When we try to understand a person’s greatness, we often do so by comparison. The greatness of an American president is usually by comparison to George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. The greatness of a writer is often by comparison to William Shakespeare or Mark Twain. The greatness of a scientist is often by comparison to Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein. The greatest Rock bands are often compared to the Beatles (although I compare them to Boston). The greatness of a baseball player is by comparison to Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron. The greatness of a basketball player is to to Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. The GOAT for football is probably TB, but I can’t bring myself to say that out loud or in writing. Comparisons help us contextualize and comprehend a person’s greatness.
It’s the same in the Bible, throughout the Old Testament, we look back at the pillars of faith: Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, and more. By comparison, we understand the importance of these great people. The author of Hebrews pulls out what seems like an obscure comparison to make a significant point in Chapter 7. He compares a priest named Melchizedek to Abraham, Moses, and the entire sacrificial system of the Mosaic Law to show how much greater Melchizedek was to all of them. And by further comparison to Melchizedek, JESUS is even greater. In fact, He’s perfect.
Consider the example of Melchizedek, King of Salem and Priest of God, to better comprehend the greatness of JESUS as our perfect high priest.
The only command in Hebrews 7 is, “consider how great this man [Melchizedek] was” (7:4). The Greek word for “consider” means to gaze at or discern through careful observation. We get the word “theater” from it. It means to observe something with sustained attention, be a spectator. It’s used of one who looks at a someone or something with interest and for a purpose, usually indicating the careful observation of details.
In order to obey this command to consider this comparison fully, we need to put Melchizedek (Genesis 14 and Hebrews 7) in context. The author of Hebrews was trying to convince people that a religious system of sacrifices, rituals, and rules that had been in place for over 1,400 years had now been replaced by a better way through a better Person – JESUS. The author focuses on the supremacy of Jesus Christ, who is the fulfillment of all that was written by Moses and the Jewish prophets. He introduces a theme that is only treated in the Book of Hebrews, that Jesus Christ is our great high priest.
Here are three significant details to consider by comparing Melchizedek to Jesus.
1. We have a great example of a better high priest in Jesus (Hebrews 7:1–10; Genesis 14:17-20) The flow of thought in Hebrews runs like this: In 7:1-3, the author identifies Melchizedek as both king and priest, without genealogy or end of days. In these ways, he is “made like the Son of God,” and remains a priest perpetually. The Son of God is not made like him, but he is made like the Son of God, presented in Scripture in such a way that he points to the truth about Jesus, the Eternal Son of God.
Genesis 14:17–20 After Abram returned from defeating Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him in the Shaveh Valley (that is, the King’s Valley). Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine; he was a priest to God Most High. He blessed him and said: Abram is blessed by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and blessed be God Most High who has handed over your enemies to you. And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
Compare the priests of God Most High (Hebrews 7:1–3) Melchizedek “was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace.” In Hebrew, Melchi means “my king,” and zedek means “righteousness.” Salem is related to shalom, which means peace. The order is significant: righteousness comes before peace. A king cannot have true peace in his kingdom unless both he and his kingdom are righteous. Sin brings discord and strife. Righteousness is the foundation for peace.
Compare the proof of greatness (Hebrews 7:4–10). Before the Law was given and the Levitical priesthood was established, Abram gave a tithe, a tenth of the plunder of the kings who kidnapped Abram’s family, to Melchizedek. Psalm 110 is a prophetic Messianic Psalm that describes a descendent of David who would not only be his son but his Lord. This descendent would be both a king and a priest. In this Psalm, the priestly king Melchizedek is a type, a foreshadowing, a pattern of a greater King and Priest who is to come – “a priest forever in the pattern of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:5-6; 6:20; 7:20-24).
2. Jesus is the perfect high priest we need because sinful, imperfect human beings will never be good enough.
The author of Hebrews points out the complete failure of the Levitical priesthood and the psalms points us to the perfection of Jesus.
Hebrews 7:11-12: “Now if perfection came through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the law), what further need was there for another priest to appear, said to be according to the order of Melchizedek and not according to the order of Aaron?For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must be a change of law as well.”
God promised in Psalm 110:4 that the coming Messiah would be a priest after Melchizedek’s order. He intended to terminate the Levitical priesthood because it was imperfect; it was inadequate. If the Levitical priesthood had been adequate, the Messiah would have functioned as a Levitical priest. In addition, the author of Hebrews directs our attention to the failure of the Mosaic Law. It was “weak and unprofitable.” The Law “perfected nothing” (Hebrews 7:13-18).
3. We trust in Jesus our great, perfect high priest (Hebrews 7:20–28).
Hebrews 7:26–27 “For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests do—first for their own sins, then for those of the people. He did this once for all time when he offered himself.”
When we are tempted, pressured, stressed, perplexed, persecuted, etc.. rather than trying harder, doing better or running to or talking to anyone else, we run to Jesus, talk with Him, and trust Him. We put JESUS on a pedestal.
We remember God’s promise to us that He will save us and help us (Hebrews 7:20–22, 28) Jesus is our high priest by God’s oath, His promise. There is a repetition of His “oath” 5 times in just 8 verses. We consider Jesus’ permanence (vv. 23–24) As our resurrected Savior, Jesus is our High Priest forever. We rest in His prayers for us as our great high priest (vs. 25). He is always able to save not only in the sense of justification, but in the realm of sanctification when we are tempted to sin. We draw near to him, we come to God through Him, “since He always lives to intercede” for us. Jesus prays John 17 type prayers for us. We contemplate His purity (vs. 26). Where the Levitical priests had to offer sacrifices for their own sins, Jesus, as our sinless Savior, offered Himself as a sacrifice, once and for all, for our sins. And we rejoice in His propitiation for our sin (vs. 27). Propitiation means to appease God’s righteous judgment of sin. “JESUS himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
By comparison, we carefully consider Melchizedek to better realize the superiority of JESUS as our great high priest. Not just on Sunday mornings in a worship service, but on Monday mornings when we face the stress of work. We consider the greatness of Jesus on Tuesday nights when we’re hurting. We trust in the superiority of Jesus when we feel lonely. We trust the goodness of our Great High Priest when we get the news of cancer or a job layoff. We rest in our Great High Priest when we’re worried about our children or later in life, our parents.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace…
In Genesis 14, Melchizedek brought out bread and wine as a priest to God Most High to worship the Lord for the victory He brought to Abram over his enemies.
In Mark 14, JESUS brought out bread and wine as a sacrificial High Priest to celebrate the victory He would win over sin. Not only did Jesus make the atoning sacrifice for sin, HE WAS the sacrifice for our sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Follow me…as I follow Jesus our Great High Priest.