Melchizedek Who and Why
An Ancient Type of Christ
The last thing we should do when we hear “Melchizedek” is roll our eyes, stop thinking, and hope for a speedy end to the sermon. Who does this preacher think he is, detaining us for three-quarters of an hour to talk about an obscure man who lived almost four thousand years ago? I will tell you at the beginning that God preserved the memory of this man’s ministry to prepare the world for his Son and to show us the way to eternal life. Melchizedek leads us to the only priest who can save us from our sins. Melchizedek was a type of Christ. It is not that Melchizedek was an allegory of Christ, as some medieval interpreters spoke of Rahab’s scarlet chord as emblematic of Christ’s blood or the swaddling clothes in which the infant Jesus was wrapped as the four Gospels. These are clever flights of man’s fancy, but they are nowhere indicated by the text and thus without any warrant from God or ability to support our faith. But Melchizedek’s was made “like unto the Son of God,” so that even in those earliest days, the world had a living gospel of the coming Savior preached to them. This should not surprise us, for always God had an eye to the salvation of the world through the coming Seed of the woman, his beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Thus, the Lord revealed to Moses Abraham’s surprising meeting with Melchizedek, and the Spirit led Paul to utilize Melchizedek’s priesthood so that we would better understand the gospel.
The Priest to Whom We Must Hold
And what is that gospel? Do not leave here this morning without a clear understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Soon, all the delusions of the world will be swept away. The gospel believed and obeyed is your only shield when you stand before the holy God at your death or at the blowing of the silver trumpet. You and I are dead in sin, unable in any way to please God, and incapable of understanding our cursed state or delivering ourselves from it. We cannot represent ourselves to God, or having been brought to confess him, keep ourselves in the faith or in his good graces. We are like polluted lepers who are excluded from all society except that of other filthy and decaying men. But then God, who is great in love and rich in mercy, sent his Son to take our filth and curse upon himself. The worthy Lamb of God was crucified as a judgment substitute for you and I, unworthy criminals against God’s majesty. Jesus Christ’s substitutionary death is the sole way sinners can be reconciled to their Maker and Judge.
This is the reason that men like Melchizedek occasionally pop up in Scripture. In the midst of the universal depravity, the Lord preserved his truth and raised up witnesses to it. Melchizedek showed to the men of that part of the world that sinners require two things from a priest – he must be able to make them righteous, and he must be able to give them peace with God. All the cabal of false priests and gurus and philosophers are thus exposed as complete shams and far inferior to Melchizedek. None of them know the way for us to be righteous before the God whom we have offended and to have peace of conscience and peace before his judgment seat. Melchizedek ministered both and pointed the world to the coming Savior.
Our Lord Jesus Christ has now come, and no matter what the devil hurls at us or the weakness of our flesh or the strength of sin within us, we must hold fast to him. There is no other way for God to be at peace with us than through the Priest-King who makes us righteous and rules in us by his Spirit to make us godly in heart and conduct. This is the most important thing in this life we can ever hear – not how we can feel good about God but how can he ever, ever in ten billions years, feel good about us and admit us into his everlasting kingdom rather than send us to everlasting hell. There is only way. We must believe upon the name of our greater Melchizedek.
Jesus’ Priesthood Alone Saves Sinners (vv. 1-3)
King of Righteousness
Melchizedek is not a mythical figure. He was not Shem or a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. His unknown parentage (v. 3) and unrecorded death (v. 8) taught us that the best priesthood is not based upon lineage and does not end with death. It is rather when we have a priest whose chief qualification to represent us before God is the worthiness of his character and the efficacy of his intercession. Abraham met this king when he returned from slaughtering the four proto-Babylonian and Sumerian kings that had entered into a confederacy to defeat the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, and three other kings of the Salt Vale. Abraham would not have meddled in those regional affairs, but the four kings under Chedorlaomer’s leadership had conquered Sodom and carried away Lot. Abraham went out with 318 armed servants to rescue Lot and defeated the four kings. On his return, Melchizedek came out to meet him when Abraham was near to Salem, which later became Jerusalem. It seemed that David and his priests were not the first men who practiced the true religion on that mountain. In Melchizedek, the Lord not only preserved a true witness to his gospel but also a type of his Son’s availing priesthood.
We should give careful attention to Melchizedek’s names, for they define his priesthood. Melchizedek means “king of righteousness.” This is a very strange name, for kings were usually named after their family associations or deities, but righteousness was an integral part of Melchizedek’s character and his reign. He, like our Lord Jesus, was a king whose reign was based in righteousness, and a king whose priesthood focused not upon lineage or ritual but upon righteousness. There is no other way for God to accept us or smile upon us or hear our prayers – unless we would form another sham deity that is nothing but a reflection of our delusions – unless we are holy, as he is holy. We must have righteousness, or we shall be instantly condemned and eternally excluded from his presence.
Like Melchizedek, our Savior’s priesthood is based upon his personal righteousness. He was “holy, harmless, and undefiled” (7:26). He “always did those things that pleased his Father” (John 8:29). There was no sin in him (1 Pet. 2:22). He had to be righteousness to make us righteous. We are accounted righteous before God and thus favored and adopted into his family through our righteous Savior’s perfect obedience imputed to us and received by a living faith in him (Rom. 5:12-18; 2 Cor. 5:21). All the other priests of antiquity obscured God under a cloak of ritual and esoterica. Godless and blind themselves, they could not make themselves or the worshippers better. They could not give peace because they could not obtain righteousness. Melchizedek alone clearly revealed the character of God and the righteous work of a priest of “God most high.”
King of Peace
He was King in Salem, which is likely short for Jerusalem. Salem means “peace.” There is no peace with God unless there is righteousness before God. What a remarkable gospel testimony! We need a priest whose righteous life and sacrifice brings God’s smile of peace, the benediction of his soul upon us. Do you not feel your need of this even now? Have we lost a sense of wonder that both of these are beautifully joined in our Savior’s priestly work, and at such a high price? “In his days, shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endures” (Ps. 72:7). “And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever” (Isa. 32:17). In Jesus Christ alone, “mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps. 85:10). He bore the “chastisement of our peace” (Isa. 53:10), the judicial penalty we deserved and that had to be removed before God could lift our curse and be reconciled to us.
Biblical religion is in grave danger of being turned on its head and hidden under a bushel basket of such folly that its power and light are snuffed out. The most important issue in religion and therefore in life is not how we feel about God or how we feel about ourselves. It is rather what the HOLY, HOLY, HOLY GOD thinks of us in his justice and holiness and truth and omniscience. Conscience tells us that this is the case. We can deceive others readily enough, but conscience is a more difficult to deceive and silence. It sounds warning bells – the pain in the pit of the stomach, the hard swallow, when a friend gets caught for doing the same things you are doing, the restless, anxious night when you feel unsettled and strangely afraid of death or dying, the discomfort at a funeral – all warning bells that your everlasting doom is approaching – unless he accepts you. Now, conscience can only be calmed and assured, as Isaiah wrote (32:17), when it knows that God’s justice is satisfied. It is satisfied only in Jesus Christ, the crucified Son of God to whom Melchizedek pointed the ancient. He is our Peace, who had made both one. Also similar to Melchizedek, his name is YAHWEH OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS (Jer. 23:5-6). He is the righteous One who obtains our righteousness through this obedience imputed to us; he is the resurrected One who makes us righteous in life by his powerful Spirit.
Perpetual Priest of God Most High
Now, the Lord called Melchizedek to serve him, for he is called “priest of God most high.” His priesthood, moreover, was not based upon whom he knew or who his parents were, as with the later Levites. It was also enduring – not because Melchizedek escaped death but because unlike the Levitical priests, he was a priest his entire life. He did not reach retirement age, which was a sign of the intrinsic weakness of the Levitical institution. In these things, he was “made like to the Son of God.” That is, God raised up Melchizedek to testify to the true priesthood that reconciles God to sinners, that of Jesus Christ. Levi’s priesthood temporarily served in that capacity, but in not yielding to the “priest after the order of Melchizedek,” Jesus Christ, he had outlived his relevance and authority, as Paul will soon argue.
For the moment, let us simply bask in God’s old gospel as revealed through the priesthood of Melchizedek. And the Scriptures must be fulfilled (Ps. 110:4). Moses recorded these things because he testified of Christ (John 5:47). God revealed them to Abraham so that in Melchizedek, he “saw Christ’s day and rejoiced” (John 8:56). For those Hebrew believers to let go of Jesus and return to any form of Judaism was to embrace an impotent priesthood. The new and final order of priest has come. His name is Jesus Christ, for he saves his people from their sins, rules over us in righteousness, establishes peace between God and us, and seals his priesthood with the indwelling Spirit who forms the fruits of righteousness in us and makes us to enjoy the peace we have with God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 5:1; 8:1; Eph. 2:14).
There is a unique feature of Jesus’ Melchizedekian priesthood that calls for our careful attention. In Melchizedek, the kingship and the priesthood are united. This could never be said of Levi, but it was prophesied that the Messiah would share this feature with Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4). How else can we trust that he is able to bring his righteousness to bear upon us in a justifying way unless he is also armed with invincible power to open our blind eyes and raise our dead hearts to new life? Can he truly save us unless he can prevail with God and offer a sacrifice that the RIGHTEOUS JUDGE will accept? We cannot have peace of conscience unless he is able to apply a heaven-accepted sacrifice to our consciences. We cannot repent and believe unless he subdues our hearts to teachableness.
Why have so many believed upon the name of Jesus Christ and thus escaped Satan’s snare? Jesus Christ is the King-Priest. We may trust him to keep us against the world, the flesh, and the devil because he is the Lord’s Anointed, the King at his right hand, the KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. Nothing that happens to us, to the church in the world, in time or space, is able to frustrate his plans to present us to himself a glorious church without spot or blemish. He is armed with power to ensure that all furthers God’s purposes to gather all things under his Headship (Eph. 1:10). Thus, we are safe in the hand of our King; righteousness through the imputed obedience of our Priest-King; tenderly helped and prayed for and received as heaven’s favorites before the throne of grace because the Lord of glory ever lives to make intercession for us. We are preserved in the world and filled with courage because we wear the righteous livery of our exalted King. Let us hold fast to him, “without wavering, for he is faithful that promised” (Heb. 10:23).
Jesus’ Priesthood Great and Enduring (vv. 4-10)
Consider how great Melchizedek was – consider how great Christ is! This is the glory here set before our eyes. Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils from his recent victory to Melchizedek (v. 4). Later, it was required in the law that Levi be supported from the tithes of the people (v. 5). The Levites descended from Abraham, but Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek (v. 6), who blessed Abraham, and is therefore greater than Abraham (v. 7). More interesting yet is that Levi received tithes to support his priesthood, but it was a very weak ministry that ended with old age or death (v. 8). Melchizedek’s priesthood was a living one, not regulated by a carnal commandment or determined by lineage. And Levi himself paid tithes to Melchizedek, for he was in Abraham’s loins when Abraham paid his tithe (vv. 9-10).
This argumentation was pivotal and compelling for those thinking that a return to Judaism would save their skins. It might, but it would also place them back under the tutelage of a weak and impotent priesthood that has now been made obsolete. Levi’s priesthood was powerless to bring righteousness and peace to them. The greater Melchizedek is now ministering in the heavenly temple. Is Jesus Christ unable to keep what they have committed to him? Are their skins worth their souls? In every way, the greatness of Jesus Christ is held up for their most careful consideration, their deepest thoughts, and their most consecrated affections. Even Levi tipped his cap to Melchizedek, which means that Levi has already made his historical obeisance to Abraham’s greater Son, Jesus Christ. A traitor Levi proved to be when he did not worship the Heir of Promise when he came but conspired to crucify the Lord of glory. And thus, Levi’s priesthood has been lost in the eons of time, the weight of judgment for his treachery, his lost lineage, destroyed temples, impotent priests without an altar, sacrifice, or hope, and a religion without a beating heart or guiding light, for “when he came unto his own, his own received him not.”
The Only Priest for Us, for the Jews, and for the World
It is evidence of the greatest blindness and hardness of heart that the Jews rejected Jesus Christ. Melchizedek taught them and their own Scriptures promised that the Messiah would be a priest of a different order. His qualifications would not be lineage but personal worthiness and official efficacy. And thus Jesus Christ came and brought in everlasting righteousness by his perfect obedience unto death. He purged away our sins in fulfillment of Melchizedek, of Leviticus, and of Isaiah 53. The Scriptures must be fulfilled. This was our Savior’s passion at every moment up to the cross (Matt. 26:54,56). They were fulfilled. He fulfilled them. He has reconciled us to God, and by believing upon his name, we may be forgiven at this moment, counted as righteous through Jesus’ obedience imputed to us and received by faith, and adopted into God’s family. Let us not receive this blessed gospel without at the same time praying that the Jews soon come to believe this ancient gospel, the gospel preached to their father Abraham, according to the flesh. When they believe and return to the olive tree of faith, it will be like life from the dead. The only thing that prevents them from seeing what is clear to all who have eyes is that they have a veil over their eyes and hearts, so that they should believe a lie. God is chastening them. Let us ask him to remember his ancient people with mercy and bring them to saving faith in their Messiah, for salvation is of the Jews.
And let us learn from their evil example the consequences of rejecting Jesus Christ, the greater Melchizedek. The Jews’ judgment has continued unrelenting for two millennia. Shall we escape God’s wrath if we slip away from Jesus? We are warned against this with such vehemence because the Holy Spirit is teaching us that holding faith to Jesus Christ is an urgent necessity. Without Jesus Christ, there is no righteousness, no peace with God, no peace of conscience, and certain wrath coming. Letting go of him or trying to mesh him with the world is the greatest of all evils. Without him, life is cheap and not worth living. Look around you. Look at our nation. The monuments that remain intact testify to the ancient faith of our fathers. We did not have school shootings then, because we did not drug boys. We did not need to do so. We did not herd them like cattle, treat them as inferior to women and a blight upon mankind. We believed that all men were created in God’s image, with dignity and purpose. We taught our young men to devote themselves to the service of the only Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. We laid Jesus Christ as the center of our national existence, as George Washington and too many others said.
Now, we have let go of him or tried to tame him or pushed him away from our national center. What has rushed in to take his place? Infanticide, gender bending, rampant psychotropic drug use, and generations of broken homes and lives. All those who let go of Jesus will swirl down the drain of historical misery and judgment. We must return to him now, beginning in the church. There is salvation in no other name. The church must unashamedly proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ – God’s King, God’s Savior from sin, and God’s anointed Messiah. There is no other name that saves but our greater Melchizedek, the King of Righteousness because he is the King of Peace. And all believers must insist upon having him preached to them, so that collectively the church can be the lampstand that holds up the light of the world, Jesus Christ. We have placed too many bushel baskets over him – narrow views on this and that social view, cold and worldly hearts, suspicions of everyone who does not think just like us on every point, or such openness that the devil might readily enough join the church.
Consider carefully, child of God, just how great this God-man, Jesus Christ is, and then go out and proclaim him to every creature under heaven. You do not need to have all the answers – that is one of Satan’s great snares – he does not want you to trust the unadulterated, humbly proclaimed word of God. He wants you to think you have to be an apologetics expert before you can speak to men about Jesus. Draw out the sword of the Spirit and thrust it into the souls of men. Tell them of sin and judgment. Tell them of righteousness that God requires and that God provides through his Son. Tell them with a joyful and humble heart that God has provided a King of righteousness and a King who gives true peace within and peace on earth through obedience. Pray for God to open their eyes. This is God’s world. This is the age of the Spirit. The gospel must prevail. We serve the King-Priest. Let us worship him.