One of the mysteries Paul takes time to describe is about Jesus being the Great High Priest. He compares and contrasts priestly duties performed and the tabernacle, even dating back to Abraham’s time, comparing Jesus with Melchizedek, ‘King of Salem and priest of God Most High’ (Hebrews 7:1) who is ‘without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever’ (v3). After defeating four kings Abraham, then Abram, was met with ‘Melchizedek King of Salem (who) brought out bread and wine . . . and he blessed Abram’ (Genesis 14:18,19). Abraham then ‘gave him a tenth of everything’ (v20).
At that time, no priesthood or priestly regulations had been instituted. Jerusalem (Salem) was not yet even a City by then. This makes evident that Melchizedek was from above, the heavenly Jerusalem, the City of God. The fact that Melchizedek went out to meet Abraham shows that no earthly tabernacle had yet been established, because it is the people who went to meet the priest at the tabernacle. This also alludes that Melchizedek was from another tabernacle, a heavenly one- because for Him to be called Priest, there must be a tabernacle from which He was serving.
Paul writes about Jesus, who is ‘priest forever in the order of Melchizedek’ (Psalm 110:4) and says that He ‘serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man’ (Hebrews 8:2). Paul further states that the earthly priesthood instituted by God from the time of Moses and Aaron, served at ‘a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven’ (v5). He proceeds to further explain, ‘That is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern showed to you on the mountain’ (v5). Therefore, in heaven, there was a tabernacle even before an earthly one was made. The same tabernacle that Melchizedek served from.
Unknown to humanity and partly revealed to Abram, Melchizedek the High Priest was mediating for the sins of Abraham, making Abraham and His descendants operate under an atmosphere of grace. And so when ‘Abram believed the Lord, and he credited to him as righteousness’ (Genesis 15:6). This was established after Melchizedek appeared to him. God then tells Abraham, ‘I will give you an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God’ (17:v8). This was a lasting covenant to Abraham ‘Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised’ (Hebrews 6:17). But that promise awaited it set time and during Moses’s time, the priesthood exchanged hands – from Melchizedek to the Aaronic/Levitical priesthood.
‘When there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law’ (7:v12). After the introduction of the Levitical Priesthood, the law of grace was put on hold, and the law and sacrifices for sin introduced. The priesthood was now ‘on a basis of the power of a regulation as to his ancestry’ (v16) and not ‘on the basis of the power of an indestructible life’ (v16) like that of Melchizedek. And so the descendants of Levi were given precise instructions on how to conduct their duties because ‘no one takes this honour upon himself; he must be called by God’ (5:v4). One of the duties of the priest was to enter the Most Holy Place (Holy of Holies) and offer atonement ‘once a year for all the sins of the Israelites’ (Leviticus 16:34). God instructs that the Priest could not ‘come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover’ (v2).
The priest even had ‘to offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as for the sins of the people’ (Hebrews 5:3) making it impossible that ‘perfection could have been attained through the Levitical Priesthood’ (7:v11). Then at just the right time, Jesus Christ ‘a lamb without blemish and defect was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake’ (1 Peter 1:19-20), died for our sins. And ‘once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation, for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek’ (Hebrews 5:9-10). And so the priesthood of indestructible life was reintroduced, as well as the law of grace so that ‘to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness’ (Romans 4:5). Just like Abraham, ‘the promise comes by faith’ (v16), because ‘He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were’ (v17). And so by faith in Christ, we are grafted into that Abrahamic promise forever, purely by ‘faith through grace’ (Ephesians 2:8).
‘Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess’ (Hebrews 4:14). Paul continues to explain that ‘We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek’ (6:v19). Other priests were prevented by death from continuing their office ‘but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them’ (7:v24-25). The earthly priests were also sinful, and had to offer sacrifices for their sins first, but Jesus is the ‘high priest who meets our need – one who is blameless, pure, set apart from sinners and exalted above the heavens’ (v26).
The earthly high priest who entered the Most Holy Place once a year entered ‘never without blood which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance’ (9:v7). ‘The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing’ (v8). It also shows that the ‘gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper’ (v9). But ‘when Christ came as high priest . . . he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-man made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. . . he entered the Most Holy Place by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption’ (v11-12). And so the promise remains; ‘Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him’ (v28). Through Christ, we have a better promise – eternal life.
‘I did not see a temple in the city (New Jerusalem), because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple’ ~ Revelation 21:22