Monday, May 16, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 27

To start at the beginning of this series, click here.

Melchizedek

The Writer has established the priesthood of Messiah Jesus according to the order of Melchizedek. He has taken Psalm 110, which was universally in the first century to make the case that Jesus was the Messiah seated at the right hand of God and developed the verse which says, "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." But how does this priesthood rank with the levitical priesthood? That is the task the Writer takes on next:

Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest?s office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises. But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. In this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. (Hebrews 7:4-10, NASB 95)

The Writer begins, "Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a 10th of the choicest spoils?" The Writer compares Melchizedek with Abraham and notes that Abraham was the patriarch: the head of Jews genealogists line. He also notes that Abraham gave Melchizedek 1/10th of the choicest spoils of war. What was it about Melchizedek that warranted such honor from Abraham?

What does it mean that the levities collect a tenth from the children of Israel while Abraham gave a tenth to "one whose genealogy is not traced?" Notice how the Writer is emphasizing the symbolic connection between Jesus and Melchizedek--and by doing so makes everything that transpired between Abraham and Melchizedek apply to Jesus-- a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. It is not that Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate vision of Jesus, but rather the priesthood that he had from God that is the connection. In a sense we are asked to acknowledge this fact, "if Melchizedek, the shadow, how much more Jesus the reality?" In addition, the Writer is asking us to note that Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek, because he was greater than Abraham--a fact that is then underscored by the Writer noting that Melchizedek "...Blessed the one who had the promises. But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater."

Abraham as the patriarch is greater the whole tribe of Levi, who descended from him and inherit the promises through him. Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, because Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils to him and received a blessing from him. In arithmetic terms M > A > L! Now since Jesus is a priest according to the order of Melchizedek, we can make the substitution J > A > L and conclude that the priesthood of Jesus is greater and worthy of more honor than the Levitical priesthood. Indeed, let us note, as the Writer of Hebrews asks, that through Abraham, the levitical priests owed and paid a tenth to Melchizedek.

All that remains is to establish that a priesthood, according to the order of Melchizedek, can be from a tribe other than Levi. That is the Writer's next task.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.

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