POST OVERVIEW. This second post in our series on Melchizedek studies the scant biblical material about him and then examines Hebrews 7:1-10 where the author tells “how great this man was” (Heb. 7:4) and rehearses the characteristics which make up his “likeness.” (See post #574 for the introductory post of this series.)
The objective of this series of posts is to explore and interpret Hebrews 7, which is devoted almost exclusively to a discussion about how Melchizedek relates to Jesus Christ. This post will quickly explore the other biblical references to Melchizedek (both of them!) and then piece the evidence together to create a likeness for this mysterious figure.
MELCHIZEDEK OUTSIDE OF HEBREWS
Outside of the book of Hebrews, the biblical information about Melchizedek is limited to only four verses, and these verses are thoroughly covered by the writer of this epistle. The first reference is when Melchizedek appears out of nowhere in Genesis 14:18-20 to meet Abram as he is returning with his nephew Lot, and then he is mentioned again in Psalm 110:4, a mysterious verse in a mysterious psalm about the second advent of Christ, a verse that we met in our previous post (#574) about Hebrews 5:5-6.
GREATNESS AND “LIKENESS”
GREATNESS. As the writer begins Hebrews 7, his purposes are to establish “how great this man was” (7:4) and to present his characteristics so that we have a picture of his “likeness” (7:15). He will accomplish both purposes by reviewing the description of Melchizedek given in Gen. 14:18-20.
The greatness of this man is shown by comparing him to the patriarch Abraham and noting that, first, Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek and second, that Melchizedek blessed Abraham (7:6).
ABRAHAM PAID TITHES
The author’s argument about the tithes is a little hard to follow. The writer is comparing the tithes given to the Levitical priests with the tithes that Abraham gave to Melchizedek. In the Law, all the people are required to pay tithes to the Levitical priests. We also know that all the Levitical priests are descended from Abraham (through Isaac and Jacob and Levi, etc.). But Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham, who is the ancestor of all the Levitical priests. The author goes on to say that, since all the Levitical priests were still in the loins of Abraham when he paid tithes to Melchizedek, essentially the Levitical priests, who were supposed to receive tithes, actually paid tithes to Melchizedek. Thus, by this payment of tithes, Melchizedek is superior.
MELCHIZEDEK BLESSED ABRAHAM
Fortunately, the point about Melchizedek blessing Abraham is much easier to follow. At their meeting, Melchizedek blessed Abraham (7:1, 6), then, “But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater” (7:7). The author’s point is clear: Melchizedek is greater than Abraham.
Now that we have established Melchizedek’s greatness, we need to understand his “likeness” (7:15). Therefore, the author of Hebrews will gather together the characteristics of Melchizedek given to us in Genesis 14:18-20 to form his “likeness.”
LIKENESS. He is priest of Most High God (7:1). Also, he is king of righteousness (the translation of his name) and king of peace (7:2 – king of Salem). These are remarkable characteristics but are easy to see in the text.
But the next verse, Hebrews 7:3, is a bit harder to understand.
3 Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually. – Hebrews 7:3
The author is not suggesting that Melchizedek did not have a human birth and lives forever, although that may be our first thought. Rather, the author is saying that, in the inspired text of Scripture, and especially in a book of beginnings like Genesis, we expect to see a person’s genealogy. Yet in the inspired text, Melchizedek has no father, no mother, no ancestors or descendants at all. Scripture is silent about his birth and gives no evidence of his death. And since the Scripture makes no mention of his death, the author speaks of him AS IF he lives on. This is a rhetorical device the author uses to create a more complete “likeness” of Melchizedek. And legally, since there is no death certificate, it is permitted to assume that “he remains a priest perpetually” (7:3). Thus, we have a very impressive “likeness” for Melchizedek.
NOT A THEOPHANY
But, just how impressive is this “likeness?” For if Melchizedek was king of righteousness, king of peace, and priest of Most High God in a land where Abraham was the only one who knew anything about God; if he was greater than Abraham and blessed Abraham; if he had no beginning and he had no end and he remains a priest perpetually, is it possible that he is divine? This sure sounds like it may be a theophany. Is Melchizedek a pre-incarnate Christ?
Well, no, this is not a theophany, and that for several reasons. First, it is not a theophany because we know Melchizedek’s name. In Old Testament theophanies, like Genesis 16, 22, Numbers 22, Joshua 5, and Judges 6, the divine figure is never named, and in Genesis 32:29 and in Judges 13:17-18, the heavenly being refuses to give a name when asked. Since we know Melchizedek’s name, this is not a theophany. This one feature is conclusive.
But there are other reasons we know this is not a theophany. For example, there is nothing in the encounter in Genesis 14 to suggest that Melchizedek is divine. Abraham does not bow down to him and Melchizedek does no signs or wonders. The blessing that Melchizedek gives to Abraham is not prophetic, and so contains no display of divinity. Thus, while the characteristics attributed to Melchizedek point unerringly to Jesus Christ, this man who meets Abraham “as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings” (Heb. 7:1) is not the pre-incarnate Jesus. So this is certainly not a theophany.
. . . BUT A “TYPE” OF CHRIST
Instead, Melchizedek is perhaps the most stunning “type” of Christ in the Scriptures. In the Scriptures, a “type” refers to an Old Testament person or event which foreshadows some aspect of Jesus Christ or of His first or second advent. The “type” presents features that Jesus will fulfill when He comes. “Type” is different from prophecy, for a prophecy is a verbal expression about the coming Messiah, whereas a “type” is a picture or a representation of what the Messiah will be or do. Thus, Melchizedek is a remarkably clear picture of the coming Messiah. When you see someone who is king of righteousness, king of peace, priest of God Most High, who appears to be from eternity past and seems to live forever, there is a good chance that you have found the Messiah.
But now we read in Hebrews 7:15:
15 And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek.
As we consider this verse, the truth emerges that Jesus is that “another priest.” In other words, in Genesis 14:18-20, Melchizedek established the characteristics of the priesthood, that is, the “likeness” of the priesthood, and Jesus, when He appears, is “according to the likeness of Melchizedek.” Because Jesus fulfills the “type,” that is, because He is “another priest (who) arises according to the order of Melchizedek,” we know that Jesus is our High Priest, not of the order of Aaron (Levi), but of the order of Melchizedek.
Having established the existence of the eternal priesthood of Melchizedek and having shown that Jesus is the High Priest of that order, we are prepared to see how Christ has replaced the Levitical priesthood. This is what we will explore in our next post.
SDG rmb 9/23/2022 #575