Hebrews (Part 07) – The Order of Melchizedek
In chapters 5 and 6 of Hebrews, we learned that Jesus was a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. That statement, quoted in 5:6 from Psalm 110:4 and repeated in 5:10, and 6:20, begs the question concerning what exactly the order of Melchizedek is. Perhaps the author not only anticipated the question but actually repeatedly made the statement hoping that we would ask. The explanation, provided at the opening of chapter 7, provides the foundation of the author’s argument concerning the superiority of Christ and his new covenant to the old covenant and its oversight by the Aaronic high priests.
Melchizedek is king of righteousness, king of peace, superior to Abraham, and representative of the eternal. These four items found in 7:1-3 match the four elements of relationship highlighted by the four major covenants in the old economy—Noahic Covenant emphasizing life, Abrahamic Covenant emphasizing land, Mosaic Covenant emphasizing law, and the Davidic Covenant emphasizing leadership. These four elements we find throughout the Bible as cornerstones of relational development between humanity and God. They were there in the beginning, all entwined in the covenant with Adam. They are present in the old covenants picturing necessities of relationship with God. They are involved in the New Covenant pictured by Melchizedek’s priesthood. And they are present in our hope of perfectly restored relationship forever with our God.
Note the chart below showing these elements throughout God’s covenant of creation.
Bible teachers have a habit of making lists and charts and sometimes forcing numbers and elements into preconceived patterns. I have tried to make certain that my organization here is something that leaps out from Scripture rather than is constrained onto Scripture. These four elements do, indeed, seem to emerge from God’s relationship plan.
Some discussion is necessary to ensure understanding of each element as a relationship distinctive. First, we must remember that these distinctives are specifically involved with relationship between humanity and God. These are not items that we can apply to all relationships of any kind, such as of friends or spouses. Each element has a specific correspondence from God to his creation (humanity). The first element is Life. God lives. But men and women live only because life is given to them by God. God gives and sustains life.
The second element—Peace—contains aspects of security, satisfaction, and contentment. It is the satisfaction and contentment of being. The great I AM holds that peace within himself. Humanity, however, experiences peace only when in proper relationship with God. Thus, after God created Adam and Eve, his first act was to place them in the Garden—a place of security and for their satisfaction and contentment. God intended the setting to be a place for meeting with them in relationship. And immediately upon creating Adam and Eve and placing them in this Garden, God rests. We learned in Hebrews 4 that God’s rest correlates with relationship. When God saves us we immediately enter into his rest (4:3).
It is interesting that Hebrews 4 also equates this rest with the Promised Land—the land first promised to Abraham and then to the children of Israel as they left Egypt. Thus, all these aspects intertwine: peace, satisfaction, rest, and land. The land (whether the Garden or Canaan or our home in Heaven) represents the security and peace in relationship with God.
Righteousness, the third element, is a requirement made necessary by the very essence of God. Relationship with God requires perfect correlation to who he is. That is why sin destroyed the relationship of God with humanity. God restored relationship through the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to those of faith (made possible by the sacrificial, penal atonement).
The fourth element is Hierarchy. Full relationship does not require equality (and it certainly could not with God). In fact, recognition of God’s superiority and authority must remain intact in order for relationship with God to endure. The reason for this is that God’s perfection in goodness, beauty, and truth is a matter of his essence as well as his existence. He does not just act in truth, beauty, and goodness; He IS truth, beauty, and goodness. As his image, we reflect that, but we are not that. Thus, without a rightly understood subordination to God, we are denying truth, beauty, and goodness. As Christians, held in spiritual awareness by the Holy Spirit, we will eternally understand our obedience and subordination to him. Failing to recognize his authority caused the fall. Recognizing it is an integral part of saving faith and restored relationship.
Now, according to our chart above, these four elements are found not only in the order of Melchizedek, but in the old covenants as well. So why does the author of Hebrews insist that Christ belongs to the order of Melchizedek? The reason is that although the four elements are recognized in the old covenants, their picture is faulty because of sin. Without the removal of sin, full relationship can never be established. Thus, although we have life pictured in the old covenants, it was only temporal. The high priest representative changed with death—death caused by sin. The sacrifices were made continually because, although a picture, none of them satisfied the penalty of sin. The land of Canaan was entered, but perfect peace and rest was not found there. The Law ended up not providing righteousness, but only pointing out transgression. And the leadership of David was temporal, destroyed because of sin.
This is the argument of the author of Hebrews. Remember that the author is sending this message first to Jews—those who have a heritage of understanding that the old covenant system was the greatest means of right relationship with God. The author says no, Christ is better.
After identifying the four elements in relation to Melchizedek in 7:1-3, the author argues for the superiority (element #4) of Melchizedek to Abraham in verses 4 through 10. Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, indicating inferiority (7:7). And the priesthood, the Levites, were equally inferior as they paid tithes through their father Abraham (7:9-10).
In verses 11 through 19, the author discusses the third element—Righteousness. The “former commandment” encompassing the whole sacrificial system overseen by the Aaronic priesthood is said to be “weak and useless” (7:18). Of course, this characterization is not in an absolute sense since God did prescribe it. In other words, the system did satisfy its intent as revelation and picture of the need for sacrifice and righteousness. It was weak and useless, however, in actually providing the necessary sacrifice to achieve righteousness. So righteousness, an element of the Melchizedek order, while pictured in the old covenant and priesthood system, was realized only under Christ. In this also, then, Christ is superior.
The first element—Life—is discussed next in verses 15 through 24. (Notice that this discussion overlaps the previous discussion of righteousness.) In the Noahic covenant, God promised not to obliterate life as he had (immediately and worldwide) on the basis of sin. The promise of life, however, from the Garden and understood through the promises of the other covenants as well, spoke to an everlasting life, which is, of course, necessary for everlasting relationship with God. Melchizedek, as opposed to the old covenantal priests, pictured that eternal life. Some scholars have assumed this connection to be literal. In other words, they believe that Melchizedek was not a human being descended from Adam, but rather a Christophany—an Old Testament appearance of Christ. I disagree. We simply do not have any biblical inference to insist on that. Also, the context does not demand that. Jewish custom valued ancestry and lineage to a great degree. This can be seen throughout the Old Testament, especially in the genealogies. Melchizedek comes on the scene in direct contrast to that mindset. No father or mother is noted. No relationship with Abraham or from Noah is established. Melchizedek essentially appears out of nowhere as a priest of God. While acceptable without a second thought in our culture, this was a jolt to the Jewish mindset. And the author of Hebrews uses this jolt to make a point. Melchizedek comes out of nowhere and then disappears from the scene with not another word about him. That lack of recorded beginning and end is the tie that the author makes with Christ. Jesus had no earthly father. Jesus came from God. Jesus could not be snuffed out by death. Jesus continues forever. Thus, Jesus is superior to the Aaronic high priests in his eternality.
Finally, the second element of Peace is implied in verses 25 through 28. The correlation of Christ to peace, rest, security, and contentment comes in the author’s direct linkage of Christ to us. We have this holy, innocent, unstained, separated, exalted high priest. We need not be troubled or (as mentioned in 4:16) without confidence. Our high priest has finished the sacrifice (7:27) and is perfect (7:28).
In chapter 8, the author offers an even bolder assessment. Throughout the book so far the author has argued that Jesus is superior or better than the old covenants. In chapter 8 the author takes that one step further and declares that Christ and his New Covenant not only excel, but they entirely supersede (replace) the old. The argument begins with a description of the tabernacle. The emphasis is that this tabernacle in which the priests and high priest functioned and in which sacrifices were made was only a copy or picture of true atonement and effectual sacrifice. This old covenant system was had faults (8:7). The fault was not some error in covenant design, but rather that the old covenant, although a picture of righteous atonement, could not provide actual atonement for sin.
The author then quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34 in which the New Covenant is introduced. That New Covenant will not require the pictures of the old system. The sacrifice will be complete once for all (7:27). The law will be in the heart (8:10). And relationship will be restored (8:10).
Thus, the old covenant is “obsolete” (8:13). This is the thrust of the argument to those Jews who were still clinging to some semblance of their old covenant heritage. It is done. It is over. The New Covenant—the superior, perfect covenant relationship—contains the basis and maintains the eternality of our restored relationship with God.