In the hall of some renowned college, we see upon its walls portraits of men, who, generation after generation, succeeded each other in office. One after the other passed away, and those who take their places will do likewise. Thus it was with the Aaronic priesthood. Priest followed priest in the exercise of his office, one after the other appeared on the scene only to be succeeded by still another.
In contrast to this, we have in the entrance hall to our chapter, the portrait of one whose priesthood was continuous. It was neither derived from another nor transferred. In character it was unique, and in duration, eternal. Melchisedek is the priest in whom we have pictured the various features of Christ’s priesthood that could never be set forth in the Aaronic succession.
We are invited by the apostle to “consider how great this man was.” Shall we take a look at him? As we do, we discover a galaxy of bewildering glories, and we do not wonder that the warnings and exhortations of chapters 5 and 6 were needed, before the theme of Christ’s royal priesthood could be fully developed. We shall not enter upon a deep study of this theme, but rather touch upon some of the simple things which are seen here, that we may find delight in having “such an High Priest.”
1. Melchisedek Pictures Christ in the Uniqueness of His Person (vv. 1-3)
We are first introduced to him as a priest upon his throne, occupying that throne in righteousness, for by interpretation, his name means “King of Righteousness.” Then, also, he was King of Peace; for Salem, where he reigned, means “peace.” Surely we can see Christ in this, for He holds both sceptre and censer, wearing both mitre and crown of glory. He brought in righteousness at the cross, and He is our Peace, eternal and unchangeable. Throughout the Old Testament picture gallery, each person presented is seen with a background of ancestry. But not so Melchisedek. He is seen in solitary dignity. Suddenly he appears to the victorious pilgrim Abraham, and as suddenly, disappears. We know nothing of his parentage, we learn nothing of his posterity. We have record of neither his birth nor death. Indeed, the introduction of these would have marred the picture, for he was made a likeness of the Son of God whose Priesthood is not inherited nor transferred. He came from the tribe of Judah, not Levi, and He remains a Priest forever. But being a Priest of another order necessitates the setting aside of the old order and the economy under which it operated.
Abraham was considered by every Israelite as the greatest of all the fathers, but Melchisedek was greater than he, for Abraham gave tithes to him. In this act, the entire Aaronic priesthood acknowledged the superiority of another priest outside their own order. Christ is greater than Melchisedek; He is greater than all. He displaces all and fills the gap with Himself. The entire Aaronic order is displaced by Him.
2. Melchisedek Is a Picture of Christ in the Exercise of His Priesthood
If we turn back to chapter 5:9, we notice the first of four panels in this picture of priestly majesty. In each, one word characterizes the exercise of this priesthood.
1.Salvation. As High Priest after the order of Melchisedek, Christ is become the Author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. We acknowledge His gracious authority over His own as our glorious Leader; and present salvation is found in obeying Christ. Here in this scene is the pathway in which He once walked, and we are called to follow Him in it. From above He holds out to us the golden sceptre. And we need grace from
The place where He’s now on the throne,
And His strength shall be ours on the road.
How much we need this preservation from the defiling influences of the world through which we pass! Coming back to our chapter we notice a second characteristic—
2. Blessing. We read that Melchisedek “blessed him that had the promises” (v. 6). What a lovely picture we have here! Abraham, the pilgrim, had just returned from his victory over the world powers of that day. The man who was aloof from the world could overcome the world and deliver his brother Lot who was taken captive by it. The royal priest met him, and bestowed upon him heaven’s strength and joy. Another and different conflict awaited Abraham: he was to meet the king of Sodom. In the strength of the heavenly benediction he was able to refuse his offers; and being satisfied with the heavenly portion, the world’s offers did not tempt him. He could stand up against the wiles of the enemy as well as against his power.
Thus Christ will come forth in a future day from the sanctuary of heaven to dispense blessing to Israel, triumphant over all her foes. He will sit as Priest upon His throne, according to the prophet Zechariah. No doubt there will then be the full exercise of the Melchisedek priesthood, but now, as High Priest of good things to come, He gives us a blessed foretaste of it all. Every good thing with which God will bless His people is at His disposal, and it is His great delight to bestow it upon us.
If we were enjoying the priestly ministrations of Christ to our souls we would be able to stand up to the world as Abraham did. Do we not enjoy His Presence in a very real way when we are gathered in His precious Name? Christ prepares for us a feast; He meets us with all the rich blessings of which He is the Center, and satisfies our hearts with heaven’s bounties, so that the world loses all attraction for us. Then too, we have the privilege of bringing some token of our homage, as did Abraham to Melchisedek. The bread and the wine suggest what He is to us, and we unite in giving to Him our highest tribute of praise, for He is worthy.
The third characteristic we find in verses 11-19.
3.Perfection. The law made nothing perfect (v. 19), for it was not the final thing. Both the law and the priesthood associated with its administration pass off the scene, superseded by Christ, who, in contrast to its long succession of dying men, exercises the priesthood “after the power of an endless life” (v. 16). The law brought neither satisfaction to the heart of God nor relief to needy man; nor could it bring the two together, and so there is the setting aside of “the commandment given before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.”
Christ makes everything perfect; He, the Eternal One, imparts eternity to all He touches. Then the last word we will notice is
4. Approach. By a better hope we draw nigh to God (v. 19). Of old, a great throng stood outside the doors of the sanctuary. They had no access within its Holy Place, and the son of Aaron could not bring them in. True, he himself entered once a year, but it was only for a brief moment, and then with fear and trembling. Grace has done what the law could never do; it has brought us to God. Our hope is Christ at the right hand of God. He has gone in, and so may we. Because He is there, the presence of God is to us the most attractive spot in the universe, and we draw near to God with delight.
As we close the chapter, we have a blessed presentation of our Lord Jesus in contrast with the earthly priests. We gaze with wonder and joy. Saluted by the Eternal God as Partner of His throne, He is Priest forever, confirmed in His office by the divine oath (v. 21).
He is Surety of a better covenant and thus guarantees its fulfillment (v. 22).
He ever lives to save those that come unto God by Him, with a complete salvation from the outermost edge of the pit to the very heart of God.
An Israelite, seeking the sympathy of a priest, might find the gracious man he formerly knew succeeded by a different type. Christ is ever the same, and He meets exactly the need of every heart. He is the very kind of High Priest that we need, and His fitness is seen in the following verses as His character is portrayed in a sevenfold glory (vv. 26-28).
He is holy—devoted to God in love, with a heart throbbing in unison with the heart of God.
He is harmless—laying a gentle hand upon us with a tender touch.
He is undefiled—unsullied in character, with glistening white garments that shall never know one speck or stain.
He is separate from sinners—the heavenly Nazarite, who is drawing our hearts to the scene where He is.
He is higher than the heavens—now in the presence of God, making that place the home of our hearts.
He has finished the work—His one offering has satisfied the altar.
He is perfected for evermore—God’s Son, our glorious High Priest.
Vv. 1-10. A great system of blessing centering in Christ in glory.
Vv. 11-22. A great system of perfection centering in Christ in glory.
He comes out to me in blessing, I draw near to God with pleasure. The presence of God is the most attractive spot in the universe to our hearts. If we apprehend the better hope (Christ Himself), we draw near. We are perfectly at home in His presence. Contrast Luke 1:10 with Luke 24:53.
I have in heaven a High Priest who is “holy,” etc. I am not separate from sinners, but He is. My ship may move about a little, but it cannot part from its anchor that is safe within the veil.
V. 19. “Perfect,” in this whole Epistle, is simply that He has gotten to the top of the thing. The law couldn’t do that. The whole congregation of Israel could go up with the high priest to a certain point, and then—they have lost him. But we see Jesus. If I look up to the highest point, I have Him there; and if I look down to the lowest point—to my weakest point—I have Him there.
The apostle interprets for us both the speech and the silence of Scripture, both the names and the order thereof. Everything is taken into account:
1. The fact that righteousness comes first before peace—a principle in divine ways (Isa. 32:17)—is seen at the cross.
2. The fact that father and mother are not mentioned.
3. The unending priesthood.
First righteousness, then peace.
1. Christ’s reconciling work—Peace by the blood of His cross.
2. His dealings with the soul—Justified we have peace with God.
3. His operation in the world—No peace because no righteousness.
4. The world to come—Peace established upon righteousness.