Melchizedek is a mysterious figure in the Old Testament. He pops up in the life of Abraham and then he is not mentioned until one of the Psalms some 1,000 years later. Moses gives him three verses (Gen. 14:18-20) and David only one verse (Ps. 110:4). This makes just four verses in two passages in all the 39 books of the Old Testament.
In the New Testament, Melchizedek is mentioned frequently in the book of Hebrews. There are three references to him in Hebrews 5-6 (5:6, 10-11; 6:20). Hebrews 7 explains the significance of Melchizedek in Genesis 14 and Psalm 110, giving us, perhaps, the fullest exposition of any two Old Testament passages anywhere in the New Testament. Some identify Hebrews 7 on Christ’s Melchizedekian priesthood as the heart of the epistle. We may compare Hebrews 7 with other chapters in this inspired letter. If Hebrews 5 treats the nature of Christ’s priesthood and Hebrews 9 explains the use of Christ’s priesthood, then Hebrews 7 extols the excellency of Christ’s priesthood. He is not just any mere priest: He is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 7 touches upon contemporary issues for both Gentile and Jewish Christians. First, Roman Catholicism uses the bread and wine which Melchizedek brought to Abraham (Gen. 14:18) as a proof for its mass, the chief work of its own priesthood. Second, Christian Reconstructionism seeks to reintroduce the Old Testament civil law into nations today. Third, premillennialism teaches the return of Aaronic priests and bloody sacrifices during a future, literal, thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. None of these views are supported by Hebrews 7 on Christ’s Melchizedekian priesthood.
Hebrews 7 also helps the believer better to understand the Old Testament, the larger of the two testaments which constitute God’s written Word to us. This chapter also reveals to us the glory of Christ’s priesthood: a unique, untransferable, everlasting priesthood, a priesthood after the order of Melchizedek. Understanding and believing in Christ’s glorious Melchizedekian priesthood serves the edification and comfort of the child of God. “For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God” (19).
Unbelieving first-century Judaism had a host of objections to Jesus Christ. You see this time and time again in the four gospel accounts. The Jews (wrongly) criticized the Lord for fellowshipping with sinners, breaking the Sabbath, blaspheming by claiming to be the Son of God, etc. In the pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we read of Christ’s battles with the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes who tried to trip Him up.
Attacks on Christ and His kingdom continued after His ascension into heaven. Just read of the persecution of the church in Acts. The New Testament epistles also speak of this struggle. Of all the 27 New Testament books, Hebrews especially addresses the biblical and theological objections of unbelieving Jews to the Christian faith.
The background to Hebrews 7 involves a Jewish attack, specifically on Christ’s office as priest: “You Christians say that Jesus died on the cross as a sacrifice for sin and that forgiveness comes only through His shed blood. But I don’t see that the Messiah spoken of in the law and the prophets is to be a priest. Find me a passage in Moses or the prophets which speaks of the coming deliverer as a priest!”
The Jews argued that their sacrifices were offered by priests who descended from the house of Aaron and the tribe of Levi. All this was according to God’s Word, from Exodus to Deuteronomy and throughout the Scriptures. Their priesthood was hoary with antiquity, and God preserved it for some 1,500 years before Jesus came along. The Jews boasted in their glorious temple in which God dwelt, an imposing edifice with huge stones, an impressive courtyard and a divinely appointed altar. The priests and high priests were clothed with beautiful garments and they officiated at wonderful feasts and religious ceremonies. You can hear the siren call to Jewish Christians from their unbelieving kinsmen: “Return to the old paths, God’s ancient ways, revealed to our fathers! Leave this newfangled cult of Jesus with its plain and barren worship!” Many did just that and others were tempted to apostatize, including those to whom Hebrews was first written.
The Jews had another argument, based on God’s words to Aaron in Numbers 18:7: “Therefore thou and thy sons with thee shall keep your priest’s office for every thing of the altar, and within the vail; and ye shall serve: I have given your priest’s office unto you as a service of gift: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.” “Don’t you Christians claim that Jesus descended from David, so He is of the tribe of Judah (cf. Heb. 7:14)? But one of the line of Judah cannot be a priest according to God’s law, and he who attempts it ‘shall be put to death’ (Num. 18:7)!”
How would you respond? Remember that I Peter 3:15 states that we must “be ready always to give an answer” for our hope, including to unbelieving Jews. In Christian history, from the Dialogue With Trypho by Justin Martyr in the second century and through two millennia, Jews and Christians have been debating such issues. This is difficult work since, “when Moses is read,” the Jews have a veil “upon their heart” (II Cor. 3:15). But by His grace, the Triune God has converted Jews, such as Alfred Edersheim, throughout the New Testament era. Jehovah brings them to trust in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our “priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4)!
For more on Melchizedek and the Lord Jesus, listen to “Christ’s Priestly Office” (Belgic Confession Class, vol. X: Articles 20-21a), 6 Christian doctrine classes on 6 CDs in an attractive box set: (1) God Hath Manifested His Justice and Mercy in Christ, (2) Christ’s Threefold Office, (3) Introducing Christ’s Melchizedekian Priesthood, (4) Christ’s Melchizedekian Priesthood, (5) Christ’s Melchizedekian Priesthood and Time, and (6) Christ’s Priesthood Outside Hebrews. Cost £8 (inc. P&P, plus 1 class handout).
- Volume: 14
- Issue: 22
Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)
Ordained - 2001
Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001Website: www.cprf.co.uk/
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