For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
Over the last few chapters, the book of Hebrews has been building an argument that Jesus serves us as “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” The phrase “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” is not original to this writer. It is a quote from Psalm 110, a psalm that the writer quotes or alludes to many times (Hebrews 1:3, 13, 5:6, 10, 6:20, 7:3, 17, 21, 8:1, 10:12-13, 12:2). What does this phrase mean? To understand the original meaning and its use by the writer of Hebrews, it’s helpful to dig a little deeper into Psalm 110.
In its original context, Psalm 110 was written as an enthronement song to be sung whenever a new king would rise to the throne in Jerusalem. The song was intended to celebrate the inauguration of a new king and to acknowledge some of the king’s new roles. One role was to serve as a priest as King David did when he offered sacrifices in 2 Samuel 6.
By law in ancient Israel, only people who belonged to the tribal family of Levi could serve as priests. The Israelite kings did not belong to this family; instead they came from the tribal family of Judah. Because the Israelite kings did not have the right to serve as priests, based on their family of origin, God based the kings’ priesthood on a different precedent that preceded the law. This was the precedent of a priest-king named Melchizedek who reigned and ministered in Jerusalem many centuries before the Israelites even existed as a people (Genesis 14). Therefore, Israelite kings were declared priests “in the order of Melchizedek,” and they were priests “forever” on the basis of a promise God made to King David that his descendants would reign as kings “forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-13).
So what does the phrase “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” have to do with Jesus? Jesus serves us as a priest, but not on the basis of His family origin. Because Jesus is a direct descendant of the kings for whom Psalm 110 was written, His priesthood is based on the precedent of Melchizedek. Also, Jesus’ priesthood is literally “forever.” Unlike all other priests who are subject to death, Jesus overcame death and, in so doing, fulfilled the promise God made to David that his descendants would reign forever. Because of this, Jesus is able to represent us forever before God. As the writer puts it in Hebrews 7:25, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”
JESUS LIKE MELCHIZEDEK
11 If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood - why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. 13 He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is declared:
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”
18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:
“The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’ ”
22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.
23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
26 Such a high priest truly meets our need - one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.
Read Hebrews 7:25 and reflect on what it means for Jesus to “intercede” with God on our behalf. What do you think this means?
Hebrews 7:17 says that God planned to accomplish eternal salvation through the high priesthood of Jesus. This is something the Old Testament law could never do and gives Christ-followers confidence in a relationship where we can “draw near to God”. How exactly do we draw near to God? What can we do?
Jesus has a permanent priesthood. He should be the ultimate authority for our spiritual life. However, in our culture today, we often elevate people with authority or power into positions of guidance and direction for our lives. We might even consider these people’s opinions before we consider the words of Jesus written in the Bible. Who are some people in your life that you seek advice or counsel from? How do you compare them against what Scripture says? Are there any changes you need to make on where you go for help?