
December 4, 2023