Melchizedek – Of The High Priests
Melchizedek is mentioned 11 times in the bible. Once in Genesis 14:18, once in Psalm 110:4 and nine time in Hebrews. Perhaps you’re not very familiar with the significance of the order Melchizedek or perhaps you haven’t even heard of the
order before. Learning about the role and succession of the high priest, knowing Jesus is our current and last high priest, and understanding the Order of Melchizedek as it relates to Jesus is an important part of knowing the word of God.
What is the role and qualifications for a high priest? What is “The Order of Melchizedek?” Who is Melchizedek and how is Jesus Christ connected to this Order? And why is this hard to explain? Questions that can be answered by letting God walk us through His Word for the answers.
Hebrews 5: 1-5 (NKJV)
For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness. 3 Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sins. 4 And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.
The role of high priest was an honored position among priest. His responsibilities as intercessor in the tabernacle was one of significance. The writer of Hebrews starts by saying for “every” high priest. Therefore, we are not talking about a select few. For every high priest the qualifications are the same.
We need a little background concerning the role of the high priest or of priests in general to have a better understanding of the role of the High Priest Melchizedek. In Hebrew, the word priest is kohen. It can also be translated as chief minister or chief servant of God. The general purpose of a priest is to be a representative of God to men and men to God. They interceded before God on behalf of needful man and they represented God’s holiness to sinful men.
In Israel there were many priests who took turns serving in the tabernacle. From these priest a single man was set apart that was the High Priest. His primary duty was to oﬃciate over a one-time atonement each year during the time we refer to as Yom Kippur. All priests are representatives of the covenant that granted them their oﬃce and the High Priest is the chief representative of God to men under that same covenant. For example, the High Priest of Israel was the chief representative under the covenant of Law given through Moses.
The Hebrews writer begins by reminding us that these covenants stipulate certain requirements for the high priest. A high priest must be taken from among men if he is to be a representative before God on behalf of men. Simply put, to represent a group, you must be a part of that group.
Example: Those who wish to represent America at the Olympics must be American. State representatives to Congress must be citizens of that state. Those wishing to represent their school at a spelling bee must attend that school, etc.
So it is with priests before the living God. A priest represents men before God. And since a priest is taken from among men, then the priest must be a human being, a man like those he represents. Therefore, a priest cannot be an angel or a spirit, since such an entity cannot represent human beings.
Secondly, the High Priest must oﬀer sacrifices and gifts before God. These acts of worship are acceptable to God only because God Himself has recognized the oﬃce and function of the high priest. What the writer is saying is that the high priest was essential to the worship process because God was only willing to accept worship through his intercession. A representative has power and authority only if those they approach acknowledge that power.
An example will help us understand what the writer is saying. When you hire an attorney to represent you in a court of law, that attorney has authority to conduct your affairs only because the judge acknowledges your attorney’s right to represent you. If your representative was not a licensed attorney or hadn’t been accepted to the Bar Association, then he won’t be acknowledged by the court as a lawful representative. Or if you send a person to Washington D.C. to represent you in Congress, but that person was not duly elected according to the rules of Congress, then your representative won’t be accepted. And if your representative isn’t accepted, then you have no representation in the end.
Therefore, it is the same for a high priest. God has declared that He will accept our worship and acknowledge our requests for forgiveness only through the work of a high priest. Henceforth, this must be a representative who is approved by God, according to the rules of a covenant given by God. If you want God to receive your worship and hear your petitions and grant you forgiveness for your sins, then you must approach Him on His terms. Which means you must come to Him through a high priest who is qualified to oﬀer those sacrifices and gifts.
In verse 2 it says the\high priest is himself a man. Therefore, he has a valuable perspective when representing the needs of sinful people before God. The high priest of Israel could deal gently with the ignorant and misguided men and women of Israel. The words ignorant and misguided are not intended to be insults, but rather they are literal descriptions of the people. There are many people as followers of God who are ignorant, or in Greek it means without knowledge, as lacking knowledge of God The high priest was schooled in the ways of God through the word of God and by his experiences in serving God. And that knowledge would distinguish him from the people who lacked that knowledge. Furthermore, the people could be misguided. The Greek word for misguided means to wander, as in to wander from the truth and into deception. The people of God can be deceived by the world and by the enemy. So the high priest acted as a shepherd to bring those who wandered back into the fold through discipline, feeding and encouragement.
Best of all, the high priest of Israel was well equipped to serve because he was a man who was himself beset by similar weaknesses. For his personal experience dealing with sin gave him the capacity for compassion and sympathy for others who sinned. He could put himself in his people’s shoes. Giving this, he was to be neither indifferent to sin nor harsh with those who fell. In fact, his own sin required that he act as his own representative first even before he could represent the people. According to the law, the high priest had to sacrifice an animal for the sake of his own sins before he could come before the Lord and oﬀer sacrifices for the sins of the people. This requirement served to remind the high priest and the people who sin was a common experience for all of them. The impact was it kept the high priest humble, for he was forced to acknowledge he was no more worthy than those he represented before God.
Now that the writer of Hebrews has explained the basic qualifications of a high priest, he moves to explaining how Jesus was a superior high priest to any that came under the Law.
Hebrews 5:5-10 (NKJV)
A Priest Forever
5 So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him:
“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.”
6 As He also says in another place:
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek”
7 who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, 8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. 9 And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, 10 called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,”
The Hebrews writer begins the comparison with Christ’s appointment as a priest. As with the priest under the Law, God the Father appointed and approved Jesus as a High Priest. Remember the way a man became a priest or even the High Priest in Israel. The priests were appointed by God to be of the Tribe of Levi, who were descended from Aaron. That’s why we call those the Aaronic priesthood. And the appointment of the high priest was equal, to be always a descendent of Aaron, usually the eldest son. God set these qualifications, and only by these qualifications would a man be acceptable to God. Likewise, the Son had to meet the qualifications set by the Father if He was to be accepted as a representative of men. First, He had to be appointed by the Father. Just as God appointed Aaron, He also appointed His son. The Hebrews writer Psalms to prove his argument, using Psalm 2:
Psalm 2:7 (NKJV)
7 “I will declare the decree:
The Lord has said to Me,
‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
How does this passage prove the writer’s point? The answer comes in understanding the ancient meaning of the terms “begotten.” The word in Hebrew means come forth, but it carries another sense in ancient Israel.
This is the word used throughout Genesis to reflect the genealogical qualification of a son to continue the family name. We see the word over and over again in the genealogy chapters of Genesis. There it’s translated “became the father of…” In verse 5, it is highlighting the term in Psalm 2 to demonstrate both aspects of Christ’s qualifications as a high priest. First, it reflects Christ taking on human flesh and being born as a man. Whereas, God became the Father of Christ, calling Him Son, because the Son was born as a man. Christ had to be a man to serve as a suitable representative. For only a man can represent men before God. It also reflects Christ was born into the proper family and descended from the proper line. Just as the sons of Aaron were the only ones qualified to be priests, Christ had to be a Son of the proper family. And that family has an order of succession just as the sons of Aaron had a proper succession.
In verse 6 we are given the order of Christ’s succession: the order of Melchizedek. The word order in Hebrew means succession. It’s doesn’t mean certain group, like an order of monks. It means a succession of people in an ancestral line. For example the Aaronic priesthood is an order as the new high priests only came from among the sons of previous high priest in that lineage. And since a high priest served for life, a new high priest inherited his oﬃce by succession.
Therefore, the writer of Hebrews is explaining that Jesus did not assume for Himself the title of High Priest, but He received it in the way the Father required. He received it because He was born into the correct family line and He inherited His priesthood through a succession of those before him. That succession of is called the order of Melchizedek. In the days of Jesus’ flesh (that is when He lived as a man on earth prior to His ascension), Jesus oﬀered up both prayers and supplications. Here the Hebrews writer is referring specifically to Jesus High Priestly prayer in John 17 in the Garden of Gethsemane and His petitions while on the cross. These were key moments in His ministry, when He interceded in weakness on behalf of ignorant and misguided humanity. He was serving as our High Priest in those moments when He approached the Father, the One Who was able to save Him from death. And we know Christ died on the cross. When the Hebrews writer says the Father was able to save Him from death, he means the Father’s ability to resurrect Jesus. And Jesus’ petitions were heard by the Father because of His piety. The word piety in Greek means caution or reverence and Jesus’ reverence was in doing all that God required to be a suitable representative, even to the point of showing sympathy for those who persecuted Him.
Finally, in vs.8-10 the Hebrews writer emphasizes the value of Jesus’ suﬀerings as a high priest. Though He was sinless and was divine, He still gained from the experience of suffering as a man. By His willingness to submit to the Father’s will, Jesus was made perfect. That word, perfect, can confuse us a little, since it implies Jesus was less than perfect in some earlier moment. But that’s the not the correct sense at all. The word in Greek is teleioo, which means to bring to a perfect conclusion. The Hebrews writer says that as Jesus suffered, His mission as High Priest was brought to it’s perfect conclusion. We can see this truth reflected at multiple points in the Gospels, where the same Greek word is used:
John 4:34 (NKJV)
34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.
John 19:30 (NKJV)
30 So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!”And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.
Luke 13:32 (NKJV)
32 And He said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.’
Jesus’ suffering on the cross was the accomplishment of a goal, and that suffering made for a perfect end to that work. And it accomplished salvation for those who obey Christ. Obedience to Christ is a New Testament term for confessing Him as Christ through believing the Gospel. Just as those in Israel could only gain the benefit of the high priest’s sacrifice by accepting it on their behalf, so it is with Christ. We won’t receive credit for His sacrifice unless we acknowledge it as a sacrifice on our behalf.
Christ is the High Priest Who can make a sacrifice on our behalf, which the Father will regard as salvation for our sake because He came in the manner prescribed by the Father, as a begotten Son. He met all the qualifications as a man, including demonstrating obedience to God and compassion for His fellow man. And He comes in the order of Melchizedek. This final detail is the most significant, in that it qualifies Christ as the promised Messiah. It tells us that God’s promise of a Redeemer and King is now fulfilled in One Man, Christ. Plus, the order or succession of Melchizedek is an entirely different priestly order than the one given to Moses under the Law. It unites the Kings and Priests of Israel into a single order.
This is an important topic about the order of Melchizedek. It is one the Hebrews writer expects us to understand and follow. Otherwise, how will he explain the significance of Christ’s role as a better high priest? After convincingly describing the role of high priest and Jesus’ superiority and qualifications as high priest, the Hebrews writer decides he needs to pause in his teaching on Christ as High Priest to chastise the church a little for being unprepared for such a difficult conversation. Notice in verse 11 the Hebrews writer pivots into a direct warning to the church.
Hebrews 5:11 (NKJV)
11 of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.
Some of the reasons why the Hebrews writer launched into this warning
- He had wanted to explain the mystery of Jesus as a priest in the Order of Melchizedek
- But this teaching is complex and built upon other truths of scripture
- And without the necessary spiritual maturity, the Hebrews writer questioned whether his audience was ready to understand what he needed to explain
- Because he knew his audience to have failed in pursuit of maturity, he issued them the warning
Chapter 6 of Hebrews is chastising the readers at that time for their lack in diligent study of the word. Preferring milk (one who does not grow) to meat (one who grows in maturity), thus not able to fully comprehend the complexities of understanding his teaching about Melchizedek.
At the end of chapter 6 it starts transitioning back to the proof that Christ is a greater priest than any found in the Law.
Hebrews 6:19-20 (NKJV)
19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, 20 where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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