1 June 2019Hebrews 7:26-28
Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day … this he did once for all when he offered himself. (v. 27)
Psalm: Psalm 150
It is all too easy to fall into the trap of ignoring the first thousand pages or so of our Bibles and focusing our attention solely on the New Testament (and, perhaps, almost exclusively on the four Gospels). The anonymous author of Hebrews, however, wholeheartedly embraces the challenge of trying to understand the significance of Jesus in light of the Old Testament and, in particular, its central themes of covenant, sacrifice and priesthood.
Having mentioned him briefly in earlier chapters, chapter 7 of Hebrews focuses on the somewhat mysterious King Melchizedek of Salem, whose story is found in Genesis 14:17-20. Melchizedek is described as a “priest of God Most High” who brings forward bread and wine and blesses Abram (not yet renamed Abraham), who in turn gives him “one-tenth of everything".
By connecting Jesus’ story with that of Melchizedek, the author of Hebrews locates Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross within the broad sweep of God’s salvation plan that stretches back to Genesis. In the Old Testament, the Israelites’ unfaithfulness meant that their covenant relationship with God required frequent restoration through the sacrificial system (see, for example, Leviticus 16), which necessitated priestly representation. Having located Jesus as a “high priest” within this broader narrative, the author makes clear that Jesus’ sacrifice, unlike that of the priests who had gone before him, was unique and unrepeatable. His life, death and resurrection established a ‘new covenant’ that fulfilled and renewed previous covenants between God and humanity, in a way that was only possible because Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. This sacrifice was made “once for all” – a favourite phrase of the author of Hebrews (see also 9:26-28). This means that we are not required to offer animal sacrifices when we go to church (for which us vegetarians are immensely grateful) but instead to offer ourselves as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1).
- Scandals that have emerged in recent decades have drawn attention to the fallibility of ministers of the Church. What does our response tell us about our expectations of ‘priests’?
- Do you find the language of ‘sacrifice’ helpful?
- What do you understand by the phrase ‘priesthood of all believers’? You might be interested to read this reflection or these bible study materials.