The Priesthood — Earthly and Eternal

From the Orthodox Study Bible:

A major theme of the Book of Hebrews is the contrast between the earthly, or Levitical, priesthood, and the eternal priesthood of Melchizedek, which is fulfilled in Christ.

The Levitical priesthood, established by Aaron of the tribe of Levi, is limited simply because those who fill it are ordinary human beings. The Levitical priests carry out God’s instructions and assist the people in their worship, but they cannot ultimately reconcile people to God.

The mysterious figure of Melchizedek, on the other hand, represents an entirely different kind of priesthood. Melchizedek appears in Genesis (Gen. 14:18-20), long before the establishment of the Levitical priesthood. He is given no genealogy, and nothing is said of his death. He receives tithes from Abraham, implying he is superior to Abraham in rank-and by extension, superior to Abraham’s descendants, the Levites. Melchizedek is not only a priest but a king as well. In this dual office he is able to reconcile the justice of God (the business of a king) with His mercy (the business of a priest). His name means “King of Righteousness,” and his title “King of Salem” (Gen. 14:18) means “King of Peace.” He may be a theophany-a preincarnate appearance of Christ; at the very least he is a type of Christ, as the author of Hebrews explains in detail.

There are several specific points of contrast between the Levitical priesthood and the priesthood of Melchizedek, which is fulfilled in Christ.


The Priesthood of Levi and the Priesthood of Melchizedek

(1) Genealogical requirement:

The Levitical priesthood is limited to one tribe.   It cannot transform mortal and corrupt humanity because it consists of mere men.

As Melchizedek was without earthly genealogy, so is Christ by virtue of His virgin birth.  He is God incarnate, immortal and sinless, and therefore His Priesthood is able to transform humanity.

(2) Ordination:

The power given at ordination is incomplete.  The Levitical priesthood is weak, its sacrifices have to be repeated, and it cannot perfect the worshippers.  It cannot reconcile people to God, nor give them the inner power to obey.  The ordination is without direct confirmation from God.

The power given at ordination is strong and effective.  The power of Christ’s priesthood is perfect and draws us near to God.  His sacrifice is offered once and for all.  The Father Himself ordains the son.

(3)  Term of office:

The Levitical priesthood is temporary.  Since it is composed of mortal men, it requiers many members.

Since Christ is immortal, the priesthood of Melchizedek needs only one, eternal priest.

(4)  Moral and spiritual requirements:

These must be less than perfection, for the Levitical priests are all created beings subject to sin.

The requirement of perfect holiness is met in Christ, the only sinless One.  He is more than mere man — He is the Son of God.