The Order of Melchizedek
Melchizedek a man of God, king of righteousness and the High Priest during the time of Abraham. The previous post provided insight of the role of High Priest and the qualifications of a high priest. Now let’s explore and see if we can determine who was Melchizedek and understand more about the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 6:19-20 (NKJV)
*19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, 20 where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
The named Melchizedek is a bit of a mystery in scripture
Hebrews 7:1-10 (NKJV)
The King of Righteousness
7 For this Melchizedek, 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 translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” 3 without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.
4 Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. 5 And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; 6 but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. 8 Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. 9 Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.
Melchizedek appears first in Genesis 14 in the story of Abraham defeating the four kings of the north. Here’s a quick summary:
- These kings came into Canaan to defeat the five kings of the cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zoboiim and Zoar
- In the process of this battle, the four kings of the north took captive all the people of the city of Sodom, including Abraham’s nephew Lot
- Abraham hears of these events and acts quickly to attack the retreating kings and free his nephew
Genesis 14:14-20 (NKJV)
14 Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 He divided his forces against them by night, and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. 16 So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people.
17 And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him.
Abram and Melchizedek
18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. 19 And he blessed him and said:
“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
20 And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”
And he gave him a tithe of all.
We read that Abraham is met by a man who is a king, a man called Melchizedek. Melchizedek is not this man’s name. The word Melchizedek is a title, much like Pharaoh and Caesar are titles and not names. His title means My king is righteous. He is also king of Salem.
- Salem was a Jebusite city in that day
- In fact, the suﬃx of Melchizedek’s title “zedek” is a Jebusite word
- Later, David conquers the Jebusites and takes Salem for Israel, making it the capital and renaming it Jerusalem
- The word Salem means peace, as the writer points out in verse 2
- So not only could we say this man is the king of righteousness
- But we could also say he is the king of peace
- The man is also a priest, which means he was an intercessor for the people before God
Abraham and the writer of Hebrews testify that this man, Melchizedek, was a true priest of the God Most High
- He wasn’t a priest to some pagan religion
- And he wasn’t a self-appointed priest or pretender
- He was actually a man appointed as a priest by God Himself
- Furthermore, Abraham recognized this man to be a person of authority and worthy of Abraham’s honor
- Abraham pays a tithe to this man
- Now we know the tithe wasn’t for Melchizedek’s benefit
- Abraham wasn’t giving Melchizedek the spoils because he wanted to honor Melchizedek
- When men tithe, they do so to honor God
- So if Abraham handed his tithe to Melchizedek, it means that Abraham believed that this man was an intercessor before God
Finally, the writer notes in verse 3 that Melchizedek appears out of nowhere in the narrative of Genesis
- Moses never spends time addressing Melchizedek’s genealogy
- There is no mention of his birth or parents
- And there is never a mention of his death
- This is highly unusual considering how careful Moses is to always record the beginning and end of every significant person in the story of Israel
- The genealogies of Genesis are the key feature connecting the events of the Garden to the Messiah Who comes to correct for the mistake of Adam
- And yet here’s the very important player who is never linked to any genealogy
- So the mystery of Melchizedek leaves us asking who was this man?
Think for a minute, this man served as a priest before there was the Law of Moses. There wasn’t tabernacle established on earth nor was there a sacrificial system in place. The priests of Aaron had not yet been established, for Aaron had not yet even been born.
So how did Melchizedek come to be a priest? Where did his priesthood originate? Why did Abraham view him to be his superior before the Lord? And finally, how is this ancient priest related to Christ as our High Priest?
Before considering who Melchizedek was, let’s deal with one possibility. Many have noticed that the unique characteristics of this man create a clear and obvious picture of Christ.
- Christ is the King of Righteousness
- Christ is the King of Peace
- Christ is both a priest and a king, something that priests under the Law could never do
- And though Christ was born a man, He had no beginning since He existed from the beginning with the Father
- And Christ will have no end, now that He lives with the Father forever
- He is the Alpha and the Omega
- So clearly Melchizedek is a picture of Christ
Thus leading some to speculate that Melchizedek was more than a picture of Christ and conclude he was actually a pre-incarnate theophany of Christ. In other words, some believe that Melchizedek was not a man at all and he was Christ appearing to Abraham in the form of a man. Much like the pre-incarnate Lord appeared to Abraham at his tent Genesis 18.
However, this interpretation makes a common mistake in confusing a picture for the substance. Ironically, this confusion only serves to prove what the writer of Hebrews was concerned about in the first place. Concerning Melchizedek, there is much to say and it is hard to explain, Hebrews 5:11. Even today, some Bible students continue to miss the main point. Melchizedek was a real man who served as a priest of God in Abraham’s day, and before we understand who this truly was, let’s rule out the theory that he was a pre-incarnate Christ.
First, the writer’s description of Melchizedek precludes as interpretation that this man was a theophany
- The writer says this man was like the Son of God
- The term “like” in Greek is aphomoioo it means to be made in the likeness of something
- So, the man Melchizedek was made in the likeness of the Son of God
- This is the opposite situation of a theophany
- A theophany is always the Son of God being made in the likeness of something else, like a burning bush or a man visiting Abraham
- So, Melchizedek isn’t a theophany; he’s a shadow
Furthermore, the writer says in verse 8, that this “mortal” man received Abraham’s tithe. If the Hebrews writer calls Melchizedek a mortal man, then certainly he had a beginning and an end. Mortal means he was an ordinary human being and not a theophany.
Finally, we learned in Hebrews 5:1 that a priest is always taken from among men to represent those in whose likeness he shares.
Hebrews 5:1 (NKJV)
Qualifications for High Priesthood
5 For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.
- Hebrews explains, since men must be represented by a man, then Christ took the form of man so that He could become our High Priest
- Hebrews also says that Melchizedek was a priest to the Most High God, and as a priest he represented men before God
- Melchizedek could only have done this as a true man
- If this were a theophany of Christ, then it came prior to Christ’s incarnation
- And if it predates Christ’s incarnation, then Christ was not yet a man and therefore unable to serve as a priest before men
There are other reasons that could be listed why Melchizedek could not be a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus, but we have enough evidence to prove the point.
- Melchizedek was a real man, historical figure
- He was king over the Jebusite city of Salem
- He served as a priest of God to men on earth in that day
- Even Abraham sought for him when he desired to worship and tithe to the Living God
Let’s get back to the central question…who was he; who was Melchizedek?
The term “order” doesn’t mean a society or organization, like an order of monks. The word literally means a succession. It refers to a handing down of an oﬃce from person to person through a succession of oﬃce holders.
For example, the oﬃce of High Priest in the Aaronic order was held for life and then handed down to a successor upon the death of the current oﬃce holder. That succession started with Aaron, so we call it the Aaronic order. But there was only one High Priest at any time.
In the same way, the order of Melchizedek describes a succession of priests.
Each person in this order held the oﬃce for life and the next oﬃce holder received the oﬃce upon the death of the prior oﬃce holder. Each man who held the oﬃce inherited the title Melchizedek, but that wasn’t his actual name. So, the name of this man was obscured by Moses, who only recorded his title. But we find a critical clue in 2 Peter 2:5 when Peter declares that Noah was the preacher of righteousness in his day.
2 Peter 2:5 (NKJV)
5 and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly;
Translations from other versions of the bible may read like the translation in the NASB Bible. This translation is not very helpful in that it obscures the real words Peter wrote.
2 Peter 2:5 (NASB)
5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;
Let’s look at a more literal translation of this verse taken from Young’s Literal Translation reads this way:
2 Peter 2:5 and the old world did not spare, but the eighth person, Noah, of righteousness a preacher, did keep, a flood on the world of the impious having brought,
The more literal translation reveals that Peter was saying Noah was the eighth person of righteous. Peter wasn’t saying Noah was one of eight people on the Ark, though that was true also. Instead, he was calling Noah an eighth person of righteousness. As in the eighth man in an order or succession of people called righteous. So, from Peter we learn that Noah was the eighth person to hold the oﬃce of Melchizedek.
And if Noah was the eighth, then it’s relatively simple to follow the succession backward to learn the previous seven men to hold the position.
- Noah inherited the position from his father Methuselah
- And Methuselah inherited it from Jared
- Jared inherited it from Mahalalel
- Mahalalel inherited it from Kenan
- Kenan inherited it from Enosh
- Enosh inherited it from Seth
- And Seth inherited it from Adam
Ever since the fall of Adam, the Lord has appointed one man to serve as His priest on earth. That man was always found in the line of the seed promise and each man held the oﬃce until he died. So the oﬃce of Melchizedek was inherited in succession by the next man in the seed promise line.
This priesthood predates the priesthood of the Law and it continued on even after the Law was put in place. Additionally, it’s a superior priesthood, one that by its very name foretells its purpose, one that is to bring in righteousness. t this priesthood is the one that Christ belongs.
Who was the priest that met Abraham? Well, Noah was Melchizedek, but he died shortly before Abraham’s battle with the kings. So, it was Noah’s son, Shem, who was the next man in the line of the seed promise. Shem inherited the oﬃce of righteousness and became the Melchizedek that Abraham met. In fact, Shem, outlived Abraham, so Abraham never inherited the title Melchizedek himself. It passed from Shem to Jacob.
We know Shem settled in the area of Canaan. And apparently, Shem also became the king of the city of Salem. Thus, making him not only a priest of righteousness but also a king of righteousness. So, in that way, his life became a shadow of Christ, who was both Priest and King. We also know that Abraham was a descendent of Shem. Shem was Abraham’s great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather. So, in a patriarchal culture, Abraham naturally viewed Shem as his superior. That’s why the Hebrews writer in chapter 7, says in verses 4-7 that this man Melchizedek was Abraham’s superior. Even more interesting, the king that Abraham had killed, Chedorlaomer, who was also a descendent of Shem.
- Abraham had killed a distant cousin, another member of Shem’s family
- Shem met Abraham to restore peace in the family through an oﬀering (bread and wine)
- While Abraham tithed to Shem in recognition of his (Shem’s) authority over the family and in thanks for the victory
- Even in this gesture, we find another picture of Christ, in that He reconciles us to our Father
In verses 8-10 the Hebrews writer says this analysis proves that the priesthood of Melchizedek was a greater priesthood than the one that follows in the Law. The priest of the Law were descended from Levi, who himself was descended from Abraham. So just as Abraham showed Shem respect because he was Abraham’s elder, then by logical extension, Levi would have done the same thing had he been alive. And likewise, Aaron, who was descended from Levi, would have acknowledged Shem as his superior had Aaron been alive to meet him as Abraham did. Therefore, this is the reason why the Hebrews writer said that Levi and Aaron were present in Abraham’s loins. Meaning that this priest was superior to any order that came later. And the Melchizedek priesthood must always be considered superior to the one given in the Law. The priesthood of Melchizedek is important because it demonstrates that the Lord has been at work since the beginning providing an intercessor for sinful men. Long before Moses and the Law, the Lord made a provision for a priesthood, a priesthood called the Lord is righteous. It stood never-ceasing through the generations moving from man to man. In each generation, there stood a man who could intercede on behalf of those who had the Lord’s mercy. And that man served until his death.
And one day this priesthood was inherited by Jesus Christ. When Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, died, Jesus received the oﬃce of Melchizedek, My Lord is Righteous. This explains why Joseph died by the time Jesus’ earthly ministry began. First, Jesus had to inherit the order of Melchizedek during His earthly life and since Jesus became man, He was able to serve as our intercessor.
So, for the first and last time, the order was held by One Who was truly Righteous – Jesus Christ. But since Jesus lives forever, the order will never pass down to another person. The order will be held forever by Jesus, who is a priest in the order of Melchizedek. Having rightly obtained it through inheritance.*
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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