What’s the Big Deal about Melchizedek, part 2 (Hebrews 7:1-3)

We are in Hebrews 7 and talking about this mysterious man Melchizedek.  We noted last week that he is mentioned only in three places in Scripture—in Genesis 14, Psalm 110 and here in Hebrews several times.  Thus, he is an important figure to the author of Hebrews, a key person in establishing that Jesus as our high priest is not from the tribe of Levi, but is a better and more significant (and thus more valuable to us) high priest according to another order, the order of Melchizedek.

Let me read Hebrews 7:1-10 again and then we will go back to Genesis 14.

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.

Now let’s go back to Genesis 14 for a moment.  Abraham has just pulled off a rather remarkable feat, defeated a coalition of the day’s superpowers with only 318 men!  He has released many prominent citizens who had been captured by these invaders and was likely returning home with wagons loaded with the treasures of Sodom which he had recovered.  The grateful king of Sodom wished to reward him by making him (more) rich and giving him a position of honor in the lascivious lifestyle of Sodom.  What would Abraham say?  To whom would he turn for counsel?

Before he arrives at Sodom, Abraham is met at Salem (now Jerusalem) by its king and priest, Melchizedek.  There he is refreshed physically and spiritually by the ministry of Melchizedek, who greatly strengthens Abraham enabling him to resist the subtle appeal of the king of Sodom.  In gratitude, Abraham gives Melchizedek a tenth of the plunder he won, and when the king of Sodom makes his offer, Abraham is fully prepared to say “no!”

Just like Abraham was ministered to by Melchizedek, so we find help from Jesus Christ in our battle against the temptations of the world.

Here are some important facts about Melchizedek from Genesis 14:

First, he is “Melchizedek, king of Salem,” which Psalm 76:2 tells us is Jerusalem, which would be David’s city and Jesus will return in the end times to Jerusalem and set up his kingdom there.

Second, he “brought bread and wine,” a fact that the writer of Hebrews does not mention, but for us under the new covenant it is obvious that Christ is the one who serves us bread and wine in communion.  This refreshed Abraham.  Likewise, Jesus strengthens and refreshes those who come to his table and his throne of grace (Heb. 4:16).

Third, Hebrews mentions that Melchizedek went out to “meet” Abraham, just as Jesus came into this world to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).  He takes the initiative to come after us and minister to us.

Fourth, he is identified as a “priest of God most high,” El Elyon, a name for the true God which signified that he wasn’t Jewish.  He wasn’t known as a priest of Yahweh, but of El Elyon.

Fifth, he “blessed Abraham” and “blessed God Most High.”  He obviously worshipped the same God Abraham did.

Sixth, Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe, one tenth of the spoils.

Early readers of Genesis did not know what to make of Melchizedek.  Then came David, setting forth one of the several Messianic prophecies in the Psalms, making the rather odd statement of a divine oath, “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’” (Psalm 110:4).  Even the readers of that day would probably say, “Huh?  What does that mean?”

For another thousand years this psalm was sung in worship of Yahweh by the Israelites in both their liberty and their captivity.  What did it mean?  Why would the Messiah be declared a priest according to the order of Melchizedek?  That is what the author of Hebrews is getting to!

We see in verse 1 of Hebrews 7 that Melchizedek is a type of the dignity of Christ’s superior person.

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God

Melchizedek bore the title of “king,” and this is mentioned four times in verses 1, 2.

Melchizedek held two of the Old Testament offices—king and priest (7:1), which was highly irregular in the Old Testament.  Typically, one could be a priest, or king, but one person could not hold both offices.

History reveals the danger of combining religious and civic authority.  Therefore, God forbade the kings of Israel to function as kings and priests.  Saul tried that once.  Thus, Melchizedek, who was king of Salem and priest of the Most High God was a unique exception.

John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries, Hebrews, p. 155) points out that it is remarkable that Melchizedek lived with Sodom on one side and the Canaanites on the other, and yet he was a righteous king and priest.  This shows that God can raise up a godly witness for himself, when and where He pleases. 

Again, Melchizedek is a type of Jesus Christ, illustrating that he holds both offices.  In fact, Jesus Christ is prophet, priest and king.

Zecharaiah predicted of one who would be both king and priest (Zechariah 6:12-13):

12 And say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD. 13 It is he who shall build the temple of the LORD and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne.  And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”‘

So, in the future a king would “sit and rule on this throne” and “there shall be a priest on his throne.”  That is one and the same person, Jesus Christ.  Jesus is, of course, the ultimate “King of kings and Lord of lords,” as will be written both on his robe and thigh when he returns (Revelation 19:16).

The writer of Hebrews has already laid the foundation of the prophetic office of Jesus Christ.  He is the one through whom God “in these last days has spoken” (1:1-2).  He is also the One who proclaims the name of the Lord to the elect and leads them in worship (2:11-12).  And, this writer also establishes the priestly office of Jesus Christ, calling him “…a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God…(Hebrews 4:14).  His priestly office is also by divine oath, and it is exercised in perfection of character (Heb. 5:5-10).  Now the writer chooses to bring the priestly and kingly offices of Christ together, so that we have the threefold offices of our Redeemer as Prophet, Priest and King.  The greatness of the priesthood of Christ is grounded in the supremacy of his rule as king, and undergirded by His prophetic word.

Christ’s threefold offices are necessary for us.  Because of our ignorance we stand in need of His prophetical office; because of our estrangement from God and the imperfection of our services at their best, we need His priestly office to reconcile us to God and render us acceptable to Him; because we have turned away from God and are utterly unable to return to Him, and also because we need to be rescued and rendered secure from our spiritual adversaries, we need His kingly office to convince, subdue, deliver and preserve us, until we finally enter His heavenly kingdom.

The very name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness.”  Literally “my king of righteousness.”  Then he is also identified as “king of Salem,” which means “peace.”  So four times in two verses he is called a “king.”

It is clear that Melchizedek, the king of righteousness and peace, who ruled over Jerusalem before it became the city of David, prefigured the One who ultimately will rule of Jerusalem– who is righteous and peace—Jesus Christ.  Melchizedek was a prototype of Jesus Christ in two respects: (1) He was both a king and a priest, and (2) what characterized him was righteousness and peace (cf. 12:10-11; Ps. 85:10; Isa. 32:17; Rom. 5:1; James 3:17-18).

Jesus is called “Jesus Christ the righteous” by the apostle John (1 John 2:1).  He not only imputes and imparts righteousness to believers; He is righteous in His very being.  He never sinned, nor could any guilt be found in Him.  He is the Lamb of God, unblemished and spotless (1 Pet. 1:19).  He is “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners” (Heb. 7:26).  He did “no violence, nor was there any deceit in his mouth” (Isa. 53:9).  He has become for us “righteousness” (1 Cor. 1:30) and we receive His imputed righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).

When He comes again to reign, “in righteousness,” He will wage war against the wicked (Rev. 19:11).  “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isa. 9:7)

There is great comfort in this truth as we realize that Jesus Christ will never contradict His character or violate the will of God in the way He works in our lives or in the universe.  We need never fear His rule over us.

History records a multitude of kings and dictators and presidents who lacked the righteous character in their reigns, and thus terrorized their people.  But our Lord is never like that!  We are secure under His righteous rule.  For a people under the strain of persecution, it was vital that they knew that their Sovereign rules in righteousness.

He is also the “king of peace” (Heb. 7:2).  In Isaiah 9:6 there is the prediction of the coming “prince of peace.”  Paul declared Christ to be our peace who through His own death delivered us from being at enmity with God (Eph. 2:14-16).  The need for peace has never changed.  Circumstances may be different, but the struggle of humanity to live at peace with God has existed since the time of Adam.  It is only through the justification (declared righteousness) that is in Christ, received by faith, that we “have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).

For these first century Christians and those curious about Christ, pursuing Christ was a hazard.  Their peace was being threatened by earthly rulers.  Our writer knows that they needed a deeper understanding of Christ as their king of peace.

I know in my own life lately I’ve needed the king of peace to settle my heart and remind me that He is in perfect control.

The order is significant in these titles.  He is first king of righteousness and secondly king of peace.  A king cannot have true peace in his kingdom unless both he and his citizens live in righteousness.  Sin always brings discord and strife.  Righteousness is the foundation for peace.

Righteousness is the only true path to peace.  People look for that peace in escape, in evasion, or in compromise, but they will only ever truly find it in righteousness.  Spurgeon warns, “Peace without righteousness is like the smooth surface of the stream ere it takes its awful Niagara plunge.”

And there was no permanent righteousness or peace under Aaron’s priesthood, just like there is no permanent righteousness or peace for us if we try to please God through our own efforts.

Jesus is the sovereign possessor of both righteousness and peace, and He can give them freely and graciously to those whom He wishes.  We cannot earn them; we can only receive them as freely given gifts.  It is only through the justification (declared righteousness) that is in Christ, received by faith that we have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).

If you know Jesus Christ as your King of righteousness and peace, you possess the righteousness of Christ (1 Cor. 1:30) and peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and you will grow in righteousness behavior and you will pursue peace with others (Rom. 14:17, 19).  Of course I’m not talking about being perfect.  But you will be growing in conformity to your King gradually and consistently.

One other thing to note about Melchizedek is that he was not Jewish.  His priesthood and kingship went beyond the ethnic-cultural limitations of Judaism and stretched to those outside of Judaism.  He was a Gentile, and prefigured the spreading of the Gospel to Gentiles that is promised in the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:1-3) and promoted by Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:19-20).  Aaron’s priesthood was strictly Judaistic, for the Jews.  Jesus Christ came for us.

Jesus is not the Messiah of Israel only, but also of the world; so it is very important to establish Melchizedek’s priesthood as universal if you’re going to say Jesus is the priest after the order of Melchizedek.

This is emphasized by the apostle John in 1 John 2:1b-2, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Although he was not a Hebrew, Melchizedek was a priest “of the Most High God,” a title that for Abraham indicated the same God that he worshiped (Gen. 14:22) and a title by which other biblical writers describe the supremacy of the one true God above all others (Num. 24:16; Dan. 7:25, 27; Mark 5:7; Acts 7:48; 16:17).  In some way, Melchizedek, although he was outside the strict line of redemptive history, was a believer in the true God and helped related people to the true God.

In verse 3 we see that Melchizedek is a type of Christ in the derivation and duration of his superior priesthood.

Verse 3 says, “He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life…”

The primary emphasis of Hebrews 7 is upon Jesus Christ being a better mediator than the Aaronic priests.  They served for hundreds of years, lived and died, and none of them adequately mediated the way to God for their people.  Their priestly duties were temporary, serving for 30 years if spared an early death, and then being replaced by someone else.  They offered sacrifices that could not take away sin (Heb. 10:4) based upon a covenant that could not make people righteous (Heb. 8:6-7).

Being a priest in Israel was totally dependent upon your family lineage.  All priests came from the tribe of Levi.  No one else need apply.  If one hoped to be a priest in the Old Testament, it was necessary for him to show, according to his ancestry, that he was of the line of Levi.  If you could not establish that as your family heritage, you were excluded from the priesthood (cf. Neh. 7:61-64; Ezra 2:61-62).  However, Melchizedek was “without father or mother or genealogy” (Heb. 7:3) yet he was “priest of the Most High God.”

Since genealogy is so important in establishing a legitimate priesthood, this indicates that a different type of priesthood is also legitimate.  Jesus, although from the tribe of Judah, is a legitimate priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

John Calvin comments on this silence concerning Melchizedek, “It must not be thought to be an omission either by accident or by any lack of thought that he is given no family connection, and that there is no word of his death.  The truth is that the Spirit has done this purposely so as to elevate him for us above the herd of men” (quoted by Philip Hughes, The Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 249, fn. 3).

It’s not that Melchizedek is some sort of biological anomaly, but that he functions as a type of the only eternal priest, Jesus Christ.  The fact that there is no record of his genealogy or his birth or death enables the writer of Hebrews to use him as an alternative priest to Aaron, a better priest than Aaron, an eternal priest who ever lives to make intercession for us.

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s