Hebrews 7: The Anchor, The Priest and The New Covenant
Last week we looked at the story of Abraham as the author of Hebrews used the example of Abraham’s life story and the miraculous birth of Isaac to teach us about God’s character. Biblical hope is not to be confused with optimism or positive thinking. This hope is based on truth and certainty. The verses in Hebrews 11:1 (NIV) use those words: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see.” Paul wrote in Romans 15:13, God is the God of Hope.
I know what it is to experience hopelessness and it is one of the most devastating emotions one can experience. We must realize those who do not know and possess the God of Hope are desperately searching for something to hold on to- looking for any good news, to make them optimistic about their lives and the future. All the polls in our country today show the opposite is true for the most part. We are currently witnessing in the news every night, the desperation of people looking for a change, for hope.
Every politician who has sought to be elected makes promises, he/ she cannot keep. They may truly want to accomplish these things, but unfortunately, our government is dysfunctional due to the opposition each party faces from the other, making it extremely difficult to accomplish much which they have promised. It is interesting the slogan which Obama used in his first campaign: “Change we can believe in.” Isn’t that what we are all looking for- something we can believe in, which does not disappoint, but provides us with hope that is certain? This is what we have as Christians and what we have to offer to a world looking for something to believe in which will make their life better. We can tell them about a real change they can believe in and not be disappointed.
With God, we are fully persuaded He can do what He says He can do; because He is who He says He is. God says in Malachi, ‘I, the Lord, do not change’. He is the same today as yesterday and He will be tomorrow and forever. Furthermore He cannot lie. This is against His character of Holiness and Perfection. He made a promise to Abraham and then took an oath, by which he swore by Himself. The promise and the oath from the Most High God, Creator of all Things, assure us He will do what He has promised. The Word of God and the souls of men last forever. The purpose of man’s soul was to have the Word of God deposited in it. The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, which He wishes to fill with the oil of the Holy Spirit and light with the One who is the Light of the world. Then, too, will our hearts burn within us as He searches the inner depths of the heart. (And it is time for us, as Christians to put our light on a stand to give light to everyone in the house.)
As we ended Hebrew 6, we see a metaphor used for the first and only time in the Bible- the word, “anchor” is used to provide a picture of something which holds. A ship needs an anchor to ride out storms so it will not be blown off course or into the rocks or reefs nearby. Even in a safe harbor, a ship needs an anchor so that it will not drift. *Remember drifting was the first danger the author of Hebrews warned us about.* So whether in the storms of life or in the harbor of calm times of life, we all need an anchor for our souls so that we do not drift and destroy our lives. In fact during times of peace and prosperity we can be lulled into thinking we do not need be securely anchored in such calm waters.
The stories in the Bible were written to teach us and encourage us. There has never been anyone who trusted in God’s promises and was disappointed. God may delay the answer to His promises, but He always keeps His promises. Without seeing any results for 25 years, Abraham hung onto the character of God. In the same way, the secret of our faith rests on the character of Jesus Christ. We believe He cannot lie and so we have Him and He has us. Trust God to keep you trusting.
Let me make this as clear as possible:
- The Lord’s promises have never failed.
- His purpose is unchangeable.
- He is incapable of lying.
Our anchor enters into the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. I have taken hold of the hope offered to me. It is my anchor and the anchor of every believer. I do not have to make sure I hold on, because Christ, my Great Shepherd has taken hold of me. He says nothing can snatch me from His hand. The anchor holds firm. However, I want to do everything I can to take hold of all of that which has been given to me. For Peter tells us we have been given everything we need for life and godliness through His great and precious promises. Peter also tells us we must make every effort to add to our faith. Doing this will make us more effective and more productive. (2 Peter 1) Now do you understand what Paul said in Philippians 3: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me.” So the hope of our future salvation anchors us to wait on God in present storms. As we have previously discussed, these storms will come in various forms to rob us our hope, destroy our peace, and blow us off course. We must weather them by holding firmly to the promise of salvation in Christ alone by grace through faith. There will be storms of disease, doubt, difficult trials of all kinds and even storms of defeat when we fall in sin, just as Abraham did. We will be sifted like wheat as Jesus told Peter he would be. “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22) Our High Priest is praying for us, that our faith may not fail, and that by His Grace we can be restored and strengthened.
Now in this next section in Hebrews 7, we have a portrait of our helper. The incident upon which it is based comes again from Abraham’s life, recorded in Genesis 14.
THE STORY OF ABRAHAM AND MELCHIZEDEK
King Melchizedek is an example of a teaching method used in the Bible we call typology. Whenever we talk about a type, we mean an OT picture of the work and person of Jesus Christ. Example would be the lambs slain for sacrifices and the story of the Passover Lamb in Egypt. These are a reference to Jesus Christ, who John the Baptist, rightfully identified as the ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’ Remember this truth: a type is always inferior to the one to whom it is compared. Melchizedek is such a type. He is a real person. He is inferior to the Jesus Christ, but the writer of Hebrews will show he was superior to the priesthood of Aaron. Like King Melchizedek, Jesus Christ will be both King and Great High Priest.
The reason this teaching was so important to the Jews at the time of this writing, is the priesthood was an exalted position in Judaism. In fact the priesthood was the most important part of Judaism. The word ‘priest’ in Latin is interpreted: “ pontifex”. This word broken down means- ‘bridge builder.’ Jews depended upon their high priest to build a bridge between sinful man and Holy God. No one could enter into the Holy of Holies behind the veil, but the High Priest. On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to place blood upon the mercy seat for the sins of the people. In other words, the High Priest was the most powerful picture and type of Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest. The tabernacle, and later the temple were built as a copy of the Holy of Holies in heaven. Jesus would be the Great High Priest and the only one who could enter into the Holy of Holies in heaven and put His own blood on the mercy seat. He was and is our Bridge Builder.
They understood and had been taught, without the shedding of blood there was no remission of sins. Their sins separated them from God and thus their fellowship was broken. The only one who could restore the fellowship was the High Priest with the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the mercy seat on their behalf. The High Priest was the Jewish people’s mediator. The priesthood of Aaron was the very heart of Judaism. The Jews of the OT knew of no other way to get connected to God except by the High Priest. This truth regarding the priesthood was of utmost importance to them.
The very existence of Melchizedek and his two brief mentions in the OT proves to me how the Word of God is God’s Inspired Word. The same God who introduced this person to us in three verses in Genesis 14, mentions this mysterious priest again 1000 years later in Psalm 110 and tells us God Himself swears to His Son, He will be a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. Then another 1000 years passes and the writer of Hebrews brings us back to those verses. This tells me- through three different people who wrote these verses centuries and centuries apart, it was the same God who inspired the book of Genesis and the verse in Psalms and this teaching in Hebrews.
So the most important task the writer of Hebrews has before him is to prove to the Hebrews and us there is no greater high priest than Jesus. He is greater than any priest in the order of Aaron. Remember we said in the tabernacle and temple there was no place for the priest to sit. The only seat was the mercy seat and no one could sit on that seat. The priests’ work was never done. All sacrifices were temporary and had to be repeated continuously. The writer introduces the reader to Jesus as the Great High Priest in Hebrews 4: 14-16. Here he tells us we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God. We are told we can now approach the throne of grace with confidence to obtain mercy and grace to help in time of need. In chapter 5 of Hebrews, the writer shows Jesus Christ as being superior to Aaron and goes on to compare Jesus and His Priesthood to the priesthood of King Melchizedek.
Hebrews 7 takes us back to Genesis 14 and Psalm 110. How amazing in all 39 of the OT books written over centuries there are only two mentions of this mysterious person, King Melchizedek, and they are 1000 years apart. To me this is proof of the inspiration of God’s Word to have such unity, means there can be only one Spirit, who is called the Spirit of Unity. The first three verses of Hebrews re-introduce us to this King. “This Melchizedek was king of Salem, and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means “king of righteousness”, then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains priest forever.” In verse 4, the writer adds: “Just think how great he was, even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder!” Paying a tithe to another meant you recognized them as superior to yourself.
What do we know about Aaron and the priesthood which God initiated in the OT? Let us look at 5 traits of this priesthood and then show by comparison the supremacy of the priesthood of Melchizedek.
- Aaron’s priesthood was national. It was to the nation of Israel. It had become a closed system; this is why Jonah ran away from God. He did not want Nineveh to be included in their faith.
- Aaron’s priesthood was subject to the kings over them. By the time of Jesus we see how the religious leaders had become allies with the kings over them and the Romans in order to maintain their positions of power.
- Aaron’s priesthood offered no permanent solution to sins. In other words, they could not offer permanent righteousness and permanent peace. This is why sacrifices were repeated over and over because they were temporary and incomplete.
- Aaron’s priesthood was hereditary. You must be of the tribe of Levi.
- And Numbers 8 tells us the age of the priest was limited to 25-50 years. Limited by heredity and age.
Now compare to what we learn of King Melchizedek:
- Melchizedek’s priesthood was universal. He uses the universal name of God, El Elyon, and the Most High God. This includes Jews and Gentiles alike. (King Nebuchadnezzar recognized this and said, “The Most High God does according to His will in heaven and in earth.”)
- Melchizedek was both king and priest. He was not subject to kings. Jesus is King of Kings and our Great High Priest. His kingdom is not of this world today, but it is coming and He will rule with a rod of iron.
- Melchizedek’s name means ‘king of righteousness’. And he is king of peace (Salem = Salom) In Psalm 85:10 we read: “Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed.” And John writes in John 1: “For the law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Permanent righteousness, permanent peace. No more sacrifices need. His was a royal priesthood.
- Melchizedek’s genealogy is not mentioned. Nor is his beginning or end of life told us. These were omitted purposely to show heredity had nothing to do with his priesthood. It was on the basis of personal qualifications. Jesus was and is the only person qualified to enter into the heavenly holy of holies for he was without sin. Had never sinned. The only one who could accomplish what He did. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Once and for all. Then He sat down at the right hand of God. As the Son of God who became flesh, we know the Son of God existed forever. He is pre-existent. He is eternal. No beginning – no end.
- In Numbers 8: 23, 24, God gives instructions for the Levites who would serve as priests must be 25 years or older, but at age 50 work no longer. It was limited by a time period. Not so for our Great High Priest who will be a High Priest forever.
Now we must not overlook what is the proof of superiority of the Priesthood of Melchizedek. Abraham offered a tithe to him, which meant Abraham recognized King Melchizedek as superior to himself. And Melchizedek is inferior to the Son of God who was before him. He is a copy who appears for the purpose of giving us an example. Jesus said ‘before Abraham was, I am.’ In fact, King Melchizedek was created by God. He existed because God willed for him to exist to give us the clear picture and type of Jesus Christ as our Great High Priest.
King Melchizedek also blessed Abraham. The blessing always came from the greater to the lesser. God is also teaching the Hebrews a lesson. Before the priesthood of Aaron there was priesthood. And because all of the Levites (and tribes of Israel) were in Abraham’s loins, this mysterious King/Priest was greater than all their priests.
THE CHANGE-A NEW PRIEST, A NEW COVENANT
Change is difficult isn’ it? Imagine, having done something for years and now told this was not the way it was to be done anymore. This had been the most important part of their lives. This was what made them who they were. They were God’s special people. They had been given the law. They had the Temple and all the rituals. They were by their very nature- temporary. Now had come the permanent in the completed ministry of Jesus Christ.
The writer of Hebrews understands their feelings and he asks the following rhetorical questions:
“If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still a need for another priest to come- one in the order of Melchizedek? Not in the order of Aaron?” Good question. “For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change to the law.” (Hebrews 7: 11, 12)
Here is why the change came and actually what the law was intended to do from the beginning. “The former regulation (commandment) is set aside because it was weak and useless. For the law made nothing perfect, and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” (Hebrews 7: 18, 19)
Jesus was a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. “Because of this oath, Jesus had become a guarantee of a better covenant.”
Now we begin to understand what Jesus meant when He said: “Do not think I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or tittle will by no means pass away from the law till all is fulfilled.” (Matthew 5) Jesus came as a fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets for they all spoke of Him. Jesus then begins a teaching ministry in which He teaches the truth about God’s laws, by separating them from the man-made laws of the Pharisees. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks to them about what they have heard it said by those of olden times, but tells them the truth of God’ s Word.
The law could not save anyone. No one could keep the law. Paul said no one could achieve righteousness by keeping the law. Rather through the law we became conscious of sin. (Romans 3)
But a new High Priest has come, God’s own Son, who was able to keep the law and thus become the’ bridge builder’ to restore us to a Holy God by giving His righteousness to us through faith in Jesus Christ. A new high priest- the Greatest High Priest. He gave us righteousness and peace permanently. This is why Jesus said –“It is finished!” at the cross. Everything that needed to be done had been done.
To be continued…..