The author of Hebrews wrote to people who needed to endure, to run the race and not turn back. He employed multiple strategies toward this goal.
It’s been said that sound theology is important for suffering and trial, and that is true. More specifically, you need sound christology for your suffering. Christology is a strategy woven throughout the letter, and Hebrews 7 takes an interesting turn when the author spends time on Melchizedek.
“Melchizedek?” you might say. “Really? Why not something a bit more relevant, someone a little more known, a subject a little easier to understand?”
To these saints who have already endured cost for their faith (cf. Heb 10:32-34), the writer waxes eloquently about a mysterious Old Testament figure who appears only twice before Hebrews (cf. Gen 14; Psalm 110), but he isn’t trying to be difficult for the sake of it. He knows that what he’s going to say “is hard to explain” (Heb 5:11). But does that mean it’s not worth saying?
Sometimes robust truth is what will hold you up. Hard times may need some hard teaching.
If you were writing a letter encouraging suffering saints to persevere, would Melchizedek be a topic you’d cover? The author of Hebrews doesn’t permeate his letter with paragraphs of this same caliber, but bringing up Melchizedek does serve his christological aim. The writer wants his readers to think great thoughts about Jesus, so from his arsenal he pulls out the four-syllable king of Salem, but he won’t stop there–he’s got something important to say about Jesus.
Don’t have a low estimation of what high christology can do for your soul during spiritual warfare. The writer wants the readers to take comfort and refuge in the truth about Jesus the Great High Priest, but how can Jesus be a high priest if he wasn’t from Levi’s tribe? Enter the purpose of Hebrews 7.
The subject of Melchizedek isn’t evoked to be impressive or heady. The author shows through typology how Jesus’ priesthood had an ancient precedent in someone who was both priest and king and held those roles without Levitical pedigree. Jesus was a priest like that. What he came to do surpassed, and was not vulnerable to, the inadequacies of the old system.
What’s the good news for sufferers about Jesus’ high priesthood? He’s “able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25). Jesus is better than any previous high priest because he is “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (7:26). He doesn’t offer perpetual sacrifices but offered one, once for all, and the offering was himself (7:27).
For the Hebrews writer, Melchizedek was a means to an end; he was never the point. He was useful insofar as he pointed to what the readers needed to know (or to remember) about Jesus. The author wanted them to think great thoughts about Jesus, and his strategy was to bring up Melchizedek so that they would be awed by the glorious intercessory work of the Son who reigns as the permanent high priest with an indestructible life. Jesus is able to help people who are being tempted (2:18), and he has mercy and grace to give them in their time of need (4:16).
When your knees are buckling and your focus is blurring, Jesus is who you need and has what you need.