Hebrews 7:11, Galatians 2:20-21

Jesus is different from Religion

If the Levitical priests or the Old Testament Law could provide a means by which we could be made acceptable to God once and for all, there would have been no need for a new priest after the order of Melchizedek. But Jesus was necessary for our salvation. Hebrews 7:11 says, “Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron?” This verse might be compared to Paul’s statement in Galatians 2:21. The Living Bible translates that verse like this: “I am not one of those who treats Christ’s death as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping Jewish laws, then there was no need for Christ to die.” It’s saying that to fall back to the religious systems of dos and don’ts, rituals and ceremonies, is to make Jesus’ sacrifice meaningless.

If you study any religion, you will find that they all have one thing in common. They all teach their adherents to behave in a certain way. They all have rituals to follow, prayers to recite, restrictions to observe, and sacrifices to make. Jesus, our great high priest, brings something different. The Old Testament laws and rituals represented by the Levitical priesthood were unable to make a person acceptable to God. That is true with any religious behavior or ritual observation. Christianity is not a religion. It’s about our relationship with God established once and for all by something entirely different than a religion. God sees us through the filter of Jesus and that’s the only way we can become acceptable to God. Looking again at Galatians, consider the broader context of Paul’s statements. Galatians 2:20-21 says, “I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not one of those who treats Christ’s death as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping Jewish laws, then there was no need for Christ to die.”

Saving faith has nothing to do with what we do for God. It’s all about what He has done for us through His son our great high priest. It’s the only unique thing about true Biblical Christianity and it is the central thing. It is completely different. It is “another” path to being made right with God. In Hebrews 7:11 the Priesthood of the order of Melchizedek, Jesus’ priesthood is said to be “another” Priesthood. In Greek there are two words both of which are translated “another.” One is “allos.” It means another of the same kind. I might like the pen I’m using because it meets all my needs so I would want “another one” like it, another one of the same kind. However, if it didn’t do what I needed or expected I’d still say “I want another one” but I’d use the word “heteros” which means another of a different kind. Jesus’ priesthood is another of a different kind. It’s not like all other religions. Jesus is both the offeror of the sacrifice and the sacrifice itself. Salvation by grace through faith alone is a way to God of a “different” kind.

Hebrews 7:9-10

Jesus is better than Levi

Since Abraham offered tithes to Melchizedek according to Genesis 14, the author of Hebrews interprets that action as pure evidence that Abraham himself testifies to the superiority of Melchizedek. He then argues that this gesture of offering the tithe even demonstrates the total superiority of Melchizedek over the entire Levitical system of religion. Hebrews 7:9-10 says, “One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.” Tanner observes, “The text highlights Abraham as the patriarch, the father of the nation. Abraham is not merely acting as an individual but is representative of the entire nation that stems from him. His act of giving a tithe is significant, for under the Old Covenant the Levitical priests collected tithes from the people (Num 18:21–24).”[1]

Fruchtenbaum explains this verse. He writes, “It is true that Levi was not living at the time that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, but he was in the loins of Abraham. Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek by means of imputation, for he was still in the loins of his father, Abraham, when Melchizedek met him. The writer’s point is that, if the fathers like Abraham and Levi were obliged to recognize the superiority of the Melchizedekian Priesthood, the sons should also recognize this superiority.”[2] But more important to my way of thinking is the connection between Melchizedek and Jesus! It’s all about Jesus as the writer of Hebrews asserts from the very beginning of his letter. The whole Old Testament testifies to this truth. The prophets proclaim Jesus! The Law of Moses speaks of Jesus, the angels serve Jesus! The entire record called “Scripture” is about Jesus just as He, Himself, said in Luke 24:27. But religion is strong. The most difficult thing to give up for Jesus and the only thing one must surrender is one’s religion. One must trust in the full-sufficiency of Jesus for salvation and for rest in this life.

Brown observes, “The relevance of his argument is not a first-century affair. It is of the greatest possible importance to twentieth-century men and women facing surprisingly similar problems, and at the same disadvantage.”[3] The disadvantage is the strength of religion. We still desire lists of things to do and our preachers will not fail to give those to us. We still want rituals to follow and our current denominations have plenty of variants to choose from. We still think much of our acceptance by God is dependent on our behavior and although it’s often subliminal much, if not most, of Christian teaching and writing focuses on what we do for God rather than on what He does for us. The reformation needed today is a reformation of our confidence in the full-sufficiency of Jesus. When He said on the cross, “it is finished” He meant it.

[1] J. Paul Tanner, “The Epistle to the Hebrews,” in The Grace New Testament Commentary, ed. Robert N. Wilkin (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), 1057.

[2] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, 1st ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 101.

[3] Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews: Christ above All, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 130.

Hebrews 7:8, Psalm 110:4, Luke 24:27, John 5:39, 46

Focus on Jesus

Hebrews 7:8 produces another line of evidence for the superiority of Jesus to the Old Testament priesthood. Old Testament priests could not serve until they turned 25 years of age and they were retired when they turned 50. They had a temporary ministry of intercession on behalf of the people they served. This is not true of Jesus who serves as our intercessor forever. The author of Hebrews makes Melchizedek a type of Jesus because of the absence of any restrictions to his intercessory ministry and because of the absence of any mention of his birth or death. The verse reads, “In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives.” Great focus is put on the priests according to the Levitical laws. It limits their ministry and restricts the time span of their service. There is no mention of any restrictions or limits to Melchizedek’s ministry and thus he establishes the permanent nature of his office. Pfeiffer observes this and says, “The Levitical priesthood is composed of men who die, but the priesthood of Melchizedek contains no hint of death within it (7:8).”[1]

One might hesitate to understand the Old Testament omission of the birth or death of Melchizedek as being evidence of a perpetual ministry of intercession. The writer of Hebrews, however, knows his Psalms and realizes that it’s the only possible conclusion he can make because the divinely inspired Psalmist speaks of Melchizedek’s ministry as perpetual. Psalm 110:4 says, “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’” That this Psalm is God’s promise to the Messiah is irrefutable. It has been understood that way in every Jewish generation, although they rejected Jesus as that Messiah. It has been understood that way by all Christian generations who have celebrated Jesus as the recipient of this Messianic promise along with thousands of other promises found in the Old Testament if understood through Christian focus.

We cannot understand the Old Testament or the significance of the Old Testament for us today, if we do not see it Christologically. Jesus said that the whole of the Scripture (Old Testament) was about Himself. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus addressed the two “dull of hearing” disciples and “…interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). To the religious leaders whose ears were stopped from understanding He said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). They were only focused on the Law and establishing and maintaining their own righteousness.  They rejected the perfect righteousness that God offers, not a righteousness attained through the law but a righteousness imputed to sinners through faith in Jesus. But they argued that they believed and followed Moses’ teachings but they did not and could not. So Jesus said to them, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46). The only “eternal life” that can be found in the scriptures is to be found in Jesus. Look for him. Focus on him.

[1] Charles F. Pfeiffer, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Everyman’s Bible Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1962), 62.

Hebrews 7:5-7, John 8:58-49, Luke 24:27

Sermons should be about Jesus

It’s obvious that Abraham saw Melchizedek as superior to himself. The writer of Hebrews explains this in the next three verses. Hebrews 7:5-7 says, “And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.” The author of Hebrews is making it clear that Jesus is greater than all the religious rituals, angels, prophets and people of the Old Testament, even the father of the entire nation, Abraham. Jesus made the same claims when addressing the religious leaders but they didn’t like that. In John 8:58-59, Jesus said to the religious leaders who challenged Him regarding His claims to surpass Abraham, “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him.”

Hagner says, “Just as the one who receives the tithe is of higher position than the one who gives the tithe, so also the lesser person is blessed by the greater. The great Abraham is thus subordinate to Melchizedek.”[1] Since Jesus’ priesthood is of the order of Melchizedek rather than Aaron, it’s obvious that Jesus is greater than Abraham.  Abraham acknowledges this and as Lenski observes, “Abraham was right, for Abraham was not the king-priest, Melchizedek was; Abraham was not the royal-priestly type of Jesus, Melchizedek was. All the greatness of Abraham remains; by his very greatness he shows ‘how great’ (v. 4) Melchizedek is.”[2]

The only way to read the Old Testament is to read it through the eyes of the New Testament. This is what Jesus meant when He told the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:27 that the Old Testament was all about Himself. The text says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” I completely agree with Pink who writes, “It has been thought by some (and we deem it quite probable) that in this very Hebrews’ Epistle the Holy Spirit has recorded for our instruction and joy the very things which the risen Savior communicated to those two favored disciples. Whether this be the case or no, certain it is that the leading design of the Spirit in this Epistle is to give us light on many Old Testament mysteries by means of the fuller revelation which God has now made by and through Jesus Christ.”[3] The writer of Hebrews is showing us how the Old Testament is all about Jesus. Why do we insist on making it about us? We’re not the giant slayer David. Jesus is! When listening to a sermon, or reading a devotional ask yourself, “is this about me, or is about Jesus?” It should be about Jesus!

[1] Donald A. Hagner, Hebrews, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 103.

[2] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James (Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1938), 218.

[3] Arthur Walkington Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews (Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot, 1954), 357.

Hebrews 7:4, Luke 3:8, Luke 16:29-31

Jesus is greater than Abraham

In the fourth verse of Hebrews chapter seven, the writer again makes mention of the fact that Abraham, the father of all Israel, gave his tithe to Melchizedek.  Hebrews 7:4 says, “See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils!” This was already mentioned in verse 2 of chapter 7 but the writer repeats it and adds the expletive, “see how great!” Melchizedek was! Hagner observes, “Even the patriarch Abraham felt impelled to give him a tenth of the plunder. The magnitude of the event already mentioned in verse 1 is now stressed. It was one no less than the great Abraham who tithed to Melchizedek.”[1] Jesus is greater than Abraham.

The central theme of the book of Hebrews seems to be the full sufficiency of Christ in every way. The writer begins by reminding his readers that it is through Jesus that God speaks to us in our day and age. He doesn’t speak to us through prophets anymore. The most significant message from the Old Testament prophets, according to the author of Hebrews, is how they bring to light truths about the nature and work of Jesus as the ultimate demonstration of God’s love for all mankind. Jesus is better (a word used in Hebrews more often than the rest of the Bible) than the prophets, the law, Moses, the priests, the angels and all the religious rituals you can think of. We should be thinking more about Jesus than anything or anyone else. So now in Chapter 7, the author adds that Jesus is better than the father of the Hebrew nation himself: Abraham!

Abraham was the most important figure in Judaism. It could be argued that he was even more important than the lawgiver, Moses himself. After all, he did come centuries before Moses and Moses is simply a descendant of Abraham. John the Baptist made it clear that the genealogy from Abraham was not as significant as what Jesus was bringing into the world. He said that clearly in Luke 3:8. It reads, “And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”  Jesus put some interesting words in Abraham’s mouth in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Jesus claimed that the writings of Moses and the prophets was truly all about himself. Moses attested to that and in Luke 16:29-31, Abraham says so as well. According to Jesus, “ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ” Abraham, as he acknowledged the greatness of Melchizedek, was acknowledging that the whole Bible is about Jesus.

[1] Donald A. Hagner, Hebrews, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 102.

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