In the chapters before, we’ve covered some great ideas. In the first five chapters we saw the preacher calling the people to keep their eyes focused on Christ, not to forget the Gospel, not to lose heart while facing problems because Christ is the Great High Priest who understands suffering, and is able to deal with their sins. In chapter 6 we saw (and received) a slap in the face, not intended as an insult but as a wakeup call to spiritual maturity, because our life depends on this maturity. The dependency is not in absolute terms however. We won’t die spiritually by being slackers, but we will definitely live substandard lives if we keep on scratching the surface of Christianity.
Now, in the following section of Chapters 7-10 we get the grownups dish of some heavy theology. It is repetitive just as food is repetitive, but the depth is different. Think of the epistle like a big spiral and at each turn we get deeper in the subject matter, which for this section is Christ the superior to patriarchs, priests and bearer of a new covenant.
In Chapter 7:
- Christ goes beyond patriarchs. He’s a type of Melichizedek, a priest to whom even Abraham was inferior (vv 1-10)
- Christ is a new type of priest, so forget about religious rites from before. The rules have changed, and that’s great news (vv 11-17)
- Jesus leads us to God in a unique manner, through the promise, not through the Law. This new covenant is way better than the previous. This new one is actually efficient for salvation because Christ is a priest that will forever live to intercede for us. So He upholds/supports/keeps alive our salvation (vv 18-28)
vv. 1-10 Supremacy of Christ over patriarchs
As we’ve already seen in previous chapters, the preacher mentioned Melchizedek on several occasions. Now, finally, we get to see what the deal is with Melchizedek. There are several key questions here:
- Why is the episode of Abraham and Melchizedek so important
- How is Melchizedek an eternal priest forever
- How is Melchizedek greater than Abraham
- Why should we care
The Melchizedek episode is important because we get to see the patriarch Abraham, the forefather of the godly, giving a tenth of all his plunder to Melchizedek. Giving a tithe goes always upward. The smaller, less significant, less powerful person gives the tithe to the greater one, thus acknowledging the other’s supremacy. With this event, indirectly we could say that God is setting the stage for a covenant of grace, where people only reach out and take what is freely handed to them.
The tithe (giving 10% as “tax”), as it was known to the Jews, was that Abraham gives the best part of his plunder, because later on we get to read in the Levitical laws that “the fat of the land belongs to God” in a sense that this “fat” is the best part of the crops, the first fruits.
Being somewhat agricultural in background, I fully understand the value of these first fruits. When we pick apples, the first “batch” is actually the best apples. Giving God the first fruit would mean giving God not only 10% of the total crops, but the best 10%. It means giving God our best.
The Melchizedek-Abraham story is important because we get to see a relationship/covenant based on grace, where Melchizedek blesses, and Abraham acknowledges it by giving the best he had to him.
Melchizedek an eternal priest: We have to first realize how vastly different we are compared to the first century Jews. For them, “If the Torah doesn’t mention it, it doesn’t exist”, or in other words, what is not mentioned in the Torah does not exist. So for them, the Torah was the blueprint of the world. As we don’t get to read about Melchizedek’s genealogy, that means that the guy doesn’t have one. And the omission of his death means he’s eternal.
Naturally, Melchizedek’s “eternity” is not a “forensic” or empirical truth. The eternal Melchizedek is a homiletical, rhetorical truth. The preacher probably doesn’t claim that Melchizedek still lives “somewhere”. He only uses him as a type of eternal priest to set the stage of another eternal priest: Christ.
With this story, the preacher makes a very loud statement that we don’t seem to get because we think differently: There has ALWAYS been a “One greater than Abraham” in the Torah. With this statement, he undermines the Jewish mentality of Abraham as the most important/greatest person in history, and prepares us to be more receptive of Christ’s role in our universe and timeline.
So what: Well, the flow of events is that the eternal Melchizedek who’s superior to Abraham gives the blessing first, and Abraham’s reaction is the tithe. If we take the analogy to extreme, this priest-forever Melchizedek makes the first step toward a relationship of blessing, to which Abraham responds in acknowledgement and respect… and maybe even obedience. Flip this flow of activities to Christ, and we quickly get to a clear idea of how salvation works: God takes the initiative, he provides the blessing, and we can either give God the middle finger, or acknowledge this blessing and respond in kind.
Make sure you get this quite clearly: Christ is from the order of Melchizedek, so Christ is eternal, great high priest and levitical priests are inferior to Christ just as Abraham himself was inferior to Melchizedek and gave a tithe to him. Our response to Christ should be identical to Abraham’s response to Melchizedek’s blessing: giving our best to Him.
vv. 11-24 Supremacy of Christ over priests
Unlike the levitical priests who are appointed by other people, and receive their mandate by an agreement of people, the order of the Melchizedek priesthood is a priesthood by nature… by birth if you will. Being from this sort of priestly order, Christ is basically born to be a high pirest. His mandate is not from this world. Christ comes into this world appointed to be a high priest from eternity.
Melchizedek stands parallel to the history found in the Old Testament. As such, he is like from a parallel universe along ours, and the Abraham episode is just one crossing between that one, and our universe. Although brief, this crossing poured in our universe an idea of an order/type/kind of a priest that is far superior to the later-established priestly order from the Old Testament. This our-worldly priesthood requires rules and regulations, but we are not to forget that some time ago, we have seen a glimpse of a superior kind of priesthood, and we must not forget it or think of it as inferior to the levitical priesthood. On the contrary, this order is older, and greater since Abraham gave tithe to Melchizedek, the first representative of this other-worldly priesthood.
This way of thinking (that Christ, a high priest from the order of Melchizedek is a greater priest than Levi) is important for Jews who think that if something is not mentioned in the Torah, then it doesn’t exist. What the preacher says here about Christ is that we’ve always had a proto-type of Christ in Melchizedek the priest. We only didn’t/couldn’t see it because we were so preoccupied with the moral requirements of the Levitical Laws.
vv. 18-28 Supremacy of Christ’s Covenant
Making the case that Christ has been mentioned in the Old Testament before even Levi was born means that the blessing of Melchizedek supersedes the Levitical system of rules and regulations of moral conduct. In other words, Christ goes beyond simplistic morality.
However, by looking at Christ, we don’t really ignore the levitical system. We don’t really say that moral conduct is unimportant. We only say that moral conduct is just part of the story. By focusing so much on moral conduct, we miss out on the foundation of that conduct: the blessing of the shalom of God that Christ gives.
By focusing on the levitical system we forget that the drama is much larger than this isolated segment. That there was a key event in Melchizedek that was an overture in what we’re to expect past this little levitical episode. The real deal is to keep in mind that there is a bigger picture, and Christ kind of fills it up completely.
Perhaps 90% of all Christians will give a hand and an eye swearing that first and foremost Christ came to show us a tranquil life of moral supremacy as a way to eventually get to God. Proverbially in this series, people see Christ more like the half-asleep Buddha. We couldn’t be farther from the truth.
While Christ is not explicitly against moral conduct, He is vastly more interested in helping us raise our eyes from our obsession with morality and realize that this blessing we so eagerly long for is already given to us in Christ. We just need to stop what we’re doing, recognize Christ as far more important than just a messenger of morality, and give our best to Him. But this isn’t just “some attention” but the best part of our attention… the first fruits of our attention.
While the levitical covenant was intended to be a stern babysitter, the covenant in Christ is the one that enables us to come to God without fear and trembling. It is Christ’s active role of a high priest that enables us to come to the Throne as when we approach our beloved parent who cares for us. The levitical covenant enables a slave-master relationship. The Christ-covenant enables a Father-children relationship.
So What? Well, with Christ being “nothing new in the Bible” we get to understand that while most of the Bible does call to moral and ethical living, this sort of life can’t be sustainable or effective if it’s not built on Christ as the foundation out of which springs out life of moral/ethical conduct.
Unlike Melchizedek who was “priest forever” only homiletically/rethorically, Christ is forensically/for-real eternal priest. So unlike the constant reminder of our imperfection through levitical laws that only revealed our problem, when we rest on Christ, we get to have all our imperfections taken-care-of.
How? Through Christ’s intervention: Him making the first step and granting the blessing of peace/rest of God… a peace that transcends understanding. What we are now called to do is to respond in kind, like Abraham the father of the godly. Give Christ our best part of attention/life/energy.
The cool thing about Christ is that by giving Him our best, we don’t end up owning less of anything because Christ is not just any ol’ priest who has no capacity to meet our needs, or one that doesn’t care. He does care. But we couldn’t care less if He cares unless He was able to do something about our problems. And not only did he do something… he did everything we needed. He made the first step by making it possible for us to get God’s peace. It is up to us now to take it… or leave it.
He has been made “perfect” through His suffering. He was proven to be the perfect man for the job of being the eternal high priest through his reaction to all the suffering he was put through. And if He wasn’t of this eternal priestly order, he would not have the ability to respond properly to all that He went through in his life on our world.
As Christ was not part of the Levitical system, he in fact is as an outlaw priest. But his mandate supersedes the levitical priesthood because Christ is far greater than Abraham himself. So we can rest assured that in Him we have a high priest from the order of Melchizedek. Such a priest supersedes the levitical system by the fact that Levi, before even being born, recognized the superiority of Melchizedek’s priestly order. And yet Melchizedek himself was a mere rhetorical/homiletical eternal priest, while Christ is the forensic/real eternal high priest.
Wrapping it all up
This first chapter of the meaty section of Hebrews presents us with several interesting perspectives about Christ and the covenant of peace we have through Christ’s ministry.
- The levitical, moral/ethical system that kept us under pressure to perform better if we want to be close to God is actually just one chapter in the big drama of life. Christ’s covenant encompasses and exceeds this system of religious life with one of freedom to approach God
- The reason behind this supremacy of Christ over law and religiosity is found a long time ago, through a weird and unexpected intervention in history of this guy named Melchizedek, who is like a forerunner of Christ the really eternal high priest
- This eternal high priest, this Christ is not just anybody. He has been proven to be perfect for the job through his way of dealing with life. He was able to respond properly, and based on his conduct and his mission from God, we can now rest assured that in Him we have a priest who understands, and who has the ability to bring us to God, and bring God’s shalom to us.