Last time, we looked at the Hebrews writer’s note of encouragement to his brothers and sisters, in which he told of his hope for better things for them (and us) than he had spoken of in his warning that it is impossible for those who have tasted of the heavenly gift and then fall away from faith to be restored to repentance. He reminded his readers of the patience and persistent faith of Abraham to whom God had sworn an oath of promise, and encouraged them (and us) to remain steadfast as Abraham was – continually growing in our faith.
Jesus Our High Priest – Part 2
The writer now takes up once more the subject of Jesus’ role as our High Priest who continually makes intercession for the people before the throne of God. The writer first broached this subject near the end of Hebrews 4, quoting Psalm 110:4, calling Jesus “a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,” but quickly changed the subject, saying that his readers had become too “dull of hearing” for us to comprehend that statement. Having promised that he would have much to say on the topic, he now returns to it here at the end of Hebrews 6.
6-19This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, 20where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.7-1For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” 3without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.4Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. 5And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; 6but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. 8Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. 9Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, 10for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.11Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? 12For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. 13For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar.14For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. 15And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest 16who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. 17For He testifies:“You are a priest foreverAccording to the order of Melchizedek.” [Psalm 110:4][Hebrews 6:19-7:17 – NKJV]
There is certainly a great deal to consider in this meaty passage. Digesting it will require the full measure of our spiritual discernment, by the grace of God. The old bromide asks how one goes about eating an elephant, with the obvious answer, “one bite at a time.” So let’s begin.
19This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, 20where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. [Hebrews 6:19-20 – NKJV]
Recall, from our previous study in Hebrews 6:7-18 we looked at the promise God made to Abraham which He sealed by an oath sworn by Himself, since there is none greater by whom God could swear. In summing up that discussion the Hebrews writer spoke of the strong consolation which we who have fled [to Jesus] for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us may ourselves also find in that promise God made to Abraham. The writer now expounds exactly what that hope set before us is – eternal life in Heaven with our Father and His Great High Priest – Jesus. Once again, we see the writer using symbolism which would certainly have struck a chord in the hearts of his Hebrew readers.
31“You shall make a veil woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen. It shall be woven with an artistic design of cherubim. 32You shall hang it upon the four pillars of acacia wood overlaid with gold. Their hooks shall be gold, upon four sockets of silver. 33And you shall hang the veil from the clasps. Then you shall bring the ark of the Testimony in there, behind the veil. The veil shall be a divider for you between the holy place and the Most Holy. 34You shall put the mercy seat upon the ark of the Testimony in the Most Holy. 35You shall set the table outside the veil, and the lampstand across from the table on the side of the tabernacle toward the south; and you shall put the table on the north side. [Exodus 26:31-35 – NKJV]
Aside – Hebrews 6:19 gives an opportunity to point out an important aspect of Bible study that disciples of Jesus should be on the lookout for. When a word is printed in italic typeface in many printed English translations of God’s Word, it can mean one of two things. Either the word, phrase, or passage in the italic font is a quotation from elsewhere in the Bible, or the word, phrase, or passage is not found in the original language (Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic) manuscripts. Most often, such words have been inserted by the translators in order for the translation to make grammatical sense in the target language, whereas the inserted words are not needed by the grammar of the original language. We find two examples of such inserted words here in the NKJV translation of Hebrews 6:19 – the word hope and the phrase the Presence. Obviously, such inserted words are required by the translators much more often in a word-by-word type of translation, such as the KJV or the NKJV, than they are in a concept-by-concept translation such as the NIV, or in a paraphrase/commentary, such as The Amplified Bible or the NLT. So the serious student of the Bible should keep a variety of translations on hand, or use an online tool that provides multiple translations, and be on the lookout for words and phrases inserted by the translators. Needless to say, I personally recommend using a word-by-word translation primarily.
Here in the NKJV rendering of Hebrews 6:19, the word hope has been inserted by the translators as a reminder that the verse is a continuation of the writer’s thought found in the previous verse about the hope of eternal life, which believers have in Christ. The phrase the Presence doesn’t occur in the original Greek. Nor is it strictly speaking required for the English translation to make grammatical sense. In fact, of the translations I had available for comparison, only the KJV and NKJV contain the phrase here in this verse. Nevertheless, I personally like the way the NKJV renders the verse, because it is a reminder that behind the dividing curtain between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place in the Hebrew tabernacle and later in the temple of Solomon, was where the Ark of the Covenant was placed, and that when the Ark was put in this place, and properly consecrated in accordance with the Law of Moses, the very Presence of God descended on the place and rested on the Mercy Seat which covered the Ark.
33And he raised up the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the screen of the court gate. So Moses finished the work.34Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. [Exodus 40:33-35 – NKJV]
10And it came to pass, when the priests came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the LORD, 11so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD. [1 Kings 8:10-11 – NKJV]
The Ark, the tabernacle, and the temple were all only human constructions – albeit under instruction from God Almighty Himself by the word of Moses. The Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark notwithstanding, these articles had and have no power in and of themselves, except that they act as the symbols that God intended them to be, serving to remind us of our separation from the holiness of God through our sin. Indeed, the veil spoken of here in Hebrews 6:19 is truly symbolic of death itself – the wages of our sin, and the ultimate and final separation from God.
12Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13(For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. [Romans 3:12-14 – NKJV]
20But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. [1 Corinthians 15:20-23 – NKJV]
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. [John 11:25 – NKJV]
50And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.51Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, [Matthew 27:50-51 – NKJV]
1For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him,2to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” 3without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually. [Hebrews 7:1-3 – NKJV]
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. [Genesis 14:18 – NKJV]
8And the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out and joined together in battle in the Valley of Siddim 9against Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of nations, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five. 10Now the Valley of Siddim was full of asphalt pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled; some fell there, and the remainder fled to the mountains. 11Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. 12They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.13Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, for he dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner; and they were allies with Abram. 14Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15He divided his forces against them by night, and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. 16So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people.17And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him. [Genesis 14:8-17 – NKJV]
14‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘that I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah:15‘In those days and at that timeI will cause to grow up to DavidA Branch of righteousness;He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.16In those days Judah will be saved,And Jerusalem will dwell safely.And this is the name by which she will be called:THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’17“For thus says the LORD: ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel; 18nor shall the priests, the Levites, lack a man to offer burnt offerings before Me, to kindle grain offerings, and to sacrifice continually.'” [Jeremiah 33:14-18 – NKJV]
18Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. 19And he blessed him and said:“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,Possessor of heaven and earth;20And blessed be God Most High,Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”And he gave him a tithe of all. [Genesis 14:18-20 – NKJV]
6For unto us a Child is born,Unto us a Son is given;And the government will be upon His shoulder.And His name will be calledWonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.7Of the increase of His government and peaceThere will be no end,Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,To order it and establish it with judgment and justiceFrom that time forward, even forever.The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. [Isaiah 9:6-7 – NKJV]
I bring My righteousness near, it shall not be far off;
My salvation shall not linger.
And I will place salvation in Zion,
For Israel My glory. [Isaiah 46:13 – NKJV]
Recall that after Solomon fell into idolatry late in his reign, God had determined to divide the kingdom, giving the land of ten tribes to Solomon’s servant Jeroboam, but leaving Judah to Solomon’s son Rehoboam. God told Jeroboam about this through the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite.
‘And to his son I will give one tribe, that My servant David may always have a lamp before Me in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen for Myself, to put My name there. [1 Kings 11:36 – NKJV]
Note that in the middle of the Hebrew name of Jerusalem (יְרוּשָׁלַם) is the letter שָׁ shin. It is interesting to note that the topography of the old city resembles this Hebrew letter. I’m not sure that we should really read too much into that, but it is very interesting.
But I digress… again…
The Hebrews writer continues in Hebrews 7:3, saying that Melchizedek is “…without father, without mother, without genealogy…” Why did the writer consider this fact important enough to mention? To the modern reader in today’s cosmopolitan society, a person’s pedigree is unimportant, but in ancient (and even modern) Hebrew society, it was a big deal. The ancestry of the priests in particular was of great importance. God had ordained in His Law that the priests were to be taken from the descendants of Jacob’s son, Levi – the tribe of Moses and his brother Aaron – and that the high priest was to be chosen from Aaron’s family in particular. Interestingly, modern scientists in the late 1990s discovered a unique genetic marker that descendants of Levi carry. A cursory scan of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah reveals that a large proportion of those texts is devoted to listing genealogies of kings and priests. In fact, recall that after the Babylonian captivity, the genealogies of some of those returning to Canaan for the rebuilding of the temple could not be proven. Therefore, some of those claiming to be Levites were not allowed to serve in the new temple.
These sought their listing among those who were registered by genealogy, but they were not found; therefore they were excluded from the priesthood as defiled. [Ezra 2:62 – NKJV]
In fact, the obsession with genealogies was so strong in Hebrew society that Paul found it necessary to warn Timothy and Titus about it.
But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. [Titus 3:9 – NKJV]
Yet in Genesis 14, we find Melchizedek identified as “priest of the Most High God” hundreds of years before God established the Levitical priesthood under Aaron. Abram clearly recognized the validity of Melchizedek’s priesthood because he gave Melchizedek a tithe (tenth) of the spoils taken when he rescued Lot and the five kings. Throughout the Word of God, such tribute is always given by an inferior person to a superior. In fact, even the king of Sodom offered Abram a tithe which Abram refused, yet Abram gave an offering to Melchizedek. This is significant, since Abraham was held in highest regard surpassed only by God Himself, and perhaps Moses among the Hebrew congregations to whom this letter was written. The point of the writer is clear – Melchizedek is superior to Abram, thus can only be God Himself in the flesh i.e. the preincarnate Jesus. This point is reinforced by the fact that when Melchizedek, met Abram, He blessed him. Throughout the Bible, and Hebrew society through all its history, blessings are always given by the superior to the inferior, with the blessing of God being superior to all. The writer goes on in Hebrews 7:3 to proclaim the immortality of Melchizedek, saying that He has “neither beginning of days nor end of life” and that He “remains a priest forever.”
The writer encapsulates his declaration of the divinity and eternal nature of Melchizedek in Hebrews 3:4-10 which stand on their own without need of further comment.
4Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. 5And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; 6but he [Melchizedek] whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. 8Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he [God] receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. 9Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, 10for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. [Hebrews 3:4-10 – NKJV]
The writer continues in Hebrews 7:11 contrasting once more the corrupt human priesthood of the Levites and the descendants of Aaron, under the Law of Moses, through the blood of animal sacrifices, with the perfect and eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ, by the New Covenant in His blood, shed for all on the cross.
11Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? 12For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. [Hebrews 7:11-12 – NKJV]
The writer has much more to say in the upcoming chapters about the insufficiency of the priestly ceremonies and animal sacrifices of the Levitical priests to provide true and lasting salvation from sin. We will therefore defer discussion of this vital topic until we take up those passages for detailed study. For the time being, suffice it to say (as the Hebrews writer does in Hebrews 7:12) that by the time Hebrews was written, the Levitical priesthood had become so corrupt and ungodly, a “changing of the guard” was needed, and with it “a change of the law.” Nevertheless, we must take care that we don’t read into this the idea that Jesus came to abolish the law, or that the law is no longer valid or relevant. Jesus Himself made a clear declaration to the contrary in His sermon on the mount.
17“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [Matthew 5:17-19 – NKJV]
Recall that Hebrews 7:1 calls Melchizedek both “king of Salem” and “priest of the Most High God.” No other single person apart from Jesus Himself is called both priest and king throughout the Word of God except in John’s greeting to the churches in Revelation.
4John, to the seven churches which are in Asia:“Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth.To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, 6and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. [Revelation 1:4-6 – NKJV]
Recall also that the priests were taken from the tribe of Levi in accordance with the law of Moses, but that Israel’s kings were taken from other tribes, never from Levi. The Hebrews writer discusses this point starting in Hebrews 7:13.
13For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar.14For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. 15And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest 16who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. 17For He testifies:“You are a priest foreverAccording to the order of Melchizedek.” [Psalm 110:4][Hebrews 6:19-7:17 – NKJV]
1There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, [David’s father]And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.2The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him,The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,The Spirit of counsel and might,The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.3His delight is in the fear of the LORD,And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes,Nor decide by the hearing of His ears;4But with righteousness He shall judge the poor,And decide with equity for the meek of the earth;He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.5Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins,And faithfulness the belt of His waist.6“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;And a little child shall lead them.7The cow and the bear shall graze;Their young ones shall lie down together;And the lion shall eat straw like the ox.8The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole,And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.9They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORDAs the waters cover the sea.10“And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse,Who shall stand as a banner to the people;For the Gentiles shall seek Him,And His resting place shall be glorious.”[Isaiah 11:1-10 – NKJV]
4Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,5to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. [Luke 2:4-5 – NKJV]
6Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed,Or the golden bowl is broken,Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain,Or the wheel broken at the well.7Then the dust will return to the earth as it was,And the spirit will return to God who gave it.[Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 – NKJV]
Having now established that Jesus is indeed “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” just as King David proclaimed in Psalm 110:4, next time we will take up the study of the Hebrews writer’s exposition of the Gospel and priestly ministry of Jesus itself.