By Edward Mellott
Each occupant of the First Presidency, from Joseph Smith onward, has been, in addition to other things, the highest occupant of the Melchizedek priesthood. Each has served for some length of time, after which he has died and been succeeded by another. What is significant about this fact is that the pattern bears more resemblance to the history of the Levitical priesthood than it does to the priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Though the titles we can apply to Jesus are numerous, perhaps one of the most important is that which was used frequently by the writer to the Hebrews. In Hebrews 3:1, the writer exhorted the Hebrew to fix their thoughts on Jesus, “…the Apostle and High Priest of our profession …” Frequently throughout this letter, the writer points out that the faith in Christ was better than the Judaism to which they were told to return. It was not that those things were bad in themselves, but that they were but a foretaste of what was to come. The sacrifices and the priesthood of the Levitical order were ordained by God, but they looked forward to a permanent priesthood and a permanent sacrifice in the person and work of the Lord Himself.
What made Jesus better? Why was His ministry so different? In Hebrews, we find a number of answers to those questions. We find that Jesus was not merely another in succession of priests, but that His priesthood was unique. There had not been one like it before, and there will not be one like it again. His priesthood is the climax and culmination of priesthood before God.
Jesus’ priesthood is superior due to a better calling. Other priests were chosen, but Jesus was called with an oath (Heb. 5:5; 7:21). God, who could swear by no greater than Himself, proclaimed Jesus to be a priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Jesus’ priesthood is superior due to a better covenant (Heb. 7:22; 8:6; 9:15). God found fault with the old covenant in that it could not accomplish the salvation of Israel. So He made a new covenant, and Jesus is the mediator of that covenant (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5-6).
Jesus’ priesthood is superior due to a better sacrifice (Heb. 9:11ff). Those who served in the Levitical priesthood offered sacrifices annually according to commandment. Those sacrifices did not serve to put away sin. Jesus, however, by one sacrifice, forever put away sin, and now sits at God the Father’s right hand (Heb. 9:24ff; 10:12).
Jesus’ priesthood is superior due to an indestructible life (Heb.7:16). Many men over several centuries served in the Levitical priesthood, yet none of them could continue because of death (Heb. 7:23-25). From Aaron onward, each died and was replaced by a successor. Jesus, on the other hand, continues without end, for He ever lives to pray for us. He does not need to make any more offering, for His one offering was for all time.
There are those who contend that the priesthood of Melchizedek can be occupied by mortal men. This notion presents a great misunderstanding of the nature of the office. In Hebrews, the salient point made concerning Jesus’ priesthood in the order of Melchizedek was that it was on the power of an indestructible life (Heb. 7:16). The fact that men who occupied the Levitical priesthood could not continue because of death was noted as a short-coming. They could pray for Israel, but their prayers were cut short by death. Jesus, as noted above, lives forever to offer intercession for His own.
Those who allegedly occupy the priesthood of Melchizedek today suffer from the same short-comings as did the priests who descended from Aaron — they die. That presents a real problem if one is going to take the text of Hebrews seriously. Furthermore, it presents a very real problem if one is going to take Jesus Christ seriously. Mormon Apostle Bruce McConkie explained it was the Melchizedek priesthood that was eternal, and it was occupied by God’s people from Adam onward (Mormon Doctrine, pg. 475ff). Besides the fact that neither history nor the Bible supports such a position, it does not negate the fact that none of those who supposedly held this position escaped physical death, even those raised to the office of prophet. Death, eventually claims all of us, no matter what our station in life.
The inevitable result of such teaching is that the person and work of Jesus Christ is minimized and given second place to the teaching that man himself will become a God. In Mormon doctrine, holding the Melchizedek priesthood is requisite to continuing in one’s eternal progression. Without it, one will never achieve celestial exaltation.
To abandon Christ’s eternal priesthood for the temporal ministry of the sons of Aaron was considered an abandonment of the faith. What do we make then of those who would usurp Christ’s position and authority as a priest for God after the order of Melchizedek? We who live forever only do so as we are in Christ. We do not have that life in and of ourselves. Paul wrote to the Ephesians that we were dead in trespasses and sins before God brought us to life (Eph. 2:1).
If you would have eternal life, have it in Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection did more than make a guarantee of physical resurrection for all men – He provided the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of dwelling with God forever. Even in the great forever our existence will depend on Him, but what a marvelous Lord He is on whom we have to lean. Leave the notion of becoming a God, and lay hold of the great high priest who is able to save us to the uttermost (Heb. 7:25cf; 2 Tim. 1:12).