Question: Dear Greg,
What is meant by the order of Melchizedek?
Answer: Dear Herman,
I presume you have reference to Hebrews 7:11—“If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come—one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?”
First, some brief background. A primary rule of understanding the Bible is that we understand the context of the passage under consideration. The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were holding on to the idea that the old covenant, along with the temple and all of its ceremonies and sacrifices, still had relevance, importance and necessity for Christians. The writer of the book of Hebrews carefully proves the superiority of Jesus Christ over all that had gone before him:
1. Jesus is superior to angels (Hebrews 1 and 2)
2. Jesus is superior to Moses and the covenant of Sinai (chapters 3 and 4)
3. Jesus is superior to Aaron and the old covenant priesthood (chapters 5-7)
4. Jesus introduced a superior covenant (chapters 8-9)
5. Jesus gave himself as a superior sacrifice (chapter 10)
6. Jesus gives us a better way—a way of faith (chapters 10-12)
Back to your question: what is meant by “the order of Melchizedek”? See the context of Hebrews 7. The immediate context within which the reference to Melchizedek occurs is within the section where the author is discussing the Old Testament priesthood. The primary subject is that Jesus is superior to the old covenant priesthood. So why is the author talking about Melchizedek?
Melchizedek was a priest and the king of Salem (Genesis 14:18). He was a priest long before the priesthood of Aaron which was established by the covenant of Sinai, after the slavery of Israel in Egypt. Because the Bible gives very little information about Melchizedek, he has been the subject of much speculation.
Some believe that Melchizedek was an angel who took on human form, but Hebrews 5:1 says priests were human beings. Some believe that Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God. However, Hebrews 7:3 says that Melchizedek is “like” the Son of God, not that he was the Son of God.
Melchizedek appears to have been a human being who was used by the author of the book of Hebrews as an illustration/example of Jesus Christ. How and why? Melchizedek was “like” Christ in that the Bible gives no evidence about where he came from. This is in some ways like Jesus who had a maternal, physical bloodline but no physical father. Jesus “came out of nowhere” in that Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit. To the human mind this is comparable to “coming out of nowhere”. In this way Jesus was “like” Melchizedek, of the order of Melchizedek, rather than of the order of Aaron—priests who had a definite physical bloodline and heritage.