Reference: Hebrews 4:14 to 7:28
The author of the book of Hebrews counters the mass exodus of the believers back towards their previously held notions about God by claiming Jesus’s supremacy over all the laws and traditions that they held dear. However, the people were returning to Jewish traditions for another reason, their familiarity with the laws and traditions, provided them with a false sense of security. The comfort of knowing that their destiny is in control provided they adhere to the laws was enticing them back to the practices of their forefathers.
The high priests were an integral part of that system and the Jewish converts could not cross that barrier and truly accept the new covenant. The author draws a parallel between Jesus and the high priests of Israel and adds another mysterious character to the equation to help persuade their backsliding readers to hold on to their faith.
Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.Hebrews 5:1 (NIV)
The high priests were a medium between God and His people. It was thought that the high priests, being human, could relate to the people and empathize with their weaknesses better than an almighty deity hidden behind the clouds. High priests were the spiritual leaders appointed by God and sanctified by God to approach His altar. Sacrifices were predominant in the Jewish culture as part of the old covenant. The high priests offered sacrifices, prayers and offering on behalf of the masses and in return, the people were subjected to them.
The constant flip-flopping of the believers prevented them from growing in maturity in Christ. Rather than bringing the Good News to others, they were learning the elementary teachings over and over again. The author quotes from Jesus’s word about His followers getting accustomed to solid food and not depending on milk as their spiritual food and encourages the readers to,
…move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.Hebrews 6:1-2 (NIV)
The author of the Hebrews realised what was holding back the believers from coming closer to God and wants us to learn from their shortcomings. But even today we struggle to move forward with maturity in Christ. We still fuss about the minutiae of the order of worship, fight about the one true doctrine and give importance to outward acts such as baptism and holy communion rather than inner transformation of the heart. Our focus tends to lean towards the traditions of our ancestors rather than the teachings of Christ. As a result, not only do we remain stuck in our spiritual walks with God but are holding back others who want to get to know Him in a deeper way.
Though milk is part of the diet of an adult, it is supplemented with other nutritional sustenance as well. We do not depend only on milk but take a wholesome diet according to our needs and desires. However, when it comes to our spiritual diet we are happy to gulp infantile edibles rather than mature meals. The people who came to Jesus were constantly dependent on miracles and healings as their source for affirming Jesus’s Messianic status and when Christ challenged them to exhibit their faith they all failed miserably.
We must not constantly depend on our church’s liturgy or the traditions of our ancestors or the miracles we witness in a revival meeting. These were ways we were introduced to our Saviour but our failure to move beyond them reveals our hidden agenda in seeking Christ. Church, religion and traditions are not ways we can grow in God but we must ask the guidance of the Holy Spirit to direct our lives and not some liturgy based on another person’s experience.
…they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.Hebrews 6:6 (NIV)
If we continue in our old ways and refuse to grow in Christ, we are indeed making His selfless sacrifice on the cross null and void as we refuse to accept Him as our only Hope. Those who have experienced the gifts of the spirit and still go back to the ways of the world are subjecting our Saviour to public humiliation again. Our call is to keep running the race and though our pace depends on the grace of God, we are not called to be satisfied in our righteousness. We must not imitate or seek to reach the level of any human being but only aim to reach the greatness of our God.
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.Hebrews 6:19-20 (NIV)
Because of our hope in Christ, we are able to approach the inner sanctuary, the throne of God. The high priest would enter the inner sanctuary only once a year and that too after making the requisite sacrifice for his sins and the sins of the people he represented. But Christ has shed His own blood as a ransom for our sins and given us new hope. It is that hope that grants us access to our Creator through His own Spirit.
In the Order of Melchizedek
Mentioned only by David after his initial appearance in the book of Genesis, Melchizedek, the king of Salem met Abraham when he was on his way back after defeating Kedorlaomer and the other kings aligned with him. He blessed Abraham and brought him wine and bread after his victorious return from the battlefield. Just like his appearance his genealogy also remains a mystery as he was not part of the “chosen race” and we don’t know where he came from or we he returned after meeting Abraham. Yet Abraham saw it fit to give this mysterious man a tenth of his plunder.
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.Hebrews 7:9-10 (NIV)
The name Melchizedek literally means the king of peace and there is another man who received that monicker, Jesus, the prince of peace. In the comparisons that the author draws throughout this letter, Jesus is always held at a higher level than the forefathers, the laws and even the heavenly beings. But with Melchizedek, the author rather establishes a likeness with our Great High Preist, Jesus.
In the old testament, God had appeared to His people in countless forms, pillars of fire and clouds, a burning bush, blinding lights, as an Angel and even as a human traveller. He met Adam in the garden every evening before the latter was banished for his disobedience. He met Abraham at his campsite at Mamre and later his mistress Haggar and his grandson Jacob when they were running away from their homes. He appeared to Moses in a flaming bush when he was far from his home. God met Gideon and Manoh in the form of an Angel of the LORD. Similarly, Melchizedek could have been one such appearance of God in human form before the coming of Christ. We know that Abraham recognised God when he met him at his tent but this could be where he first saw God face to face. Regardless of his origin what we know is that our high priest is not in the order of Levi but of someone greater than the forefathers of Israel, Melchizedek the king of righteousness.
The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.Hebrews 7:18-19 (NIV)
Since the lineage of the priesthood has been changed, that author argues that the former laws and regulations must also be replaced with something greater. Our High Priest has been appointed by God, sanctified through the spillage of His own blood and is our unceasing intercessor who fervently prays for us. We are granted access to the inner sanctuary through Him as He is our guarantor, who even after knowing our sinful state advocates on our behalf. He can not only empathize with our state but also help us come out of problems. Like Melchizedek who was sent to Abraham by God for a purpose, Jesus was sent to us for a greater purpose. And having accomplished that purpose He has ascended back to heaven and is now our High priest forever.
- Why did the people need a high priest?
- How are we immature in Christ and can we overcome it?
- What about the ones who had already received the Holy Spirit and His gifts, can they not be brought back to repentance after rejecting their faith?
- How does Hope help us enter the inner sanctuary?
- Who is Melchizedek and Is he really greater than the original patriarch Abraham?
- Are the laws and commandments useless?
- How is Christ our new High Priest?