The competition between flesh and spirit, which we studied in the last FFI, extends also to the priesthood. There are two priesthoods, one fleshly and one spiritual, who are contending for authority in the Kingdom of God. Both set forth their claims, but only one will win its case in the end.
The competition between Levi and Melchizedek to inherit the priesthood should be viewed in the broader context of all other struggles between flesh and spirit. This gives us a better perspective, knowing that each set of competitors present only a partial picture.
In each case, one side represents the flesh and the other represents the spirit. It should not be difficult to identify which is which, as Scripture is quite clear on this matter. Yet, strangely enough, carnal men are drawn to support the carnal side, even if they claim to believe the Scriptures.
It is therefore important that we study the differing claims on authority that each side represents, so that we do not end up supporting the wrong side. To support the wrong side in such cases can result in embarrassment when God finally adjudicates the cases, or, worse, it can expose men’s betrayal of Christ.
To identify oneself with the first Adam, rather than as a son of the Last Adam, identifies with the sinner, rather than with the righteousness of Christ.
To claim authority or status with God based on flesh and blood, genealogy from Adam or Israel, can disinherit a man from the Kingdom of God.
Claiming to be the chosen inheritor of the Kingdom based on one’s spiritual connection with Hagar-Jerusalem rather than with Sarah, the heavenly city, is to base the claim on the Old Covenant. Such a claim is sure to fail in court.
To attempt to take the Kingdom by violence, bloodshed, and force with the spirit of Esau-Edom will also fail in the end, for such a spirit does not conform to the mind of Christ.
Yet we find many—even the majority of Christian believers—who tend to support all of these fleshly claims without realizing it. This is why our present study is so important, for if we may enlighten even a few about such things, we may prevent much future disappointment.
How to Avoid Disappointment
Jesus warned of such disappointments in Matt. 7:21-23,
21 Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?” 23 And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”
These miracle-workers think they have faith in Christ. They ware working for the Kingdom—so they think. They are not actively fighting Christ. Yet they are lawless. The Greek word anomia, “lawlessness,” means they despise the law and think incorrectly that Christ put it away.
They should believe Jesus’ words in Matt. 5:17-19. They should believe Paul in Rom. 3:31. They should believe John in 1 John 3:4. They should have believed James in James 2:10. We all have access to the same word of God. Translations may distort the meaning now and then, but most of it is quite plain to read.
Paul understood that lawlessness is carnal in nature and is characteristic of slavery. He wrote in Rom. 6:19,
19 … For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness [anomia], resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.
He wrote again in Rom. 7:22 and 25,
22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man… 25 I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
The mind of Paul’s new creation man served the law of God, even while his old mind, or “old man,” tended to serve the law of sin. It is clear, then, that if we follow Paul’s example, our “new man” too will serve the law of God by nature, even if our “old man” fails to do so.
When we were begotten from above, a new creation was conceived; and when we transferred our identity from the old man to the new, we identified with this spiritual man that follows the law of God.
Jesus made it clear that there would be miracle-workers who would be surprised and disappointed to find themselves in opposition to Christ. The antidote to lawlessness is lawfulness. The old man is carnal, being descended from Adam, and its tendency is lawlessness. The new man is spiritual, being begotten from above by the seed of the word, and it serves the law of God.
The idea that the law is carnal goes directly against Paul’s teaching in Rom. 7:14, where he says, “we know that the law is spiritual.” The disappointed miracle-workers in Matt. 7:22 are, no doubt, those who think that the law is carnal and therefore something to be avoided.
The New Priesthood
The book of Hebrews spends much time differentiating between the two covenants and the manner in which the law applied to each. There were many changes that occurred in the forms of the law, but none of these changes put away the law itself.
Both covenants involved the law. The difference is that the Old Covenant wrote the law externally on stone tablets, copper plates, and paper. The New Covenant writes the law in our hearts. The Old Covenant imposes the law upon our unwilling flesh—the old man. The New Covenant creates a new man whose nature already aligns with the law of God and the mind of Christ.
You do not need to teach your new man about God and His righteousness. He already knows because God fathered this child. Our problem comes with the old man, who was fathered by Adam, the man of flesh.
One of the many changes is in the priesthood. The tribe of Levi was given the priesthood in the time of Moses. To be a priest, required descent from Levi—specifically, Aaron. But that was under the Old Covenant.
The New Covenant priesthood is through Melchizedek, not Aaron. It was an older priesthood, dating back at least to the time of Abraham, for Gen. 14:18 says,
18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High.
This priesthood had dated back to Adam and was part of the birthright. In those days the dominion mandate was yet united with the priesthood. Melchizedek was Shem, the inheritor after his father Noah died. This spiritual inheritance was passed down to Jacob-Israel, who then divided it among his sons.
To Judah he gave the right to rule; to Levi he gave the priesthood. To Joseph he gave the rest of the birthright, including the right to bring forth the sons of God. The Melchizedek priesthood remained in the background while Levi’s time of authority was dominant. God told David in Psalm 110:4,
4 The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
When David died, the priesthood shifted to others, perhaps, but ultimately, it was bestowed upon Jesus, who lives forever and has no successors. Heb. 7:23, 24 says,
23 The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, 24 but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently.
Aaron’s priesthood went through many high priests and lasted about 1480 years until the tribe of Judah abused the priesthood in their rejection of the Messiah. At that point, Levi was replaced by the older Melchizedek priesthood with Jesus Christ as its High Priest.
Changing the Requirements
Here is where the dispute centers. Each priesthood lays claim to authority according to different rules. Levi claims that only one of his descendants can be a lawful priest. Melchizedek claims that his priesthood does not require any particular genealogy, nor does it depend upon any fleshly requirement.
Hence, Jesus came of Judah through the seed of David. Heb. 7:12-16 explains,
12 For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. 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. 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 a law of physical requirement [“fleshly command, ordinance”], but according to the power of an indestructible life.
This is disputed by those who remain in Judaism, for they refuse to recognize this new priesthood, having also rejected Jesus as the High Priest. For centuries the dispute lingered in the background. It was only in the past two centuries that Christians began to agree with the Jewish view that a Levitical priesthood will eventually prevail and rule in the coming Age.
Such was the teaching of the Dispensationalists in the 1800’s, which has now become all but mainstream in evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity today. They have been deceived into supporting the claims of the old order of priesthood that requires physical descent from Levi.
What Christians seem unaware of is that if this were the case, then Jesus would not be able to be the High Priest in the age to come, for He came through Judah the first time and will come through Joseph the second time. Neither tribe was qualified under the Old Covenant to provide a priest.
It is a blatant contradiction of the law to insist that a High Priest of the Melchizedek Order would be the head of a Levitical priesthood. One or the other must prevail, for their claims are contradictory in God’s court of law.
Christians ought to stop trying to justify the Jewish position in this dispute, lest they find themselves betraying Jesus as Judas did. The Holy Spirit is the Advocate in this court of law, and He has never sided with Levi since Jesus became the High Priest.
Carnal vs Spiritual Priesthood
In the big picture, the dispute is once again between flesh and spirit. Levi’s fleshly requirements are pitted against the spiritual requirements of the Melchizedek priesthood. One or the other must prevail. They cannot both be true. And if we believe the book of Hebrews, we will know which side to support.
It is hard to say how important this understanding is, but we know from Rev. 20:6 that the “priests of God and of Christ” will be given authority in the age to come.
6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
Will these be Levitical priests or Melchizedek priests? The majority of modern evangelicals now hold the view of prophecy that the Jews will build a second temple in Jerusalem and that it will be served by Levitical priests with animal sacrifices. In other words, the Old Covenant will be reinstated, implying that the New Covenant was a temporary interim between Old Covenant kingdoms.
Not for a moment do I subscribe to that position. The changes in the law-forms were not temporary. The changes are as permanent as our immortal High Priest. Hebrews makes this very clear.
Scofield’s assertion that animal sacrifices will only serve as a “memorial” is ridiculous. Why would Christ want to memorialize that which proved to be inadequate? Should we engage in a policy of appeasement so as to try to make Christ more acceptable to Jews? Shall we compromise our faith? Should we allow Jews to worship God through animal sacrifices instead of the one true Sacrifice?
Choose ye this day whom ye will serve. Salvation cannot be based on the Old Covenant for Jews and the New Covenant for Gentiles. Jews are not saved by the law while Christians are saved by faith in Christ. There is only one covenant that can save anyone. If Jews had to be saved by the Old Covenant by obedience to the law, then no Jew could ever be saved.
I am not willing to consign any Jew to such a fate. Neither will I compromise the blood of Jesus or trample it in any way. Not long ago many Christians rejoiced over the sacrifice of a lamb in Jerusalem, as if this were a fulfillment of Bible prophecy. The blindness in the Church is evident.
They ought to rejoice when someone acknowledges Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Why would a Christian rejoice when Jews reject Jesus as that Lamb of God?
Are Christians so carnal as to agree with carnality? Have deceivers crept into the Church, inducing people to be in agreement with those who hate Jesus and reject Him as Messiah and King-Priest? Have Christians again betrayed Jesus, even as Judas did in His first coming?
Carnal Qualifications for Priesthood
Heb. 7:16, quoted earlier, says about Christ,
16 who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement [“fleshly commandment or ordinance”], but according to the power of an indestructible life.
The KJV reads, “carnal commandment,” where the NASB reads “physical requirement.” The KJV is more literal, while the NASB tries to interpret it.
Some have broadened the statement to mean that the entire law (including all the commandments) was carnal. But that would contradict Paul’s statement that “the law is spiritual” (Rom. 7:14).
In reality, the carnal commandment is the command to give the priesthood to Aaron and his sons. The point being made is that this was not the final arrangement and that the Aaronic priesthood was to be temporary. That priesthood was given authority over the fleshly sacrifices and ministry in the physical tabernacle and later the physical temple.
The Aaronic priesthood was good, but it was only a stepping stone toward the real priesthood. The law itself was not the problem. The laws of priesthood remain intact to this day, but these laws must be applied in a different manner.
Whereas the law demanded that priests be descended from Aaron under the old order, the same law now demands that Melchizedek priests be spiritually descended from Jesus Christ. They must be begotten by God and must be the sons of God. Genealogical requirements no longer apply.
We know this because the original Melchizedek popped up in the biblical narrative without recording his genealogy. Heb. 7:3 says,
3 without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days [record of birth] nor end of life [record of death], but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.
This does not mean that the king of Salem was literally the Son of God, nor does it mean he came down from heaven without natural birth. It is explained later in verse 6, “the one whose genealogy is not traced” from Levi, nor indeed from anyone.
The divine silence suggests that he was a type of Christ. Though Shem, king of Salem, died a natural death later, he was pictured in such a way as to suggest immortality, making him appear to be a perpetual priest.
The “carnal commandment,” establishing Aaron as the head of the priesthood, did not impugn the validity of the law itself but limited that order of priesthood to carnal forms of worship. Examples of such carnality are seen in the genealogical and physical requirements of priests.
Lev. 21:17-20 says,
17 Speak to Aaron, saying, “No man of your offspring throughout their generations who has a defect shall approach to offer the food of his God. 18 For no one who has a defect shall approach, a blind man, or a lame man, or he who has a disfigured face, or any deformed limb, 19 or a man who has a broken foot or broken hand, 20 or a hunchback or a dwarf, or one who has a defect in his eye or eczema or scabs or crushed testicles.
This is the most obvious example of a carnal command that the author of Hebrews was referencing. It had to do with physical requirements for the Aaronic priesthood that did not apply to the Melchizedek priesthood. The law is still intact, but the requirements are spiritual.
A Melchizedek priest must not be blind spiritually, nor can he be lame in his walk with God. Many priests in history had spiritual defects which did not seem to disqualify them from ministering in the temple as long as they met the physical requirements.
But the true priesthood has greater requirements. God demands righteousness with no spiritual defects. In fact, it demands perfection in every way. It even demands a perfect “face,” which speaks of transfiguration. The glory of God must be in their face to qualify as Melchizedek priests.
Jesus qualified spiritually in every way, and this is one reason why it was important for Him to go to the Mount of Transfiguration on Mount Hermon overlooking Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 16:13; 17:1). Mount Hermon was also known as Mount Sion (Deut. 4:48). Those who are called to that priesthood under His leadership must go to the same spiritual mountain to be transfigured and there be proclaimed to be the sons of God (Heb. 12:22 KJV).
At the present time, the Melchizedek priests are imputed righteous, but they are being trained and disciplined by the Spirit of God so that in the end, they will be actually perfect and righteous. Then their face will no longer be disfigured spiritually, for the glory of God will be seen in their face.
We are now priests-in-training. We do not give away our calling to those claiming physical descent from Aaron. Neither do we consider our physical defects or poor health as disqualifiers from this calling.
As priests of God, the ministries that we do now are somewhat limited. Our tasks and responsibilities grow as we grow spiritually, but it is really only later, when we are fully transformed into His image, that we will be consecrated as full priests of God.