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.