A Better Priest and a New Covenant

Hebrews chapter 7 and 8, our bi-weekly study passages, deal with theme of Christ’s better work in two areas. Chapter 7 focuses on priesthood and Christ’s work as the new High Priest and Chapter 8 deals with a greater covenant that reorients the hearts of people instead of their external actions. There is a lot to learn of the author painting a portrayal of Jesus upon the background of the Old Testament

The Mysterious Melchizedek

The name of Melchizedek appears three times in the Bible, twice in the Old Testament (Genesis 14: 18-20, Psalm 110:4) and once in the New Testament (Hebrews 5-7). The story begins with Abraham returning from a rescue mission for his nephew Lot, where Abraham rescued Lot from King Chedorlaomer and his allies. On his way Abraham stops to present a thank offering to the Most High God through this enigmatic Melchizedek. Melchizedek was both a priest of the “Most High God” and a king, a standout among the Mesopotamian settlers as a worshiper of the monotheistic God and a ruler of people who were part of his dynasty. There is a lot to be said in this story, but the Hebrews author focuses on a few things about Melchizedek that make him precursor of the better priest (Jesus). These are :

  • No genealogy – every important person in Genesis gets one except Melchizedek, making him an image of an eternal one without beginning or end.
  • Able to bless (bestow favor of God upon) Abraham, making him greater than Abraham.
  • High Priest – accept offerings for the Most High God, qualifying him for a ministry which only God can do.

Hebrews author connects Psalms 110, where David inspired by the Holy Spirit envisions a kingdom where one “according to Melchizedek” will be both a priest (a mediator) for people and their God and a ruler who governs with Justice for all people “in the manner of Melchizedek.”

As new testament and as protestant believers, who believe in universal priesthood of all believers, we may have a hard time understanding the significance of this argument of the greatness of Christ. But if you pause and understand the Hebrew idea of Melchizedek, you can see how the audience can embrace the greatness of this new covenant. The author wants to instill in the Hebrew believers the insight that Christ’s work exceeds in every way above Aaron the priest, both in its authenticity and in its completeness. This should help the Hebrew believers (in their trials) not to loose sight of the greatness of “such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” 7:26

The Psalm 110 passage demonstrates the passage in 1Peter 1:10-12 – as it displays David as one of “the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, (11) trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. (12) It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.” and David “though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2Peter 1:21

The New Covenant

Hebrews chapter 8 highlights that Jesus, as the new High Priest, also establishes a new covenant. It is important to note that while it is built on the old covenant it goes much deeper. The old covenant was made by the mediator Moses as he was asked to “make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” However, the new covenant is built on better promises. God moves from a conditional covenant to one that is based entirely on the work of Jesus in the hearts of those who believe. This time the author picks up from Jeremiah the prophet, who in both a visionary way and a prophetic way, states in Jer 31:31-36 the details of this new covenant (also later seen in Ezekiel 36:26-28). The covenant will not be contained as engravings on a stone tablet, but as words written by the Holy Spirit into the hearts and minds of men and women who believe.

The new covenant moves from “stone” to “flesh,” enabling believers to embody the commands and the knowledge of God in their very lives. A new community will arise where “No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord’, because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” and “I will remember their sins no more” Heb 8:11,12. The author now tries to shine his light on this new covenant as it makes the old covenant “fading” and “ready to be put away”.

This makes us believers “walking word of God” as God refines and purifies us to put more of his law into our hearts and minds. As Paul says we become the “letter from Christ” in 2 Corinthians 3:1 “You (men and women believer of Corinth) show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” We as believers have been drawn into this process to become “walking Bibles” to the world carrying its new covenant in the way we work as a community (“no need to teach each other”) and as individuals being renewed daily by the Holy Spirit.