Last night we continued our study through the Letter to the Hebrews. Below are the notes:
Exploring the theme of “the High Priest” in Hebrews
So you read these verses—and you see something the bible is assuming. It’s assuming that what we all need is a high priest. In other words, what we needed was someone who knew how to deal with God on our behalf, and could be a go between. We needed someone to represent us before God, and to bring God to us. This is what Hebrews means when it says that Jesus—“had”—to become human, or that he was made “perfect” through sufferings. It doesn’t mean that Jesus was lacking, or had a deficiency that had to be fixed, it just means that God was willing to actually do and become the exact thing the human race needed. In other words, when he saw that we needed a human to be something that no human ever had been, he came and did it himself—and that’s who Jesus is. Because of the life he lived, the death he died, and the fact that he rose from the dead, he became that go between.
Since Jesus is a truly human priest, who really lived a real human life in our world, he can actually sympathize with us. So no one needs to let the fact that now he’s in heaven, and he’s not around on earth and you can’t see him, keep you from taking advantage of the fact that you have a priest. He understands your struggle, and he knows how to help. So go to him!
Iin these verses the writer is drawing on the history of the nation of Israel and all of the of religious regulations God set up when he brought them out of Egypt—the people who were originally reading this letter had a whole background knowledge of all this stuff that he could refer to. So here he just mentions that the point of the priest was to take care of doing the religious duties God required from the people. And, since he was only human himself, he could do it with some sympathy for the people who came to him and needed to get right with God.
But then, in verse 4, he mentions someone named Aaron. And if the people listening to this when it was originally read didn’t already have a problem with what they were hearing, Aaron’s name would have been a trigger for them. Because this whole time we’ve been saying that Jesus is the high priest for Christians, but any good Hebrew person back then would have immediately been like, “Wait, not just anyone can be a priest—only people who came from the certain family in Israel, called the Tribe of Levi could be priests. That mean that you had to be descended from a guy named Levi, (who was one of the original twelve fathers of Israel). And everyone knew that Jesus wasn’t from that family—he was descended from Levi’s brother Judah. Kings came from Judah’s tribe, but never priests. So when God gave the laws that said only people from Levi’s tribe could be priests, he established something called an order—it’s called the Order of Levi (or sometimes it’s called the Order of Aaron).
To us this seems like not a big deal, but to them it was a huge deal—and they were right. It seems like not a big deal to us cause we don’t know what we’re talking about. It’s like trying to do your own electrical work on your house, but you have no experience in that area. Sometimes that’s what we’re like with God. We act like, “I got this,” but we have no clue what we’re getting into. We need someone who knows what God’s all about to teach us and help us get reconnected to God. The person writing this and the people hearing this totally got this—which is why they’d have a problem with someone saying Jesus could be a priest. They’d think,“by definition, he can’t be, because he’s not from the right family.” He’s not from the Order of Levi. It’s like saying you’re hiring a plumber to fix your car. Won’t work. Plumbers don’t fix cars. People from the tribe of Judah can’t be priests.
So notice…that’s exactly where the thought of 5:5 comes in.
See this? Jesus didn’t take this position of priest to himself. God did it! God the father made God the Son priest. Now, are we just supposed to read this like, God can do whatever he wants, so there? Does God break his own rules—was he just saying, “Oh forget that whole order of Levi thing. I don’t care about that anymore.”? The answer’s no! That’s not how God does things. And that’s what makes verse 6 so huge.
Here he continues quoting Psalm 110—And he just sort of drops this verse in our laps—Psalm 110:4. And the point of this verse is—It’s totally true that Jesus isn’t from the order of Levi. In fact, God took care of this, when he said the one who would come to be King forever would also be a priest, and not a priest from the old system or the old order. (Notice! Psalm 110 is called God speaking.) In the Psalm God says this king would be a priest from a totally different Order—the order of Melchizedek!
What would have been so huge about this for the original audience is that the author takes it to their home turf—he quotes from the Psalms, and that’s bona fide Hebrew scripture. It was written way before Jesus was born, so we know that God had thought up and announced the idea of a different order of priests before Christians ever claimed Jesus was priest. So no one can say Christians broke any rules or made things up—It’s clear from the Hebrew Bible itself this was God’s idea. So…can Jesus be a priest, even though he’s not from the order of Levi? Yes!—because there’s another Order God set up—the order of Melchizedek!
If you’re tempted to check out at this point… you gotta keep reading on to 5:10-11.
The writer of Hebrews totally knows that even if he got some people interested by proving that Jesus could be a priest—there’s a good chance he’s gonna lose them if he goes into like, detail about that. So he’s got a choice here—does he skip this information and get to the really relevant stuff so everyone says—“oh this totally applies to me. This is what I need to hear!” ? Or, does he bite the bullet and get into the difficult stuff? His solution to that question was last week’s study. First he straight up challenges them for the not being able or willing to listen to what they need to hear. That’s the end of chapter five and the beginning of chapter 6. Then he goes at them from another angle with comfort and encouragement, and this brings us to what he says to close out chapter 6.
So right in these verses we get a clue as to what’s going on, and why God would want this in the bible, even though it’s kind of hard to understand right off the bat.
Notice what God really wants for us. In verse 19, he wants us to be people who, deep in our hearts, have a hope that is like an anchor for the deepest part of our being. He wants us to have a kind of hope that nothing can rock, where nothing can bring us down or blow us up or ruin us. Isn’t that what every human wants?
How are you doing in that area? Do you get shaken or scared or freaked out by the world around you? Do you get anxious when you think about the future or when you watch the news? Does your faith feel weak when things get rough? God had Hebrews written to help us with that.
And the point of all this is, sometimes God knows that when we really need to grow, and we really need to get strong, he needs to teach us things that are going to make us grow mentally first—we need some information before we can get stronger and get closer to God and have more faith. Most of us don’t typically think that way, but it’s true, and that’s why, after everything he’s written, the author’s gonna go ahead here and make us think about this obscure figure named Melchizedek.
Now when you read these verses, if you didn’t already know it, you’re probably realizing that there’s some back story here which you need to know to understand what this is all talking about. And you’re right. The back story is in the first book of the bible—the book of Genesis—and it’s in chapter 14. You should read the whole chapter. Abraham—who’s the original patriarch of the Jewish people (they were all related to him)—He’s living in the future land of Israel and he hears that his nephew (who also lived there) has been captured, as a prisoner of war by some kings who just won big battle near where he was living. Abraham’s response to this news is to arm all the men who worked for him (it’s like a mini-army) and go fight to get his nephew back. He’s successful, and on his way back to his home, before he gets to where his tent is, he gets stopped by a procession coming out from the nearby city called Salem. At the head of this procession is the king of the city.
That’s all we get about this guy Melchizedek. Three sentences. But what’s weird about Melchizedek is—he doesn’t really seem to fit in the Bible’s story at all. He’s like this anomaly—and what’s cool about that (all on its own), is that it seems to suggest that there’s a lot more going on in the world of the bible than we’re really told.
The first three verses of chapter seven in Hebrews just rehearse the story to get everyone on the same page. They hit on a few things that the author of Hebrews wants to highlight to show that Melchizedek was patterned after Jesus—who’s the one Hebrews has been talking about for six chapters—this great Son of God who is God’s final message to us. Notice how crazy this is—this incident with Melchizedek would have happened well over a thousand years before Jesus, but the point Hebrews is making is NOT that Jesus was patterned after Melchizedek but vice versa—Melchizedek’s whole point in this part of Abraham’s life is to point forward to Jesus. So the five things that show he is patterned after Jesus are:
- He is the King of Righteousness.
- He’s the king of peace.
- He’s without father, mother or genealogy—now the point of this is not that Melchizedek or Jesus had no father or mother—both of them did, the point is the genealogy—neither of them could show by pointing to the right lineage that they could be priests. That’s not how their priesthood worked.
- It says Melchizedek had “neither beginning or ending of days” and the point here is not that he wasn’t born and didn’t die, the point is, in the Bible we don’t get a record of his birth or death, and so in the record we have it’s like, as it says, his priesthood never began and never ended.
Because you know, you might have read this incident in Genesis, and then thought…who is this guy? Where’d he come from? Where’d he go? What’s he doing being a priest? How’s he know about God? Why is there a righteous king in the land where I thought only Abraham knew God? How’s this fit into the story at all? And that’s the whole point. Melchizedek is like this weird plant in the biblical history. He appears, and then he disappears again. But here in Hebrews we’re seeing that he wasn’t random at all, and he turns out to be majorly important to the main story of the bible.
The point here is to think through the implications of what happened with Abraham and Melchizedek. First, the fact that Abraham paid tithes of his war spoils, and received a blessing from Melchizedek, shows that even Abraham acknowledged that Melchizedek was his superior. This would have been totally mind blowing for the first people that heard it, because they would have had to be like, “yeah, that’s what that means”…but for their whole lives they’d considered Abraham to be maybe the most important historical figure they celebrated. But that’s not all these verses say, cause did you notice that Levi gets some airtime here too?
In just a few sentences we learn that if Jesus is a priest from the Order of Melchizedek, than that means followers of Jesus don’t only have a different priesthood than the religion God set up before Jesus, it means they have something better—because the founder of that order was a greater person than Levi, and even greater than Abraham himself. And before that point even really settles in, we get more explanation about all this in the next few verses.
Notice the word “perfect” in the first and last verses of this section. That creates a little “package” of scripture and shows us the main point of these verses. The old priesthood the Jewish people had, the order of Levi, made nothing perfect. Another way to say that would be that it didn’t finally solve all the problems created in the world by human sin. It was like a band-aid. It was the band-aid God gave us, and so it was good, but it wasn’t the full healing we really needed from God.
Now this is a nice point, but, for me anyway, it doesn’t really seem to follow from what we’ve read so far—until you realize that when he quotes from Psalm 110 again in verse 17, the author’s doing the same thing he’s been doing through this whole letter. He’s working with the biblical timeline. Psalm 110 was written after the events in Genesis occurred—a long time after. It was also written a long time after the order of Levi was established. It was actually written during the time when those priests from Levi were doing their thing—being priests just like God told them. And then, after the order of Levi has been around for hundreds of years, and seems to be doing their job, God has David write that the king who will come from his descendants, and will rule the world forever will also be a priest—and a priest from a different order—he’ll be a king-priest like Melchizedek!
Maybe this is why he challenged us back in chapter 6 about being “dull of hearing.” Now if these things are all new to you, that’s totally fine, you’re still getting your bearings. But some of us have been walking with Christ and reading the bible for a while. And for anyone in that category, we should begin to develop a set of thinking skills to work out what the bible means when we read different parts of it. Like right here, we should be able to think it out something like—”If God had David write this all those years after Levi, it must mean that the more important priest is this king—not the priests from the tribe of Levi. And if that’s true, than what verse 12 and verse 16 and verse 18 and 19 say have to be true too. There must be a changing of everything! If there’s a new and better priest, there must be a new and better way of relating to God than the old law he set up.”
Look at the end of verse 19—God is using our priest Jesus to bring us a better hope, one that brings us near to God. Anyone who has Jesus as their priest can finally get over the distance between people and God. If you want to get closer to God, all you need is to let Jesus be your priest.
Just like we said about the soul anchor—does this matter to you? If you’re a person who’s ever felt trapped and far from God, this text is saying God’s answer to that issue is to give you Jesus as your priest, your go between for you and God. And a major thing you need to be able to enjoy this new closeness to God is to learn about this solution God provided for you…in other words, you need to learn about what kind of Priest Jesus is for you. He’s a priest that brings a better hope. It’s better than the hope that’s being offered by any other thing out there. And it’s even a better hope than the hope people had before Jesus, because God used the old ways before Jesus came, but now that he’s here, we have the best possible way of becoming close with God.
What’s awesome about this is how totally unexpected this is. I mean, I don’t think any of us could have written this. Imagine telling your friend, “Jesus gives us hope! Real hope!” And they’re like, “Wow. How does he do that?” What would you say?
I bet none of us would say, “Well, see we know it’s better because the priests from the order of Levi weren’t confirmed with an oath, but Psalm 110 says that the order of Melchizedek is…See what I mean? ”
Whenever you’re reading the bible and you run into something that totally surprises you…stop. Those are the places where you’re going to actually learn something. Let the bible surprise you and then pray and think and God will teach you new things.
The point of mentioning the Oath here—I think it was Alastair Begg I heard say this—the point of God taking an oath is not so we know he’s telling the truth, cause God never lies, the oath is just God’s way of showing that what he’s about to say is central to his purposes—so we should stop and really make sure we’re noticing and getting what he’s saying. Melchizedek seems like a throw away character, but then God comes along in Psalm 110 and says, “listen up—remember that guy Melchizedek?—yeah, he’s huge. But not actually because he’s huge…but because he’s a hint and a pattern of the truly huge figure—Jesus Christ.”
And the other thing about this oath is that it explains how Jesus being our high priest brings Christians a better hope—God took the oath and made the promise because promising is God’s way of making what the bible calls a covenant. As you read the bible you find out that as God is fixing the problems that we humans have created on planet earth, he keeps announcing how he’s going to do it by making these big, groups of promises called covenants. A covenant is God’s way of saying—“no matter what happens, no matter how things look, you can bank on this…I’m going to do this. You can bet your whole life on it.”
Why does having Jesus as a high priest give us a better hope in this world than anything else? Because it guarantees something the bible calls the New Covenant—which is God’s promise to finally close the gap that we put between us and him by putting his own spirit in our hearts and empowering us to be able to live lives of holiness forever. How does that work? Read the next couple verses…
See the point here? The oath God swore, and the promise he made, was not only that Jesus would be a priest, but that he would be a priest forever. Under the old order of Levi, the priests were regular guys who did what regular guys do…they got old and died. But Jesus isn’t like them. When he brings us close to God, we never need to worry that one day he’ll die and the next guy won’t be up to snuff. No, Jesus is an eternal priest, so when he saves us, he’s able to save us all the way.
And notice…why can he do that? Because we need a priest, and we need him to be praying for us…and Jesus does that! And he does it forever.
Stop and think about that. Right now, in heaven, forever…is a person, a human, praying for us. He’s a human who lives forever. And we kind of skipped over another awesome way to say that that came up in verse 16. It says Jesus is a priest on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. And remember…that’s an indestructible human life.
So, Jesus has become exactly the thing we needed. And that’s what verses 26 through 28 say.
Do you take advantage of this fact? If not, what’s your strategy for being right with God, and for being close to him?