I want to introduce us this morning to Melchizedek. Melchizedek is possibly the most enigmatic person we meet in the whole of the Old Testament. He appears briefly in just three verses of Genesis 14 and gets one more mention in Psalm 110. But then Melchizedek is named four times in Hebrews chapters 5, 6 and 7. We first meet this extraordinary and mysterious individual in Genesis 14 when Melchizedek blesses Abraham and Abraham responds by giving him an offering of one tenth of everything he had.
Who was Melchizedek?
Genesis 14:18-20 18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.20 And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
We come to Melchizedek today because we have been looking at figures in the Old Testament whose lives point forward in some way to Jesus. We have thought about Adam who brought sin and death and condemnation, in contrast to Jesus who brings us salvation. We have talked about Joseph, and Moses who foreshadowed Jesus as a Saviour. And last week we thought about Elijah the great prophet who won a decisive victory over evil. From the Early Church pretty much until the Reformation, typology was at the heart of the way Christians understood the Old Testament. Like these others, Melchizedek serves as a pattern, or a type, of Christ. That link is made very clear both in the Old Testament and the New.
Apart from Genesis 14, the one other mention Melchizedek gets in the Old Testament comes in Psalm 110. Psalm 110 was understood by the Jews to be a prophecy referring to the Messiah. Jesus applied the beginning of that Psalm to the Messiah and in Acts 2 Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost quoted that verse to demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah.
Looking forward to the Messiah, in verse 4 Psalm 110 says this.
Psalm 110:4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind:
‘You are a priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek.’
The tasks of the priests were to represent the people before God and represent God to the people, and to offer sacrifices for sin. Psalm 110 makes a very clear link between Jesus and Melchizedek. The Messiah will be a priest forever, a priest like Melchizedek. And the Letter to the Hebrews unwraps this idea for us. Hebrews talks a lot about Jesus being our great High Priest. And in no less than four separate places, Hebrews quotes Psalm 110 to describe Jesus as “a priest in the order of Melchizedek”. So if we want to understand what those parts of Hebrews tell us about Jesus as our great High Priest, we need to understand what the writer believed about Melchizedek
WHAT KIND OF A PRIEST WAS MELCHIZEDEK?
Hebrews 7:1 This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, 2 and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” 3 Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.
Genesis tells us that Melchizedek was a priest serving God Most High, many centuries before God appointed the tribe of Levi to be the priests serving Israel after the Exodus. Melchizedek was also A KING. Zedek means righteousness so he was KING OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. And he was KING Of SALEM which means King of Peace. After the Exodus in the nation of Israel the roles of King and Priest would be strictly separated. Kings were not allowed to offer sacrifices – that was the priest’s job. Yet Melchizedek was both a priest AND a King.
But more than that. The Jews in the first century AD believed that Melchizedek was in some senses at least ETERNAL.
Hebrews 7 3 Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.
Because the Old Testament text doesn’t talk about his birth or his death, by the time of Jesus, Jews thought of Melchizedek as a very special person and even considered him to be eternal. There is a fragment in the Dead Sea Scrolls dating back to around 100 BC which regards Melchizedek in some senses as a divine being. Another Jewish book written sometime in the 1st century AD called the Second Book of Enoch contains a section called “The Exaltation of Melchizedek” which similarly portrays Melchizedek as more than human. The Jews thought of Melchizedek as an eternal King and Priest – a different kind of priest to all those who would follow him under the Jewish Law. His priesthood was not bounded by mortality – he would be a priest forever!
For this reason the Jews regarded Melchizedek as a better kind of priest than all who followed him.
IN WHAT WAYS WAS THE PRIESTHOOD OF MELCHIZEDEK SUPERIOR TO THE PRIESTS OF ISRAEL?
The Levites were priests – Melchizedek was both a King and a priest. The Levites were mortal – Melchizedek’s priesthood was eternal. But then there was even more than that!
How great Melchizedek was
Hebrews 7 4 Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! 5 Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, their brothers—even though their brothers are descended from Abraham. 6 This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater. 8 In the one case, the tenth is collected by men who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. 9 One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, 10 because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.
Abraham, and through him all his descendants including all the priests of Israel who were ever to come, paid their tithes to Melchizedek because he was greater than them all. And in turn Melchizedek blessed Abraham and his descendants – and the lesser is blessed by the greater. So that’s how great Melchizedek was. A priest who was greater than all the Levitical priests who would follow him. When we see just how great Melchizedek was, we can begin to understand what Hebrews is saying when it describes Jesus as a priest of the order of Melchizedek.
So HOW WAS JESUS LIKE MELCHIZEDEK?
4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
Hebrews picks up this idea in several places and explicitly says that Psalm 110 was talking about Jesus. We jumped past the first mention of it which we find back in Hebrews 5:6.
How was Jesus a high priest?
Hebrews 5:1 Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. 3 This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.
4 No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. 5 So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,
“You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”
6 And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
9 … once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
The Levites were the priests in Israel just because they were the descendants of Levi. Hebrews tells us that Jesus was a priest like Melchizedek because God appointed Him to be so. And that is why Jesus is able to bring salvation which is eternal.
Jesus is not a priest like all the Levites. Like Melchizedek, Jesus has a priesthood which is eternal. Hebrews 6 repeats this same very important point.
619 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
Like Melchizedek, Jesus is King of Righteousness and King of Peace. Like Melchizedek Jesus is eternal. For that reason
JESUS’S PRIESTHOOD IS SUPERIOR TO ALL OTHER PRIESTS
Hebrews 7:11 If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come—one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?
7:15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is declared:
“You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
So Hebrews is saying to us, Jesus is a better priest. He is of the order of Melchizedek. His priesthood, like Melchizedek’s, comes from His eternal life. Hebrews 7 continues,
Hebrews 7:20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21 but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:
“The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’ ”
22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.
23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
So Jesus is a better priest than all the descendants of Levi could be, because He is eternal. His priesthood lasts forever. And Jesus is also superior to all the other priests, even Melchizedek, because He offered once and for all a perfect sacrifice for sins – His own life.
Jesus’s perfect sacrifice
Hebrews 7:26 Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.
8:1 The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.
So Jesus is the greatest High Priest of all. His sacrifice was perfect and all-sufficient. His priesthood is eternal. And the New Covenant which Jesus’s death has instituted is superior to God’s Old Covenant with Israel.
The Letter to the Hebrews was written to encourage Christians to hang on in there when the going gets tough, even through persecution and suffering. Chapters 5 to 8 are telling us that Jesus is indeed the greatest High Priest, even greater than the eternal priest the enigmatic Melchizedek. Jesus’s sacrifice was perfect and all-sufficient. Because Jesus is such a great High Priest we can be sure of at least three things. Hang on in there, because all our sins have been dealt with by his perfect sacrifice. Hang on in there, because we have complete access to God and to His throne of grace. And hang on in there, because Jesus the greatest High Priest is Himself even now interceding on our behalf.
Jesus is our great High Priest
Hebrews 6:19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 7:24 … because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.