The “letter” to the Hebrews is different from any other “letter” among the Christian Scriptures for many reasons. One of those reasons is its organization as a single topic. It is truly focused on one thing, the supremacy of Jesus, specifically of His intercession on behalf of His disciples. The book begins with this focus and continues to the end with that same focus.
Each segment of this book builds upon the previous segment, each premise dependent upon the previous premise. In order to claim that Jesus’ ministry on our behalf is superior, the writer must appropriate Jeremiah 31:32-34. But, before he can apply that passage and the “new covenant” as he needs to, he must first establish Jesus as a priest outside of the Levitical Priesthood. To do that, he uses Psalm 110, a “royal” or “enthronement” psalm.
But even before the writer can apply Psalm 110 to Jesus, he must first argue Jesus’ supremacy over angels, over Moses, and then, over the law itself. Only then can he apply Psalm 110, with its unexpected reference to the priestly order of Melchizedek, to Jesus. The reason this is so important, that it forms the hinge pin on which his claims of Jesus pivot, can be found within the Psalm itself.
Psalm 110 is supposed to be written by David, and we have no reason to think otherwise. So, imagine David, sitting in his palace, the tent with the Ark in view from a window or terrace, writing this poem about one of his eventual children on his throne:
The LORD says to my Lord:Psalms 110:1-3 NASB
“Sit at My right hand
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
The LORD will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying,
“Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”
Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power;
In holy array, from the womb of the dawn,
Your youth are to You as the dew.
It is not difficult to see the “royal” or “enthronement” quality in the first half of the psalm. You have Yahweh (The LORD) establishing a “Lord” beside Him, fighting for this Lord, establishing the rule of this Lord even in the midst of opposition, and sanctifying the people this Lord rules. This coincides well with the Gospels and writings of Paul, John, and Peter.
Jesus uses this Psalm to show that the Messiah can’t be David’s son, because David calls him “my Lord”. Which is an interesting element of this Psalm. Why would David write it that way? Because, under the inspiration of the Spirit, David writes of what Yahweh will do in the future: not just give David a son on the throne, but an epic Messiah, someone greater than himself. While that may surprise David, possibly humble him, what he writes next had to floor him:
The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind,Psalms 110:4
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”
Yahweh utters an unalterable oath that He will establish this “Lord” as a priest, not just a king. Even as he writes those words, David knows that only Levites can be priests, right? He does have his sons function as priests, he himself has taken the ephod at times, and Samuel, who anointed David, functioned as a priest, though from the Tribe of Manasseh. Still, there is no order of priests other than those of Aaron’s line, or is there?
David writes this poem in Jerusalem, which was once named Salem, before Jebusites took it over and renamed it. When it was Salem, it was ruled by a king who functioned also as a priest, Melchizedek. More likely than not, David knew the story, and was aware that he was in the very city where this priest-king ruled and ministered. And now, it was the place where the Ark now sat, the Ark of the same God this priest-king represented. The worship of Yahweh had returned, and a king who worshiped Yahweh now reigned. If you think about it, all the elements are there when David wrote this poem.
But it still had to be a weird thing for David to write. It had to be a strange impression for God to make on this man, so different than what others thought, what the priests taught, or the prophets spoke. Melchizedek remains a legendary figure for almost 1,000 years after David. Even the Qumran group think of Melchizedek as a super-human figure. And so he remains until, the writer of Hebrews finally explains the revelation given to David so many years ago.
The writer of Hebrews fastens on to this amazing revelation of God given to David. And for him it becomes the piece that God reveals as the connection to the “New Covenant” of Jeremiah 31. Prior to this, people just figured that the “new covenant” written on their hearts would be the “same song, different refrain”, basically the old covenant, but now doable. But for the writer of Hebrews, the new covenant changes everything. Now, there is no sacrificial system, no line of priests, no more blood of animals, no continual sacrifice requirement for sin any more. Jesus replaces all of it, even though He is of the line of Judah. It’s shocking.
So, is the penalty of sin removed? How can human creatures draw near to their Creator without an intermediary? How can we be justified before our Creator without the shedding of blood? What the writer of Hebrews does with the temple cultic practice is relocate the activity into heaven, make Jesus the permanent High Priest, and supersede all blood sacrifices with the one-time self-sacrifice of Jesus. This, in turn, releases people from the cultic practice of sacrificing animals, over and over. It was no longer necessary.
But there’s the end of the Psalm we haven’t looked at yet:
The Lord is at Your right hand;Psalms 110:5-7 NASB
He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath.
He will judge among the nations,
He will fill them with corpses,
He will shatter the chief men over a broad country.
He will drink from the brook by the wayside;
Therefore He will lift up His head.
War is coming. This “Lord” David foresees, once established beside Yahweh, having gathered His holy people, once installed as both King and Priest of God Most High, will eventually go to war. Remember that Jesus didn’t come to bring peace, but war (Matthew 10:34, Luke 12:51), whether with the sword or division, He knew that there would be no peace on this planet until the end. And so it goes. So, what do we do now?
The rest of Hebrews, chapters 11 through 13, speaks of how we respond to the reality of our Heavenly Intercessor. Faith, perseverance, and love become the marks of our life. We participate in the war fought, and won, by Jesus when we live out faith, perseverance, and love. Our war remains a fight against the spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms. Our tactics remain persistent prayer and loving service.
That’s my view through, well, through a large knothole this afternoon. Good grief. What’s your view like?