The end of Hebrews 6 again mentions Jesus as “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” 7 goes into the history that we previously linked to in Genesis 14. Abraham gave him a tenth of all he had, 400 years before the Law was given to Moses at Sinai. Hebrews 7 describes Melchizedek as without without father or mother, not having beginning or end. He has no genealogy which stands in contrast to the well established genealogies of Aaron, the first Levitical priest, and of Jesus. You may encounter speculation that goes in all sorts of directions, from Melchizedek actually being an appearance of Christ in the flesh in the Old Testament to the idea that he literally lived forever. Very little is said about him in Genesis but the writer of Hebrews devotes seven chapters to describing his priesthood. The important thing is this: that the ministry of Jesus Christ is greater. He is superior to Aaron and Melchizedek. He is the minister of a better covenant than any Old Testament priest because if the former were sufficient there would be no need for another. (Heb. 7:11)
Jesus is the guarantor of a better covenant. There were many Old Testament priests because their death necessitated another take their office. Jesus lives forever to make intercession. Verse 25 says he able to save to the uttermost because of this fact. He has no need to offer sacrifices daily, for himself or the people, as other priests did because his own sacrifice is all sufficient. He offered himself once and for all time. We will look further into the offerings brought by priests next week.
It’s a corny joke and I apologize for repeating it but when we see the word “therefore” in the Bible we need to stop and consider what it’s there for. At the end of Hebrews 5, we find a warning against those that have failed to mature. The writer laments that believers who should be on solid food (of God’s Word) still need to be given milk like infants. So 6 begins with a call to move on to maturity, leaving the elementary things behind.
The end of Hebrews 4 informs us that Jesus is our Great High Priest and then the chapter ends. Hebrews 5 tells us why he is a better high priest than the Levitical priests of the Old Covenant. The high priests called by God to the priesthood were human beings and had the same shortcomings as the people they ministered to. They had their own sins to confess and be forgiven before they could attend to the sins of others. The Christ is God’s own Son and also a priest forever after the order Melchizedek. Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek in Genesis 14 and Abraham gives him a tenth of everything he has. This is centuries before the Law was given to Moses. The Levitical priesthood had not been established and there was no commandment, at least none recorded, to give a tithe. Genesis will not answer all of our questions. There is no recorded beginning nor ending of Melchizedek’s priesthood and this little detail is used to show what kind of high priest Jesus will be. There is no beginning and no end to his priesthood. He does not have his own sins to sacrifice for, and he is not called by God but is God’s own Son. Although he was the only begotten Son, through suffering in his mortal flesh he learned obedience.
The final verses of chapter 5 is a chastisement to an audience that should be eating “spiritual food” as mature believers but must still be given milk as infants. Hebrews will get to comparing Jesus to Melchizedek in a couple of chapters and list more ways in which he is greater.
The key to understanding Hebrews 4 is to have read Hebrews 3. The basic concept presented in chapter 3 is that Jesus is greater than Moses. The chapter ends with God’s people not entering the rest they were promised because of disobedience:
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. Hebrews 3:16-19
Moses is perhaps the most significant type of of Christ in the Old Testament. There are many examples of types of Christ given, such as the high priest, the sacrificial lamb, the branch that was thrown in the bitter water at Mara. Moses had a great many things in common with Christ; he led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt, gave them God’s Law, and led them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Some teachers go as far as to point out that Moses was taken out of the water by Pharaoh’s daughter and Jesus was taken up from the waters of baptism by John the Baptist. That might be a stretch… but those things did happen. Jesus frees the Christian believer from slavery to sin, teaches us God’s Law (kept it perfectly so we don’t have to actually), and leads us through this present wilderness we are in toward the promised land of God’s Kingdom.
Hebrews is easy to preach because its form is much more like a sermon than an epistle (letter). At the heart of its message is an impassioned plea not to leave the Christian faith for another, and so in order to be convincing the author of Hebrews makes many comparisons between Christ and all the things of the Old Testament he is superior to. We have already seen that Christ is superior to the angels, and that through suffering he becomes the perfect founder of our faith. Chapter 3 begins this way:
Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. Hebrews 3:1-6
I am preaching through the book of Hebrews, and expect to post on Hebrews many times in the weeks ahead. While Hebrews looks a little like a letter (epistle) in many ways it is more like a sermon. That makes it really easy to preach.
I recommend reading Hebrews 2. When I preach this sermon, I read most of it as the text; it isn’t long. The writer of Hebrews contends that Jesus tasted death for everyone, and that his suffering has made him the perfect founder of our salvation. Because of it he is not ashamed to call us brothers. Continue reading →
I am about to start a sermon series on the book of Hebrews, and will endeavor to share those messages here. Hebrews ties together the Old and New Testaments by showing how Jesus is carrying forward into the church age the work started by God among the Hebrew people. Written to a Jewish audience, the letter to the Hebrews strives to prove that Christianity is the continuation of Judaism, and not something else entirely. If you have ever questioned why a Christian should read or study the Old Testament, this book will be an eye-opener. Quite simply, most of what God was doing in the Old Testament was meant to help us understand the work of Christ in the New. Continue reading →