Have you ever been in a situation where someone or something wears you down to the point of giving in; a situation where someone pushes you and pushes you and pushes you; you know you shouldn’t give in, but you begin feeling the weight of the constant pressure; you feel like giving in just to relieve that pressure?
If you have ever felt that way, then you know how the Christians in Rome were feeling at the time the Book of Hebrews was written. The Book of Hebrews was written to believers who were beginning to cave in from the unceasing pressure of being Christians. Surprisingly, the most relentless pressure was not coming from the Roman authorities, but from the Jewish community.
The Romans had always considered the Christian church a sect within Judaism, so they cared little about the church’s differences with the Jews when it began. But the Jews were greatly offended at these Christians and what they were claiming.
The newly formed Christian church, made up of Jews and Gentiles, had the audacity to claim that they were the true descendants of Abraham; they were the true Israel! Even more, they had the audacity to claim that they were the ones who understood the Old Testament, while the unbelieving Jews were blind to its meaning. Imagine a bunch of white Americans in Iran claiming that they were the true Muslims; that they were the ones who truly understood the Koran. Do you think they would be in trouble?
The Jews attacked the Christians on two fronts; politically and intellectually. Politically the Jews were appealing to the Roman authorities; accusing the Christians of not being a sect of Judaism, but a dangerous cult that must be persecuted. The Romans, not wanting to upset the Jews, began putting Christians in jail and taking away their property. Even so, the young Christians did not give in; they joyfully accepted their plight, considering it a badge of honor to suffer for the Lord.
But the pressure kept coming. Compounding the political pressure was the relentless intellectual attacks. The Jews were constantly challenging the Christians about their claim to be Abraham’s children, as well as other challenges. How can you Christians claim God is with you in your little upper room worship services, when we Jews worship at the glorious temple in Jerusalem, as the Bible commands? How can you Christians claim to be Abraham’s children, when most of you men have not even received circumcision, as was required of all Abraham’s male descendants?
After a while the pressure got to these new believers. They were tired and weak; some of the Jewish arguments began to sound convincing. The Book of Hebrews was written to these beleaguered Christians ready to throw in the towel. Some of those believers had stopped attending worship because of the pressure; others were beginning to say, “Maybe the Jews are right; maybe we should just join the synagogue and be done with it.”
One of the Jewish challenges that seemed to have struck a cord among the Christians was the challenge to their claim that Jesus Christ was a priest. Not only was he a priest, said the Christians, he was the true and final high priest who eternally represents us before God, which means the entire Old Testament priestly system had been abolished.
The Jews had what seemed to be a powerful argument. You Christians say you believe the Old Testament; and you say that Jesus was the final priest. But according to the Old Testament, only the sons of Levi were allowed to be priests. Jesus was not from the tribe of Levi; he was from the tribe of Judah. Therefore Jesus cannot be a priest according to the Old Testament, which you claim to believe. The Book of Hebrews arrived just at the right time. The inspired author was well aware of this Jewish challenge to the faith, so in chapter 7 he addresses this specific challenge from the Jews.
It is true, Christ was not from the tribe of Levi, and it is true, the Mosaic Law required priests to be from Levi. But Christ was a priest according to a higher order than Levi, the order of Melchizedek. This argument the Jews would not have expected; after all, Melchizedeck appears so briefly on the pages of Scripture.
But the Christians were not to overlook the significance of this brief appearance in Genesis 14 of Melchizedeck. While the Levitical priests of Israel typified, or pictured, the eternal priesthood of Jesus, there was one man in Scripture who even more pictured the priesthood of Jesus, and that man was Melchizedek. The inspired author then lists the different ways Melchizedeck was a greater priest than the Levitical priests.
For example, when Melchizedek met Abraham as Abraham was returning from his military victory, Abraham honored Melchizedeck as one greater than himself. Moses never honored Aaron the priest as greater than himself. But Abraham gave a tenth of all his spoils to Melchizedek.
And consider his name; Melchizedeck, king of Salem. The word, “Melchizedek” means, “king of righteousness,” and Salem means “peace.” What Levitical priest was ever called a king of righteousness and peace? More than all the Jewish priests, this Gentile priest pictured Jesus who also was a king; a king who conferred righteousness and peace to his people.
And consider Melchizedek’s pedigree; v. 3. What family did Melchizedeck come from that legitimatized his ordination as a priest? The Bible does not give his pedigree. He just appears out of nowhere. If you were going to be a priest in Israel you needed to prove you were from the Tribe of Levi. But Genesis says nothing about Melchizedek’s father, or mother, or family lineage. In this sense he resembles the Son of God, who came down from heaven without any earthly pedigree as priest, but was anointed a priest by God himself.
It is not that Melchizedeck himself was a heavenly being, as some in the early church suggested, but Scripture purposely leaves out his earthly qualifications to be a priest to present him as a Christ figure with a higher authority than the Levitical priests.
In vv. 4-9, the author of Hebrews dares suggest that when Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek, all Israel was represented in Abraham, thus all Israelites, including all the Jewish priests to come, were honoring Melchizedek as greater than they. The Jews certainly wouldn’t have been thrilled with that suggestion.
Even more, there is that one verse in Psalm 110. In Psalm 110 the Lord promised to raise up an eternal priest for his people, and that priest would not be from the family of Levi, but one like Melchizedeck. If the one like Melchizedeck has indeed come, then there is no more need for the priestly system of Moses.
In a few brief verses from Genesis 14 and Psalm 110, the inspired author completely destroys the Jews’ argument that Jesus, because he was not descended from Levi, cannot be a true priest that can represent us before God. At the same time, the Christians are encouraged at how the Lord Jesus fulfills all the Old Testament Scriptures.
Let me close with two points about this text. The theologians of the first four centuries are often criticized for their allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament. Some of them were not sure what to do with Melchizedek, so they suggested he himself was Jesus Christ appearing briefly as a man. This is not a good interpretation, for Melchizedek could not be a type of Christ if he himself was Christ. But modern Christians too quickly dismiss these theologians of the early church, almost laughing them off.
While you may not agree with all their conclusions, you must understand the convictions driving them. If you do, you will have far more appreciation for their contributions. You see, the theologians of the first few centuries were convinced that the entire Bible, not just the New Testament, was about Jesus Christ and his gospel. If the inspired writer of Hebrews can get so much theology about Christ from a few obscure verses in Genesis 14 and Psalm 110, then Christ must be everywhere.
Now, in their zeal to find Christ in the OT, they sometimes went too far; they tended to see types and allegories where they were none. But I would take their conviction of the Christ-centeredness of the Bible over all the moralistic sermons and teachings in our day from the Old Testament. The early church was so enraptured by the person of Christ that in their minds he must be the subject of every Scripture, to which we should give a hearty “amen.”
Which brings us to our final point. In the Book of Hebrews, you have the antidote to the pressure and temptation to cease walking with God. Wherever your pressure comes from, whether from another person, a difficult situation, or the inner turmoil of your soul, the Book of Hebrews presents one consistent answer to such temptation, and that answer is to consider the glory of Jesus Christ, your Savior. Consider Jesus.
Hebrews chapter 1; consider Jesus, who is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his nature. Consider Jesus, adored and worshiped by the angels, he who had no beginning or end, who always was.
Chapter 2; consider Jesus, whose gospel is the final word from God, a word that secures judgment on all those who refuse its offer. Consider Jesus, who for our salvation was made lower than the angels, who was crowned with glory and honor when he rose from the dead; who partook of our flesh and blood that with divine sympathy he as our priest can intercede for us to a holy God.
Chapter 3; consider Jesus, who was greater than Moses; who through his work of redemption has secured for you the heavenly Sabbath rest promised from the beginning of creation.
Chapter 4; consider Jesus, whom all men will stand before on Judgment Day, whose piercing eyes will penetrate the consciences of all who do not trust in him, so that they will cry out in agony as the blinding light of Christ’s gaze pierces their souls and condemns their hearts.
Chapter 5; consider Jesus, who because of his perfect righteousness fulfilled the covenant of works for us; who is the source of eternal salvation to all who believe in him.
Chapter 6, consider Jesus; who will extract the most fierce vengeance upon those fake Christians who profess Christ but secretly live in unbelief, thinking they are safe.
Chapter 7; consider Jesus, who because he lives forever is the only one qualified to serve as our mediator between God and man; who through his own tears of suffering, obeyed every last command of God that he may grant you his perfect righteousness so you could be fit for glory.
Chapter 8: consider Jesus, who has abolished the old covenant and brought about a new covenant on more secure promises, a new covenant that unlike the old is unbreakable, so much so that if you are in Christ that even your sin cannot turn God away from his commitment to save you eternally.
Chapters 9&10: consider Jesus, whose blood did what all the blood of the sacrifices could never do; cleanse your conscience from dead works and make you alive to God; whose death once for all paid for every sin you ever committed or will commit; who abolished the Jewish temple because through faith in him you are received into God’s heavenly temple, in which the temple in Jerusalem was only a copy.
Chapter 12, consider Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith, who endured such hostility and pressure from sinners, more than you could experience in a million lifetimes, all for your salvation. And through faith in Jesus, wherever you gather to worship, you come to the heavenly Mt. Zion where the angels, and saints who have died, gather and worship. Remember that Jesus who you worship is a consuming fire, worthy of all reverence and awe.
And chapter 13; consider Jesus, our great shepherd, who by the blood of the eternal covenant equips you with everything good so that you can do his will; that which is pleasing in his sight, to whom be glory forever.
Congregation, when the pressure is on and you feel like compromising or giving in, consider Jesus.