The author begins by bringing the history of Melchizedek to mind, who is found in Genesis 14. He was the king of Salem and priest of the Most High God. After Lot had been captured, Abraham conquers those kings and rescues Lot. Abraham paid a tenth to Melchizedek and Melchizedek blessed Abraham. Now the author is going to make several arguments based on this very short narrative found in Genesis 14.
First, Melchizedek is special because of who he is. His name means “king of righteousness” and he was the king of Salem, and “Salem” (same root as shalom) means “peace.” So he is the king of righteousness and the king of peace. We should be able to quickly see that the author is building an allusion to Christ.
Further, Melchizedek is “without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life.” Melchizedek suddenly appears on the sacred pages without any previous information about him. We do not know who his parents were.
We do not know where he came from. We do not know how he died. He seems to have no beginning or end. Therefore the priesthood is continuous. In particular, the comparison is explicitly stated that Melchizedek resembles the Son of God by continuing as priest forever.
The writer of Hebrews may be recalling this knowledge from these Jewish Christians and is now going to expand upon it.
The writer wants us to know the greatness of Melchizedek. Abraham paid a tenth to him. Levi, hence the Levitical priesthood, is a descendant of Abraham. Therefore, Levi is lesser than Abraham. Melchizedek is greater than Abraham because he does not descend from Levi, received the tenth from Abraham, and blessed Abraham. Obviously, the one who gives the blessing is greater than the one who receives the blessing.
Therefore, Melchizedek is far greater than Levi and the priesthood of Melchizedek is far greater than the Levitical priesthood. Further, the Scriptures record the death of the Levitical priests. But Melchizedek lives on. The writer is strongly playing upon the idea of the eternal nature of the priesthood of Melchizedek.
If we could be made in a condition acceptable to God through the Levitical priesthood, then we would not need another priest. We would not need a saviour. We would not need a deliverer.
We could just stay with the priesthood of Aaron and continue to offer our sacrifices for our sins and we would be found acceptable and whole toward God. The implied argument is that we know that the Aaronic priesthood does not perfect us before God.
We needed a change in the priesthood. If there is a change in the priesthood, then there must be a change of law. Why? The Law of Moses said that the priests would be sons of Aaron through the tribe of Levi. If we change the priesthood then we must have a new law in effect.
Particularly, since Jesus is our High Priest, as the writer has argued repeatedly throughout this letter, then we have a problem because He belongs to another tribe.
Jesus our Lord came from the tribe of Judah, Genesis 49:8-12 / Revelation 5:5, and no one from Judah ever functioned as a priest of God and Moses did not speak about that tribe being a priesthood. Exodus 32:25-29. So there must be a change of law since there has been a change of priesthood.
Proof of the change in the priesthood is the quotation from Psalm 110, which we looked at when it was quoted by the writer in Hebrews 5:6.
Remember that Psalm 110 is the prophecy of a priest and king maintaining the office forever in the order of Melchizedek. Since we have a new priesthood, there must have been a change of law. Therefore, the former law has been set aside (annulled) because of its weakness.
The weakness is not within the law itself but its effect on those who are disobedient. The law does not make us in an acceptable condition to God after our disobedience. In this, the law is weak and useless. It cannot reconcile us to God.
But the new law that has been established because there is a new priesthood, introduces to us a superior hope because this law and priesthood can draw us near to God. This is the way for us to be reconciled.
Superior because of a Divine oath. This priesthood is also superior to the Aaronic priesthood because it was established with the Lord’s oath. The Lord swore to the permanency of the priesthood of Christ. The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, Christ is Priest forever.
Further, Jesus is the guarantee of this better covenant. He guarantees to men that God will fulfil His covenant of forgiveness, and He guarantees to God that those who are in Him are acceptable.
Superior because of a permanent Priesthood. The author returns to the contrast of the temporal nature of those who acted as priests on behalf of the people under the Levitical priesthood. They could not continue their role in office because of death. However, Jesus holds the priesthood permanently because He will never die.
Therefore, Jesus is able to save completely those who draw near to Him because He always lives to make intercession. Remember, the theme of this book has been not to turn back, not to give up, and not to drift away from God.
Here is a reminder of that. Those who draw near to God have an advantage under the priesthood of Christ who is always making intercession and is able to completely save.
Superior because of our Priest’s superior character. We have a special High Priest with His unique character. He is holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Because of this, He does not have the need to offer daily sacrifices on His own behalf, as the priests of Aaron had to. Leviticus 9:8-14.
He made one offering for sins on behalf of the people because of His perfect nature. But the sacrifice was himself.