In Psalm 110, we learn that Melchizedek was a type of Christ, or you might say that he was the type of High Priest that Jesus would be. Types are predictive because they picture or prefigure something even better that is to come. Types are historical and real as they point to what is coming that is more complete. An example of this was the sacrificial lamb of Exodus 12. The angel of death was going to pass over all of Egypt and kill the first born of each household, but God told the Hebrews that each family should sacrifice a lamb as a substitute and put the blood on the doorposts of their house. The angel of death would then pass over that family and they would live. The lamb was a type or prefigure of what would come in the future, and be a complete sacrifice for their sins so that they might be forgiven and saved. In fact, when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming in John 1:29, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Moses was also a type of Christ as he was a prophet, a deliverer, and a miracle worker. When the crowd witnessed Jesus’ miracle of feeding the 5000 in John 6, they said that Jesus must be the expected prophet like Moses that they had been waiting for, meaning the Messiah who would deliver them.
Melchizedek was a type of Christ in that he was a High Priest, but he was not a Levite, he was a king/priest, so he was superior to Abraham and Aaron, he was a universal priest (not just national for Israel), and his priesthood was eternal. Melchizedek was a mysterious character in that he came out of nowhere, appearing only in Genesis 14, and then disappeared never to be heard from again. Nevertheless, David wrote a prophecy about him over a thousand years later that would come true in another thousand years after David. David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote of him in Ps.110, predicting that the Messiah’s priesthood would be like Melchizedek’s. The Messiah would be “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek”, but we would not know exactly what that means if the author of Hebrews 7 had not interpreted it for us. I love that when that happens, because people can never agree on this stuff, but it ends the argument when the New Testament settles it for us.
Hebrews 7—The King of Righteousness
The goal of the book of Hebrews is to prove the superiority of Christ to all religions, traditions, and created beings. The audience were Hebrews (possibly in Rome), who had heard the Gospel of Jesus, liked it and believed it intellectually, but had not fully committed themselves by leaving their old religion. The part of that religion in focus in Heb.7 was the Levitical priesthood and their sacrificial system. The author used the priesthood of Melchizedek to prove his point that Jesus’ sacrifice was superior to the animal sacrifices of the Levites, and His priesthood was superior to the Levitical priesthood put in place by Moses. The Hebrews would take special note of the prophecies of David, so he quoted Psalm 110, and explained what it meant. Melchizedek’s name meant king of righteousness, and he was king of Salem which meant peace, therefore he had a superior name that revealed his character and status before God. Melchizedek was superior to Abraham the Patriarch of Israel and thus Aaron (the first High Priest), as is revealed in Genesis 14 when Mel blessed Abraham, and then Abraham gave a tithe to Mel. The reasons given that Mel was a superior priest are: He was both a priest and a king (no Levite could be a king by law); Mel was a universal priest to all (not just national like the Levites); His name revealed his qualifications of righteousness and peace (whereas the Levites only qualifications was genealogy), Mel’s priesthood had no end (the Levites could only serve for 30 years).
The proof of the superiority of Melchizedek was that Mel (the greater) blessed Abraham (the lesser), and Abraham gave a tithe to Mel showing his subordination to Mel.
About a thousand years after Melchizedek blessed Abraham, David wrote the Messianic Psalm 110. It was a prophecy of the Messiah which became one of the most quoted in the New Testament. Jesus used it in Matt.22:41-45, to reveal that He was unique as the fulfillment of prophecy that He was both David’s human descendant and his divine Lord. Since this baffled the religious leaders, we know that they were not expecting the promised Messiah to be God in the flesh. They had been interpreting Ps.110:1 as God speaking to David, but Jesus cleared this up for us which paved the way to understand another prophecy in Ps.110:4 that Jesus would be a High Priest replacing the Levites and doing away with the sacrificial system they implemented. Because Matt. 22 makes it pretty clear that Ps.110 was a conversation between God the Father and God the Son, we can know that the oath given by God in v.4 was to the Christ. The author of Hebrews further clarifies this by elaborating that Jesus replaced the Old Covenant priests and their sacrifices with a perfect sacrifice making the animal sacrifices unnecessary.
In Psalm 110:4, we get to overhear the conversation between God and the Christ, “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Our Lord Jesus is both a priest and a king by God’s ancient promise. As king, He will rule over all things, and as priest He mediates and intercedes for us on a perpetual basis.
In Hebrews 7:11, the author wrote that no one could be perfect (holy or forgiven) through the old sacrificial Levitical system, therefore it was necessary for “another” priest to arise who could make us perfect. This new priest was according to the “order of Melchizedek”, and not the order of Aaron (the first high priest of Israel). Then in v.12, he continues by saying that not only were the priests replaced by a new and better priest—Jesus, but the law was replaced as well. By this he means the ceremonial law that ordered animal sacrifices which could never fully atone for sin. He has a great “on the one hand…but on the other hand” type argument in v.18-19. On the one hand the Old Covenant ceremonial law was set aside because of its weakness in not being able to atone for sins, but on the other hand Jesus brought in a much better hope, through which we have access to God. This was predicted by David in Psalm 110, and guaranteed by God that He would replace the O.T. law with the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. Therefore Jesus is “able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him (Jesus), since He always lives to make intercession for them.” The bottom line is that the Old system was temporary and unable to save, but the new priesthood of Christ is eternal and able to draw us near to God.
Then Why Did God Give the Old Covenant Law at all?
I can think of at least four reasons why we have an Old Covenant with the Mosaic Law:
- It formed Israel into a new nation under God’s authority—they had been an unorganized group of tribes without a country of their own.
- It restrained sin.
- It set forth God’s perfect standard by which we will be judged—people could no longer just make up their own rules
- It pointed out to us our great need for a Savior—when it was obvious that all had sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect standard, they should have known they couldn’t measure up and they needed God’s help. In Gal.3:24, Paul wrote that the law acted as our tutor, and in Rom.3:20, the law revealed our sin and need for a Savior.
Christ’s Priesthood is Superior
The conclusion to this contrast of the old and imperfect with the new and perfect that replaced it is in Hebrews 7:26-28, and it is very powerful. Christ is holy, innocent, undefiled, and exalted; as opposed to the priests from the tribe of Levi who were all too human. Rather than go through the weaknesses of all the priests in the Bible, it is enough to focus on the last ones we know of in the gospel accounts—Annas and Caiaphas. They did not care about the innocence of Jesus, but acted selfishly in what they thought was their best interest. Jesus had exposed their greed when He entered the temple and overturned the table of the money changers saying, “you have made it (the temple) a robber’s den.” They proceeded to give Jesus a “kangaroo court” verdict, and railroaded His conviction through Pilate. To say they were unrighteous would be an insult to the unrighteous.
Notice in Heb.7:27 that the other priests had to first make daily sacrifices for their own sin before they could make sacrifices for the people, but Jesus had no sin, and He made only one sacrifice of Himself for the people that was sufficient for all sins past, present, and future. The Mosaic Law appointed men as priests whose only qualification was heredity, but God’s promise of a new and better priest in Jesus, appointed God’s Son made perfect forever.
Your parents, teachers, and coaches meant well when they passed down their religion, traditions, and rituals, but Jesus is superior to all that, and only through the atoning work of Christ can you be saved and then transformed. Therefore, as hard as it is, leave the old behind, and fully embrace Jesus. Remember the simple truth of Colossians 3:11, “Christ is all, and in all.”