A DIFFERENT KIND OF HIGH PRIEST
"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. 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. 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? For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. 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. 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 ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK" (Hebrews 7:1-17, NASB).
The uniqueness of the New Covenant is glorious. Although it has escaped the attention of many, and cannot be perceived through institutional glasses, its singularity is a source of great consolation to "the elect" (Mark 13:22; Luke 18:7; Rom 8:33; Col 3:12; Tit 1:1; 1 Pet 1:2). There are areas of spiritual contemplation that are particularly productive. One is the matter of the New Covenant and its associated benefits. Of especial interest is the consideration of Christ's High Priesthood, an integral part of the New Covenant. This role refers to our Lord's present ministry from the right hand of God. Although Jesus is specifically called "High Priest" and "Priest" only in the book of Hebrews, His current activity in heaven is referenced numerous times throughout Scripture.
In this book, Christ's ministry is presented as the fulfillment of the types introduced in the New Covenant. The Law, in its covenantal aspects, contained a "a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ" (Col 2:17). With technical exactness, the Spirit presents the Son of God, His accomplishments and present ministry, as fulfilling the "pattern" given to Moses in the holy mount (Ex 25:9,40; Heb 8:5. The purpose of the book is not to introduce unique or new terminology, but to expound the present exclusive ministry of the Son of God. The perception of Christ's current activity is the foundation upon which confidence and assurance is built.
The present occupation of Jesus is the subject of much Apostolic teaching. Romans 8:34 describes Him as "who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us." Romans 5:11 declares Jesus is the One "through whom we have now received the reconciliation." Ephesians 3:12 associates the living Christ with us being "brought near" to God. Personal direction is connected with Jesus in 1 Thessalonians 3:11. 2 Thessalonians 2:16 affirms that NOW the Lord Jesus "comfort(s) and strengthen(s) your hearts in every good work and word." According to Romans 1:7, "grace and peace," indispensable to the life of faith, come "from . . . the Lord Jesus Christ." The Spirit reminds us we have been "called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor 1:9). Speaking for all who live by faith, Paul affirmed, "Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20).
Christ's present ministry is alluded to often in Scripture. Always, it relates to our acceptance by God and triumph over the world. Permit me to mention a few of them. Each of these affirmations depends upon the present activity of the Lord Jesus Christ. "We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Rom 5:2). "But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 15:57). "For through Him (Jesus) we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (Eph 2:18). "Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ" (2 Cor 2:14). As the "Captain of their salvation," He is "bringing many sons to glory" (Heb 2:10). With "angels and authorities and powers subject to Him," the Son of God is reigning in regal splendor "till His enemies be made His footstool" (1 Pet 3:22; Heb 10:13).
As Shepherd He feeds, as Captain He leads, and as Mediator He dispenses covenantal benefits needed to complete the "race set before" us (Heb 12:1-2). At no point in this world do we become capable of completing the fight of faith alone. Christ Jesus is never unnecessary, never replaceable, never expendable. The book of Hebrews is elaborating upon His indispensability. In particular, it is now approached from the standpoint of His High Priesthood.
THE GREATNESS OF MELCHIZEDEK
Melchizedek has already been introduced in this book. He represents an order of priesthood that is fully answered in the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb 5:6,10; 6:20). Prophetically, the relation of Christ's priesthood to that of Melchizedek is declared in Psalm 110:4. "The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek." Notice the certainty, and even finality, of this statement. Three key affirmations are provided for your faith. (1) "The Lord hath sworn." (2) "And will not repent." (3) "Thou art a priest forever . . . " The point being established is the Divine provision for your salvation.
Under the Law, there was no consistent provision for the salvation of the people. Moses was an effective mediator that stood between the recalcitrant people and God but his mediatorship was not sufficient to fulfill the purpose of the Almighty. Aaron, the high priest under the Law, was "the saint of the Lord" (Psa 106:16) was also effective in his role for the time then present. However, neither he nor the order of priesthood for which he stood, was adequate to fulfill the "eternal purpose" of God. This would require a different kind of high priest--one introduced by Melchizedek.
It is important to note that this order of High Priesthood was introduced BEFORE the Law, in which the Aaronic priesthood was set in order. The Spirit is going to show us the superiority of both the Person and ministry of the Son of God. To do so, He must begin earlier than Sinai, for the purpose of God as revealed in Christ antedated the giving of the Law, or the First Covenant. Just as Galatians associates the Gospel with the promise made to Abraham prior to the Law, Hebrews relates the effectiveness of that salvation to the high priesthood of Melchizedek, who blessed Abraham. We are being anchored to Divine purpose, as distinguished from adherence to a code of law.
"Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils" (7:4). The records of this event are found in Genesis 14:18-20. It is a brief account, with little seeming significance. "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: and blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand" (v 18-20). The significance of the text is found in the Person of Jesus Christ. Take Jesus out of the scenario, and the text is but a historical account. This is actually the pattern for all of Scripture. As it is written, "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39). And again, " . . . for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Rev 17:10). There is a sense in which Jesus is the reason for Scripture. It is through Him, and Him alone, that men come into vital union with the Lord, thereby participating in His eternal purpose.
Scripture apprizes us that Melchizedek "met Abraham, returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him" (7:1). The Genesis record informs us the high priest "brought forth bread and wine" for Abraham. This is a most remarkable text! So far as the book of Genesis is concerned, only two priests are mentioned: Melchizedek and Potipherah. Three times reference is made to Joseph's father-in-law, "Potipherah," who was "priest of On" (Gen 41:45,50; 46:20). His daughter, Asenath, was given to Joseph as a wife by Pharaoh. She bore to Joseph Manasseh and Ephraim. Prior to the giving of the Law, another priest is mentioned in the early part of Exodus. It was Jethro, father-in-law of Moses, who was "the priest of Midian" (Ex 2:16; 3:1; 18:1). Neither of them were appropriate types of the "great High Priest" to come (Heb 4:14). But when it came to revealing the "eternal purpose" of the Almighty and expounding the nature of our High Priest, the Son of God, only one priest of record is appropriate: Melchizedek. At least eight reasons are sited for the greatness of this high priest.
(1. He was not only a priest, but also a king. Apart from Jesus, the combination of King and Priest is found here alone.David was a King, but not a Priest. Aaron was a Priest, but not a King . . . etc.
(2 Even Abraham paid him tithes. This was done on a voluntary basis, which means Abraham recognized the greatness of this unique priest.
(3 he blessed Abraham. Apart from this incident, Abraham was considered a source of blessing. God had promised He would make Abraham a blessing--but here Abraham is blessed.
(4 he is the type of a Priest who lives for ever. Melchizedek himself was not eternal. Therecord presents him in that manner because he typified God's appointed High Priest, Jesus Christ. Here, in literary form, God introduced the concept of an eternal priest.
(5 Levi, yet unborn, paid him tithes in the person of Abraham. The Divine manner of reasoning is so divers from than of mankind! Here the entire Levitical priesthood, initiated under the Law, is represented as paying tithes to Melchizedek. That simply means their priesthood was inferior to his!
(6 the permanence of his priesthood in Christ implied the abrogation of the Levitical system. With an entire book of Scripture devoted to the establishment of the Levitical priesthood (Leviticus), one might suppose it to be superior to that of an obscure priest during the time of Abraham. But this is not the case at all! God has reserved "some better thing for us!"
(7 he was made priest not without an oath. The Levitical priests were not made priests by Divine oath. As it is written, "for others who became priests took their office without an oath" (Heb 7:20). The point being made is that Christ's High Priesthood, foreshadowed in that of Melchizedek, was not owing to fleshly identity. It was not a matter of human lineage, but of Divine appointment.
(8 his priesthood can neither be transmitted nor interrupted by death: "this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood." The eternality of salvation is seen, among other things, in its High Priest. An"eternal salvation" requires a "Priest forever" (Heb 5:9; 5:6; 6:20; 7:3,17,21).
There are two other associations here that are glorious. They distinguish Christ Jesus, the "High Priest of good things to come" (Heb 9:11), as absolutely superior. (1 Melchizedek, the type, remains a priest in the record; i.e., that is the only way he is represented. Christ Jesus also remains a priest forever, today sustaining those that come to God by Him. (2 Melchizedek was not merely a king, but a "king of righteousness" and a "king of peace" (7:2). How precise is the figure! In Jesus "righteousness and peace have kissed each other" (Psa 85:10), being perfectly joined together in the justification of sinners. Where else was such a marvelous unity projected? They met together in Melchizedek, "priest of the Most High God."
In a sense, Melchizedek's greatness is measured by Abraham! The greatness of Abraham is defined by his faith, not his works. That cause him to excel before God, even being called "the friend of God" (James 2:23). In our text, the greatness of Melchizedek is not defined by who he was, but by who honored him. "Even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils" to Melchizedek. Such a presentation required a great man, indeed. It is more than interesting that tithing is mentioned before the giving of the Law. Nor, indeed, is Abraham the only one that gave tithes. Before the Law, and with no known command to do so, the patriarch Jacob said to God, "Of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee" (Gen 28:22). In both cases, faith and insight prompted the action, not Law. The Holy Spirit apparently saw no need for an elaborate explanation of these events. The separation of Melchizedek from the Aaronic priesthood is emphasized. "But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises" (7:6). The point is that Law is not the fountain of blessing, therefore its priests are inferior! Too, the Law could not confer a blessing upon Abraham. Not only was Abraham before the Law, he received a promise that was superior to the Law, to which the Law was "added." It is arresting to consider that in the body of the Law (Exodus 20-40), blessing is rarely mentioned (bless-Ex 20:24; 23:25; blessed-Ex 20:11; blessing-Ex 32:39).
The original Abrahamic promise (Gen 12:2-3) contains more references to blessing than the entire Exodus 20-40! It is suitable, therefore, that the High Priesthood of Christ (which is one of blessing) be introduced apart from the Law in the record of Melchizedek.
THE LESS IS BLESSED BY THE GREATER
Here is a Kingdom principle, fulfilled in Melchizedek, obscure priest and king of Salem. I must comment at length upon the greatness of this man. Here was a king of righteousness in a most unlikely place. With Sodom and Gomorrah near on the one side, and the Canaanites on the other, it was unlikely one could find someone interposing for the Living God. Remember, the whole world was under the power of the evil one, with even Abraham's father and family given over to idolatry. We have no record of any godliness, worship, or true blessing, at this time apart from Abraham and his family. How marvelous, therefore, that Melchizedek appears! He remains a priest of the Most High God, associated with both righteousness and peace. He recognized Abraham as worthy attention, feeding and blessing him. Were it not for the protection of a pure figure or type, we would no doubt have heard much more of this godly man! But God has covered his history with the cloak of Divine silence. There is not an historian in all the world that has been able to uncover more of this High Priest. The reason for his appearance in the historical record is to acquaint us with the order of Christ's High priesthood. Were it not for that, we would have heard nothing of him at all.
A word concerning the appropriateness of humility is in order here. It is enough to be associated with the Lord Jesus Christ. In this world, no further recognition is required. Melchizedek stands as a towering example of this. We know nothing of him apart from his brief confrontation of Abraham and unique priesthood. Yet, where can a serious student of Scripture be found that does not entertain the greatest respect for this man? What follower of Christ has not been desirous to know more of him? And why is this so? Is it simply because there is not much said about him? Indeed, it is not! There are multitudinous men and women in Scripture of whom precious little is known. Think of the holy men of whom very little is known.
Abel, Enoch, Seth, and Micaiah the prophet, to name but a few of antiquity. Paul also mentions godly men and women of whom we know very little. Phebe, Andronicus and Junia, Amplias, Urbane, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas . . . etc. And what do we know of these people? Why are they included in the sacred record without biography, listing of accomplishments, or association with mighty works? THEIR IDENTITY WITH JESUS AND HIS PEOPLE MADE THEM GREAT! Oh, what a lesson is to be learned from this!
If you are tempted to seek the accolades of men, run swiftly to our text and ponder Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God! Consider how great this man was! Ponder how he maintained relation to God in a wicked environment. Consider how alert he was in meeting Abraham, feeding, and blessing him! It was enough that he be known only as an appointed predecessor of Jesus Christ!
Little wonder Melchizedek could bless Abraham, who was singular for greatness himself--yet inferior to Melchizedek. It is a great person indeed that is capable of blessing Abraham! The point being made by the Holy Spirit is that Jesus is not merely that Jesus is greater than us, but that He will surely bless those that come to him. If Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek when met by him, what will be the lot of those who willingly confront the Lord Jesus? Hear it from the Word of God! "Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities" (Acts 3:26). When an individual recognizes their smallness and insignificance in the presence if the Lord Jesus, they are about to be blessed!
LEVI PAID TITHES IN ABRAHAM
Here is another marvelous principle of Scripture. The Spirit, recognizing the comparison some will make with the Levitical priesthood, further comments on the greatness of Melchizedek. Ordinarily, progression is seen in individuals ordained of God. Here, however, this is not the case. The Levitical priesthood was inferior to that of Melchizedek, even though it came later in time. Ordinarily, that should have made it better, but we are dealing with something different here. Melchizedek was a priest of another order, not belonging to that of the Aaronic and Levitical priesthood. Just as the "better covenant" came before the law (Gal 3:8), so the better High Priesthood came before that ordained under the Law. This speaks to us loudly of Divine intent. From the very first, the purpose of God was to bless the world through His Son.
I want to emphasize this point because of some flawed theology that continues to plague believers. The present ministry of Jesus is a ministry determined before the foundation of the world. It is THE ministry of Jesus for men in this world, and will continue until the world passes away. Real Gaps for a Real Purpose This better priesthood, prefigured by Melchizedek, was vacant from that shadowy figure until Jesus.
There are at least three other examples of this type of Divine working: i.e., something introduced hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years before it was to be fulfilled. Divine intentions were announced and prefigured long before they came in order to introduce men to the coming blessing, and induce hope in the heart! First, in the Garden of Eden, God announced the "Seed" of the woman would deliver a mortal bruise to the "old serpent" (Gen 3:15). Although Eve had several children, including righteous Abel, the promised Offspring did not come for nearly 4,000 years.
Second, the "Seed" of Abraham was prefigured in Isaac, but fulfilled in Christ (Gal 3:16,29). Isaac was Abraham's immediate offspring, but the real Offspring did not come for 2,070 years. First, the introduction of a "promised offspring," then the reality!
Third, God promised David a king would reign on his throne--a king that would come from his own loins. As it is written, " . . . God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, He would raise up Christ to sit on his throne" (Acts 2:30). Although it appeared Solomon was the child of promise, the real Offspring did not appear until over 1,040 years later.
In every case, the greatness of the type was owing to its fulfillment in Christ Jesus. Abel, in offeringa more acceptable sacrifice, was a type of Christ. Isaac, in being a child of promise, was a type of Christ. Melchizedek, as a king-priest, was a type of Christ. Solomon in all of wisdom and glory was a type of Christ.
It is consistently the antitype that made the type great! Remove Jesus from the picture, and all of the prefigurements are reduced to nothing. God has bent history around the coming of His Son. Divine dealings before Messiah were in preparation for Him. All contemporary and future blessing is because of Him.
Tithing, An Acknowledgment of Greatness
Under THE Levitical Priesthood, tithing was not necessarily a recognition of greatness. It was the provision of God for the Levites, who received no inheritance in the land (Num 18:20-21). However, the priests themselves were to give a "tithe of the tithe" to the Lord, honoring Him therein (Num 18:26-28). It was this latter action that was prefigured in Abraham giving tithes of all his bounty to Melchizedek. It was an acknowledgment of the priests perceived greatness!
Although there is not a word in Scripture about tithing being abrogated, many have taken the position that because it is not enforced upon God's people, therefore it is no longer in place. This position is taken even though tithing antedated the giving of the Law by approximately 600 years. Stating the principle being established, our text says, "Here tithes are received by mortal men; there, by one of whom it is testified that he lives" (7:8, RSV). Traditionally, it is taught that Melchizedek is the "one of whom it is testified that he lives." "Mortal men" are perceived as the Levitical priesthood. If this is, indeed, the case, "here" refers to in the case of Levi receiving tithes. "There," on the other hand, would refer to the record of Melchizedek.
Another view is that "here" refers to the administration of the Law, while "there" refers to prior to the law. My persuasion is that this is a statement of principle. It is fulfilled at three levels. First, in the Levites receiving tithes. Second, in Melchizedek receiving. Third, in the Lord Jesus Christ, God's present High Priest, receiving them. It iswitnessed, or testified, later in this chapter that the Son of God lives (Heb 7:25).
Melchizedek is made to be like Christ by withholding information concerning his birth and death: i.e., "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" (7:3, NASB). This is another way of saying the only reason for him being in the Divine record is as a type of the Lord Jesus. He was not, however, immortal. One word concerning the position that tithing is never commanded under the New Covenant. The statement is made, "No believers are ever told to tithe." This is true, but it is not as decisive an argument as it may appear. First, with tithing being introduced prior to the Law, it is not necessarily abrogated with the Law. Second, it is first mentioned in association with honor, not with obedience to a commandment.
Third, is was commended by Jesus Himself (Matt 23:23). It is possible that this is a principle recognized in all ages by people of faith. It does not set limits, but defines a way of honoring our High Priest. As a point of principle, believers are not commanded to "worship God" either. It is something that is assumed in the New Covenant. There is no need for the people of God to denigrate the practice of tithing.
One Represents The Others
Again, we have a principle introduced to us that is to be understood: one person being represented by the actions of another. The text states, "And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchizedek met him" (7:9-10). In this case, Abraham stands for his progeny. What he did is also credited to them. This argument does two things. First, it uproots any notions of the Levitical priesthood being superior or still in existence. If Levi paid tithes to the type of Christ, now that Christ is exalted, that priesthood defers to His. Second, the idea of a representative is enforced in our thinking--something essential to a proper understanding of justification and the New Covenant.
Remember, the promises were made to "Abraham and his Seed . . . which Seed is Christ" (Gal 3:16). Crist, in this case, is the representative of all the justified ones. As it is written, "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal 3:29, NIV). Other statements declaring this principle follow. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor 15:22). "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned" (Rom 5:12). "The many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!" (Rom 5:15, NIV). "For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ" (Rom 5:17). "For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous" (Rom 5:19, NIV). "For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died" (2 Cor 5:14). The perception of this Kingdom principle brings home the power of this text. THE ENTIRE OLD COVENANT SYSTEM HONORED THE SUPERIOR PRIESTHOOD OF JESUS THROUGH ABRAHAM. For people to seek Divine approval, therefore, through the old order is completely unacceptable. God has build into Divine history the acknowledgment of the superiority of His Son!
The argument is strong, and we are obliged to consider it at length. "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, NASB). Remember, the whole point of valid religion is to bring men into an adequate relationship with God. The Levitical order could not do this! It was remarkably disciplined, and provided for a variety of activities at precise times. There were sacrifice, service, cleansing, and prayer but none of these activities brought men closer to God. None of them produced a cleansed conscience, a hatred for sin, or a love for righteousness. The very mention of a new priesthood in Psalms 110:4 ("Thou art a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek") proclaimed the inferiority of the Old Covenant with its attendant priesthood. It was to be superceded because it was ineffective to fulfill God's ultimate purpose.
In this verse, an insight is introduced that is not, to my knowledge, found elsewhere--at least not with this exactness. The whole Law, with all of its attending ordinances, rested upon the priesthood. Its effectiveness, however measured, was found in the ministry of the High Priest. Notice the statement, "for on the basis of it (the Levitical priesthood) the law was given to the people." The issue here is "perfection," not routine or the fulfillment of a procedure. This is the perfection of conscience--cleansing from sin, if you please. A dedicated priesthood, with precise procedures, and the blessing of God, could not make the people new! With all of their exacting qualifications (Lev 21:17-24), the priests of the Old Covenant could not bring the people one cubit closer to God. Their hearts remained unchanged, their consciences remained defiled, and their steps remained wayward. The people, mind you, received the Law through the priesthood, but it did not effect a change within them! If it had resulted in the renewal of the people, there never would have been a mention of another order of priests. The mention of the new order confirmed the need.
THE PRIESTHOOD HAS BEEN CHANGED
Remember, the High Priesthood of Christ does not conform to the Law. It is absolutely superior to the elaborate and prolonged Levitical priesthood. Because of the sound basis of Christ's vicarious atonement, the priesthood has now been changed--the priesthood through which the people receive the law. Normally, we think of the priesthood being under the Law. But the Spirit here presents the Law as dependent upon the priesthood. See the truth, child of God! See the truth! What we needed was not another code, but another Priest! A set of laws was not our deficiency, but priests that were infirm! If the priesthood could not be changed, the people could not be changed, for they received the Law from the priests. The priests offered sacrifices for them, ministered in the tabernacle for them, sprinkled the blood for them, spoke to God for them . . . etc.
The priests came from precise lineage, were not distracted with an inheritance in the land, and devoted themselves completely to carrying out Divinely prescribed procedures. If pedigree, precision, or methodology could meet the needs of the people, they would be met in the Levitical priesthood! It is not possible to be involved in a more exacting set of procedures or regimen of life! Yet, the priesthood had to be changed! The purpose of God was introduced by the Levitical priesthood, but it could not be accomplished through that means.
"For the priesthood being changed . . . " In the Divine economy, change is always for the better-- ALWAYS! It is not so in the kingdoms of men. A "saint of the Lord" like Aaron can have children that are guilty of the sin of presumption, incurring the wrath of the Almighty (Lev 10:1-2). A godly man like Eli can have children that are "sons of Belial" (Judges 19:22). A righteous king like Hezekiah can be followed by a wicked son, unparalleled for spiritual debauchery (2 Kgs 21:1-17). Godly elders can be succeeded by men "speaking perverse things," drawing men after themselves for personal gain (Acts 20:30). In the world, deterioration is normal, but it is not so in the "Kingdom of God's dear Son." The priesthood was changed for the better. The change produced better results . . . acceptable results . . . God-honoring results!
The priesthood was changed not only in order, but in Person. A different kind of priesthood required a different kind of person! Now, with a new priestly order, you could not have Aaron or his descendants as high priests. Priests from the old order could not occupy positions in the changed priesthood. Too, the Lord Jesus as new High priest could not fulfill His role within the old priesthood. Both the order and the priest had to be changed! There are parallels between the old and new priesthood, but the new is always better, and the old is always inferior.
THE LAW IS ALSO CHANGED
It is important to remember God is, in Christ, fulfilling the good pleasure of His will. That involves the justification of the people in this world, and their glorification in the world to come. This could not be accomplished through the Law itself, or the priesthood through which it was effected to the people. A total change was needed: one that involved both the priesthood and the Law ministered by it. The people would have remained unchanged if God had simply given a new Law to Aaron and the priests. That priesthood was not adapted to handle the New Covenant. Speaking of the incompatibility of the new with old, Jesus said, "But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do men put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out, and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved" (Matt 9:16-17). If we have an old Law, the priesthood will not be effective. If we have an old priesthood, the Law will not be effective. Therefore, because the priesthood was changed, it was necessary to change the Law also.
This truth is taught throughout the Apostolic writings; i.e., the inauguration of the New Covenant, or approach to God (Rom 4; 8; 2 Cor 3; Heb 8, 10, etc). Here the change is associated with the High Priesthood of Christ. He was the reason for the change. Just as the Israelites received the administration of the Law through the Levitical priesthood, so we receive the administration of the New Covenant through the Lord Jesus Christ, our great High Priest! We no longer come to God through "the law of commandments contained in ordinances." The approach now is according to "the law of faith" (Rom 3:27), which relates us to our effective High Priest. The principle of approach has been changed! The means of approval has been changed! It has been changed because the priesthood has been changed. God has given the Son the responsibility of bringing us to Himself (Heb 2:10; 1 Pet 3:18)! He will not bring us to God through a code, because a code cannot change us, and only a willing people can be brought!
The Law has also been "changed" in its location. It is no longer a code written upon stones, but a laws written upon the heart. How precious the truth! "I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts" (Heb 8:10). "I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them" (Heb 10:16). From the standpoint of our text, this is a different law--a different rule. This is the law of the new creation! As it is written, "For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God" (Gal 6:15-16). Here the NATURE of those within the covenant is changed. By putting the laws into the minds of the people and writing them into their hearts, they themselves become new. They are thereby brought into agreement with God and made willing in the day of His power. This is the truth conveyed in these marvelous words, "Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor 5:17).
This change has not been accomplished through human initiative, but by the great High Priest! Just as the Israelites received their law through the priests, so we have received the new covenant through our High Priest. He has written the law upon our hearts and put it into our minds! He has changed us! This is the meaning of 2 Corinthians 4:6. "For it is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 4:6, NRSV).
In the Law men found "the embodiment of knowledge and truth" (Rom 2:20). This was external to them, and therefore brought about their condemnation because of its contrariety to them. Those the continue to insist upon a relationship to God by the keeping of laws do well to consider this. The phrase "the knowledge of the glory of God" (2 Cor 4:6) depicts something superior to what was conveyed in the Law. It is the new law that is ministered through the Lord Jesus Christ, our great High Priest. It effects the transformation of men, required in order for them to be received by God. The shining of light into our hearts parallels the writing of the law of God upon them. It primarily consists of an illumination of God Himself, and is not limited to our obligation. This is the new birth from the subjective point of view. The Law dealt only with types and shadows, and, in short, accommodated itself to the limited capacity of ignorant people. It does not rise higher than to puerile elements, or the "rudiments of the world" (Col 2:8,20). You can imagine the difficulties involved in imposing a law upon the people. Thank God, a change of the law has taken place in Christ Jesus. That law, because it was subordinate to the ancient priesthood, was abolished when the priesthood was abolished. And Christ, being made an High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, became the teacher and interpreter of the new covenant. This new Law, administered by our High Priest, is also called "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus," and frees us from the "law of sin and death" (Rom 8:2). Because of this, sin no longer has dominion over us. As it is written, "For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace" (Rom 6:14).
ANOTHER PRIEST HAS RISEN!
The Spirit now reasons with us. He has declared that because the priesthood has changed, a change in the law has also occurred. This is to our advantage, and we are to take hope when we hear the message. Think of the Lord Jesus Christ. It ought to be evident to us that His priesthood is of another order. He did not come from the priestly tribe. His ancestry, according to the flesh, did not qualify Him to be a high priest under the Old Covenant. Thus it is written, "He of whom these things are said (the Lord Jesus) belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests" (v 13-14, NIV). The Old Covenant, in any sense, could not continue, then, under the administration of Jesus Christ. He was not qualified to be a high priest in that order.
The implications of this text are unusually strong. Those that represent Jesus as a lawgiver and mediator like Moses do greatly err. They are guilt of a most serious misrepresentation. Too, teachers that delude men into believing they can come to God upon the basis of procedure or works have, by their very teaching, ruled out the necessity of Jesus. Their message demands Moses and Aaron, not Jesus. Although I realize a lot of the teaching on this subject is flowing from the well of ignorance, it is nevertheless destructive. It bludgeons believers, pushing hope to the periphery, and making faith a secondary matter. Jesus will have no part of such a system. Coming from the tribe of Judah, He cannot mediate such an order. Now the Spirit leaps to the obvious conclusion. The presence of the Lord Jesus at the right hand of God is proof enough that all that has been said is true. "And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared: 'You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek'" (v 15-17). The priests of old "were prevented by death from continuing in office" (Heb 7:23, NRSV). You could not expect eternal consequences from their ministry. If the people received the Law through the priesthood as is declared, and if the priests died as they did, then nothing eternal could be expected from the Law. Eternal life could not be granted through that means, because the ministers of the covenant were themselves mortals. But what a glorious situation now exists! He is our High Priest by virtue of His Person, not "on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry."
This is one of the primary reasons we do not know Him "after (or according to) the flesh" (2 Cor 5:16). He is our High Priest "on the basis of an indestructible life." And why so? Because "eternal salvation" requires that kind of High Priest! Temporal interpositions cannot eventuate in eternal life! Regulations cannot produce an endless life. Suppressing sin cannot cause spiritual life to spring forth! A new law must be given to us--the "law of the Spirit life in Christ Jesus." However, this cannot happen unless there is "another" High Priest--one that is after the order of Melchizedek! As long as the priesthood remains the same, so will the law. But if the priesthood is changed, a new day will dawn! A new law will be written upon out hearts. It will be harmonious with the old law, but will go much further, and be effective where the Law failed.
This is why Jesus is preached! His exaltation to the right hand of God proves a change in the law has taken place. If He is God's Spokesman, we are in a new era--one in which freedom from sin and condemnation can be experienced. How the knowledge of this builds confidence in the heart! It makes us "free from the law of sin and death," bringing us into a place of joyful acceptance. Another High Priest has arisen! Therefore, hope has blossomed as a flower, and condemnation has withered as the grass of the field. Rejoice, child of God! Rejoice!
The clash of teaching like this with much of contemporary theology and preaching is evident. Thoseenamored of the institution see little relevance to Christ's High Priesthood. However, from this text, it is apparent this is a very large and essential doctrine. I will wax bold and say, the closer you draw to the Lord, the more significant this teaching will become. What Jesus is doing NOW confirms where we ARE now. It confirms the change in priesthood, and consequent change in Law. Permit me to remind you of the types and shadows of Christ throughout the Law and the Prophets. They declare the uniqueness of Christ's ministry and the glory of the New Covenant. What we have in Jesus is superior to all that was before Him, and is to be valued as such. Do not hesitate to fully embrace it!