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Melchizedek - Who was he?

Could you shed some light on who Melchisedec was?

The Bible tells us of Melchizedek in three primary passages: Genesis 14:17-20, Psalm 110:4, and Hebrews 7:1-28. He met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings that had taken Lot captive and he blessed Abraham. He is identified as the king of Salem in Genesis 14:18. In Psalm 110:4, the psalmist prophesied of “a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 7 clearly identifies this as a prophecy pointing to Jesus Christ.

However, though we know that Christ was a priest after the order of Melchizedek, this still leaves the question of Melchizedek’s identity open. The most common teaching is that he is an unknown person who had a special relationship with God. According to this approach, all guesses as to his identity are total speculation. It is his unknown nature that makes him a type of Christ.

However, there has always been a contrarian position by a minority of Bible students that identifies Melchizedek as a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. This position has one problem with the teaching of Hebrews 7 in that the chapter obviously compares Jesus Christ to Melchizedek. (How can someone be compared with themselves?) Yet, I believe that this position is the one that takes the Bible at face value to the greatest degree and it is the position for which I will try to make a brief case here.

Before we start, let me make one appeal for careful consideration on this issue. Hebrews 5:10-11 says this of Christ: “Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec. Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.” The author of Hebrews states plainly that the things concerning the priesthood of Christ after the order of Melchizedek are things hard to be uttered. That is, they are difficult to understand. We must accept some differences among God’s people on this matter.

However, despite this difficulty, we know many things about Melchizedek. Please consider the following about him as we look at the definitive passage in Hebrews 7. We will look at reasons to believe that Melchizedek was an appearance of Jesus Christ long before He was born as a baby in the manger.

His titles fit the Son of God more than they fit a mere man.

  1. He is the priest of the most high God (Hebrews 7:1).  In Mark 5:7, Jesus is called the son of the most high God.
  2. He is the King of Righteousness (Hebrews 7:2). Of Christ it is prophesied that a king shall reign in righteousness (Isaiah 32:1).
  3. He is also called the King of Salem (Hebrews 7:1-2; Genesis14:18). Salem is another name for Jerusalem (Psalm 76:1-2) and means peace. Hebrews 7:2 makes a strong point of the fact that Melchizedek is first the King of righteousness and after that the King of peace. This order of righteousness followed by peace is found in numerous places in the scriptures. In Isaiah 32:17, the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.

This order is important because it is the divine order. This world will never have true peace until it has righteousness first. This matches the comings of Christ to the world. In His first coming, He came to fulfill righteousness (Matthew 3:15; 10:34-36). In His second coming, He will come to fulfill peace (Isaiah 9:6-7). There will be no true peace on the earth until the coming of the King of Righteousness.

This order is also found in God’s work in the believer. Romans 5:1 states, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Justification is the judicial act by which God declares us righteous (just) on the basis of the work of Christ for redemption. By it, we have imputed righteousness. According to this verse, this act of justification makes way for us to have peace with God. That is, peace follows righteousness.

By themselves, these titles do not prove that Melchizedek was Christ. However, they do show that his work matches closely the work of Christ. But there is more—much more.

His eternity proves Melchizedek to be Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 7:3 makes several statements about Melchizedek that strongly point to a divine identity.

  1. He is said to be without father (certainly in reference to an earthly father).
  2.  He is without mother. This is historically true if Melchizedek is a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ (Christ did not have an earthly mother at that time), but it is untrue if he is a man who becomes a type of Jesus later (Matthew 1:18; 2:11).
  3. He is without descent. This does not fit a type of the earthly Jesus since Jesus had an earthly genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17) Therefore, it must refer to a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ.
  4. He is without beginning of days. Does this fit a mere mortal? All explanations of this that deny his identity with Jesus make light of the meaning of these words. Without mother does not mean he had no mother; without descent does not mean that he had no descent; without beginning of days does not mean without beginning; without end of life does not mean his life did not end. They all simply mean that we are not told of these matters in the biblical record. Of course, this could be said of many people in the Bible who make a brief appearance. But why not take scripture at its word? If we do this, it reads like an Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ (see Micah 5:2; John 8:58). He is the only one who matches all the qualifications.
  5. He is without end of life. As such, he abideth a priest continually (Hebrews 7:3). Where is Melchizedek abiding as a priest today, unless Melchizedek can be identified with Jesus Christ? Hebrews 7:8 says that of him it is witnessed that he liveth. Who can this be but Jesus Christ Himself?

He must be Christ because He is “like unto the Son of God” (Hebrews 7:3).

Though many teachers use this as a proof that Melchizedek was not Jesus Christ, it does the very opposite. It is a strong argument that the two are the same.

An almost identical phrase is used one other time in scripture. It occurs when Nebuchadnezzar says of the fourth man in the fiery furnace that “the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (Daniel 3:25). The term “like” is used to remind us that this One who appears as a man is also God.  This phrase is only used of pre-incarnate appearances of Christ because He had not yet been declared to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:3-4). This declaration did not make Him the Son of God.  He had that relationship in eternity. It only declared Him to be so. However, in the earlier appearances, He is said to be like the Son of God though He was indeed the very Son of God.

The opposite phrase, like unto the Son of man, is also used in references to Christ. It always refers to the post-resurrection Christ (Daniel 7:13; Revelation 1:13; 14:14). This phrase is used to remind us that this One who is obviously God also lived as and remains a man. These phrases using like do not mean that the one described is not the Son of God or the Son of man. They are rather used to show that when Christ is obviously God or obviously man, He is also the other. That is, these phrases are descriptions of the One who is both God and man. Therefore, its use in Hebrews 7:3 supports the identity of Christ with Melchizedek.

He must be Christ because of His Superiority to Abraham (Hebrews 7:4, 6-7).

Who else but Jesus would be superior to Abraham? We see this superiority in the following:

  1. He received tithes of Abraham (Hebrews 7:4, 2; Genesis 14:14-17).
  2. He blessed Abraham (Hebrews 7:6-7). According to the argument of this passage, Abraham had the promises (Hebrews 7:6; Galatians 3:16). Then, Melchizedek blessed Abraham (Hebrews 7:6; Genesis 14:19). Therefore, Melchizedek must be superior to Abraham, since the less is blessed of the better (Hebrews 7:7; Luke 24:50-51). Perhaps only a devout Jew could understand the significance of this comparison. Suffice it to say that they had trouble thinking of anyone who was superior to Abraham.

He must be Christ because of his superiority to Levi (Hebrews 7:5, 9-10).

This made Him superior to the Levitical priesthood.

Levi was in the loins of Abraham (Hebrews 7:10). He was a grandson of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. However, not only had Levi not been born at this time (Genesis 14), neither had his grandfather Isaac. If Abraham had died at this time, Levi would have died with him. As such, Levi was in Abraham and whatever Abraham did was in effect also done by his grandson Levi.

The sons of Levi received the office of the priesthood and were commanded to take tithes of the Jewish people (v.5). Yet, Levi (the tithe-receiver) paid tithes in Abraham proving that Melchizedek is the better.

He must be Christ because of His unchangeable priesthood (Hebrews 7:11-15, 23-24).

This distinguishes Melchizedek from any earthly priesthood. The Levitical priesthood was limited because of its inability to bring perfection (Hebrews 7:11). This demonstrates a need for another priesthood—one that would not have to change; one after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:15; Psalm 110:4). The fulfillment of the unchangeable priesthood comes through the person of Jesus Christ (v.23-24).

Certainly, men will continue to have trouble with the idea that Melchizedek can be identified as a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ—though most of these same men have no trouble identifying the “angel of the LORD” as Old Testament appearances of Christ. However, the evidence taken at face value shows Melchizedek to be more than mere human. His endless life and superiority to the founders of Judaism give him something beyond mortal qualities. Many will continue to conclude as I have that He is indeed the Lord Jesus Christ appearing under special circumstances.