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Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Greater(est) King-Priest

Hebrews 7 

While living in a world of different religious thoughts, people confront you with the question of the reality and sufficiency of God’s salvation. I know many religions that do not even believe in Jesus and His deity. There are those religions that do, though, but they skew the Gospel. I began studying more intently on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ because of these off-shoots of Christianity so I could give a very well researched and biblical response to people who have been deceived by these skewed gospel presentations. This study has taken me through both the Old and New Testaments, looking at the old and new covenants. The next few blog posts are my thoughts on Jesus as High Priest, King, and sufficient sacrifice. I gladly accept any comments you may have on this topic and will try to write back to each of you. Let us begin our study with Hebrews 7. I will be using the New American Standard Bible. I encourage you to have your Bible beside you as you walk through these studies with me.
1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. 3 Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually . 4 Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. 5 And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest's office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. 6 But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises. 7 But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. 8 In this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. 9 And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. 11 Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law ), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron ? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. 13 For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. 15 And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is attested of Him, "YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK." 18 For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the Law made nothing perfect ), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. 20 And inasmuch as it was not without an oath 21 (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, "THE LORD HAS SWORN AND WILL NOT CHANGE HIS MIND, 'YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER ' "); 22 so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. 23 The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, 24 but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. 25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. 26 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens ; 27 who does not need daily , like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. 28 For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.
            Verses 25-28 are the crux of this chapter, but no one can understand completely the power of them without the first twenty-four verses, which explains how Jesus’ priesthood, like Melchizadek’s, is greater than that of all other priests of God. This then explains how Jesus’ sacrifice is better than that of other priests. We must begin with Melchizadek.
            The writer of Genesis mentioned Melchizadek in Genesis 14:18-20. His name means king of righteousness. He was the king of Salem, the city later renamed Jerusalem. Salem means peace, so Melchizadek was the king of peace. Abraham recognized him as a priest of God and gave him a tenth of his takings from his battle with the kings who conquered Sodom and took his kinsman Lot captive. Melchizadek brought bread and wine to Abraham and he blessed Abraham. Melchizadek, a lesser man, blessed Abraham, who is greater because of God’s promise to him (Hebrews 7:6-7). This king, Melchizadek, is, thus, considered a priest-king (blessing others, accepting tithes, and giving wine and bread). King David and the writer of Hebrews used Melchizadek as a type for describing the Son of God, Jesus Christ, not just because he was a priest and king, but because his genealogy was not known and his birth and death were not known. He appeared to be eternal so the Israelites considered that his priesthood went into perpetuity. Another reason the Israelites considered Melchizadek a greater priest than the Levitical priests is the argument that since Abraham gave him a tithe, the Levites, as descendents who were still in the loins of Abraham, also gave him a tithe. For these reasons, the writer of Hebrews and King David considered Melchizadek’s priesthood greater than the Levitical priesthood and made him a type of the king-priest the Messiah would be.
            The Jewish arguments for the priesthood and the Law occur in verses 11-21. Several arguments arise in these verses, but the first is that if the Levitical priesthood was adequate to provide sufficient atonement for sins, why would Jehovah have spoken in the Old Testament about the need for a new covenant that comes through a better priesthood? (See Jeremiah 31:31-34.) Why would this priest not be from the tribe of Levi? The answer lies in the argument of Hebrews 7. Through the Law, the Levitical priests received their roles and authority. Since the Law could not save people from their sins, but served to point people to God, the sacrifice dictated by the Law was not enough and the priesthood called for by the Law was not enough. So, the holy, perfect, and sufficient priest would not come from the line of Levi. The new priest came not because of the law of physical requirement (from the tribe of Levi), but according to the power of indestructible life (vs. 16). The new priest came with power over life and righteousness. King David said this priest would be according to the order of Melchizadek (Psalm 110:1-4). Zechariah the prophet said the priest who was coming would bear the honor and glory of the only begotten of the Father. He would be a priest upon the Father’s  throne and the counsel of peace would be between the two offices – Priest and King (vs. 6:13). This only begotten of the Father, His Son, is greater than the Levites. He brought a holy, pure, and perfect sacrifice and with it a new covenant. He is not time bound. These attributes made the Israelites remember Melchizadek, who was before the Levitical priests ordained by God.
            Verses 18 through 19 speak of how the priesthood of Christ sets aside the earlier covenant of God with the Israelites because of the weakness of the Mosaic covenant. Its weakness did not come from God, but from sinful humanity who did not keep their agreement, which they made in their covenant with Yahweh. Because of human inability to keep their side of the covenant, the covenant was useless. It could not give them unbroken relationship with Yahweh or eternal life. The Law made nothing perfect. The Law made people aware of their sin, but did not make them perfect. Paul said this very succinctly in Romans 3:20 and 7:7 and in Galatians 2:16 and 3:21. Luke spoke of it in Acts 13:39. The Law was not adequate to bring redemption for human sins, but only to point out sinfulness and point them to God. Humankind can only be made perfect and just by the holy, pure, and perfect priest, Jesus Christ. With the greater Priest and King, who brought in a change of and better covenant, came a better hope with joyful expectation of eternal salvation.
            Something that must be noticed in verses 21 and 22 is that God made an oath to Israel and He does not renege on His oaths. Moses, Samuel, and Paul each attested to this in their writings, Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, and Romans 11:29. What God promises, He fulfills. God promised a better covenant and it would have to be administered by a better Priest. He brought His Priest in through an oath (of a better covenant), but the Levitical priests were not required to make an oath when they became priests. He promised to bring a Savior to the world and this Savior became our great High Priest and King. God’s promises have never been void and He fulfilled this promise, as well, unlike Israel who did not fulfill their promise/oath with God in the Mosaic covenant. Jesus is the fulfillment of the oath/promise and He is the guarantee and surety of a better covenant. This better covenant does not need humans to do anything, which makes it a better covenant. Humankind is not faithful to their oaths. What God pledges He fulfills.
            The writer of Hebrews gave examples of how Jesus Christ is the greater Priest. In verses 23-24, the writer said there were many priests before Christ who could not bring full redemption and perfection from sinfulness to sinlessness. Each time the priests interceded for the people, they first had to cleanse themselves from their own sins with sacrifices. They, too, were unclean. Jesus never sinned though tempted. Second, the writer stated the Levitical priests had to repeatedly offer sacrifices of rams and bulls for the Israelites because they continued to sin and continued needing to be cleansed to be in God’s presence. Jesus’ sacrifice was perfect the first time and no other sacrifice is needed for those who believe in Him. Third, the Levitical priests died throughout the centuries. Men crucified Jesus, but He defeated death and returned to life three days later. The priests sprinkled the blood of the sacrificed animals over the people (see Exodus 24:8). Likewise, Jesus’ blood confirmed the new covenant. The idea and promise of a new covenant was not a surprise to Israel. Jeremiah spoke of God’s promise about it in Jeremiah 31:31.
Since Jesus returned to life after His crucifixion and always exists, His sacrifice is always available for those who have faith in Him, not that He must offer more sacrifice, but that His one-time sacrifice is enough and will exist throughout eternity for those who, by faith, believe in Him (vs. 25). He does not have to offer another sacrifice. His once-for-all sacrifice is adequate to redeem people from all their sins of the past and any they may do in the future. The intercession spoken of in verse 25 is entugcano in Greek. It means to meet with a person for conversation, consultation, or supplication. It means to pray or entreat someone to help another person. Verse 25 says Christ prays to and entreats the Father to help His children as they live on earth so they stay strong in their faith, have their needs provided, and know His love and presence. Christ’s intercession is not added atonement to save humankind. Intercession is His conversation with the Father on the behalf of His children, those who believe in Jesus Christ. When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he spoke of them being more than conquerors. In verse 33, Paul said God justified, made a person perfect. He then asked in verse 34 who can condemn believers since Jesus Christ who died and is sitting on the right hand of the Father is interceding for them. Notice, a person is justified fully and completely redeemed/atoned for before Christ intercedes for him or her. This intercession that Christ does is entreating the Father to send aid to keep the believers strong in their daily walk, be it for their trials or daily needs. Hebrews 9:24 states again, Christ entered heaven, not a temple made of human hands, and speaks to the Father for us.
Summing his thoughts in the chapter, the writer of Hebrews reiterated the salient points of the argument. Read again verses 26-28. He described this high priest as holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens. No high priest of the Levitical priesthood could say he was any of these. They had to atone for their own sins before they could atone for the sins of the Israelites. This “holy” is hosios in Greek, which means pure, free from sin. “Innocent” is akakos, which means without guile or fraud, harmless, free from guilt. “Undefiled” is amiantos, which means not soiled, deformed or debased and does not have its force impaired. “Separated” is chorizo, which means to divide or remove one’s self. “Exalted” is hupselos, which means high and lofty in influence and honor. To be a high priest, one is assumed to be holy, innocent, undefiled and separated from sin. The writer added these words after “high priest” for emphasis. Additionally, to be holy, an attribute related only to God’s being, means to be innocent, undefiled, and separated. No human is holy and so no human can be the priest who provides full atonement for sins. Only God is holy and only God can give complete cleansing and atonement/redemption from sins. Another attribute of God is that He is exalted. He is high and lofty in influence and honor. No other person can be exalted because of their being/personhood. Their position can make them due to be revered, such as a king or queen of a nation, but none is exalted because of who they are, their being. The Triune God is each of these and is able then to be the perfect/righteous Priest and King. None of the Levitical priests was perfect and clean from sin. The Israelites considered Melchizadek, of all priests of God, a type of priest who was like the Christ, not born in the Levitical priesthood and appointed by God. Christ does not need to daily offer up sacrifices for sin, like the Levitical high priests, first for themselves and then for the people, because He is holy and He sacrificed once-for-all (complete when done the one time) when He offered up Himself. The blood of rams and calves, creatures of creation, are not enough to cleanse us for eternity. (See Hebrews 9:12.) These animals are not eternal and their blood cannot cleanse or remove sin or guilt for all time. It took the eternal, holy, all-powerful God to take away the sins of all humanity for all time. He is beyond time and the Creator of time. His sacrifice is completely sufficient to remove the sin of humankind. Christ, the perfect Son of God, is the perfect sacrifice - eternal, all-powerful, and holy. This all-powerful, all-redeeming Son of God does not need to offer sacrifice repeatedly. His one sacrifice is adequate to cleanse sin forever. He rules eternity and His sacrifice is greater than any humans can offer in their finite lives. His sacrifice is enough. Hebrews 10:14 says this more succinctly, “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” One offering, one sacrifice, because of its perfection and the perfection of the Priest, is all that was needed forever.
The writer of Hebrews completed his thoughts in verse 28, “For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.” Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law and its requirements for redemption and atonement for sin. As the High Priest of God and the Son of God, His sacrifice was perfect and complete. His Priesthood is holy. God provided the perfect High Priest and the perfect sacrifice to remove our sins from humankind forever. His oath, His promise, to humanity is fulfilled. Nothing more is needed from humankind other than belief in Jesus Christ, no good works or deeds. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Lamb who came to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Now and forever, He sits at the right hand of God in heaven interceding for us with the Father for our needs.
            As we come to the end of this chapter, we must each decide for ourselves who we believe Jesus Christ to be. Is he just a man born over 2000 years ago? If so, you have no hope for anything beyond your meager years on earth. Is he a prophet? If so, you will die looking beyond the gift given by God 2013 years ago in the form of an infant. Is He the Great High Priest and King? Your belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God gives you eternal forgiveness for your sins and a life forever in heaven with God. It is your decision. You must be the one to choose to believe in Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews laid it out plain so that everyone would know the truth. I pray you have seen the truth in your heart and now believe in Jesus Christ, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.
**Strong's New Testament Greek Lexicon was used in this post.