posted on Feb, 17 2017 @ 05:05 PM
The epistle to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians, perhaps to a specific Jewish church.
The message of the letter is that Christ has brought “completeness”.
That is, God is making available, through him, a much greater and more decisive revelation than anything they have received from him previously
An important part of the writer’s case is that Christ has a function modelled upon the Old Testament figure of Melchizedek.
In the fifth chapter, he quotes the Psalm;
“Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110 v4).
He returns to the theme in the seventh chapter by taking up the story of the king’s meeting with Abraham.
The story can yield three different kinds of information.
First, the key details of what happened.
Melchizedek blessed Abraham, and Abraham responded by giving Melchizedek a tenth of what he had taken in battle.
Secondly, the names.
Melchizedek’s own name means “King of Righteousness”.
Then the name of his city identifies him as the “King of Peace”.
Righteousness comes first, because true Peace depends on righteousness; that is, a right relationship with God.
The implication is that Melchizedek offers them both (ch7 vv1-2).
Thirdly, the inferences which can be drawn from what the Genesis account does not say about Melchizedek.
We are not told about his ancestry. We are not told the names of his parents.
In effect, he has no earthly origin.
Again, we are not told that he died, or that he had any successors.
In effect, then , he continues “for ever”, just as the Psalmist says about the one who follows the same pattern.
As a symbolic figure, he resembles what this letter has already said about the Son of God, in that he has “neither beginning of days nor end of
And if the Son of God is to be identified with Melchizedek, then the rest of the information about Melchizedek belongs to him as well.
So we come back to that exchange of blessing and tithing, which demonstrates the greatness of Melchizedek.
The story shows that even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tithe.
Offering tithe is a kind of submission, accepting the recipient as one’s priest.
Therefore Melchizedek shows himself to be greater than Abraham.
That’s not very important in itself, because Abraham has already been co-opted into the Christian message.
But under the laws of Moses, the right to receive tithe was confined to the descendants of Levi.
This man was not just receiving tithe without being one of their number.
He was, in symbol, receiving a tithe from Levi himself, who was still “in the loins of Abraham”.
Thus being greater than Abraham also entails being greater than the house of Levi (vv4-10).
The same point can be made about the act of blessing. A “blessing” is a gift which comes from power, so the one who gives the blessing is
necessarily (“beyond dispute”) greater than the one who receives it (v7).
(Thus when the Psalms invite the congregation to “Bless the Lord”, the word has to be taken more loosely.)
So the priesthood of Melchizedek is a priesthood other than the priesthood of Levi.
The very fact that a different priesthood has been provided demonstrates that a new priesthood was necessary.
And if a new priesthood was necessary, that shows that the old priesthood was not capable of providing “perfection” [TELEIOSIS].
Now a change in the priesthood necessarily involves a change in the law.
“This” (that is, the change in the law) becomes “even more evident” from the fact, already noted, that Melchizedek’s appointment ignored the
criterion of “bodily descent” which the old law requires.
Jesus was born into the tribe of Judah, rather than the tribe nominated as priests by the law.
He was appointed instead “by the power of an indestructible life” (vv11-17).
To sum up the conclusion of the argument so far;
The old law has been set aside for the same reason that the old priesthood has been replaced.
It was weak and useless, being incapable of bringing anyone to “perfection” or “completeness”.
In its place, a “better hope” has been introduced, by which we can draw near to God, the source of completeness (vv18-19).
The opening words of the reference in the Psalms help to prove this conclusion.
For the appointment of this priest, unlike the appointment of the old priests, was confirmed by an oath;
“The Lord has sworn, and will not change his mind…”
As the writer pointed out when discussing the promises to Abraham, an oath from God provides greater certainty and assurance.
So this, too, shows Jesus to be the guarantor of “a better covenant” (vv20-22).
Another difference is that the old priests were subject to death. There had to be a long succession of them, because death interrupted their
One of the implications was anticipated earlier; since the sons of Levi are subject to death, that also makes them inferior to one who has “no end
of life” (v8).
Whereas the same Psalm has already told us that the new priest holds his priesthood “for ever”.
He keeps it “inviolate”, unchangeable.
This means that his intercession will always be available to those who “draw near to God through him” (vv23-25).
In conclusion, then “it was fitting” that we should have a high priest of this kind (v26)
The first time the writer used “it was fitting”, he was talking about the pioneer of our salvation being brought to completeness through suffering
death (ch2 v10).
What is “fitting” in this case is that we have “such a high priest”, which refers back to “always living for the purpose of making
intercession” for us.
As we learn later, the two things go together.
The verse goes on to describe his character as priest.
He is holy [HOSIOS].
He is “without blame” [AKAKOS].
He is “unstained” [AMIANTOS].
He is “separated from sinners”, never having been one of their number.
This is the kind of high priest who has been “exalted beyond the heavens” into the presence of God.
In both respects, in his holiness and in his exaltation, he has brought to completion what the high priests of the old law managed only
“He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people” (v28).
This observation causes difficulty to commentators, because the great day of Atonement for the sins of the people was annual, not daily.
But my own commentator points out the need to look at the word order carefully.
The word “daily” is not, in the Greek text, attached to “offer sacrifices”; it is attached to “he has no need”.
The new high priest is interceding for us daily, and in his intercession there is a daily absence of need to offer the kind of sacrifices for
sin which the old priests had to present.
That is because his own self-offering completed the job, “once for all”.
The final summary of the argument (v28);
The old law provided a priesthood which was weak and not effective in meeting our need, being sinful and subject to death.
But the word of the oath, given in the Psalm, is later than the law and has replaced it.
This has appointed for us a new high priest in the person of a Son, who has been “made perfect” [TELEIOMENON] for ever.