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Hebrews 7:1-10: Better than Melchizedek

I’m enjoying our pastor’s sermon series, Look to Jesus, through the book of Hebrews. A key figure in Hebrews 5 – 7 is Melchizedek. It’s interesting that no other writer in the New Testament mentions Melchizedek, but the author of Hebrews has much to say!

In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews 5:5 – 6

Melchizedek is only mentioned twice in the Old Testament. The story in Genesis piques my interest! In Genesis 14, four kings battle 5 kings and are victorious. In their victory they plunder Sodom and Gomorrah and take Lot hostage. Abram rescues his nephew, Lot, conquering those 4 kings! When Abram returns, two kings come out to meet him. Genesis tells us that Melchizedek was both priest and king of Salem. Melchizedek brings bread and wine to Abram, blesses him, and Abram gives Melchizedek a tenth of all he plundered. This brief introduction to Melchizedek is curious and yet leaves us with so many questions.

This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.”  Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

Hebrews 7:1-3

What do we know about him?

  • Melchizedek was the King of Salem. Salem is a shortened form of Jerusalem (Psalm 76:2). Salem also is very similar to the word for peace in Hebrew. The author of Hebrews in 7:2 writes, “the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.””
  • Melchizedek was the priest of the God Most High (Gen 14:18). This is fascinating – where did Melchizedek learn about God? Who made him a priest? This event is hundreds of years before God established the priesthood, and when He did all priests came from the tribe of Levi. It is also interesting that in Israel, one could not be both priest and king.
  • Melchizedek has no genealogy in scripture. We don’t know about his lineage which is unusual. The Old Testament in particular is full of genealogies which place events on an historical timeline for us. Melchizedek is mysterious.

Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder!  Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham.  This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater.

Hebrews 7:4 – 7
  • Melchizedek was greater than Abraham. You would think since through Abraham all nations will be blessed, that he would be the one doing the blessing in this meeting. But Melchizedek blesses Abraham. Hebrews 7:7, “And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater.” Abraham also gave Melchizedek a tenth of all he had plundered. Hebrews 7:4, “Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder!” By default, this makes Melchizedek greater than Levi as well. Hebrews 7:9-10, “One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.”
  • Melchizedek is like Jesus! Hebrews 7:3b, “resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.” Melchizedek is shadowing the Son who exists in eternity past, present, and future!

Why does this matter? What is the significance of Melchizedek for us? The author of Hebrews crafts a very detailed argument as to how Jesus is both King and Priest, greater than Melchizedek!

The eternal, superior priesthood of Jesus is our only hope of eternal salvation. God’s wrath never changes. There is only one hope for sinners like us. We must have a faithful high priest, who will intercede for us forever. We need a king of righteousness. We need a king of peace. We need someone without beginning and ending. Someone who has an indestructible life and will never die and need to be replaced. We need someone greater than Abraham and greater than Levi—something like Melchizedek, who blessed Abraham, and who received tithes from Abraham and, in a sense, from Levi in Abraham. We need a new and greater priest. All the Old Testament priesthood could do was point toward the One superior priest whose sacrifice of himself and whose eternal intercession would guarantee eternal salvation for all God’s people.

John Piper, Sermon, December 1, 1996

Melchizedek symbolizes the ideal which is fully realized in Jesus. 

I’ve found the pearl of greatest price,
My heart doth sing for joy:
And sing I must, a Christ I have;
O what a Christ have I?

Christ is the Way, the Truth, the Life,
The way to God on high,
Life to the dead, the truth of types,
The truth of prophesy.

Christ is a prophet, priest and king,
A Prophet full of light,
A Priest that stands ‘twixt God and man,
A King that rules with might.

Christ’s manhood is a temple, where
The altar God doth rest;
My Christ, he is the sacrifice,
My Christ he is the priest.

My Christ he is the Lord of lords,
He is the King of kings;
He is the Sun of righteousness,
With healing in his wings.

John Mason, 1683
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