Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, 10 because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.

‘Better’ is a key word in Hebrews.

As we now consider Jesus’ ‘better’ priesthood, the first point made (in this chapter) is the better order of Christ’s Priesthood. The priests came from the tribe of Levi. Jesus was, therefore, not qualified to be a priest by natural descent. He came from Judah. He is a Priest for ever in the order of Melchizedek; and Melchizedek is seen as superior to Levi in that:

  • He is without beginning or end (apparently!);
  • It could be argued that the tribe of Levi was ‘in’ Abraham at the time when the latter paid the tithe to Melchizedek. (Also, the greater blesses the lesser, and it was Melchizedek doing the blessing. Abraham was the recipient).

All of this points to Jesus belonging to a superior priestly order. Everything about Jesus is ‘better’ when compared with what came before in Judaism. Yet some of the readers of this letter were tempted to go back. The writer is fighting, arguing to prevent this fatal regression.