Jesus The Only High Priest in the Order of Melchizedek

By Shaun Aisbitt (c)

Introduction

In this paper I intend to examine one of the least grasped titles of Christ, Christ - the High Priest. Understanding that Jesuus is the Lord of all, and all things were created through Him and by Him we can grasp that He is God. Understanding that He took on the form of man, was tempted in every way, died sinless for the sinners, and rose again, and now is exalted at the right hand of God, we can see that He is our one and only Living Savior. But how does the title and position of Jesus, the High Priest of the New Covenant affect us in our daily walk with the Lord?  I intend to concentrate solely on the passages in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and various other passages in the Old Testament. In order to grasp what exactly the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is saying about Christ's present ministry, and how it affects us.

{As a side note, I also have put this paper here because of the alarming amount of false teaching going around for those who believe they are priests in the order of Melchizedek including Catholic Priests, Mormons, New Age groups, Trance channellers, etc, or believe the Melchizedek is a race that comes from outer space (The Urantia Book!, Raelians etc). Hopefully it will give you a better understanding of WHY NO ONE BUT JESUS CAN EVER HOLD THE OFFICE OF MELCHIZEDEK.}

The Priesthood of Christ

It is important to ask why, and for what reason is the Priesthood of Christ is depicted in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is believed the reason for the letter is that the Hebrew Christians were in danger of backsliding, spiritual deterioration and apostasy. The Epistle was probably written to combat this problem, and the means of achieving it was personal experience of the priesthood of Christ. It appears that the writer of the Epistle somehow linked the Priesthood of Christ with spiritual steadfastness, progress and assurance. By truly understanding and accepting these truths, the secret of Christian growth, spiritual growth and maturity of experience will be found.

It appears that those who the Epistle is addressed knew Jesus as Lord and Savior, but had a childlike understanding of redemption (6:1), and they did not realize what it meant to have Him as a High Priest The difference between the two may be seen by an examination of time and circumstances under which the priesthood emerged with regard to Israel. Except for foreign priesthood's like those of Egypt and Midian (Gen. 47 & Ex. 3), the first mention of priesthood in Israelis at Sinai. There was no priesthood in Egypt, only redemption. There was none at the Red Sea, where deliverance was the one thing needed. At Sinai they realized for the first time their true relation to God, and God's relationship to them as dwelling among them (Ex. 19:4-6 & 25:1-8). The priesthood was appointed to provide the means of access to God and prevent fear in approaching Him. Essentially then the priesthood is based on gaining access to God on an already existing redemption. The Hebrew Christians knew Christ as redeemer; they were now to be taught the certainty, privilege and joy of free access to God in Him, and with this, the removal of fear and disfavor. Any sense of unworthiness would be met by His worthiness, all fear removed by His nearness to them and to God, as He is the Son of Man and Divine High Priest at the same time. There is therefore a world of difference in knowing Christ as Savior and as Priest. Knowing Him as Savior alone may cause spiritual childishness, knowing Him as Priest must include spiritual maturity (5:10-14). This is one of the biggest differences between Romans and Hebrews. The Epistle to the Romans appears to concern itself with redemption, which makes access possible (Rom 5:2), while with Hebrews, access is possible by redemption. This practical purpose of Hebrews with regard to spiritual growth and maturity should be kept in mind. This is where the present-day and enduring value of the Epistle is in Christian life and service, with its constant stress on the phrases 'Draw near (10:22), 'Don't draw back' (10:39) and 'Let us go on' (6:1)

The Essential Meaning of Priesthood

In order to examine the idea of the Priesthood of Christ, I believe it is important to examine the essential characteristics of priesthood. What were the functions the priest carried out as priest, those which only he alone could perform under any circumstances?. The best definition is in Hebrews 5:1 where we are told that "Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. " that is, he represented man to God. What was included in this representation I will look at later in this paper, but meanwhile it should be clearly seen that the priesthood meant the representation of man to God, and was the opposite yet complementary to the prophet which was to represent God to man. The priest went from man to God, while the prophet went from God to man. The two ideas are seen in Hebrews 3:1" Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest whom we confess." Christ is called Apostle and High Priest, Apostle because He was sent, sent from God to man, High Priest because He comes from man to God. In His dual ministry He is the perfect Mediator. If the priest did other duties such as teaching and receiving tithes and blessing the people, they were added functions and not intrinsic to the priesthood. The Levites could teach and kings could bless, but by no means possibly could either do the essential duties of the priesthood in representing man to God. This specific idea is clearly taught as the essence of priesthood both in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament also where the Godward aspect of priesthood is always stated and emphasized (Ex 28:1, Num 16:40, 2Chr 26:18, Ezk 44:15, Heb 6:20, 7:25, 9:24). The essential idea of priesthood as representative of man to God carries with it the right of access to and of remaining in the presence of God. In earlier times families were represented by the father (see Job) or head of the clan, but as the sense of sin grew and the Divine purpose of redemption was gradually unfolded, it became necessary to have men entirely separated for this office. The fact that there was priesthood was then the admission of sinful worldly living that is inherent in mankind, and the holiness of God, and the need of conditions to approach God. I Believe it is important to define and keep clear these central characteristics of the priesthood. They can be summed up in the general ideas of drawing near to God by means of an offering and dwelling near God for the purpose of intercession (Ezk 44:16, Lev 16:17, Exo 28:30 & 30:7-8, Lk 1:9-10).

The Special Order of Christ's Priesthood

The outstanding thought in the Epistle to the Hebrews is the association of Christ's Priesthood with that of Melchizedek. Three times in the Scriptures Melchizedek is mentioned, and each time the reference is important. In Gen ch.14 he meets Abraham and is called at that time 'Priest of God Most High'. His second mention is in Psalm 110, a Psalm that is regarded as Messianic, and is applied to Himself by Jesus in the three Synoptic Gospels (Mat 22:44, Mk 12:36 & Lk 20:42). The underlying thought of Psalm 110 is of a priesthood, not Aaron's though, and suggests a grasping, on the part of spiritually minded Jewish, hope for something beyond and better than the Aaronic priesthood. The very mention of another priesthood is significant and striking. The last mention of Melchizedek is in Hebrews, where he is shown as a type of Christ. The account of Gen ch.14 is related and expounded on to symbolize and mirror some of the elements of the Priesthood of Christ. The position of Melchizedek as king indicates the royalty of Christ's Priesthood. The meaning of the name Melchizedek is used to suggest the thought of righteousness, while his title 'King of Salem', suggests the idea of peace. The order and combination of righteousness and peace are noted in Hebrews.

First comes righteousness as the basis of relationship to God, and peace as the outcome of righteousness. Righteousness without peace vindicates the law and punishes sin, while peace without righteousness ignores the law and condones sin. Righteousness and peace when combined honor the law while pardoning sin (1)

The lack of mention in Gen ch. 14 of any earthly connections, whether by descent or tribal is used in Hebrews to symbolize the timelessness of Christ's Priesthood. What was true of the record about Melchizedek is present in actual fact in Christ. One point of great importance not to be overlooked is that in Gen ch. 14 no priestly functions are attributed to Melchizedek. The gift of bread and wine to Abraham had of course nothing essentially priestly in it. In the account he is called 'priest of God Most High', without any characteristically priestly acts being stated. This corresponds to the use of the Melchizedek priesthood in Hebrews, which does not speak of any priestly acts or functions, but the order of the priesthood. The underlying thought of the Melchizedek priesthood in Hebrews refers to the person of the priest, not his acts. The functions or acts of the Aaronic priesthood are contrasted with the priesthood of Melchizedek, which is seen in the person not the act. It is the priestly person rather than the priestly works that are emphasized in the Melchizedek priesthood. He was a royal person, Aaron wasn't, an enduring person, Aaron wasn't, a unique person. Aaron wasn't. It is the personal superiority in these respects. over the priesthood of Aaron that is dwelt on regarding Melchizedek. These is no comparison drawn between Melchizedek and Christ, but use is made of Melchizedek to symbolize the personal superiority of Christ's priesthood over all others, a priesthood that is older, wider and infinitely more lasting than that of Aaron.

Functions Relating to Christ Alone

It is with regard to the Aaronic priesthood, that the work of Christ's priesthood is considered. A contrast is made as is shown by the recurring word 'better' (7:22 & 8:26 etc.). Christ was never a priest in the Aaronic line (7:13-14, 8:4), but it was necessary to use the illustration of the Aaronic priesthood to denote Christ's priestly functions, because no characteristic priestly functions were recorded of Melchizedek. A series of comparisons between Aaron's and Christ's priesthood needs careful attention. First generally in 2:17-18 with reference to personal qualification. Then after bare mention in 3:1, and more fully in 4:14-16. But it is in chapter 5, verses 1-10 we have the first definite comparison. In verses 1-5 the requirements of the Aaronic priesthood are stated in regard to (a) Office 5:1, (b) Character 5:2-3(c) Divine appointment 5:4-5. Then in Chapter 5 verses 6-10 we have the fulfillment of these requirements in Christ, stated in reverse order (c) Divine appointment, verses 5-6. (b) Character, verses 7-8. (a) Office, verses 9-10.

Then in chapter 7 we have the comparison and contrast between Melchizedek and Aaron, with the superiority of Melchizedek on three points: Aaron was not royal: Aaron 5 priesthood wasn't timeless due to his mortality: Aaron had many successors. The superiority of the person gives superiority to the functions.

Then in chapters 8-10 the superiority of the work of Christ in compared with that of Aaron under three aspects: A better covenant in chapter 8 because it's spiritual, not worldly: A better sanctuary in chapter 9 because it's heavenly, not earthly: A better sacrifice in chapter 10, because it's real not symbolical.

As the Epistle unfolds, several elements of superiority emerge. A superior order (7:1-17), a superior tribe (7:14), a superior calling (7:21), a superior holding (7:23-24), a superior character (7:26), a superior sanctuary and a superior covenant (Heb 9), a superior sacrifice (Heb 10).

After chapter 10 there is nothing priestly in the terms used, though chapter 13 refers to the functions connected to the priesthood. These functions of the priesthood can be seen in three areas. The priest had access to God for man, offering to God for man, and intercession with God for man.

Also summed up in chapter 13 is the superiority of Christ's priesthood as shown in the following particulars:

(A)  it is royal in character,

(B)   heavenly in sphere,

(C)   spiritual in nature,

(D)  it is continuously effective,

(E)   everlasting in duration,

(F)    universal in extent,

(G)   efficient in results.

At this point there are a few questions that I believe should call for attention. The first is why is there no distinction between priest and high priest. Christ is both (5:6,10 I 6:20 I 7:1,3,15,17,21.). The difference is one of rank only, the high priesthood being one of specialized form. The term 'high priest' occurs only nine times in the Old Testament, and it is never applied to Aaron. This clearly shows there is no real distinction between the two offices, for if there had been an essential difference from the first, then Aaron would have been called 'high priest'. Jesus is never called 'High Priest' in the discussions regarding Melchizedek, only when the discussion turns to Aaron is the title mentioned. I believe that because there a difference at the time of writing, it was probably necessary to show that Christ fulfilled both offices.

The second question that begs to be asked is why is the resurrection ignored in the Epistle? The Epistle discusses Christ's offering with His death on the cross, and His entrance into heaven with regard to His Ascension. There is only scant reference in 13:20, why?  I believe that it wasn't necessary to dwell on that point in the Epistle, as both the priestly sacrifice of the animal outside the camp on the day of Atonement (13:11 - 12), and entrance into the Holiest place with the blood is what the writer is more concerned with. Stress is laid on the Ascension because that is the moment when our Great High Priest entered into heaven on our behalf (9:12&24). It is the close association of these two parts that explains 8:3 "Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer." The idea that Christ is now continually offering Himself to God in heaven is inconsistent with the rest of the Epistle, which lays such stress on the association of the offering with Christ's death, and which dwells on the uniqueness and completeness of the offering [Grk. Έφάπξ ephapax, once for all (2)] 7:27 & 9:12 & 28), and while seated at God's right hand, He is a victor, not an offerer. Further, the great and essential characteristic of the New Covenant is forgiveness of sins (8:8 /10:11-12), and this was possible only after the offering was completed (4:16 I 9:14-22). The aorist tense in (8:3) seems decisive in associating the offering with the death. It may be timeless, but at least it is not continuous. Christ only needed to be offered once, it seems only natural the conditions are fulfilled that at the moment of ascension when Christ first appeared before God for us, and then sat down at the right hand of God, having fulfilled all the requirements of the work of offering and presentation of Himself on our behalf The offering in Hebrews is associated with sin, not consecration, with Christ's death, not His life, and offering is thereby shown to be the characteristic work of a priest. To regard Jesus as now offering, or representing or re-presenting Himself in heaven, is to think of Him in the attitude of worshipper instead of on the throne. His work of offering and presentation was finished before He sat down, and it is significant that what the writer calls the 'crowning point' [ κεφάλαιον,  kephalaion = chief or main point, principal thing (3)] of the Epistle (8:1) is a 'high priest who is set down'. This exactly answers to the 'type' on the day of Atonement. When the high priest had presented the blood, his work was complete, and if you could imagine him able to remain there in the presence of God, he would stay on the basis of the complete offering and not as continuing to offer or present anything. Besides there was no altar in the Holy of Holies, and there could be therefore no real sacrificial offering. Christ is not now at an altar or a mercy-seat, but on the throne. If it is said that intercession is an inadequate idea of His priestly life above, it may be answered that offering and intercession do not exhaust His heavenly life. His presence there on our behalf as our Representative includes everything. He Himself is (not merely His death was) the propitiation (1 John 2:2). Does it not indicate a lack of spiritual thought, to demand that Christ should always be doing something? Why can't we be content with the thought that He is there, and that in His presence above is the secret of peace, the assurance of access, and the guarantee of a permanent relationship with God?

  Just at this point I need to point out a difference between type and anti-type. The high priest went into the Holy of Holies with blood, but when Christ's entrance into heaven is mentioned, He is said to have gone through His own blood, i.e. His access is based on the offering on Calvary (9:12). It seems impossible therefore to extend the idea of Christ's offering to mean "A present and eternal offering of His life in heaven", a quote I discovered in a book called "Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of Our Lord" written by W.Milligan (4). Such a view finds no vindication in the whole Epistle, quite the opposite as the emphasis is laid on Christ's offering with His death (7:27/9:13-14, 24-28/10:10-14), and the uniqueness and entirety of that as climaxing in the entrance into heaven. The death of Christ meant propitiation; the Ascension emphasizes access based on the propitiation. (5)

The last question is about the use of the two priesthood’s, Meichizedek's and Aaron’s which are not to be interpreted as two aspects of priesthood, one on earth and the other in heaven successively realized by Christ, because this would be the opposite to what the Epistle says in 7:18 & 8:4. It means that there is one priesthood, of which Melchizedek is used for the person, and Aaron for the work. If Christ's death is associated with the Aaronic priesthood (against 8:4), then the entrance into heaven must be associated with Aaron (against 6:20 etc.), which would leave no room at all for the Melchizedek priesthood. It is impossible for the death to be associated with one priesthood, and the ascension with the other. The order or nature of the priesthood according to Melchizedek gives validity and perpetuity to the acts which are symbolized in the Aaronic priesthood.

  The Personal Qualifications of Christ as Priest

The practical and spiritual use made of priesthood in Hebrews gives special point to the emphasis laid on the personal qualifications of Jesus as High Priest. These are dealt with mainly from the human side up to Ch.5:9, and then afterwards from the Divine side, Both the human and the Divine side are shown to be necessary. Regarding His human qualifications we have His manhood, allowing us to identify with Him, and He with us, (Heb 2}. His perfect sympathy, (4:14-16). His perfect training by obedience through suffering, 5:1 - 10).

Then His Divine qualifications are:

(A)  Divine appointment (5:10).

(B)  His indestructible life, (7:16), involving an uninterrupted tenure of office as compared with the constant deaths of the Aaronic priesthood.

(C)  His sacred, or unchangeable priesthood, (7:24), involving the impossibility of succession or delegation [ডmp;#960;αράβατον, aparabaton= this word is used only once in the New Testament, and means absolutely unchangeable or untransferable (6)]

(D)  His perpetual life of intercession, (7:25).

(E)   His fitness through character, (7:26).

(F)   The Divine guarantee in the Divine oath of appointment, (7:28).

(G)  His position on the throne, (8:1).

(H)  His perfect offering, (9:12,24 /10:12). These Divine and human qualifications are based upon His Divine Sonship (Heb 1). His priesthood exists in His position as Son of God. It is this uniqueness as Son that gives Christ His qualifications for the priesthood.

  The Spiritual Work of Christ as Priest

The many aspects of His priestly work can be seen in the Epistle through His propitiatory sacrifice, (2:17), His ability to suffer, (2:18), His ability to sympathize, (4:15), His ability to save, (7:25), His present appearance in heaven for us, (9:24), His kingly position on the throne, (8:1), His coming again, (9:28). These are the elements connected with His priestly work, though there are others that are more associated with His work as Redeemer. The work is at once perpetual and permanent, He offered Himself through an eternal spirit, (9:14), He has made an eternal covenant, (9:13,14), He is the cause of eternal salvation (Praise the Lord!), (5:9), He obtained eternal redemption, (9: 12} which culminates in eternal inheritance (9:15).

The Practical Uses of Christ's Priesthood

The definitely practical purpose of the truth of priesthood is what must be kept in view. It is by means of the experience of Christ's priesthood that Christians come out of spiritual infancy into spiritual maturity, (6:1 & 10:1). Nowhere is the practical character more clearly seen than in the various statements and exhortations that have to do with the daily life of the believer. In particular there are the associated phrases 'we have', and 'let us'

(A) (4:14) Having a high Priest, let us hold fast.

(B) (4:15-16) Having a sympathetic High Priest, let us come boldly.

(C) (10:19) Having confidence of access, let us draw near... Another aspect of the exhortation are the three words faith. hope and love which are repeated throughout the Epistle, E.g.; Let us draw near with faith, having a High Priest let us hold fast hope, let us consider one another in love. These three exhortations to faith, hope and love are amplified in three respective chapters of the Epistle, Ch.11=faith, Ch.12=hope, Ch.13=love.

(D) (12:28) Receiving a kingdom, let us have grace.

(E) (13:12-13) Jesus suffered, let us go forth.

(F) (13:14) We seek a city to come, therefore let us offer a sacrifice of praise.

The Epistle emphasizes one truth above all others, "..that Christianity is religion of free access to God" [7]. It might be summed up in the exhortations 'Draw near' 'Hold fast 'Don't draw back'. It is characteristic that the word for believers is [οί προσερχόμενοι =those who come right up to God] (8), and it's corresponding exhortation is [προσερχώμεθα = "let us come right up, to God] (9). Christianity is the better hope by which we draw near to God, and Christ in the certainty of a better covenant, that is, One who ensures our permanent access to God. In proportion as we realize this privilege of nearness, and respond to these exhortations to draw near and keep near we shall find that element of free and fearless courage which is one of the essential features of a strong Christian life. It is this, above all that the priesthood of Christ is intended to produce and to perpetuate, to guarantee and guard. This truth of priesthood, as taught in Hebrews, is absolutely necessary for a vigorous life, a mature experience, a joyous testimony and an overflowing work.

(c) Shaun Aisbitt 1995

 

1. Stirling, John (Ed): Hebrews, A Little Library of Exposition: (Cassell & Co. Toronto): Pg 85

2.Thayer, Joseph H: Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament   [strong’s 2178]

3. i.b.i.d. [strong’s 2774]

4. Milligan,W: Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of Our Lord, (pg 116)

5.Westcott, B.F: The Epistle to the Hebrews, The Greek Text With Notes & Essays

6. Thayer, Joseph H: Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament

7. Bruce, Alexander Balmain.DD: The Epistle to the Hebrews, The First Apology For Christianity (pg 290)

8. Thayer, Joseph, H: Thayer's Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament

9. Thayer, Joseph, H: Thayer's Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament

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