You’re Messing with my Categories! (Hebrews 7:11-22)

If you think about it, we all work with categories and pigeon holes. When we are learning something new or meeting a new person, we want to place that knowledge or that person within the context of what we know.

For example, when I randomly run into another person who serves as a pastor, I know that I go into pigeon hole mode – I’m asking questions about what church or denomination they are in and where they attended seminary, etc.  I’m working in my mind to get them categorized into such columns as conservative/liberal, charismatic/non-Pentecostal, denominational/independent, Calvinist/Arminian, or traditional/contemporary.

The entire argument of the writer to the Hebrews about Jesus as a high priest was totally messing with the categories of this historically Jewish group of young Christians.  Accepting Jesus as the king of kings, the Messiah, was one thing, and it at least made sense. His genealogy as given in Matthew and Luke affirmed his rights to this – being from the kingly tribe of Judah.

But seeing Jesus as a spiritual high priest! That was categorically earth-shaking. Those from the tribe of Levi (Levites) were priests, and the high priest had to come from the family of Aaron and be affirmed with certainly through ancestral records.

In the previous section, the writer affirmed the superiority of a priest of God named Melchizedek over the historic priesthood of Levi, as ultimately realized through the generations of Aaron’s family. Jesus did not have this pedigree; but the argument is that he had the better connection to the higher order of Melchizedek. God declared this in the 110th Psalm – clearly recognized by everyone as looking forward to the Messiah – where it says that he would be a priest like Melchizedek. The basis of this was not ancestral but rather was founded completely on the character of “an indestructible life.” The earthly Aaronic priests would come and go (as will be written about in chapter 10) and clearly had sin issues of their own … Jesus was of an entirely different categorical character.

So if a new priest and category now is in effect, and it is the final and perfect version of such, the old order and system of things has therefore now expired and is of no continual need of service. So, as this writer says, the old order is “useless,” and returning to it would be foolish. Rather, “draw near to God.”

And all of this is guaranteed by God by his own swearing of an oath that these things are true and final and forever.

Jesus Like Melchizedek

11 If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. 13 He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is declared:

“You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”   

18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.

20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath,21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:

“The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’

22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.

Because of these great truths, we have had our own categories entirely messed with. We have gone from strangers with God, to now being his family. We have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light… from sinners to saints!

Thank God the categories were messed with!

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This priest is better than that priest – Hebrews 7:1-10

Sounding again like a broken record, remember what we have been telling you about the background of the readers of the letter to the Hebrews. These were new believers in Jesus who were from a Jewish background, who were now getting abused by the world around them for their faith, and who were considering going back to their roots.

One of the warm memories of their past was the high priest of the nation – a person whom they could see and experience. But the writer will essentially say to them here, “Why go back to that when you have a better, true and eternal high priest in Jesus?”

So the unspoken question the writer anticipates from his readers is how it could be that Jesus is a better high priest. In fact, how could he be a high priest at all? They knew he came from the wrong lineage to be a priest.

So the writer is going to tell them that Jesus is from a better category of priests – that of the order of Melchizedek, not of Abraham > Isaac > Jacob > Levi >>>> Aaron >>>> generations of Levites in the family of Aaron. This is an argument about who is greater: the Levites, or Jesus and Melchizedek?

Armed with yesterday’s devotional and historical explanation of Genesis 14 and the story of Abraham’s meeting with Melchizedek, you are ready to begin today in Hebrews 7 …

7:1 This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, 2 and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.”3 Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

The writer here is not saying that Melchizedek was without parents; he is not (in my opinion) saying that he is some spiritual being such as even a theophany – a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. Rather, there is no record of his parents or his beginning or ending. By comparison, the priests in Israel had very, very strict dictates about family and lineage before they could qualify for the high office of representing the people before God. So, Melchizedek was LIKE a Son of God in that regard, and there is not a record of any end point to his role as a priest.

In a time where there were few in the world who had descended from Noah who remained faithful to the one true God, (like Abraham) Melchizedek was one who did and who was God’s man in the place of his ministry – Salem … later Jerusalem. Everything about him pointed forward toward Christ; he was what is called a TYPE of Christ.

And he was pretty amazing …

4 Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! 5 Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham. 6 This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. 8 In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. 9 One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, 10 because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.

Yes, quite an amazing guy! So amazing that Abraham – the man among all men whom God had chosen to work specifically with his family that in the end the entire world would be blessed through the work of Christ – yes, Abraham paid tithes of honor to him. This acknowledged that Melchizedek was seen by Abraham as the superior servant of God.

Coming in the other direction was a blessing of Abraham by Melchizedek. Take my word for it here that the sense of the word “blessing” that is used in this text has the connotation of something that is done with ongoing and lasting results. All the great things that had come through Abraham and his lineage – all of the way down to these Hebrews reading this letter – had roots in this blessing. This was true because it was all in the flow of what God was accomplishing.

And to bolster the argument further, the writer says that Levi and all of the priestly order that were to follow were themselves paying tribute and honor to Melchizedek!  What?  How?  Levi was not yet even born!  But the writer says that he was “in” Abraham when this homage was done.

We will come back to more on Abraham and Melchizedek next week. But let me finish with a next-step theological reference … stick with me – it’s not too deep, and when understood, it is a precious truth.

When did you become guilty as a sinner before God? Was it when you committed your first sin? Nope – all that did was prove you are what you already were – a sinner.  Did it occur at the moment of conception … you know, as David said, “in sin my mother conceived me”?  Nope. The actual moment was when Adam sinned in the garden. But hey, you might say, “I wasn’t alive then; I wasn’t even there!”  Yes, you were there – in Adam … just as Levi was “in” Abraham.

But here is the awesome truth. When were your sins paid for and forgiven? When you trusted in Christ?  Not exactly; that is simply when it was applied. You were “in Christ” on the cross when he paid the debt for sin, and “in him” you have his righteousness applied to your account that erases the debt with the payment and application of his perfection.

1 Corinthians 1:30 – It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.