[Jesus] was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 5:9 (NIV)
Growing up in America, I am used to there being a separation between the government and religion, but for most of western history since the time of Jesus, the two were intertwined in one way or another. When the Jesus movement became the Holy Roman Empire, the pope was both a religious and political authority. Even after the reformation, protestant kings and queens held authority over both their country’s government and state religion. Queen Elizabeth is still head over the Church of England to this day.
For the ancient Hebrews, there had always been a separation between their religion and their monarchy. The priesthood was established by the Law of Moses around 1400 BC. The monarchy wasn’t established for another 400 years when the Hebrew people chose Saul as their first king. Yet the prophets had foreshadowed a Messiah who would unite the two as both priest and king.
In today’s chapter, the author of this letter to Hebrew followers of Jesus makes a head-scratcher of a statement. He explains that Jesus was made humanity’s ultimate High Priest “in the order of Melchizedek.”
To understand this statement, we have to go back to our chapter-a-day journey through Genesis 14. There we find Abram (aka Abraham) being met by a mysterious sage named Melchizedek who appears out of nowhere, has a bit moment in the story, and then exits back into mystery. Here’s what we know:
- Melchizedek means “King of righteousness.”
- He was King of Salem (a shortened version of Jerusalem).
- He was “priest of God Most High”
- He met the Abram, with bread and wine, and blessed him.
- Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of his spoils, which was known as a “king’s share.”
When the author of Hebrews explains that Jesus is high priest “in the order of Melchizedek” he is first of all stating that King David was prophetic when he wrote the lyrics of Psalm 110:
The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”
The fact that David wrote this is additionally prophetic because God established David’s throne and it was through David’s line that the Messiah would come (FYI: Jesus was a descendant of David). The author then points to this prophetic line from King David and explains that Jesus is the Messiah in the mysterious order of Melchizedek who was both “King” of Jerusalem and “priest” of God Most High 600 years before the priesthood of Aaron was established by Moses.
I find myself reflecting on history this morning. Whenever earthly kings and queens have headed both church and state the results have been typically disastrous. I would argue that much of the apt criticism of Christianity stems from centuries when the Roman Catholic Church held sway over both politics and religion. It was a human institution and kingdom of this world claiming to be God’s Kingdom on earth. Jesus told Pilate, “my kingdom is not of this world.”
Allowing the persecuted Jesus movement to take over the most powerful Empire on earth was, I believe, one of the most strategically shrewd moves the Prince of this World has ever made this side of the Garden of Eden. Almost overnight, the church of Jesus became about human power, human authority, human control, and all the earthly treasures a worldly Empire both creates and hordes. It was seduced into becoming the very opposite of everything Jesus taught. It became the very sort of human religious institution that crucified Jesus in the first place.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself contemplating Jesus, both king and high priest of a kingdom that is not of this world. I’m thinking about my citizenship in that kingdom and the role I’m given as an ambassador of that kingdom. It isn’t an earthly human institution. It’s further up, and further in. It’s rooted in the eternal mystery, like the order of Melchizedek, in which the monarchy and priesthood work together in perfect harmony like a circle dance of trinity in which one is three and three is one.
And, it’s that kingdom I’m called to represent in my day today.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.