Arnold G Fruchtenbaum
There is recognition on the part of believers that the Messiah has three offices: Prophet, Priest and king. While many passages in the New Testament do develop both the prophetic office and the kingship of Yeshua, only one book elaborates in any way on the priesthood of The Messiah, and that is the Book of Hebrews.
This epistle deals with the priesthood extensively in Hebrews 4:14-10:18. the author has already made two previous comparisons showing; that the Messiah is superior to angels (1:1-2:18) and to Moses (3:1-4:13). Now he deals extensively with the superiority of the Messiah to Aaron and the Levitical Priesthood. He has mentioned the priesthood twice before (2:17-3:1), but only now does he deal with it at length.
The author of Hebrews wishes to show that Yeshua is a superior priest to Aaron and he shows this in five ways. First, Yeshua has a better position (4-: 14-16) in that he functions in heaven and not on earth. Secondly, he is a better priest (5:1-7:28), in that He is a priest after the Order of Melchizedek and not after the Order of Aaron. Thirdly, He functions under a better covenant (8:1-13) in that His priesthood is based upon the New Covenant, which is unconditional and eternal, whereas the levitical system was based on the Mosaic Covenant which was both conditional and temporary. Fourthly, our Messiah ministers in a better Tabernacle (9:1-10) in that He ministers in the heavenly Tabernacle, which is the original, and not the earthly Tabernacle, which was only a copy. Fifthly, He offers a better sacrifice (9:11-10:18) in that His sacrifice was that of innocent human blood and not animal blood.
The focus of this paper is on the second comparison, that of being a better priest, and especially chapter seven, that focuses on the Melchizedekian Order and this will be our focus in this article.
In the Old Testament, Melchizedek appears in only two passages: Genesis 14-:18-20 and Psalm 110:4-. Using these two passages, the author tries to show the characteristics of Melchizedek and the comparison is made between Yeshua and the very limited revelation about Melchizedek in the Old Testament. He suddenly appears on the scene and, within three verses, disappears from the scene. Based upon this limited revelation concerning Melchizedek, the comparison is made. In fact, the author views the very limited portrait as an opportunity to show that the resemblance is extensive. The specific area the writer is concerned about is the manner of the appearance of Melchizedek in the priesthood, and not the manner or nature of his birth or life.
1. The Origin of Melchizedek – Hebrews 7:1-13
Here the author points out six specific similarities between Melchizedek and Jesus the Messiah. The first similarity (7:1 a) is that Melchizedek was a priest-king. As king, he was the king of Salem, which is a shortened form for the name, Jerusalem (Psalm 76:2). In fact, the last part of his name, zedek, was a Jebusite dynastic name (Joshua 10:1). Furthermore, he was also a priest, being the priest of God Most High. This shows the existence of other believers and worshippers of the One True God besides Abraham. As king and priest, his rule was characterized in two ways: he ruled in righteousness; and, he ruled in peace. The same points are made of Messiah’s future rule in the Messianic Kingdom in Isaiah 9:6-7.
The second similarity (7:lb) is that his priesthood issue in blessing in that Melchizedek blessed Abraham.
The third similarity (7:2) is that Melchizedek received tithes. The giving of tithes was a recognition of superiority and so when Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, he recognized the superiority of Melchizedek. At this point, the author makes the point that the meaning of the name, Melchizedek, is “king of righteousness.” Furthermore, the meaning of his office, king of Salem, means “king of peace.”
The fourth similarity (7:3a) is that he was an independent High Priest. It was individual and not based upon genealogy and, therefore, there is no mention of any father, mother or genealogy. This does not mean that Melchizedek did not have a father or mother or genealogy, it only means that it is not recorded because ancestry was not important in establishing his claim to priesthood. The appointment to the Melchizedekian Order was independent of human relations. Yet the lack of a genealogy would have disqualified anyone from the Levitical Order (Numbers 16-17; Ezra 2:61-63; Nehemiah 7:63-65).
The fifth similarity (7:3b) is that it was timeless in the sense that there is no mention of the beginning or the end of the Melchizedekian Priesthood. Yet the Bible records the definite beginning of the Levitical Priesthood, as well as its definite end. Yet Melchizedek was never succeeded by another in his office and, in that sense, the author says he was “made like unto the Son of God.” Again, the comparison is based on the limited revelation concerning Melchizedek. As far as the biblical record is concerned, his priesthood was timeless. So, again, as far as the biblical record is concerned, Melchizedek abides as a priest continually, while the Levitical priest could only serve from the ages of 25 to 50 (Numbers 8:24-25).
The sixth similarity (7:3c) is that it was all inclusive in that he ministered to all. The Melchizedekian Priesthood was universal in nature and not nationalistic. The Levitical Priesthood, on the other hand, only ministered to and for Israel.
The author concludes (7:3d) that Melchizedek was “made like unto the Son of God.” A question frequently raised is whether Melchizedek was a theophany or Christophany, that is, an appearance of the preincarnate Christ. However, the answer would have to be negative. The Greek text does not use an adjective as if Melchizedek was like the Son of God in being or essence, but uses a participle emphasizing in likeness of the biblical statement. One should note that the text does not say he was the Son of God, but simply was made “like” the Son of God. This emphasizes that Melchizedek was certainly a type of the Messiah, but not the preincarnate Messiah himself. Furthermore, Hebrews 5:1, listing some of the prerequisites for priesthood, mentions that a priest has to be human. The second person did not become human until the incarnation and until the incarnation he simply was not qualified to be a priest.
Since Melchizedek was clearly said to be a priest, it means he had to be human and, therefore, could not be a theophany. Another point to remember is that he was the king of the city-state of Jerusalem, requiring a position of authority and a permanent residence. Theophanies did not have a position and were always of short duration. Theophanies made their appearance, presented the revelation necessary, and then disappeared. They never held an earthly office and position for a long duration of time, which this would require. Finally, Psalm 110:4 distinguishes the Messiah from Melchizedek. Some have tried to make a case for a theophany by claiming the etymology of the name, “King of Righteousness,” would prove that he has to be a theophany. However, the meaning of the name does not prove anything. A later Canaanite king of Jerusalem (Joshua 10:1) had the name of Adonizedek, which means “the lord of righteousness,” yet he is obviously not a theophany and not even a believer. Again, the last part of the name, zedek, was merely a dynastic name for the Jebusite king of Jerusalem.
2. The Order of Melchizedek – Hebrews 7:4-10
This section makes a comparison between the Melchizedekian Priesthood and the Levitical Priesthood. The point the author wants to make is that the priesthood of Yeshua is after the Order of Melchizedek, which is superior to that of Aaron. Here, the author shows five areas of superiority.
The first superiority (7:4-5) is that Melchizedek accepted tithes from Abraham. This shows the positional dignity of Melchizedek (7:4). Abraham paid tithes and Abraham paid the best tithes from the spoils of war (not income). The author refers to Abraham as a “patriarch,” emphasizing the dignity of Abraham and yet the high dignity of a patriarch did not exempt him from recognizing the superiority of the priesthood of Melchizedek and, therefore, paid tithes. The author then goes on to prove the superiority of Melchizedek (7:5) by showing that while the Levitical Priesthood received tithes from their fellow brethren, the other eleven tribes, Melchizedek received tithes from their father, Abraham. While there was a national connection between the Tribe of Levi and the other tribes, Melchizedek had no national connection with Abraham and the Levites did have a national connection with Abraham.
The second superiority (7:6-7) is in the fact of blessing. The author reminds us that Melchizedek blessed Abraham (7:6) and that is in spite of the fact that his genealogy is not from them, that he had no biological connection with the Levites. He received tithes from Abraham and it was Melchizedek who blessed Abraham, the one who had the covenant promises. The author concludes that the blessor is superior to the one being blessed (7:7). The fact that Melchizedek blessed Abraham shows superiority.
The third superiority (7:8) is in respect to the Levitical Priesthood, who ministered as dying men. The reception of tithes by a High Priest ended with that Priest’s death. Therefore, the Levitical Priesthood was ministered by dying men and, therefore, provision was made for succession after death. Not so with Melchizedek far whose death there is no record and, therefore, he represents the living and not the dying and, therefore, now, the Melchizedekian Order is eternal.
The fourth superiority (7:9-10) is shown in respect to Levi, the founder of the Levitical Tribe and Priesthood, paid tithes in Abraham. Levi, who received tithes, also paid them (7:9) and the means was through Abraham. Thus, the author makes a theological deduction of imputation and seminal relationship (7: 10). Of course, Levi was not living at the time that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, but he did pay them by means of imputation, for he was still in the loins of his father, Abraham, when Melchizedek met Abraham. The author views Levi paying tithes by virtue of it being reckoned to his account. The author’s point is that if the fathers were obligated to recognize the superiority of the Melchizedekian Order, so should the sons.
3. The Office of Priest – Hebrews 7:11-25
The comparison in this section is between the Levitical Priesthood with that of Yeshua the Messiah Himself. The author now explains why the Levitical Priesthood could not perfect the worshipper.
A. The Old Priesthood – Hebrews 7:11-19
1. It Was Transitory or Changeable – Hebrews 7:11-14.
The author begins this section with a contrary to fact condition stating that there was no perfection through the Levitical Priesthood. If the Jewish readers learned that Messiah has superseded the old priesthood, they could also see that the Mosaic Law has been rendered inoperative. God never intended for perfection and maturity to come through the Levitical system. Furthermore, there is an inseparable connection between the Levitical Priesthood and the Mosaic Law for, under it, the people received the law. The very fact that a prediction was made that there were no other priests to come after the Order of Melchizedek, means that the Order of Aaron was temporary.
Obviously, then, a change of the priesthood required a change of the law (7:12). Since the law did not perfect, the priesthood ministering under the law had to be done away with. But this would have required a doing away with of the law because there was this inseparable connection between the Levitical Priesthood and the Mosaic Law.
Psalm 110 spoke of a priest from David’s line (7:13), which infers that the coming priest would not be of the Levitical Order. The author makes it clear that the one of whom the prophecy spoke, Yeshua, belonged to another tribe, Judah, from which tribe no-one was allowed to function at the altar in accordance with the Mosaic Law. Furthermore, Psalm 110:4-was spoken after the Levitical system had been established for quite some time.
Therefore, the Messiah had to be a different order for there was no priest from Judah under the law (7:14).
2. It was Temporary –Hebrews 7:15-19
Here, the author makes the point that if there is to be another priest after the Order of Melchizedek, it meant the Levitical Order had to be temporary (7:15). The author here uses the Greek word heteros, which means “another of a different kind” as over against allos, which means “another of the same kind.” This usage emphasizes that he is a priest, but not after the Levitical Order.
He then makes a contrast between the old and the new (7:16). The old is based on the law and, therefore, was outward, while the new is based upon power, which is inward. A Levitical Priest was only a priest because his father was one. But the New Priest was made a priest, not after a carnal or fleshly commandment, but based upon divine appointment. Furthermore, He is a priest on the fact of the power of an endless life, since He became a priest only after His resurrection.
The author then again quotes from Psalm 110:4- (7:17) to show three things: the eternity of the new priesthood; the character of the new priesthood; and, a prophecy that was given under the law which did not allow for a priest outside the Tribe of Levi.
Earlier, the writer made the point that if there is to be another priest after the Order of Melchizedek, there would also have to be a doing away with the law. Now the author states that is exactly what has happened and the law was “disannulled” for two reasons: first, its weakness in that it could not impart strength to fulfil its demands and could not produce justification; and, secondly, its unprofitableness in that it could not restore life or bring to perfection or maturity and could not remove the effects of sin.
Since the law never brought perfection, we need to look to a new priesthood and a new priest (7:19). The law could not bring one to maturity, but could only point to one who could perfect. With the work of the Messiah there is now the bringing in of a better hope, a new High Priest, and the result of the new priest ministry is access to God through whom we draw near to God.
B. The New Priesthood – Hebrews 7:20-25
1. It is Immutable – Hebrews 7:20-22
Again using Psalm 110:4 as a base, the author now focuses on the oath found in that prophecy (7:20-al). The Levitical Priesthood was without an oath, and was based strictly on descendancy. The Melchizedekian Order was with an oath and was superior for that reason. This proved that the promise was permanent, eternal and unchangeable.
The result of all this (7:22) is that the Messiah is the guarantor, the surety, of a better covenant between God and man. One who is a guarantor assumes the responsibility that the obligation imposed will be carried out. What this means is that the New Covenant will, indeed, be fulfilled.
2. It is Uninterrupted – Hebrews 7:23-25
Again, a weakness of the Levitical system is emphasized (7:23) in that death kept a priest from continuing in the old priesthood. Therefore, there were many who functioned in that priesthood.
In contrast, Yeshua abides forever and, hence, the new priesthood remains uninterrupted, unchangeable, unalterable, permanent. Hence, in place of many, there is only one in that priesthood. The author then draws the result and the conclusion (7:25). The result of all this is that He can “save to the uttermost,” meaning, He can save forever because His priesthood is forever It means He saves completely and saves forever and, therefore, has the power of salvation. The nature of the salvation He provided is our ability to “draw near to God.” The objects of salvation are “those who draw near.” When He says, “through Him,” He states the means of coming to God and the means of salvation. By virtue of His resurrection, He now lives forever for the purpose of making intercession, and that is the reason the believer is saved to the uttermost. Because He is continuously living, there is never any interruption to His intercessory work on the part of the believer. The non-interrupted, ongoing, continuous priestly intercessory work of the Messiah results in the security of the believer’s salvation for it is He, and not we, who keeps us safe.
4. The Conclusion – Hebrews 7:26-28
In his concluding section, the author tries to teach by contrast to show what Messiah is in His priesthood.
First, the author teaches that we must have a spotless priest (7:26), and we have one in that our High Priest was and is five things. First, He is holy, meaning no personal impurity and not capable of sin, and this is what He is Godward. Secondly, He is guileless, meaning he did not practice evil and He was without evil thought. He was innocent and harmless. This is what He is manward. Thirdly, He is undefiled, meaning He was unstained and free from all defilement. He was characterized by moral purity and this was His relationship selfward. Fourthly, He is separated from sinners in has present ministry in the heavenly Holy of Holies. Fifthly, He was made higher than the heavens, which shows the means by which He has become separated from sinners in that He now functions in the third heaven.
Second, we needed a sufficient sacrifice (7:27), and we have one. Since the Messiah did not need to offer sacrifices for His own sins, He could proceed directly to offer His blood on behalf of others. His death was a priestly act, although He did not become a priest until the Ascension. The contrast is that the Levitical Priesthood was characterized by many priests with continuous daily sacrifices while now there is one High Priest who offered a sacrifice once and for all when He offered up Himself.
Finally, the author closes this part of his argument with a contrast between the weakness and the strength (7:28). The Levitical Priesthood was based upon human origins, it was under the law and, therefore, temporary, and it was weak in that priests had infirmity, including both – physical weakness and moral frailty. In the case of Yeshua, His priesthood is based upon an oath (Psalm 110:4) and, it was after the law in that the prophecy came after the law was given and it is focused on a son, showing the uniqueness of His person. It is eternally perfected. Thus, the Levitical Priesthood has been comprehensively replaced.
5. The Priesthood of all Believers
Under the Levitical system, there was one High Priest, but there were many common priests, which under King David were divided into twenty-four courses (I Chronicles 24). The same thing is true with the Order of Melchizedek. There is one High Priest (Yeshua the Messiah) and there are many common priests, and the common priesthood is comprised of all believers. The Bible, indeed, clearly teaches the priesthood of all believers. This fact is clearly taught in Revelation 1:6; 5:10; and 20:6. Furthermore, the Book of Hebrews emphasizes that the function of a priest is to offer up sacrifices. It is also a fact that Hebrews teaches that what we do not offer today are blood sacrifices. Yet, we must have something to offer. Hebrews, indeed, fills us in on that point.
Here, the key package is Hebrews 13:15-16. We are told we must offer up sacrifices both in word and in deed. Concerning the word (13:15), we are to offer up sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. The means of offering up sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving is “through him.” In fact, the very phrase “let us offer up” is Levitical terminology related to the sacrificial system. Hence, believers are viewed as being in the priestly ministry with our High Priest, the Messiah. We are to offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually and this certainly includes worshipping God for who He is and worshipping God for what He does. The writer says this is “the fruit of lips which make confession to his name,” shows that this is to be done verbally and orally, confessing that Yeshua is, indeed, the Messiah. The background here is the Old Testament thanksgiving offerings which was for favour graciously bestowed.
There is also to be a sacrifice in deed, which has to do with what we do (13:16). We are admonished not to forget to do good, which means any kindly service, but especially has to do with communicating and sharing alms for the needy. The writer tells us that with such sacrifices, God is well pleased.
Outside of Hebrews, our priestly offering also includes the offering of our bodies for God’s service (Romans 12:1) and the sacrifice of our finances for the support of the work of the Lord (I Corinthians 8-9).
(Reprinted, with minor editorial changes, from Tishrei Vol2, No 4, Summer 1994, Community)