Melchizedek stands alone, this voice from the past, but Jesus is genuinely unique, and one of the great psalms underlines the difference. Psalm 110 is one of the most quoted Old Testament passages. Jesus himself speaks of his lordship as being corroborated here (Mark 12:35–37). Tucked away in that messianic psalm is a reintroduction of Melchizedek and his relationship to Jesus:
For it is declared:
“You are a priest for ever,
in the order of Melchizedek”
This unique promise of a priesthood that lasts forever was necessary because then, as now, all religious ceremonies were imperfect and passing. The Old Testament law was always pointing forward to a day of fulfillment, not to a better way of doing the old things, but of a perfect revolutionary way. So Jesus would come not from the priestly tribe of Levi but the regal tribe of Judah, David’s line, and he was predicted with a solemn divine oath (‘The Lord has sworn …’, v. 21). God is saying loudly, ‘Watch this space’.
The Jewish religious world was dominated by genealogy, just as our rootless Western society spares no expense and uses up much time to trace one’s ancestry and find that elusive reality, ‘roots’. The Old Testament tells the story of the succession of priests of varying worth. But good and bad alike, all suffered from the same weakness. They all died!
So, too, did Jesus, but, risen and ascended, he lives forever and his ministry in heaven speaks not only of a completed work, but also of a continuing work: ‘But because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood’ (v. 24). The work of atonement is over and our heavenly status sure, but his work as high priest continues in intercession (v. 25—see also Rom. 8:34). Here is a unique priesthood which relegates Old Testament priesthood to history, and all modern attempts to revive it to dangerous irrelevance.
With verse 25, who wants more? Here is the promise of one who is able to save ‘completely’, ‘to the end’. For assurance in the hour of doubt or testing, this verse ranks alongside John 13:1, with its promise of Jesus loving ‘to the end’ (NKJV). It speaks of absolute, complete, unending love. We all depend upon human love in family and friendship, but inevitably there will be disappointments and frailty. This is different with him. What a friend we have in Jesus!
Melchizedek’s work is done, and he can now go back into the mists of history. We are left with this unique person, high priest and sacrifice all in one, all ancient prophecies fulfilled. In every way Jesus meets our needs. In his humanity, he understands us perfectly; in his sinless perfection, he can become the unique sacrifice for us. So in verse 27, the special words of this letter recur—‘once for all’. To find a human counselor who understands us is a difficult thing. For someone who can link that responsibility with an ability to meet our deepest need of forgiveness and hope there is only one candidate, and he offers himself to us, as well as to these Jewish converts, unreservedly.