The Priesthood of
Gen.14, Ps.110, Heb.7
The name Melchizedek means king of righteousness consisting of two words, Melek-King , Zedek-Righteousness which are a interpretation of his name. This person was also known as the King of Salem meaning king of peace, a title given to a historical person living in Abrahams time.
Little is known about this person who suddenly appears on the scene in Abrahams day. Abraham either recognized this priest as one who worshipped the most high God or heard of him from others, because he freely offered a tenth of his spoils from his battle, so it does seem to imply some previous contact and knowledge (Gen.14:18). Abraham receives the meal and blessing from this priest after his victory in battle and this priest vanishes from any recorded history after his brief encounter recorded in Genesis. This is typology of in the priest mediating the Passover giving a future reference to the Son who would also do this by his own body. Mt. 26:26-28)
Previous to Moses time period sacrifices were offered by the head of the family. Abrahams time most believe took place in the same period as Jobs. The priest was the Father, or grandfather being the oldest in the family line. As the family grew to be a tribe the head came to be the king as well as the priest, so he was the priest/king of their tribe.
Later on into the days of Moses the 12 tribes had grown to be the nation of Israel which god delivered out of their bondage. A priesthood was created from Aaron, out of the tribe of Levi which became the Levitical priesthood order for the sacrificial system. Later another family was set apart for being the kings, the family of David. The king was then to rule the people and the priest was to mediate between God and man through the sacrificial system.
No king could be a priest, although but he could be a prophet. No priest could be a king, although he too could be a prophet. Some scholars point to the sudden appearance of the Zadokite line of priests after Davids capture of Jerusalem, suggesting they descended from the Melchizedek line and merged with the Aaronic line (Hard sayings of the Bible Kaiser, Davids . Bruce, Brauch) ( In Hebrew Tzedek means righteousness, Zadok and Zedek are forms of the same root word (Heb.4:14-5:11)
Melchizedek continued to be a mystery even in the NT period. In the early church there were certain individuals who considered Melchizedek as divine, one who promoted this was called Theodotus the II (for a lack of better identification). Teaching on Hebrews he said, the only other divine being besides the Father, was the Spirit who is identified as the Son. It was the Holy Spirit that appeared to Abraham in the priest Melchizedek. Hippolytus stood against this claiming they worship Melchizedek. This is possibly true or could have been an exaggeration, as A.Harnack states in his book History of Dogma. It certainly is not out of the reach of possibility since they considered him divine.
We will look at the various views and weigh out the evidence for whether as some claim is Shem, or an unknown man who is a type of Christ or was an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ, a Christophany.
Hebrew tradition tells us it was Shem, Noahs Son that was still alive at the time of Abraham and would certainly make him be the oldest man alive qualifying him as a candidate for the order of Melchizedek.
Abraham lived to 2121 B.C. and Shem lived to 2156 B.C . Abrahams father was Terah who was in the line of Shem so this would make tribal sense that Abraham knew Shem and that he was the priest /king over their tribe . Noah predicted that Canaan would serve under Shem (Gen.9:26) Shem is also attributed to be the father of the children of Eber which is where we get the word "Hebrew" which means crossed over the river or one who came from the other side ( such as from paganism to true worship) (Gen.10:21, 11:10-27). Also the Messiah comes from the line of Shem. However there seems to be a flaw in him being the candidate because we know his line and descendants. It states for Melchizedek we do not know his genealogy, which rules out Shem.
Most who believe Melchizedek was a theophany or an Christophany of Christ use the scripture in Heb.7:3 to support their argument. "Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, made like the Son of god he remains a priest forever. First is the saying made like in Greek meaning, "to make a facsimile", "to produce a model or copy (Wuest). Not that he is a Son. It is the priesthood that continues, which is a type of Christs perpetual priesthood. The idea is that no human could be without father or mother having no beginning days or end of life. The Greek makes it clear " Gr. apator, ametor, agenealogetos" translated= without father, without mother without recorded genealogy." This could mean if interpreted as such, as of divine origin, meaning he was without human origin. Except their are a few flaws in this view that are not to be ignored. It seems to be making the point of having no human parentage. This does not mean he was never born nor never died. There are others who are also named in the O.T. without any parentage. We do know that Christ had a Father being always an eternal Son (terms of relationship not in the literal sense). It is referring to human descent and since all priests were taken from men we need to consider he also had a human mother in the future when he became a man. Another way to look at this is that the author is stressing the point that their is no record of his ancestry meaning their is no information biblically or orally pertaining to who he was or his lineage. Those scholars who hold to this view are Matthew Henry, F. F. Bruce, Gleason Archer, Lewis S. Chafer, Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, and many more. Noted Greek scholar A.T. Robertson states," he is not to be understood as a miraculous being without birth or death. Melchizedek has been made more mysterious than he is by reading into the interpretation what is not there." (Word pictures in the N.T.)
Ungers Bible Dictionary states "Without father, etc.(Heb.7:3) refers to priestly genealogies. Melchizedek is not found on the register of the only line of legitimate priests ; no record of his name is there; his fathers name is not recorded, nor his mothers; no evidence points to his line of descent from Aaron. It is not affirmed that he had no father, that he was not born at any time, or died on any day; but that these facts were nowhere found on the register of the Levitical priesthood." (p.711 1979 ed.).
The author of Hebrews In 5:9-11 identifies the Son as the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him. This Son is called by God the high priest, of the order of Melchizedek which never ends. "To whom we have much to say and hard to explain since you have become dull of hearing. The book of Hebrews is written to Jews who were struggling with going back into Judaism to avoid being persecuted. The first chapters set the theme using comparisons of the Son to Angels, the priesthood, and the sacrifices showing he is better and greater than all. In vs.15 of Chpt.7 the author states "And it is far more evident, if in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of the fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life." Here is the comparison of the first that we know of, to the second, or another who is a permanent replacement functioning forever in this priesthood. The former in relation to the fleshly commandments, the later related to an endless life.
The author of Hebrews contrasts the two priesthood's. Jesus did not serve as a priest on earth because he was not of the tribe of Levi but of Judah (Hebrews 7:14; 8:4). In the Old Testament a priest was required to be a descendant of Levi. High priests who performed the atoning sacrifice on the Day of Atonement were required to be descendants of Aaron, Levi's great grandson (Numbers 18; Hebrews 5:1-4). To be a Aaronic priest one had to trace their ancestry to Aaron, to be a Melchizedek priest was of a divine appointment. Christ is a priest from the line of David which would certainly exclude him from the Levitical order, since they could not be a priest being from the tribe of Judah. The author parallels this priest with Jesus, in contrast Aarons priesthood was temporary and continually changed due to death of the priest. Because the Levitical priesthood is connected to the law of Moses which was temporary (Heb.8:6,13) to do away with Moses law also meant to do away with the Levitical priesthood that practiced the sacrifices.
While the Levitical priesthood ministered to only one nation, the Melchizedek priesthood ministers to all.
Upon Christ's resurrection, he became an eternal priest "according to the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 5:5-10; 6:19-20). Jesus is the eternal Son who died once and resurrected continuing in his priesthood forever (based on an endless life). Therefore his mediatorial role in the Melchizedekian order is superior. This new priesthood is based on the promise 7:.20-21 and the one who can guarantee it as the mediator of the New Covenant vs.22-28. This is a perfect priesthood continuing forever unlike the old which changed, this is administered by the eternal Son of God to all who are in the house of God (Heb.9:15-10:21).
In Heb.7:4 The author of Hebrews states "now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of his spoils." One of the requirements for being a priest is that one had to be of human ancestry. This is one of the strongest arguments against he being a pre-incarnate Christ. Since all priests were taken from among men, the priesthood being strictly a human function. Another strong reason for not being Christ is that in the Old Testament theophanies came and went. He gave his message and disappeared. They did not stay permanently on earth to function in the office of a priest or king. This man whoever he was is presently the King of Salem a historical city at the time. When the scripture compares Christ to the Melchizedek priest it states made like the Son of God not he is the Son of God. What is stressed is some similarities paralleled in ministry, but not in the nature of his being. So in this way he was a type of Christ in his mediatorial office but not Christ himself. Also we need to note this was probably not a Christophany, for the reason when the Angel of the Lord shows up there is an awe and worship. In this setting of tithing and communion there is none, which we would certainly consider should be if he was in fact the angel of the Lord.
Christ became the high priest after he sacrificed his life and went to heaven , now sitting down in his mediatorial role.Vs. 26 he became higher than the heavens, vs. 28 "For the law appoints as high priests men who have weaknesses, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever" Here it clearly states Gods promise came after the law fulfilled by his Son in his earthly ministry. Chpt.8 explains how he is in heaven functioning in the true Tabernacle.
Melchizedek also prefigured Jesus in that his names refer to Christ as King of righteousness and peace.
Abraham does not worship him which is consistently done in previous appearances of the angel of the Lord. What we do find is this priest offering bread and wine, giving a type of communion service which predates the Passover commemoration. What is significant of this meeting is that when one man blesses another it shows superiority in position, the greater blesses the lesser.
Jesus currently holds to all three offices eternally but he functions in them Chronologically. He came as a prophet Jn.4:44. Today he is currently holding the office and functioning as high priest Heb.5:6,10. He was announced as King in his 1st coming but was rejected Mt.12:22-45. At his 2nd coming he will be realized as king and function as one Isa.9:6 Mt.25:34-45.
Both type and fulfillment of Melchizedek are king and priest, By their being no genealogical line with no record of birth or death he prefigures Christ as the priest who continues forever. In the Old Testament no King could be a priest, no priest could function as a King. Only Christ is able to fill the office of being a Priest, a Prophet and a King Heb.7:17, 20, 24. If Melchizedek was Christ we would have to deal with two incarnations, since all priests were taken from among men. If he was Jesus who became man then his birth through Mary would be a second incarnation. If he is a type of the one who was to come, then it would certainly fit the Biblical account and make more sense. This however remains an enigma with scholars debating on both sides but all agree together in its typology.