MELCHIZEDEK—A TYPE OF CHRIST (7:1-10)
In biblical study, a type refers to an Old Testament person, practice, or ceremony that has a counterpart, an antitype, in the New Testament. Melchizedek is also a type of Christ. As mentioned earlier, the Bible gives very little historical information about Melchizedek. All that we know is located in Genesis 14, Psalm 110, and Hebrews 5-7. The most detailed information is in Hebrews 7:1-3.
Although Melchizedek is in no way the equal of Christ, his unique priesthood, and even his name, typify Jesus Christ and His work in a number of significant ways. Hebrews chapter 7 concerns the most important part of Judaism, namely the priesthood. No sacrifices could be made except by the priest and no forgiveness of sins could be had apart from the sacrifices. Obedience to the law was exceedingly important, but the offering of sacrifices was even more important. And the priesthood was essential for offering them. Consequently, the priesthood was exalted in Judaism.
The law God gave Israel was holy and good, but because the Israelites, as all men, were sinful by nature, they could not keep the law perfectly. When they broke the law, fellowship with God was also broken. The only way of restoring fellowship was to remove the sin that was committed, and the only way to do that was through a blood sacrifice. When a person repented and made a proper offering through the priest, his sacrifice was meant to show the genuineness of his penitence by obedience to God’s requirement. God accepted that faithful act and granted forgiveness.
UNDERSTANDING MELCHIZEDEK IS FOR THE MATURE
There is much conjecture about Melchizedek. Some insist he is an angel who took human form for a while during the time of Abraham. But the priesthood was a human, not angelic, function (Heb. 5:1). Others suggest that He is actually, not just typically, Jesus Christ Himself, who took a preincarnate form during Abraham’s time. But Melchizedek is described as made like the Son of God (7:3), not as being the Son of God. The most logic is probably to consider that Melchizedek was a historical human being, whose priestly ministry typifies that of Christ, a man whom God designed to use as a picture of Jesus Christ. But we cannot be sure of the details of his identity. Those remain among the secret things that belong only to the Lord.
In Genesis we have only three verses about Melchizedek. Some thousand years later David makes a briefer mention of him in Psalm 110:4, declaring for the first time that the Messiah’s priesthood would be like Melchizedek’s. After another thousand years, the writer of Hebrews tells us even more of Melchizedek’s significance. He reveals things about Melchizedek that even Melchizedek, or his contemporary, Abraham, did not know—and of which David had only a glimpse.
Hebrews 7:1-10 first presents, then proves, the superiorities of Melchizedek’s priesthood over that of the Levitical-Aaronic.
“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, 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. 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.” (7:1-3)
Verses 1-2 are essentially a summary of the Genesis 14 account. They remind us that Melchizedek was the king of Salem (an ancient name for Jerusalem), that he was a priest of the Most High God, that he blessed Abraham after the patriarch had defeated the oppressive King Chedorlaomer and his three allies, and that Abraham, in turn, offered Melchizedek a tithe of the spoils. The writer also points out that the literal meaning of Melchizedek’s title is king of peace (‘Salem” is from the same Hebrew root as shalom, “peace”).
Melchizedek’s priesthood was superior to the Levitical in every way, but five specific ones are given in Hebrews 7:1-3.
MELCHIZEDEK’S PRIESTHOOD WAS UNIVERSAL, NOT NATIONAL
The Israelites were Jehovah’s people and the Levites were Jehovah’s priests. The Levitical priests could minister only to Israel and only for Jehovah. Melchizedek, however, was priest of the Most High God. The Most High God is over both Jew and Gentile, and is first mentioned in Scripture in relation to Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18). Jesus is not just the Messiah of Israel, but of the world. His priesthood is universal, just as Melchizedek’s.
This was an extremely important truth for Jews who had come to Christ, as well as those who were considering putting their trust in Christ. To them, there was no other priesthood established by the true God but the Levitical, which was restricted to Israel.
MELCHIZEDEK’S PRIESTHOOD WAS ROYAL
Four times in two verses (7:1-2) he is referred to as a king. Rulership of any sort was totally foreign to the Levitical priesthood. Melchizedek’s universal priesthood and his royal office beautifully typify Jesus’ saviorhood and lordship, as perfect Priest and perfect King.
Speaking of the Messiah, Zechariah writes, “Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the LORD, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices” (Zech. 6:13). In his psalm that mentions Melchizedek, David also looks forward to the Messiah who will be both Priest and King (110:1, 4).
Because Salem was an ancient name for Jerusalem, Melchizedek ruled over God’s special city. We are not told when God first considered Jerusalem to be His holy city, but He had a faithful king who was a faithful priest there even in the time of Abraham —many centuries before Israel’s priests ministered there or Israel’s kings ruled there.
No truth of Scripture is more definite than that God chose the Jews as His special people, His very unique and cherished people. But Scripture is equally clear that Israel continually misunderstood and presumed upon her unique relation to God. They, for example, recognized Him as absolute Creator of heaven and earth and as sovereign over His world. But they had a very difficult time understanding Him as Redeemer of the world. As Creator and Sustainer, He was the world’s; but as Savior and Lord, He was theirs alone. (Jonah’s reluctance to preach to Gentiles illustrates this.)
MELCHIZEDEK’S PRIESTHOOD WAS RIGHTEOUS AND PEACEFUL
There was no permanent righteousness or peace related to Aaron’s priesthood. Melchizedek, however, was king both of righteousness and of peace. His very name means “king of righteousness.”
The purpose of the Aaronic priesthood was to obtain righteousness for the people. The sacrifices were made to restore the people to a right relationship to God. But they never succeeded, in any deep and lasting way and were never meant to remove sin. They symbolized the sacrifice that makes men righteous—and thereby brings men peace—but they themselves could not make men righteous or give men peace. As a temporary ritual they accomplished their God-ordained purpose. But they could not bring men to God. They were never meant to.
Melchizedek, though king of righteousness and of peace, could not make men righteous or give them peace either. His priesthood was a better type of Christ’s than was the Levitical, but it was still a type. Once reconciled to God through Christ, we will never be counted as sinful again, but always as righteous and that gives us peace. Christ is the true King of Righteousness.
MELCHIZEDEK’S PRIESTHOOD WAS PERSONAL, NOT HEREDITARY
If you descended from Aaron, you could serve; if you did not, you could not. Consequently, the priests often were more concerned about their pedigrees than their holiness. That Melchizedek is said to have been without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life does not mean that he came from nowhere. It simply means that in the Old Testament record nothing is said of his parents or origin.
The point in Hebrews is that Melchizedek’s parentage and origin are irrelevant to his priesthood. Whereas to the Aaronic priesthood genealogy was everything, to the Melchizedek priesthood it was nothing. Jesus Christ was chosen as a priest because of His personal worth, His quality. He was chosen because of who He was, not because of where He came from genealogically. Like Melchizedek’s, Jesus’ qualifications were personal, not hereditary.
MELCHIZEDEK’S PRIESTHOOD IS ETERNAL, NOT TEMPORARY
Individually, a priest served only from the time he was 25 until he was 50. Collectively, the priesthood was also temporary. It began in the wilderness, when the covenant with Moses was made and the law was given. It ended when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70.
Melchizedek, however, abides a priest perpetually. It is not that he lived forever, but that the order of priesthood in which he ministered was forever. The fact that we have no biblical or other record of the beginning or end of Melchizedek’s personal priesthood simply symbolizes the eternality of his priestly order. It is a type of Christ’s truly eternal priesthood. Christ, “because He abides forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:24-25).
Jesus is a priest like Melchizedek. His priesthood is universal, royal, righteous and peaceful, personal, and eternal.
MELCHIZEDEK’S SUPERIORITIES PROVED
“Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. 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. But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham, and blessed the one who had the promises. But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. And in this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.” (7:4-10)
In these verses we are given three reasons, or proofs, as to how and why Melchizedek’s priesthood is superior to the Levitical.
1 ABRAHAM GAVE A TITHE TO MELCHIZEDEK
Abraham, father of the Jewish people, gave tithes (a tenth) of his war spoils—his choicest spoils— to Melchizedek. Abraham simply recognized Melchizedek as a deserving and faithful priest of God Most High. Abraham was under no obligation, no law or commandment, to give Melchizedek anything. He gave freely to the Lord, through His servant Melchizedek.
The Levites, as the priestly tribe, received no inheritance of land, as did all the other tribes. They were to be supported by a tithe from their brother Israelites. The point of Hebrews 7:4-10 is that because Abraham, their common and supreme ancestor, had paid tithes to Melchizedek, even the Levites, “in advance,” so to speak, also paid tithes to Melchizedek.
2 MELCHIZEDEK BLESSED ABRAHAM
Just as Abraham knew he should tithe to Melchizedek, Melchizedek knew he should bless Abraham. In so doing, without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. Melchizedek was superior, and therefore he could bless Abraham.
3 MELCHIZEDEK’S PRIESTHOOD IS ETERNAL
“And in this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on.” (7:8)
The writer again points up the permanence of Melchizedek’s priesthood. The Jews paid tithes to priests who all died. Abraham paid tithes to a priest who, in type, lives on. Since no death is recorded of Melchizedek, his priesthood typically is eternal. In this his priesthood is clearly superior to that of Aaron.
Jesus Christ, of course, is the reality, the true Priest who is eternal, of whom Melchizedek is but a picture. Jesus Christ is a priest, the only Priest, who is alive forevermore. He is the only Priest of the only priesthood that can bring God to men and men to God. This was a great word of assurance to those Jews who had come to Jesus Christ.
JESUS, THE SUPERIOR PRIEST (7:11-28)
THE PERFECTION OF THE NEW PRIESTHOOD
“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?” (7:11)
God’s ultimate desire for men is for them to come to Him. The design of God for Christianity is for them to come into His presence, in His heavenly Holy of Holies and to fellowship with Him, with nothing between.
“So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:17-19).
That is something Judaism was limited in enabling men to do. The design of Hebrews 7:11-19 is to show this truth. The point is to encourage the wavering Jews to break with the old system and come to Jesus Christ. All their lives they had assumed that the Levitical system was instituted by God, and that it was perfect.
The Old Testament, in fact, anticipated (as in Ps. 110:4) that another priesthood was coming. If the Aaronic priesthood had been perfect, another would have been unnecessary. “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, . . . But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jer. 31:31-34)
Hebrews 7:11 speaks of perfection not coming through the Levitical priesthood. In Hebrews perfection first of all means access to God, not the spiritual maturity of Christians. A person is perfected when, by Christ’s sacrifice, he is given full access to God in Christ. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6). The New Covenant gives greater understanding of full forgiveness, freedom from guilt, and a peaceful conscience.
“For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.” (7:12)
Christianity comes from Judaism but not merely enhanced Judaism; it replaces Judaism. Aaron’s priesthood now has no validity at all. But because the Aaronic priesthood and the Mosaic law were so closely tied to one another, a changed (replaced) priesthood also meant a changed law.
In the broadest sense, law refers to the whole Old Testament, the Old Covenant. God’s moral law, however, in the Ten Commandments, is part of His very nature, and therefore cannot possibly change. The New Testament in fact, demands a greater judgment on disobedience (Acts 17:30-31).
But the ceremonial law, the Aaronic system of sacrifices, has been set aside. Some believing Jews insisted on maintaining their own Jewish practices and made them mandatory for everyone who wanted to become a Christian. These people were called Judaizers, and they were a plague to the early church for many years.
“For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests.” (7:13-14)
Jesus did not come from Levi, which was the only priestly tribe, but from Judah, which had nothing to do with priestly service at the altar.
“And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of Him, “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (7:15-17)
In Christ we do not have another priest just like those who ministered in the Tabernacle and the Temple. He is of a completely different kind and order. Under the Old Covenant there were many priests but under the New there is but one Priest.
The word arises probably signifies the virgin birth. As God, Jesus raised Himself up by giving birth to Himself, so to speak. No Aaronic priest could make such a claim. All other priests besides Jesus “arose” by virtue of their mothers and fathers, not of themselves. Second, arising by Himself implies that this other Priest had no priestly ancestry, no priestly heritage.
There was not a single moral or spiritual qualification that the Old Testament priests had to meet, as long as they were descendants of Aaron. Like Melchizedek’s priesthood, however, Jesus’ Priesthood was based on who He was. It had everything to do with the power of an indestructible life. He became, and He continues, a priest by eternal power—a power that can do what no priest, not even Aaron could ever do. Jesus Christ takes us into the presence of God and He anchors us there eternally.
“For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (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.” (7:18-19)
God has set aside the old and imperfect and has replaced it with the new and perfect.
GUARANTEE OF A BETTER COVENANT
“And inasmuch as it was not without an oath (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He 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’ ”); so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.” (7:20-22)
Neither when the old priesthood was first established nor when any priest or group of priests were consecrated had God made an oath— or any sort of promise, conditional or unconditional—that this priesthood would be eternal. But with Christ He swore an eternal priesthood, as David had written in Psalm 110:4, to which the writer here refers for the fourth time in the letter (see also 5:6; 6:20; 7:17). David added, and will not change His mind. God made an eternal decision about the new eternal priesthood. Therefore, Jesus is made a guarantee of a better covenant. He guarantees to pay all the debts that our sins have incurred, or ever will incur, against us.
“And the former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers, because they were prevented by death from continuing, but He, on the other hand, because He abides forever, holds His priesthood permanently.” (7:23-24)
The Levitical priests had what might be called the ultimate disqualification for permanent ministry: death. None of them could serve indefinitely. Each died and had to be succeeded in order for the priesthood to continue.
Jesus Christ, on the other hand, because He abides forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Jesus is the superior High Priest because He needs no successor. His priesthood is permanent, eternal. It also means unchangeable.
“Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (7:25)
Like John 3:16, this verse contains the whole essence of the gospel. Salvation is the main theme of the entire Bible. The power of salvation is Christ’s ability—He is able. He is the only One who has the power of salvation (Acts 4:12).
The nature of salvation is bringing men near to God. By delivering from sin, it qualifies believers to come to God. Deliverance from sin has all three of the major tenses—past, present, and future. In the past tense, we have been freed from sin’s guilt. In the present tense, we are freed from sin’s power.
The objects of Christ’s eternal salvation are those who draw near to God through Him. “The one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). He is able to save all, but not all will be saved, because not all will believe.
He always lives to make intercession for us. We can no more keep ourselves saved than we can save ourselves in the first place. Jesus has power to save us and the power to keep us. Constantly and eternally, He intercedes for us before His Father. Through Jesus Christ, we are able to “stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24). In His Son we are now blameless in the Father’s sight.
“For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer 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. 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.” (7:26-28)
All the Levitical priests were sinful, and they had to offer sacrifices for themselves before they could offer them for the people. Not so our present High Priest. He is holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. It was fitting, necessary, that He be such a person.
For 33 years Jesus Christ was in the world, mingling continually with sinners and being tempted continually by Satan. Yet He never contracted the least taint of sin, or defilement. Therefore, He does not need to offer sacrifices for Himself, like those high priests.
(MAIN SOURCE: MACARTHUR NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY – JOHN MACARTHUR)