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 (Hebrews 7:1-10).
Three times the writer of Hebrews has described the High Priesthood of Christ
as being “according to the order of Melchizedek” (5:6&10, 6:20). In Hebrews 7:1-10 he lays the foundation for this comparison by describing the greatness of Melchizedek, and how his priesthood was superior to that of Old Covenant priests.
Who was Melchizedek? Everything known of this man is recorded in Genesis 14:18-20—how he met Abraham as the patriarch returned from “the slaughter of the kings” (Hebrews 7:1). Despite its brevity, this account is of extreme significance to the writer of Hebrews. He uses it to show five aspects of Melchizedek’s greatness.
Name and Title
The Old Covenant appointed only priests, not kings. And yet Melchizedek was both a priest of the Most High God and the king of Salem (the older name for Jerusalem). His personal name, Melchizedek, means “king of righteousness.” His official title, king of Salem, means “king of peace.” Here there is an unmistakable glimpse of the High Priesthood of Christ. Jesus is our Prophet and Priest and King. By His atoning sacrifice, He brought true righteousness and peace. And where did Jesus accomplish this? In Jerusalem (Salem), the very city in which Melchizedek was king.
To serve as a high priest or Levitical priest, one had to prove direct descent from Aaron or Levi. Yet, Melchizedek had no such lineage, and was in fact born centuries before Aaron and Levi. Therefore, his priesthood was not due to the Mosaic Law, but predated it. Here, too, Melchizedek foreshadows Christ. The Mosaic Law did not appoint Jesus as High Priest; God the Father did. The writer of Hebrews states: “So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him: ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ As He also says in another place: ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’ ” (5:5-6).
An Endless Priesthood
Melchizedek was a real person. Yet, none of his life-events (birth, death, lineage) are described in Genesis 14:18-20. He simply appears and disappears. So far as biblical history is concerned, his ministry never ends. And this, too, points to the all-surpassing greatness of Christ’s priesthood. Whereas all Old Covenant priests died, Jesus, the eternal Son of God and the Mediator of the New Covenant, lives forever. As the writer of Hebrews states: “And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life” (7:15-16). See also
When the LORD called Abraham to leave the familiar and travel toward the Promised Land, He said: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). And yet, despite the greatness of Abraham’s possessions, faith, and God-given promises, it was not Abraham who blessed Melchizedek. When the two met, it was Melchizedek
who blessed Abraham. And as the writer of Hebrews explains: “Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better” (7:7).
Abraham also recognized the greatness of Melchizedek. This is why the patriarch gave the priest one-tenth of the spoils taken from the slaughtered kings. And not just a tenth, but the best tenth—the Hebrew word means
“the top of the heap.” But this tithe had even more significance. For when Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils, Aaron, Levi, indeed the entire Levitical priesthood—still in Abraham’s loins (7:9-10)—did so too.
Mark Weis is pastor of the Church of the Lutheran Confession in North Port, Florida.