The book of Hebrews is a study in contrast between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Through Moses, God mercifully provided a system of sacrifices through which sinners could be forgiven. This priesthood, however, was often corrupt and the cycle of sin continued. The need for all mankind was a perfect priest and a perfect sacrifice that would once and for all actually remove sin. The author of Hebrews reiterates to the Jews that Christ is both God and man, and emphasizes that this truth uniquely qualifies him to fulfill the role of high priest:
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb. 5:7-10)
Because he was wholly divine and genuinely human, only Jesus possessed the characteristics that enabled him to be our substitutionary sacrifice. He was made “perfect” in his suffering on the cross, bearing the entirety of humanity’s sins. Believers in Jesus Christ have a perfect high priest through whom everything is better than under the covenant of the law.
Hebrews 6 contains both a message of warning and a message of encouragement. The former was directed to Jewish unbelievers who were intellectually convinced of the gospel but had not placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The author cautions that rejecting Christ with full knowledge of his identity is unredeemable. These are people to whom the person and work of Christ have been revealed and who reject him nonetheless. (Note that some people believe that those who are addressed here are not yet saved.) We know that salvation is eternal and cannot be lost.
Immediately following this passage of warning is a message proclaiming the certainty of God’s promise. This section is addressed to Jewish believers as they faced rejection and persecution from fellow Jews. Using the example of Abraham, the author of Hebrews encourages believers to have a persevering faith even in circumstances that seem hopeless:
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb. 6:19-20)
There is much speculation about the identity of Melchizedek, first mentioned in Genesis. He is called “a priest of God Most High” (Gen. 14:18), and later the psalmist says, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek’” (Psalm 110:4).
Melchizedek is the first recorded priest; it was some 700 years after his appearance in Genesis that God appointed Aaron as the first priest of Israel. The Levitical priesthood changed as each priest died, but Melchizedek’s priesthood is perpetual since his death is not recorded. Thus when Jesus is affiliated with Melchizedek, it denotes the eternal nature of his priesthood.
Through Jesus we have complete reconciliation with God and also unhindered access to God, forever. This is the crux of our salvation. Thanks be to God!