Psalm 110 is the Old Testament chapter most often quoted in the New Testament. One of the more “famous” verses in this chapter is verse 4,
The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” NIV.
But, what does this verse mean?
What does it mean that God made an oath (i.e., he swore)?
In Israel, Aaron and the Levites were the appointed priests in accordance with the Levitical laws. These priests and these laws, however, were insufficient to make full atonement. And, thus, they had “to offer sacrifices day after day, first for [their] own sins, and then for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 7:27).
In Psalm 110, on the other hand, the Lord makes an oath to the Messiah, saying that he will be a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. Unlike a legal installation, an appointment by oath is an irrevocable binding promise that is made on the basis of something sacred. Here, with an oath, the unchangeable high priesthood of Christ was established, and he became “the guarantee of a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22). It was better because, unlike the priests who repeatedly made sacrifices on behalf of the people, Jesus “sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Hebrews 7:27, 28).
melchizedek and the priesthood.
What is the meaning of the oath’s text?
At first blush, Melchizedek is a fairly oblique character in Genesis (14:18-20). Upon returning from a meeting with some allies, Abram is greeted by Melchizedek – the king of Salem and a priest of God Most High. He blesses Abram and then mysteriously disappears with no further mention.
In 1000 BC, when David took conquest of Jerusalem, he and his house became heirs to Melchizedek’s dynasty of priest-kings. This is the context in which David wrote Psalm 110:4.
When Jesus arrives, he is the final priest-king in the line of Melchizedek and David. Rather than becoming a priest on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry, however, he became a priest “on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.”
In Hebrews 7:23-26, we read: “Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”
What does it mean that Jesus is the priest-king forever in the line of Melchizedek, as foretold in Psalm 110? For me, at least two things: (1) God keeps his word: although David spoke of the Messiah hundreds of years before Jesus came on the scene, he did come and fulfill his promise, and (2) his word is complete: I do not need to rely on any human being in order to approach God because Jesus himself is the great High Priest, who lives to intercede for me.