Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. When Abraham was returning home after winning a great battle against an alliance of kings, Melchizedek met him and blessed him. Then Abraham took a tenth of all the plunder he’d captured in battle and handed it to Melchizedek.
The name Melchizedek means “king of justice.” And “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” There’s no record of his father or mother, nor any of his ancestors; neither is there any record of his birth or of his death. So, like the Son of God, he’s a priest forever.
Consider, then, how great this Melchizedek was. Even Abraham, the great patriarch of Israel gave a tenth of the plunder! The law required that the priests – the descendants of Levi – must collect a tenth of the income of their fellow Israelites, who were also descendants of Abraham. But Melchizedek, who was not a descendant of Levi, collected a tenth from Abraham. And Melchizedek gave a blessing to Abraham, the one who had been given the promises of God. And without question, the person who gives a blessing is greater than the one who receives a blessing.
The priests who collected the tenth were all men who died, but Melchizedek is greater, because there’s no report of him dying. And we might even say that the Levites – who collected the tenth – actually gave a tenth to Melchizedek through Abraham. For although Levi hadn’t been born, the seed from which he came was in Abraham’s body when Melchizedek collected the tenth from him.
If the priesthood of Levi – which had been set up by the law – could have achieved perfection, why was there a need to establish a different priesthood, with a priest in the order of Melchizedek, instead of the order of Aaron the Levite? And if the priesthood is changed, the law must also be changed to allow it. For the priest we’re talking about comes from a different tribe, whose members have never served at the altar as priests. What we mean is, our Lord came from the tribe of Judah, and Moses never mentioned priests coming from that tribe.
This change has been made very clear since a different priest, who is like Melchizedek, has appeared – one who’s a priest, not because of his ancestry, but by the power of an indestructible life. Because it’s written: “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”
So the old regulations for the priesthood were set aside as weak and useless, because the law could never make anything perfect. But now we have a better hope, by which we can draw near to God. And it was established by an oath, although Aaron’s descendants had no such oath. But Jesus became a priest when God said to him: “The Lord has taken an oath and will not break his vow: ‘You are a priest forever.’”
Now, because of this oath, Jesus is the guarantor of a better covenant.
There have been many priests under the old system, since death prevented them from remaining in office, but because Jesus lives for ever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save for ever those who come to God through him, because he lives for ever to intercede on their behalf.
He is the high priest we need – holy, blameless, pure, sinless and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he doesn’t need to offer sacrifices day after day. They did this, first for their own sins, and only then for the sins of the people. But Jesus gave the sacrifice of himself , which he offered up once and for all. The law appointed as high priests men who were limited by weakness, but the oath, which was made after the law was given, appointed the Son who’s perfect for ever.