Today’s Chocolate: Endangered Species Forest Mint Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: Hebrews 7
Do you remember Sega’s “Welcome to the Next Level” advertising campaign from the early 90s? No? That’s fine. You don’t need to be familiar with it at all to know that the seventh chapter of Hebrews has got some next-level theology about Jesus Christ as a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Welcome to the next level.
But in order to get to the next level, first you’ve got to master the first level. Melchizedek shows up at the end of Genesis 14, after Abraham defeats several kings. Melchizedek, a king himself as well as a priest, brings bread and wine for the victors (a prefiguring of communion?), offers blessings, and receives a tenth of the spoils of battle. This short scene is Melchizedek’s only appearance in the narratives of the Old Testament, though David references Melchizedek’s priesthood briefly while prophesying about the Messiah in Psalm 110. And equipped with just these two mentions of an obscure figure, the author of Hebrews teaches his readers important truths about Jesus Christ.
Much of what the author of Hebrews has to say, however, relies on metaphor, symbolism, non-literal interpretations of the text, and even a measure of wordplay. For example, he writes: “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually” (3). Obviously, the historical Melchizedek didn’t just waltz onto the scene out of thin air–and neither did the Messiah that he prefigured, Jesus Christ–but the absence of his genealogy symbolically indicates the eternal nature of the authentic Melchizedekian priesthood. As far as the details the narrative supplies, Melchizedek might as well have predated the entire universe.
Then there’s the significance of his name. “Melchizedek,” the author points out, means “king of righteousness,” and his title, “king of Salem,” means “king of peace” (2). To break it down, the first half of his name, “Melchi,” is a form of the Hebrew מֶלֶךְ (melek), meaning “ruler.” The second half, “zedek,” is a form of צֶ֫דֶק (tsedeq), meaning “justice” or “righteousness.” As for “Salem?” It’s derived from a word you may already be familiar with: the Hebrew שָׁלוֹם, shalom, meaning “peace.” Strong’s Concordance notes that it might also be translated “completeness,” “soundness,” or “welfare.” And again, the point is that Melchizedek points to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the king of righteousness and peace.
The author of Hebrews further points out that Melchizedek predates the Levitical priesthood. Abraham pays tithes to Melchizedek, and our writer notes, “[S]o to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him” (9-10). The Levites, the priests of the ancient Hebrews, trace their genealogy back to Jacob’s son Levi and further back to Abraham, the patriarch of the Hebrews.
But Melchizedek stands outside all that. He has no given lineage, Abraham (and by extension, all his children) pay tithes to him, and he gives Abraham’s line a blessing. And the writer notes, “But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater” (7). Melchizedek’s unique position indicates the superiority of his priestly order. To be a priest according to his order is to be immortal, to receive tithes even from those who receive tithes as a priest above all priests and to give blessings to God’s people.
Perhaps most crucially, what sets Melchizedek’s priesthood over that of the Levites is its eternality. Historically, there were a lot of Levites, generations and generations of Levites. And that’s because they die: “The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently” (23-24). As the author of Hebrews argues, the Law can’t perfect us, because we humans keep falling short of it. And the Levitical priesthood’s sacrifices can’t perfect us, because they keep having to make further sacrifices, day after day, and the Levites themselves are flawed human beings living under sin and death. But Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross covers our sin once and for all.
That’s what it means to be a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Welcome to the next level.