When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that our author has moved into a section that reassures us of God’s promises right after the warning contained in the first part of this chapter. The message is clear: God keep His promises! Since Abraham is the point at which Jewish history was generally thought to have begun, it would only be natural to start with God’s promises to Abraham, which is what the author does. Notice that he makes the point that God swore an oath in making His promises; a covenant required an oath, and God swore His by Himself, since there is nobody greater than He. Also notice that the author adds that after Abraham waited patiently, God kept His promises.
People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
In this final verses of chapter six, an amazing transformation begins to take shape, for beginning with God’s promise to Abraham, a promise that Jewish Christians would be very well aware of as a foundational event, our author begins the process of morphing it into a New Covenant reality. Notice that he wants us to understand that God swore the oath so that there could be no argument about His intentions and purpose in entering covenant. He points out two unchangeable things that form the basis for our own hopes. First, God cannot break His promise, for He is holy and faithful. Second, God cannot break His oath, for He swore it on Himself. To the ancient Middle Eastern mindset, the significance of the oath would be that if He broke His oath, He shall die, and this applies to all oath swearing at the entry point of all covenants, thus the use of blood sacrifices in oath swearing. There will be more on this point as we continue…
Next, the author applies this principle to our situation in Christ with the words “we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us”. This refers to all of us who have left behind the old ways and taken up the cross of Jesus, and here the point is made that because of the surety of our hope in Jesus Christ, we will be greatly encouraged, both in our times of trial and in all other situations. You see, this is a transition to a larger principle that is only just beginning to take shape in this amazing letter.
The larger principle is that Jesus, who is superior to the angels, and superior to Moses, our superior high priest, has brought a superior sacrifice to establish a superior covenant with superior promises. This great hope is not only encouraging, but it is the very anchor of our souls, because It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
When the reference is made to the “inner sanctuary, behind the curtain” the author is actually referring to the Holy of holies in the Temple, where nobody can go. Once a year, the High Priest could enter there, but only if he followed the prescribed procedure. Any other time, any other person would be immediately struck dead. The reason for this is that the Holy of holies was considered to be the dwelling place of God on the earth, and since God is holy and righteous, and no man is holy or righteous, no man could enter His presence. Then the author makes an amazing claim: Jesus has entered that space. No matter how carefully you read the four Gospels, you will not find this event; when did Jesus enter the Holy of holies? To understand fully this statement, we must go back to the cross. Remember that at the moment Jesus died, there was an earthquake, and the veil (curtain) in the Temple was torn in two? This veil (curtain) was what separated the Holy of holies from everything else, it was the thing that kept man from coming into the presence of Holy God, and when Jesus’ work was done, it was ripped apart, because Jesus had made it possible for us to enter God’s very presence. No, Jesus did not enter that exact geographical location in body, but He entered it in a vastly more significant way, for He did in Spirit and in Truth; the Old Covenant was over forever.
Actually, as we will soon see, the Temple itself was only a picture of the reality to come, for Jesus entered God’s actual presence when He returned to the throne in heaven where He sits at God’s right hand to this day…
In doing so, He became our high priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek. Yes, there he is again! Chapter seven is all about Melchizedek and Jesus.
This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.
The story of Melchizedek and Abraham is found in Genesis 14:17-20, and he isn’t mentioned again, except for an obscure reference in Psalm 110 that is only understood when it is quoted here in Hebrews 7. He came suddenly out of nowhere, and was gone just as quickly, and many scholars believe that Melchizedek is a pre-incarnation appearance of Christ (called a Christiophony). Clearly there are similarities between the two, but without more evidence, I’ll only say that he was a “type” of Christ.
Don’t go too fast in this passage; you don’t often come across a guy who is both king and priest, in fact that is not the Jewish model at all; only Jesus Himself comes to mind quickly for these two offices. Note also the similarity of names. Melchizedek is called “king of righteousness” and “king of peace” while Jesus is called “Righteous King” and “Prince of Peace.” He has no genealogy, no beginning of days or end of life… Very interesting. Here is a comparison chart for Melchizedek and Jesus:
|A King||A King|
|A High Priest||A High Priest|
|No beginning of days and without genealogy||No beginning of days and without genealogy (on his Father’s side)|
|Ministered bread and wine||Ministered bread and wine|
|Non Levite||Non Levite|
|King of Salem (King of Peace)||Prince of Peace (Is 9:6)|
|King of Righteousness||Righteous King (Is 9:7)|
|Greater than Abraham||Greater than Abraham|
Isn’t it interesting also that the author says that Melchizedek resembles the Son of God. I’m having a hard time thinking of another text that makes this kind of statement…
Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.
Up to this point in Hebrews, we have seen that Jesus is superior to the angels, and we have seen that Jesus is superior to Moses, but now we see that Melchizedek is superior to Abraham; in Jewish tradition, nobody is superior to Abraham! Yet when you consider the author’s evidence, it would seem that he has a valid point. Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek, this can also be rendered “tribute” which is always paid by the lesser to the greater. Under the Law, a tithe is paid to the Levites, the priests, and yet the father of all the Israelites paid a tithe to this Melchizedek centuries before the Law, and in a sense, Levi himself was involved in the payment, since his ancestor paid it.
The really amazing statement that the author makes in this section is this: In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. (7:8) I don’t mean to be overly simplistic, but you just don’t come across writing like this very often; who is this guy? It’s becoming easier to understand why many scholars have concluded that he must be Jesus pre-incarnation. Of course, the point was also made in verse 7 that the lesser is blessed by the greater. Clearly, Melchizedek is superior to Abraham, as mind-boggling as that must have been to a Jewish audience.
Before I wrap this up, I think we need to recognize here and now that this section is entirely intentional in the letter, for our author is building up to a massively important crescendo. As we continue, we will see that not only was Melchizedek greater than Abraham, but the Jesus is like Melchizedek, and as a result, He is also a high priest superior to the Levites, administering a covenant superior to the Law of Moses, and theologically speaking, that’s the ball game.