Who was Melchizedek, mentioned in the Old and New Testament? How was he a priest of God Most High? Why did Abram (Abraham) give him a tithe? Let's dive into his biblical story and relevance for Christians today!
Melchizedek in Genesis
"And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything." (Genesis 14:18-20)
Melchizedek brought out bread and wine to Abraham. His priesthood typified the High Priesthood of Christ, who gives his precious body and blood to the faithful in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
Two of the many reasons for the superiority of the order of Melchizedek include:
- Melchizedek blessed Abraham. Aaron was a descendant of Abraham through Levi. Thus, in blessing Abraham, Melchizedek also blessed Levi and Aaron. It is always the greater who blesses the lesser in clerical authority.
- Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek, and in this act, so did Levi and Aaron (Hebrews 7). Therefore, salvation comes through the superior order.
Melchizedek in Psalm 110
"The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool." The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, "You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head." (Psalm 110)
Psalm 110 is a prophecy concerning the Melchizedek Priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ, which explains the true meaning of the Nativity. In Genesis 14, Melchizedek is called the king of Salem and priest of the Most High God (also see Heb 7:1). His priesthood was not based on genealogy (Heb 7:3). It was based on him alone, for no one preceded him in the priesthood, nor succeeded him (Heb 7:8). On this basis he was a type of Christ, whose priesthood is based in His endless life, for He rose again from the dead.
The LORD [the Father] said to my Lord [Christ], "Sit at My right hand" (Psalm 110:1). For Christ is not only Man but also the Lord God, coequal and one in nature with the Father. For He is begotten from the Father before all time and is, therefore, his eternal Son. He is the son of David according to the flesh, but He is also the Lord of David according to His divinity.
Melchizedek in Hebrews
A major theme of the Book of Hebrews is the contrast between the earthly, or Levitical, priesthood and the eternal priesthood of Melchizedek, which is fulfilled in Christ.
"For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.
See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him." (Hebrews 7:1-10)
Persecuted Christians are encouraged not to apostatize to Judaism because the founding father of Christ's priesthood, Melchizedek, is superior to the Old Testament priesthood of Levi.
"Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar.
For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him, "You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek."
For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, 'You are a priest forever.'" This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermostthose who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever." (Hebrews 7:11-28)
Not only is the founder of the new covenant priesthood superior to that of the old covenant, but the rules of the new covenant's priestly order are also superior. Priesthood is so intertwined with a covenant that if the priesthood is changed, so is the covenant.
The Priesthood of Melchizedek
As Melchizedek was without earthly genealogy, so is Christ by virtue of His virgin birth. He is God incarnate, immortal and sinless, and therefore His priesthood is able to transform humanity.
The power given at ordination is strong and effective. The power of Christ's priesthood is perfect and draws us near to God. His sacrifice is offered once and for all. The Father Himself ordains the Son.
Since Christ is immortal, the priesthood of Melchizedek needs only one, eternal priest. The requirement of perfect holiness is met in Christ, the only sinless One. He is more than a mere man, He is the Son of God.
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