Friday, July 23, 2010

When Jesus Became Our Great High Priest after the Order of Melchizedek

Jesus is described in Hebrews as our great high priest, but when did this office commence?

Psalm 110 is important in relation to this question, and v. 4 in particular: “Yahweh has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’” But when did Yahweh historically make this oath?

If anything, the way in which Ps 110:4 is sandwiched by the idea of the Messiah’s enthronement in vv. 1, 5, along with the mention of “the day of your power” in v. 3, suggests that the utterance of the divine oath regarding Christ’s priesthood is linked with his ascension to and enthronement at the right hand of God. Yet I admit that this is not totally clear in the psalm in question.

But there is confirmation of this understanding in the letter to the Hebrews. The author says that Christ did not appoint himself to his priestly office (Heb 5:5). The quotation of Ps 2:7 in Heb 5:5 in juxtaposition with the quotation of Ps 110:4 in Heb 5:6 is important to consider. On the one hand, the wording you are my son is echoed in the voice of God that was heard at Christ’s baptism (e.g., Luke 3:22). On the other hand, Ps 2:7 can be understood as enthronement language. The decree of Ps 2:7 is linked with Yahweh’s establishment of the Messiah as king on Zion (Ps 2:6), which is in response to (see Ps 2:5) a rebellion directed against Yahweh and his Messiah (Ps 2:1-4). It is significant that Ps 2:7 is interpreted by Paul as being fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection (Acts 13:33).

Did the author of Hebrews also understand Ps 2:7 in this way? The language of Heb 5:9-10 suggests that effectively he did. Jesus learned obedience through suffering (Heb 5:8), “and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” In other words, suffering led to obedience, which in turn led to perfection. The time of the aorist passive participle translated as having been designated in v. 10 seems to match with the aorist passive participle translated as having been made perfect in v. 9. It would make sense that the height of Christ’s suffering and obedience was the time when his perfection was complete. The parallel between perfection and designation suggests, therefore, that Christ’s designation as high priest according to the order of Melchizedek took place more or less at the time when his perfection was complete, when his suffering reached its climax. His being designated as such a high priest meant that he could be the source of eternal salvation for those who obey him. This ties Jesus’ designation as high priest in with the time of his death and resurrection.

In a similar way, Heb 6:20 implies that Jesus became high priest at a certain point in time, which in turn enabled him to be a forerunner into the presence of God “within the veil” (Heb 6:19). Thus, according to the author of Hebrews, Jesus’ appointment as high priest occurred shortly before he ascended into the presence of God in the heavenly temple.

Regarding the typological relation between Jesus and Melchizedek, the lack of biblical information concerning the life and particularly the death of Melchizedek is taken as the main point of comparison with Christ: it is as if Melchizedek has not died and continues on as a priest forever, and this continuation in the office of priest is a picture of what is definitely true for Jesus. Yet it is not as if Christ is an eternal priest in a timeless way; but, having entered into that office at some point in time, he continues on in that office forever. The significance drawn from this typological relationship is that the submission of Abraham to Melchizedek proves the superiority of the priestly order of Melchizedek over against the Levitical priesthood, hence the superiority of the new covenant over the old. In the mind of the author, Melchizedek is not viewed as being an eternal priest in a timeless way, but that at some point in his life he became a priest, and that this office seemingly continues on forever. In a similar way, Heb 7:16 says that Jesus became (literally, has become) a priest in the likeness of Melchizedek. Furthermore, the authority for Jesus becoming a priest was “the power of an indestructible life” (Heb 7:16). The quotation of Ps 110:4 in the next verse, therefore, ties Jesus’ priesthood in very closely with his resurrection. Jesus was not appointed as high priest on the basis of the Mosaic regulations concerning the priesthood (Heb 7:28), but as a result of the divine oath recorded in Ps 110:4. Significantly, this oath is described as being “after the law,” i.e., it is not recorded as part of the Mosaic revelation recorded in the Pentateuch (Heb 7:28). Presumably the oath recorded in Ps 110:4 is a prophecy of the oath that was formally made by God around the time of Jesus’ resurrection.

It seems, therefore, that Jesus’ death and resurection marks the time when his office of high priest according to the order of Melchizedek formally commenced. This fits in with the idea that the climax of the ordination ceremony of the priest is the sacrifice of the ram of ordination (אֵיל הַמִּלֻּאִים–the ram of the filling with priestly power and authority) and the sprinking of the priest in its blood (Lev 8:22-30). Jesus’ death on the cross was the climax of his ordination as our great high priest.


John Thomson said...


Most if not all of this I agree with and find a helpful reminder of Hebrews theology.

On the 'perfection' matter,I am fairly well with you. I think I would take it a little further. I think all of the 'days of his flesh' prepared, equipped and justified his present exaltation and glory. I think his 'perfection' his his present glorification. In a sense it is the Roms 1;3,4 flesh/spirit or humiliation/glorification continuum/contrast in more cultic terms.

Hebrews assumes and declares a Christ glorified. In this Christ and the new covenant is greater than the old.

(Called away, will finish later).

John Thomson said...

Hebrews begins with Christ seated at the right hand of the Majesty on High. The writer's point is this position is superior to that of an angel and therefore to the OC since angels were associated with the giving of the OC. Christ in exaltation makes the new covenant superior.

The OC could make no-one 'perfect' (ie glorify).Hebs 7:11. We are 'perfect' now in Him. The gospel brings the 'perfection' that the Law could not.

PS I suspect in Hebrews 'sanctification' is the cultic equivalent of the more legal, 'justification'.

Anonymous said...

Coxhead I think as a future event you may need the excuse of having been dropped kicked in the head or that your mommie dropped you on it accidently. Even every idle word is accountable in case you haven't noticed. Since it has been made the imperative "make every effort to use it" and the 'it' is actually found by only a few describe definitively and exactly what this narrow gate is. Regarding that "Give to the one who asks you" is a command of God.
Theodore A. Jones

Matt said...

I wonder about Heb. 9:11 though...

"When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here. . . ". That sounds as though Jesus, as the one born under the law (Gal. 4:4), operated as high priest under the Old Covenant in some sense - 'the good things that are already here'.

Perhaps there is, from a covenantal perspective, a timelessness to Jesus' high priestly role. If God "chose us in him before the creation of the world" (Eph 1:4)and the Father has from eternity past given a special people to his Son, then perhaps there is still a sense in which he's to be thought of a our eternal high priest who is "the same yesterday, today and forever" (13:8).

Not sure....

Steven Coxhead said...

Hello Theodore,

Yes, every idle word, and even less idle ones, will all be judged. The narrow gate is Christ, and the narrow way is way of following his teaching. The narrow way of Matt 7:14 is explained in the context as being the way of doing the Father’s will (Matt 7:21). It is the way of wisdom, which involves hearing Jesus’ words and doing them (Matt 7:24). It is the way of the golden rule (Matt 7:12).

Steven Coxhead said...

Hi Matt,

Thanks for your comment.

I think you are definitely right to point out that Christ’s work has “consequences” going back into the past; although to be more accurate, it is more a case of types graciously provided by God in the past allowing people living back then to benefit from the salvation that the anitype, who is Christ, was going to achieve. For example, the office of the Levitical priests had some kind of efficicacy to effect propitiation and atonement for the Old Testrament saints because of the way in which the Levitical priesthood functioned to communicate Christ to the people at that time.

Regarding Heb 9:11, I think that the expression the good things that have come should be understood to mean the good things that have come as a result of Christ’s coming. The author is speaking from a post-resurrection perspective here. These good things are the blessings that are associated with life in “the greater and more perfect tabernacle.” In other words, the good things are the blessings of the new covenant.

This is confirmed in Heb 10:1: “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities … .” The old covenant age (symbolized by the lesser and less perfect tabernacle) could only foreshadow (weakly for the most part) the good things to come, but the true reality of these good things has come in Jesus. From a salvation-historical point of view, the full reality of Christ’s priesthood officially “began” on the cross; but that is not to say that his high priestly work could be not be “foreshadowed” in his own ministry pre-crucifixion, or foreshadowed through Old Testament types.

Maybe it is best to speak about foreshadowing (during the old covenant age), limited reality (during Jesus’ ministry pre-crucifixion ministry), and full reality (from the cross onwards). I would argue that that is the way in which the author of Hebrews viewed the major stages of salvation history.

Onnie said...

Context is key and the Spirit of course for interpreting scripture,therefore psalm 2:7 is mentioned in Acts 13:33 and then again Hebrews 5:5 notice He WHO said to Him in 5:5,so this time frame has to be After His Resurrection because thats the time of Psalm 2:7.In other words psalm 2:7 can not be placed Before His Resurrection b/c that would negate Acts 13:33.Also in order for Christ as Man(although God as well) but as Man for the Priest to be Forever that Too would refer to After He died to never die again(romana6:9).Thus He offered the Sacrifice as the Righteous Servant(isaiah 53:11) and Sat down after His Ascension as King/Priest.The High Priest Sitting b/c His Work is Complete therefore Superior because Old Testament Priests could not sit because their sacrices were not perfect but ChristHis Work is Perfect.