Who Is This Melchizedek?

Dieric Bouts http://www.heiligenlexikon.de/Fotos/Abraham-Melchisedek.jpg
According to Gen. 13, when the area became too small for both Abraham and Lot’s flocks and herds, Abraham gave Lot the first choice of what direction to go. Lot “pitched his tent toward Sodom” and moved into the city before long. There he became an elder, apparently, later appearing at the gate of the city as recorded in Genesis 19.

After 12 years of being under the authority of the king of Elam, Sodom, along with some co-conspirators, decided to rebel. This led to a battle of 4 kingdoms versus 5 that included Sodom. The side Sodom was on lost and the King of Elam and his allies took some spoils of war and captives which included Lot. You can find this account in Genesis 14.

When Abraham heard it, he mustered his servants and some Amorite allies of his for an assault on the king of Elam and his forces. This attack was successful, in that Abraham recovered the spoils of war and the captives (including Lot).

Upon his return from the battle, Abraham was greeted by Melchizedek, the King of Salem who was also priest to the Most High God. Melchizedek suddenly appears in Scripture here and suddenly disappears. That point is incredibly important for our study in Hebrews. Melchizedek had wine and bread ready to give to Abraham and he blessed Abraham, giving God Most High the credit for the victory he achieved. Abraham apparently agreed that God deserved the glory, for the Scripture states that Abraham gave Melchizedek a “tithe of all,” apparently meaning a percentage of the recovered spoils of war. As priest of the one true God that Abraham worshiped, this offering would in essence be given to God by giving it to God’s priest. Abraham later refused a reward from the King of Sodom, stating that he made a promise to God not to do so. Perhaps during the time with Melchizedek.

What we know about Melchizedek:

His name means “king of righteousness”

He was also known as the King of Salem (some see Salem as an earlier name for Jerusalem, others link it to Shechem but the word “Salem” comes from the same root as Shalom = peace)

Therefore, the passage may not be indicating a place name at all but identifying titles of “king of righteousness and King of peace.”

Imagine if we were to read it as translated this way: “Then, the king of righteousness, the king of peace, brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High (El Elyon)” Gen. 14:18

When we compare the words in Genesis 14 in the Hebrew with the words of Heb. 7 in the Greek, we find the following consistently:

Melchizedek – means “my king is just/righteous”

King – used of both divine and human sovereigns

Salem = peace

The writer of Hebrews explains his name as meaning “king of righteousness” in Heb. 7:2

And the author of Hebrews explains “king of Salem” as meaning “king of peace” in v. 2

In both cases, the name Melchizedek points to a figure who is a sovereign of righteousness and peace (perhaps with no particular city/kingdom meant) despite some trying to link "Salem" to Jerusalem

Three possibilities to the identity of Melchizedek:

1) he was a literal human king and priest
whose genealogy, including his parents and descendants, is noticeably and inexplicably absent in the Scripture

2) he was an angel
Angel visits happened from time to time in the life of God’s people in Bible times

3) he was a Christophany

An appearance of Jesus in the Old Testament (Christophany refers to any appearance of God in the OT before the incarnation/birth of Christ)

Paul Karleen, in his The Handbook to Bible Study defines a Christophany as, "An appearance before the incarnation of the second Person of the Trinity"  [Karleen, P. S. (1987). The handbook to Bible study: With a guide to the Scofield study system (316). New York: Oxford University Press.]

The Woman's Study Bible, explaining Melchizedek's appearance to Abraham in Genesis 14, states that "His description (v. 18), his blessing of Abram (vv. 19–20), and his acceptance of a tithe (v. 20) have prompted some to identify this as a Christophany, an appearance of the preincarnate Christ (see Heb. 7:1–10)." Thomas Nelson, I. (1995). The Woman’s Study Bible (Ge 14:18). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

If he were a literal human king and priest then you could assume certain things from the passages in Genesis 14 and Hebrews 7:3

a) his having no genealogy, father, mother and descendants was in the recorded sense, not the literal sense

b) the same with his lack of a birth record and death – not literal just in the case of the biblical record

This would lead you to interpret Hebrews 7’s argument as Melchizedek being a type of Christ, whose apparent eternality is pre-figuring Jesus’ actual eternality.

Jesus then would in spirit and in truth become our High Priest after the archetype, Melchizedek. He would be greater than Melchizedek but distinct from him, assuming the unending line of Melchizedek since there is no record of death there.

I have a problem with this interpretation for a few reasons. It probably is best to explain it through my chosen view that Melchizedek was a Christophany (an appearance of Jesus in the Old Testament).

Before I explain why, I must catch some of you up on the idea of Jesus appearing in the OT before his incarnation (virgin birth)

Appearances of the Lord include the appearance of God on Mt. Sinai, the burning bush, the Lord appearing with two angels to talk to Abraham and then the 2 angels leaving for Sodom and Abraham and the Lord continuing to talk, Jacob wrestling with a man in which the passage tells us that Jacob’s name was changed to Israel since he wrestled with God and prevailed. Also, Daniel’s three friends in the furnace, then a fourth appeared, "like a son of God."  Many theologians believe that all of these were appearances of Jesus before his virgin birth

- Perhaps Melchizedek is yet another. So, how do we interpret Heb. 7 with that in mind?

a) Melchizedek – the king of righteousness and the king of peace (both terms fitting for Jesus) is the pre—incarnate Christ and appears to Abraham
b) He offers bread and wine to sustain the servants of Abraham, his Amorite allies and Abraham after their strenuous battle and rescue.

c) He blesses Abraham, giving credit to the Most High God (think Jesus giving credit to the Father) for the victory
d) Abraham agrees and gives a tenth of the spoils recovered to Jesus, who functions as priest of the most High God (receives those gifts on God’s behalf)

Keep in mind that Jesus, during His earthly ministry stated the following:

John 8:56 – "Your Father Abraham rejoiced to see my day. He saw it and was glad."

They objected, “You’re not yet 50 and you have seen Abraham?” (v. 57)

Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (v. 58)

There, Jesus claimed to have pre-existed Abraham. But even more than that, that Abraham “saw his day” and was glad. – naturally, this would mean that they had a face-to-face. That’s how his critics understood him and Jesus didn’t correct their understanding because that is what He meant.

Abraham saw the king of righteousness, the king of peace, priest to the Most High God and he was glad. Glad enough to give him an offering/tithe, realizing that giving it to Him was giving it to God.

If Melchizedek only appeared to be eternal, if he only appeared to have no genealogy, birth notice or death notice, why would that make him superior to the priesthood of Aaron/Levitical priesthood?

However, if the priesthood of Melchizedek/if the priesthood of the king of righteousness, the king of peace and the priest of the Most High God, was in fact the pre-incarnate Jesus (existing before the priesthood of Aaron), then Jesus’ priesthood would be superior because it was in fact eternal (not tempory like the Levitical priesthood), without sin [righteousness] (unlike the priesthood of Aaron) and would result in lasting peace between God and man as the High Priest offered Himself as a sacrifice for sins once for all (rather than continual offerings from the priests of Aaron).

The ark that Noah built wasn’t a type of salvation in Christ because it appeared to save those who believed but because it did save those who believed.

Joseph wasn’t a type of Christ because he appeared to save His people but because he did
So, too, Melchizedek, would need to be a type that didn’t appear to be the things that Hebrews 7 says (without father, without mother, without genealogy) but actually was in truth those things.

Only 3 ways Melchizedek’s priesthood could be unending (as Heb. 7 states):

1) Melchizedek was eternal - only God is eternal

2) Melchizedek had a series of successors in his priesthood that would culminate in Christ
     (like the line of David among the kings of Judah that culminate in Jesus as King)

3) Melchizedek was in fact the pre-incarnate Christ
- thus his priesthood was greater in person, in timing and in ability to save

-greater in person (as Christ is greater than Aaron)

- greater in timing (Melchizedek was before Aaron – and - Melchizedek’s priesthood was before          Aaron’s)

- greater in ability to deal with sin and save (Melchizedek – to pay for sin completely in Christ;
Aaron – to cover sins temporarily until Christ made Himself an offering for sins)

In Hebrews 7:1-10, it is argued that:

1) Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without genealogy” . . . (v. 3)
Those are characteristics of being eternal. There is no man who has ever existed without having BOTH an earthly father and mother except Christ.

The pre-incarnate Christ could be thus described

- Arriving on the scene to meet Abraham, blesses him and receive tithes from him

- And then disappearing, according to the Scriptures

2) Made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually

-- similar wording is used of Jesus’ incarnation:

Phil. 2:8 “and being found in appearance as a man”

John MacArthur’s Study Bible explains, “that although He outwardly looked like a man, there was much more to Him” (speaking of Jesus)

I would say the same about Melchizedek.  The unique appearance and disappearance of Melchizedek is consistent with the appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ (appearances of Jesus in the Old Testament, before He was born of a virgin)

Phil. 2:7 – states that He came “in the likeness of men”

In the Greek, the likeness of both verses has the same root word

Phil. 2:7 – Jesus coming “in the likeness of men”

Heb. 7:3 – Melchizedek being “like the Son of God”

3666. ὁμοιόω hŏmŏiŏō, hom-oy-ŏ´-o; from 3664; to assimilate, i.e. compare; pass. to become similar:—be (make) like, (in the) liken (-ess), resemble   Strong, J. (2009). Vol. 1A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (51). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

I’m no Greek scholar but I think the same root word means that Jesus humanity in Phil. 2:7 is just as sure as Melchizedek’s deity in Heb. 7:3 (none of us say that Jesus APPEARED to have human flesh)

Hebrews 7:4–10 (NKJV)

So, Abraham gave tithes to him who was greater than Himself.

Think through the Abrahamic Covenant in Gen. 12 (read)

Who on Earth at the time of Abraham could be greater than Abraham, as far as God is concerned?

I don’t think there could have been a human at the time who would be greater. Abraham was the priestly leader of God’s covenant people. He could offer sacrifices for himself and on behalf of his family. Through him and his seed all the Earth would be blessed. Whoever (without exception – that would include a man named Melchizedek who wasn’t God appearing as a man) cursed Abraham would be cursed; whoever blessed him would be blessed.

We are told in Hebrews 7:7, “the lesser is blessed by the better/greater”

This one would be greater than Levi, since Levi was in the “loins” of Abraham when Abraham offered the tithes

In ancient culture ancestors were always considered greater than their descendants. So, Abraham’s giving of tithes to Melchizedek would mean that the Levites, who would later receive them from their fellow Jews, also in a sense gave them to Melchizedek.  Melchizedek thus would be greater than the priesthood of Aaron/the Levites.

If the priests of Aaron were given power of mediation between God and man then, logically, who could be greater than they as mediators, especially, the High Priests?  The answer would be only the mediator to come, Jesus.

So that priest Melchizedek, must have been the pre-incarnate mediator, the Lord Jesus, greater than any High Priest of Aaron. With the authority of God the Son, the future seed of Abraham to be born of Mary, who was greater than Abraham himself, Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham and blessed him as only God could do. And he did it in the name of the “king of righteousness” and the “king of peace,” both terms pointing ahead prophetically to his sinless sacrifice for sins, his right to the throne and his ability, and his alone, to bring peace on earth and goodwill to men.

The link between Melchizedek and Jesus is Good News (Gospel)
At a very important point of Abraham’s life, when he was willing to sacrifice His life for Lot (the one he took in as an adopted son of sorts after the death of Abraham’s brother)

The pre-incarnate Christ met him, blessed him and Abraham gave Him a tenth of the spoils.  How appropriate that the One who would sacrifice Himself to save us from the captivity of sin would meet Abraham fresh from his successful effort to save Lot from captivity to Elam?  The One whose Seed He would become by taking on human flesh and be born of the virgin Mary (as a descendant of Abraham) met Abraham!  Again, I give you this argument as a view of mine not something that I would consider essential to believe.

Galatians 3:16 states “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He didn’t say ‘and to seeds,’ as of many but as of one, ‘and to your seed,’ which is Christ”

In the words of Gen. 12:3, “in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed”

Paul understood that promise to point to Abraham’s descendant, Jesus who would bring salvation to all who believe, no matter what people they belonged to.  So that Genesis 12 promise was a prophecy then of the Blessed One’s coming, the Lord Jesus, a descendant of Abraham in the flesh yet the Son of God from eternity. This one, I believe, met Abraham who saved Lot from captivity foreshadowing the far greater salvation from captivity to sin to come in the seed of Abraham, as prophesied, in the person of Jesus.

That my friends, is the gospel, very good news indeed!

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