The Kind of Priest We Have
Hebrews 7:11-28 – David H. Linden
Hebrews is a book about Christ. The writer wants the people to know and believe in Him, but they already knew a lot, and they already professed publicly that they did believe. A lot of pressure and persecution was on some of the believers. They needed encouragement. There was trouble in their minds and in their surroundings. They needed their faith supported with truth; there is no substitute for this.
The Specific Issue
They especially needed to see the limitations of the priests of Israel. If they ever thought that that system of sacrifices (and the priests who offered them!) was the ultimate thing, they were greatly mistaken. Faith must have the proper object. Forgiveness is tied to bloodshed; they all knew that. Now what bloody offering really puts away our sin from the sight of God? What offering changes our hearts? What one brings access to God? What priest has done all that is needed to secure a right relationship with our holy God? Only the priestly work of Jesus.
Who really represents us as our effective priest? A man who dies and is replaced? A man who has his position as priest just because he is in the line of previous priests – even though it was God that had established that priesthood? What if we have a priest from a different order – a priest whose ministry continues forever? A Priest appointed by God’s oath; One Who has already made one sacrifice for sins and never needs to make another one? If Jesus is that Priest, would that make a difference in keeping a profession of faith in Jesus the Son of God? (3:1; 4:14).
Many other themes are found in Hebrews. Our minds cannot think them all at once. But when we know that we are sinners, and when we know that God has put between us and Himself some priest or priests to stand before Him for us, he or they fill a very great need. We must pay very careful attention. We are fools to invent our own solutions for facing God in our sin. God has never allowed any sinner to do that! We need someone to go to Him for us. Now will it be One God has appointed or one we choose? Will it be priests God has replaced or His great replacement for them? Will it be the shadow priests or the ultimate Great High Priest? These things are out of our control. We have no choice at all but to come to God in the way He has established. IF WE DO NOT, we put ourselves in the horrid position of rejecting God’s salvation for sinners. Now what is God’s way? Who is that Priest and what did He do? That is where we are in Hebrews.
The Previous Mention of Priesthood
Hebrews has the habit of introducing a theme with a short statement and then developing it later. In the first we were told that Jesus made purification for sins, (1:3). Not, note, that He just made an offering, but He accomplished purification! Then, He is our merciful and faithful high priest who in what He did, turned away from us the wrath of God once aimed at us for our sins, (2:14-18). Then in chapter 4, He unlike all other priests has passed through the heavens. The other priests could only pass through a veil into the Presence of God, and then had to leave when their temporary work was done. Jesus passed through the heavens into the Presence of God in heaven and sat down; His work is finished! In all their history the Jews never had a priest who could enter the Presence of God and stay there, and certainly none that went to heaven for them. But there is more …
The Previous Mention of Melchizedek
Hebrews 5 says a lot about priests and for the first time mentions Melchizedek. If the Old Testament told us only of the sons of Aaron as priests and said nothing more, we would soon have confusion. Suppose people claimed there was another priest, one outside that line of Aaron, how could God’s people ever accept an unauthorized priest? To do so would break God’s law. They would have no choice but to reject a competitor to what God had established.
There is a great need to show that some major change has been indicated by God and authorized by Him. It would even help if a few reasons were given to reduce our shock. This is what Hebrews 7 does for us, and it uses the Old Testament to do so.
In Hebrews 5, we are told that God said to Christ in Psalm 110 "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek," and that God had designated Him to be a priest in that order, (5:10). In chapter 6 he brought up Melchizedek again, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek,” (6:19,20).
A Problem We Do Not Have
There is a very large problem we do NOT have. It is not that the Old Testament told us of only one kind of priest, and then the New Testament surprises us with Jesus as a priest of a different kind.
If that were so, the Jews would have a very strong argument for retaining their system of priests and rejecting Jesus. They could use their Bibles to do so. It was in their Scriptures that we learn of another priest; it was not added later. This Melchizedek was mentioned in the days of Abraham, well before any mention of priests in the tribe of Levi ever comes up in the Bible. Then in Psalm 110 we have a very strong statement that God has – by an oath even – sworn that one specific person is a Priest. He is a Priest in a different order, the order of Melchizedek. This Person is the Lord Who sits at the Lord’s right hand in heaven (Psalm 110:1). We did not make all this up. It has been there in the Word of God for centuries before Jesus was born. By rejecting Christ the real Priest, the Jewish people have ended up with no priest at all, just as the prophet said:
First the History of Melchizedek 7:1-10
A major surprise in the Bible is that a person who will be named centuries later as so important, has so little written about him in the Old Testament. We reads of Melchizedek only in Genesis and the Psalms. Here is all it says:
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything...” Genesis 14:18-20
The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek."
From these brief statements, Hebrews 7 mentions:
Hebrews 7 does more than repeat the facts of history. Let us look at the historical background.
1. Melchizedek was a real man: There really was such a man. It was in the Scriptures that the Jews recognized as God’s Word. There was a man long ago who was both king and priest. The facts of history destroy any notion that there can be no priest outside the line of Aaron.
2. Priest of God Most High: He was a priest because Genesis tells us that He was! So if anyone wants to say that ALL priests of God come from Aaron of the tribe of Levi, that is contradicted by the facts. He was a true priest of God Most High in the Old Testament. If there is only one God Most High, and there is, then Melchizedek was a real priest of the Lord God of Israel before there was a Israel and before the time of Levi.
3. King of Salem: The word ‘Salem’ is close to the Hebrew word for peace, Shalom. Of course peace is an aspect of our salvation, so Hebrews will mention peace.
4. King of Righteousness: “The Lord our Righteousness” is a name for the coming King the Son of David in Jeremiah 23:5.
5. In contact with Abraham: This means that the father of the nation, Abraham, met with this king-priest. All Jews would naturally feel that surely Abraham is the greater man. Hebrews 7 shows that that sentiment is wrong. The ancient meeting of these two men helps to compare different priesthoods.
6. The lack of genealogy: Melchizedek was “without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.” This is just a strong was to say he was without a recorded genealogy; plus there is no mention in Scripture of his death. Thus Melchizedek serves as a type of Christ, because the only exposure we have to him is as a living person. Christ will be a priest in that likeness. Christ is without beginning, not by an omission in the record, but because He is the eternal Lord God. Christ has ascended and remains at the Father’s right hand. He is the Priest Who lives forever; He will never be replaced.
7. Tithes from Abraham: This would be hard for the Jews to believe, but Abraham actually paid tithes to someone else! This other person must be a very great man. The point is that a priest in the order and likeness of that man would be greater than any priest who came as a descendent of Abraham.
8. Blessing Abraham: Hebrews makes the conclusion for us, “And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater.” So Melchizedek is greater than Abraham and thus there was (and is!) a Priest greater than any priest in the line of Levi.
Hebrews goes far beyond the historical detail. It shows how the relevance of them to faith in Christ. Christ is a priest after the order of Melchizedek therefore we must know about Melchizedek. The purpose is to show that the priesthood of Jesus is not only different, it is far superior to that of the other priests still living and making sacrifices when Hebrews was written. The burden of the book is: why go back to inferior priests of an obsolete system?
Why have another priesthood if the old one took care of our need before God? Why fix what is not broken? “Perfection” refers to whatever is needed for a right relationship with God. Obviously it was not found through the other priests since God established another kind of priesthood.
The Bible speaks of the NEED for a priest. This is very important. A priest was not a mentor, nor was it his function to be an example for us to copy. The religion of Israel was not that the people had to do whatever the priests did, but to trust in what priests did for them. We cannot be right with God (or perfect) on our own. Salvation does not come through improved conduct but through an offering that has satisfied God. He was offended for our sin, and now that has been settled by Christ. Priests offered sacrifices!! Priests did for people what they could not do for themselves. All notions of self-help are pride in ourselves and a terrible presumption as to our acceptability to God. This error is also a lack of understanding of the holiness and justice of God. He will not accept any offering we invent. We need a priest who can meet our need. We have one, because God loved us and gave us His only begotten Son to be our priest. The Aaronic priests and all they did never meet the need of sinners before God. The ceremonies associated with them, illustrated the principles of salvation, and they serve as an early types of Christ.
Different tribe The other priests were from the tribe of Levi; Jesus was born in the tribe of Judah, so He could not be a priest from Aaron. Jesus is not a priest based on human ancestry. He is a Priest for a different reason. God appointed him to be one, and in that order of Melchizedek genealogy is not a factor.
Different tenure Genealogy was very important for Israel’s priests. Looking back, it decided whether a man could be one. But looking ahead it also decided from whom the next ones would come. If they were born to the right father; at age thirty they could become priests, and later they died, (7:23). They all had to be replaced. But Jesus was appointed to be a priest forever. And the “forever” means literally serving forever and never being replaced. This is a different kind of priest! Hebrews says it very strongly: Jesus “has become a priest … on the basis of the power of an indestructible life,” (7:16).
Different access to God “… a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God,” (7:19). Jesus our Great High Priest not only came from heaven but returned and remains in heaven seated at His Father’s right hand. So He has an access greater than any priest who entered the Presence of God on earth once a year (Leviticus 16). There is no greater access to God than being seated in honor at His right hand. But Hebrews now says that we too draw near to God. We approach God with confidence (4:16), because we come to God through Jesus. This does not mean we just use His Name as a word to repeat; it means we may come to God because we need no longer fear His wrath. Our sin is no longer a barrier. Jesus all alone as our Priest has taken care of our problem. God is as satisfied with the blood of Jesus as He would have been if He had killed each one of us for our sin and sent us to hell forever.
Different appointment (7:20-22) Priests became priests in a system God had ordained. He did not speak to each as an individual and commission him to be a priest. Other humans performed the ritual for a priest taking his position (Leviticus 8,9). In the case of Jesus it was by a direct commissioning by the Father. Jesus’ appointment was in language so strong God used the language of an oath. He swore that Jesus would be a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4). He never appointed any other priest in this way.
Different Security “Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.” This oath of God shows the commitment the Father has to our salvation in Christ. A commitment to the work of Christ is a commitment to the results of His work. Our salvation depends on the sinless life and blood of Christ. But it is also the very determined Father Who is behind Jesus’ work, sending Him, giving Him the Spirit, giving Him the cup of wrath to drink for us, raising Him from the dead and accepting his offering in heaven, telling Him to sit down. Jesus is the guarantee of a better covenant because the oath that commissioned Him as Priest is the oath the Father made to Jesus related to His work of saving us. The Father Who appointed Him, cannot reject His chosen Priest! Those who believe in Christ are as safe as Jesus is. We have a permanent priest (7:24) Who is the source of eternal salvation, (5:8-10), guaranteed by the Lord God Who “will not change His mind!” (Psalm 110:4). We have strong encouragement (6:18) for our confidence in Christ, the High Priest we confess (3:1).
Different ability Priests did not save! In the Old Testament, God was the Savior (Isaiah 43:11) who appointed priests to approach Him with sacrifices that looked forward to Christ. God was the Savior not the priest. But Hebrews says that Jesus as a Priest saves (7:25). He is able to save as long as He intercedes for us, and that is forever.
Different appeal Priests long ago would say, “Bring me the animal I am to sacrifice.” Jesus Christ has made the sacrifice, so He now says, “Come to Me” as in John 6:35. He is able to save all who come to Him, because He is the Sacrifice already offered and already accepted.
Different Character The other priests were sinners who had to offer for their own sins. It is quite amazing that God let a sinful priest approach Him, but that priest has to have innocent blood to offering for himself. Our Great High Priest lives in the presence of God approved for all His conduct. We approach God only in the righteousness we receive from Christ. Our priest is “holy blameless, pure, set apart from sinners.” This priest meets our need, (7:26), the only One qualified in Himself to approach God without the blood of a substitute sacrifice.
Different location “Exalted above the heavens” Those who want a priest they can see should remember where our Priest really is and why. If the real issue of life is how we can be right with God, then our delight should be that we have Someone there for us, exalted above the heavens Who has taken care of our need. He is there as our forerunner (6:20). Our Man has made it into the Presence of God, and the rest of His family will follow.
Different schedule The other priests offered over and over, morning and evening, day after day, and on the Day of Atonement in the Presence of God in the Most Holy Place, year after year. Jesus offered once, once only, one time and no more, and that is all that was needed. It will never be repeated (10:11-14). The better Priest had offered the final offering.
Different offering Jesus did something no priest would dare to do. No priest ever pricked his finger and put his own blood before God. That would be offering unclean blood. It would bring the retaliation of God; the priest would die on the spot the way Nadab and Abihu did in Leviticus 10:1-3 No priest could offer himself as Jesus did since no priest was “holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” We are not saved by our holiness; we are saved by His!!
Our entire hope of forgiveness and eternal life depends on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the One the Father sent to make and be the sacrifice needed. By the offering He made the wrath of God is removed from us. We must believe Who He is, we must have no other person or thing or way as our trust. Our minds should be fixed on Him because He is thee One God provided to save us. This is the great kindness of God that He would give us Christ as our Priest. Now He calls on us to come to Jesus as the way to the Father.
 I will omit that Melchizedek gave Abraham bread and wine because Hebrews does not deal with that.
 Some think Melchizedek is Christ in the Old Testament. That is complex and I will deal with it in the Hebrews lectures. He was a man, the local king of Salem. He is like the Son of God since the Bible deliberately gives no record of His birth or death, but he was born and he did die. He is not Christ.
 Zechariah 6:9-14 has a priest crowned as a king. This will be part of the Hebrews lecture lessons.
 He is a king based on His ancestry to David, as Matthew 1 shows. Ancestry has no bearing on His priesthood, because He is of a order unrelated to it.
 In Luke 3:22 at Jesus’ baptism, the Father spoke to Him, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” “Jesus, when He began His ministry was about thirty years of age …” (Luke 3:23). In Numbers 4:1-3, priests began their ministry at age thirty. For some reason Luke notes Jesus’ age at His baptism. He also said spoke of Jesus’ ministry, which is comprehensive yet it includes making purification for sins when His time had fully come.