“Melchizedek, king of the city of Salem, met Abraham when he was returning from defeating the kings. He gave Abraham his blessing, then Abraham gave him the tithe of the spoils from the battle. The name Melchizedek means “King of Righteousness” and his secondary title, King of Salem, means “King of Peace.” There is no record of his mother, father, genealogy, birth, or death. His life resembles that of the Son of God in that his priesthood is perpetual.
Now consider the relevance of this man unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave ten percent of the treasure captured from his enemies. The descendants of Levi who accept the priestly office are authorized by law to receive tithes from their fellow Israelites, even though they are Abraham’s descendants as well. But in this instance, Melchizedek, whose ancestry is not connected with Levi, accepted tithes from Abraham and gave his blessing to this man who held God’s promises. Beyond all controversy, only one superior in rank can bless one inferior in rank. Whereas tithes are usually received by mortal men, in this case it is affirmed that Melchizedek received tithes – a man who is seemingly immortal. In fact, it could be said that the priestly tribe of Levi, who normally receives tithes, actually paid tithes through Abraham to Melchizedek, because Levi at this time was not yet born (and thus still inside his ancestor) when Melchizedek met him.” (paraphrased)
In chapter five, the writer referred to the enigma of Melchizedek as something difficult to understand, expressing concern regarding their level of spiritual comprehension (5:11). He spends all of chapter six exhorting and encouraging them. Now he resumes his central argument for the high-priestly ministry of Christ. Enveloped in intrigue, Melchizedek stands alone in the annals of Scripture. He appears like a flash of lightening and disappears just as suddenly. The Holy Spirit deliberately shrouded Melchizedek in mystery for nearly two millennia, only to reveal him in this epistle as the perfect example of Christ’s priesthood. Indeed, Melchizedek is the only one in the Bible who could serve as the ideal illustration. He is referred to historically in Genesis 14, prophetically in Psalm 110, and doctrinaly in Hebrews 5-7.
Fanciful conjectures concerning Melchizedek abound. Some have proposed he was Michael the archangel. Many imagine him to be a theophany, an Old Testament appearance of Christ. Still others believe Melchizedek was Shem, one of Noah’s sons. But the birth and death of Shem are recorded, whereas Melchizedek’s is not (Gen. 6:10 & 11:11). To attempt to discover the roots of Melchizedek’s family tree is to miss the value of his typology. No type is perfect, for it is merely the shadow and not the substance. Without a firm commitment to the inspiration of Scripture, the beauty and grandeur of this passage vanishes. What God’s Word does not say concerning Melchizedek is as typologically important as what is stated. The scarcity of facts concerning him is according to God’s divine design. Because his life is free of genealogy, he typifies the eternal Son of God. Believers must accept the historical facts about Melchizedek while avoiding idle speculation.
Hebrews chapter seven teaches history, typology, subservience, tithing, sacrifice, and mediation. The writer will show Christ’s priesthood is eternal (vv. 1-10), effectual (vv. 11-19), and perpetual (vv. 20-28). He emphasizes the similarities between Melchizedek and Christ, while demonstrating that neither was a priest due to ancestry. Melchizedek resembled Jesus in character, titles, and office, but was unlike Him in eternality, divinity, and destiny. The readers are made to realize the superiority of Christ from their own Scriptures. The writer’s logic is as follows:
a. Abraham was the progenitor of the Hebrew race.
b. The Levites descended from Abraham.
c. The Genesis account proves Melchizedek was superior to Abraham.
d. Because Melchizedek is superior to Abraham, he is better than Levitical priests.
e. Therefore, Melchizedek’s priesthood is also superior to the Levitical law.
f. Because Christ is the antitype, His priesthood is superior to all priesthoods.
The priesthood was the heart of Judaism. The foundational meaning of the word priest is “access to God.” There could be no forgiveness of sins without a sacrifice – and no sacrifice could be made without a priest. Tabernacle duties provided no permanent righteousness or peace. The transitory nature of the Judaic ministry is evidenced by the fact it only existed from Moses era until the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The Levitical system was preordained by God to be insufficient and impermanent, but Christ’s priesthood is all-sufficient and permanent (Heb. 7:18, 24). The ministry of Levitical priests was restricted to Jews, but the Messiah’s ministry is global. Because Melchizedek is a Gentile, he is an allegorical representation of Christ’s universal priesthood.
The most basic prerequisite for any priesthood candidate was evidence of Aaronic lineage (Neh. 7:64). Under the old covenant, requirements for the high priesthood were based primarily on physical attributes (Lev. 21:10-24). But in the Melchizedekian priesthood, requirements were based on spiritual attributes. Levites kept meticulous records to prove their direct decent from Aaron, but Melchizedek had no genealogy at all. He did not inherit his office nor could it be transferred. Whereas the Levitical priesthood was restricted to descendants of Aaron, such regulations are immaterial in the Melchizedekian.
Jesus’ ancestry is traced from both Abraham and Adam, proving He came through Judah, not Levi (Mt. 1 & Lk. 3). It was fitting that Christ be presented as the antitype of a non-Jewish priest who had no familial records. Furthermore, Melchizedek was both king and priest, roles which were never united under the Levitical system. A king is often pictured as representing God to men, whereas a priest represents men to God. The writer combines priesthood with kingship, which tends to invalidate contemporary demands for the strict separation of church and state.
The History – Genesis 14
Before proceeding with the story of Melchizedek and Abraham, a brief background sketch will prove helpful.
Abraham was the great-grandfather of Levi. The daughter of Levi, Jochebed, became the mother of Moses and Aaron. Because a patriarch is superior to his descendants, Abraham is superior to his great-grandson Levi and the entire tribe of Levi.
Famine drove Abraham and his family into Egypt. He later returned to Canaan with his nephew Lot. Abraham settled in Mamre near Hebron and Lot chose the plain of Jordan. Upon hearing Lot had been taken captive by Canaanite kings, Abraham pursued them with 318 men, vanquished them near Damascus, and rescued Lot (Gen. 14:12-14).
Jerusalem lay in the direction through which Abraham would pass upon his return from this battle. On Abraham’s trip back to Hebron, King Melchizedek of Salem (Jerusalem) came to congratulate him (Gen. 14:18-20). How this king came to know and serve Jehovah is unknown, but Melchizedek’s existence verifies men still hungered for God. Although the Aaronic priesthood would not be established for several hundred years after Abraham’s death, the writer depicts this epic encounter as the connecting link between the two priesthoods.
The Prophecy – Psalm 110
David’s brief mention of Melchizedek declares this eternal priesthood will be forever entrusted to the Messianic King of this same order (Ps. 110:4). This single verse verifies the Messiah:
1. will be a priest
2. will be both priest and king
3. will be appointed by God
4. will not be a Levite
5. will have a unique office
6. will have a priesthood similar to Melchizedek
7. will have a permanent priesthood
8. will have no successor
The Doctrine – Hebrews 7
Individuals in the Bible are frequently named to epitomize specific characteristics. The writer refers to Melchizedek as a “priest of the most high God” (7:1). In the Genesis narrative, this title is El-elyon (Gen. 14:19, 22). The name Melchizedek means “my king is righteous,” for melek is translated “my king” and zedek is “righteousness.” His name reveals his magnanimity, rank, and character.
Jerusalem was called Salem before it was inhabited by the Jews (Ps .76:2). Because Salem means “peace”, Melchizedek is also seen as “king of peace.” Righteousness and peace are attributes that characterize the Messiah (Isa. 32:17). Being declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1). Melchizedek’s association with Jerusalem is appropriately emblematic, for Christ would one day sacrifice Himself for sin outside the walls of the capital city.
“Without mother or father” simply means Melchizedek had no proof of kinship. But the absence of his birth and death certificates alone would not make him eternal. “Without descent” (agenealogetos) refers to one whose parentage and pedigree cannot be validated. This is remarkable when one considers the book of Genesis is filled with genealogies. “Abiding a priest continually” does not infer Melchizedek was immortal, but that no familial records regarding him exist. Because God has already established a “timeless” priesthood, it follows that the Messiah will enjoy a priesthood of uninterrupted tenure.
Bread and Wine
Before Melchizedek blessed Abraham, he brought him bread and wine as refreshment (Gen. 14:18-19). Perhaps this was an act of hospitality, but Believers immediately recognize the elements of the body and blood of Christ. Both bread and wine are produced by crushing and are therefore emblematic of suffering. Melchizedek gave to Abraham the symbols of Christ’s completed work on the cross. Like Abraham, it is our great privilege to be refreshed by our wonderful King and Priest. Jesus meets us after our battles, renews our strength, and blesses us.
The authoritative blessing Melchizedek conferred upon Abraham is especially significant. In effect, the blessing he received was passed on to the Levitical line because Abraham was their forefather (Heb. 7:1, 6). When Abraham was blessed, the nation of Israel was blessed, for Israel “came from the loins of Abraham” (v. 5). It is an ancient and unquestioned principle that only one who is superior can bless one who is inferior (v. 7). The blessing and the refreshment accepted by Abraham validate Melchizedek’s priesthood. Whereas the old order was insufficient and inept, the new order will be indissoluble and immutable. The old priesthood based on law was to be replaced by the new priesthood based on grace (Rom.6:14).
Abraham offered Melchizedek a tenth of everything he had recently captured from the enemy (Gen. 14:20). This first biblical mention of tithing was performed centuries before Levitical laws regarding it were established. By tithing, Abraham unashamedly declared his own inferiority and showed subservience to one he recognized as superior. As a priest, Melchizedek accepted tithes from him. Abraham, the ancestor of Levi and the Aaronic priesthood, thus publicly demonstrated he regarded Melchizedek as a man of higher status than himself. As a Gentile, Melchizedek ranked above the Jews. But our Great High Priest ranks above both Jews and Gentiles. We are asked to consider and ponder Melchizedek’s greatness, but only in comparison to the greatness of Christ (vv. 4, 28). Though the Aaronic priesthood excelled in majestic liturgies and elaborate ceremonies, they are mere shadows compared to the priesthood of the Messiah.
As the record in Genesis unfolds, we find that the first recorded type of Christ was a priest. Melchizedek’s story equips the writer with a wonderful analogy with which to make his case. The use of this poignant example makes his logic uncontestable. He does not emphasize the inferiority of the Levitical priesthood, but rather the supremacy of the Melchizedekian. Properly understood, the analogy of Melchizedek should eradicate from the mind of Believers all defective and superficial views of Christ’s high-priestly ministry.
QUESTIONS: CHRIST’S UNIQUE PRIESTHOOD
1. According to Exodus 19:6, what did God want the nation of Israel to become?
2. According to Revelation 1:6 and 5:10, what has God done for those who serve Jesus?
3. Read Hebrews 7:2. According to Psalm 85:10, what two things have “kissed each other?”
4. In Zechariah 6:9-13, it is prophesied that Christ will be:
C. Rejected by men
D. A priest upon his throne
E. A conqueror upon a white horse
5. Levitical priests who held both the title of king and priest were numerous. True or False?
6. Later in history, the city of Salem is later known by what name?
7. According to Numbers 18:26, what must the people give to the priests?
8. According to Malachi, what are Believers to do consistently?
9. According to I Corinthians 11:23-24, what did Jesus say the bread represents?
10. According to I Corinthians 11:25, what did Jesus say the cup represents?
11. Write a paragraph concerning the value of consistent tithing.
12. Write a paragraph regarding the importance of the communion service.