Two weeks, ago we discussed that everything has changed. Instead of having a physical temple on earth where God lives and humans approach God only through a priest, our bodies are now temples (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and God's Spirit lives in us (Romans 8:9). If everything has changed, then why does Hebrews extensively discuss Jesus' current work as our High Priest? Let's dive into our study of the Bible to find out what we can learn about what God is doing!
"Christ, Our Priest"
November 23, 2013
Text: Psalm 110:1-5; Genesis 14:18-20; Hebrews 7:1-3; Romans 8:31-34; 1 Timothy 2:4-6; Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 2:17-18; Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 10:1-14
With winds reaching 195 miles per hour, Typhoon Haiyan went down in history as the Philippine's second most deadly storm. Entire cities and towns where people once lived and worked were destroyed. Journalists covering the aftermath have described what they saw as "off the scale, and apocalyptic."
As of November 16, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council confirmed that 3,982 people have died in the Philippines alone. And the Red Cross has listed an estimated 22,000 as missing. Many of those missing will never be found because they were swept away and drowned by the massive storm surge. Adding to these heart-breaking statistics is the fact that nearly 4 million people have been left homeless.1
Last Sunday, thousands of survivors packed into any church that was still standing so they could pray. Many were thankful to be alive, while others prayed for loved ones to be found. Still others sought comfort in their grief.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick told one reporter, "At the beginning everyone is hurting. And they lost so many friends and family. And they do not know why God is doing this to us. Well, in a real sense, we say it is not that God is doing this to us, [but] he is allowing these things to happen probably for a greater cause."2
The country's president, Benigno Aquino, made a commitment to his powerless people last Sunday. He vowed to stay and live in the hardest hit area of the country until he is "satisfied" with the efforts to help survivors recover.
Jesus came and lived in a world that had been demolished by sin. Jesus chose to live among the devastation, bringing comfort and hope to future survivors. And Jesus didn't leave until satisfied-until Jesus' death on the cross gave us the assurance of a new home.
But that was only Jesus' earthly mission. Jesus then returned to heaven for another mission-to serve as our High Priest. There Jesus is our Advocate-we have Jesus representing us! There Jesus is our Intercessor-one who understands what it's like to live on this earth. And there Jesus is our Mediator-the crucial link between us and God the Father. Because of who Jesus is, we do not need to fear judgment.
After Jesus completed the work of dying in our place, Jesus returned to heaven, and even though Jesus' physical presence may not be seen, Jesus is still in the process of saving us. Even now Jesus is working as our High Priest. And it's up to us to respond-to hold firmly-as it says in Hebrews 4:14: "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess" (NIV).
Additional resource: President Benigno Aquino visits survivors video
Christ, Our Priest
Commentary for the November 23, 2013 Sabbath School Lesson
“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’ Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” Genesis 14:18-20, NIV
Melchizedek is an enigmatic figure in Genesis. The passage looks almost like it doesn’t belong there. We do not see expected transitions in either verse 17 or verse 21 between this section and the main narrative. Who is this Melchizedek and where does he come from? Other than this brief passage, the name only occurs one other time in the Hebrew Scriptures in the Psalms,[i] in an apparent Messianic context. Then after so much silence, the name seems to explode into significance in the New Testament in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Why? Maybe we can find some clues.
Perhaps the most titillating bit of evidence is the bread and the wine. As Christians, these items have special significance for us as elements of the Eucharist where they represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Was this prefiguring the symbolism of the Last Supper? Perhaps, we will find with further evidence, it was hinting at even more.
If we consider the name Melchizedek and what it means in Hebrew, we can find yet another piece of evidence. Melchi means “my king,” and zedek means “righteous” or “righteousness.” Therefore we might translate the name as “my king is righteous,” or “my king is righteousness.” Since the bible maintains that men are not righteous,[ii] and righteousness is instead an attribute of God,[iii] maybe we have another link of evidence that connects this early priest with Jesus. His identity as “King of Salem” or “King of Peace” may also be a Christological reference roughly equivalent to “Prince of Peace,” a messianic title proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah.[iv]
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author tells us that there is yet another link discerned not by what is written but rather by silence in the text. There is no mention of where this individual came from or went to. Every significant character in the Old Testament is identified by his or her genealogy. Strangely, no family is presented for Melchizedek. This, the author of the epistle feels, is enough for a link to be made in Hebrews between Melchizedek and Christ.[v] We might call it a similarity (Greek: aphomoiao). However, Isaiah goes even further with parallel titles that help us to identify Melchizedek. In addition to describing the Messiah with the title “Prince of Peace” that we have already identified, Isaiah calls Him, in the same verse, “Mighty God.” This perhaps helps us to see that “Prince” in Isaiah is probably the same as “King” in Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek. After all, if the Messiah is “Prince” and also “Mighty God,” what king could have greater authority? Some might say that Jesus is the Prince, but God the Father is the King. But this is not supported by Isaiah, who also refers in the same verse to the Messiah as “the Everlasting Father.”
In any event, we would have a hard row to hoe if we asserted that Melchizedek was God the Father as opposed to his being Christ. This is not only because of Isaiah’s passage which equates the two, but because Jesus equated Himself to the Father.[vi] This is a difficult concept for us to grasp from our three dimensional perspective. To our way of thinking, everything must have a corporeal existence. Yet we must admit that no one has ever seen a bodily manifestation of God outside of what Jesus claimed to be. Jesus prayed to the Father,[vii] and we can partially understand that from our limited perspective, but we have difficulty when we try to perceive of that two-way communication between Jesus and the Father without a physical presence at both ends. Our minds naturally want to conceive of some God, perhaps in form similar to what Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, floating about somewhere in the sky waiting for a prayer “phone call” from Jesus, or one of His followers.
Atheists have made fun of this idea with reference to a “Flying Spaghetti Monster” (FSM) that Christians pray to. In a sense, they are right, as the idea of a bodily presence floating about in the clouds is about as sensible as the FSM. If we are going to impose a limited concept of existence on God, perhaps we would be just as well to make the shape out of spaghetti. Maybe our failure to recognize the transcendence of God is why we have so much trouble with concepts like trinitarianism.
These failures of understanding cause us to ask ridiculous questions like, “Can God create a rock so big He cannot move it?” But I suggest that this transcendence is the very definition of God’s existence. Without that, He would simply be a more powerful person, perhaps some sort of super hero in the sky, with physical limitations and perhaps unable to move that rock.
Why is understanding the concept of transcendence important in regards to Melchizedek? It helps us when we seek for the ordination of Jesus. If we understand that Christ is, as Hebrews tells us, a high priest in the Melchizedekian order, then He must have been ordained to that order. To know when this took place, we need to discern what ordination is. It is a commissioning to priestly orders with water, oil and blood. When the Levitical[viii] priesthood was established, Moses ordained Aaron and his sons. He washed them, anointed them and placed blood on them.[ix] Jesus was also washed in baptism.[x] He was then anointed by the Holy Spirit[xi] which is symbolized by oil.[xii] However, His ordination as priest required one more thing: blood. That blood would be provided at the cross where He would fulfil the dual role of the sacrificial Lamb that provides the blood and the priest who requires the blood for His ordination.
At this point some might ask how could Jesus complete His ordination at the cross, yet be priest many centuries earlier as Melchizedek, who met Abraham? This is only a problem when we forget the concept of transcendence. Transcendence as applied to the God of the Bible is not just physical but temporal as well. This means that ordination at any point in time transcends every point in time, because to God the present is every moment no matter when. This means the concepts of past and future are meaningless. Therefore Jesus’ ordination and also His incarnation could have taken place at any point in time from God’s perspective. Perhaps this is why Jesus’ ministry of grace is efficacious to all mankind, past, present and future.
However, we dwell within dimensional time and space and cannot transcend it, at least not now.[xiii] Therefore, God entered our dimension at a place and time that was propitious for us.[xiv] After He received his ordination as High Priest Melchizedek, He offers ordination to His followers in that same priestly order. Whoever turns toward Him and recognizes Him as High Priest capable of purifying them through His blood receives that ordination. They are washed in baptism and receive the Holy Spirit.[xv] Christ’s blood is applied to them for their purification and through faith they are made priests of God and able to offer the same ordination to others through the cleansing of baptism, the purification through Christ’s blood and the empowering of the Holy Spirit.
This is not a mundane priesthood as Aaron and his sons enjoyed. As evidenced by the titles of “King” and “Prince” applied to Melchizedek and the Messiah, it is a royal priesthood, which is higher than the Levitical, just as the blood of Christ is so much more adequate than that of lambs, goats and bulls.[xvi] Peter, who called people to this ordination at Pentecost, realized the significance of this. He recognized that the royal priesthood was a higher calling that came through Christ.[xvii]
What defines priesthood in the Order of Melchizedek as opposed to the Levitical Priesthood? First it is an order based on the blood of Christ as opposed to the blood of animals. Second, the washing with water is typically a death-like immersion, replicating the death of Christ. Third, the anointing is the actual Holy Spirit and not simply a symbolic application of oil. Fourth, it is an eternal priesthood,[xviii] evidence and a surety of eternal life to come. Fifth, it is a universal priesthood of all believers, as many as will accept the terms of such an ordination. No one is excluded, no matter what their earthly genealogy.[xix]
How can we be sure of these things? Perhaps because Christ is the High Priest of the Order of Melchizedek[xx] The title, “High Priest,” implies an order that He is ascendant over. After all one cannot be “high” over nothing, otherwise the title would simply be Priest without the superlative. As prefigured by the Levitical Order, those who would be members of a biblical priestly order might be expected to also have a familial relationship. And according to the Pauline perspective found in his Epistle to the Romans, this is so, for he calls us children and joint heirs with Christ,[xxi] sons and daughters of God. We are surely so by creation and later by redemption, adopted back into the family we had abandoned. Perhaps it would be wise to not take lightly an opportunity with so much potential.
[i] Psalm 110:4
[ii] Romans 3:10, 23; Job 25:4
[iii] Psalm 71:19
[iv] Isaiah 9:6
[v] Hebrews 7:3
[vi] John 10:30; 14:9
[vii] Matthew 11:25
[viii] This priesthood was called Levitical because its members were all descendants of Levi, one of Jacob’s sons.
[ix] Exodus 29
[x] Matthew 3:13-15
[xi] Matthew 3:16
[xii] 1 Samuel 16:13
[xiii] 1 Corinthians 15:52-54
[xiv] Daniel 9:25
[xv] Acts 2:38
[xvi] Hebrews 10:4; 9:12
[xvii] 1 Peter 2:9-10
[xviii] Psalm 110:4
[xix] Matthew 28:19
[xx] Hebrews 5:7-10
[xxi] Romans 8:16-17
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