Names, from the biblical perspective, tell you a lot about the character and purpose of an individual. Thus, if we want to know who Jesus is and what He came to do, understanding the meaning of His various names is one of the best ways to know Him. Thus far, we have looked at the name priest as it is applied to our Savior in the New Testament. We have seen that our Lord’s priestly ministry involves both the sacrifice of Himself and His ongoing intercession for His people. These, the book of Hebrews explains, are effective for salvation, whereas the work of the old covenant priests was not. Moreover, the effectiveness of Christ’s priestly work is tied to its superiority over the old covenant order, and this superiority is due to Jesus’ being “a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:20).
Jesus, who was descended according to the flesh from the tribe of Judah, could not serve in the priesthood that Moses describes, namely, the Levitical priesthood (7:14; see Num. 18). Yet, that does not mean our Lord is unqualified to be our High Priest; rather, it means His high priesthood derives from a different—and superior—priestly lineage. Hebrews 7, quoting from Psalm 110, makes an extended argument that Jesus’ priestly qualifications comes from His belonging to the line of Melchizedek with respect to the priesthood. Melchizedek, whose name means “king of righteousness,” was the ancient priest-king of Salem (Jerusalem), and he gave a blessing to Abraham after the patriarch rescued his nephew Lot from a confederacy of Canaanite rulers. Abraham, in turn, paid tithes to Melchizedek (Gen. 14:17–20). The author of Hebrews uses this episode to show that Melchizedek’s priestly ministry existed prior to and was superior to the work of the Levitical priests. A lesser party pays tithes to a greater party, and since Levi was in his great-grandfather Abraham’s loins when Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, it was as if Levi paid tithes to the greater party as well (Heb. 7:1–10).
Moreover, the order of Melchizedek is superior because Christ holds it not by virtue of mere physical descent but “by the power of an indestructible life” (v. 16). Psalm 110 foresaw that the Messiah would hold the Melchizedekian priesthood forever, and our Lord’s overcoming death means He will never set aside His priesthood. If we come to God through the priestly ministry of Jesus, we can be sure that like His priesthood, our lives will be eternal.