By Blake E. Jones
HEBREWS CHAPTER VII
The study of Melchisedec has certainly raised a host of questions, and intrigued scholars. Most likely it has baffled many a casual reader and left some of these verses as merely words to be hurried over. The basic meaning, however, is not as obscure as it may seem on the surface. In fact, the gist of chapter seven is really a heart warming message that is freighted with devotion and worship. May the Lord bless it to our hearts and intellects.
I. Melchisedec, The Man (7:1-3)
No doubt, the age old question is, "Who was this obscure man of the Old Testament named Melchisedec?" Many and varied answers have been given through history with no certain conclusion. Some have suggested that he was God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit in human form. Enoch is another name given to answer this question. Luther agreed with still others that probably Melchisedec was Shem, the son of Noah. The latter conjecture is based on Shem's longevity that allowed for his life to overlap the life of Abraham by 150 years. Though such a consideration bears interest and possibility, it seems inconclusive to me from the following standpoint. Verse three has clearly defined Melchisedec's lack of known parentage, birth, length of life and posterity. Since none of these particulars was known, at least to the mainstream of Jewish thought, and certainly not to the writer of Hebrews, it seems dubious to me that Melchisedec could actually be Shem. It is strange, indeed, that Jewish tradition and thought would not have perpetuated the fact if Shem were actually the case in point.
At any rate, there are some facts that we do know from the Scriptures, even though there are very few references to this great man. The name 'Melchisedec' means 'king of righteousness' and certainly is a gracious title. It would seem to imply someone of high character, noble actions and equitable dealings. Another title given to this man is 'King of Salem'. Probably this is referring to Jerusalem. Thus, we see a king of the City of Peace who is honourable and righteous. To this high position of king, we must also add that of the office of priest. It must be remembered that this is a pre-Levitical setting and the aged father was the priest of his family. Those who believe this to be Shem, feel that he filled this role because of his great age and patriarchal standing.
The sole appearance the Scriptures share of Melchisedec is found in Genesis chapter 14, when, after a successful battle, Abraham is met by him. This King of Salem brought bread and wine to Abraham and, very likely, sufficient for those in his care. Here Melchisedec pronounces a blessing, saying, "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" (Gen. 14:19&20). Following this blessing, it is recorded that Abram gave tithes of all to Priest Melchisedec.
In so short a perusal of facts, we have exhausted the scriptural record of this man. It is left to us now to discover the import of the Melchisedecian order.
II. The High Order of Melchisedec (7:4-10)
Prerequisite to the inspired writer's doctrinal treatise of the high order of Melchisedec, there must be a keen awareness of current Jewish appreciation for the Levitical order of priests. As twentieth century Gentiles, our grasp of Jewish feeling and intensity is, no doubt, stunted and limited at its best. Imagine the reverence that a Levitical priest would receive of his fellow man. Attempt to grasp the awe with which one would acknowledge the High Priest who had stepped into the very Holy of Holies one who has stood in God's immediate presence and Shekinah glory. Veneration and wistful longing must have filled the being of many Jews, as they thought of the awesome privileges of those who were descendants of Aaron. These were the ones to whom tithes were paid. They were the Levitical order of priests, an order of no average, or common, calibre.
To this nationwide respect for the priesthood, we must couple a fanatical attachment to the Father of Judaism. "We be the children of Abraham" is the chant of Jewish zealots. It was a time when it seemed that true worship of God had been replaced with a vehement partisan spirit and a radical claim on national roots. No doubt, we have all seen instances when an individual's love for God has become a thing of the past; and in their effort to cover up their loss and fill the void, they have become rabid adherents or proponents of some special contrivance, issue or attack campaign. Perhaps this brings us closer to the once God-centered, now humanistic, zeal of Jewish passion. In this heat of nationalistic fervour, Abraham and the Levitical Priesthood rise as blazing suns.
The writer to the Hebrews moves into verse four with a clear and unmistakable declaration of an ordination that supersedes that of their highest heroes. The arguments are gracious, yet very lucid.
First, we are shown Abraham's acknowledgement of Melchisedec's greatness when he paid tithes to him. In fact, the interesting observation is made that, "Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him" (v. 9&10). The unborn descendants paid, through Abraham's action, to one greater than themselves. Clearly then, Melchisedec didn't come from their descent, that being the Aaronic or Levitical line. He was higher in rank.
The second argument is grounded on a simple maxim, "The less is blessed of the better".
(v.7) Melchisedec blessed Abraham, their "Father", and thus was pre-eminent over him and his posterity. Argument number three points out that Levitical priests die and are replaced. Theirs is but a temporal or passing order. However, the Scriptures are silent in regard to Melchisedec's death and the passing of his office to another. In that sense, "he liveth" and "abideth a priest continually".
What an impact this must have had on Hebrew thinking. There is an order of priests that far surpasses their revered patriarch and priestly system. In comparison, theirs is a claim on the elementary.
III. The Need of Another Priest of the Order of Melchisedec (7:11)
The crying lack of the Levitical priesthood has been plainly declared. It has not brought perfection or the completing of the purpose of God for mankind. It was unable to bring about the spiritual goal that God intended for His creation called humanity. The purpose or intention of the divine arrangement is "charity out of a pure heart" (I Tim. 1:5). This the law could not effect for "law cannot secure character", writes J. Gregroy Mantle. "It cannot give willing hearts and devoted service."1 Adam Clarke continues this thought when he says, "This perfection never came, and never could come, by the Levitical law; it was the shadow of good things to come, but was not the substance. It represented a perfect system, but was imperfect in itself."2
Oh, for the substance of a real remedy and not just the empty pill bottle waiting to be filled. Charles Carter writes, "Sin separates man from the Holy God. Only by the removal of sin can man be restored to fellowship with God in His holiness. The prime purpose of the priesthood was to bring man near to God and keep him there. This could only be accomplished through an adequate remedy for sin that would enable man to maintain a constant and unobstructed fellowship with God."3
The law was so deficient. It was administered by priests who needed to offer sacrifices for their own sins before attempting to be a go-between for the people. The sacrifices that they offered were absolutely powerless to perform any spiritual service since it was "not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins." (10:4) What was offered was a grasp by faith on a better priest and a better sacrifice that had intrinsic power and merit; One who would come under the auspices of a higher order.
Chapter six concluded with the trumpeting proclamation that our Christ belongs to the highest order of all priestly systems, that being the order of Melchisedec. Verses 1-11 of chapter seven have established the superiority of this priestly line and the need for another priest to come belonging to this highest of orders. How our hearts should warm to the glorious message that the following verses unfold. Happily, a Priest of the higher order has come and fulfilled all that the law and its system lacked.
In the following verses, we will see the unfolding of Christ's credentials to stand as the High Priest of the Melchisedecian Order. "Withal Christ stands incomparably superior to Abraham and Judaism by reason of the fact that His High Priesthood is the reality of which Melchisedec's was but the shadow cast upon earth for a little time in advance of Christ's appearance among men as the God-man --and as man's eternal High Priest."4 So states Charles Carter.
I. The Credential of Non-Levitical Roots (7:12-14)
As backward as it may sound, having proof of belonging to the tribe of Levi is a detriment, not a plus, when reviewing credentials for priesthood in the line of Melchisedec. To claim lineage back to Aaron would place one under the line of lesser priests, an inferior system and an imperfect law. Though to these Hebrews such a proof of heritage would rank extremely high and prestigious, in this discussion the point is that a Priest has come of a much higher rank and order a rank and order that is definitely not Levitcal.
Jesus Christ, by virtue of belonging to the tribe of Judah according to His earthly parentage, holds claim to a priesthood that is not related to the regular Old Testament order. If He were of the tribe of Levi, it could be argued that He was merely an ordinary priest, as were the many others who had served in Judaistic worship. Thus, though this is no proof of Christ's lofty priestly role in the highest of orders, it does become a complimentary ingredient.
II. The Credential of an Endless Life (7:15-17)
"Though the rocks may crumble into dust; the stars smolder into cinders; the sun burn itself to ashes; the moon clot and curdle as blood; oceans weep themselves into deserts; mountains, heavy with age, be uprooted and overturned; and everything visible, tangible, audible, material, and temporal fade as a flower and pass as a dream, the strong Son of God, our High Priest and Saviour, will abide forever, unchanged. Time will never put a wrinkle on His eternal brow. Age will never stoop His shoulders of omnipotence, nor make His stately steppings lag with age. Decay will never corrupt His garments of purity, and the years will never dim omniscient vision nor pluck one strand of hair from His holy head. Everything may change but He never!"5
These are the words of Raymond Pollard as he expresses the unchangeableness of Christ's perpetuity. The Hebrew writer has declared that Christ is the same and His "years shall not fail" (1:12). The significance of an endless life cannot be overlooked in procuring a place in the Melchisedecian Order. You see, neither Melchisedec's birth nor death was known, making him a fleeting shadow of what he actually typified in the Priest-King who was to come.
No successor would ever have to be sought since an endless life made Jesus a priest forever. He is immortal and His priestly role will never be forced to retire or to be passed on to another. As such, He holds claim on the pinnacle of priestly positions the High Priest of the Order of Melchisedec.
III. The Credential of the Oath of God (7:15-22)
Jesus Christ has not entered the priesthood merely by tribal birth or on the strength of the name of His earthly forefathers. That would not necessarily imply anything of priestly character or wisdom. Eli's sons demonstrated that fact very well in their immoral and wicked practices while they were also stationed as priests. Jesus bears one extremely notable credential in the fact that "the LORD", the self-existent One, the great 'I Am', "has sworn and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec" (Psalm 110:4).
It might be said that Jesus holds a very creditable certificate of credentials. His was not a mail order degree. He did not forge the signatures on His papers of priestly claim. His was not 'under the table' licensing far, far from it. The eternal God of the Universe, who perfectly judges character and capability, has, Himself, declared with an oath that Jesus is a priest of the Highest Order.
Old Testament priests were never placed in office by an oath, but in the annals of eternity, God held a swearing in ceremony when He declared Christ to be a priest after the order of Melchisedec. Today, Jesus is still in office and operates under a "better hope ...by which we draw nigh unto God". According to the oath of God, there will never be a search under way for a successor, for Christ is a priest "forever".
IV. The Credential of Suretyship (7:22)
No doubt many have waxed eloquent in expressing how Jesus would pay man's bail and get him out of trouble ...so he need not worry, his salvation is unconditionally secure and he will come out of his rebellion and sin "smelling like a rose". But, it just isn't so. You will note that Jesus has not been made man's surety but, rather, the surety of, or the pledge of, a better testament. "A surety for the most part pledges himself that something will be: but here the Ascended Christ witnesses that something is: the assurance is not simply of the future but of that which is present though unseen," notes Westcott. "It must be noticed that Christ is not said here to be a surety for man to God, but a surety of a covenant of God with man."6
E. W. Roy makes this clear conclusion: "The Levitical priesthood and the law of Moses were not established by an oath; therefore, God could freely change or abolish according to His divine will and pleasure. Through and by all this, Christ was made a surety or bail, guaranteeing the benefits of the New Covenant to all who meet divine terms."7 Jesus will "come good for" the marked blessings promised under this New Testament. He pledges Himself to "make good", a way whereby man can draw nigh to God himself without going through an earthly priest or mediator. He made Himself surety for this glorious privilege under a new and better covenant; and without question, it cost Him His life-blood to effect.
Dear Reader, Jesus is the surety of an open access to the throne room of heaven and the mercy seat for your unsaved friends and loved ones, no matter how far they have gone in sin. They may have turned away from the way of God and trampled underfoot the blood of Christ, yet He waits to "come good for" the blessings of unmerited favour when they plead for mercy and grace. He is presently pleading His blood in their behalf as the paid pledge whereby justice has been appeased and mercy may be granted. Praise the Lord. I worship the Christ Who was, and is, surety of God's redemptive plan for me. That is credential enough for me to fall down in love and adoration at His feet and cry, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing" (Rev. 5:12).
V. The Credential of an Unchanging Priesthood (7:23-24)
It surely seems that everything around us is in a state of flux. Moral values are changing along with the desperate lifestyle that accompanies those changes. People whom you once felt would never make major shifts in their beliefs and stands, are becoming a source of heartache and disappointment. Movements and denominations are adjusting their statements of faith and moving from their moorings and foundational roots. Political changes sweep our globe at an unprecedented speed. I'm sure, that to those who have lived through most of this century, it must seem that change is zapping our society like lightning.
I am happy to announce that, though changing winds are swirling all around us till we feel lost and dizzy, there is One Who is "the same yesterday, and today, and for ever" (13:8). It is our Lord Jesus Christ. Because He is eternal and unchanging throughout eternity, He offers an unchangeable priesthood. Note the words of Dr. F. B. Meyer:
"There never was a beginning to the priestliness of our Saviour's heart. There is no date in heaven's calendar for the uprising within Him of mercy and pity, and of the intention to stand as the Advocate and Intercessor for our race. Before the mountains were brought forth or the heavens and earth were made, there was already in His thoughts the germ of the marvellous drama which is slowly unfolding before the gaze of the universe. He was Priest, as well as the Lamb slain, from before the foundation of the world. Love is eternal. Sacrifice is one of the root principles of the being of God. Priesthood is part of the texture of the nature of the second Person in the adorable Trinity. There need be no fear, therefore, that He will ever desert His office, or lay it aside for some other purpose; or cease to have compassion on the ignorant and erring, the tempted and fallen."8
I think one can readily perceive Christ's eligibility to highest orders when His unchanging priesthood is contemplated. What He offers today as our High Priest, "touched with the feelings of our infirmities", He will always extend to us in His unchanging priesthood.
VI. The Credential of Ability (7:25a)
Here is the great text of the book of Hebrews! This is, in my estimation, the key verse of this regal discourse. As we have noted, Christ stands superior to Old Testament prophets, higher than the angels, greater than Moses, and peerless in the priesthood for he totally outranks the Levitical priests. All of this has been developed in the preceding chapters and has laid a perfect groundwork, foundation and legal argument for this bold declaration of Christ's ability. May we not pass too quickly over a pronouncement that the fact of Christ's pre-eminence has been pointing toward. Were Christ not the powerful, sinless, divine, sacrificial, substitutionary High Priest, and yes, the very Son of God, this statement of unfathomable ability would be a mockery and blasphemous. But, thanks be to God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, it is a veritable reality. Our Jesus is the Able One. If anything ought to stand out on a resume of credentials, surely it would be just such a blazing note of ability and accomplishment as we see here.
These Hebrew believers who are feeling rather unsure of themselves and their doctrinal affiliation need not worry for one moment. The Christ whom they have espoused is the Champion of Judaism; the Champion of Christianity; the Champion of spiritual accomplishments and the Champion of their own personal, spiritual deficiencies. Go back? Go back to what? There is nothing to go back to but the shadow, the empty glove, the form, the type. Stay by your Champion!
The bold announcement found in this verse is that Jesus is able to "save, deliver, protect, heal, preserve, or make whole"9 (Strong) to the very uttermost those who "come unto God by Him". Strong tells us that "uttermost" is from a combination of two words: one meaning "all, any, every, the whole, all manner of, always, daily, as many as, thoroughly";10 and the other meaning "to set out for a definite goal, the point aimed at as a limit, the conclusion, termination, result, end, finally, uttermost".11 When these words are compounded we have a powerful expression of Christ's saving ability.
First, we might understand that salvation is for the "guttermost" as some have expressed it. It matters not how deep in sin one has gone, there is saving deliverance extended to them through Jesus Christ. Every vile and sinful act, every expression of sin's rottenness has been borne to the cross where Jesus became our propitiation, satisfying the justice of God so that mercy, rather than anger, might be shown to the penitent.
To the happy thrill of the believer, it may also be understood that our great Priest is well able to preserve and protect through all the perils of our pilgrim pathway. Until we reach the termination of this Christian journey and the goal of heaven, Christ can safely lead us if we will walk along beside Him and not pull away from His hand. Whatever the trial or rugged temptation, there is offered here a wonderful consolation of perfect succour to match the very limit of what Satan may throw our way. Hell cannot hatch, in it's heinous hatred, any ploy or vicious trick but what Christ's protection and power far surpasses it's poisonous heckle. Further, the verse teaches the power of Christ to make the believer every whit whole, even to the very limit of sin's stain upon his nature. One of my favourite Bible expositors, the late Dr. Dale Yocum, first brought this to my attention in his preaching. He so clearly explained that Christ can save us not only to the very limit of time's duration, but also to the very limit of the moral crippling of humanity's fall. He writes the following in his book entitled The Holy Way: "Is salvation from sin perfect and complete while the nature of sin remains within the heart of man? The only answer consistent with Heb. 7:25 is 'no'. A perfect, complete salvation must be salvation from all sin!"12
W. B. Godbey brings a beautiful touch to this discussion of the word "uttermost" in these words:
"The inspired writer of this wonderful Epistle made that word under the leadership of the Holy Ghost. It most indubitably and forever sweeps away all possible cavil as to the great scriptural doctrine of Christian perfection. The Holy Ghost ransacked the most beautiful and forcible language in the world, culled out the two strongest words, and put them together, in order to reveal this glorious truth of Christian perfection. To doubt it in the least or lay the slightest restriction on it is to impeach the veracity of the Holy Ghost."13
Let us note some further quotations. The Pulpit Commentary states that an uttermost salvation "is deliverance from sin; not merely from the punishment of sin, but from its guilt, its pollution, and its power".14 E. W. Roy writes, "His death upon the cross provided salvation...and He is as sufficiently able to heal the soul of the malady of sin as He was to make glad the hearts of those healed in body during His earthly ministry. He is able to pardon sinners, forgive their transgressions, purge their hearts, and make them pure. His is an "uttermost" salvation from the depths of sin to the heights of holiness".15 In Handfuls on Purpose we read, "This is a great word. If a redeemed soul has not yet fully entered into his possessions in Christ, and in consequence is not living the life of victory and communion of Beulah land, he has not yet been saved 'to the uttermost'."16
I suppose that studying this verse would not be complete without mentioning W. J. Kirkpatrick's famous song and its verse:
"Saved to the uttermost! Cheerfully sing Loud hallelujahs to Jesus, my King. Ransomed and pardoned, redeemed by His blood, Cleansed from unrighteousness glory to God!"17
The cleansing this songwriter refers to is the possibility of entire sanctification. The Bible deals with committed sins with judicial terms such as pardon and forgive; however, the full salvation expressed in the word 'uttermost' is brought about through cleansing or purifying, words that do not carry a judicial overtone.
VII. The Credential of His Continuing Intercession (7:25b)
This great credential of ability is blended beautifully with the precious intercession of Christ on our behalf. How can we begin to grasp the ongoing intercession of Christ? How can we fathom its depth and detail? How can we adequately worship such an able yet infinitely caring God and Priest? This unfailing pleading stands as part of His certificate of standing. Never does Jesus have to rest from His work or step out of the "temple" just to get away from it all. No, He is constantly in intercessory fellowship with the Father in order that we might enjoy an uttermost salvation. Thus, it appears from our study, that Jesus is interceding for sinners who need to be rescued from their bonds of sin in all of its miserable outgrowth. He is pleading the merit of His blood in behalf of believers who "hunger and thirst after righteousness" and long to be pure. He is intimately involved in praying for those who are battling with the devil's snares and sniper attacks. Thanks be unto God.
Dr. Wesley Duewel writes:
"I agree with Andrew Murray that every blessing we receive from God, every answer to prayer, bears this divine stamp upon it: 'Through Christ's Intercession'. Christ is not sitting passively in blissful royal dignity, unmoved, while you intercede. No! Never! You intercede because He intercedes. The Holy Spirit conveys to you the heartbeat of Jesus. You feel but the faintest burden of concern as compared with the infinite concern that Jesus feels for you and with you....He is prevailing today on Heaven's throne--not only by His presence and because of His wounds at Calvary, but through His continuing holy pleading, His intercession. Not till Satan is cast into the lake of fire, the warfare with sin is forever over, and the last lost sheep is in the fold will Jesus cease to prevail in intercessory burden for our world."18
VIII. The Credential of His Holy Person (7:26-28)
Here is cause for jubilant ecstasy as we contemplate our Priest of the Highest Order. Our Saviour could not have died a vicarious, substitutionary death if He first had to be forgiven of guilt. He would have been dying for His own sins and not for the sins of the world. This, then, stands as a credential to the noble, high priesthood. Other priests were sinners who first had to offer sacrifices for their own sins. But Christ was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" and thus perfectly eligible for this office.
Imagine for a moment how hopeless and meaningless life would be if there had been one small flaw in the character of Christ...one moment of yielding to sin...one fleeting rebellion against the will of the Father. We would never have had an high priest who could have brought us to God. We would be forever doomed, whatever system of religious rights and practices we might have practiced. All would have been dismal destitution. May we stop and give praise to the Son of God for His holy character and, then, for His condescension to die in our place as He, the Priest, offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice to God in our behalf. Thank You, Lord Jesus!
Here we stand looking back over this impressive list of credentials. Jesus has filled the requirements perfectly and is my Priest of the Highest Order. There is only one such priest. Melchisedec was but a fleeting shadow of the coming Christ. Shadows are not the real substance; but Jesus was, in reality, all that the obscure Old Testament figure had typified and much, much more. Heaven alone will begin to really disclose to our feeble intellects the glorious credentials Christ bears as our Great High Priest.
1. J. Gregory Mantle, Better Things, (Salem, Ohio: Convention Book Store, n.d.) p. 101.
2. Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, (Nashville, New York: Abingdon Press) Vol. VI, p. 733.
3. Charles Carter, The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972) Vol. VI, p. 93.
4. Carter, p. 93.
5. R. Pollard, Lois I. Crooks, Ed., Adult-Hebrews, (Overland Park, Kansas: Herald and Banner Press, 1976) Vol. X, No. 3, p.34.
6. B. F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1952) p. 189.
7. R. Pollard, Lois I. Crooks, Ed., Adult-Hebrews, (Overland Park, Kansas: Herald and Banner Press, 1976) Vol. X, No. 3, pp. 33-34.
8. Quoted from Lois I. Crooks, Ed., Adult-Hebrews, (Overland Park, Kansas: Herald and Banner Press, 1976) Vol. X, No. 3, pp. 35-36.
9. James Strong, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Nashville, Tennessee: Crusade Bible Publishers, Inc., n.d.) Greek Dictionary of the New Testament, p.70.
10. Strong, p. 56.
11. Ibid, p. 71.
12. Dale Yocum, The Holy Way, (Salem, Ohio: Schmul Publishers, 1976) p.35.
13. Quoted in Ray Crooks, Ed., Adult Teacher's Insights, Studies in Hebrew, (Overland Park, Kansas: Herald and Banner Press, 1992) Vol. 15, No. 3, p. 42.
14. Quoted in Ray Crooks, Ed., Adult Teacher's Insights, Studies in Hebrew, (Overland Park, Kansas: Herald and Banner Press, 1992) Vol. 15, No. 3, p. 42.
15. E. W. Roy, Lois I. Crooks, Ed., Adult-Hebrews, (Overland Park, Kansas: Herald and Banner Press, 1976) Vol. X, No. 3, p. 34.
16. James Smith, Robert Lee, Handfuls on Purpose, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986) Vol. 4, Series XI, p. 21.
17. Quoted in A. F. Harper, Holiness and High Country, (Kansas City, Mo: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1964) p. 139.
18. Wesley Duewel, Mighty Prevailing Prayer, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Francis Asbury Press, 1990) p. 41.