Jesus: From Melchizedek to Eternal Savior
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. 3 Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he abides a priest perpetually. 4 Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. 5 And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest's office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. 6 But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham, and blessed the one who had the promises. 7 But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. 8 And in this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. 9 And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. 11 Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. 13 For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. 15 And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is witnessed of Him, "THOU ART A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK." 18 For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. 20 And inasmuch as it was not without an oath 21 (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, "THE LORD HAS SWORN AND WILL NOT CHANGE HIS MIND, 'THOU ART A PRIEST FOREVER'"); 22 so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. 23 And the former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers, because they were prevented by death from continuing, 24 but He, on the other hand, because He abides forever, holds His priesthood permanently. 25 Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
Christ's Superior Priesthood
Instead of dealing with these twenty-five verses in detail today, I want us to get the big picture and the main point. The big picture is of Christ's superior priesthood over the Old Testament priests of the tribe of Levi. And the main point is in verse 25. Do you see the word "hence" or "therefore"? That means this is the great conclusion from all the preceding truth about Christ's priesthood. Verse 25 is the main point, the conclusion of it all: "Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them."
Verses 1-24 may be complex and difficult to understand without earnest mental effort, but this verse 25 is wonderfully plain. It has three parts.
Christ is able to save forever(25a)—a great promise.
He always lives to make intercession for us (25c).
This eternal intercession and eternal salvation are for those who draw near to God through Christ (25b).
Think with me about the relationship between those first two: that Christ is able to save forever, and that Christ always lives to make intercession for us. What's the connection? It's made explicit in the verse and it is extremely important. It says that he is able to save us forever . . . since (or because) he always lives to make intercession for us. In other words, our future eternal salvation hangs on Christ's future eternal intercession for us.
This implies two huge things.
What Are We Being Saved From?
First, it answers the question what we need to be saved from. We need to be clear about this, especially when we talk to unbelievers. For them the very term "salvation" or "being saved" may not carry the same meaning the Bible gives these terms. So we need to be clear what the Bible means. What are we being saved from according to this verse? The connection between eternal salvation and eternal intercession gives at least one solid answer. And it is, I think, the most basic and most important answer. What is it?
If, to be saved forever, we need Christ to intercede for us forever with God, then what is the implication about what we need saving from? The implication is that we need to be saved from God. Specifically we need to be saved from the wrath of God that burns against all ungodliness and unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Christ can save us forever from the wrath of God because he intercedes forever with God. He continually puts himself between the Father and us as an asbestos shield against his white-hot anger against sin. Hebrews 10:30-31 says, "We know Him who said, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay.' And again, 'The Lord will judge his people.' It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
Until we get this firmly and clearly fixed in our minds, hardly anything in the book of Hebrews will make sense. The major problem in the world and in our lives is not our troubled marriages or our wayward children or our financial pressures or our failing health or our cultural degeneration. The main problem in the world—everybody's problem—is how to be reconciled to God so that we escape his terrifying wrath at the judgment. That's the main problem.
And the Biblical answer is priesthood. And specifically the superior priesthood of Christ. The reason there are priests in the Old Testament is that priests are needed to intercede for us with God. They enter the holy place where we are not allowed to go. And they take sacrifices for us so that our sins will be forgiven. All of that Old Testament priestly system was meant to teach us about our sin and the holiness and wrath of God and the inescapable judgment that is coming on us. And the point of it all was this: God has made a way to get right with God. He provided priests in the Old Testament, and then he provided his Son, the final High Priest.
So the reason for all this talk about Christ's relation to Melchizedek in verses 1-24 is because the eternal, superior priesthood of Jesus is our only hope of eternal salvation. God's wrath never changes. There is only one hope for sinners like us. We must have a faithful high priest, who will intercede for us forever. We need a king of righteousness (verse 2). We need a king of peace (verse 2). We need someone without beginning and ending (verse 3). Someone who has an indestructible life (verse 16) and will never die and need to be replaced (verses 23-24). We need someone greater than Abraham and greater than Levi—something like Melchizedek, who blessed Abraham, (verses 6-7) and who received tithes from Abraham and, in a sense, from Levi in Abraham (verses 5, 6, 8-10). We need a new and greater priest—so much greater that verse 11 says there was no perfection through the Levitical priesthood. All the Old Testament priesthood could do was point toward the One superior priest (after the order of Melchizedek, Psalm 110:4), whose sacrifice of himself and whose eternal intercession would guarantee eternal salvation for all God's people.
So the first implication of verse 25 is that all this truth about priesthood is because what we need saving from is the wrath of God. God's way of solving that problem is priesthood. This is not ours to figure out or solve. God has to do it for us. And he has done it. He ordains a Priest, his Son.
And don't make a mistake here. It's not as though Jesus the Priest loves us and God the Father doesn't. God the Father ordains the priesthood for our salvation. It is his idea. He sends the priest. It is his own Son whom he sends. And he loves him infinitely. All this is the love of God rescuing us from the wrath of God, in such a way that the justice of God is vindicated and the glory of God is exalted.
Our Salvation Depends on the Work of Christ Forever and Ever
Now the second great implication of verse 25 is that our future salvation depends on the active work of Christ forever and ever, not just on the past work of Christ or on our past decisions and commitments. It says that Christ is able to save forever . . . since he always lives to make intercession for us. In other words, he would not be able to save us forever if he did not go on interceding for us forever.
This means our salvation is as secure as Christ's priesthood is indestructible. This is why we needed a priest so much greater than any human. Christ's deity secures his indestructible priesthood for us.
This means we should not talk about our salvation in static terms the way we often do—as if I did something once in an act of decision, and Christ did something once when he died and rose again, and that's all there is to it. That's not all there is to it. This very day I am being saved by the eternal intercession of Jesus in heaven. Jesus is praying for us and that is our salvation.
What is this intercession? John Owen gives a beautiful summary of it in his 350-year-old commentary on this verse:
The safest conception . . . that we can have of the intercession of Christ . . . is his continual appearance for us in the presence of God by virtue of his office as the "high priest over the house of God," representing the efficacy of his oblation [outpouring of blood], accompanied with tender care, love, and desires for the welfare, supply, deliverance and salvation of the church. Three things, therefore, [are involved]: (1) The presentation of his person before the throne of God on our behalf, Heb. ix. 24 . . . (2) The representation of his death, oblation, and sacrifice for us; which gives power, life, and efficacy unto his intercession . . . Rev. v.6 . . . (3) Both these do not render it prayer or intercession; for intercession is prayer . . . Wherefore there is in it,. . . a requesting and offering unto God, of his desires and will for the church, attended with care, love, and compassion. (Epistle to the Hebrews, Vol. 5, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991, p. 541)
We are saved eternally by the eternal prayers (Romans 8:34) and advocacy (1 John 2:1) of Jesus in heaven as our high priest. He prays for us and his prayers are answered because he prays perfectly on the basis of his perfect sacrifice.
What Then Might He Be Praying?
Well, it says that he is able to save because he intercedes, that is, because he prays. And it says that he is doing this forever. What do we need forever in order to be saved? Let's just stay with this verse to answer that. We need to draw near to God through him. "He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through him." This verb here, "draw near to God," is in a tense that indicates present continuous action, not a single action in the past. It is not saying: God is able to save those forever who once drew near to him, but who go on drawing near to him. If we do not go on drawing near to God we have no warrant for thinking that we are being saved by the Lord Jesus.
But if this is true, then is not this drawing near one of the things that Jesus intercedes for with the Father? If not, then his intercession leaves out the main thing required of us for our salvation. Which leaves us very precarious. But there are many reasons for thinking he does not leave this out. One is that Hebrews 13:21 says that God is "working in us what is pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ." One of the things pleasing in his sight is that his people keep on drawing near to him forever and ever. And so he is working in us this very thing.
And verse 21 says he is doing this "through Jesus Christ" which means, at least, that Christ has purchased this grace for us by his death and that Christ prays and asks the Father for it on the basis of that death. In other words, when the writer tells us that drawing near to God is what qualifies us for the eternal saving work of our high priest, he doesn't mean to say that our high priest leaves us alone in our bent and sinful nature to draw near to God on our own. Rather our High Priest intercedes for us and asks the Father to do just what Hebrews 13:21 says he will do—"through Jesus Christ."
Let me illustrate this by the way it looked when our High Priest was on the earth. In Luke 22:31-32 Jesus says to Peter: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." So already Jesus was interceding for his own when he was on the earth. And what he was praying was for our faith—that our faith not fail. (See his high priestly prayer in John 17:11,15, etc.)
And he was so confident in his prayer for Peter that he said, "When once you have turned again . . ." not, "If you turn again . . ." So even though Peter stumbled in denial, his faith did not fail utterly. That is what the Lord prays for us. This is one more piece of our great security and our hope in this great epistle of assurance.
God Bids Us Come
Is it not a wonderful thing this advent season to know that God bids us come? That this great, holy God of righteousness and wrath says, "Draw near to me through my Son, your High Priest. Draw near to me. Draw near to me." This is his closing invitation this morning: "Draw near to me through your High Priest. Draw near to me in confession and prayer and meditation and trust and praise. Come. I will not cast you out."
For Christ "is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them."