The Melchizedekian Priesthood

Hebrews 7:1-10


(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)

Chapter 7 begins with the illustration of Jesus Christ as our High Priest that began in Hebrews 4:14 and was discontinued from 5:11-6:20. In 5:9-10 the writer said, 'And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation; being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek' The emphasis of these verses is on a salvation that is eternal, and provided by Christ, who functions as a Melchizedekian priest. We cannot have one without the other. In order for us to understand our salvation, we must also understand something of the Melchizedekian priesthood.

Chapter 7 is devoted to demonstrating the role of Christ as a priest after the order of Melchizedek. The writer shows that Christ is superior to the Levitical priesthood established in the Old Testament, demonstrating that the only priesthood existing today is Christ, in the order of Melchizedek. Verses 1-3 outline the history of Melchizedek, while verses 4-10 illustrate His superiority to Levi.

Now, there are men who function as priests today, and there are even some who take the role of high priest upon themselves. However, when one reads the Bible, it is clear that the only priesthood that exists today, with the approval of God, is the Melchizedekian priesthood, and the only high priest who functions today, with the approval of God, is Jesus Christ, Himself.

Hebrews 7:1-10

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all (the spoils), was first of all, by the translation (of his name), king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he abides a priest perpetually. Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest's office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham, and blessed the one who had the promises. But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. And in this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one (receives them), of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.

VERSE 1

If one skips from 5:10 to 7:1 the thought continues; 'For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him....' The writer moves back into the flow of addressing the truth of Christ's high priesthood after injecting a warning to those who stop short of believing in the salvation offered through Christ from 5:11 through 6:20.

The emphasis of verses 1-3 is that Melchizedek is an eternal priest. The writer intends the first phrase in verse 1, 'for this Melchizedek' to be connected to the end of verse 3, 'he abides a priest perpetually.' Only an eternal priest can offer salvation, and this is the reason that Christ can offer salvation. He is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, which is an eternal priesthood.

In order to understand and appreciate the Melchizedekian priesthood, one must first examine what the Old Testament says about Him. The only historical reference to Melchizedek found in the Old Testament is Genesis 14. The only other time he is mentioned is in Psalm 110:4, which is not a historical reference, but a prophetic reference.

The setting in Genesis 14 is that Lot, (Abraham's nephew), has moved into the city of Sodom, which enters into war and loses. After the war, the kings on the winning side take spoil and captives from the city of Sodom, including Lot and his family. Meanwhile, one of the citizens of Sodom escapes and tells Abraham what has happened (vs.13).

Abraham (who at this time is still called Abram) organizes a raiding party of 318 soldiers from among his servants and attacks the victorious kings at night, defeating them. Abraham frees all the captives from Sodom and they return. In verse 17 Moses writes, 'Then after his return from the defeat of Cherdorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley).' Of course, the king of Sodom is happy that Abraham's battle had been victorious, but notice, in verses 18-20, that an interesting person enters into the scene; 'And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High and he blessed him and said, 'Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed by God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand. And he gave him a tenth of all.' Nothing has been mentioned about this 'Melchizedek' in the book of Genesis up to this point. Out of nowhere, we are told about a king-priest who is a very important person. Then, just as suddenly as he appeared, he disappears from Scripture until the book of Psalms. Who is this Melchizedek?

Hebrews chapter 7 gives us insight as to the significance of Melchizedek. As we will see, Melchizedek is a type of Christ. A 'type' is something or someone that prefigures the person to come. There are many types of Christ in the Old Testament. For example, the sacrifices performed by the high priest prefigured the sacrifice made by Christ on the cross. In like manner, the person of Melchizedek prefigures the person and character of Jesus Christ.

VERSE 2

We know, from verse 1, that Melchizedek was a king and priest who knew Abraham, and was given a tenth of his spoil from the battle he had fought in Genesis 14. Now in the middle of verse 2 we see that Melchizedek '...was first of all, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace.' If his name is broken down into two words-'Melchi' means 'king' and 'zedek' means 'righteousness.' Of first importance, Melchizedek is 'king of righteousness,' and secondly he is 'Salem' or 'king of peace.'

The city that is represented by 'Salem' is Jerusalem. David, 1000 years after Abraham, refers to Jerusalem by this title. In Psalm 76 he says, 'God is known in Judah; His name is great in Israel. And His tabernacle is Salem.' (vs 1-2). It is clear that Melchizedek, the king of righteousness and peace, who ruled over Jerusalem before it becomes the city of God, prefigured the One who ultimately will rule over Jerusalem, who is righteousness, and is peace-Jesus Christ.

In contrast to the parameters of the Levitical priesthood, Melchizedek was both a king and a priest. Under the Law given to Moses, the same person was not allowed to be a king and a priest because priests were to be descendants of Levi, while kings were to be descendants of Judah. Melchizedek, however, was both a king and a priest. Why? Because he prefigured the person of Jesus Christ, who is both king and great high priest.

Joshua became a type of Christ as well. Zechariah 6:12 says, 'Then say to him, 'Thus says the Lord of hosts,' Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the Lord.'' The branch is Jesus Christ, and the temple is the millennial temple that will be constructed in Jerusalem from which Jesus Christ will rule and reign during the Millennium.

Zechariah 6 continues, 'Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the Lord, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices' (vs 13). This is in reference to the offices of king and priest that the Messiah will occupy. But how can this be? A priest has to be from the line of Levi, right? No, because the Messiah will be a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Jesus Christ was not a descendent of Levi. He was a descendent of Judah, so He has the rights to the throne. But He is a priest because He is after the order of the Melchizedekian priesthood.

VERSE 3

It is interesting to note that in chapter 7 we see Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel, come face to face with a man who prefigures his ultimate descendent who will be the priest and king over Israel, and all other nations in the future. Verse 3 of Hebrews 7 tells us about the person of Melchizedek. The writer says that he was 'Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he abides a priest perpetually.' Some people read this verse and say 'This is Christ Himself.' However, one will note that the writer says Melchizedek was '...like the Son of God... .' In other words, the historical record we have in Genesis 14 concerning Melchizedek was written purposely to prefigure Christ, not identify him as Christ.

The fact that Melchizedek did not have a genealogy would seem very strange to any Jew who would hear this passage. If one hoped to be a priest in the Old Testament, it was necessary for that person to show, according to his ancestry, that he was of the line of Levi. If one could not do that, one was disqualified from the priesthood (Ezra 2:61-62). Melchizedek does not have any type of genealogy because he 'abides a priest perpetually.' The fact that Melchizedek has no recorded beginning or end illustrates that Jesus' priesthood is eternal. Obviously, the man Melchizedek died, but the picture we have is of a priesthood that lasts forever.

VERSES 4-6

Verse 4 begins the illustration of the Melchizedekian priesthood being superior to that of the Levitical priesthood, demonstrating that the only functional priesthood that exists today is that of Jesus Christ. The writer says, 'Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils.' The commandment in verse 4 is 'observe.' It means 'pay close attention' to what is being said because it is of the utmost importance that we understand what is being communicated.

The first demonstration of the superiority of Melchizedek is that Abraham paid him tithes. You may say, 'Well, that may be interesting, but what so what?' Verses 5 and 6 continue, 'And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest's office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham, and blessed the one who had the promises.' The Law (Numbers 18:21,26) recorded the fact that the Levitical priests were to collect a tenth of the incomes of the people for their support. But the stress in Hebrews 7:4-6 is that the Levitical priests collected from their 'brethren.' They were not superior. They collected tithes because God commanded that it be done. But Abraham voluntarily pays Melchizedek a tithe regardless of the fact that he was not in the genealogy of the Levites. Why would Abraham do this? Because he recognized the superiority of Melchizedek and wanted to honor him. This is the first demonstration of Melchizedek's superiority to the Levitical priesthood.

Verse 6 lists the second reason why Melchizedek is superior to the Levitical priesthood; 'But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham, and blessed the one who had the promise.' Melchizedek 'blessed' Abraham. Imagine the picture: A man comes out of nowhere, receives tithes, and then blesses God's chosen leader (Abraham) who has been given all the promises from God relating to this earth.

VERSE 7

Verse 7 continues 'But without any dispute, the lesser is blessed by the greater.' In this situation, the word 'blessing' means to 'convey something to someone else.' Melchizedek conveyed certain privileges to Abraham when he 'blessed' him. This was an act that was accomplished because Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, and the fact that Abraham accepted this blessing indicated that he believed Melchizedek to be greater than him.

VERSE 8

The third reason Melchizedek is superior is illustrated in verse 8; 'And in this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on.' In other words, the Levitical priests collected tithes and, after a time, passed away. After a priest passed away, a new one would take his place, and so on. But in the case of Melchizedek, he 'lives on.' The Melchizedekian priest is immortal.

We have already seen in verse 3 that Melchizedek had no beginning or end. This is the enduring testimony of Melchizedek and the eternal priesthood that he represents. The point is that an eternal priesthood is far superior to that of a temporal priesthood.

VERSES 9,10

Verses 9 and 10 illustrate the fourth area of superiority for the Melchizedekian priesthood. The writer says, 'And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.' This kind of argument is quite mind boggling. What the writer is saying is that before Levi was born, because his father Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, so too did Levi. This was not hard for the Jews to understand, but for us it is a rather difficult idea to grasp.

This is similar to the truth that because Adam sinned, all have sinned (Romans 5:12). Everyone sinned because we have all descended from Adam. In like manner, everyone who descended from Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek because Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek. This means that Melchizedek is superior to Levi.

Some have said, 'This does not mean that Melchizedek is superior to Levi. Abraham was just paying tithes to him to acknowledge the superiority of a priest.' Well, according to the pattern of Scripture, Melchizedek is superior to Levi, and all the priests descended from Levi because Abraham paid tithes in recognition of Melchizedek's superiority.

Have you recognized the superiority of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, or are you still depending on an earthly priest to bring you eternal salvation? Hebrews 7:1-10 illustrates the truth that the only priesthood that can bring you eternal salvation is an eternal priesthood. And the only eternal priesthood that exists is that of the Lord Jesus Christ, our king and great high priest. When you acknowledge your sin before Him, and trust in His person and work on the cross, you will instantly be brought into a eternal relationship with Him, completely cleansed of your sin.



Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.

INDIAN HILLS COMMUNITY CHURCH
1000 South 84th St., Lincoln, NE 68510-4499
Phone: 402-483-4541 · Fax: 402-483-6716
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Indian Hills Community Church

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