Melchizedek is possibly the most unique person we meet in the whole of the Old Testament. He appears briefly in Genesis 14 and then in Psalm 110 but manages to get four mentions in Hebrews chapters 5, 6 and 7. We first meet this remarkable individual in Genesis 14 when he blesses Abraham and Abraham responds by giving him an offering of one tenth of everything he had
Gen 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.
To understand Melchizedek we first need to learn a bit about typology. In theology, typology is the idea that certain figures in the Old Testament offer us allegories foreshadowing what we will then meet in the New Testament. So for example Jonah spent three days in the belly of the great fish and then emerged as if back from the dead. Christ spent three days in the tomb and then rose again. So we can describe Jonah as a “type” of Christ can be viewed as a type of Christ and Jesus and his resurrection is the “antitype” or fulfilment of the type. Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac where Abraham says, “God himself will provide a lamb for the offering” is seen as a type fulfilled by God sending Jesus as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. And the whole nation of Israel can be seen as a type of Christ at many points. From the Early Church pretty much until the Reformation, typology was at the heart of the way Christians understood the Old Testament.
In no less than four separate places, Hebrews 5:6, 6:20, 7:11 and 7:17 all describe Jesus as “a priest in the order of Melchizedek” which is itself a quote from Psalm 110:4. So before we can understand much of what Hebrews tells 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?
7 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.
Melchizedek was a priest of God Most High many centuries before God appointed the descendants of Levi to be the priests serving Israel. And 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. 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 priest AND 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, Jews in the first century 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 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 and even as having a virgin birth. Melchizedek was 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!
IN WHAT WAYS WAS THE PRIESTHOOD OF MELCHIZEDEK SUPERIOR TO THE PRIESTS OF ISRAEL?
The Levites were priests – Melchizedek was a King and a priest. The Levites were mortal – Melchizedek’s priesthood was eternal. But then there was even more than that!
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, paid their tithes to Melchizedek because he was greater than them all. And in turn Melchizedek blessed Abraham and his descendents – 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.
HOW WAS JESUS LIKE MELCHIZEDEK?
Psalm 110 was a Psalm which the Jews usually interpreted as referring to the Messiah.
Psalm 110 1The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”
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
5 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.”
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. Hebrews 5 continues,
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.
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.
THEREFORE JESUS’S PRIESTHOOD IS SUPERIOR TO ALL OTHERS
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.”
18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
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.
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.
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 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 so it follows that the New Covenant Jesus’s death has instituted is superior to the God’s Old Covenant with Israel.
.” 6 But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. 7 For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.
Hebrews then quotes Jeremiah 31 to show how superior the New Covenant is to the Old Covenant.
10 This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
11 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
So how does this all fit into the message of Hebrews encouraging Christians to hang on in there when the going gets tough. We saw back in chapter 1 that “Jesus is the Greatest!” Chapter 4 talks about Jesus as our great High Priest. Chapters 5 to 8 tell 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 and the New Covenant He has brought into existence is so much better than the Old Covenant ever was.
And 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. We’ll think more about this next week. 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 interceding on our behalf.
Hebrews 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.
7 22 …. 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.