The Priestly Order of Melchizedek
7:1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 3 He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.
4 See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! 5 And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers,1 though these also are descended from Abraham. 6 But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. 8 In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. 9 One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.
Jesus Compared to Melchizedek
11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
15 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is witnessed of him,
“You are a priest forever,
after the order of Melchizedek.”
18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
20 And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 21 but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:
“The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest forever.’”
22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.
23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost2 those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
Jesus Christ has completed the work of offering Himself as the sacrifice for our sins. He now engages in His continuing work for us in heaven. He represents us in the presence of the Father. He intercedes for us. And He purifies our prayers, releasing all that we need for living the Christian life.
Since we have such a great High Priest in heaven, we should not hesitate to come to God in prayer, knowing that when we come to Him, we will receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).
There are two dimensions to being a mother: an initial painful event in which a woman gives birth to a child, and an ongoing process in which she cares for the child. If you are a mother, you know what this is like. You are absolutely exhausted after the labor you have endured to bring a new life into the world. Within a few moments, the nurse thrusts a tiny bundle of life into your arms and says, “Now you have to feed him!” Whatever happened to delegation?
The book of Hebrews draws attention to the work of Jesus as our great high priest. This also involves a completed act and a continuing work. The completed act was a painful event that took place once for all time on the cross. The continuing work is Christ’s ministry of care, protection, and nurture that the Bible calls “intercession.”
Time to Take Off the Robes
There were many high priests throughout the time of the Old Testament story. Aaron was the first, but death prevented him from continuing in office (Hebrews 7:23). The time came when the robes of office were taken from Aaron and passed to his successor.
When he was about to die, Aaron climbed the mountain of Hor with his brother Moses and his son Eleazer (Numbers 20:22-29). Moses removed Aaron’s robes and put them on his son. There were many high priests, because each one needed to be replaced when death prevented him from continuing his work.
No Time to Sit Down
A high priest’s work was never done. The Old Testament sacrifices were offered for specific sins, and since there were always new sins, there was a constant demand for new sacrifices.
The relentlessness of the high priest’s work was illustrated by the way the tabernacle was designed. In the main area where the priests operated, there was a lamp and a table, but no chair! The priest could never sit down because his work was never done.
But now God has given us one high priest who lives forever: “[Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever” (Hebrews 7:24). Jesus has already been through death. He now lives in the power of an endless life, and the ministry of our high priest continues forever. There will never be a time when the robes are taken from Jesus.
Jesus is unlike any other priest: “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (7:27)
After His death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (1:3). He sat down because His work was complete. No other sacrifice for sin would ever be needed again.
Think of your sins as being like large rocks that you carry in a bag on your back. In the Old Testament, every time you felt the weight of a rock in your bag, you would go to the priest, who offered a sacrifice for that particular sin. Every time you committed another sin, you had to go back to the priest and you needed another sacrifice.
The Old Testament priests took rocks out of the bag. Jesus takes the bag off your back! He deals with all your sin by separating it from you. His one sacrifice of Himself covers all the sins of all His people.
The reason there is no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus is not that there are no rocks in your bag, but that the bag itself has been lifted from your back. Jesus took it from you. He carried it and dealt with it fully and finally on the cross.
Many people live as if they were still in the Old Testament era. When they sin, they feel as if they come under condemnation, and need a new sacrifice. But Jesus has dealt with our sins—past, present, and future—by nailing them to the cross (Colossians 2:14). That is why when He died, He cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
The Bible makes it clear that if we claim to be without sin, we are deceiving ourselves (1 John 1:8). Your bag is never free from rocks. God calls you to deal with the sin in your life. But your salvation does not depend on you emptying the bag. It depends on Christ removing the bag from your back. There is all the difference in the world.
Christ’s Continuing Work
It is possible to have a good understanding of what Christ has done for us in the past through His death on the cross, and of what He will do for us in the future when He comes again in power and glory, but to be confused about what He is doing for us today.
Christ died to save you, and He lives to keep you. “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Through Christ’s continuing work of intercession, you will be sustained through every pressure, you will be kept in every temptation, and finally you will be brought safely into glory.
1. Praying for Us
Jesus always lives to intercede for us. This means, first, that He speaks to the Father on your behalf. He represents you and brings the needs you have and the situations you face before your Father in heaven.
There is a beautiful illustration of this in the Gospels. Jesus knew that Peter would come under great pressure and told him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times” (Matthew 26:34). Peter felt sure that he was up to the challenge of following Jesus, but Jesus knew that His leading disciple would fail badly. He said to Peter, “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31–32).
Jesus did not say that Peter would not fail. He said that Peter’s faith would not fail. Peter failed big time, and that would have been the end of his story. But Christ had prayed for him. Jesus’ prayers are always answered, and Peter was wonderfully restored.
What Jesus did for Peter is a wonderful picture of what He continues to do for us. Christ intercedes for you. This does not mean that Jesus is on His knees in heaven agonizing in prayer as He did in the Garden of Gethsemane. No, He is seated on the throne, and whatever He commands in heaven, the Spirit delivers on earth.
This is a wonderful comfort when you face difficult situations. Christ speaks with authority in the presence of the Father, and His word releases the resources of heaven for the pressures and temptations you’re facing today. The intercession of Jesus is what makes the Christian life possible.
2. Making Our Prayers Effective
One of our greatest struggles is that our prayers often seem to be weak and ineffective. We sometimes find that we are not sure what to ask and we wonder if our feeble prayers can really make any difference.
We need Jesus to purify our prayers because while they may arise from a genuine desire for the glory of God, they may also include a great deal of confusion, selfishness, and misunderstanding. But when your prayers ascend to heaven, Christ purifies them, so that they carry more weight in heaven than you could ever imagine on earth.
The apostle John saw in a vision that the prayers of believers were mixed with incense in heaven and then fire fell on the earth (Revelation 8:3–5). That is a wonderful picture of what happens when you pray in the name of Jesus. Christ receives your weak prayers and purifies them so that, in His name, they carry weight in heaven and have effect on earth.
Our weak, stumbling, and often feeble prayers are perfumed. The stench of all that is stale, unworthy, confused, foolish, and mistaken is taken out. Our prayers are sweetened by the Lord himself so that they will be acceptable to God.
Our fridge has a water filter. The water comes into the fridge, but when it goes through the filter, what comes out is better than what went in! The impurities are filtered out. Thank God for the intercession of Jesus that filters out all that is unworthy from our prayers.
That’s why you should never hold back from praying because you feel that you don’t know what to say, or because you feel that your prayers are inadequate. Your prayers will be heard because of Jesus.
3. Representing Us in Heaven
Christ’s continuing ministry as our high priest means that He represents us before the Father. In the Old Testament, the high priest wore a linen garment called an ephod. Over the garment hung a breastplate studded with twelve precious stones that were engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. When the high priest entered the presence of God, he carried the names of God’s people next to his heart.
Jesus does in reality what the high priest could only illustrate. Your name is written on His heart. It is also engraved on His hands: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15–16).
These words were written centuries before the death of Jesus, but His crucifixion explains the full significance of their meaning. Nails pierced His hands when He died to save you. How could He ever forget you?
A mother has a unique bond with the child she bears. The pain of bringing the child to birth is the beginning of a life in which she cares for the needs of her child. How could a mother ever forget the child she bore?
Some mothers may neglect their children or be unable to care for them, but Christ can never forget His children. He always lives to make intercession for them. The completed and the continuing work of Christ are the basis of our security and confidence. Christ died to save us and He lives to keep us.
- What are the two dimensions of Jesus’ work as our high priest?
- What aspect of the illustration of the rocks and the bag was most helpful/encouraging to you?
- What would it mean for you this week to know that Jesus is praying for you?
- What recent prayers of yours feel the weakest and the feeblest? When were you last tempted not to pray, because you weren’t sure what to say?
- Respond to this verse: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).