The church father Tertullian once remarked that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. His point was that the consistent profession of faith, even to the point of ungodly execution, is a far better witness to the truth of Christ than anything else a Christian may say or do. When a believer submits to the sword before denying Christ, the world understands that Christ is Lord.
The original audience of the letter to the Hebrews faced the possibility of the sword. As such, many of them were tempted to abandon Christ for the safety of the old covenant. Facing this problem, the author of Hebrews wrote a letter emphasizing Christ’s superiority to angels and Moses who were both key figures of the old covenant (1:1–3:19). Christ’s superiority necessitates that we hold fast to the faith that has been given us in order to prove our election and avoid the fearful possibility of apostasy (4:1–6:12). We can hold fast to our hope of salvation in Christ because God has promised to bless us with this salvation and has sworn that this salvation will most certainly be accomplished (6:13–18). This hope of salvation finds its sure ground in the heavenly temple, where Christ has gone in as our forerunner and where He serves in the priestly order of Melchizedek (6:19–20).
Hebrews 7 makes it clear that Christ’s position as priest in the order of Melchizedek is one important reason why it would be futile to return to the old covenant. In the Old Testament, we find the priest-king Melchizedek only in Genesis 14 and Psalm 110. These two enigmatic chapters were enough to encourage great speculation about Melchizedek at the time the author of Hebrews wrote. Many Jews believed that he would play a great role in the establishment of the Messianic rule. Some Essenes, for example, believed that Melchizedek would deliver them from the servants of Belial (unfaithful Jews).
We know that the role of Melchizedek in the history of redemption is greater than Abraham may have originally believed because of the reference to the everlasting priesthood of Melchizedek in Psalm 110. But God would not fully explain his importance until He moved the author of Hebrews to pen his letter. In the next few days, we will look at Melchizedek and seek to understand why his priesthood anticipates the perfect and eternal priesthood of Christ.