Hebrews 7 is another of the more troublesome texts of Scripture, with an abundance of opinions and interpretations ready for how to make sense of it, all of which revolve around the mysterious biblical figure known as Melchizedek. Discussing the enigmatic high priest Melchizedek has been on the heart of the Hebrew writer since the fifth chapter (Heb. 5:9–10); only now, as chapter seven opens, is he finally able to do so in full. The name “Melchizedek” is likely as obscure to you as it was to the original audience. Besides Hebrews, Melchizedek only appears in two other places in the entire Bible: he’s mentioned in a historical context in Genesis 14, and he shows up again in a prophetic context in Psalm 110. In all, he occupies no more than four verses in the Old Testament, which is surprising considering how central he is to the argument of the book of Hebrews, especially chapter 7.
“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul,” he declares, “a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:19–20). Not only is Jesus a better priest than Levi or Aaron and all those who followed them, but he is a priest from an altogether better order, that of “the order of Melchizedek.” He elaborates: “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 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” (Heb. 7:1–2). This is a reference to Genesis 14, the only piece of biblical history which bears his name.
The Hebrew writer, however, adds a few more details: “[Melchizedek] is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 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” (Heb. 7:2–3).
This is where many stumble. How could Melchizedek have no “father or mother”? And what does it mean that he has “neither beginning . . . nor end”? And that he is “a priest forever”? The writer of Hebrews doesn’t mean to assert the elusive Melchizedek didn’t have parents or that he was an eternal being of some sort. These descriptions are not about his person but his priesthood. Because his priesthood had “neither beginning nor end,” that is how he “resembles the Son of God” (Heb. 7:3).
In the Mosaic Law, only those who descended from Levi were allowed to function as priests. Strict safeguards were put in place in order to protect the priesthood from being defiled by other bloodlines (Num. 3:5–10; Ezra 2:62; cf. Heb. 7:4–8). In a way, this meant that the priesthood was a matter of inheritance. There was a codified “legal requirement” that stipulated who was and wasn’t allowed to serve as a priest, and that code must be followed to the letter of the law. Melchizedek, however, inherited his role from no one. He didn’t belong to Levi. This was generations before Levi, let alone centuries before any law of Moses was ever founded. Melchizedek’s priesthood, therefore, was not bound by the “legal requirements” of the law, nor did he pass it on to any succeeding priest. The priestly order of Melchizedek started and stopped with Melchizedek.
The priestly order of Melchizedek started and stopped with Melchizedek.
The writer’s argument could be summarized like this: If you’re clinging to the institution of the priesthood — as if that institution itself can bring about your salvation and make you righteous — you’re clinging to an inferior institution if you’re clinging to Levi and his descendants. As right and lawful as Judaism was, with all of its rites and rituals ordained by God himself, Judaism in and of itself can’t save anyone. Indeed, the inability of the priesthood and the law to save anyone was baked into it from the start. After all, the writer wonders, why else would there be a prophecy of “another priest” from another order to come after Aaron? (Heb. 7:11).
Like Melchizedek, Jesus did not inherit the role of priest. He didn’t belong to Levi, nor did he assume his priesthood because of some “legal requirement” but because of who he is — God in the flesh. Jesus is the Son of God; come down to us to represent us before the Father. When he comes, he inaugurates an entirely new priestly order (Heb. 7:18–21). The old is “set aside because of its weakness,” and a “new and living way” is opened up for us. Accordingly, those who believe “draw near to God” not on the basis of the law but on the basis of an “oath” from God, which is God’s solemn promise. And it is none other than the God who was “made like his brothers” who comes in the flesh as “the guarantor” of God’s oath (Heb. 7:22). Jesus Christ is the “underwriter,” the “Yes and Amen,” on all of God’s promises, the one through whom all those promises come true.
What the priests of Levi, under the law, could not do, Jesus has done. He has brought about a “perfect” and complete atonement, a finished salvation, which goes on forever because “he continues forever.” Every other priest met the end of their priesthood through death. But not Christ. Though he succumbed to death, death could not hold him (Acts 2:24). His claim to the priesthood, therefore, rests on the basis of his “indestructible life” (Heb. 7:16). Like Melchizedek, Jesus’s priesthood was not inherited from someone else nor was it transferred to someone else. The priestly order of Jesus starts and stops with Jesus. “He holds his priesthood permanently” (Heb. 7:24).
Like Melchizedek, Jesus’s priesthood was not inherited from someone else nor was it transferred to someone else. The priestly order of Jesus starts and stops with Jesus.
Even up to this very moment, Jesus serves as your great High Priest. “Consequently,” the writer of Hebrews says, “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” (Heb. 7:25). Unlike any priest before or after him, Jesus’s priestly ministry has never come to an end nor will it ever. His entire life was one of “intercession,” that is, of speaking and acting on behalf of others, particularly sinners. And the good news is that his work of “intercession” will never cease. He was your priest and representative in his perfect life, in his perfect death, and in his perfect resurrection, and he is all of those things even now for you (Heb. 7:26–28).
Faith means you have fallen under new representation. No longer are you represented by an imperfect priest who sins like you. Instead, your representative is none other than the perfect Son of God who is like you in every way “yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Whereas other systems of faith operate according to the rule that perfection is earned, it’s only the gospel of Jesus’s priesthood that announces that perfection is a gift given freely, by grace, to those believe. “He gives us a perfect representation before the throne of God,” declares H. A. Ironside. “He is everything that we were not and should have been. He is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners and higher than the heavens, and He is all this for us” (91). The hope of the gospel is the promise of total salvation based entirely on Jesus’s perfect representation on your behalf — and that representation continues to this day.
Hardly a day goes by where we aren’t reminded of our faults and failures, of how far short we’ve fallen from the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). But, even still, Jesus has never grown weary of representing you before the throne of God. It’s never a chore for him to show the Father the wounds that paid for your pardon. He stands with hands and feet emblazoned with eternal reminders that absolution has been won because he “gave himself for our sins” (Gal. 1:4; cf. Rev. 5:6). Therefore, though you and I may keep on sinning, he is always pleading and interceding on our behalf. Where the law only ever sees your sin, God only ever sees the scars of his Son.