Greater by the Power of an Indestructible Life
Topic: Resurrection Passage: Hebrews 7:1–7:19
I was reading 2 John 12 this week: “Though I have much to write to you, I’d rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” Throughout this pandemic, I’ve felt what John felt. I’m sending you messages by video and emails, but I’d rather talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. Beloved, Happy Easter! Happy Resurrection Sunday. Christ is risen!* He is risen indeed!
Often when we speak of the resurrection, we rightly emphasize the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. We defend its historicity. We have the records of reliable, eyewitness testimony. We also clarify what Jesus’ resurrection is. It’s new bodily life after a period of being dead. It’s no mere resuscitation. Jesus rose with a transformed physical body, a body no longer subject to death and decay. He rose never to die again. He possesses, what Hebrews 7 calls, the power of an indestructible life.
No president, no religious leader, no sports hero, no significant other, no mentor, no helper for you—nobody can make such a claim. The grave terminates the life of all such people that we may depend on and look to for inspiration. Only one man entered death and then rose triumphant—Jesus Christ. He possesses the ultimate trump card: the power of an indestructible life. Those are the facts.
But what does it mean? What significance does that have for you, for the world? Hebrews 7 answers that question. It does so by explaining what Jesus’ resurrection means in terms of priesthood. Some of us hear priest and, because of our background, perhaps various modern-day priestly figures come to mind. But in the Old Testament, the priests most familiar to us are likely those from the tribe of Levi.
The Levites were set apart to perform special duties, especially the sacrifices. Those sacrifices helped Israel understand they had a great need. To be with God, they needed a go-between. They needed someone who could enter God’s presence for them and make the proper sacrifice. Their sins had separated them from God. But with priests, approved by God to help them, they could then relate to God.
However, less familiar to us is another priest in the Old Testament. A fella named Melchizedek. And what we’ll find today is that this Melchizedek piece in God’s story signified a better priesthood was coming than that found in the Law. God has given us a priest to achieve what the Law could never achieve. He has given us a priest we can depend on forever, because he is forever. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s read the text and walk through its main movements. There are three movements in chapter 7.
Who Is this Melchizedek? An Intro
The first is this: the writer introduces Melchizedek. You heard his name once before. We shook his hand in 5:6 and 10. Now we’re getting to know him much better. Verses 1-3,
“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.”
Melchizedek appears only twice in the Old Testament—Genesis 14, Psalm 110. In Genesis 14, these four kings defeat another group of five kings. In the process, the four kings capture a fella named Lot, Abraham’s nephew. Abraham then heads out with 318 trained men and defeats the four kings, takes the spoil, rescues Lot. Then one of the original five, the king of Sodom—he comes out to work a deal with Abraham.
But right in the middle of this deal, Melchizedek pops up. You’ve heard nothing about him. The text just says: “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’ And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” That’s it. That’s all we get.
Then we’re back to the king of Sodom. Now, the king of Sodom becomes a foil to Melchizedek. He’s trying to work a deal with Abraham, and Abraham rejects it. By contrast, Abraham willingly gives Melchizedek a tenth of everything. If this were a cartoon, there’d be a big red arrow over Melchizedek’s head. Who is this king?
He also serves as a priest? He serves the God of Abraham? He advances the promise by blessing Abraham? And what a unique name he has, Melchi-zedek. It means “king of righteousness.” And Salem—shalom—means peace, wholeness, everything rightly ordered beneath the Lord. He rules the city of peace. And Abraham, he honors Melchizedek; he gives him a tenth of everything. Who is this man, you wonder?
He also lacks a priestly lineage. Verse 3 says he’s “without father or mother or genealogy.” Some have taken that to mean Melchizedek must’ve been a divine figure. But nothing in Genesis suggests that he’s divine. Moreover, the focus of Hebrews 7 is human priesthood—and, as we’ll soon see, Jesus himself not being from priestly stock. The key to understanding him being without father and without mother is found in the next word, “without genealogy.” Not meaning a human genealogy, period, but a priestly one. One that mattered. His priestly lineage isn’t traceable. It’s non-existent.
Moreover, his priesthood was perpetual. “Having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.” Some have taken that to mean Melchizedek is a manifestation of the pre-incarnate Christ. If he is forever—they argue—then it’s only fitting that he’s Christ himself. But that’s not quite accurate. Yes, God the Son is eternal. But the text is very clear: Melchizedek only resembles the Son of God. That differs from saying he is the Son of God.
It’s better to read these words in the context of the Levitical priesthood again. Melchizedek’s priesthood didn’t have a starting point at age 25 and a stopping point at age 50 like the other priests (Num 8:23-26). As long as he lived, his priesthood kept going. It didn’t have a stopping point. That’s why verse 8 will later contrast Melchizedek with the Levites. The Levites represented a dying priesthood, a mortal one. Melchizedek, on the other hand—he represents a living one. His kept going.
In this respect, Psalm 110 becomes the other significant piece in the story. If Melchizedek’s priesthood was of the sort that ended, then how could Psalm 110 speak of somebody else eventually rising after the order of Melchizedek and taking it on forever? When he reads Genesis 14 in light of Psalm 110, he can’t help but see the ongoing nature of Melchizedek’s priesthood. As long as he lived, it went on, and on, and on; and this anticipated another whose priesthood would go on, and on, and on but in a far greater way. I’m getting ahead of myself, though. For now make one further note in verse 3…
Melchizedek foreshadows the Savior. Look again at the end of verse 3: “but resembling the Son of God…” A better translation is this: “having been made similar to the Son of God.” You hear that? Someone brought Melchizedek into being and then deliberately made him similar to the Son of God. That someone is God. God raised him up. God made him a priest-king. God did it before the Law was given. He gave him the name and the role. He did everything to paint a picture of the coming Savior, Jesus Christ. That has huge implications for the way you read Genesis. Everything God orchestrates in his grand story of saving us has Jesus as the end-goal, including this mysterious man named Melchizedek.
Melchizedek Is Greater Than Levi’s House & Even Abraham
Before he completes that connection to Jesus, though, he must tell us more about Melchizedek’s own greatness. Second movement: Melchizedek is greater than Levi’s house and even Abraham. Verse 4, “See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! 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’s beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.”
That’s his first reason why Melchizedek is superior to Levi—Abraham, the father of Levi, paid tithes to Melchizedek. Under the Law, the Levites received tithes from the people. But even they were but one tribe among other sons of Abraham. And of all people who are truly great in the Old Testament, father Abraham tops them all. He had the promises. And yet Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham. He’ll go on to say in verse 10 that “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.” If he’s Abraham’s superior, then he’s especially Levi’s superior.
[See if this diagram helps you sort it out. You have Levites and Aaron’s house. They receive tithes from the other tribes. All of them belong to Abraham. And Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek who wasn’t numbered among Levi’s descendants. Receiving the tithes from Abraham reveals that Melchizedek was the superior in blessing Abraham.]
His second reason for Melchizedek’s greatness over Levi is found in verse 8: “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.” That reiterates what we covered in verse 3. Melchizedek’s priesthood is one that continues. It’s perpetual, ongoing. Unlike Levi’s priesthood which is a dying one. Melchizedek’s priestly order carries on. In that sense he lives. So he’s superior to Levi in that he received tithes from Abraham, Levi’s father. He’s also superior in that his priesthood is perpetual. It’s of an ongoing nature.
Jesus’ Priesthood Is Greatest of All
Now, having established Melchizedek’s own greatness, we’re now prepared for the connection to Jesus’ priesthood. Remember, Hebrews doesn’t reveal Jesus’ glory by putting down Old Testament persons and shadows. Hebrews actually develops how great they truly were. He wants you to sense the greatness of how this king was also a priest, how great he was compared to Abraham, how peculiar it was to be a priest and yet have no priestly lineage, how long his priesthood endured. That’s all really there.
But it’s all there to then say, “You see how much your Bible makes of Melchizedek! You see how great he was; and right you are. But even Melchizedek pointed to someone greater. He doesn’t hold a candle to Jesus’ glory.” Movement three: Jesus’ priesthood is greatest of all. Let’s read verses 11-19…
11 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? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” 18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
Now we’re getting to the other place Melchizedek’s name appears, Psalm 110. Psalm 110 is a psalm of David. Others might be skeptical of that, but I’m going with Jesus on that one. It was Jesus in Luke 20:41-44 who asks, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? For David himself says in the Book of Psalms, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’” That’s Psalm 110. “David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?”
In other words, Psalm 110 brought together two things about the future Messiah: he would be both the Son of David and the Lord/King who shares Yahweh’s throne. Very well. But Psalm 110 then catches us by surprise in verse 5, “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’” How could the coming Son-King in David’s line also be a priest? David was from the tribe of Judah. Hebrews 7 is quite right. No one from Judah ever served at the altar. In connection with Judah, Moses said nothing about priests.
What then becomes of Jesus? As David’s son, he’s from Judah. Priests come from Levi, not Judah. Does that mean Jesus’ priesthood is illegitimate? You could see a Jew raising that objection, couldn’t you? How can Jesus help you, Christian, if he’s not from priestly stock? Didn’t God say so himself in the Law?
Ah, he did. But God also spoke elsewhere in Psalm 110. Jesus’ priesthood is connected with someone who was always superior to Levi—Melchizedek. Psalm 110 anticipated Jesus’ greater priesthood all along. That becomes the turning point for the writer of Hebrews. He reads the Law in light of Psalm 110. He puts the storyline together and says, “Aha! If perfection was attainable through this priesthood under the Law, why does Psalm 110 promise another priest after the order of Melchizedek?” Conclusion? Perfection was never possible under the Law. Perfection awaited the work of a superior priest who would last forever. How do we know that’s Jesus? Resurrection! The power of an indestructible life, which he develops in the verses that follow.
But if we go back a little—when it says perfection, think in terms of everything necessary to make you whole before God’s presence. The Law could never do it, verse 19 says. The Law only exposes people for what they really were—rebels, sinners, law-breakers. Every year the priests kept offering the sacrifices for sins, the people’s sins and their own sins. But never did those sacrifices actually take away sins. Hebrews 9:9 says the Law couldn’t perfect the conscience of the worshiper. The Law only declares us “Guilty!” 10:1 adds that the Law could never make perfect those who draw near to God. There’s always this reminder of sin under the Law; and sin separates from God.
Jesus comes to change all that. Jesus comes to keep the law for us. Everywhere we disobeyed, he obeyed for us. He comes to offer the better sacrifice. His blood actually atones for our sins. Through his death, God judges our sins and takes them away. His work actually perfects our consciences, such that we need not fear to enter God’s presence. We can come into his presence with confidence as true worshipers. When the Law declares, “Guilty!” Jesus’ blood shouts, “Forgiven!”
Perfection couldn’t come by Aaron’s priesthood. It had to come by another way; and that way has come in Jesus. He opened the way to God. He introduces the better hope, through which we draw near to God.
Like Melchizedek Jesus didn’t become a priest on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent. But far greater than Melchizedek, what does verse 16 say? Jesus became a priest by the power of an indestructible life. God raised Jesus from the dead. By virtue of his resurrection, Jesus is forever. His priesthood is an enduring one, like Melchizedek’s was. But in a far greater way, Jesus has now put on immortality. In his glorified body he can never die again. His priesthood is forever because Jesus is forever. Nothing can change his finished work.
To summarize, then, Jesus’ priesthood is greatest of all because he is the substance the shadows pointed to—Melchizedek was pointing to him all along. Also, Jesus actually attains perfection for us, he opens the way for us to draw near to God. He is the ultimate and the only go-between. No one enters God’s presence apart from trusting in his priestly work. And he has the power of an indestructible life, which means his priesthood is forever. What that means for us, then, is a few things…
Jesus’ priesthood helps us understand how the Bible fits together
One, Jesus’ priesthood helps us understand how the Bible fits together. Jesus is the goal of the whole Old Testament. It’s explicit: God made Melchizedek similar to the Son of God. He made this historical figure and wrote about him to point us forward. Even the way he relates to the Law helps us see the temporary nature of the Mosaic covenant. It was never meant to perfect the worshiper; it was always pointing forward. But the Jews often missed it; and it led many of them to reject Jesus. We must not miss it. No passage of Scripture has been fully understood until it has been read in light of God’s fuller and climactic revelation in Jesus Christ. Take that to your quiet times in Leviticus and Numbers. Ask how this word relates to Jesus, his person, his cross, his resurrection, his reign, his return. Only then, will we see and know God truly.
Jesus’ priesthood means there’s a change in the Law
That leads us to something else implied by verse 12: Jesus’ priesthood means there’s a change in the Law. The Levitical priesthood and the Law of Moses go together. If there’s a change in the priesthood—which there was in Jesus—there’s necessarily a change in the Law as well. The Law still functions in our lives as both prophecy and wisdom. It points us to Christ; it reveals God’s character. But as a covenant, the Law of Moses no longer governs the church. Jesus inaugurated a new covenant, and that new covenant now regulates the church.
Knowing this will not only teach you how to apply the Law; it will also guard you from turning to the Law for a right standing with God. If you try to relate to God through the Law, it will always condemn you. You must relate to God through Jesus to have your conscience cleansed and your guilt removed. Also, to return to the Law as our guide would be to return to something weak and useless. The Law made nothing perfect; one Jesus does. So turn to him when you relate to God.
Moreover, this will guard us from practices that revert backwards to living under old covenant forms. That’s why we don’t go to an earthly priest to have our sins absolved; they’re already forgiven in Jesus. We don’t pour blood at an altar as other religions; Jesus’ blood sufficiently cleansed our sins and satisfied God’s wrath. That’s why this building isn’t a sanctuary or a so-called “house of God”; Jesus replaced the temple and God now dwells in his people. That’s why our Sabbath observance is not Saturday or Sunday or any one day out of seven; we observe the Sabbath by setting our hope in the eternal rest of the new heavens and earth.
Jesus’ priesthood means we can now draw near to God
Next, Jesus’ priesthood also means we can now draw near to God. When you celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, one thing you ought to be celebrating is that you can now draw near to God. After this whole discourse on Jesus’ priesthood, that actually becomes the main exhortation in 10:22—“let us [then] draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” The world doesn’t have this access to God. But for those in Christ—you do have access. No other priest or religious figure on earth can give you that. But Jesus can. His sacrifice opened the way to God.
In Christ, you have new relationship to God. So draw near to him. In the Old Testament, drawing near involved standing before the Lord’s presence. Often it’s used of the priests who served in God’s presence and offered their sacrifices. In 4:16 it relates to coming and asking God for help in times of need. The point is that you no longer need to go to a building somewhere to experience God’s presence. He is present to help right where you are. In whatever situation you can draw near to him. You can ask him for help. Even when you don’t know what to say, Jesus does. He’s interceding for you.
When you’re at work, when you’re making copies of files, or when you’re flying helicopters or designing a web page, or when you’re caring for sick children or changing dirty diapers, or when you’re finishing up homework or entering class for a test, or when your designing buildings or water treatment plants, or fighting fires—no matter where the Lord has you, you can draw near to serve in God’s presence. Why? Because Jesus is your high priest. He opened the way. Everything you now do is before his presence and with his help.
Jesus’ priesthood means that you have a forever helper when all other helpers don’t last
Jesus’ priesthood also means that you have a forever helper when all other helpers don’t last. The Lord gives us many good helpers in life. Perhaps you’ve been helped by a special mentor; they really impacted your life in meaningful ways. But then they moved away or they suddenly died. Perhaps you’ve found great help and comfort in a spouse, but then cancer then takes them away. She was your helper you treasured all these years. Or perhaps your spouse was once a help to you, but now they’ve really disappointed you and you’re hurt. Perhaps you found help from a particular Bible teacher for a long while, but then you learn they’ve walked away from Jesus.
We’ve all turned to somebody for help. But the truth is, that help can’t last for very long. It’s a gift when they were there. But then they were gone. There’s only one Helper who lasts forever—Jesus Christ. When all other helpers are gone, he will still be there for you. So make sure you’re trusting in him ultimately. His priesthood is forever; and that means he alone is your forever help. He has the power of an indestructible life.
Jesus’ priesthood also means we have an indestructible hope
And speaking of that indestructible life, Jesus’ priesthood also means we have an indestructible hope. Remember Melchizedek role? He was king of Salem, king of peace. Jesus is king of the new Jeru-salem. He rules the true city of peace. That city will one day cover the earth. If Jesus has the power of an indestructible life, no one can keep him from bringing that city on earth as it already is in heaven.
Keep your eyes there, beloved. There’s so much uncertainty in our culture right now. There’s so much in society that’s wrecked with war and rumors of war. There’s even division among Christians over important issues and how best to execute care and justice. Wherever such turmoil prospers, you can guarantee that the people in those circles are spending more time at each other’s throats than they are at the throne of this great high priest. But their turmoil will not thwart his purpose.
He has the power of an indestructible life. When it’s all said and done, he will rule forever. Jesus will make us whole, and Jesus will rightly order everything in creation beneath the Lord’s rule. He is the true king of peace, sworn into his office as priest after the order of Melchizedek. Set your confidence in him. Amen.