Three leadership positions were extremely important in the tiny nation of Israel. They were the positions of Israel’s prophets, high priest and her king. The Bible reveals that Jesus Christ is going to be king of all the earth. He was born with the credentials necessary for this office. The Bible also teaches that Jesus Christ was the Great Prophet, and finally he is to be the High Priest.
Setting the Stage
God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ in order to die for our sin on the cross. He then rose from the dead in order to assume the roles of the eternal King and High Priest. Both of these official roles are prophesied for Him in the Old Testament. Our Lord’s kingdom will be tied to the Jewish tribe of Judah.
“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.” (Gen. 49:10)
His role as high priest is predicted in Psalms.
“The Lord has sworn and will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.'” (Psa. 110:4)
The Melchizedekian priesthood of Jesus Christ is one of the mysteries of the Bible. But it proves that God is the ultimate genius and that He has a foreordained plan for His creation. In order to understand Melchizedek, we must realize that the Jew was familiar with just one kind of priesthood-the Levitical priesthood.
Old Testament Priests Came From Levi
Leviticus speaks of the Levitical priesthood and describes many of its ceremonies. The Jews became very comfortable with the priestly family of Levi and the role of the high priest. However, our Lord’s future role as an eternal High Priest is based on a totally different priesthood, not connected in any way to Levi.
The Jews knew that Jesus Christ had the credentials to be their King, but they also realized that He did not have the credentials necessary to become their High Priest.
In Genesis 14, Moses gives us a snapshot of a meeting between Abraham and a strange character named Melchizedek. Returning from an amazing victory over some of the most ruthless kings of ancient history, Abraham was met by a man who simply appeared from nowhere.
“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of the God Most High. And he blessed him and said: Blessed be Abraham of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And Blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand. And he gave him a tenth of all he had.” (Gen. 14:18-20)
That’s it! That’s all the information that Genesis gives us. The writer of Hebrews is given the responsibility of explaining to Jewish Christians, and to us, the rest of the story. What exactly happened in this short meeting that gives our Lord the credentials to be a High Priest? He is to be a priest, not in an earthly, temporal way, but in a higher, eternal, superior way. Let’s begin to unravel some of the details.
“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, 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, 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. Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. 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; but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. Here mortal men receive tithes but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. Even Levi, who receives tithes paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.” (Heb. 7:1-10)
One Man – Both Offices
Notice first of all that Melchizedek held both the offices of king of Salem and priest of the highest God. One man holding two offices was not unusual in the Old Testament. Several men did so. Ezekiel, for instance, was both a priest and a prophet. The same was true with Zechariah.
But God made sure that no priest in Israel could ever become king. How? The kings had to come from the family of Judah (Gen. 49:10).
God also made sure that no king could ever be priest. How? Because the priests had to come from the family of Levi (Ex. 28:1).
If you were not from the family line of Levi, you were automatically disqualified from ever becoming a priest. If you were not from Judah, then you could never become the king.
One man in the Old Testament attempted to tamper with this law, and he lived to regret it. King Saul temporarily performed the role of high priest. Samuel, the high priest of Israel, was late in offering an important sacrifice. Saul became impatient and offered the sacrifice himself. For this simple, seemingly trivial act, God declared that he (Saul) was finished as the king of Israel and that not one member of his family would ever reign as king. God took the special role of priest/king very seriously and protected it tenaciously.
God used this short glimpse of Melchizedek to explain to us that one day a very unique person is going to possess both the office of king and the office of high priest.
The name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness” because Jesus Christ is the righteousness of God. Jeremiah 23:6 says that Christ is to be the king of righteousness. Melchizedek is also called king of Salem. Salem is the old city of Jerusalem. Jesus Christ will one day rule the earth from a city called the New Jerusalem – which means city of peace (He is the Prince of Peace, Isa. 9:6).
Superior Blesses the Inferior
In the Bible the superior person always blesses the inferior person, never the other way around. In the Genesis 14 snapshot, Melchizedek “blessed Abraham.” The one giving the blessing must have the spiritual clout to do so. Melchizedek had a mysterious spiritual superiority over Abraham, even though Abraham was a special patriarch who had received a most important promise from God (Gen. 12:1-3).
Superior Receives Tithes
The superiority of Melchizedek is also pictured by the paying of tithes. The spiritually inferior always pays tithes to the superior. “To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all” (vs. 2). It would seem that Abraham was the spiritual giant. But in Genesis 14 that was not the case!
No Past, No Future, No Beginning, No End
No record is given of Melchizedek’s physical parents in the Genesis passage. He was “without father and without mother” (Heb. 7:3). This meant that Melchizedek’s priesthood was not based on a family line of priests before him. In order for anyone to serve as a priest in Israel, both parents had to have been in the correct priestly line. In fact, if anyone were to go back through a priest’s family line and find someone there who was not of Aaron or Levi, that priest would automatically be disqualified.
Christ’s priesthood did not involve such a family tree. His priestly office did not come as a result of having a long family line of priests. He would just appear on the scene already functioning as a priest.
Melchizedek’s meeting with Abraham also did not contain any record of a future genealogical line of priests that would come after him. He had no beginning and no end. There is no record of his growing up as a boy priest and no record of his death (Heb. 7:3). As far as the record shows in Genesis, Melchizedek is still functioning as a priest today.
Christ’s claim to His priesthood would have any human connection whatsoever. He did not come from a line of priests before Him, nor would he produce a line after Him. He is to be an eternal Priest with no beginning and no end. He is the eternal self-existent one (Jn. 1:1-2).
Levi in Abraham Submitted to Christ
The real glimpse of God’s grace now becomes clear. The Levitical priesthood is mysteriously pictured submitting itself to the greater priesthood of Melchizedek. Think about this! We see Abraham submitting himself to Melchizedek, but where is the Levitical priesthood? The Levitical priesthood was in the physical genes of Abraham.
“And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him” (Heb. 7:9-10).
The Levitical priesthood was there! Every Levitical priest that would ever serve was in Abraham. So when Abraham submitted himself to Melchizedek, his great grandchildren (the Levites) also symbolically submitted themselves to the future priesthood of Jesus Christ. Here is a magnificent glimpse into the wonder of God’s grace. Is Christ to be a priest? Yes, He is! But whose line is He to come through? The line of Melchizedek! Did God recognize Melchizedek as a priestly line? Absolutely! In fact, the record shows that Christ’s priesthood based on Melchizedek will be superior to that of Levi.
No Death Certificate
And finally, the Levitical priests all died. And then the sons who followed them, all died! But what happened to Melchizedek? There is no record of his death. As far as we know, he is still alive and still carrying out his duties as a priest. This is a glimpse into the everlasting priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is to become our everlasting King-Priest.
“The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Psa. 110:4)
New American Standard Bible