The theme of priesthood runs throughout the entire Bible. Ever since the fall (Gen. 3), there has been a need for forgiveness. Throughout the Old Testament, one finds example after example of insufficient sacrifices. Even still, the covenantal promises of God are kept and developed. With the dawn of the New Testament, a baby is born in Bethlehem. This promised Messiah takes upon Himself the sins of the world and rises to reign eternally. Jesus Christ is both King and Priest. How so? The author of Hebrews explains how Christ does not come in the order of Aaron. Rather, He comes in the order of a mysterious figure named Melchizedek.
Melchizedek is first mentioned in Genesis 14. After Abraham returns from a battle against a coalition of evil kings, he is approached by Melchizedek (v. 18). According to this account, Melchizedek is the king of Salem. He blesses Abram and gives him bread and wine. Before leaving, Abram gives Melchizedek “a tenth of everything” (v. 20).
Readers of the Old Testament find Melchizedek again in Psalm 110. This Messianic Psalm from the pen of David points to Christ and His glory. The fourth verse reads, “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek’” (ESV).
No more is said of Melchizedek until the New Testament. In the Book of Hebrews, Melchizedek is briefly mentioned in 5:6, 5:10, and 6:20. Each of these refer to Jesus Christ being in the “order of Melchizedek.” In Hebrews 7, the author beings to explain the relationship between Christ and Melchizedek.
In his commentary, F.F. Bruce writes, “Historically, Melchizedek appears to have belonged to a dynasty of priest-kings in which he had both predecessors and successors.” In Hebrews 7:3, the author refers to the Genesis account where no genealogy is provided of Melchizedek or his priestly service. Thus, Christ is typologically compared to Melchizedek in that His priesthood has no Levitical origin. He has no lineage, and His priesthood has no end.
From here, the author of Hebrews begins to explain Genesis 14 and how Melchizedek is indeed greater than Abram, the great-grandfather of Levi. Melchizedek is greater because Abram gives him a tithe (Heb. 7:5-6a). This leads the author of Hebrews to conclude the supremacy of Melchizedek over Abram and his descendants. Furthermore, Melchizedek blesses Abram (Heb. 7:6b-7).
The priesthood of Jesus Christ is outside that of the Levitical descent. As the author of Hebrews writes, “Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron” (7:11 ESV).
Indeed, under the Old Covenant, perfection is unattainable. This is why the author of Hebrews begins to explain how Jesus is the high priest of a better covenant. He writes, “But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises” (8:6 ESV).
The author of Hebrews clearly refers to Jesus as being a high priest in the order of Melchizedek rather than Aaron. Even before the Law, a greater priesthood existed. The account of Abram and Melchizedek in Genesis 14 points to this truth. As Victor P. Hamilton writes, “Thus Levi actually paid tithes to Melchizedek, for Levi was still in the loins of his ancestor (Abram) when Melchizedek met Abram.”
Therefore, the people of God are no longer given an imperfect high priest. Since Jesus comes after the order of Melchizedek instead of Levi, His priesthood is immortal (Heb. 7:24). As the author of Hebrews writes, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (v. 25 ESV). Unlike the Aaronic priests, Christ is perfect, having no need to sacrifice for His own sin (v. 26). Instead, He sacrificed once and for all His own body on the cross.
The supremacy of Christ is further recognized in God’s oath made in Psalm 110:4. The author of Hebrews quotes this verse when he writes, “‘The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever”’” (7:21 ESV). The promised King who comes through the lineage of David is here referred to by David as a priest. It is, therefore, with the understanding that Jesus comes as a priest in the order of Melchizedek that He can be called Priest-King.
Christians today can take heart in what the author of Hebrews portrays. Since Christ comes in the order of Melchizedek rather than Aaron, there is great hope. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15 ESV).
Come rest in the arms of the Priest-King, Jesus Christ.