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Hebrews 7:1-28 Introduction: The book of Hebrews can...

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Hebrews 7:1-28

 

Introduction: The book of Hebrews can be divided into 3 major sections: Chapters 1-6, Chapters 7-10, and chapters 11-13. Today we are going to begin looking at the second major section of the letter, which addresses the superiority of Jesus’ priesthood.

As stated above, this second section covers chapters 7 through 10, and it can be divided further as follows.

  • The Priesthood of Jesus is superior because:
    • It is from a better order (Melchizedek, not Aaron) Ch.7
    • It represents a better covenant (New, not old) Ch.8
    • It has a better sanctuary (In Heaven, not on earth) Ch.9
    • It has a better sacrifice (God’s Son, not animals) Ch.10

These four points are really intertwined and the arguments formed in one of these can, and does, spill over into those made in the next, but today we just want to look at just the first of these: The priesthood of Jesus is superior because it is from a better order - that of Melchizedek, not Aaron.

Remember, the book of Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish believers, and being Jewish they are very connected to the Levitical Priesthood that was established in the Old Testament in a way that we today cannot understand.  The fact that the author is now saying the priesthood that they have known for centuries is no longer adequate, and that it has actually been replaced by a superior order, was no small thing. Warren Wiersbe says, “The Jewish nation was accustomed to the priesthood of the tribe of Levi. This tribe was chosen by God to serve in the tabernacle (Ex. 29; Num. 18). Aaron was the first high priest, appointed by God. In spite of their many failures, the priests had served God for centuries; but now the writer has affirmed that their priesthood has ended!”[1]

Why has their priesthood ended? Because there is a better priesthood. The rest of Hebrews chapter 7 shows us a comparison between the old (Levitical) and the new (Melchizezekian) priesthoods, and then shows us why the priesthood of Melchizedek is superior, and how Jesus is the High Priest of that order.

We will break this chapter into 3 sections:

1.       The Historical argument of Melchizedek (verses 1-10)

2.       The Doctrinal argument of Jesus and Aaron (verses 11-25)

3.       The Practical argument of Jesus and Believers (verses 26-28)

With that as an introduction let’s open to Hebrews chapter 7 and begin our study.

1. The Historical Argument (Verses 1-10)

 

If we look back to the end of chapter 6 we see that the writer of Hebrews has just told us that Jesus has entered the Sanctuary in Heaven on our behalf and has become a high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:20). As we now move into chapter 7 the writer begins to tell us who this Melchizedek is.

Let’s begin by reading verses 1-3 of Hebrews 7.

For this Melchizedek— King of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham and blessed him as he returned from defeating the kings, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything; first, his name means “king of righteousness,” then also, “king of Salem,” meaning “king of peace”; without father, mother, or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God —remains a priest forever.  (Hebrews 7:1-3)

So what did we learn in these three verses?

1.       Melchizedek was the King of Salem

2.       Melchizedek was a Priest of the Most High God

3.       He met Abraham as he returned from defeating the kings

4.       He received a tithe from Abraham

5.       His name means King of Righteousness

6.       His name means King of Salem or King of Peace

7.       He has no recorded genealogy

8.       He resembles the Son of God

9.       He remains a priest forever

This is everything that we know about Melchizedek; he is the mystery man of the Bible. His name is only mentioned 10 times in the entire Bible, twice in the Old Testament and eight times in Hebrews (five of which occur right here in chapter 7). We can look at the other places that his name is mentioned to try to get a better understanding of who this man was, but we will not learn a whole lot more by doing so. God has chosen to keep this a mystery. Just so you can see what I mean, let’s turn back to Genesis 14 and read the account of Abraham meeting Melchizedek.

After Abram returned from defeating Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). Then Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine; he was a priest to God Most High.  He blessed him and said: Abram is blessed by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and give praise to God Most High who has handed over your enemies to you. And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:17-20)

Now let’s look at Psalm 110; the only other place we find Melchizedek out side of Hebrews.

The Lord has sworn an oath and will not take it back:  “Forever, You are a priest like Melchizedek.”  (Psalm 110:4)

As you can see, there is not a lot of information given about this man, but the writer of Hebrews uses him as an illustration to show us the uniqueness of the priesthood of Jesus, and the superiority of His priesthood over that of the Levitical system. I have given you a list of 9 things that we learned about Melchizedek in verses 1-3 and now I want to look closer at a few of these to establish why the writer of Hebrews is using him as the picture of Jesus’ priesthood, and how this illustrates its superiority.

The first thing we see in these verses is that Melchizedek was both a priest and a king. This is significant because these offices are separate in the Jewish economy, (Priests were from the tribe of Levi and the Kings from the tribe of Judah) and it is actually forbidden for a king to do the work of a priest under the Old Testament law.

But you and your sons will carry out your priestly responsibilities for everything concerning the altar and for what is inside the veil, and you will do that work. I am giving you the work of the priesthood as a gift, but an unauthorized person who comes near the sanctuary will be put to death.” (Numbers 18:7)

Let’s look at two examples of what happened in the Old Testament when a king tried to exercise the office of a priest:

First let’s look at King Saul who lost his kingdom because he acted in the roll of a priest, and then we will look at King Uzziah who was struck with leprosy when he tried to act as a priest. 3

In 1 Samuel 13 we see Saul and his army in a war with the Philistines. Things are not going well for the Israelites and they are starting to desert Saul who has been waiting for Samuel to arrive, but Samuel is late so Saul decides that he will offer up the sacrifices to God himself instead of waiting for Samuel. We pick up the story in verse 8:

He waited seven days for the appointed time that Samuel had set, but Samuel didn’t come to Gilgal, and the troops were deserting him. So Saul said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” Then he offered the burnt offering. Just as he finished offering the burnt offering, Samuel arrived. So Saul went out to greet him, and Samuel asked, “What have you done?” Saul answered, “When I saw that the troops were deserting me and you didn’t come within the appointed days and the Philistines were gathering at Michmash, I thought: The Philistines will now descend on me at Gilgal, and I haven’t sought the Lord’s favor. So I forced myself to offer the burnt offering.” Samuel said to Saul, “You have been foolish.  You have not kept the command which the Lord your God gave you.  It was at this time that the Lord would have permanently established your reign over Israel, but now your reign will not endure.  The Lord has found a man loyal to Him, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not done what the Lord commanded.” (1 Samuel 13:8-14)

The next example is King Uzziah; we find this one in 2 Chronicles 26.

But when he became strong, he grew arrogant and it led to his own destruction. He acted unfaithfully against the Lord his God by going into the Lord’s sanctuary to burn incense on the incense altar. Azariah the priest, along with 80 brave priests of the Lord, went in after him. They took their stand against King Uzziah and said, “Uzziah, you have no right to offer incense to the Lord —only the consecrated priests, the descendants of Aaron, have the right to offer incense.  Leave the sanctuary, for you have acted unfaithfully! You will not receive honor from the Lord God.” Uzziah, with a censer in his hand to offer incense, was enraged. But when he became enraged with the priests, in the presence of the priests in the Lord’s temple beside the altar of incense, a skin disease broke out on his forehead. Then Azariah the chief priest and all the priests turned to him and saw that he was diseased on his forehead. They rushed him out of there. He himself also hurried to get out because the Lord had afflicted him. So King Uzziah was diseased to the time of his death. He lived in quarantine with a serious skin disease and was excluded from access to the Lord’s temple, while his son Jotham was over the king’s household governing the people of the land.  (2 Chronicles 26:16-21)

In both of these instances we see that kings were not allowed to occupy the office of a priest, yet here in Hebrews we see that Melchizedek was both a king and a priest. We also that Jesus is both a king and a priest because He is from the order of Melchizedek. Had He been from the order of Aaron, not the order of Melchizedek, Jesus could not be both our priest and our king, so in this way His priesthood is superior to that of Aaron and the Levites.

Another thing we see in the first three verses of Hebrews 7 is that Melchizedek had no genealogy. This does not mean that he was immortal (although that argument has been brought up) “Melchizedek may have been an angelic being who reigned for a time at Salem. If so, the statement that he was “without beginning of days” would not mean that he was eternal, but simply that he had a pretemporal origin. Nor would this concept of Melchizedek as an angel elevate him to the same level as God’s Son, since the author painstakingly asserted the Son’s superiority to the angels (1:5-14). There is indeed evidence that, at Qumran, Melchizedek was regarded as an angelic personage. If this is the case in Hebrews, then the Son of God is the High Priest in an order in which Melchizedek is simply a priest.”[2] I however believe that Melchizedek was a man and the fact that we don’t know his genealogy points not to him being an angelic being, but to the fact that like Jesus’ priesthood there is no beginning, nor is there an ending. This lack of genealogy would have been significant to the Jewish people living in the first century because in the Jewish religion, as we have already seen, it was very important for a priest to be able to trace his lineage back to Aaron and to the tribe of Levi. What the writer of Hebrews is pointing out here is that Melchizedek’s reign as a priest and king is a picture of Jesus because it appears to continues forever since we have no record of his death; Warren Wiersbe explains it this way, “as far as the record is concerned, [Melchizedek] was not born, nor did he die. In this way, he is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. Though Jesus Christ did die, Calvary was not the end; for He arose from the dead and today lives in “the power of an endless life” (Heb. 7:16). Since there is no account of Melchizedek’s death, as far as the record is concerned, it seems that Melchizedek is still serving as a priest and king. [In this way] he is like the eternal Son of God.” [3]

The last thing I want to look at from this list is that he received a tithe from Abraham. This is a very interesting argument, and perhaps the most significant due to the fact that the next seven verses all refer back to this one statement from verse 2.

Let’s read verses 4-10 and then look more deeply into the meaning here.

Now consider how great this man was, to whom even Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the plunder! The sons of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment according to the law to collect a tenth from the people —that is, from their brothers—though they have also descended from Abraham.  But one without this lineage collected tithes from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises.  Without a doubt, the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case, men who will die receive tithes; but in the other case, Scripture testifies that he lives.  And in a sense Levi himself, who receives tithes, has paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still within his forefather when Melchizedek met him.  (Hebrews 7:4-10)

The argument that is used here, starting in verse 4, is that Melchizedek is greater than Levi because Melchizedek received a tithe from Abraham, and that in a sense Levi himself paid tithes to Melchizedek because he was still “within his forefather” Abraham at the time the Abraham paid this the. This is a fascinating argument, and it has implications all over Scripture, but before we look at what is probably the most important of these let’s look at what this passage is teaching us.

First of all we see that Melchizedek’s greatness is established because Abraham paid him a tithe (verse 4). This would have been significant to the Jewish believers because they considered Abraham to be great because he was the one who received the promises from God. Here we see that Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek, and in essence showed that Melchizedek was greater than he.

Next the argument is made that the Levites were given a command according to the law to receive a tenth of everything from the people of Israel (verse 5). We can, among other places, see this in Numbers 18 and also in 2 Chronicles 31:

Look, I have given the Levites every tenth in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work they do, the work of the tent of meeting. (Numbers 18:21)

He told the people who lived in Jerusalem to give a contribution for the priests and Levites so that they could devote their energy to the law of the Lord. When the word spread, the Israelites gave liberally of the best of the grain, wine, oil, honey, and of all the produce of the field, and they brought an abundant tenth of everything. (2 Chronicles 31:4-5)

Now in verse six the writer of Hebrews again makes the point that “one without this lineage collected tithes”, and then goes on in verse seven to make the point again that Abraham is inferior to Melchizedek because Melchizedek blessed Abraham and Abraham received the blessing. One of the commentaries I looked at made the point that this only holds true when the blessing is of divine origin by stating, “The principle that the blesser is superior to him whom he blesses, holds good only in a blessing given with divine authority; not merely a prayerful wish, but one that is divinely efficient in working its purport, as that of the patriarchs on their children.”[4] So Melchizedek blessed Abraham and Abraham paid Melchizedek a tithe, but what we are seeing here is that in essence Levi paid Melchizedek a tithe and Melchizedek blesses Levi showing once again that the order of Melchizedek is superior to the order of Aaron.

Verse eight then says that the tithe that was paid to the Levites was paid to people who died, but that this tithe paid to Melchizedek is different because he lives on. The NIV here says that he “is declared to be living.” So does this mean that Melchizedek is still alive? No, this statement is referring to the priesthood he represented, and not to the man, as we can see from Psalm 110:4 as well as Hebrews 5:6 and 6:20.

Now in verses nine and ten there is a statement that at first glance we may just pass by without notice; the writer of Hebrews here says that Levi, who receives the tithes, actually paid tithes through Abraham because when Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek he was still in Abraham’s body. 

Before we move on I want you to stop and think about the implications of what we are being told here; we have just been told that Levi, the great grandson of Abraham who had not even been born yet, paid tithes to Melchizedek because he was still within the Body of Abraham at the time that Abraham paid the tithe. You might think that this is a bit of a stretch here, but what we are being told can also apply to each one of us, because when Adam sinned, each of us were still in Adam’s body, so when Adam sinned we sinned also.

This also brings up another question; if Jesus is of the seed of Abraham and thus of the seed of Adam does that mean that He too is corrupted by the sin of Adam? To answer this question we need only to look at John 8:58 where Jesus said, “I assure you: before Abraham was, I am.” In this verse Jesus is establishing the fact that He is the eternal Son of God and that He existed before Abraham (or even Adam), therefore He could not have been in Abraham in the way that Aaron, or Levi were.


2. The Doctrinal Argument (Verses 11-25)

 

Now with verse eleven we move into the Doctrinal argument for the superiority of the priesthood of Jesus over that of Aaron and the Levitical system. The writer doesn’t waste any time here; he jumps right in with another question:

“If, then, perfection came through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there for another priest to arise in the order of Melchizedek, and not to be described as being in the order of Aaron?” (Hebrews 7:11). 

Let’s look at this piece-by-piece and see what we can learn. The first part of this argument is that perfection did not come from the Levitical priesthood, or from the law. The word translated “perfection” here is the Greek word teleíōsis and it means, “completion or fulfillment”. This word comes from the root word teleióō, which in the epistle to the Hebrews, is used in a moral sense meaning to make perfect, to fully cleanse from sin, in contrast to ceremonial cleansing. In other words moral expiation (atonement) is the completion or the realization of the ceremonial one.[5] So what he is asking then is this, if the Law of Moses and the Levitical priesthood had the ability to cleanse us from our sin why would there be a need for another priesthood to arise under a different order? And the answer is there wouldn’t be, but as we can see throughout Scripture, the intention of the Law was never to take away our sin; it was to show us the need for a Savior.

I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.  (Galatians 2:21)

Is the law therefore contrary to God’s promises? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that was able to give life, then righteousness would certainly be by the law.  (Galatians 3:21)

So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24 ESV)

These are just a few verses that teach us that the intention of the Law was never to save us, to make us perfect, or to cleanse us from our sin; the purpose of the Law was to lead us to Jesus. The Law was given by God to show us that we do not measure up to His standard and that we need a Savior. So the argument that is being made here then is this; if the Old Testament system, the Law of Moses, and the Levitical priesthood could make us perfect there would be no need for another priesthood, but since they cannot, and they were never intended to do so, there is a need for another priesthood to arise that is from a different order than the one established by the Law of Moses coming from the line of Levi through Aaron; a priesthood that is of the order of Melchizedek and that lasts forever.

In Hebrews 2:12-14 the writer then says:

“For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must be a change of law as well. For the One about whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, from which no one has served at the altar. Now it is evident that our Lord came from Judah, and about that tribe Moses said nothing concerning priests. ”

This is an interesting argument, and it works like this; since the Law says that priests must come from the tribe of Levi, and the Law makes no provision for a priest from any other line, in order for “the One about whom these things are said” to be a priest there must be a change in the law as well.  Warren Wiersbe explains it like this, “The President of the United States cannot proclaim himself King of the United States because U.S. law makes no provision for a king. First, the law would have to be changed. The Law of Moses made no provision for a priesthood from the tribe of Judah (Heb. 7:14). Since our High Priest is from the tribe of Judah, according to His human ancestry, then there must have been a change in Moses’ Law.”[6]  So what is being said here then is this; since Jesus is our High Priest we are no longer under the Law of Moses or the Levitical system – the law has changed.

Continuing:

And this becomes clearer if another priest like Melchizedek arises, who doesn’t become a priest based on a legal command concerning physical descent but based on the power of an indestructible life. For it has been testified: You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. So the previous commandment is annulled because it was weak and unprofitable  (for the law perfected nothing), but a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.   (Hebrews 7:15-19)

The word “another” used here in verse 15 is the Greek word héteros, which means “of another kind, different, in another form”.[7] So what this is telling us is that this priesthood, in the order of Melchizedek, of which we are speaking, is completely different than the priesthood of the Levitical system and the Law. This priesthood is not based heritage and physical lineage, but is based on the “power of an indestructible life”.  In other words Jesus did not become our High Priest because He was a physical descendant of Aaron, but He became our High Priest because He possesses an indestructible life.

The word “indestructible” here is akatálutos, and this is the only place in the New Testament that it is used. The word means, “cannot be ended, indestructible, so not able to end”, [8] but there is actually a lot more implied in this word than that. Of this word Dr. Zodhiates says, “The word [akatálutos], however, has nothing to do with time but with the indissoluble [permanent] character of life. The life of Christ is declared as distinct from the life of someone else, life that was not acquired and that cannot be done away with. The lives of animals sacrificed by the priests ceased to exist, but when Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself as the Lamb of God, His life did not cease. This adj. akatálutos, referring to the inherent life of Christ, agrees fully with John 1:4 which states that in Him was or had been life.”[9]

Jesus’ priesthood is forever because His life is indestructible; He has a permanent priesthood and the nature to match. Because He possesses and “indestructible life” He can never be replaced. This priesthood annulled the Levitical priesthood and the Law, but nobody can annul the power of an endless life; therefore, Jesus priesthood remains forever.

We have already discussed the fact that the Law cannot make you perfect, so we will not go into that again. What we need to see here is that this is not just a different priesthood, it is a better one because it allows us to draw near to God. Under the Levitical system only the High Priest had access to God, and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement. We will get into this more when we get to chapter nine, but what we need to see here is that because Jesus instituted a new priesthood that is not based on the Law we are now able to draw near to God; something that we could never do under the old system.

None of this happened without an oath. For others became priests without an oath, but He with an oath made by the One who said to Him: The Lord has sworn, and He will not change His mind, You are a priest forever.  So Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant. Now many have become Levitical priests, since they are prevented by death from remaining in office. But because He remains forever, He holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is always able to save those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them. (Hebrews 7:20-25)

As we saw back in verse 16, the priests of the Levitical order entered their office purely on the basis of their physical connection to Aaron. A.B. du Troit, in his book New Testament Milieu puts it this way, “The priestly ranks were closed since according to the laws in the Pentateuch it was only on the basis of natural descent that a man could belong to this group.”[10] And later, “The basic qualification for becoming a priest was evidence of natural descent from the house of Aaron…” [11] Not so with Jesus, He was not from the “house of Aaron”; He became our High Priest not on the basis of physical descent, but by an oath.

As I have already stated, the priests of the Levitical system were appointed because of their physical descent and not because of an oath. What we see here by way of contrast is that Jesus, our Great High Priest, was appointed with an oath; an oath made by God the Father Himself. The author of Hebrews here uses, for the fifth time in the letter, a quote from Psalm 110:4, and he is presenting this to us as an oath from God telling us that Jesus will be our High Priest forever. Ray C. Stedman, in his commentary on Hebrews says it like this, “God’s oath in Psalm 110:4 reassures believers today that God has provided a merciful, faithful, faultless, competent and sympathetic high priest. He will meet their needs for cleansing, courage, wisdom, and personal support in danger or sorrow. This “stress-management program” is fully and continuously available. Also he will not change his mind about it, for, indeed, he offers no other alternative! The old covenant will no longer work and no secular or pagan solution to the problem of sin and spiritual immaturity is acceptable.” [12]

Now in verse 22 we see that Jesus is also instituting a better covenant. This is the first time the word covenant is used in the book of Hebrews, and here this “better covenant” linked directly with Melchizedek and the priesthood of Jesus. This concept of the New Covenant will be developed further in chapters eight and nine so I will not go into a lot of detail here, but what I want you to see is that this verse is telling us that Jesus is the guarantee of a better covenant.

In order to understand what is being said here we must first familiarize ourselves with the concept of covenant. The word covenant comes from the Hebrew word bâriyth, which means a contract or agreement between two parties. Bâriyth is derived from a root which means “to cut,” and hence a covenant is a “cutting,” with reference to the cutting or dividing of animals into two parts, and the contracting parties passing between them. [13]


----

[1]Wiersbe, Warren W.: The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996, c1989, S. Heb 7:1

[2]Walvoord, John F.; Zuck, Roy B.; Dallas Theological Seminary: The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985, S. 2:798

[3]Wiersbe, Warren W.: The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996, c1989, S. Heb 7:1

[4]Jamieson, Robert; Fausset, A. R.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David; Brown, David: A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, S. Heb 7:7

[5]Zodhiates, Spiros: The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. Electronic ed. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000, c1992, c1993, S. G5048

[6]Wiersbe, Warren W.: The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996, c1989, S. Heb 7:11

[7]Zodhiates, Spiros: The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. Electronic ed. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000, c1992, c1993, S. G2087

[8]Swanson, James: Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament). Electronic ed. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, S. GGK186

[9] Zodhiates, Spiros: The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. Electronic ed. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000, c1992, c1993, S. G179

[10]du Toit, A.B.: The New Testament Milieu. Halfway House: Orion, 1998

[11]du Toit, A.B.: The New Testament Milieu. Halfway House: Orion, 1998

[12]Stedman, Ray C.: Hebrews. Downers Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: InterVarsity Press, 1992 (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series), S. Heb 7:20

[13]Easton, M.G.: Easton's Bible Dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897

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