by Robert Brow (, Kingston, Ontario January 2007

The name Melchizedek appears eight times in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Because of the style and content many scholars assume this was not one of Paul’s letters. But great writers often change their method unexpectedly for a particular purpose.

In this case there is a careful explanation of the model shift that Paul had to face when he became a Christian. The Aaronic priesthood had been consecrated by Moses, and it had continued as the basis of Judaism for fifteen centuries. How could this be replaced by Jesus as God’s High Priest and his assistant priests all over the world ?

Paul’s solution was to go back to Abraham, the founder of his nation. He notes that four hundred years before the Aaronic priesthood was established by Moses, Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek the priest-king of Jersusalem (Genesis 14:18-20; Hebrews 7:1). This proved that the priesthoods of the ancient world were recognized by God. Some had worshiped idols, and were under judgment for doing this. But Melchizedek, although he was a Canaanite, was a faithful "priest of the most High God."

Many of the ancient priesthoods were hereditary, passing to the elder son or a close relative. Other priesthoods had an election for a successor when the high priest died. In the case of Melchizedek, there is no record of parents or offspring in a line of priests (Hebrews 7:3). This is also the case with Jesus, who was not descended from the tribe of Levi. The "order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 5:10) refers to a priesthood which is neither hereditary or elected.

The Epistle to the Hebrews predicts the end of the old Aaronic priesthood (Hebrews 8:13) , and this would happen very soon, when the Jerusalem temple was destroyed in AD 70. In its place Jesus had been appointed to function as High priest, and this priesthood would continue for ever (5:5-6; 6:20). Any kind of human priesthood is therefore under his authority, and only functions as long as he permits it to continue.

Jesus established a "kingdom of priests" which means that in any place where two or three (Matthew 18:20) do priestly work in his name, He is working through them. As we approach the Easter season we remember that Jesus suffered crucifixion and rose again to continue for ever as our Priest-King. Having suffered on earth he is able to understand our feelings (Hebrews 2:17-18).


Robert Brow

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