Today I wish to discuss a mystery with you. It is a mystery that has intrigued many Christians around the world for nearly two thousand years. And though we cannot solve the mystery today, let us examine the important truths about the priesthood of Jesus Christ we learn as we lay out the clues the Bible provides to the mystery. We are all familiar with priests, right? In the West, priests are often Catholic or Orthodox, wearing white or black robes. In the times of the Bible, the Jews had priests, some of whom were among my ancestors, who wore linen and served in the Temple in Jerusalem. Here in Thailand we see priests in the form of Buddhist monks in their saffron robes. But what makes Jesus Christ different as a priest than the priests we see around us?
Jesus Christ, The High Priest
The author of Hebrews has a lot to say about Jesus Christ as a high priest. For example, he begins talking of Jesus Christ’s role as the high priest for believers in Hebrews 4:14-16. In Hebrews 4:14-16 he says the following: “Seeing then that we have a High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” As our High Priest, Jesus Christ can go to God on our behalf so that our sins can be forgiven, for He lived a perfect life, without sin, and yet understands precisely what it is like to live as we are, as a mortal human being subject to the effects of an evil and sin-filled world.
When the author of Hebrews later brings up Jesus Christ as a priest in the order of Melchizedek, he does so in the context of talking about Abraham. In Hebrews 6:13-20, the author of Hebrews tells us of the hope we have in Christ because of His identity as a priest. Hebrews 6:13-20 reads as follows: “For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, “Surely blessing I bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.” And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil where the forerunner has entered for us even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
What does this passage mean? For one, it means that God will perform what He promises because His will cannot fail and because He cannot lie. Once He decides something, His decision is final, and it will come to pass. God also wishes for us to endure patiently before we receive the promised blessings that He has promised to us by His oath. We should be steadfast in our faith, though, knowing that His will cannot fail and that He will do as He has promised. Additionally, we see that Jesus Christ has pierced behind the veil and has become our High Priest forever. In the temple in Jerusalem there was a veil that separated God from man, a separation that has been ended forever now that Jesus Christ has died for our sins and been resurrected to serve as our High Priest in Heaven, according to the order of Melchizedek.
Who Is Melchizedek?
Who is Melchizedek, though? No one knows for sure. His father and mother are not listed in scripture, and unless the city of Salem, which he ruled, and which means peace in Hebrew, is the same as Jerusalem, we do not know where exactly he lived either. Some people have speculated that he was Shem, and many people think that he was Jesus Christ Himself before He came to earth as a human being. At any rate, we do not know for sure and can only make a reasonable guess.
We do know, however, that he appears for the first time in scripture in Genesis 14, where Abraham goes after defeating an alliance of four Mesopotamean kings and rescuing his nephew Lot, a citizen of the city of Sodom at the time, a city later destroyed by God for its sins. Lot had been taken captive because his city and four nearby allies rebelled against their rulers and stopped paying their taxes. After returning from his successful rescue mission, he is greeted by two kings, the king of Sodom, and the king of Salem. He goes first to the king of Salem.
Their encounter is told in Genesis 14:18-24. Let us read it today. Genesis 14:18-24 reads as follows: “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine: he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tithe of all. Now the king of Sodom said, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.” but Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’–except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eschol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.”
Abraham, before dealing with the impatient king of Sodom, eats bread and drinks wine with the king of Salem. Bread and wine are the symbols of the Passover that baptized members of God’s Church take each year in commemoration of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins, and therefore it is significant that Abraham is said to have had this meal with this obscure priest and king of the Almighty God, ruler of heaven and earth, whom Jesus is said to be like. We see also that before this priest and king, Abraham made an oath before God not to take any of the property of the people or king of Sodom for himself. We see Abraham therefore as a righteous and powerful leader who cannot be bribed by the wicked, but who faithfully worships God, tithing to God just as we too are commanded to do.
A Messianic Prophecy
We next hear of Melchizedek in Psalm 110, a messianic psalm that refers directly to Jesus Christ. Let us now turn to this scripture, a psalm that David wrote about his descendant. Psalm 110:1-7 reads as follows: “The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool.” The Lord shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies! Your people shall be volunteers in the day of Your power; in the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning. You have the dew of Your youth. The Lord has sworn, and will not relent, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” The Lord is at Your right hand; He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath. He shall judge among the nations. He shall fill the places with dead bodies, He shall execute the heads of many countries. He shall drink of the brook by the wayside; therefore He shall lift up the head.”
This passage has some interesting parallels with the account we just read in Genesis 14. For one, the psalm speaks about bringing judgment upon evil kings, like Abraham did, making one’s enemies one’s footstool just as God did for Abraham. Additionally, we see an oath—just as Abraham made an oath not to take what was Sodom’s, God is shown here making an oath to His Son, Jesus Christ, to make Him an eternal priest according to the order of Melchizedek. We also see here that God and Jesus Christ are separate beings, speaking to each other face to face, one being to another.
The Greatness of Christ’s Priesthood
Let us now return to Hebrews 7:20-28, where we find out why the priesthood of Jesus Christ is superior to all other priesthoods here on earth. Hebrews 7:20-28 reads as follows: “And inasmuch as He was not made priest without an oath (for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him: “The Lord has sworn and will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek’ “), by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant. Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever.”
Let us take a moment to understand the importance of what this passage means, because it defines the difference between the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the order of Melchizedek, from all other priesthoods that have ever been made of human beings serving on this earth. Most high priests serve without an oath from God, receiving their robes in ceremonies because others have died before them, so that they succeed to the office themselves. All human beings are flawed, and have sinned, and therefore all human priests, before they can appeal to God to forgive the sins of the people, must first ask God to forgive them of their own sins. All human priests, in addition, are limited in their abilities to serve as pure and holy priests by being mortal human beings who live on this earth in and among the wicked.
Jesus Christ does not have these limitations. He lived without sin, and is therefore pure and holy. In heaven He is far above the earth and separate from all sinners and all moral corruption. He gave His life as the ultimate sacrifice, paying once and for all the death penalty for those who repent and believe in Him as their savior, king, high priest, and elder brother. He serves for all time, without dying, unlike human priests, by an oath from our Father in heaven above. Therefore, His is a perfect and righteous and holy priesthood, without flaw and without end.
In conclusion, let us note that the importance of Melchizedek is in serving as the model for the perfect priesthood of Jesus Christ, who has paid the price of our sins and opened the way for us into eternal life. Let us remember, though, that we are ourselves initiates in this priesthood. Let us turn to one final scripture, 1 Peter 2:9-10, to understand the personal importance of the Melchizedek priesthood for every believer. 1 Peter 2:9-10 reads as follows: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people, but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” We too, if we continue believing in God and following His laws and His ways, developing the mind and character of God and Jesus Christ within us, will be raised up into eternal life with incorruptible bodies, where we too will serve under our High Priest and elder brother Jesus Christ as priests forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Let us work so that we will be ready when that day comes.