I want to focus on the reason that I think this passage was written and that is to give the Hebrews a confident hope. This is great news for us, and I’d like to suggest that by looking through the lens of the Jewish people for whom it was written we are able to see that this is exceptionally great news.
I’d like to draw a comparison between our experience of a European spring and that of an Australian visiting Europe in Spring. We lived in Munich for several years and the winter is so harsh that there are no leaves on the trees for 7 months, everything looks dead and it is too cold to speak to people on the street. Eventually, spring would come, for a month or two we’d be hunting for signs in the garden – cracked ice and snowdrops, and then suddenly the world would burst into colour and life. The Australian friends who turned up on long service leave in June / July would often comment “it’s really beautiful here isn’t it?” and initially there was a sense of injustice, that they hadn’t deserved this wonderful experience. But then I came to realise that although the Australian visitors had some appreciation of Munich, they couldn’t share our deep gratitude and appreciation for the colours, warmth and life which we experienced all the more because we had lived through those long winter months.
Hebrews Chapter 7 reminds me of this experience. We who are gentile Christians are like the Australian day trippers who turn up after the life and death of Jesus, read this chapter and recognise that Jesus is great. However, for the Hebrew audience which this letter addresses, who have a long history with God and a lived experience of the Levitical priesthood, the law and the sacrifices, this chapter can mean so much more. Therefore, if we are able to look at Jesus through the long lens of the Jewish nation we can hope to appreciate him all the more.
The chapter is basically as comparison between two priestly orders we find in the O.T. The Levitical priesthood which refers to the normal priests of the law and the priesthood of Melchizadek, mentioned in Psalm 110 referring to Genesis 14. And as we see how much better the priesthood of Melchizadek is we see that Jesus is a type of Melchizadek but better still.
I’ve picked out 5 comparisons from the passage for us to think about:
The name, the Levitical priesthood were revered amongst Israel, however, Melchizadek’s name points to something greater. Melchizadek means king of Righteousness and Salem means King of peace. Whilst the Levitical priesthood sought to make the people of Israel right before God and bring them peace, it was not a perfect priesthood (v11). Melchizadek’s mighty name points us to Jesus as a type of Melchizadek, who brought in everlasting righteousness and peace to guilty men.
The office – we are told that the lesser person is blessed by the greater. Melchizadek blessed Abraham and Abraham tithed to Melchizadek – proving that Melchizadek’s priestly office was superior to the Levitical priesthood (which at the time was still residing in Abraham’s body v5) Whereas the Levitical priesthood had ancestry, Melchizadek was “without father, without mother… having neither beginning nor end of life, but made like the Son of God”. And in v14 we see with Jesus, there had never been a priest from the line of Judah before. Noone from Judah had ever served at the altar, which demands an entire change of priesthood.
The legitimacy as a priest – the Levitical priesthood was handed down from generation to generation, however, Melchizadek’s is appointed by God and sealed with an oath which we see in Ps110:4. Unlike the Levitical priesthood which rests on the authority of ancestry, Melchizadek’s authority rests on “the power of an indestructible life” (v16). Similarly, with Jesus, looking back to chapter 5:5 says “for Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high Priest but was appointed by him who said, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek”. Like Melchizadek, Jesus’ priesthood is appointed by God himself, and his priesthood is forever (v21).
The character. The Levitical priests were part of a sinful humanity, who needed to sacrifice for their own sins before they sacrificed for the sins of Israel (v27). Like Mechidadek “priest of the Most High God” (v1), it is clear that Jesus is a very different type of priest; we are told in v 26 that he is holy, pure, blameless, set apart from sinners and exalted above the heavens. Perfection for the Jews means you can enter safely into the presence of God. What joy to have a priest like this!
And finally, the sacrifice. Unlike the Levites who needed to offer sacrifices day after day for their sins and for those of the nations, Melchizadek’s priesthood had no end (v3). Similarly, in Jesus, his sacrifice was not only perfect, but eternal, complete, for all time, because in v27 the author says “He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself…”
When we look at the Levitical priesthood we see a longing for righteousness and peace with God and at the same time, we see the problem of this priesthood who entirely human, affected by sin and death and unable to provide a perfect and lasting sacrifice for God’s people. In Melchizadek, we are presented with a much greater priesthood and in Jesus what we are looking at is a Melchizedekian Priest who can do what the Levites could not. The Hebrews who are the audience of this letter had come under Jesus’ priesthood and could be confident in their hope for the first time in their history.
Spurgeon sums this up when he says “we want a priest who lives throughout the ages forever to sustain his people and do for them all that they should need to have done for them until time is no more.” And that is what we have in Jesus.