A Comparison between Christ and Melchizedek. Heb. 7, 1-28.

Melchizedek a type of Christ in a singular manner: V.1. For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him; v.2. to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation king of righteousness and after that also king of Salem, which is, king of peace; v.3. without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like unto the Son of God, abideth a priest continually. This paragraph opens one of the most important sections in the entire letter, since it is intended to set forth the superiority of Christ in a most singular manner. This is brought out even by the description of Melchizedek as given in Scripture: For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, was a priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom Abraham also divided a tenth of all (the spoil). Cp. Gen. 14, 18-20. The following facts appear from the story as told in Genesis. Lot, Abram’s nephew, had been led into captivity by four kings, Chedorlaomer, Tidal, Amraphel, and Arioch, in their campaign against Sodom and Gomorrah. These kings have been identified, with some plausibility, with Khammurabi, Eriaku, Kudurlachjumal, and Tudchula, mentioned in ancient records that substantiate the Bible-account. The patriarch thereupon gathered all the men whom he could muster in his household, pursued the kings, overthrew them utterly, and rescued Lot and his goods. On his return he was met by this king of Salem, Melchizedek. It is immaterial whether this Salem stood for the later Jerusalem or for Salim in the vale of Schechem. The statements concerning the man and the application made of these points interest us. He was a king, and therefore, according to ancient custom, also judge and priest. He is expressly designated as a priest of the most high God, Gen. 14, 18. As such he pronounced a blessing upon Abraham, imparting to him the gift of God. Abraham, in turn, divided to Melchizedek a tithe of the spoils, thus acknowledging him as a priest.

This peculiar personage is now further described: Interpreted first king of righteousness, but then also a king of Salem, that is, a king of peace. The sacred author makes use of every factor, of every point which offers an opportunity for explanation. The name Melchizedek itself is Hebrew and is translated “king of righteousness,” and the word Salem meaning “peace,” the king of Salem is, of course, the “king of peace.” Both by his name, then, and by his official position, Melchizedek was set apart from other men. And it is significant that righteousness and peace are characteristic properties of the Messianic kingdom, Ps. 72, 7; Is. 9, 6. 7; Zech. 9, 9; Eph. 2, 4. 15. 17.

The last part of the personal description is just as important: Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like to the Son of God, remains a priest permanently. Melchizedek stands in Scripture absolutely alone; no illustrious parents are mentioned from whom he might have inherited power and authority, nor could his priestly office have come to him as a descendant of a priestly family. His descent and pedigree are nowhere entered and recorded. Neither of his birth nor of his death does Holy Writ make mention, neither his installation into office nor his retirement from it are described. In this he resembles the eternal Son of God, whose type he evidently was intended to be. The entire story makes the impression that priestly services of a particular type were needed at that time, and this man was there to perform them. It appears, therefore, from the entire context that the permanence of Melchizedek’s priesthood was to be expressed. As one commentator puts it: “If he had had in history, as doubtless he had in fact, a successor in office, we should have said of him that he was the priest of Salem in the days of Abraham. As the case stands, he is the priest of Salem.” (Bruce.)

The superiority of Melchizedek over the Levitical priests: V.4. Now, consider how great this man was, unto whom even the Patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. V.5. And, verily, they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the Law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham; v.6. but he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. V.7. And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better. V.8. And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them of whom it is witnessed that he liveth. V.9. And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham. V.10. For he was yet in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. In this second argument of the series the inspired author shows that Melchizedek was greater than the patriarch Abraham, from whom the Jewish nation descended, to whom was entrusted God’s blessing. How much more, then, is he greater than the members of the Levitical priesthood who descended from Abraham! The author purposely calls the attention of the Jewish Christian readers to this point: But observe how great this man was, to whom even Abraham the patriarch gave the tenth of the spoils. The dignity, the excellence, the superiority of Melchizedek appears here, if anywhere. All misunderstandings are avoided by designating the Abraham here spoken of as the patriarch, the forefather of the Jewish race. If even this man, who was looked upon as almost superhuman, paid to Melchizedek the tenth, the best part of the spoils which he brought back from battle, the latter must be the possessor of a greatness and dignity of a most extraordinary rank.

This fact is further emphasized by a comparison between the tithes paid to the priests and that paid by Abraham in the instance referred to: And they, indeed, of the sons of Levi that receive the priestly service are ordered to tithe the people in accordance with the Law, that is, their brethren, although these have come out of the loins of Abraham; but he whose genealogy is not recorded among them tithed Abraham and blessed him that had the promises. The descendants of Aaron, the members of the Levitical priesthood, Ex. 28, 1-3; Num. 3, 10. 38; 13, 14. 15, were ordered by a commandment of God to receive tithes from the people, their brethren, for their maintenance. There is no question of personal superiority or inferiority, but only of complying with the Law, both parties being sons of Abraham, both tracing their descent to the same illustrious ancestor. But the matter was decidedly different with regard to Abraham and Melchizedek. For the latter, whose genealogy is not known, is not reckoned, tithed, received the tenth from, Abraham. There was no special law, no special commandment of God in this case, and yet Abraham paid. What is more, although Abraham was the bearer of God’s blessings and promises, having been assured of the fact that the Messiah of the world would be among his descendants, Gen. 12, 2. 3; 13, 14. 15, yet Melchizedek pronounced his blessing upon this possessor of the Messianic promises. Abraham, great and high and distinguished by God as he was, yet was glad to receive the blessing of the king of Salem.

The conclusion therefore seems clear: Without all contradiction the inferior is blessed by the superior. And here men that die receive tithes; there, however, he of whom it is testified that he lives. There can be no question, no argument about the first statement; it is the universal rule that he who holds the superior position pronounces the blessing upon him that holds a station beneath him. It follows that Melchizedek was better, higher, than Abraham, superior to him, since his blessing was not only the expression of his personal good will, but an imparting of results backed up by God’s almighty power. In addition to this significant fact, the incident of Melchizedek teaches that, whereas in the Jewish Church mortal men, men subject to death, received tithes, in the case of this priest of Salem it was a man concerning whom we have the testimony that he is living, Ps. 110, 4. The members of the Levitical priesthood passed away one by one and gave place to successors, being also in this respect inferior to Melchizedek, for whom Scriptures record no successor.

This argument the writer now amplifies by fixing the position of Levi in his relation to Melchizedek through Abraham: And, I might almost say, through Abraham also Levi, who receives tithes, was tithed, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. In the person of Abraham, who paid the tenth part of the spoils to Melchizedek, even Levi, whose descendants received the tithes of their brethren for their support, was tithed. It is true that Levi was as yet unborn, Abraham being his great-grandfather, as appeared later. But this argument from heredity was one which readily appealed to Jewish readers and had an excellent application in this case. From the fact that the great-grandfather of Levi and the forefather of all the men in the Levitical priesthood paid tithes to Melchizedek it is clear that the latter was in every way superior to the Leritical priesthood.

The imperfection of the Levitical priesthood and of the Mosaic system: V.11. If, therefore, perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the Law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron? V.12. For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the Law. V.13. For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. V.14. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. V.15. And it is yet far more evident; for that after the similitude of Melchizedek there ariseth another priest, v.16. who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. V.17. For he testifieth, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. V.18. For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. V.19. For the Law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did, by the which we draw nigh unto God. Careful and tactful arguing was required at this point, lest the Jewish Christians be offended without need and the attempt to win them to a sound understanding of Christ’s importance fail. But the arguments go forward with inexorable force: If, then, perfection were through the Levitical priesthood, - for upon it the people received the Law, - what further need would there have been that another priest should arise, and one not named after the order of Aaron? If the Levitical priesthood had actually been able to accomplish what many people insisted it could do, if men through its ministration could have been brought to that state in which they had been considered perfect by a just God, if forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation could have been imparted through the teaching of the Law and the offering of sacrifices, then it would have been foolish to have another priest come. It was true indeed that the children of Israel received their entire legislation on the basis of the Levitical priesthood. All the precepts of the Ceremonial Law, the entire administration of the theocratic form of government, was connected with the priestly service. And yet God ordained and appointed another Priest, who, strange to say, was not called after the order of Aaron, did not belong to the tribe of Levi, but arose after the order of Melchizedek. As the writer intimates, there must have been some important reason why God should make this provision, even during the age of prophecy. For the story of Melchizedek is recorded of a time more than four hundred years before the Law was given on Mount Sinai, and almost five hundred years after the journey through the wilderness David prophesied that another priest would arise after the order of Melchizedek, Ps. 110, 4.

There is another point to be considered in this connection: For if the priesthood is changed, there is of necessity a change also of the Law. By their acceptance of Jesus as the High Priest of the new dispensation, the Jewish Christians had openly acknowledged a change in the priesthood. It followed, then, that the Law which was bound up with the Old Testament priesthood was also changed or abrogated. This change was necessary, it followed as a logical result. The sacrificial offerings of the Old Testament could not, in themselves, reconcile God to man. Only He in whom all the types and prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled could bring about this perfect condition.

This enormous and epochal change was taking place in accordance with the prophecy of old: For He of whom this is said belongs to a different tribe, of which no one ever attended at the altar; for it is evident that out of Judah our Lord sprang, to which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. The word of David, Ps. 110, 4, was said with regard to Jesus, the true High Priest, in whom all the types of old are fulfilled. But the Messiah did not belong to the tribe of Levi; He did not belong to those to whom God had entrusted the ministry of the altar. He became rather, by His incarnation, a member of a different tribe, of the tribe of Judah, as was well known, Gen. 49, 8. 10. This was the tribe and family from which the Savior, our great High Priest, sprang, a tribe to which Moses had said nothing about priests, giving them no intimation that any priest would ever be taken out of their midst. The fact, then, that Jesus has proved Himself to be the great High Priest, and has been accepted as such, shows that the Levitical priesthood and the entire Mosaic system have been abrogated.

That a change has been inaugurated and is in force follows from still another fact: And still more abundantly is it evident, if according to the likeness of Melchizedek another priest arises, who has become such, not after the law of an ordinance of the flesh, but according to the power of an indissoluble life. By the prophecy of God a new and wonderful Priest was to make His appearance, who was to enter upon His office, not according to ordinances which concerned external, temporal matters, such as the pedigree and the physical condition of the body, Lev. 21, 16-23, but one according to the likeness of Melchizedek, of whom the same things might be said, who entered upon His office according to the power of the indissoluble, endless life, according to the singular power of the eternal and unchangeable divine life which was transmitted also to His human nature. Even death could not dissolve and take away the power of this divine life; for He conquered death and brought back eternal life out of death. That which enabled the Son of God to be Messianic King and High Priest of men is His rank as Son, but as the Son who truly took into His divine person the weakness of the human flesh and blood and became the Redeemer according to both natures. All this is included when God testifies, Thou art a Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Incidentally the point is here emphasized that Christ’s redeemership did not come to an end, but that it is perennially new and exists in full power for the comfort of all sinners.

Through this installation of Christ into His office the change referred to above has been brought about: For a disannulment took place of the previous commandment on account of its weakness and uselessness; for the Law perfected nothing, but the introduction of a better hope did, through which we draw near to God. By the incarnation of Christ in the fullness of time, by His entering upon the work of His office, especially as our great High Priest, the previous, the Old Testament commandment, which had established and upheld the Levitical priesthood, was abrogated and disannulled, being set aside in favor of, and superseded by, the order of salvation in which Jesus Christ is the center. This had to come about on account of weakness and uselessness of the Old Testament priesthood, which failed utterly in bringing men back into the right relation to God. The Law revealed the holy will of God; it taught ceremonies, rudiments; it hinted, it foreshadowed, it presented types; but it brought nothing to perfection, did not effect man’s return into the fellowship of God. This was brought about only by the introduction of the better hope in Christ, of the powerful, comforting hope by which we draw near to God without the fear of eternal damnation, not with confidence in our own works and merits, but with a simple reliance in the perfect atonement and reconciliation gained for us by our great High Priest. There is no longer a need of a Levitical priesthood, of a Mosaic system, there is no need of depending upon an imperfect and useless system of outward forms and ceremonies; for in Christ and His work we have the hope of faith, which is sure to bring us into God’s presence and fellowship.

The oath of God a guarantee of the superiority of Christ’s priesthood: V.20. And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest, v.21. (for those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by Him that said unto Him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek,) v.22. by so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament. This is another important consideration in the proof of Christ’s greater excellence: And in proportion as not without the swearing of an oath (was He made priest), in that proportion Jesus also became surety for a better covenant. Vv. 20a. 22. Jesus became our High Priest in consequence of, and for the sake of fulfilling, a solemn oath made by His heavenly Father. This oath is one of the evidences which we have of the earnest intention and purpose which God has with regard to the salvation of all mankind. Christ was the only one in whose case such an extraordinary exception was made. By that token, therefore, He is the surety, the sponsor, the guarantee of a better, superior, more excellent covenant. This fact is brought out still more strongly by the clause which the author inserts for the sake of explanation: For the one indeed are priests, having become so without the swearing of an oath, but the other with an oath by Him that said to Him, Thou art a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. The members of the Levitical priesthood were installed into office and discharged the functions of their ministry without a special objuration of the ordinand or oath on their own part. Their work was clearly defined by the Mosaic Law, and they discharged it in the knowledge that all their sacrifices were but types of the Messiah’s work. But in the case of Christ, the true High Priest, God swore an oath and had it recorded through His prophet, Ps. 110, 4, designating His Son, the Messiah of the world, as the eternal High Priest. The incarnation of Christ, therefore, signified that the Levitical priesthood was no longer needed for the purpose of mediating between God and men, and the oath of God, in addition, set the priesthood of Christ just that much higher, God Himself indicating the superior excellence of Christ’s office.

Another feature of Christ’s priesthood is its eternal continuance: V.23. And they truly were many priests because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death; v.24. but this Man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. V.25. Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them. This is a point in which the superiority of Christ is very evident. Christ not only brought us back again into the right relation with God, but He permanently insured to us this near fellowship with God: And they indeed have been made priests many in number, because of their being prevented by death from remaining, but He through His remaining forever has His priesthood inviolable. It was a definite and unchangeable handicap of the men that held the office of priests in the Old Testament: they were mortal, subject to death, they could not remain in life, and therefore also in office, beyond the span of life allotted to them by God. The ones that died were continually being replaced by young men, and there was a continual change in personnel. But Christ, the everlasting Son of God, Ps. 110, 4; Dan. 7, 14; John 12, 34, holds His office of High Priest throughout eternity. It will never he transferred, no other person will ever step into it. He is the sole and perpetual occupant of this singular office, giving place to no successor. And therefore it follows: Whence He is also able even to save to the uttermost those who through Him approach to God, forever living to make intercession for them. Because Christ holds His office of High Priest in this unique and absolute manner, therefore the salvation earned by Him is complete in every detail, not lacking in any single item. Every person in the wide world that turns to Christ for salvation, puts his faith in Him as his Mediator, has Him as the Way, as the certain Approach to God. No need of priests and sacrifices and ceremonies and special festivals, for He is our Mediator forever; He has opened the way to the eternal love of the Father. This is so certain because Christ lives forever, and His function in His office of High Priest at the present time is to be our Advocate with the Father, to make intercession for us, Rom. 8, 34; 1 John 2, 1. 2. As Christ’s life on earth was spent in the interest of men, so He continues to spend Himself in our behalf. The entire fullness of His present life is devoted to the end of insuring everlasting salvation to men. And we have another reason for acknowledging the superiority of Christ’s office over that of the Old Testament priests.

The writer concludes that Christ is the perfect High Priest: V.26. For such an High Priest became us who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; v.27. who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for His own sins and then for the people’s; for this He did once, when he offered up Himself. V.28. For the Law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath which was since the Law maketh the Son, who is consecrated forevermore. The various advantages which Christ Jesus enjoyed in comparison with the men that held office in the Old Testament, as priests under the old dispensation, force this conclusion: For such was the High Priest that became us, holy, innocent, uncontaminated, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens. Jesus was the only one that fully measured up to the needs of mankind. The priesthood of the Old Testament was imperfect, unsatisfactory in many respects, it could not secure for men the assurance of salvation, of reconciliation with God. But all imperfections are absent in the case of our great High Priest. He possesses perfect personal holiness, neither inherited nor actual sin being found in Him; He is innocent, guileless in His relation to men; He was never guilty of harming any man; no one could convict Him of sin; He was undefiled, uncontaminated, stainless in spite of all contact with the sinful world, without blemish in the midst of men that are full of blemishes; separate from sinners, now that He has finished His work of redemption and been removed from the visible world; and made higher than the heavens, into which He has entered through the veil, chap. 4, 14; Eph. 4, 10. He has been exalted to the right hand of His Father; not only His divine nature, but also His human nature partakes of all the eternal power and Godhead. Thus “our High Priest has carried through all the confusion and turmoil and defilement and exasperation of life an absolute immunity from contagion or stain. He was with God throughout, and throughout was separated by an atmosphere of His own from sinners.” (Dods.)

Owing to this excellence of Christ’s character, His office also has exceptional merit: Who does not have the need day by day, as the high priests, first to offer sacrifices for His own sins, then for those of the people; for this He did once, when He offered up Himself. Although the high priests of the Old Testament personally made the required daily sacrifices on only one day in the year, on the great Day of Atonement, offering first for themselves and then for the people, Lev. 9, 7. 8; 16, 2; Ex. 29, 38-42; Num. 28, 3-8, yet they were responsible for all the ceremonies connected with the rites of the people. But all these things which they did personally year by year and through their assistants day by day, Christ was not in need of. For His own sins He had no sacrifices to bring, for He was sinless. And so far as those people were concerned whose sins He took upon Himself in offering up Himself as a vicarious sacrifice, He did that once and for all when He shed His holy blood, when He laid down His sinless life on Calvary. By the very nature of His sacrifice His offering could not be repeated, for its perfect and eternal worth rendered repetition superfluous. Eph. 5, 2.

That Christ is the one true High Priest is evident finally from His inherent perfection: For the Law appoints men as high priests that have weakness, but the word of the oath which came after the Law (appoints) a Son, who has been made perfect forever. The Mosaic system could at best provide and appoint only weak, sinful men for the office of high priest, for though they were descendants of Levi, they were but human beings and not made sinless by virtue of their office. But the word of the oath sworn by the Lord in the prophecy, Ps. 110, 4, being stated after the Law had been given, not only indicated that the Law needed revising and perfecting, but at the same time appointed the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who in the work of His office as High Priest was made perfect forever, being perfect in His own person, by virtue of His Godhead, from eternity. The perfectness of the Son was tested in contact with the sinful world and the many temptations which He was obliged to overcome as the representative of mankind; and therefore it was confirmed and sealed by His exaltation. Our High Priest, Jesus Christ, of our own flesh and blood, has gloriously stood the test of all the attacks He had to fight by reason of His humiliation, and therefore, in His human nature, has been exalted on high.

Summary. The inspired writer shows that Christ, as the fulfillment of Melchizedek’s type, as exalted above the imperfect Levitical priesthood, as being appointed by virtue of an oath of God, as the eternal Son of God, is the one perfect High Priest, whose sacrifice has everlasting value.