What’s the Big Deal about Melchizedek? part 1 (Hebrews 7)

Our author of Hebrews has been trying to talk about Melchizedek since chapter 5.  There he had said,

And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.  About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. (Hebrews 5:9-11).

Now that we’ve come to chapter 7, our author can dive into that subject matter. But most of us would probably admit that we aren’t that highly motivated to learn about Melchizedek either.  You might have tuned into their broadcast because you’ve got marriage problems, problems with your kids, financial concerns, mental health issues and other practical needs.  Why in the world should you be interested in learning about some obscure figure from many centuries ago by the name of Melchizedek?

Well, I believe that learning about Melchizedek and about how Jesus’ priesthood is of a higher order than the Jewish priesthood (through Aaron) is exactly what you need—what you need to resolve your problems and be a better father, wife, or whatever.

Remember that the original audience were Jews, exploring Christianity.  Some of them had become Christians and needed to persevere in their hope.  Others were curious and had learned some important truths and maybe adopted a better moral lifestyle, but they were in danger because they might move back into legalistic Judaism due to the persecution that were facing.

The author of Hebrews was trying to convince people that a religious system of sacrifices, rituals and rules that had been in place for over 1,400 years had now been replaced by a better way.  He focuses therefore on the supremacy of Jesus Christ, who is the fulfillment of all that was written by Moses and the Jewish prophets.  He is the substance and the sacrificial system was merely the shadow.  So our writer reintroduces the idea that Jesus is our much better high priest.

And the way that our author proves that Jesus is a better high priest is by introducing us to the man named Melchizedek.  Our writer presents Melchizedek as a type of Christ in order to show how Jesus Christ is a better high priest than any Levitical priest.

Jesus is not the best example of the Levitical priesthood, but something higher and better.  He is something more, a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.  To view him on par with the Levitical priests is to make a spiritually fatal mistake.  That entire old system was designed to point ahead to Jesus Christ, who superseded and fulfilled it.  Thus, to go back to the old way would be to abandon God’s only way of entrance into His holy presence.  It would be to turn from the only one who really can save us from our sins and to go back to the drudgery and frustration of an inferior system of righteousness.

But does that have anything to do with us today?  Do we need a better high priest?

We might think we need other things to salve our consciences or better our lives.  We travel to seminars, attend zoom meetings, listen to podcasts, go on mission trips, all to experience something new and better.

What we must remember is that Jesus Christ is the answer to our deepest needs and highest goals.

You do need to know about Melchezedek because he is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, and you desperately need to know Jesus Christ.

Remember that this key word “better” is found consistently throughout the book of Hebrews.  At the center is the idea that Jesus is a better high priest.

The idea that Jesus is a high priest had been first introduced back in 2:17.

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

To us, the idea of the priesthood is not very relevant.  But to the Jews of the first century, the priesthood was very exalted and central to Judaism, the religion they had grown up with.  The priests really were the ones who connected them to God and the high priest was the only one allowed into the Holy of Holies once a year to represent them before God and atone for their sins.

They couldn’t imagine a relationship with God that didn’t involve a priesthood.

We must remember how central and controlling and all-consuming the Aaronic priesthood was to the lives of first-century Jewish men and women.  Everything they knew about God and their relationship to him and how they could be forgiven of their sins was based on the priestly system of the old covenant.   To give that up seemed ludicrous.

4:14 picks up on this theme again:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.

Then, in 5:9-10, he introduces the idea that His priesthood was according to the “order of Melchizedek” rather than through Aaron.

And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. 

The emphasis of these verses is on a salvation that is eternal, and provided by Jesus Christ, who functions as a Melchizedekian priest.  We cannot have one without the other.  In order for us to understand our salvation well, we must also understand something of the Melchizedekian priesthood.

So our author is picking up where he left off in 5:10, before his exhortation found in 5:11-6:20.  He wanted to discuss the significance of Melchizedek, but he could not do so because these people had become dull of hearing.  They preferred to listen to some other teaching.

But he wants them to understand Melchizedek so that they can gain a deeper understanding of Jesus Christ.  But Christ does not reveal Himself to those who are spiritually lazy or apathetic.  I hope that we could not be accused of being “spiritually lazy” because we have no interest in Melchizedek.

Jesus always reveals himself to those who diligently seek after him.  That is the kind of faith that pleases God (Heb. 11:6).

We ended last week with these verses (6:19-20).

19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

This idea of Christ being a better high priest is the theme of 5:10-10:18, thus it is by far the major theme of this book.  In Hebrews 7, the writer argued that Christ’s priesthood, like Melchizedek’s, is superior in its order.  In Hebrews 8, the emphasis is on Christ’s better covenant.  In Hebrews 9, it is His better sanctuary; and Hebrews 10 concludes the section by arguing for Christ’s better sacrifice.

Let’s briefly identify two verses which sum up this section well.

Hebrews 7:25 says, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

The primary point of our author proving that Jesus is a better high priest is that Jesus provides the most effective and eternal salvation for us, much greater than the temporal relief from guilt provided by the Levitical sacrificial system.

Hebrews 8:1-2 summarizes this section well:

1 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.

Okay, there is a lot that is said in these two verses and we will ultimately get to that, but notice that this high priest is now seated at God’s right hand, eternally ministering in the heavenly tabernacle, the real tabernacle to which the earthly tabernacle was but a shadow.

Now, to Hebrews 7.

1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 3 He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever. 4 See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! 5 And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. 6 But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. 8 In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. 9 One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.

The only command in our text is, “observe how great this man [Melchizedek] was” (7:4).  The Greek word means to “gaze at” or “discern through careful observation.”  We get our word “theater” from this Greek word.

In other words, Melchizedek deserves more than a passing glance and a yawn.  We are to observe Melchizedek because he was a type of Jesus Christ, and we desire to see the beauty and glory of Jesus Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and revelation (Col. 2:3).  To see Him as He is, will ultimately be a transforming experience for us (1 John 3:2). 

Even now, the solution to every problem that you face is to know Jesus Christ more accurately and intimately, to fully appreciate all that He is for you before God.

Chapter 7 of Hebrews is devoted to demonstrating the role of Jesus Christ as a priest after the order of Melchizedek.  The writer shows that Christ is superior to the Levitical priesthood established in the Old Testament, demonstrating that the only true priesthood existing today is Christ, after the order of Melchizedek.  Verses 1-3 outline the history of Melchizedek, while verses 4-10 illustrate His superiority to Levi.

The flow of thought runs like this:  In 7:1-3, the author identifies Melchizedek as both king and priest, without genealogy or end of days.  In these ways, he is “made like the Son of God,” and remains a priest perpetually.  The Son of God is not made like him, but he is made like the Son of God, represented in Scripture in such a way that he points to the truth about the Son of God.

This is called a “type.”  A type is a “hermeneutical concept in which a biblical place…person…event…institution…office…or object…becomes a pattern by which later persons or places are interpreted due to the unity of events within salvation-history” (ISBE, vol. IV, p. 930).  In other words, types point to something else in salvation history—to Christ, the cross, the resurrection.

Whenever you have a “type” in Scripture, you have a corresponding “antetype,” the greater reality to which it refers.  In most cases, the antetype, as in this case with Melchizedek, is Jesus Christ.  The antetype is the fulfillment, the reality to which the picture points.

As an example, the bronze serpent which Moses lifted upon the pole for the perishing Israelites to look upon and be healed was a type of Christ on the cross.  Jesus referred to this in John 3:14, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent (the type) in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man (the antetype) be lifted up…”

Another example is Jesus being referred to by John the Baptist as “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  The Passover Lamb was the type; Jesus the antetype.

Now, getting back to our paragraph in Hebrews 7:1-10, we find that in 7:4-7 the author shows that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, the father of the Jews and of all believers, in that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek and Melchizedek in turn blessed Abraham.  Then in 7:8-10, the author shows that Melchizedek is also greater than the Levitical priests (and thus the system they represented) in two ways.  First, the Levitical priests were mortal, but Melchizedek “lives on” (7:8).  Second, Levi, who received tithes under the Mosaic law, actually “paid tithes” to Melchizedek through Abraham, his forefather, when Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek.

Remember that the Old Testament says that something is confirmed by the “mouth of two witnesses.”  Here we have Abraham (the father of promise) and Levi (the father of the priesthood) affirming that Melchizedek is greater, because they paid tithes to him.

Another commentator sees the familiar chiastic pattern in Hebrews 7:1-10.  The introductory remarks regarding Melchizedek are bracketed by the word “met” (vv. 1, 10).  Melchizedek “met” Abraham in both verses.  The climax concerns tithing, which acknowledges the greatness of Melchizedek and, ultimately, Christ.  The entire structure breaks down this way:

A  Meeting (7:1a)

B  Blessing (7:1b)

            C  Tithe (7:2, Abraham)

            C’ Tithe (7:3, Levi)

B’ Blessing (7:6)

A’ Meeting (7:10)

So let’s dive in to Hebrews 7.  This dude Melchizedek is one of the most mysterious men in all of Scripture.  He is found only three times in Scripture, each roughly 1,000 years apart.  First in Genesis 14, then in the Messianic Psalm, Psalm 110:4, and now several times in the book of Hebrews.  The first is historical, the second prophetic and the third theological.

One of the things we can learn from this is the amazing continuity of Scriptures.  I’ve been more and more amazed at this in studying the Pentateuch in more depth the last few months.  All of Scripture ultimately points to Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord.  The unity of the biblical writers stretched over a 1,500 year period displaying a remarkable symmetry as they record events and prophecies which find their fulfillment centuries later in Jesus Christ.

The same God who wrote Genesis, wrote Psalms and wrote Hebrews.  That same God plans out your life and my life and knows exactly what we need and works all things together for our good!

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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