The Most High Priest

18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. 21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.”

-Genesis 14:18-21

The Epistle to the Hebrews is a letter written to Jewish Christians who were withdrawing from Christianity and returning to Judaism for fear of persecution. The writer used this letter to exhort them to endure so that they could receive the promise of salvation (Heb. 10:26-39). One of the main topics developed in the letter is that of the association of Melchizedek to Christ in order to show the Christians of that time the superiority of the new covenant to the old. The benefit of this new covenant is that now we have in heaven an everlasting High Priest through whom we have access to God for our salvation.

According to Genesis 14:18-21, Melchizedek was the king of Salem and a priest of God Most High. The Hebrew writer translates his name as “king of righteousness” (Heb. 1-3), and his kingdom Salem is said to be the city of Jerusalem; thus, he is also identified as king of peace (See Josephus, Antiquities I, X, 1; Heb. 7:2; cf. Psalm 76:2). Melchizedek blessed Abraham after the latter had returned from defeating the kings and rescuing his kinsman Lot. Abraham in return gave the priest a tenth of the spoils that he had gained in the battle (Gen. 14:20; Heb. 7:2). The blessing of Melchizedek upon Abraham and the offering he received from him illustrate the authority of the king over Abraham. Such authority is explained in Hebrews 7 in order to highlight the superiority of Melchizedek’s priesthood to the Levitical priesthood that would be instituted under the Law of Moses (vv. 4:10 NKJV):

Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. And 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; but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.

The patriarch Abraham was highly esteemed by Jews and Jewish Christians. However, what the Hebrew writer shows here is that, despite his importance, Melchizedek is superior to him and the Levitical priests. According to the Mosaic Law, the people were commanded to give tithes to the priests, who were descendants of Abraham, but notice that Abraham himself gave a tithe to Melchizedek. For that reason, the statement is made in verse 7: “Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better.” As we consider these facts concerning Melchizedek, we can clearly see the relationship between his kingship and priesthood and the kingship and priesthood of Jesus Christ.

The kingship and priesthood of Jesus is prophesied in Zechariah 6:12-13:

12 Then speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, saying: “Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the Lord; 13 Yes, He shall build the temple of the Lord. He shall bear the glory, And shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne, And the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”’

This passage shows that, like Melchizedek, Jesus would be a king. He would build the temple of the Lord and sit and rule on his throne. Before Jesus was crucified, he promised to build his church (Matt. 16:18), also known as the house of God (Heb. 3:3-6) or the temple of the Lord (1 Cor. 3:16-17; Eph. 2:21). He referred to the church as his kingdom (Matt. 16:19), which would come with power on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2, cf. Mark 9:1). Jesus’ kingship is evident throughout the Scriptures (John 18:36-37; Acts 2:29-33; Col. 1:13):

36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

29 “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne,[a] 31 he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. 33 Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.

13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love,

Also evident are the characteristics of his government, which are typified in the features of Melchizedek – a kingship of righteous and peace. Jesus came to establish a spiritual government of peace, justice, and righteousness. He is referred to as the Prince and Lord of Peace (Isa. 9:6-7; 2 Thess. 3:15), and he preached peace to those far and near (Eph. 2:17). He became righteousness and is the example of righteousness; therefore, we look only to him in order to attain righteousness and to live blameless lives (1 Cor. 1:30; Gal. 2:21; 1 Pet. 21:24).

Zechariah prophesied that Jesus would also be a priest and would mediate peacefully with the Father. The Hebrew writer discusses the priesthood of Christ in chapter 5, explaining that Jesus became our High Priest by being appointed by God. He did not exalt himself, but rather God called him to be a priest just as he did with Aaron. God begot Christ and raised him from the dead so that he would never see corruption (Acts 13:33-37), thus making him an eternal priest and the author of eternal salvation (Heb. 5:9). The association of the priesthood of Melchizedek with that of Christ is developed in detail in Hebrews 5 and 7.

Notice that the Scriptures say that Melchizedek was without father or mother. He had no genealogy and no beginning of days or end of life (Heb. 7:3). These statements refer to the fact that there was no record of the life of Melchizedek. As James Burton Coffman explains in his commentary on this epistle, it is obvious that he did have parents and that he died at some point, but what we see is that he appears in the Scriptures without any explanation of his background. The absence of his lineage is significant in that it highlights the fact that he does not come from the tribe that would later receive the priesthood, and that he remains a priest continually (vv. 3,6). This points to Jesus in that he did not come from the tribe of Levi, but rather from Judah (vv. 11-16). The Levitical priesthood was instituted according to a law in which nothing was said concerning Judah, but Jesus received the priesthood by the power of an indestructible life. God swore an oath that he would be a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek (v. 17,21; cf. Ps. 110:4).

Jesus becoming a priest in this way has some important implications. First, there had to be a change in the law because God changed the priesthood by an oath (v. 12). According to Ephesians 2:14-16, when Christ was crucified, the law of commandments expressed in ordinances was abolished. God nailed the record of debt, that is, the handwriting of requirements, to the cross (Col. 2:13-14). The ministry of death was brought to an end (2 Cor. 3:7-8). The eradication of the Mosaic Law in Christ’s death allowed for the creation of a new man whose sins were forgiven, and that new man – the one body made up of Jews and Gentiles – was reconciled to God (Eph. 2:15-16; Col. 2:13).

Second, God’s oath made Christ’s priesthood everlasting. The Levitical priests had to be replaced every time one died, but since Christ’s life is indestructible, his priesthood is unchangeable (Heb. 7:24). Third, Christ’s priesthood brings salvation because he lives forever to make intercession for us (v. 25). Lastly, his priesthood is better than that of the Levites. Whereas the Levitical priests were men who sinned and had to offer sacrifices daily for their own sins, Christ has no need of this because he is holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens (vv. 26-28).

The priesthood of Christ gives us the confidence to approach the throne of grace in order to receive mercy and find grace when we are in need (Heb. 4:16). Therefore, according to Hebrews 10, we should respond by drawing near to God with a sincere heart and resilient faith (v. 22). We must not waver in the confession of our hope (v. 23). We also should motivate each other to love and to carry out good works (v. 24). Lastly, we should never neglect to meet together and always encourage one another (vv. 25).

In Christianity, there is no more separation between God and man. Therefore, there is no need for anyone to intercede for us – no clergymen, no priests, etc. That is because, through Christ, God has made us a royal priesthood. Each individual is his own priest and is able to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God by the Most High Priest, Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:5). However, in order for your sacrifices to be acceptable, you must be covered by the blood of Christ. Notice in Hebrews 10:22 that your heart must be sprinkled clean and your body washed with pure water. The confidence that you have to enter the holy place is by the blood of Jesus that was shed on the cross (Heb. 10:19). The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin (Heb. 9:12; 10:4), which is why Christ had to die. His blood is what washes our sins away (Matt. 26:26-28). In order to come in contact with his blood, it must be through water baptism (Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:11-13) because the blood is in the water (Jn. 19:34; cf. 1 Jn. 5:6-8). You must have faith in Christ and in the power of his blood in order for God to operate and wash your sins away (Heb. 11:6). It is by the working of God that you are cleansed in order to reap the benefits of the priesthood of Christ (Col. 2:11-13; Titus 3:5).

The Messianic Jonah: His Resurrection and His Church

In the Bible, we learn of a prophet named Jonah that was commanded by God to preach to the people of Nineveh so that they would repent from their evil ways and turn to the Lord (Jon. 1:2). The prophet did not want to obey this command; he knew that God would be gracious and merciful towards Nineveh if they repented (Jon. 4:2). Therefore, he decided to escape to Tarshish in an attempt to run from the presence of God (Jon. 1:3). His efforts, however, were in vain because God sent a violent storm while he was on a ship, and the only way to calm it was by throwing Jonah overboard into the sea (Jon. 1:4-15). God sent a big fish to swallow Jonah up, and he remained in its belly for three days and three nights (Jon. 1:17). During that time, Jonah prayed to the Lord for deliverance. The Lord heard his prayer and spoke to the fish, which then vomited Jonah out on to dry land (Jon 2). He then commanded him a second time to go preach to the people of Nineveh. This time Jonah obeyed and went into the city proclaiming the word of God (Jon 3:1-4). The people believed and repented of their wickedness. When God saw this, he had mercy on them and withheld his punishment (Jon 3:5-10). This account presents various themes, such as repentance, obedience, and the grace and mercy of God. But also noteworthy is how this story points to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the establishment of his church.

There are at least two passages in the Scriptures that show how this story served for Jews as a foretelling of the coming Messiah. In Matthew 12:38-41, Jesus spoke of the account of Jonah as being prophecy. The Pharisees and Scribes at this time were asking for a sign from Jesus as proof that he was truly the Messiah. Even though they had just seen him heal a man and cast out a demon, they demanded more evidence. Jesus called them out on their hypocrisy. They were able to look into the sky and predict the weather, but yet they closed their eyes to the evidence that Jesus was the Christ (Matt. 16:3). He told them that the only sign they would be given is that of the prophet Jonah. (Matt. 12:39-40, 16:4 English Standard Version): “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Jesus was referring to his death, burial, and resurrection.

We learn that the account of Jonah served as a prophecy also from Psalm 16:10-11. When Jonah was in the belly of the fish, he cried out to the Lord with a prayer that was very similar to the prophetic psalm of David:

“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice” (Jon. 2:2).

“I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God” (Jon. 2:6).

“For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” (Ps. 16:10).

Both Jonah and David spoke of being cast into Sheol, which according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, refers to Hades – the grave or the abode of the dead. However, God would deliver them from that pit. Jonah was indeed delivered when the Lord made the fish vomit him out onto dry land. Note also that Christ spoke of overcoming death, or Sheol/Hades, when he proclaimed that he would establish his church upon Peter’s confession that he was the Son of God (Matt. 16:16-18):

16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell (NKJV: Hades) shall not prevail against it.

The book of Jonah, the sixteenth psalm of David, and the proclamation made by Jesus in Matthew 16 show that Jesus would die, be buried, and be raised after three days. His resurrection would prove that he was the Messiah and would establish his church. The fulfillment of this prophecy is seen in Matthew 27:57-28:15. Jesus was buried in a tomb, and after three days, God raised him from the dead:

59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away (Matt. 27:59).

1Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said (Matt. 28:1-6).

Peter himself knew that the prophecy had been fulfilled, and thus preached it on the day of Pentecost in the first gospel sermon in which he cited the words of David from Psalm 16:10-11:

25 For David says concerning him, “‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; 26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. 27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence’ (Acts 2:25-28).

David foresaw and spoke forth the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Messiah was not abandoned in Hades, and his soul did not see corruption. He is now sitting at the right hand of God, and his church has been established (Acts. 2:31-33, 47).

As Christians, we must believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and not be like the Sadducees, who denied that there was such thing as a resurrection (Matt. 22:23). If there is no resurrection, then our preaching and faith are in vain, and we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:12-19). For the alien sinner there is no hope of salvation without the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:11-13). The people of Nineveh were saved from condemnation because they believed the preaching of Jonah and repented. At the judgment, their repentance will condemn the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time because he was much greater than Jonah, but yet they did not believe his preaching (Matt. 12:41). The same will happen to those who do not believe the preaching of the gospel today.

Simply believing, however, will not save you. It is true that the preaching of the gospel produces faith (Rom. 10:17), but it also brings about obedience (Rom. 16:26). Notice in Acts 2:37, after the people heard that they had crucified the Messiah, they were pricked to their hearts. They asked Peter and the other apostles, “What shall we do?” Peter responded, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” What we see here is that you have to be baptized in order for your sins to be forgiven. A type of baptism is observed in Jonah being plunged into the sea: “the waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head” (Jon. 2:5). He was completely submerged in the water and was later pulled out by God. Paul spoke of baptism as a figure of Christ’s burial and resurrection in his letter to the Romans. According to chapter 6, verses 1-11, we emulate in baptism the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The submersion in water marks our death to sin (vv. 6-7), and when we are pulled out, it is our resurrection to newness of life (Rom. 7:6; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 4:23-24; Col. 3:10) by the powerful working of God (2 Cor. 13:4; Col. 2:12; Tit. 3:5). We escape spiritual death; that is, death no longer has dominion over us. And as the church, the gates of Hades cannot prevail against us!