In our study of Hebrews chapter seven, we look at the order of Melchizedek and the perfect lasting priesthood of Jesus Christ.
This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means "king of righteousness"; then also, "king of Salem" means "king of peace".
At the end of chapter 6, we were introduced to the order of Melchizedek and Paul continues by reminding the people of Abraham's meeting with him as recorded in Genesis 14. He is introduced as the "king of Salem" and many have said that this is short for Jerusalem but it is not. We see, here, that salem means peace and his name actually means "king of righteousness".
Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever. Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder!
We are not given any more details about Melchizedek which is very different from the rest of the Book of Genesis. We see that he is simply an eternal priest of God. We see that the father of our faith recognized this mysterious priest as being greater than himself and so presented him with ten percent of what he received from the battle. This is significant in the fact that this was before any of the law had been given.
Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people - that is, their brothers - even though their brothers are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.
Now, Paul contrasts the Aaronic priesthood to the order of Melchizedek. We see that the Levites were mere men and Abraham recognized Melchizedek as higher than men.
And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by men who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.
Here, we see the ultimate in paying it forward as Paul describes the fact that Levi (servants of God) paid the tithe to Melchizedek as he was an ancestor of Abraham. Melchizedek's priesthood is compared to the Aaronic priesthood in that they were mere men that collected the tithe and, as men, they died but Melchizedek did not. Their ministry was temporary where Melchizedek's is permanent. We often forget that whatever ministry God has entrusted to us is, like Levi's, only temporary but it is for the eternal kingdom and has lasting effects.
If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come - one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?
Paul now contrasts the priesthood of Melchizedek with that of the Levites. We see that the law was administered by the Levitical priests and we know that the Law did not have the power to save men from their sins.
For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.
Before the Law of Moses was given, there was the priesthood of Melchizedek. With the giving of the Law, the Levitical priesthood was established. With Jesus our High Priest, we are under the law of love and not the Law of Moses.
He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared: 'You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.'
Now, Paul begins to compare Jesus (our High Priest) to the Levites. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah and they were not the tribe that was set aside to be priests by the Law of Moses. He was declared a priest by His resurrection as it is said in Psalm 110:4. This is also the basis for the doctrine commonly called "the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers". In 1 Peter 2:5, Peter speaks of the fact that we become priests based on our relationship with Jesus Christ. As Jesus' priesthood was confirmed by the power demonstrated in His resurrection, our priesthood is confirmed by the power of the Holy Spirit that works in and through us. Today, there has been a religious system set up within the body of Christ that sets the qualifications of a priest/minister/pastor based on their education. That is a step backward from the "order of Melchizedek" and, in fact, is a step back to the Law and away from the grace of God.
The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
The law establishing the Levitical priesthood did not give the priests the power to defeat sin. Instead, they were constantly offering sacrifices and in fact became slaves to the sacrifices and the law. But, a better hope (speaking of Jesus Christ) was introduced as He overcame sin and death on our behalf. Through Him, we can draw near to God.
And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: 'The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: "You are a priest forever."' Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.
In Psalm 110, God used David to describe Jesus as the coming King. Unlike the world where there is separation between government and the reign of God, He was also described as "a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek". This promise of God is the guarantee of the new covenant of grace that replaced the Law.
Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
One of the greatest differences between Jesus and the Levitical high priests is that they died but He lives forever. They could only serve for a short time but He is still serving as He is at the Father's right hand.
Such a high priest meets our need - one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.
The Levitical priests had to make atonement for their own sins before they could minister on behalf of the people. Since they continued to sin, this was an unending process. Jesus who did not sin did not require atonement but instead became the perfect sacrifice for all men.