May 2010

Jesus, The High Priest According to Melchizedek.

The superiority of Jesus Christ over all things is the theme of the book of Hebrews. Jesus Christ is superior, from the beginning of the book, primarily because He is the Apostle of God (Hebrews 3:1) which refers to Him having been sent by God for a specific purpose. The purpose of Jesus Christ is nothing less than the salvation of sinners. This salvation is our heavenly calling (Hebrews 3:1; cf. Hebrews 2:11) which is indicated by the reality of being called ‘brethren’ by the Father (Hebrews 2:11). This calling can only be done if in fact sin has been done away with. That is, Jesus is not ashamed to call these people brethren since they are sanctified from the Father (2:11). However, if they were still in their sins, then He would actually be ashamed to call them brethren and they would not be from the Father. Therefore, those who are chosen by the Father to inherit eternal salvation (Hebrews 5:9; 9:12) are called sons and have had their sins removed from the ‘books’ (Revelation 20:11-15) through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

However, there are some details here that need to be developed. First of all, when God was ordaining Moses to build the tabernacle so that the people might worship Him, He commanded Moses that all things be done according to His pattern, the one which He Himself will show Moses (Exodus 25:8-9). Second, according to this pattern, the priests would offer a sacrifice for the people because of their sins which separated them from the God who redeemed them from Egypt (Exodus 29:42-46) and it was to be that way forever (Exodus 28:43). Yet, Jesus was not a Levite. He was from the tribe of Judah, and Moses was told that one from the tribe of Levi would be priest forever (Hebrews 7:14). Thus, if all things were to be done according to the pattern that YHWH showed Moses, and that pattern was also to become the pattern that Jesus fulfilled in His priestly office, then how do we traverse this “problem” of a non-Levite serving as high priest?

Only a God who has absolute control of history and time could accomplish the resolution. There was a man in Genesis 14:18 introduced to the reader whose name is Melchizedek, which means “king of righteousness” (Hebrews 7:2). This man was a real, historical man of whom there really is nothing mentioned beyond Genesis 14:18-20. He was, apparently, a king of the town or region of Salem (‘peace’). As king, he was responsible for managing this region and looking over the affairs for the service and protection of the citizens. Salem would have been outside of the area that king Chedorlaomar and his allies attempted to invade, but the way in which Abram returned after rescuing Lot from them (Genesis 14:15-17). When Abram arrived in the area, King’s Valley, he was met by this Melchizedek. Interestingly, Melchizedek brings out bread and wine for Abram and offers a blessing of Abram and a prayer. Abram’s response is important. He gave him a tenth of all that he recovered as a token of his devotion to God (vv.22-23). Afer this, there is no more information about Melchizedek. What is going on here? Who was he? Why did Abraham give him a tenth of his spoils?

It is important that we read the text for what it is, at face value, as written in Genesis 14 first. This is before the Mosaic tabernacle, the Exodus and even before the twelve tribes of Israel were in existence. This is Abram (Abraham) who was a pagan idolater and later became a man who followed YHWH (Genesis 15:6). He is on his way back from rescuing his nephew, Lot. A king, who is also acting (in reality) as priest, meets him and imparts to him a blessing. In response to Melchizedek’s blessing (the bread and the wine-I would take that as more than simply nourishment. Abram had an army with him. If he were to meet him with a feast, that would have been more along the lines of refreshment. However, the bread and wine must have been symbolic, or figurative, of some other thing. Historically, bringing out the bread and wine to Abram would have been a token of a sacrifice from the priest himself to Abram. So, the blessing of the bread and wine (Psalm 104:15) probably was meant as a blessing to Abram more than anything) Abram offers a tenth of his best spoils back to the king.

What does all this mean? In summary fashion, here is the significance. God, in His soveriegnty, created Melchizedek and established him as a king in Salem for just a time as when he met Abram. The king performed the offices of both king and priest. Thus, He governed men and performed services to God on behalf of men as well. Abram, being blessed by God (Genesis 12:1-3) was unique and ordained, as it were, as God’s chosen man. Thus, in order to show solidarity with God’s purposes, Melchizedek, as priest, came to bless Abram (Genesis 12:3a). Abram receives the blessing as such and in response gives the best of what he has back to God in consecration. Now, the writer of Hebrews tells us much more about this incident as it relates to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is also King and Priest. He is eternal King (Acts 2:36), but He is also eternal High Priest. Remember, the pattern of the earthly tabernacle was supposed to be according to what God had shown, which demanded a Levite as a priest forever. But, Jesus is not a Levite. He is a Judahite. What is going on here? Simple, says the writer of Hebrews, Levi was in the loins of Abram that day when he offered his spoils to the priest Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:9-10) and as such, the lesser offered sacrifices to the greater (Hebrews 7:7). The Levitical priesthood, based upon a covenant that would one day become obsolete, was subject to a greater priesthood, namely the Melchizedek priesthood, which had no origin nor termination. In this way, Jesus, according to the Melchizedekian priesthood, supercedes the Levitical priesthood (Hebrews 8:6)! Thus, what Jesus accomplished on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, was actually by order of Melchizedek and not through the order of the Levitical priesthood. Thus, Jesus’ sacrifice was qualitatively superior to any and all the sacrifices of Aaron or his sons or any other priest after him.

Genesis 1:1-2

Genesis is a book all about beginnings. The title “Genesis” is taken from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, which itself was based upon the Septuagint. The title was possibly derived from Genesis 2:4 where the word used is, γενέσεως, and refers to the ‘records’ of the creation of the heavens and the earth. The basic meaning of the word is to be ‘begotten’ which has the idea of beginnings. The Hebrew title, בראשית, comes from the first word in the Hebrew text of Genesis 1:1. The word’s primary meaning is “beginning”. It comes from a root that means ‘head’ and refers to the start of something. Thus, Genesis 1:1 refers to the start of the heavens and the earth.

The fact that Genesis 1:1 states the beginning of the heavens and the earth is clear if the sentence is taken at face value. That is, if we read verse 1 literally it reads as follows: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Obviously, that is exactly the way the NASB renders it. However, some consider this verse as the summary of what follows in chapters 1 and 2. I used to think that way as well, until I began studying further. If the verse is taken at face value and is considered alongside of verse 2, which considers the earth as “formless and void”, then it becomes apparent that these two verses are not speaking of a summary statement of creation since at the end of creation the earth was not ‘formless and void’ but rather, ‘formed and filled’. The dry land has appeared and there is a menagerie of animals as well as Adam and Eve. So, it needs to be concluded that these two verses refer to the initial instant of creation, at the beginning of day one (see Harris, R. Laird, Robert Laird Harris, Gleason Leonard Archer and Bruce K. Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament Chicago: Moody Press, c1980, p.826).

This was a spectacular beginning! These verses indicate that at the beginning, the heavens and the earth were created from no preexisting material (Hebrews 11:3). They were placed there wholly as a result of God’s word. God, in demonstration of His power, wisdom and intelligence, created the backdrop of space (heavens) and a terrestrial ball covered in miles of water (earth). Further, we have to assume that since this is the beginning of everything, that is all that we understand as humans was begun at that point, then even time itself was created as well. The commencement of time was initiated “in the beginning” at the same instant of the creation of the heavens and the earth. This is our God! What does this imply? It implies that time is the servant of God. It is in His hand and He controls the progress of it. Time is not a created thing that, like a wind-up clock, was begun and then left to itself. It is sustained just as the earth and all its vegetation is sustained by God (Psalm 104:14).

The heavens were not filled with stars at this time. Since darkness blanketed the earth there must not have been any light source at all. God did not need light in order to see what He was doing (Psalm 139:12) and there was no man who needed light in order to walk around on the earth. Therefore, the heavens as it is described here must be the black matter that we see when we look up into the nighttime sky. This is as a blanket that covers the infinite universe and itself is the backdrop for the stars, moons and our own sun. Job describes it as stretching out the material of space across the universe (Job 26:7). The wording actually refers to the way in which a metal-worker would unroll sheet metal in order to work with it (this gives further meaning to Isaiah’s reference to the heavens being “rolled up” as a scroll-Isaiah 34:4). Therefore, the heavens were unrolled and stretched by the word of God in an instant!

Further, the earth was created at that same instant. This earth was created as a ball which was covered in water. Under the water was soil, as Adam was made from the soil (Genesis 2:7). But the whole earth was covered in miles of water. This is clear in that the darkness was over the surface of the deep (Jonah 2:3) and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. The waters, then, were considered “the deep” and completely blanketed the earth. There was another time, subsequent to creation, when this earth was covered completely in water. When God was sorry for making man because of the rebellion that exuded from him, He judged mankind for their sin and the result was a worldwide flood that returned the earth to this same condition (Genesis 7).

The earth was formless and void as well. That is, the earth had no soil that was poking out of the water in any kind of fashion as God did not separate the water from the soil until the third day (Genesis 1:9-10). At this time, there was no recognizable form to the earth, except its obvious overall spherical shape. Also, it was “void”. This indicates that it was empty. There were no animals, man nor any vegetation, as the rest of the creation account will indicate. Further, the earth was not some kind of ‘blob’ simply amorphously hanging in space and then was pulled together by polarizing electrons. This would lessen the magnificence of this creative act and it does not square with the wording of the chapter at all. The clear description of the earth was that of a sphere that is placed in the empty space and was hanging on nothing, as Job says (26:7).

The first day of creation began with the initiating of God’s work by the installing the blanket of the heavens and the placing the earth in its midst so as to continue toward His specific creation, mankind. First, however, all things needed to be set for man to live. When the foundation of the Bible says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” that is exactly what it means. Give God glory and believe it.

Jesus Is The Light That Shines In A Dark World

John 1:9-13 is a sad commentary on the condition of mankind. It is a wonderful review of Jesus as the Light that shines in darkness and the realities of Him as the Agent of creation. However, even though the Light of the Godhead shone in Him without any hinderances, by and large the world loved the darkness and rejected the Light.

The picture here is the same, figuratively, as that at creation. God created the heavens and the earth and in doing that He created light, even before the light source that we know today, the sun, was created. But when He did that, it pierced through the darkness and God separated the light and the dark (Genesis 1:3-4). The dynamic between the light and the darkness in Genesis is what John is referring to in his gospel. In creation, the light shone in the darkness and made distinction between light and dark, both being created by God (Isaiah 45:7). The darkness there ‘hid’ the earth, and whatever else existed, from view. However, when the light began to shine, it made the earth visible and thus began the creative acts of God for the next 5 days. God does not need light to see (Psalm 139:12). However, as with all of creation, it demonstrates the nature of God and His perfect mind in that creation. John takes that, under the superintending work of the Spirit of God, and uses that as an illustration of a different kind of light-to-dark dynamic. This time, when the Light shone, the darkness did not budge. The darkness rejected the Light. The darkness rebelled against the Light. It is as if John is saying that this kind of rejection and rebellion are ‘unnatural’. But, that is what happened. Is this an allegorical approach to interpreting the Scripture? No. The figures used in creation are perfect for illustrating a very real and verifiable condition. This is also the way Jesus taught on anxiety by referring to flowers and birds (Matthew 6:25-34).

The Light that is Jesus (John 1:4,5,9) brilliantly, almost blindingly, shone as He lived on this earth. That is the point that John is making in John 1:9. It is the Light that came into the world and by that coming brings the light of the knowledge of God to every man (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6). However, the darkness did not move aside and allow the Light to shine, unlike creation. Here, the darkness questioned the Light. The darkness opposed the Light. The darkness ultimately rejected the Light. Again, a very ‘unnatural’ thing to do (which indicates the depth of the rebellion of the human heart toward God). Jesus, the Son of God and Creator of all that exists, was not recognized, save by a few whom God chose (John 1:12-13). He was not known, even by the Jews through whom salvation would come to the world (John 4:22). Thus, the Light was overcome by the darkness and He was crucified. Yet, even there, especially there, the Light of God shone intensely. There, on that cross, the penalty of sins was exacted. There, the separation, not of light from darkness but Light from Light, was experienced. There, the Light was enshrouded in darkness (cf. Matthew 27:45). There, God’s requirements for the payment of sins were met. There, the sacrifice of the Light was accepted on our behalf (Isaiah 53:4-6, 10-12)!

So, the Light shone in the darkness. The darkness did not know or receive the Light. Yet, the Light still shines.

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