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Who is Melchizedek?

Genesis 14:17-24 records that Melchizedek, “king of Salem” and “the priest of the most high God,” went to congratulate Abraham on his victory over Chedorlaomer and his allies. Melchizedek brought bread and wine for the warriors, and bestowed his blessings upon Abraham, whereupon Abraham gave him a tenth of all the spoils taken from the enemy. Who was Melchizedek? Was he a human being, an earthly king, or was he something else?

Some believe that Melchizedek was a Christophany—an Old Testament appearance of Christ. Some of the statements made about him in Hebrews suggest that he was a supernatural being. However, in Hebrews 7:3 we are told that Melchizedek was “made like unto the Son of God,” indicating that he was not the Son of God, but only made like him.

What about the statement in Hebrews 7:3 that Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life”? Doesn’t this suggest that Melchizedek was really a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ?

Some take it that way, and that may be the proper understanding of these words. However, the words “without father, without mother, without descent” may simply mean that there is no recorded genealogy of Melchizedek in Scripture, and that there is no record of his death, which is a marked difference from Aaron (Numbers 20:22–29). Having a recorded genealogy to which one could refer was essential in the Aaronic priesthood. However, the point the author of Hebrews wants to make is that Melchizedek is different and superior to any member of the Aaronic priesthood. Melchizedek is, therefore, a suitable type of Christ.

Two additional facts makes Melchizedek a fit type of Christ. For one thing, we are told that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek. “And as I may so say,” we read in Hebrews 7:9, “Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham.” This indicates that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, and even greater than Levi, who was seminally in the body of Abraham as Abraham’s future descendant. As the one who receives, rather than bestows this blessing, Abraham, and all of his descendants are inferior to Melchizedek.

Moreover, Melchizedek was unique for his time in that he was both a priest and a king. The king could not serve in a priestly function. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies. The Lord Jesus Christ, however, had this dual ministry and, as we are told in Hebrews 9:26, “but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

The description of Melchizedek given by the author of Hebrews well serves his purpose of seeking to show first-century Jewish Christians the folly of reverting back to the faith and practice of the Old Testament. Whether or not Melchizedek was a human king or a Christophany is really not germane to the book’s purpose.

Jesus, therefore, is a priest after the order of Melchizedek.

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