In Hebrews 3:1, the writer tells his “holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling” to “consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus.” The word “consider” invites us to “observe fully” (Strong’s G2657) and “fix one’s eyes or mind upon” Jesus (Thayers). That’s what we did in last week’s post for His role as Apostle, and what I hope to do this week for His role as High Priest.
Christ’s priesthood is “after the order of Melchizedek.” It’s a key point in Hebrews’ discussion of Christ as our High Priest, even though we know very little about Melchizedek from his 3-verse appearance in the Torah.
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. (Gen. 14:18-20)
With Hebrews’ detail about Melchizedek existing “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God” (Heb. 7:3), I lean toward the interpretation that it was a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. I also find the parallels between Melchizedek offering Abraham bread and wine and Jesus instituting the New Covenant Passover with those same symbols intriguing. We get so little information about Melchizedek that I don’t want to assume the mention of what he fed his guests isn’t significant.
In Hebrews 7:4, the writer is talking about Melchizedek and says, “consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils.” The argument is that since the “less is blessed of the better,” Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, and by extension Abraham’s descendants (Heb. 7:7). This makes Melchizedek’s priesthood greater than Levi’s.
Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. … And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. (Heb. 7:11-12, 15-16)
A little later the writer clarifies that the problem with the first covenant lay in the faults of man, and that necessitated a new covenant (Heb. 8:7-8). Christ’s priesthood supersedes the Levitical one because He belongs to a better covenant with better promises.
But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. (Heb. 8:6)
Christ’s priesthood after the order of Melchizedek is what the writer earlier says he’s trying to talk about but can’t in much depth because his readers are “dull of hearing” (Heb. 5:10). To understand what’s being said here, we need a firm foundation in the principles doctrines of Christ (Heb. 6:1-3, click here for my Foundations blog series). Jesus’s role as our High Priest is one of the deeper, meatier doctrines in the Bible; one that requires deep consideration to even begin to understand.
The Levitical priesthood existed to fulfill requirements of the law, and Christ’s does as well. By His one sacrifice, “He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” and “has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 5:9; 10;14). This removes from us the death penalty the law demands for those who disobey God.
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. (Heb. 7:24-25)
The New Covenant, made after Christ reconciled us to God, exists on a more personal level. The law is written in our minds and hearts, not just on paper. God is right there beside us, teaching and guiding (Heb. 8:10-11). We’re not separated from Him any more because Christ took away the penalties for our sins.
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb. 10:19-22)
The change in priesthood also included a change of temple. God’s followers don’t travel to a physical location to make physical sacrifices or communicate with Him though a man/priest any more. Jesus is the only intermediary between us and the Father now.
And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us (Heb. 10:22-24)
Christ’s sacrifice fulfilled all the blood offerings to cover sin. The one focused on here, though, was the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) sacrifice. It could only be offered by the high priest, and that was the only time he could enter the part of the temple called the Holy of Holies (Heb. 9:1-7). When Jesus fulfilled this sacrifice, He entered the Holy of Holies in heaven, removed our sins with His blood, and surpassed all need for other priests and sacrifices.
There’s another Holy of Holies that exists under the New Covenant, besides the one in heaven where Jesus made atonement for us.
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, which you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
The Greek word for “temple” here is naos (G3485). It refers to “the heart and center of the whole sacred enclosure called hieron (2411).” This word is the one used for the inner sanctuary, the holy of holies where only the high priest could go (though this isn’t the only application — it is also used in the gospels to refer to the whole temple).
When Jesus died, the “veil of the temple” (naos) was “torn in two from top to bottom” (Matt. 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). That veil was a thick curtain that divided the holy of holies from the rest of the temple/naos. We’ve already quoted Hebrews 10, where it talks about Christ’s sacrifice giving us boldness to enter the holiest through the veil of His blood. This is going both ways. Our High Priest welcomes us into the presence of God, and He indwells us as His temple. The priesthood has been changed, the temple has been changed, and the believers have been changed. Where the people failed and stumbled under the Old Covenant, they’ve been washed clean under the New. Jesus made it possible for us to stay in covenant with Him.
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph. 2:19-22)
Jesus isn’t just High Priest of a distant temple in heaven. We’re each of us a temple, and He’s High Priest for each of us inside our very hearts and minds. The relationship between us and our High Priest is a intensely personal one. He knows our every thought, emotion, desire. He sympathizes with our weakness and struggles (Heb. 4:12-16). He’s always active on our behalf (Heb. 7:25). It’s no wonder we’re instructed to meditate ever more deeply upon Him.