Why Jewish priests had to go
Levites weren’t the only legit priests1Melchizedek was king of Salem and a priest of God Most High. He and Abraham met when Abraham was on his way home from defeating some kings. Melchizedek welcomed Abraham with a priestly blessing. 2Abraham responded by giving him a tenth of the booty he took from the invaders. Melchizedek’s name translated into English means “king of goodness.” He was also the king of Salem, a word that means “peace.” That makes him the “king of peace,” too. 3He resembles the Son of God. For example, as far as we know he had no beginning or ending. There’s no record of his father or mother. There’s no family history at all. What remains of him is our image of a priest who lives forever.
4This shows how great he was—the man to whom our father Abraham gave a tenth of his finest plunder from a battle. 5Jewish law says descendants of Levi, the priestly tribe of Israel, must collect a 10 percent tithe from their own people, all of whom are descendants of Abraham. 6But here we have Melchizedek—who wasn’t from the tribe of Levi—collecting tithe from Abraham. Melchizedek also blessed the man God promised to bless.
Mystery priest greater than Abraham7Everyone agrees that when one person blesses another, it’s the most important person who gives the blessing. 8In the case of Levi’s tribe, the tithe went to mere humans. But with Melchizedek, the tithe went to someone we’re told is still alive. 9We could go so far as to say Levi himself paid a tithe. He did it when his father Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek. 10After all, Levi was in his father’s body at the time, though unborn.
11If the priestly system based on Jewish law and administered by the tribe of Levi was all that perfect, why did the priesthood of Melchizedek show up? Why did we need anything more than the Levitical priesthood that started with Aaron? 12The priesthood changes. When it does, Jewish law needs to adapt to the changes.
Retired: Jewish priesthood13Let’s be clear. We’re talking about someone from a different tribe than Levi. The tribe we’re talking about doesn’t produce priests who minister at the altar. 14Our leader comes from the tribe of Judah. That’s obvious. Moses didn’t say a thing about a priest from Judah. 15People, we’ve got a new priesthood. We can see it clearly. That’s because the new priest is someone in the elite class of Melchizedek. 16This other priest didn’t get the job because he passes a physical and comes from the right tribe. He’s a priest because he didn’t stay dead. He beat death and remains indestructible.
17Here’s how he’s described,
“Forever, you are a priest in the elite class of Melchizedek.”18The old rule about who can be a priest is retired, dead, and gone. It was too weak and useless to keep any longer. 19The law Moses gave us never made anyone perfect. But now we hope for something better, something that will bring us close to God. 20This new priest is here because of a sworn oath. That’s more than we can say for Levite priests. 21The one I’m talking about became a priest on the basis of this oath:
“The Lord gives his solemn word, And he’ll never break it. ‘Forever, you are a priest.’”22Jesus guarantees us a better arrangement with God. 23The old system tallied up a huge number of priests because they kept dying. 24Jesus, however, is one permanent priest. It’s the perk of living forever. 25He’s always there, interceding for us. So, he’s always ready and able to save us. If we come to him because we want to reach God, he makes it happen. 26Jesus is just the kind of high priest we needed. He’s holy. He hasn’t done any wrong. He doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of. He’s nothing like sinners. Plus, he got promoted to a place of honor above the skies.
27Other priests have to offer sacrifices every doggone day. First for their own sins. Then for the sins of the people they represent before God. Jesus doesn’t have to do that. He made one sacrifice: himself. That’s all it took. One sacrifice for everyone, forever. 28Jewish law decides who will serve as high priests. But those men are only human. The oath that came after the Jewish law changes everything. A Son has become our perfect priest.
Possibly an early, abbreviated name for Jerusalem.
“Four kings led the invaders from distant kingdoms—King Amraphel of Shinar, King Arioch of Ellasar, King Chedorlaomer of Elam, and King Tidal of Goiim. They attacked coalition forces of the Jordan River Valley” (Genesis 14:1-2).
Some students of the Bible say Melchizedek was Jesus, in an earlier appearance on earth. That’s the minority opinion. Others explain that the writer of Hebrews was trying to help Jews see how Melchizedek is a lesser type of Jesus. The Hebrews writer will also compare Jesus favorably to other “types” in a Bible study approach called typology. The writer says Jesus is a better priest than Melchizedek, greater than Moses, and a better king than David.
Not so fast. Sperm lasts only about a month or two inside a man’s testicles. They die and are replaced. At this point in Abraham’s life, he hadn’t even fathered his first son, Ishmael. Isaac, the son from whom the Levites descended, hadn’t been born yet. And he wouldn’t be for several years. The Hebrews writer probably needs some poetic license at this point because he seems to be speaking figuratively, whether he knows it or not. Others might say he sounds like a preacher stretching his point beyond reason. In any case, Jewish people developed a high regard for the mysterious Melchizedek.
The writer seems to refer to Israel’s priests from the tribe of Levi.
The word means “covenant,” “contract,” “testament,” or “agreement.” This term helps explain why we came to refer to the Jewish Bible as the Old Testament and the Christian addon as the New Testament. The word refers to a new agreement, or contract with God.
If we had to figure out why the writer included Hebrews 7:1-6, another reference to the mysterious king-priest named Melchizedek, what do you think is one of the best clues from that section?
- “Melchizedek’s name translated into our language means ‘king of goodness.’ He’s also the king of Salem, a word that means ‘peace.’ That makes him the ‘king of peace,’ too” (7:2).
- “He had no beginning or ending” (7:3).
- “Here we have Melchizedek—who wasn’t from the tribe of Levi—collecting tithe from Abraham” (7:6).
Okay, we’ve already seen the writer of Hebrews sometimes stretches symbolism like a rubber band so he can wrap it around a big package he’s trying to deliver. Where do you think he stretches it most in 7:7-12?
After the writer says the old Jewish priesthood is “retired and dead” (7:18), he explains several reasons why Jesus is an upgrade. Which reason do you think would have resonated best with his Jewish Christian readers?
LIFE APPLICATION. This sounds like it would have been a tough chapter for readers who were not Jewish. Here, the writer is using Melchizedek as a steppingstone to introducing Jesus as a legitimate priest. “People, we’ve got a new priesthood. We can see it even more clearly when another priest comes along in the elite class of Melchizedek” (7:15). This may have resonated with Jewish Christian readers in the first century, but what should we do with it today? What does this have to do with us?