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Who Is Melchizedek?

by Julia M. Bruce, MSPC, Mental Health Coach,
Keynote Speaker, CEO, Wellspring Christian Ministries

I suppose it’s probably a good thing they didn’t have kindergarten back in the day when Melchizedek lived because could you imagine trying to learn how to spell that at five years old? But just who is this person in the book of Hebrews that the write claim that Jesus is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek?

Aaron is not Melchizedek

The writer of Hebrews is writing about the theological and moral state of his readers while establishing the superiority of Jesus as priest over Aaron and the Levitical order of the priesthood that was established in the Old Testament. So let’s start with Aaron to answer the question, “Who is Melchizedek?”

Aaron is the brother of Moses and after God brought the Israelite nation  out of Egypt, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and the instructions to build a temple. God appointed Aaron as the high priest over the nation and all the priests were to come from the tribe of Levi – that was their only requirement. Because God had called and appointed Aaron as high priest, God established his authority in the role and he was to offer to God sacrifices for sins on behalf of the nation. However, Aaron was just like you and me – a sinner. So before he could offer sacrifices for the whole nation, he had to make a sin offering for himself and for the people. The Levitical priesthood of the Jews was grounded in the order of Aaron, but the priesthood of Jesus Christ is grounded in the order of Melchizedek…so who is Melchizedek?

The first appearance of Melchizedek in the Bible

Melchizedek first appears in the Bible in Genesis 15:18-20. He was the king of Salem (ancient name for Jerusalem) and priest of the Most High God (Hebrews 7:1). He is not mentioned again in the Bible after the Genesis account until Psalm 110:4 and then we see him in Hebrews 5:6-11 and 6:20-7:28 when the writer of Hebrews draws from the Old Testament scriptures to show that the order of Melchizedek was eternal and therefore better than the temporary Levitical order.

Hebrews 7:3 says, Melchizedek was “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.” In Hebrew, his name means “king of righteousness.” He was also declared to be the king of Salem, which means “king of peace.” When we recognize that Salem is an ancient name for Jerusalem, the idea that the city is named for “peace” is rather interesting because history shows us that this city is known for war and conquest. It has been anything but a city of peace.

Melchizedek had divine attibutes

The only exception is that it is also the city where the Prince of Peace came to present Himself and the God of Peace and chose the city as the location for Solomon to build His temple. So from this, we see that Melchizedek had divine attributes of eternity, righteousness, and peace. However, we can also see evidence of sovereignty, which was recognized by Abraham.

After being victorious in war and defeated Chedorlaomer and his three allies, Abraham was returning home and Melchizedek met him and presented bread and wine to Abraham and his weary men as a gesture of friendship. He then blessed Abraham in the name of El Eyon meaning “God Most High”. Abraham then gave Melchizedek a tenth of all he had when he returned. Abraham recognized and acknowledged Melchizedek’s superiority by paying him a tithe.

Is Melchizedek Christ?

The next time we see Melchizedek appear in the Bible is in the messianic psalm written by David in Psalm 110 where Melchizedek is presented as a type of Christ and then Hebrews presents the same concept and both Melchizedek and Christ are called kings of righteousness and peace.

The writer of Hebrews, then, argues that the new priesthood of Christ is superior to the old levitical order and priesthood of Aaron. Some Bible scholars say that Melchizedek was actually a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ, meaning he visited Abraham in the form of man before his virgin birth. We know that Abraham saw and spoke with the Lord in this form in Genesis 17, so the theory that Melchizedek and Jesus Christ are one and the same is feasible.

In Hebrews 6:20, we find that Jesus became “a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Typically, the word order shows a succession for the role of priest. But we see Melchizedek mentioned in Genesis in the brief encounter with Abraham and that is all we are told about him. No genealogy is recorded for Melchizedek. So the only way to say that Jesus is of the “order of Melchizedek” is to assume that Melchizedek and Jesus are the same person and therefore, the order of high priest belongs eternally to Jesus and only Jesus.

Melchizedek: A priest forever

Going back to Hebrews 7:3, the writer states that Melchizedek did not have a father or mother or genealogy and that he had no beginning or end, that he resembled the Son of God, and that he remains a priest forever. If the writer of Hebrews meant this in a literal way, then Melchizedek must be Jesus because there has never been a human/earthly king that remains a priest forever and every human (other than Adam and Eve) have a father and mother. Melchizedek can’t be Adam, because Adam died and the writer of Hebrews stated that Melchizedek had no end of days. So from this point of view, Abraham encountered the Son of God in the appearance of the King of Righteousness and Peace who blessed him and then Abraham presented Him with a tithe.

If the writer of Hebrews was speaking more in a figurative way regarding Melchizedek being without genealogy, without beginning or end and is forever a priest, then his purpose is simply to demonstrate the mysteriousness of the person Abraham encountered. Some point to Hebrews 7:3 where the writer states, “but made like the Son of God to argue that Melchizedek and Christ are not the same person.

There is not an exact answer to the question

So the Bible does not give an exact answer on whether Melchizedek was indeed Jesus that appeared to Abraham. If Melchizedek was not Christ, then we can safely say that he is a type of Christ. Israel’s kingship was traced through the lineage of David. The priesthood was traced through the lineage of Aaron. But there was a priest-king residing in Jerusalem, the city of God, long before either David or Aaron lived.

Don’t lose the point: Jesus is a better high priest

When we look at the theme of the book of Hebrews, the writer’s point is that Jesus is better. He is better than the prophets, the angels, Moses, and he provides a better rest than what Joshua promised. And then in chapters 6 and 7, the writer argues that Jesus is a better high priest. Remember Aaron? He was from which tribe? Levi. When God called Aaron, he ordained that all priests would come from the tribe of Levi – and a descendant (or “order”) of Aaron. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah – so then how can Jesus be a better priest? The only way to answer that question is to acknowledge that Jesus belongs to a priesthood that came before Aaron – one that goes all the way back to Abraham. So the priesthood of Jesus is a better priesthood because He never had a beginning and His priesthood will never have an end. He will always be our high priest, ready to forgive us of our sin and restore our fellowship with God.

The Levitical priesthood was meant to be temporary – until Jesus came

While the priesthood of Jesus has no end, the Levitical priesthood was always meant to be temporary – until the Messiah came. The Levitical priesthood was not capable of bringing perfection or completeness (Hebrews 7:11). Psalm 110:4 promised a future priesthood that would be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, showing there would be a change in the priesthood from the Levitical priesthood to the eternal priesthood. This is why Jesus could be from the tribe of Judah and still be a priest. The Melchizedek priesthood was not established on the physical requirement to be from the tribe of Levi. He existed before the law. (Hebrews 7:16)

The Levitical priesthood is merely human

Additionally, in arguing that the priesthood of Jesus is better than the Levitical priesthood, Aaron and all his descendants were just as human and just as sinful as you and I. Even two of Aaron’s sons used improper methods of worship and God struck them dead. The sons of Eli participated in immoral acts and used the temple as a brothel and God condemned them. The only requirement listed in the Bible for the Aaronic priesthood was that they had to be a descendant of Aaron.

Only Jesus has the power of an endless life

Hebrews 7:16 says, “who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life.” So the Aaronic priesthood is derived from the law while the Melchizedek priesthood requires the power of an indestructible life. Aaron and every one of his descendants died — they were destructible. The Bible never records the death of Melchizedek. Yes, Jesus died on the cross as payment for our sins, but he also rose from the dead and then ascended into heaven and will live for eternity — an indestructible life.

We will know the answer in heaven

Certainly there are some very strong reasons to believe that Melchizedek and Jesus are, in fact, the same person. But the Bible does not confirm (nor deny) this theory. So it’s just one of those things that we will have to wait until we are in heaven to get the real answer – or to meet this mysterious Melchizedek.

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