First, let’s understand that we shouldn’t take this too far. There’s no evidence within the Word indicating that we should assume that Melchizedek’s appearance to Abraham was a Christophany, or that he was any kind of a divine being. He is identified in these verses as the king of Salem, and painting him in light of a Christophany, theophany, or angelic being would create more questions than answers about his being known as the current ruler over pre-Israeli Jerusalem on the day he met Abram and that entire conversation occurred in Genesis 14. However, it’s a responsible, logical conclusion to suggest that Melchizedek was a “type” or “picture” of Christ.
We looked at a list earlier that showcased the extraordinary familiarity between this character and the Word of God. With his name having now gone from “My King Is Tsedeq” to effectively “My King Is Yahweh,” we can proceed to reflect on the other elements: He’s associated with the Father, kingship, Jerusalem, righteousness, justice, peace, and the priesthood. Folks during the Second Temple Period are going to start building a profile of what they believe the coming Messiah will look like, and by Psalm 110, the biblical writers directly state that the Messiah will be a priest “after the order of Melchizedek,” or a priest whose order can be traced to something older and higher than a Levitical ancestry rule from the Mosaic Law. How much more astounding, then, that Christ fulfilled these expectations, even though His coming and His work would not look anything like what the Jews of His time thought they would. The connection is even more unbelievable when we calculate the odds of Christ fulfilling this one parallel, never mind the countless prophecies!
It’s not a coincidence that Abraham (“Abram” at the time) came into contact with this king by the name of “My King Is Yahweh”—and it’s likewise no coincidence that Israel’s conquests led God’s people to claim this as their Promised Land—officially linking the first king under Yahweh to David, whose bloodline would produce the Messiah, Christ. The original king of Jerusalem, under our very precious Lord Jehovah, wasn’t David, but Melchizedek! And Melchizedek was not merely a king, but a king-priest! His order or priesthood was the first, the oldest, and the highest, and therefore took precedence over the later Aaronic order of priesthood that was born from what many scholars (not just Heiser) would consider to be God’s “secondary plan” when Moses’ lack of faith angered the Lord.
Consider this: Throughout Exodus 3 and 4, there is a repetitiously argumentative nature in the communication between God and Moses: God tells Moses to do something, and Moses gives reasons God’s plan will never work. This happens over and over, until it climaxes in Moses’ outright plea that God just “send someone else” to fill Moses’ shoes (Exodus 4:13). In the next verse, we read that God’s anger is “kindled” against Moses, and He announces that Moses’ brother, Aaron the Levite, will now be the speaker for God since Moses’ faith is a growing issue. Aaron is now a sort of equal leader with Moses over the people of God, which leads to his fulfilling the role of High Priest.
This would mean that the Aaron[ic] priesthood is, at best, a concession or an accommodation to Moses. At worst, it’s a punishment. In other words, Moses is not allowed to approach the Most Holy place later on, but Aaron is.… Aaron’s priesthood is a result of Moses’ unbelief from the very beginning.[i]
If Moses hadn’t goobered too many times in his faith, our God likely never would have set his brother as the official bloodline in the first place, and it likely wouldn’t have had anything to do with who someone in Israel was related to. The order of the priesthood under Melchizedek, then, is the Higher Order that the Messiah would inherit.
You know, though, after all this reflection, Jesus’ true paternal bloodline on His Father’s side (Father God) was of a Higher Order anyway, so, spiritually speaking, the Son of God should not be limited to the tribe of Levi…but if He is going to be accountable to some “priesthood order,” it stands to reason that it would be established under the very first king of Jerusalem in the Word who is irrefutably coupled with the Father God’s original covenant man, Abraham.
Now, fast forward to the messianic references in Psalm 110 again, specifically verses 1–4, and note that “Zion” is Shalom—in other words, Jerusalem (!!!):
The Lord [Father] said unto my Lord [Son], “Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion [Jerusalem; ruling place of the ancient Melchizedek]: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies. Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth. The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.”
With that in mind, let’s return to what the book of Hebrews says of our great Messiah, who has inherited His priestly status from this higher order, and let’s reflect what we now know (with my brackets added) of this relationship in light of these new insights.
Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness [we’re getting to this…], and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace.…
Now consider how great this man [Melchizedek] was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils [why would Abraham pay tithes—money that has historically been given to the Hebrew/Christian God—to the king of Salem if he was a corrupt, pagan king?]. And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better. And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth. And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchizedek met him [meaning Levi wasn’t born yet, but as Levi was at this moment still “in the loins” of the patriarch, Levi, himself—the very father of the priestly bloodline—is subject to this payment of tithes to Melchizedek, the higher priestly order].
If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed [note that the priesthood is “being changed” here, from Levi to the higher Melchizedek], there is made of necessity a change also of the law [and therefore, even the Law must be changed to reflect this higher order!]. For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar [Jesus is from “another tribe” altogether, of which no man of Israel ever had anything to do with during His priestly rituals around the altar]. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood [this tribe was even above the knowledge and authority of the one and only Moses, who “spoke nothing concerning” it!].
And it is yet far more evident [the writer of Hebrews essentially just said, “Guys, this is obvious, now,” so we shouldn’t try to make it more complicated than what follows next in the text]: for that after the similitude of Melchizedek there ariseth another priest [or, “there arose another priest who is a ‘type’ of Melchizedek”], Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment [the ESV says, “not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent”; i.e., it’s not a matter of who He’s related to], but after the power of an endless life. For he testifieth, “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. [This verse from the KJV is very wordy… A modern rewording (mine) would say: “The prior commandment is weak and useless, so verily, right now, we are observing an exchange of the old priesthood commandment/Law for something newer, stronger, better, and more profitable for all.”] For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.
And inasmuch as not without an oath [i.e., don’t assume this new order was established without an oath or covenant] he was made priest: (For those priests were made without an oath [the priests of the bloodline of Levi/Aaron became such by birth, not by oath]; but this [Jesus as High Priest] with an oath by him that said unto him, “The Lord sware and will not repent [He will never change His mind], Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek:)
By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament [that is, a newer, better covenant than the old]. And they [priests of Levi] truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death [their natural, human death excused them (obviously) from being a priest and carrying those responsibilities]: But this man [Jesus], because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood [He will always, unchangeably, be our High Priest!]. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him [meaning He can save them completely and radically], seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins [Jesus clearly never did, and never will, offer a sacrifice for His “sins,” as He is sinless], and then for the people’s [and He needn’t offer up a sacrifice for our sin]: for this he did once, when he offered up himself [because He already accomplished this!]. For the law [the old way] maketh men high priests which have infirmity [men who are imperfect]; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore [our High Priest is forever perfect]. (Hebrews 6:20, 7:1–28)
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Okay, okay, Tom. But you can’t just say that the book of Hebrews is “wrong” when it says that Melchizedek’s name means “King of Righteousness,” right?
You’re correct. But, the answer to that conundrum is a) more in front of you than you might have seen, and b) buried in a lengthy explanation regarding how the Jews of the Second Temple era wrote and spoke about the then-coming Messiah.
As a reminder, the book of Hebrews was written to the Jews, not to modern Christians. The Jews already had a Second Temple-era concept of who the Messiah (the ultimate King of Righteousness) would be, as He was described throughout the Old Testament—as well as how those Old Testament Scriptures would have been interpreted by a Jewish audience at the time. The writer of Hebrews wasn’t trying to convince Christians that Jesus was of the line of a higher order of priestly lineage (though we benefit infinitely that this material was written). He (or she, if some scholars are correct when they link the writer of Hebrews to Priscilla of Pauline association) was intending to inform a Jewish audience that Christ was a valid High Priest, as under an order of ancient origin that even the psalmist understood. The point was to show that Melchizedek, a king named “My King Is Yahweh,” was a clear “type” of Christ. When viewed from the etymological roots of the name that was over and over and over again dropped in oral tradition throughout that era, what else could this Melchizedek/Christ-type’s name possibly mean, prophetically, other than the very fulfillment of the supreme King of Righteousness?
In the interest of not steering this study too far down a theological rabbit hole that has already consumed the entire life’s work of countless scholars, I will leave the etymology of “Melchizedek” here and move on. (However, I’m sure inquiring minds out there simply must have the “full explanation” of how scholars arrive at harmony between “King of Righteousness” and “My King Is Tsedeq/Yahweh.” If that is the case for you, a good place to start would be Dr. Michael Heiser’s “Naked Bible Podcast,” episodes 166, 167, 168, 170, and 172. Further information regarding these shows and their transcripts is at this endnote.[ii])
This is all fascinating, isn’t it? I only wish I had another five hundred pages to keep reflecting on the importance of names as they pertain to God. Hopefully by now, the point has been made: Names are much more than a “sound in the air” or any other errant Juliet-ism. Names represent a destiny and a promise.
But they also represent a covenant.
UP NEXT: Destiny For People “Of” The Name
[ii] Heiser, “Naked Bible Podcast,” episodes 166 (July 9, 2017), 167 (July 15, 2017), 168 (July 22, 2017), 170 (August 5, 2017), and 172 (August 19, 2017). First, route your browser to https://nakedbiblepodcast.com/episodes/, and scroll down to locate the desired episode. After you’ve clicked that parent link, simply pressing the “play” button on the next page will begin the podcast. However, if you’re like me, and you learn better with text in front of you (instead of trying to keep up with an audio player), click the link that says “Download transcript” in red letters under the player. The entire episode will open up as a well-edited transcript, complete with citations and references, in a new window.