Jesus and Melchizedek
In 2008, it was reported that some activists were striving to reestablish Jewish ritual sacrifices upon the temple mount. An article states:
Plans to rebuild Temple and sacrifice animals for purification,
“When the Jewish Temple stood in the Old City of Jerusalem more than 2,000 year ago, animal sacrifice was a centerpiece of the religion. After the destruction of the Temples, sacrifices were banned.
The 71 members of the “Re-established Sanhedrin” say they want to begin sacrificing animals again, despite the absence of the Temple, the ritual altar and all the required implements listed in the Bible.
“(2008) This year, for the first time in nearly two thousand years, the Temple Institute led a day long symposium in Jerusalem, overlooking the Temple Mount, in which, … a one year old, flawless lamb was ritually prepared, slaughtered and tended to according to halachah (Jewish law), and the specific instructions concerning how such an offering would be made at the Holy Temple.” (Source: uncertain)
There is another article from 2018 that mentions their continued efforts to have animal sacrifices for religious purposes. (https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-jerusalem-municipality-rejects-plea-to-practice-animal-sacrifice-for-future-temple-1.6729388)
Even today some envision the rebuilding of the Jewish temple. Even though this system ended in 70 AD with the destruction of the Herod’s Temple; they would desire to see the sacrificial system put back into practice. This seems unlikely, but this does demonstrate the ongoing importance of the sacrificial system in the minds of some devout people of the Jewish faith. Why, because this was their means for expressing thankfulness to God and finding atonement for their sins. God is considered most holy and can not be approached except through sacrifice and a priest to intercede on a person’s behalf.
Can we imagine what the temple of Jesus day must have been like? During a time like Passover, thousands of people would have come to the temple. Each with an animal brought for sacrifice. They would have checked the animal in at the Temple and then bathed in a public bath called a Mikveh for purification. Then they would have reclaimed their animal and proceeded to the Temple for the sacrifice. If we can imagine the sacrifice of thousands of animals a day, we might get some idea of what the place may have been like. One thing that the temple needed was an ample supply of water and a method for getting rid of the blood from the sacrifices. I don’t think it is an entirely pleasant picture, but this was the means of reminding the people of where life comes from and the requirements of a Holy and personally inapproachable God. The sacrifices and the intercessions of the priest were a necessity and the means of keeping one’s life right before God.
All of this is significant to our understanding of today’s text. It is usually assumed that Hebrews was written to Jewish believers before 70 AD. At that time the temple was still standing, and the sacrificial system was still operating. Early Christians were still practicing their faith within the temple. In effect while they were believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior, they were still practicing faith according to the old understanding of atonement through sacrifices. However, does one need sacrifices and a priest to intercede, or has God given us a better way?
The writer of Hebrews argues that if you have Jesus, you do not need either sacrifices, or a priest, for Christ himself is an eternal sacrifice and an eternal and perfect priest for us.
In Verse 25 we read, “Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” However, for this Jewish audience, who knows that priest must come from only the tribe of Levi, he must convince them how it is possible for Jesus to be of a priestly cast when we all know he was of the tribe of Judah. The writer specifically mentions this question earlier in verse 13.
To address this question the figure of Melchizedek is introduced. Melchizedek is a rather obscure character in the Bible. In Genesis 14:17-20 we read:
17 After his (Abrham’s) return from the defeat of Che-dor-la-omer (Ke·dor·le·omer) and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. 19 He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him one tenth of everything.
Here we read of Melchizedek blessing Abraham after he returns victorious from a battle. We know Abraham is the patriarch of the Jewish faith. Many trace their lineage back to Abraham, his faith, and God’s promises. Yet, when Abraham meets Melchizedek, it is Melchizedek that blesses Abram, and it is Abram who gives a tithe of his spoils of war to Melchizedek. All of this exemplifies that Abraham viewed Melchizedek as being greater than himself. Despite all we can say about Abraham, both the blessing and the tithe point to the same thing–the great stature of this Melchizedek. He stands as a priest at a time there were no priests. Melchizedek has no connection to Levi or the priesthood of the temple. Melchizedek predates the institution of the temple by about 600 hundred years and existed before Israel’s son Levi was born.
Think about this in relation to the question of whether Jesus qualifies as a priest for all believers. If Jesus were a priest like Melchizedek, it wouldn’t matter that he wasn’t a Levite. The priesthood of Melchizedek served God before all the rest.
Furthermore, in verse 21 the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 110 in declaring a greater priesthood for God’s chosen.
Psalm 110 begins:
1 The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”
Jesus once used this text as a puzzle for those questioning him to point to the eternal nature of God’s son.
Psalm 110:4 “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.'”
Now all of this may seem a bit too detailed, but it is making the point that Jesus serves for us with a greater authority than the Levitical priest. Like Melchizedek he is a priest forever, and no one is to take over when He leaves because his priesthood never ends. He is not like the old order but something greater and new.
Isn’t it amazing that with one mention of Melchizedek in 2000 BC only three verses long, and another in 1000 BC only one verse long, we have proof that Jesus Christ is the only proper priest then and now? This is the whole point of the discussion around the person of Melchizedek. Within him is the forerunner of who Christ is for us.
It is interesting to notice that the name Melchizedek comes from one Semitic root which means “king,” and another, which means righteousness. His name literally means King of Righteousness (Heb. 7:2). Also, He was the King of Salem. Salem is the word from which comes “Shalom” or peace. Therefore, here is also the “King of Peace” (Heb. 7:2). When you think about it this reinforces our understanding that Melchizedek is an image of the Christ. Who is it today that is our king of righteousness and peace? This would be Christ, and God gave us the answer to who Jesus is and what he does for us thousands of years ago in these passages.
Today maybe there are people that feel like they need to go to extremes to please God. That God’s acceptance of us is based upon how good we are or how well we avoid worldly things. Now striving for and living a holy life is a good thing, but it is the product of the difference God has made with in us and not the means by which we obtained grace.
With Christ as our priest and sacrifice, we know that all our sins are surely forgiven. As far as lifestyle is concerned, in Hebrews 10:16 God says, “I will put my laws upon their hearts, and upon their mind I will write them.” We have the Holy Spirit living within us. It is God’s Spirit that directs us and empowers us toward a holy life. As a result we can “draw near to God” without fear of any kind.
Indeed, we do not need a great temple, or an earthly priest in order to have a relationship with God, for these things have already been given to us in Jesus. Therefore, let us go forth as people who are part of a living relationship with God, and who know that our sins are forgiven by Christ who makes intercession for us. Amen.