The Hebrews writer has mentioned Melchizedek three times (5:6,10, 6:20), so he’s prepared his audience for the deeper dive of chapter 7. The priesthood of Jesus is the linchpin in his presentation of Jesus (“priest” is mentioned 40 x’s in the book with 19 of those occurring in chapter 7), so with the discussion of chapter seven we’ve moved to the heart of Hebrews.
Melchizedek is mentioned only twice outside of Hebrews—Genesis 14:17-20 and Psalm 110:4. The Genesis text provides us with the historical information concerning Melchizedek. It is brief but fascinating. After rescuing Lot and defeating the four kings, Abraham is met by the king of Sodom and Melchizedek. He is identified as the king of Salem and a priest. He brings out bread and wine to Abraham and blesses him and praises God. In return, Abraham gives him a tenth (a tithe) of what he has.
Since Genesis has more than its share of interesting people who pop on and off the scene (think Laban, the pharaohs of Abraham and Joseph’s time, Potiphar and his wife, Tamar, the cupbearer, the baker, etc.), I don’t know that Melchizedek’s mention is all that noteworthy in the larger context of the book. It is interesting but seemingly insignificant. That’s where Psalm 110:1-4 comes in. This is a messianic psalm written by David (Matthew 22:43), and it tells us the kind of things we would expect until we get to v. 4 where we’re told that God has sworn and will not change His mind that the Messiah will be a priest “forever in the order of Melchizedek.” And that must have sent every Jewish scribe and scholar to their Genesis scroll to reread the part about Melchizedek because he had been invested with great significance.
When we get to Hebrews 7 then, we’re reading inspired commentary on Psalm 110:4. It’s the Spirit revealing to us exactly what it means to say that Jesus is a priest “forever in the order of Melchizedek.” He tells us:
- Jesus is both a king and priest (v. 1),
- He is without beginning or end (v. 3)
- Jesus blesses Abraham’s seed, i.e., those who have the faith of Abraham (v. 1, 2:16),
- Jesus is the king of righteousness (v. 2)
- Jesus is the king of peace (v. 2).
With this, he accomplishes the first part of his presentation (to show how Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek). The rest of the chapter is devoted to showing that since Melchizedek’s priesthood was superior to the Levitical priesthood, Jesus’s priesthood is as well. Formally laid out, it looks something like this:
- Melchizedek’s priesthood was superior to the Levitical priesthood (v. 4-10).
- Jesus’ priesthood is after the order of Melchizedek. (v. 1-3)
- Therefore, Jesus’ priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood (v. 11-28).*
With this avalanche of evidence he presents, you can see why the writer was anxious to talk about Jesus being a priest after the order of Melchizedek. His presentation is powerful because it features multiple lines of evidence, so it has a cumulative effect. It is also profound because of its predictive nature. It is like a treasure that was buried in the text of Genesis, partially uncovered in Psalms and then laid out in full display in Hebrews.
For the original recipients of the letter who were discouraged and perhaps even doubting, it was just what they needed to restore their confidence. The writer shows them how their own book clearly forecasted Jesus—He had always been the plan of God! It just as clearly shows how the Levitical priesthood pales in comparison to Him. There is only one conclusion—Jesus is the Messiah and the high priest they needed.
“Such a high priest truly meets our need” (v. 26).
*The superiority of Jesus’ priesthood is shown in several ways:
- He was symbolically tithed to by the Levitical priests through Abraham (v. 9-10),
- His priesthood brings perfection (v. 11, 28),
- He brings a better covenant (v. 12, 18-19, 22)
- His priesthood is based on character, not genealogy (v. 13-16, 27),
- He was appointment was accompanied by an oath (v. 20-22),
- His priesthood is permanent (v. 23-24),
- His ministry take place in heaven (v. 26),
- His sacrifice is superior (v. 26-27),
- He truly meets our needs (v. 25-26).