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A chapter by chapter examination of the Book of Hebrews; this book examines the ways in which God has moved towards a better covenant with man. The historical background of the Book of Hebrews as well as contextual discussions add insight and relevance to Hebrews.
Category - Bible Commentaries
In Hebrews 5, the author briefly introduced Jesus Christ as being the High Priest of the Order of Melchizedek. Then he paused to set forth his case that those Hebrew Christians who yet clung to their confidence in the Aaronic priesthood and its ceremonies in Jerusalem’s temple were trying to eat spiritual meat when they were in need of milk—that is, the basics of New Covenant teaching.
Understanding the new order of priesthood, therefore, is not heavy meat, but the mere milk of the word. It is something that should be taught to baby Christians, because it is basic to the New Covenant. For this reason, it is amazing that so many evangelical Christians today have adopted the notion that the Melchizedek Order is about to be replaced by a renewed Aaronic priesthood composed of Jews named Cohen, Cohn, Kagan, and other derivatives of the Hebrew word for “priest.”
This false teaching, brought in by the Dispensationalists over a century ago, is accompanied by a more destructive doctrine that the present “Age of Grace” is soon to be replaced by an “Age of Law” at the second coming of Christ. Such teachers place even unbelieving Jews above Christians. And some are now even teaching that Jews are saved apart from faith in Jesus Christ. At this rate, it will not be long before that branch of evangelical Christianity will be fully absorbed into Judaism, and they will proclaim that Jesus was, after all, just another of the false messiahs. The New Testament will be discarded as a compilation of anti-Jewish teachings.
The condition of the Church today makes it absolutely imperative that the book of Hebrews be taught and understood before it too is discarded in the waste bin of Church history. The seventh chapter of Hebrews again picks up the discussion of Melchizedek:
1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace.
In this introduction to Melchizedek, we are brought back to the story of Abraham in Genesis 14, where this mysterious king of Salem meets Abraham with bread and wine, a type of communion. Melchizedek appears suddenly out of nowhere, having never before been mentioned by this name in the book of Genesis.
We do know that he was the king of Jerusalem, for Jerusalem means “City of Salem,” or literally “City of Peace.” The fact that Melchizedek was a title, rather than a proper name as such, is shown by the translation of his name, “King of Righteousness.” Melchi means “king,” and Zadok means “righteousness.”
Historical sources show that Shem was the builder of Jerusalem and its first king. He took the title of Melchizedek, and even later after his descendants were overthrown by the Canaanites, the official title of the king of Jerusalem was Adonizedek, “Lord of Righteousness.” And so we find many years later that Joshua and the Israelite army fought against Adonizedek, the king of Jerusalem (Joshua 10:1). Even as both Shem and Joshua were types of Christ, so also was Adonizedek a type of “antichrist” opposing the true Yeshua (Joshua) in the conquest of the Kingdom.
The 13th chapter of the Book of Jasher records the history of how the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah refused to pay tribute to Chedorlaomer, king of Elam. In the 16th chapter of Jasher we read how this king came with other kings under his authority to punish the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. They took many people captive, including Lot, who was Abram’s nephew. And so Abram pursued these kings as far as Damascus and defeated them in battle, setting the people free, including his nephew.
On the return trip, Melchizedek came from Jerusalem to bless Abram and to have communion with him (bread and wine). Jasher 16:11, 12 says,
11 And Adonizedek king of Jerusalem, the same was Shem, went out with his men to meet Abram and his people, with bread and wine, and they remained together in the valley of Melech [i.e., Valley of the King]. 12 And Adonizedek blessed Abram, and Abram gave him a tenth from all that he had brought from the spoil of his enemies, for Adonizedek was a priest before God.
The book of Jasher uses the term Adonizedek in place of Melchizedek, showing that the terms were interchangeable, having the same essential meaning. It also clearly identifies this king as being Shem. Shem takes on a greater role later in the book of Jasher when Isaac went to Jerusalem to study the ways of God under Shem for three years (24:17). Isaac returned to his father’s house after Abraham sent Eliezar to Haran to find a wife for Isaac. Thus, he was in Beersheba with his father when Eliezar returned with Rebecca.
Jasher also says that Jacob also spent many years in Shem’s house, because of his conflict with Esau. At any rate, Scripture itself tells us that Shem lived to be 600 years old (Gen. 11:10, 11). If we do a genealogical study, we find that Shem actually outlived Abraham, even though Abraham was nine generations down from Shem. Shem died when Isaac was 110 and Jacob was 50 years old.
From the biblical perspective, then, it is likely that Shem knew Abraham personally. Not only were they related by direct lineage, but also Shem was alive during Abraham’s entire life time.
And then there is the matter of the birthright. The birthright originated with Adam, came through Noah and then Shem. The birthright was Shem’s to give, and this was the significance of his blessing upon Abraham in Genesis 14. It showed his intent that Abraham was to succeed him as King of Jerusalem and that he would be the priest-king of the Melchizedek Order.
However, Abraham died before Shem, and so it passed instead to Isaac. It is with Isaac, then, that the birthright is mentioned, for his sons, Jacob and Esau, contended for it in the well-known biblical story in Genesis 27.
The point to be understood here is that the Melchizedek Order is traceable through the birthright, and that it began with Adam, who had been called as King of the Earth. Adam was given both the Dominion Mandate and the Fruitfulness Mandate (Gen. 1:28), which were the two primary elements of the Birthright itself. For a full history of the Birthright and how the two mandates were later divided between Judah and Joseph, see my book, The Struggle for the Birthright. Judah received the Dominion Mandate, Joseph received the Fruitfulness Mandate (i.e., Sonship), and Levi received a greatly-reduced mandate of the priesthood.
The Melchizedek Order itself, then, preceded the Aaronic Order by 2,500 years. Its provisions were split up among the sons of Jacob temporarily, but these all were destined to be reunited under Jesus Christ, the final High Priest of this Order. He came the first time of the tribe of Judah and of the house of David in order to receive the Dominion Mandate. He died on the cross, rose again, and ascended to heaven in order to function in the role of High Priest. And He will return a second time as “Joseph” with his robe dipped in blood (Gen. 37:31; Rev. 19:13) in order to receive the Fruitfulness Mandate.
This is the basic outline of the history of the Order of Melchizedek from Adam to Christ. But when the name Melchizedek first appears in written form in Scripture, it is in the time of Abraham and applied to the king of Jerusalem. Heb. 7:3 says of him,
3 Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he abides a priest perpetually.
Because the history of Melchizedek is not generally known, some Bible teachers have taken this too literally, as if to say that Melchizedek was literally Jesus Christ living on the earth as king of Jerusalem in the days of Abraham. If that were so, I believe that history would have been greatly altered, and that Abraham himself would have lived in Jerusalem with him. But instead, we find the author of Hebrews explaining himself in verse 6:
6 But the one whose genealogy is not traced [i.e., not recorded here nor mentioned in the story] from them collected a tenth from Abraham, and blessed the one who had the promises.
In other words, the Genesis account about Melchizedek is silent about who he was and does not record the names of his father or mother. Neither does it record either the birth or death of Melchizedek under that name. And so, this divine silence itself makes him a type of Christ, “like the Son of God.” There is little doubt that the author of Hebrews was well aware of the Jewish literature showing that Melchizedek was Shem. But the fact that Scripture itself is silent on this fact plays into the type and shadow of this Old Testament type of Christ.
4 Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. 5 And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest’s office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham.
The fact that Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek shows that Abraham was under the authority of this High Priest of God. This fact is explained perfectly by the fact that Melchizedek was Shem, his grandfather to the ninth generation, for the Fourth Commandment itself says, “Honor your father and your mother.”
7 But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater.
And so, Melchizedek blessed Abraham, showing that Melchi-zedek’s authority was greater than that of Abraham. The spiritual and legal implications of this are then explained in the next verses:
8 And in this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. 9 And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.
Melchizedek was a type of Christ who continues to live, simply because his birth and death are not recorded in Scripture. Even so, Jesus Christ, who died and rose again, continues to live and to make intercession for us as a perpetual High Priest (vs. 25).
Levi, as a descendant of Abraham, was “in the loins of his father” when Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek. This is an application of law insofar as authority is concerned. When Abraham paid tithes, he was paying them on behalf of all his children and all his descendants that were yet to come. This included Levi. So the point being made here is that the Levitical Order of priesthood was subordinate to that of Melchizedek. In a word, Levi and the lesser priesthood pays tithes to Melchizedek the greater priestly order.
11 Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.
The author implies, then, that perfection cannot be achieved through the Levitical priesthood. For this reason, another priesthood was necessary to accomplish what the Levitical priesthood could not do. This alone completely refutes the Dispensationalist idea that at the return of Christ, a new physical temple will be built for Him in Jerusalem, and that Levitical priests will again offer sacrifices upon an altar in the outer court.
How could a Levitical priesthood bring the earth into perfection on the basis of animal sacrifices? Is the “better” sacrifice of Christ to be replaced once again by the physical sacrifices of the Levitical Order? Was Grace a temporary phenomenon until we arrived at the perfect Age of Law? That view is not only nonsense, but is simply a reversion from Christianity to Judaism, which Paul Himself fought.
Verse 12 says that this change of priesthood from Levi to Melchizedek involved a change in the law itself. Whereas God had told Moses to ordain Aaron and his sons to the priesthood (Lev. 8), it was not revealed under Moses that this was a temporary arrangement, even though Moses knew that the people would corrupt themselves (Deut. 31:29) and that they would even end up in captivity in a foreign land (Deut. 31:17).
For this reason, Moses spoke plainly of the need for heart circumcision (Deut. 30:6), though he did not fully explain how this would involve the need for an entirely new covenant with a different priestly order. Further revelation about this new covenant was given later by Jeremiah (31:31-34), and quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12.
It is not until the New Testament that this change of priesthood was explained clearly—though apparently not clearly enough for the Dispensationalists to understand. The author of Hebrews explains it more fully than any other author in the New Testament:
13 For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests.
The Dispensationalists would have us believe that the High Priest (Jesus) is from the tribe of Judah, but the priests who are to officiate under Him are Levites. Such thinking is totally contrary, not only to Scripture but also to plain reason. The fact that Jesus was NOT of Levi proves that He must be a priest of a different order than that of Levi. But it is not only the High Priest that has changed but “the priesthood” itself, as we are told in Heb. 7:12.
Even as Aaron and his sons were consecrated in the old order, so also will Jesus Christ and His sons be consecrated as priests in the new order. For this reason, those who reign with Christ a thousand years are said to be “priests of God and of Christ” (Rev. 20:6). These are not Jews of the tribe of Levi. These are Melchizedek priests of many other tribes, for one’s physical genealogy is not relevant to this new order of priesthood.
The New Testament speaks of “the Sons of God.” These are the “children” of Jesus Christ who are consecrated according to the new order of priesthood. All of the patterns set by the ordination of Aaron and his sons are now applicable to Melchizedek and the Sons of God.
15 And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become such not on the basis of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible [akatalutos] life.
The requirement to be a priest who reigns with Christ a thousand years as a king-priest is that he has “the power of an indestructible life.” In other words, he must partake of the first resurrection presented to us in Revelation 20:4-6. By the way, the Greek word akatalutos was the proper way of expressing the idea of true endlessness of life (i.e., immortality). Whereas aionian life has to do with the age or time wherein the overcomers will rule in immortality, akatalutos has to do with the unending nature of that life, or indestructibility.
17 For it is witnessed of Him [in Psalm 110:4], “Thou art a priest forever [eis ton aiona, “for The Age”] according to the order of Melchizedek.”
As I wrote earlier, this statement in Psalm 110:4 was first about King David, who functioned as a Melchizedek priest at the Tabernacle of David—the tent where the Ark was housed on his property prior to the building of the Temple. But David was of the tribe of Judah. How could he function lawfully as a priest? It was a different order of priesthood, and it co-existed with that of Levi, but it predated Levi and was greater. Because of this, he did not actually break the law when he and his men ate the showbread when they were hungry (1 Sam. 21:6).
Jesus referred to this event as well (Matt. 12:3, 4; Mark 2:25, 26; and Luke 6:3, 4), showing that He was very familiar with this incident and keenly interested in it. There is no doubt that He understood His role as a Priest of this same order of which His forefather, David, had also been a member. These examples were not to show how David broke the law, but rather how David was allowed to eat of the consecrated bread, though he seemed to violate the law. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day had no answer to this apparent violation of the law, and so Jesus silenced the opposition with this example.
Neither Moses nor David were descended from Aaron, and yet both of them were allowed direct access to the Ark of the Covenant. In both cases their access was based upon their being priests, though both were of a different order than that of Levi.
18 For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.
The “former commandment” in this context is the command to ordain Aaron and his sons. If it is indeed weak and useless, it would be very strange indeed if God were to reinstate it in the Age to come!
As for the Law itself, the first law was broken when Moses threw the tablets to the ground (Ex. 32:19). The second law, representing that of the New Covenant, was brought by Moses when He descended from the mount with His face glorified (Ex. 34:28-30). It was the same law insofar as the text was concerned (Ex. 34:1), but it represented the unbroken law that is written in our hearts through the Feast of Tabernacles. This is the only feast where the law (that is, the book of Deuteronomy) was actually read in its entirety. This prophesied the fact that those who experience Tabernacles are brought into perfection and are actually able to keep the entire law, even as Jesus did.
Under the Old Covenant, the law was external and worked against the flesh to subdue it and cause it to submit to the will of God. Under the New Covenant, the law is written upon our hearts by His Spirit. The Holy Spirit changes our hearts so that we come into agreement with the law and the will of God. Under the New Covenant, there are no longer two wills opposing each other, but two wills in agreement functioning as one.
The priesthood of Levi is associated with the Old Covenant, while the priesthood of Melchizedek is the priesthood of the New Covenant. This is why Levi could never perfect us, for the best that Levi could do was to restrain evil by discipline and fear.
20 And inasmuch as it was not without an oath 21 (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He was with an oath through the One who said to Him, “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘Thou art a priest forever’;” 22 so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.
In other words, the Old Covenant was made “not without an oath,” that is, it was ratified by a required oath in Exodus 19:8, when the people said, “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do.” The tribe of Levi was among those taking this oath of obedience. Hence, that priesthood was based upon an oath on their part, and the Old Covenant itself required man’s cooperation and obedience to be ratified and remain effective.
The problem, of course, was that the people violated their oath almost from the beginning, and because they broke this covenant, God had to make a New Covenant based upon a better premise. The Old Covenant’s effectiveness depended upon the will of the people and their ability to fulfill their oath of obedience. It was conditional.
But the New Covenant is different in that it is based upon God’s oath alone. When we look at the terms of the New Covenant in Hebrews 8:8-12, we find not one statement about the need for man’s cooperation or man’s oath of obedience to ensure its continuing effectiveness. It is based entirely upon the will of God and what He does in the heart of man by His Spirit.
Because of this essential difference between the two covenants, the Old must of necessity fail, while the New cannot fail.
And so, with the institution of the Melchizedek priesthood, God Himself takes an unconditional oath without the need for man’s ratification. Psalm 110:4 says “The Lord has sworn.” There is no indication that “David swore an oath” in return. This reveals the New Covenant character of the Melchizedek Order.
On the basis of this unconditional oath on God’s part, Jesus has become “the guarantee of a better covenant” (vs. 22). The difference is not the law as a whole, but the oath on which the covenant is based. The Old Covenant is based upon man’s ability to obey; the New Covenant is based upon God’s ability to do a work within the heart of man to change his heart and will to conform to the will of God as expressed in His law.
23 And the former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers, because they were prevented by death from continuing, 24 but He, on the other hand, because He abides forever, holds His priesthood permanently.
The high priesthood in the Aaronic Order had to be replaced continually every time the High Priest died. But Jesus, our High Priest after the Order of Melchizedek—along with His Sons—need not be replaced, for they are immortal. Neither are they corruptible, and so they need not be replaced as the line of Eli was replaced by Zadok in the Old Testament type.
25 Hence, also, He is able to save forever [panteles, “completely”] those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
Under the Old Covenant, salvation remained incomplete. As individuals in that time, the people still had to look forward to a greater Sacrifice of which the animal sacrifices were a mere type and shadow that could not save or perfect anyone. In the corporate application, the Old Covenant could render only an incomplete salvation, and ultimately failed to bring righteousness.
Complete salvation of spirit, soul, and body (1 Thess. 5:23) comes only through the Feast of Tabernacles, and this could only come through a new order of priesthood that is immortal and perfect. Jesus, our High Priest, ever lives to make intercession for us from His position on the throne of the Father in heaven.
26 For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. 28 For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.
Our High Priest was perfect and undefiled, not needing to make sacrifice for himself before interceding for the people. Also, because He Himself became the perfect Sacrifice, of which all the animals were merely an imperfect type, there is no further need for sacrifice. The perfect Sacrifice upon the cross was “once for all,” and need not be repeated. Even as Jesus does not need to die again, for the same reason there is no need for further animal sacrifices.
The law of Moses appointed “high priests who are weak,” but the Melchizedek High Priest is a perfect Son appointed by Divine Oath. This priesthood will never pass away, regardless of what the Dispensationalists and Christian Zionists may teach.