Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Melchizedek: one of the Bible’s most mysterious characters

One of the most mysterious characters in the Bible is Melchizedek. There are only a few bare references, and what we do know according to the Biblical record, only makes us ask more questions than apparently God has granted answers.

  • What does it mean when we read Melchizedek has a priesthood that will last forever?
  • Why did God establish a priesthood superior to the Levitical priesthood, and is it a precursor to the priesthood of Jesus?
  • How did Abram know Melchizedek ?
  • Is the bread and wine that Melchizedek brings to Abram a precursor of the bread and wine ministration Jesus put into effect at the Last supper?
  • Why doesn't Melchizedek have a genealogy?
  • Is Jesus Melchizedek in a pre-incarnation?
Sigh.

Anyway here is what we do know about Melchizedek.
His name means “King of Righteousness”: he was both king and priest of Salem, an early name for Jerusalem. Melchizedek blessed Abraham. Jesus Christ succeeded to this role and became a high priest in the order of Melchizedek. 
Melchizedek was both king and priest. As a king, Melchizedek entertained Abraham. (Genesis 14:18 See also Heb 7:1.) 
As a priest, Melchizedek blessed Abraham. (Genesis 14:18-19). 
Abraham acknowledged Melchizedek as a priest of the LORD. (Genesis 14:20,22). Melchizedek here points ahead to Jesus Christ, who is also priest and king. 
The status of Melchizedek 
David appropriates Melchizedek’s office and authority for himself and his descendants Ps 110:1-2,4 The word “order” here means “in succession to”, meaning that Christ assumes the status and function of Melchizedek. 
The Davidic Messiah (Christ) inherits the office of Melchizedek. Jesus Christ was at that time being acclaimed as the “Son of David” and by implication here claims to be the Messiah. 
Jesus Christ as high priest after the order of Melchizedek
Heb 5:8-10; 6:19-20 Only the high priest could sacrifice for the sins of the nation in the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. 
The characteristics of the order of Melchizedek according to Hebrews 7:2-3,
Melchizedek’s order of priesthood was one of kingship, peace and righteousness; it did not depend on genealogical descent (unlike the Levitical priesthood); it is eternal, without known beginning or end. (See also Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6; 6:20; 7:21). 
The uniqueness of Jesus Christ’s high priesthood in the order of Melchizedek Heb 7:6-7 Melchizedek was superior to Abraham and therefore to the Levitical priesthood descended from Abraham; Ps 110:4 The priesthood is secured by God’s oath. See also Heb 6:17-20; 7:16,20-22,26-27; 8:1-2. 
Jesus Christ’s high priesthood makes the Levitical priesthood obsolete Heb 8:13 See also Heb 7:11,18-19; 8:7-13

Source: Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.
Melchizedek in the Old Testament
Genesis 14. Melchizedek first appears after Abram’s victory over Chedorlaomer (Gen 14:1–12). The king of Sodom and Melchizedek, “king of Salem” and “priest of God Most High” (Gen 14:18 ESV), approaches the victorious patriarch. Melchizedek shows hospitality to Abram and pronounces a poetic blessing upon him. Abram responds by giving him a 10th of his spoils (Gen 14:18–20). 
Genesis provides no additional details about the identity of Melchizedek and doesn’t explain how a Canaanite city-king came to be a priest of God Most High. Further, Melchizedek does not appear in any genealogy. 
McKeown focuses on the function of Melchizedek within the narrative, drawing on the contrasting parallels between the kings of Salem and Sodom. Both kings approach Abram after the battle, but only Melchizedek comes bearing gifts. The first words of the priest-king form a poetic blessing, while the king of Sodom issues a command: “Give me the persons” (Gen 14:21 ESV). Within the broader context of Genesis, Melchizedek reminds the reader that Abram has been blessed by God. The character turns Abram’s victory into “a sign of God’s ability to deliver on the promises that he has made” (McKeown, Genesis, 88). 
Psalm 110. Melchizedek’s only other Old Testament appearance is in Psa 110, a psalm addressed to the king of God’s people. In it, the LORD promises to bring victory in battle and to establish the king as “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psa 110:4 ESV). The psalmist then declares that God will stand at the right hand of the king, using him to bring judgment upon the nations (Psa 110:5–6). 
This eschatological reading of Psa 110 piqued the curiosity of Jews and later Christians, especially in regard to Melchizedek. Hughes illustrates: “Psalm 110 declared that God was going to do something new by bringing into history a priest-king like Melchizedek. His priesthood would last ‘forever.’ He would be appointed directly by God. A divine oath guaranteed it: ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind.’ What an intriguing prophecy. God was going to establish a totally new priesthood” (Genesis, 215).

The New Testament. 
The first reference to Melchizedek in the New Testament is a quotation of Psa 110:4 found in Heb 5:6. The writer quotes the passage to affirm that Christ was appointed as heavenly high priest: “And being made perfect, [Christ] became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 5:9–10 ESV). Hebrews 7, a commentary on the Old Testament appearances of Melchizedek, elaborates on this teaching. 
The author of Hebrews then turns to Psa 110, citing God’s promise to appoint a priest “after the order of Melchizedek” as indication of the Levitical priesthood’s imperfection (Heb 7:11 ESV). Christ fulfills the eschatological hope of the psalm not by meeting the legal requirement of descent, but by the eternal quality of His life (Heb 7:13–17). He is a superior high priest, bringing a new covenant which grants salvation to all who believe (7:18–25). 
Melchizedek provides Christians with a template for understanding the heavenly priesthood of Christ. This challenges our attempts to substitute human mediators for the divine, revealing a high priest whose saving work cannot be confined to any one culture or bloodline (Thompson, Hebrews, 164). 
Brockway, D. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Melchizedek. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Melchizedek blesses Abram

‎Abram’s remarkable victory made him a hero in the land wherein he dwelt. His return from the battle field of Dan was a triumphal march. The king of Sodom came to thank him and bade him keep the grain and treasures which he had regained; but Abram returned everything to the Sodomites, “Save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me,” his allies. 
‎Here also occurred that mysterious meeting with Melchizedek, king of Salem, of whom the Bible says, “he was the priest of the most high God.” It would seem, therefore, that God was still worshipped by some people of Canaan. Melchizedek, His minister, came forth from Salem, which may have been Jerusalem; and he bore bread and wine to Abram. The priest king blessed the victor, and Abram gave him a part of all the spoils. Then they separated, apparently forever, two mighty servants of the Lord, who had recognized each other for a moment in passing, and then gone each his way.

When we get to heaven, won't it be wonderful to seek these answers from the people themselves? If the LORD permits, that is. On the other hand, perhaps some of these questions we find so burning today will wither under the glory of truth shining from the from the face of Jesus. In any case, it will be humbling and thrilling to worship El Elyon alongside such a mighty and worthy king as Melchizedek, whose very name means "Righteousness."


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Further Reading:

The Priesthood of Melchizedek

Bible Q&A: Who was Melchizedek?


2 comments :

  1. You might find an article I wrote to be interesting. I did some research because of the Mormon claim to the Melchizedek Priesthood. I was fascinated with the Jewish tradition that he was Shem:

    http://watchmanvlds.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-melchizedek-priesthood.html

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    Replies
    1. Possible. I think per the genealogies, Shem didn't die until sometime after Isaac was born. I'm suspicious simply because it doesn't use the same name, although Melchizedek, when you look at the meaning, could be a title.

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