Jesus Is: A Greater Priest Than Melchizedek

by Jared Bumpers November 27, 2015

Not only is Jesus Christ a greater prophet than Moses, He is a priest “forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:20). Berkhof summarized the differences between these two offices as follows:

The Bible makes a broad but important distinction between a prophet and a priest. Both receive their appointment from God (Deut. 18:18; Heb. 5:4). But the prophet was appointed to be God’s representative with the people, to be His messenger, and to interpret His will. He was primarily a religious teacher. The priest, on the other hand, was man’s representative with God. He had the special privilege of approach to God, and of speaking and acting in behalf of the people. It is true that the priests were also teachers during the old dispensation, but their teaching differed from that of the prophets. While the latter emphasized the moral and spiritual duties, responsibilities, and privileges, the former stressed the ritual observances involved in the proper approach to God.[1]

Christ certainly filled the prophetic role, but He also filled the priestly role. Calvin wrote, “With regard to his Priesthood, we must briefly hold its end and use to be, that as a Mediator, free from all taint, he may by his own holiness procure the favour of God for us.”[2] As our sinless Mediator, Christ procured the “favour of God for us” through His death on the cross. His priestly work as Mediator is rooted in the Old Testament office and explicitly affirmed in the New Testament. 

Old Testament Indications

The office of priest was formally instituted at the base of Mount Sinai following the Exodus. God told Moses, “Now take Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister to Me as priest, Aaron and Aaron’s sons: Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar” (Exodus 28:1). These priests were: (1) “taken from among men to be their representative,” (2) “appointed by God,” (3) “active in the interest of men in all things that pertain to God, that is, in religious things,” (4) “to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin,” (5) to make “intercession for the people,” and (6) to bless “them in the name of God.”[3] From the institution of the priesthood in Exodus to the unfaithful priests in Malachi (and beyond), priests were selected from among men and appointed by God to offer sacrifices for the people, intercede for the people, and bless the people in God’s name.  

There were indications, however, that a superior priest would one day arrive. David wrote, “The Lord has sworn and will not relent, ‘You are priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’” (Psalm 110:4). The Messianic descendant of David would be a priest after the order of Melchizedek, not after the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood. Further, He will be a priest forever, not a temporary priest who only serves until his death. Later, Zechariah wrote, “Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the Lord, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices” (Zechariah 6:13). Again, the Messiah will be a priest and a king, like Melchizedek, and not simply a priest after the order of Aaron. Thus, the foundations for a greater priest were laid in the Old Testament. It was not until the New Testament, however, that the greater priest is clearly revealed.

New Testament Affirmations

One needs look no further than Hebrews 7 to learn the identity of the priest predicted in Psalm 110:4 and Zechariah 6:13. The author of Hebrews highlights the significance of Melchizedek and the Old Testament promises of another priest after his order (vs. 1-18). Then, he connects the Old Testament promises concerning another priest after the order of Melchizedek to Jesus Christ: “And inasmuch as it was not without an oath (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, “The Lord has sworn And will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever’ ”); so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (vs. 20-22). He goes on to note the superiority of Christ’s priesthood due to its everlasting nature (vs. 23-25) and its perfect Mediator and sacrifice (vs. 26-28).

Christ was the priest according to the order of Melchizedek, and His priesthood was superior to the Levitical priesthood. First, it was superior because the Old Testament priests died and had to be replaced; but Jesus Christ established an everlasting priesthood by conquering death, and He “continues forever” (vs. 24). Even now Christ is involved in His priestly work of intercession on behalf of His people (Romans 8:33-34; Hebrews 7:25). Second, it was superior because the Old Testament priests had to continually offer sacrifices; but Jesus Christ offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice “once for all” (vs. 27). Like the other priests, Christ offered a sacrifice; but unlike the other priests, He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice once for all. Indeed, Christ is a priest “according to the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4) and is superior to Aaron and his descendants in every way!

Contemporary Implications

So what does this mean for Christians today? What are the implications of the priestly ministry of Jesus Christ? Let me suggest several practical implications of Jesus Christ’s work as a priest:

1. We Can Be Reconciled to God

Because of the sacrificial work of Christ, sinners can be reconciled to God. Summarizing the content of Hebrews 7-10, Calvin stated, “The sum comes to this, that the honour of the priesthood was competent to none but Christ, because, by the sacrifice of his death, he wiped away our guilt, and made satisfaction for our sin.”[4] As priest, Christ offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice for sin, resulting in the removal of guilt and the satisfaction of sin. Sinners who turn from their sin (repentance) and trust in Christ’s substitutionary atonement (faith) experience forgiveness and reconciled to God.

2. We Can Pray with Confidence

Christians can also pray with confidence due to Christ’s priestly work. Calvin said, “For, as has been said, there is no access to God for us or for our prayers until the priest, purging away our defilements, sanctify us, and obtain for us that favour of which the impurity of our lives and hearts deprives us. Thus we see, that if the benefit and efficacy of Christ’s priesthood is to reach us, the commencement must be with his death. Whence it follows, that he by whose aid we obtain favour, must be a perpetual intercessor.”[5] Calvin made it clear that neither reconciliation nor prayer would be possible apart from the sacrifice of Christ. But, because Christ has offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice, reconciliation and prayer are possible. Even now, Christ intercedes for the believer (Romans 8:33-34; Hebrews 7:25), giving us confidence that God hears our prayers and takes pleasure in answering them if they are according to His will.

3. We Can Possess Peace of Conscience

An additional benefit is peace of conscience. After mentioning Christ’s intercessory work, Calvin continued, “From this again arises not only confidence in prayer, but also the tranquillity of pious minds, while they recline in safety on the paternal indulgence of God, and feel assured, that whatever has been consecrated by the Mediator is pleasing to him.”[6] We can possess peace of conscience because of Christ’s sacrificial work. We rest in the “paternal indulgence of God,” knowing that “whatever has been consecrated by the Mediator is pleasing to Him.” We can confidently rest in Christ because He has died for us, reconciling us to God and consecrating us to the absolute pleasure of the Father.

4. We Can Live as Priests

One final benefit is our participation in the priesthood. Calvin contended, “Christ now bears the office of priest, not only that by the eternal law of reconciliation he may render the Father favourable and propitious to us, but also admit us into this most honourable alliance. For we though in ourselves polluted, in him being priests, (Rev. 1:6,) offer ourselves and our all to God, and freely enter the heavenly sanctuary, so that the sacrifices of prayer and praise which we present are grateful and of sweet odour before him.”[7] Christ’s sacrifice results in our reconciliation to God AND our admission into the priesthood through Him. Therefore, we offer our prayers, our praise, and our lives to the One who has redeemed us!

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[1] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 361.

[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008), 2.15.6.

[3]Berkhof, 361.

[4]Calvin, Institutes, 2.15.6.

[5]Ibid., 2.15.6.

[6]Ibid., 2.15.6.

[7]Ibid., 2.15.6.