Friday, 7 November 2008

Our priest forever (Hebrews 7)

The Hebrew Christians were under extreme pressure to recant their faith in Jesus Christ. Christianity was, at this time, viewed by at least some within orthodox Judaism as a sect. Faith in Jesus seemed to ride roughshod over the Old Testament, didn't it? After all, what of the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices?

Hebrews 7 is the beginning of an answer to this objection.

1. There is a model of priesthood in the Old Testament other than the Levitical model
The writer's first part of an answer points his readers to Genesis 14 and the enigmatic passage about the priest-king Melchizedek. After a military victory, Abram tithes and gives away 10% of his plunder to Melchizedek. Unlike many other OT characters, nothing is said about Melchizedek's origins or what happened afterward. But the fact that even the great patriarch Abram tithed to a priest 'external' to Israel shows that priesthood can operate outside of the Levitical system. Significantly, this priesthood pre-dates the institution of the Levitical model.

2. A priest-king in the order of Melchizedek was prophesied after the institution of the Levitical model
The writer then points his readers to Psalm 110. This was written by David, when the Levitical priesthood had already been established for several hundred years. David prophesies an all-conquering king (who seems to be divine), who himself will be a priest in the order of Melchizedek.

3. God has sworn under oath that this new king will be a priest forever
In the third stage of his argument, the writer points to the language of oath in Psalm 110: 'The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind...'. In other words, the priesthood of the Messianic king will last forever. Presumably this means that his priesthood will be utterly effective.

Jesus, of course, applied Psalm 110 to himself (Mark 12:35-37). And so, although he was not from the tribe of Levi, he was a priest: the promised priest in the order of Melchizedek. Unlike the Levitical priests, he has risen, never again to die. And, therefore, he is able to save completely those who trust him: he sacrificed for sins (past, present and future) once for all when he offered himself.

In 21st Century Britain, we might not feel tempted to return to the Levitical sacrifices. However, we can sometimes wonder (explicitly or implicitly) whether Jesus really is enough. Such questioning can lead to ugly legalism. Hebrews 7 confidently announces the complete sufficiency of Jesus' priesthood and sacrifice. His resurrection declares it. The oath of God promises it (it's not as if God will announce at judgement that he's changed the rules of how we can get right with him). I can rest complete assured in Jesus, my priest forever who won't let me down.

2 comments:

Bill Canaday said...

You've been linked to from http://nmwoodworks.com/life/bible/jesus-not-a-levite/

This was an excellent post, clearly useful teaching. Thanks

peterdray said...

Thanks Bill - and thanks for the extra comment on your own blog.

Peter