(All Bible quotations, unless otherwise stated, are from the English Standard Version).
In the book of Genesis, a strange personage is briefly and casually introduced as a king and a priest of the most high God. He met and blessed Abraham who was returning from battle, and received tithe from the patriarch in return. Nothing again is heard of this man called Melchizedek, until we get to the book of Psalms, where he’s linked to an everlasting priesthood. Melchizedek disappears again from the Biblical account, only to reappear in the book of Hebrews, where we are given further insight into his genealogy and ministry. Who is this Melchizedek, and how is he related to God’s current high priest, Jesus Christ? We shall examine the Scripture to answer this question.
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand! And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
In his first appearance in the Bible, Melchizedek is described in Genesis as both a king and a priest —king of Salem and priest of God. He met Abraham on his triumphal return from battle and blessed the patriarch, and also offered him bread and wine; Abraham, in return, gave this king-priest a tenth of all the spoils of war in his possession. By blessing Abraham, Melchizedek demonstrated his superiority over the patriarch, for it’s the greater who blesses the lesser. One would assume here that Melchizedek was a human king presiding over an earthly country called Salem, in addition to being the priest of God on earth. That’s what this cameo appearance of Melchizedek in Genesis insinuates. That’s what any Bible reader starting from Genesis will have to believe, until we get to the book of Hebrews. The writer of Hebrews furnishes additional information about Melchizedek that completely alter our understanding of this mysterious figure, portraying him in no uncertain terms as a supernatural and eternal being —someone without father or mother, with neither beginning of days nor end of life. According to the Hebrews account, Melchizedek is eternal and therefore still in existence up to this very moment, having never experienced death! If Melchizedek is eternal and has an everlasting priesthood, then he couldn’t have been a mere mortal priest or king, or a descendant of Adam. Adam is the only human being who had neither father nor mother, yet even he had a beginning of days and an end to his life on earth. Melchizedek therefore is a higher being than Adam and his race, because of his eternal existence and immortality!
Psalms 110:4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 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.
If Melchizedek is an everlasting priest of God, then his priesthood must have started way before he met Abraham, it must still be active today, and it will remain so for eternity to come. It means he must have operated as a priest in heaven before his brief appearance on earth to the patriarch Abraham. That presupposes the existence of a temple and a priestly order in heaven. A look at the book of Revelation reveals not only a temple in heaven, but the presence of an ark of covenant, as well as other vessels of ministry, identical to those in the earthly tabernacle Moses was instructed by God to build in the wilderness. In fact, Moses was shown the heavenly temple and its vessels of ministry, while he was with God on mount Sinai, as a template to replicate, as he was specifically ordered to ensure he built everything according to the pattern of that heavenly temple he saw. Thus, the earthly tabernacle was a shadow and image of the heavenly one. The implication of this is profound— there is a literal temple in heaven, presided over by Melchizedek, God’s everlasting priest. Isaiah too saw this temple in heaven with its altar, from where a coal of fire was used to sanctify his lips.
Revelation 11:19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Blessed indeed, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them! Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe. So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe. So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
Exodus 25:40 And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory! And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts! Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for. And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, Here am I! Send me.
Another thing we need to clarify about this intriguing personage Melchizedek is his kingship, for he’s not just God’s priest in heaven, but also a king. He’s said to be the king of Salem. Now, that’s where a significant dose of the confusion about this man arises—his being king of Salem. If his kingship is over the earthly realm called Salem (the earthly Jerusalem), then he couldn’t have been a priest in heaven and the eternal being that he is. But he’s eternal, and has an everlasting and unchanging priesthood. Concerning both facts, we’re very sure indeed, as the aforementioned Scriptures reveal. So, where’s the Salem that Melchizedek is reigning over, for he must still be king over this territory, just as he remains priest of God in heaven, for his kingship and priesthood go hand in hand, and both are everlasting. The answer again is found in the fact that just as there’s a heavenly temple with an earthly counterpart, there’s also a heavenly counterpart of the earthly Jerusalem! Yes, there’s a heavenly realm called ‘Salem’, and the earthly Salem is but a shadow and type of this heavenly region. This heavenly Jerusalem represents the heavenly kingdom, and is the domain presided over by Melchizedek, who is described by the author of Hebrews as the king of kings, being both king of righteousness (for his name ‘Melchizedek’ means ‘king of righteousness’) and king of peace (for ‘salem’ means ‘peace’, and he’s said to be king of Salem, that is, king of peace). The writer of Hebrews further clarifies things by pointing out that the ‘Salem’ over which Melchizedek reigns as king represents a kingdom of peace, and not the earthly Salem, for he interprets Melchizedek being ‘king of Salem’ as being ‘king of peace’. Melchizedek is thus, by interpretation of his name and title, king of righteousness and king of peace. This is no earthly sovereign, for no mortal king qualifies as either king of righteousness or king of peace!
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned. Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, I tremble with fear. But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace.
So, we’ve been able to establish three important facts about Melchizedek so far—his eternal being, his heavenly and everlasting priesthood, as well as his heavenly kingship. Now, we must define this enigmatic being in relation to Jesus Christ, God’s high priest and king over God’s kingdom. It’s either God has two high priests and two kings presiding over his temple and kingdom, or Melchizedek and Jesus Christ are one and the same person! And because there’s only one high priest and one eternal king over God’s kingdom, Melchizedek and Jesus Christ can only be one and the same person! Melchizedek is therefore the prefiguration of Jesus Christ. He was Jesus Christ making a theophanic appearance on earth thousands of years before his incarnation through the virgin birth. Jesus said Abraham saw him in his (Abraham’s) day and was glad. That was obviously a reference to the pre-incarnate Christ appearing to Abraham, and it was as Melchizedek that Christ thus appeared to the patriarch! The author of Hebrews draws out this salient fact by linking Jesus Christ’s priesthood to the priestly order of Melchizedek, for both are one and the same. Melchizedek is Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, who has no beginning of days or end of life, and who continues to this day as God’s high priest in heaven, being also king of kings and lord of lords. Furthermore, Jesus Christ is described in Scripture as king or prince of peace, the same title ascribed to Melchizedek— ‘king of Salem’, which means ‘king of peace’.
And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him. Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him, You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek. On the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, You are a priest forever. This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
The Jews said to him, Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be? Jesus answered, If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, He is our God. But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad. So the Jews said to him, You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham? Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am. So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
In conclusion, the mysterious personage, Melchizedek, who appeared to Abraham as God’s priest and king of Salem, is none other than the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ, for Christ is the only eternal high priest of God, and the only potentate in the heavenly Jerusalem, the eternal city of God, which the patriarchs of old foresaw and desired earnestly, and of which the earthly Jerusalem is but a type and shadow. Melchizedek is none other than the eternal Son of God Jesus Christ, who alone has both an unchangeable priesthood and an eternal kingship, and who’s sitting right now at the right hand of God in heaven, interceding as a mediator between God and mankind, having purchased eternal redemption for humanity through his sacrificial and substitutionary death at Calvary, and the resurrection that followed three days after.
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