Deborah W. Rooke, «Jesus as Royal Priest: Reflections on the Interpretation of the Melchizedek Tradition in Heb 7», Vol. 81 (2000) 81-94
In Hebrews’ portrayal of Jesus as a high priest, not according to the line of Aaron but of Melchisedek, there is no reinterpretation of traditional messianic categories. Rather, inasmuch as Hebrews has shown Jesus to be an exalted figure of sacral monarchy, it has depicted him as a truly messianic figure, in whose person the lines of both priesthood and monarchy converge. This is, in turn, entirely consistent with the emphases in Hebrews on Sonship and priesthood, since taken together these are the two major elements of the royal ideology out of which messianism grew. There should, therefore, be allowed more room in Hebrews for royal ideology than traditionally seems to have been the case.
included mediation for his people in cultic contexts, he was endowed with the Spirit of God, an endowment symbolised in the anointing with oil which formed part of the coronation ritual. The priestly status itself was bestowed upon the monarch by means of an oath sworn by the deity at the kings coronation:
The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind:
You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek (Ps 110,4).
This meant that unlike the ordinary priests around him, for whom it was possible to be of priestly descent and yet not actually function as priests (cf. Deut 18,6-8; Lev 21,17-23), the monarch had no choice as to whether or not to fulfil the priestly responsibility of mediation laid upon him; he was a priest for ever, whether he liked it or not, because of the sonship granted to him by the deity. He was not of priestly descent inasmuch as he was not of the tribe of Levi, nor was he a priest in the sense of someone who was actually employed as a sanctuary attendant and was carrying out sanctuary duties on a day-to-day basis. However, his priesthood was more permanent and enduring than that of any other priest, since whether or not he was functioning in the sanctuary and doing the job of priest, he was by definition a mediator between people and deity for the rest of his life. His priesthood was part of his identity as son of God; it was ontological, part of his very being.
Such an analysis has important consequences for the interpretation of the passage in Heb 7, where an extended comparison is drawn between Jesus and the priest-king Melchizedek. At first sight, the writer appears to be interpreting the figure of Jesus in terms of the Levitical (Aaronic) high priesthood as it appears in P, and to be arguing for Jesus as the perfect expression of high priesthood as it is there understood. That is, Heb 7 seems to be defining Jesus in terms of primarily priestly categories; although Jesus is portrayed as a priest of a different order from the traditional Levitical hierarchy, he is nevertheless shown above all as a priest. This impression is further strengthened by the fact that in Heb 8,110,18 the writer goes on to present an elaborate exposition of Christs saving work in terms of the function of the Aaronic high priest on the Day of Atonement. The christology of these chapters, and indeed of Hebrews as a whole, appears to be unique among the New Testament documents in its explicit emphasis on priesthood4, raising the question of what if any antecedents to it may have existed. However, when Heb 7 is examined in the light of the above comparison between the priesthood exercised by the high priest and that exercised by the monarch, an answer to the question of antecedents suggests itself. The characteristics of Jesuss priesthood which are enumerated in the extended description of him as priest after the order of Melchizedek are those not merely of high priesthood but of royal priesthood; in other words, rather than being the description of a high priest, the picture of Jesus given in Heb 7 depicts what modern scholarship would call a sacral king. In this way, the two major christological strands in Hebrews of Sonship and of priesthood are seen to belong together, since both