16 November, 2021

Oct. 17 | High Priest in the Order of Melchizedek

by | 11 October, 2021 | 0 comments

Unit: Hebrews (Part 2)
Theme: High Priest
Lesson Text: Hebrews 7:11-28
Supplemental Text: Genesis 14:17-20; Hebrews 7:1-10
Aim: Worship in awe of the depth of God’s will and foreknowledge as seen in the connection between the priesthood of Jesus and Melchizedek.

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Download a PDF of this week’s lesson material (the Study by Mark Scott, Application by David Faust, and Discovery Questions by Michael C. Mack): LOOKOUT_Oct17_2021

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By Mark Scott

There are many major and minor characters in a narrative as large as the Bible. But some of the people are just, well, a bit weird. They “take stage” briefly, allow their little story to contribute to God’s big story, and then disappear. For instance, what about the witch at Endor (1 Samuel 28)? She was not even supposed to exist (28:9), but she showed up to pronounce the last sentence on Saul’s ruined kingship. Weird. Or, what about Samson? Very few good things are said about this playboy judge. But four chapters of the Bible are devoted to him (Judges 13-16), he judged Israel for 20 years, and his name is found in Hebrews 11 as a hero of the faith. Weird. Or what about Melchizedek, that strange priestly king who met up with Abraham following the battle of the kings (Genesis 14:17-24)? That was a weird gathering.

But Melchizedek mattered in the Hebrews writer’s argument about Jesus’ priestly kingship. Jesus was designated by God as a merciful and faithful high priest. But as the writer moved his argument along about Jesus’ priesthood and New Covenant, Melchizedek became the perfect type of Christ in the Old Testament to connect some interpretative dots between Jesus and his non-Aaronic tribe.

Different Tribe
Hebrews 7:11-16

The Levitical tribe was the priestly tribe. Aaron and Moses belonged to that one. The law, the sacrifices, and the dietary code were all part of the Levitical covenant. If the Messiah figure was to be a priest, one would assume he would come from Aaron’s line. But Jesus was like Melchizedek—different indeed. The writer had much to say about this change of covenant (Hebrews 8–10), so it was vital to deal with Jesus’ tribe as a possible “push back” to his legitimate priesthood.

Perfection (mentioned three times in this text) for God’s people was possible only if the law was kept perfectly. That at least meant that Levitical priests were the only ones who could serve at the altar. When certain kings took it upon themselves to function as priests, it did not end well (e.g., 1 Samuel 13:8-15). So how could Jesus, from the tribe of Judah, serve as a priest? Answer: Melchizedek. This strange “seeming outsider” was actually an insider in God’s program of redemption. Very little is known about him; we don’t know his origin or demise (Hebrews 7:3). But he appeared on the scene, blessed Abraham, and had an indestructible life. Sounds a bit like Jesus—i.e., he came, ministered, and ascended. Wrong tribe but right Savior.

Better Hope
Hebrews 7:17-22

The Hebrews writer placed the often-quoted Psalm 110 at the heart of his argument. Jesus’ priesthood would be like Melchizedek’s. It would be different but everlasting. The Levitical covenant would be set aside (or fulfilled, cf. Matthew 5:17-20) in the coming of one like Melchizedek. The Levitical covenant was weak and useless (without profit). It could not fix the problem; it could only reveal the problem.

The better hope that came through Christ would allow the worshipper to draw near to God. The Levitical covenant was about fear, darkness, and distance. Nonetheless, the New Covenant ushered in through one like Melchizedek was, like the covenant before it, brought in by a promise from God called an oath. The oath (the sure word of God) was evident in Psalm 110. God had sworn and would not change his mind that Jesus would be a priest-king forever. Jesus himself became the guarantor (the only time this specific word appears in the New Testament) that the New Covenant would surpass the Old Covenant.

Permanent Priesthood
Hebrews 7:23-28

Every priest was terminal. In contrast, Jesus, like Melchizedek, had an indestructible life. Jesus lives forever. Therefore, his priesthood continues. Jesus can save completely (or as the King James Version beautifully states it, “he is able to save to the uttermost”) since he is always available to act as high priest. In addition to saving people, Jesus—since he is alive—can even intercede for (to meet or talk to) people.

Jesus is so overly qualified for this priesthood. At least six of his virtues are mentioned. He is holy (unpolluted), blameless (void of evil), pure (unsoiled or Godlike), set apart from sinners, exalted (elevated above the heavens), and sinless because he does not need to offer sacrifices for himself. Jesus performed his major salvific act on the cross once for all. It need not be repeated like typical sacrifices. High priests come and go, but Jesus stays because he was appointed and made perfect. Jesus’ priesthood, at the end of the day, is not weird but special.

Dr. Mark Scott serves as minister with Park Plaza Christian Church in Joplin, Mo. He retired in May after more than 30 years as professor of New Testament with Ozark Christian College in Joplin.

Image: Detail from the 1668 painting Abraham and Melchizedek by Juan Antonio de Frías y Escalante. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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