Chapters 7-10 can seem rather heavy going, but actually in these central chapters we are getting to the heart of the book. This is the “solid food” the writer thinks we should be feeding on (cf. 5:12). The issue throughout is how we can draw near to God, or as the writer puts – how we can be perfect (7:19, 10:14), in the sense of being all that we should be and enjoying all that we were made for, having unimpeded access to God and unbroken fellowship with God. This couldn’t be known under the old covenant; there needed to be a better priest (ch.7), a better covenant (ch.8), and a better sacrifice (ch.9, 10). All this we find only in Jesus. This chapter, therefore, picks up on the theme of Jesus’ priesthood, which we have thought about already, and seeks to show how he is the perfect priest that “meets our need”.
Melchizedek is only mentioned twice in the Old Testament: four verses in Genesis (Gen.14:17-20), which are being referred to here, and one verse in Ps.110, which will be quoted later in the chapter (vv.17, 21). Three things about him are particularly mentioned. First his name: Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”, and king of Salem (ie Jerusalem) means “king of peace”. Secondly, his genealogy, or rather the absence of one: in a literary sense at least, he is presented as having no beginning or end, and therefore symbolically being eternal. Thirdly, his status: both the fact that he blessed Abraham, and the fact that Abraham gave a tithe, points to his being greater than Abraham (and therefore greater too than Levi).
God’s promise in Psalm 110, made many centuries later, concerning a priest “in the order of Melchizedek”, implied that the Levitical priesthood was flawed (you don’t fix what ain’t broke). This new priesthood would mean “a change of law” (v.12), ie “a better covenant” (v.22), because the two things inextricably linked. The flaws of the old covenant are stated baldly in vv.19,20. The qualifications for this new priesthood would not be family ancestry, but something far greater: “an indestructible life”, as was foreshadowed in Melchizedek having neither beginning nor end, being eternal (symbolically at least). And the greater efficacy of this new priesthood is shown by it being accompanied with an oath (vv,20-22), God as it were stakes his whole character and credibility on this priest being able to make us perfect, able to draw near to Him.
The writer has talked earlier of how Jesus’ ability to sympathise with us in our weakness makes him a perfect priest. Here he talks of something different, which we might less readily be excited by – the fact that “he lives forever”. But this shows that he is the reality that Melchizedek foreshadowed, one who will never be surpassed for his priesthood is permanent, and that means that he can “save completely” (v.25), or “save for ever, till the end” (see NIV footnote), those who come to him, “because he always lives to intercede” for us. This is a wonderful truth. We might all at times have hoped God would prod someone to pray for us because we feel our prayers are so feeble and our needs are so great; but Christ is always interceding for us. Needs I am not aware of, he sees and brings to God; dangers I am not aware of, he sees and secures my protection. Day after day God pours his grace into my life in answer to Christ’s prayers.
The final paragraph adds too, that as well as being able to sympathise with our weakness (something he mentioned in ch.4), what particularly makes Christ the perfect priest is that he is powerful to save, for he has no sin of his own and is himself perfect, unlike all other priests.