In the Hebrews 6:20, we learn that Jesus is ‘a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’ What does this mean, and why does it matter?
Who was Melchizedek?
We meet Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18, where we see him described as king of Salem and a priest of the Most High God. Note that Melchizedek is both a king and a priest, and the name means “King of Righteousness”. He is the first person to be named as a priest in the Bible.
Salem is typically understood to be Jerusalem. As Psalm 76:1b-2 says:In Judah is God known: his name is great in Israel. In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion. (KJB)
In chapter 14, Melchizedek meets Abram. He provides Abram bread and wine, and Abram gives tithes (a tenth of everything) to Melchizedek. Notice any parallels here?
Role of Priests in the Old Testament
The Levitical priesthood (aka, Aaronic priesthood), beginning with Moses’ brother Aaron, was critical to the Israelites and, in fact, the Israelites tithed to the priesthood. Priests in the Old Testament had some serious duties to perform. Their duties included (not meant to be an exhaustive list):
- Being spiritual leaders (Hebrews 5:1)
- Acting as intermediaries on behalf of Israelites (Leviticus 9:22-24, Numbers 6:22-27)
- Offering sacrifices (Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31)
Only the High Priest could enter the inner-most part of the Temple, known as the Holy of Holies or Most Holy Place. Notably, the Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the tabernacle by a veil. The High Priest would enter this place to offer the blood sacrifice before the mercy seat (commonly referred to as the Throne of God).
Requirements to Become a Priest
In order to perform the sacrifices, one first had to become a priest. To become a priest, the man had to be washed in water (Leviticus 8:6, Exodus 29:4) and anointed with oil (Leviticus 8:12, Exodus 29:7). It appears that priests had to be at least 30 years old, due to Numbers 4:1-3. We do know that in Jesus’ time for someone to be a teacher (Rabbi), they had to be at least 30 years old.
Interesting to note: only Levites could become priests in the Levitical Priesthood. This presents a problem, as Jesus was not a Levite! Jesus was not from the tribe of Levi but rather from the tribe of Judah (See Hebrews 7:9-19). How then can He be a priest?
Jesus could become a priest, just not a Levitical Priest. As we see in Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 6:20, Jesus’ Priesthood is after the order of Melchizedek…
The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Psalm 110:4 (ESV)
Even so, Jesus fulfills the requirements for priesthood in that:
- He was baptized
- He was anointed
- He waited until He was thirty
The Old Testament priests were anointed (consecrated) with oil. Jesus received His anointing from the Holy Spirit, which descended upon Him at His baptism (Luke 4:18-19; Acts 10:38). Oil is frequently seen as a symbol of the Holy Spirit.
So, we can see that Jesus did things right and legally- He waited until He was 30 years old and then was baptized and anointed. He then proceeded with His public ministry until came the time for the Sacrifice.
As the Old Testament priests offered sacrifices on behalf of the sins of the people, so did Jesus offer Himself as a Sacrifice for our sins. Recall that only the High Priests could enter into the Holy of Holies to offer up the sacrifice. When Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, died, the veil in the Temple was torn in two (Matthew 27:50-51).
The veil is no longer needed; we do not have to continually offer sacrifices. According to Hebrews 10:19–20, we can now enter the Holy of Holies by the Blood of Jesus, ‘through the curtain that is his body…’ Even more, we are now part of a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5).
Jesus, the High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, is our King and Priest now and forever.