What about Melchisedec?
© C. O. Bishop 6/6/17; THCF 7/2/17
Hebrews 6:19, 20; 7:1-28; Psalm 110; Genesis 14
We left off at the end of Hebrews chapter six, last time, with Jesus entering into the Holy Place on our behalf, as our High Priest.
We are told, in that passage, to anchor our own souls with the same hope that Abraham had:
19 Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;
20 Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
A High Priest entered the temple, approaching God with a sacrifice, on behalf of Man. Jesus is our High Priest, and has entered in permanently, on our behalf, with His own blood as the eternal sacrifice. And…God likens him to Melchisedec. (Why??)
There is a lot of speculation about Melchisedec, for very good reason: Not much is given to us on which to build a clear understanding. He is mentioned in just three places: Genesis 14; Psalm 110; and the extended passage we have been reading, in Hebrews 5, 6, and 7.
It seems odd that Jesus would be called a high priest “after the order of” Melchisedec. A king was frequently referred to as the son of someone, with the intent that he gained more authority or possibly more legitimacy by being from that lineage. All of the kings in Judah were called out as being of David’s lineage, for instance. In fact, Jesus is to inherit the throne of David. But he does not inherit the priesthood of Aaron, or of Levi. He inherits the priesthood of Melchisedec… someone, apparently, to whom he is not even related. Why??
We need to give this some thought: Who is Melchisedec? And, why does God compare Jesus to him, and, for the first and only time in this epistle, not conclude that, “Jesus is better!”
I’m sorry to say that I do not have a good, solid answer for the questions we will address today, though I will try to present all the scriptural evidence. This message will be mostly informative and thought-provoking… not life-changing doctrine, perhaps.
Hebrews Chapter Seven
7 1For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him;
2 To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;
3 Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.
Ten Statements about Melchisedec
This is where it gets fascinating, to me: Melchisedec is
- King of Righteousness
- King of Salem (King of Peace)
- Priest of the Most High God
- Without father
- Without mother
- Without descent (no genealogy)
- No Birth
- No death
- Like the Son of God…And…
- He abides a priest continually!
All of the above statements regarding Melchisedec are in what is called “declarative indicative” mode/mood…meaning it is definitely true. This is not allegorical. All these statements are apparently literally true of Melchisedec.
This individual to whom Abraham voluntarily gave tithes was not in any way related to the Levitical priesthood which was, in any case, still roughly 500 years in the future. Melchisedec brought out bread and wine to Abraham. (Interesting choices!) Abraham clearly recognized him as the priest of the Most High God, and made an offering (not a sacrifice) to him.
Nothing much more is said about Melchisedec at that point. In fact, he is not even mentioned again in scripture until nearly 900 years later, when David invoked his name in Psalm 110:4, (read it) where he stated that the one whom David called “My Lord”, and to whom God said “sit at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool”, was and is ordained a “priest forever, after the order of Melchisedec!” After that, Melchisedec is not mentioned again at all, until over 1000 years later, in the book of Hebrews, where the writer addresses both of the above passages, and where we receive some concluding points about him.
If I had only the passage in Genesis to go on, I could only conclude that God had a witness in the world other than Abraham (that’s not surprising) and that there was a way to approach God through that priesthood. (Even that would be making some speculations, though, as the scripture does not tell us anything specific about the ministry of Melchisedec while he was on earth.)
Without the passage in Hebrews, the passage in Psalms would have to remain an enigma, as well, as we would have no clue as to how that prophecy regarding the Messiah was to be fulfilled. But the passage in Hebrews is so powerful as to make me very suspicious that Melchisedec was not just a man, but rather a Christophany; that is, “God appearing in human form in a way to specifically prefigure the person of the Christ.” That he was, in fact, Christ himself, in a pre-incarnate form.
Most commentators disagree, and I know that: I would be happy to be corrected from scripture, but, so far, I have seen nothing to do so. They all simply state their opinion, frequently without scriptural backing. One verse they do frequently underscore is the phrase that Melchisedec was made “like unto the Son of God…”, (their contention being that he was therefore not really Him.) To this I would respond that all the Christophanies were “like” the son of God, in one respect or another, but all lacked one essential ingredient: “a body thou hast prepared me”…a fully human body, “born of Woman” and, more specifically, the “Seed of Woman”. Yes, Melchisedec lacked that ingredient (no mother!), even if all the other things were literally true: and so did the “Angel of the LORD”—who invariably turned out to be the living God, revealing himself in the form of a man (example: Genesis 18).
From John 1:18, we deduce (since “no man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared him”) that all these were Christophanies, and really were Jesus in pre-incarnate appearances.
When I look over the list of things God says are true of Melchisedec, especially including the fact that he “abides a priest continually,” I am drawn to believe that it may have actually been Jesus, in a pre-incarnate appearance, just as he appeared in those other places.
Another point that would trouble me, if Melchisedec was just a man, is that God declared his priesthood greater than that of Aaron, and ordained Jesus to that priesthood. Whose ministry is so great that the Son of God should be ordained to the priesthood of one of his created beings? A sinner; part of the fallen race of man? That does not ring true. It would seem to me that Jesus would have to establish a perfect priesthood from outside the race, in order to be ordained part of a perfect priesthood. And who else could do it? God never declares Jesus to be “better than” Melchisedec, but rather, to be like him, and an eternal priest after his order.
We remember Jesus being called the “Son of David”, but we also remember that David called Jesus his “Lord”. Jesus does not look up to David, and revere him as his great-great grandpa: He sees him fondly as a special servant who honored him during his lifetime. I don’t think Melchisedec is in that class, at all. Jesus does inherit the throne of his father David, as predicted, but He himself is the eternal King predicted; and David sees HIM as the Master. Jesus is better!
Jesus is better than the Levitical Priesthood
4 Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.
5 And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham:
6 But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises.
7 And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.
8 And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.
Here we have the facts of the above treatise confirmed :
- Melchisedec was great enough that Abraham gave him a tithe of all the spoils of war that he had gained in the battle of the five kings.
- The Levites who are the descendants of Abraham, receive tithes from all their relatives, the rest of the descendants of Abraham (more specifically, of Jacob).
- Melchisedec was not even related, but he received tithes from Abraham…and authoritatively blessed him in return.
- The writer points out that the greater blesses the lesser…not the other way around.
- The priesthood currently receiving the tithes in the temple (at that time) would all die; they were mortal men. The Writer points out that this is not true of Melchisedec. Melchisedec still lives! (Oops! Did he really say that? Compare verse 16!)
This is a pretty incredible statement! It still gives me chills when I read it. But the writer isn’t done yet!
9 And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham.
10 For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.
11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?
12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.
13 For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar.
14 For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.
15 And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest,
16 Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life.
17 For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
Here are six more vital points the writer laid out for us to consider:
- Levi, the distant descendant of Abraham (the argument continues), therefore gave tithes through
- If the Levitical (Aaronic) priesthood was the pinnacle of perfection (and it wasn’t—not even close—consider all the messes that Aaron got into personally, and many of the priests after him. By the time Jesus walked the earth, the priesthood was quite corrupt as a whole.)—but if it had been perfect, or even “perfect” in the sense of completion (and it wasn’t because the priests kept dying, and the sacrifices had to be repeated every year anyway), then there would be no need for an upgrade…no need for a change, from the Levitical order, to the order of Melchisedec.
- But there was such a need…and it also necessitated a change in the Law—under the Law the priests could ONLY come from the tribe of Levi…no exceptions. There was nothing said about there even being the possibility of a priest coming from Judah.
- But the prophecy did say that there would arise such a priest in the similitude of Melchisedec…it just didn’t specify from where.
- His priesthood was not by carnal commandment, but by the power of an endless life! (There He goes again! What is he saying here about Melchisedec? Jesus is the one regarding whom the writer says he has eternal life in this verse, but he is comparing him to Melchisedec in that regard)
- And then, he called out a particular individual (Messiah) and said “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchisedec!”
18 For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.
19 For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.
The Law Was Weak and Unprofitable
This is something to remember, on the occasions when we are confronted by those who want to return to legalism at any level: God says the Law was “weak and unprofitable”, in the sense that the law alone could not improve the person, but could only condemn. It has value, because it points to the righteousness and holiness of God, but it can do nothing toward perfecting the hearer, outside of the Grace of God which can change hearts.
We approach God through the Grace He extended through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17 says “the Law came through Moses, but Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ”) Romans 5:2 says that we only have access to that Grace through faith in the person of Christ. (Not by adherence to the regimen of Law, or recitation of a creed, or church attendance, or anything else we can do to acquire merit. The very meaning of “Grace” forbids works: it means “unmerited favor… unearned favor”. When a person insists that they must earn God’s favor, they are rejecting Grace as completely as if they simply rejected the Person of Christ. And, to reject Grace is to reject Christ, even if they had no intention of doing so.
20 And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest:
21 (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:)
22 By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.
It is interesting to me that the Aaronic priesthood was established and maintained without an oath, either from God or Man. We have oaths of office for everything from President to police officers to union halls, most of which are very solemn, and all of which are enthusiastically broken by at least some of those who take the oaths. But the most solemn responsibility ever given to a mortal human—that of High Priest—was given without any oath…how strange! But Jesus was made a priest after the order of Melchisedec, by an oath from God.
23 And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death:
24 But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.
Remember that, though this is speaking unquestionably about Jesus, he is being compared to Melchisedec in this regard. And it is a favorable comparison…both are being recognized as not having died.
25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
26 For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;
27 Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.
28 For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.
Grace is Perfect and Complete
The conclusion, then, is that the priesthood Jesus inherited is a perfect, eternal priesthood… a priesthood completely supplanting the Levitical priesthood, and rendering it obsolete. The result is that He alone is the author of eternal salvation: His ministry is perfect and eternal: therefore the result of his ministry (our salvation) is perfect and eternal.
Think about the character of Jesus (from verse 26) compared to that of the high priests, (for example) in Jesus’ time on earth.
- Holy? Yes! Jesus is utterly holy. Those high priests? Not so you’d notice.
- Harmless? Obviously, Jesus was and the priests were not. They had him killed!
- Undefiled? Yep, Jesus certainly was. Those priests? Not so you’d notice.
- Separate from sinners? Well, the odd thing was, that the priests thought they were separate from sinners, but in fact they were vile sinners themselves, and in deep denial. They thought Jesus was not separated from sinners, but he really was, by definition. He was without sin.
- Made higher than the heavens? No contest! Jesus stands alone.
And what about the character of His ministry?
- No need for further, daily sacrifices. The one sacrifice completed the whole job. “It is finished!” Grace, in the person of Jesus Christ, completed the work of Salvation.
- No infirmity, and no death, so no lack of continuity. The result is our eternal security.
- The oath of God makes him eternally our High Priest.
Jesus eternally intercedes before God on our behalf. Our salvation is secure in Him…we have been saved “to the uttermost” by his once-for-all sacrifice. And all of this is by His Grace.
Now, the question many will have at this point, regarding Melchisedec, is: “Was Melchisedec really Jesus??” But the answer remains the same: “I don’t know!” The only thing that really gives me pause is the fact that Melchisedec was the “King of Salem.” If he really was a Christophany, a pre-incarnate manifestation of God the Son, then he seems to be the only one who stuck around and took part in Human government. On the other hand; if he wasn’t, then I can’t explain all the comments made, here in Hebrews chapter seven, concerning him.
I can certainly understand why theologians back off and declare him to simply be a “Gentile Priest-King whose story was just a convenient prefiguring of Christ.” But: the statements made in Hebrews 7:1-8 are incredibly strong, and couched in terms of certainty, not allegory, so I can’t comfortably state that he was just a Man without feeling that, to some degree, I would be denying the truth of these verses.
You’ll have to make your own choice.
Lord Jesus, give us the wisdom to understand your word, and to rightly apply it to our lives, appropriating your precepts and making them our own, so that we are partakers of your nature. Make us able workmen, and ambassadors of your Grace.