Lesson 10: According To The Order Of Melchizedek

Jesus’ role as high priest has been a chief part of the author’s argument of the superiority of Jesus. In explaining why Jesus had to live as a man, the author stated that such was necessary so that “He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2.17). The importance of Jesus’ high priesthood is again raised in Hebrews 4.14-5.4, giving assurance that Christians can enter God’s rest since our high priest can “sympathize with our weaknesses”. But how can Jesus serve as our high priest when He is not of the tribe of Levi; He is not a descendant of Aaron. Thus, the author reminded His audience of God’s promise to the Messiah: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5.6). 

Hebrews 7.1-3, Who Is Melchizedek?

Melchizedek is mentioned only twice in the Old Testament. There is the promise we have been studying from Psalm 110.4 and there is the historical account found in Genesis 14.18-20. The narrative takes up after Abraham leads his men to rescue his nephew Lot and the other inhabitants of Sodom who had been taken captive by four kings from the north. While little is said about Melchizedek in the text, each bit of information is of great relevance

  • King of Salem, priest of the Most High God: the Christ can be of the order of Melchizedek since he held both the offices of king and priest. The same cannot be said of Aaron and his line.
  • Blessed Abraham: an important point to establish the superiority of Melchizedek to Abraham (see vss. 6-7).
  • Given a tenth of the spoils by Abraham: another important point to establish the superiority of Melchizedek to Abraham (see vs. 6).
  • King of righteousness: literal rendering of the name “Melchizedek”
  • King of Salem, which is king of peace: note that Salem is another name for Jerusalem (see Psalm 76.2). 
  • Without father, without mother… there are some who take this to mean that Melchizedek was either a theophany (manifestation of God on earth) or an angel. However, such a conclusion is not warranted or needed. The author is merely making a point from what the text does not say to establish another linkage with the Christ. “Melchizedek’s priesthood was not established upon the external circumstances of birth and descent. It was based on the call of God and not on the hereditary process by which the Levitical priesthood was sustained… Melchizedek’s sudden appearance and equally sudden disappearance from recorded history evoked the notion of eternity, which was only prefigured in Melchizedek but was realized in Christ.” (William Lane, Word Biblical Commentary).
  • Made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually: “The writer says that Melchizedek is “made like” (aphōmoiōmenos) the Son of God, not that the Son of God is like Melchizedek. Thus it is not that Melchizedek sets the pattern and Jesus follows it. Rather, the record about Melchizedek is so arranged that it brings out certain truths that apply far more fully to Jesus than they do to Melchizedek.” (Leon Morris, Expositors Bible Commentary).

Hebrews 7.4-10, The Order Of Melchizedek > The Order Of Aaron

Having laid out Melchizedek’s credentials, the author gets to his main point: Scripture shows that Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, and by extension the Aaronic priesthood. 

  1. The Law stipulated that the Aaronic priesthood would collect tithes from the people (see Numbers 18.21ff). They collected the tithes from their “brethren”, other descendants of Abraham (vs. 5). But Abraham gave a tithe “of the choicest spoils” to Melchizedek (vs. 6).
  2. Melchizedek not only received tithes from Abraham, he blessed the patriarch… and the lesser is always blessed by the greater (vss. 6-7).
  3. In the case of the Aaronic priesthood, those who receive the tithes are mortal. But as was established in vs. 3, Melchizedek “lives on” (vs. 8).
  4. Since Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, so did Levi, his great grandson and the ancestor of Aaron (vss. 9-10).

Hebrews 7.11-17, Changing Of The Orders

Having established that Melchizedek is superior to Abraham and the Aaronic priesthood, the author turns his attention back to the promise of Psalm 110.4. Why did God make this promise; why the need for another priest after the order of Melchizedek? Because the Levitical priesthood didn’t make man perfect, i.e. acceptable to God (vs. 11). Thus, another priesthood was necessary to accomplish this (recall Hebrews 4.14-16). But the need for another priest after the order of Melchizedek raises another issue: what about the Law? The Levitical priesthood was inseparable from the Mosaic Law, for not only did the Law prescribe the qualification for the priests, but the priests functioned to carry out the various ordinances of the Law. Without the Law there was no Levitical priesthood; without the Levitical priesthood there was no Law (vs. 12)!

Jesus, the One spoken of in Psalm 110.4, was not of the tribe of Levi, but of the tribe of Judah… a tribe with no association to the priesthood (vss. 13-15). But Jesus’ priesthood was not founded on the basis of the Law which required physical lineage from Aaron, but on the “power of an indestructible life” (vs. 16). “It was well suited to acknowledge that although Jesus’ human life had been exposed to κατάλυσις, “destruction,” through crucifixion, his life was not destroyed by the death suffered on the cross. The phrase δύναμιν ζωῆς ἀκαταλύτου describes the new quality of life with which Jesus was endowed by virtue of his resurrection and exaltation to the heavenly world, where he was formally installed in his office as high priest” (William Lane, Word Biblical Commentary). And since He possesses an “indestructible life”, He can be declared “priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (vs. 17). 

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