Synopsis – In both character and position, Christ is our High Priest, superior to the Levitical system; to this confession we hold fast (Heb. 4:14).
Melchizedek & Christ
Warren E. Berkley
It is hard for me to imagine a day in the life of Abraham. But as I read the Genesis account accompanied by all other biblical references to the patriarch, I am able to gain insight into his unique role in God’s plan. However, the account given by Moses in Genesis 14:17-24 is at first a mystery; a mystery solved by the writer of Hebrews. That “solution” or meaning relates directly to my assurance of access to God.
One day Abraham led 318 trained men in pursuit of adversaries who had taken Lot captive. After his defeat of the rebel forces, he returned home and “Melchizedek, king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.).” This man is not mentioned before this account, thus the reader’s immediate puzzle. No family connection is documented; no genealogy or history.
He spoke to Abraham: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed by God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” His favorable words to Abraham still leave the reader with a blank. Who is this man? What is this all about?
Abraham’s response doesn’t really answer our questions. “And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” If we had nothing but this brief narrative in Genesis, we would know nothing more of this today.
Much later in the literary sequence of the Old Testament, a hint that only adds to our curiosity. Psalm 110:4 – “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek’.” The context of the 110th Psalm is Messianic, having to do with the Christ. But our questions are not fully answered. What is the connection between “the order of Melchizedek” and Christ? No clarity emerges from the psalm, not to bring us to any resolution.
Our curiosity remains into the New Testament. No answers come off the pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Finally, in Hebrews, the writer says he wants to speak to this mystery but is concerned that his readers are “dull of hearing,” (Heb. 5:5-11). The opening verses of Hebrews 6 take off in a different direction, having to do with the urgency of spiritual growth.
Our patience begins to pay off at the end of Hebrews six. The affirmation is that Jesus Christ “became a High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
But what does that mean?
Hebrews chapter seven reveals the meaning of this. After a brief review of the Genesis 14 event, it is said of Melchizedek, “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,” (Heb. 7:3).
Factoring in context has great value here. The historical premise of Judaism was: the Levitical priesthood was the supreme and final priestly system that afforded access to God for Jews. The Hebrew epistle upholds that “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God,” and Christians “hold fast” to this confession (Heb. 4:14).
The inspired writer, in Hebrews 7, is asking his readers to consider that God had a priest-king before the Levitical system was instituted. The order of Melchizedek was a higher priesthood than the Levitical system. That is implied in that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek.
“Giving a tithe was a gesture that honored the recipient, and it thus implied that the recipient was of a higher status or position in some sense. This surely signals that Abraham believed he was in the presence of a great person who deserved to be honored with treasures.”[i]
We have taken a step toward understanding this mysterious person and event. God set up something prior to the Levitical system that held higher status. Christ was High Priest after that order, or “like Melchizedek.”
Who did Melchizedek belong to?
There is no record of mother, father or documented genealogy with date of birth and death. Melchizedek is portrayed as belonging to God, the “Most High,” and is associated with peace and righteousness. Jesus is High Priest like Melchizedek, not of the tribe of Levi yet superior to that system.
This means, Christ was not a High Priest, as in Aaron and the Levitical order (according to the law of Moses). The High Priesthood of Jesus Christ – the writer is affirming – is of a higher order! Christ was and is a High Priest like Melchizedek; not like Aaron or Levi.
Note the following:
- Melchizedek’s position as High Priest was not dependent on ancestry … neither was Christ’s. (7:14).
- Melchizedek was not in a succession of many priests … neither is Christ. (7:3).
- Melchizedek’s priesthood was higher than and separate from the Levitical order … so is Christ’s. (7:4-7).
- Melchizedek was priest and king … so is Christ! (See Zech. 6:9-15).
Another element in the Melchizedek narrative is, a foreshadowing of Christ’s character. These words are associated with Melchizedek: “Righteous,” “Priest,” “Peace” and “King.” Our High Priest is perfectly righteous, brings peace to those who respond to the gospel and is the ultimate “King of kings and Lord of lords.” Melchizedek was a priest-king. This was not possible under the Levitical standards. As to Jesus, the prophet said: “…it is He who will build the temple of the Lord, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices,” (Zech. 6:13, NASB).
Robert Turner provides an excellent summary of how the Hebrew passage solves the puzzle and make the Melchizedek narrative practical: “The Hebrew writer’s applications are: (1) this superiority calls for a change of priests (verse 11); and (2) that necessitates a change of law (verse 12). Jesus was of the tribe of Judah and could not be an Aaronic priest (verses 13–14); but like Melchizedek, (3) His position does not depend on a temporary covenant, but on an “endless life” (verses 15–17). (4) He offers better hope of drawing nigh to God (verses 18–19); (5) He was made Priest with an oath of God (verses 20–21), hence is (6) surety of a better testament (verse 22). (7) Aaronic priests died and had to be replaced, but Christ “ever liveth to make intercession” (verses 23–25). (8) Unlike sinful priests who must offer for their own sins, this High Priest is holy and undefiled (verses 26–27). (9) He offered the perfect sacrifice (verse 27), and (10) is consecrated for evermore (verse 28).
There are broader effects of Christ as High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. If we claim Him as our present High Priest, we must recognize His present Kingship (Zechariah 6:12–13). This demands a spiritual, not an earthly, kingdom (Colossians 1:13). All saints compose His “holy” and “royal” priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9), with direct access to the throne of God through Him (Hebrews 4:14–16).” [ii]
[i] A COMMENTARY ON HEBREWS, David McClister, Florida College Press 2010, p.#238.
[ii] Turner, R. F. (1991). Christ’s “Melchizedek” Priesthood. (B. Lewis, Ed.) Christianity Magazine, 8 (12), 20.