Author: Ron Graham

Christ in Hebrews

The Perfect Priest
—More about the Priest like Melchizedek

We continue to follow the Hebrew writer’s discussion of the credentials of Jesus as a superior priest —a discussion centered on a Messianic prophecy sworn as an oath by God, "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" (Psalms 110:4).

1 A Priest of Perfect Obedience

  Hebrews 5:1-11  

Christ became our great high priest by obedience to God’s command. He "did not glorify himself so as to become a high priest" but submitted to the word of the oath, "The Lord has sworn, and will not change his mind: You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek".

The only way anyone can become a legitimate priest of God is to be called by God, just as Aaron was. When did God call Jesus to the priesthood? "He was designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek". The priests of old were called "without an oath" (Hebrews 7:21). Christ, by contrast, was called by God’s oath —the highest calling possible, which makes his priesthood plainly superior.

Christ "learned obedience by the things he suffered" (Hebrews 5:7-9) —following his calling through to the sacrifice of himself; suffering death on the cross. The superiority of Christ’s priesthood plainly has much to do with his superior (indeed perfect) sacrifice —a fact stressed in later chapters of Hebrews.

2 A Priest Who Is God’s Son

Hebrews 5:5, Hebrews 1:5, Psalms 2:7.

The Hebrew writer prefaces the statement "he learned obedience by the things he suffered" with the qualifying phrase, "although he was a Son..." (Hebrews 5:8). One of the writer’s texts is "You are my Son, Today I have begotten you" (Hebrews 1:5).

Melchizedek and Christ the Son of God are symbolically linked in chapter seven. Here Melchizedek is described as being "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" (Hebrews 7:3). No doubt Melchizedek had a father and mother; and a birth and death; but lacked any record. Rather than disqualifying Melchizedek as a type of Christ, this only enhances his symbolic character in representing the eternal Son of God.

The Hebrew writer has previously compared Christ’s obedience as a Son with Moses, the servant who represents the priesthood under the old covenant. "Now Moses was faithful in all his house as a servant... but Christ was faithful as a Son over his house..." (Hebrews 3:5-6). Plainly the obedience of a Son is superior to the obedience of a servant.

3 A Priest of a Better Law

Hebrews 7:1-28

In Hebrews 7, Abraham is compared with Melchizedek. Abraham, through Isaac, Jacob, and Levi, was the ancestor of Moses the law giver and Aaron the law’s first high priest. Thus Abraham represents that old law and its priesthood. Melchizedek, however, represents the new law and Christ’s priesthood. The Hebrew writer shows Melchizedek to be superior to Abraham by drawing upon two things that happened when they met:

Since Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, a priesthood "after the order of Melchizedek" must be superior to Aaron’s.

We recall that Melchizedek the priest was also a king. A king is ruler, and his edicts are law —another reason why a priest "after the order of Melchizedek" would be superior.

A valid priesthood must be ratified by law. The priesthood of Aaron depended on the law of Moses his brother. The Hebrew writer points out that "a change of priesthood necessitates a change of law also" (Hebrews 7:12). Now there would be no point having a change of law if the new law wasn't better. So what are we forced to conclude? Plainly, since Christ’s priesthood is ratified by a superior law, the priesthood of Christ must itself be superior.

Permitting Christ to be Priest

A new law was necessary so that Christ could be our great high priest. The Hebrew writer acknowledges that "Our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood," and from this tribe "no man has officiated at the altar" (Hebrews 7:13-14).

This is an argument from silence. If the old law of Moses was silent about anyone from the tribe of Judah being a priest, then it did not authorise or permit Christ to be a priest. He was of the tribe of Judah. If Christ were to officiate as high priest while the law of Moses was in force, then he would offend against that law because he would officiate without authority.

Therefore "a change of priesthood necessitates a change of law also." So there should be no surprise that the law-covenant of Moses has been replaced (Hebrews 7:12, Hebrews 18,22 see Hebrews 8:8-9,13 Jeremiah 31:31).

It is, after all, plainly implied in the text "the Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, 'You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek'". God must, in saying that to Christ, have had in mind the removal of the law or covenant that does not permit Christ to be a priest. Just as plainly, he must have had in mind a new and better law that would permit, and appoint, Christ to be a better (indeed a perfect) high priest.

link Previous companion lesson