MELCHIZEDEK: THE FORESHADOWING OF A GREATER REALITY

 (Writers Note: In my previous post MELCHIZEDEK: TYPE OR THEOPHANY?  I wrote on why I contend Melchizedek was a Christophany, he was a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. Of course, there are an equal number of biblical scholars who see Melchizedek as only a type of Christ. Someone asked me if I would write a post from the position of presenting Melchizedek as a type of Christ and Christ being the antitype or the fulfillment of what Melchizedek foreshadowed. I have always believed one can best articulate their own position on an issue if they understand the opposing position. While my position on who Melchizedek was/is  set forth in the last post, the following is written from the position that Melchizedek was the foreshadowing of a greater reality. The reader having then both sides can make up their own minds. – Dr. Dan)   

         Melchizedek bursts upon the pages of the Old Testament, like a refreshing breeze on a hot summer day. Found in Genesis 14, he appears to Abram (Abraham) after he had returned victorious, though weary, from the heat of battle. Genesis 14:18-20 reads, “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.

         The reader discovers Melchizedek was both a priest and a king, and Abram, recognizing his kingly and priestly character, gave him a tithe of all his “goods.”  However, he vanished from Scripture as quickly as he appeared, his name not reappearing again until Psalm 110, a Messianic Psalm.  In Psalm 110:4, the Lord promises, makes an oath, that the coming Messiah “will be a priest after the order of Melchizedek.” The Messianic Psalm and the author of Hebrews, by calling the Messiah/Christ a “high priest after the order of Melchizedek,” unites the qualities of both an expiatory priesthood and kingly majesty, which was different from the Levitical order where no priest could be a king.  

          The author of Hebrews takes the Old Testament passages (or lack thereof) regarding Melchizedek to skillfully and masterfully weave into a reasoned typological tapestry how the priesthood of Christ is outside the Levitical order, it is of a different sort.  The Levitical order only being imperfect types and shadows, a new order was needed to bring about fulfillment of the types and shadows. The author of Hebrews uses the mysterious priest-king to paint a vivid picture of the qualities and characteristics that would reside in priest-king Jesus Christ, establishing a new order superior to the Levitical order.   

          Ever since the ink on the Book of Hebrews first dried there has been a debate whether Melchizedek and Jesus were/are the same person. A case can be made either way. It can be argued convincingly that Abraham, after his victorious battle, met and gave honor to the preincarnate Christ. In like manner it can be argued convincingly that Melchizedek is a type of Christ, foreshadowing His eternal and perfect priesthood, which was outside the Levitical order.  While many able expositors contend Melchizedek was a Christophany, the purpose here is to give an examination of how the writer of Hebrews usage of Melchizedek was to depict him as a type of Christ.

          Melchizedek has already been mentioned in Hebrews 5:6-11, but here the author turns to a fuller treatment of the subject, based upon the historical account of Melchizedek in the OT. The focus of Chapter 7 is that the Aaronic priesthood was insufficient and that a priest, not of the line of Aaron, was needed. This “great” priest was to not be of the order of Aaron, but of Melchizedek.  A.C. Kendrick articulates well regarding the author of Hebrews using Melchizedek as a type of Christ, writing:

On Melchizedek’ s origin and history, the vail was evidently not intended to be lifted. Raised up for a special purpose, his origin and end shrouded in intentional obscurity, he was brought into personal contact with the father of the Jewish race, that when a change should be necessary in the Jewish priestly order their own annals might foreshadow and justify the proceeding in the exhibition of one before whom Abraham himself, and in him his priestly descendants, had bowed in homage. So at least God has used Melchizedek, and so we may presume he intended to use him, and that to this use the Old Testament narrative was adjusted. Whatever the sacred historian may have known, or not known, regarding Melchizedek’ s ancestry and historical relations, the Spirit of God that presided over the narrative caused just so much to be recorded as answered the purpose of his introduction. He was to be used simply as a type. It mattered not so much what he was as what he appeared.[1]

          In using the historical priesthood of Melchizedek as a type of Christ, the author of Hebrews is showing there is a priesthood older than the Levitical priesthood and of a different sort, whose qualification were different from the Levitical order based on one’s lineage.  In comparison, the priesthood of Christ is of a different sort from the Levitical priesthood, and transcends the qualifications of the old Aaronic order.

          The writer of Hebrews deals with known facts of the history of Melchizedek; and makes interpretation of the history with typological comparisons from it. Of the facts recorded in Genesis none are passed over, except the gift of bread and wine. Reaching back into Genesis 14 and Psalm 110, at the close of Hebrews chapter 6 the author says of Jesus that He has entered heaven, there to be our High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

6:17 Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: 18 That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: 19 Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; 20 Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

          The focus of the author of Hebrews is to show that the Levitical order was insufficient and imperfect in dealing with man’s sin. What is needed is another order of priesthood outside the Levitical order. Found in Psalm 110, a Messianic Psalm, the Lord promises in 110:4 that the Messiah would establish a new order, one after the order of Melchizedek. The mysterious priest-king is used as a type of the coming Messiah, Jesus being the reality of what Melchizedek foreshadowed.  Yes, this priesthood was introduced by an oath of God: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind ‘You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek’.” God does not swear lightly. He did not introduce the Levitical priesthood that way. This was something new. Christ is the fulfillment the of High Priest, which the Lord took an oath to provide. The priesthood of Christ was not based on legal qualifications, but by an oath from God, who cannot lie.  

          The writer uses the priesthood of Melchizedek as a foreshadowing of Christ (7:1-3). He lifts out elements surrounding the person and character of Melchizedek that foreshadow what Christ would be and do in reality. The writer takes a historical person, and the revealed facts and at times from the lack of historical information (arguing from silence) about him to develop a type or a prefiguring of the kind of Priesthood that is needed to bring man into the presence of God.   The author’s method of exegesis, at times arguing from silence of facts, may seem odd to the Western mind, but biblical scholar Myles Bourke points out that “according to a principle of rabbinic exegesis, what is not mentioned in the Torah does not exist.”[2]  For the writer of Hebrews what is said about Melchizedek and what is not said about him are equally important!

          Richard Lenski writes, “The sudden way in which the scriptures draw back and close the curtain on Melchizedek is the divine way of making him a type of Jesus, the King-Priest, who like Melchizedek, stands alone and unique in his priesthood and is absolutely distinct from the long Aaronic succession of priests.”[3] So the author uses parallels drawn from the story of Melchizedek to highlight the uniqueness of Christ and that His sacrifice is superior and His priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood.  What was true of Melchizedek as a matter of historical record was true of Christ in a real and literal sense. His intent is to show the existence of another order of priesthood, older, superior and superseded both the Law and the Levitical priesthood. Again, the writer uses the priesthood of Melchizedek as a foreshadowing of Christ (7:1-3).

7 For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him;2 To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;3 Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.

          The author argues that Melchizedek, a priest-king, outside the Levitical order, possessed character traits that foreshadowed character traits that the promised Messiah would possess in perfection.  Five positive qualities emerge from the priesthood of Melchizedek: (1) it was a priesthood of righteousness, (2) a priesthood of peace, (3) a royal priesthood (for he was a king), (4) it was personal and not inherited because he has no recorded genealogy, and (5) having no record of birth or death, and his priesthood having no record of beginning or end – he is a picture, type, foreshadowing of what Christ would be and do in reality and with perfection. Melchizedek was a snap-shot of what Jesus would display and possess in perfection. And as Melchizedek was outside the order of the Levitical priesthood, so is the Messiah, Jesus Christ. 

          The author’s goal of stating that Melchizedek’s lineage is unknown is not to say that Melchizedek had no lineage (v. 3), but that it is not recorded and his linage was not the criteria for his priest-king position. His priesthood was not based on genealogy, which was important in the Levitical order.  The author’s point is that the priesthood of Melchizedek stands outside of the line of Levi and Aaron. For many of his original readers, this would have been a most difficult concept to grasp. The priesthood belonged to the Levites. It is almost as if the author wanted to make sure that his readers didn’t miss the point, “He has no genealogy and even if you wanted a genealogy, there is no father or mother recorded through whom to trace his lineage.” The Aaronic priesthood depended on genealogical descent; the priesthood of Melchizedek depended on personal qualifications alone. Melchizedek’s priesthood was based on what he was, not on what he had inherited by genealogy.     

          Melchizedek is used to establish the legitimacy and the dignity and superiority of Christ’s priesthood. Melchizedek is seen as “made like unto the Son of God” (Heb. 7:3). In other words, Melchizedek is the picture/photo of what Jesus is in reality. Those scholars who see Melchizedek as a type, see the phrase that he is like “unto the Son of God,” that Christ is after the counterpart of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:14), indicating that Christ must be understood as the antitype of Melchizedek. The author makes all the things of Melchizedek’s life typical of certain things in the life of Jesus Christ, Christ being the full reality of what in Melchizedek is only a shadow.  A.B. Bruce explains well the phrase “made like unto the Son of God.” Bruce writes:

The intention is to suggest a parallel between Melchizedek and the Son of God in their respective relations to time. The Son of God as Son of man, like Melchizedek, had both a birth and a death; yet as Son of God He had neither beginning of days nor end of life. And Melchizedek is likened unto Him in this, that his life, so far as the record is concerned, is ” shrouded in the mystery of eternity.”[4]

          What is true of Melchizedek in type, that “he abides continually,” is true of Christ in reality.  There is no record that Melchizedek had neither predecessor nor successor in his office, he appearing to have a continual priesthood. What is said of Melchizedek in type, can be said of Christ in reality, that His priesthood abides continually. Melchizedek’s priesthood only gives an impression of being endless whereas that of Jesus is actually so.

4 Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. 5 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: 6 But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. 7 And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.

          Melchizedek is an order of priesthood that predates the Levitical priesthood by some 400 years, thus it is superior to the Levitical order. Melchizedek priesthood to which Abraham, the father of the nation, gave tribute, paid tithes, and received a blessing. That Abraham paid tithes to him; therefore, Melchizedek was greater than Abraham and greater than his descendants, as they were in his loins.

8 And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth. 9 And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham. 10 For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.

          The idea is clear, Abraham’s descendants are identified in their forefather (corporate personality) and that therefore the Levitical order was in effect acknowledging the superiority of Melchizedek. Levi, who collected the tithe, paid the tithe through Abraham. This is a strange argument to those not familiar with corporate personality,[5] where neither the father nor the children are independent of each other. In Abraham’s payment of tithes to Melchizedek, Levi, and hence the whole order of his priesthood, paid tithes, as well. This reveals the superiority of the Melchizedek order.[6]  

          Bruce sums up the points in which Melchizedek was superior to the ordinary Levitical priesthood. (a) He received tithe from Abraham and was therefore superior to him. Abraham was one of the patriarchs; the patriarchs are superior to their descendants; therefore, Melchizedek is greater than the descendants of Abraham; the ordinary priests are the descendants of Abraham; therefore, Melchizedek is greater than they. (b) Melchizedek is greater than the sons of Levi because they exacted tithes by legal enactment but he did it as a right he personally possessed given to him by no man. (c) The Levites received tithes as mortal men; he received them as one who lives forever (Hebrews 7:8). (d) Levi, to whom the Israelites paid tithes, may be said to have paid tithes to Melchizedek, because he was Abraham’s grandson and was therefore in Abraham’s body at the time Abraham paid tithes.[7] Therefore, since Melchizedek predated the descendants of Abram and Levi’s descendants, there was a priestly order superior to the Levitical order.  

11 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 Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?

          The Levitical order being an imperfect order, another new, perfect priestly order was needed. If the Levitical priesthood could have been sufficient to bring salvation to fallen man, there would have been no need for another. However, the imperfect Aaronic priesthood was dependent on genealogical descent; the priesthood of Melchizedek depended on personal and spiritual qualification alone. Melchizedek’s priesthood was outside the Levitical order, being a priest arising who could provide the perfect sacrifice for humanity.

12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. 13 For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood 15 And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, 16 Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life.

          Now there was the Aaronic order of priesthood from the tribe of Levi. To be a high priest in the nation of Israel under the law was, first you had to be from the tribe of Levi, and then of the Aaronic order. The Levitical priest was law-made, without reference to spiritual qualifications; the Messianic Priest becomes a priest because He had inherent spiritual fitness and an inherent right to the office. So, the writer is pointing out that this priesthood of Jesus, was of a higher order of priesthood than was the Aaronic order established under the law. It was outside the Levitical order and before the Law.     

17 For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. 18 For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. 19 For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God. 20 And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest: 21 (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:

          It is therefore the argument of the writer of Hebrews that what is needed is a new and a different priesthood and a new and effective sacrifice. He sees in Jesus Christ the only High Priest who can open the way to God; and he calls the priesthood of Jesus a priesthood after the order of Melchizedek. What his priesthood was in shadow, Christ’s priesthood is in reality.

         The author says in verse 18 that there is a “disannulling” or  a “setting aside” of the Levitical order, so as to bring in a better hope and order. The Greek word used here for “disannulling” or setting aside, is athetesis. The word athetesis was used for the official annulment of a decree, the cancellation of a debt owed, or the nullification of a will. Its usage here as a legal term is appropriate for the author’s argument about a change in the priesthood necessitating an annulling of the associated law regard the Levitical order.[8]

          The problem was that all the efforts of the Levitical priesthood and all the sacrifices could not restore man’s lost relationship with God. They only prefigured that there would come One who would be the final Lamb offered…who would accomplish what the Levitical priesthood could not.  It is therefore the argument of the writer of Hebrews that what is needed is a new and a different priesthood and a new and effective sacrifice. He sees in Jesus Christ the only High Priest who can open the way to God; and he calls the priesthood of Jesus a priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, which shall be forever.

22 By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.

         Jesus became our “surety.” A “surety” was one who performed an act or a task in place of another person; a person who undertakes some specific responsibility on behalf of another who remains primarily liable.[9]  Jesus Christ is our “surety” doing for us what we could not ever do for ourselves. Jesus as our “surety” offered himself as the pledge to pay the debt of our sin on our behalf.  If the first covenant was sufficient, we would not need a “better testament.” The Greek word for “testament” is diatheke, which is a covenant not between two equals but where one of the parties is superior to the other![10]

23 And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: 24 But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. 25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

          The Levitical order had many priests through the years, but none were able to offer a sacrifice sufficient to save one person. The Priesthood of Christ is eternal and unchangeable. The sacrifices of earthly priests could save no one, but the one sacrifice was/is sufficient to save all. The Levitical priests died, but Christ’s sacrifice is able to save all who will come unto him and he ever lives to make intercession on our behalf. The Levitical priests had to succeed one another because they kept dying (v. 23), but Jesus Christ needs no successor because He ever lives. Christ has an “unchangeable” (v. 24) priesthood that abides forever. The Greek word for “unchangeable” is aparabaton, which can mean permanent or untransferable.[11] The priesthood of Christ is permanent, unchanging, and is untransferable and will never pass to a successor.   As William Plumer has written, “Although the Lord Jesus Christ had many types, yet he had no predecessor; and he has none to succeed him, for he has an unchangeable priesthood.”[12] Christ need not transfer his priesthood to another for His work is complete, his sacrifice perfect in its offering and acceptance before the Father.  

26 For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; 27 Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.

          The point of contrast is here clear, Christ has not need, like the Levitical priests, to offer sacrifices for his own sins at all; for he has none; nor like them to offer sacrifices for the people day by day, or repeatedly; for his one offering is forever sufficient. The problem was that all the efforts of the Levitical priesthood and all the sacrifices could not restore that lost relationship. Matter of fact, the priests in the Levitical order had to make sacrifices for themselves. Each sacrifice made by all the priests only prefigured that there would come one day One who would be the final Lamb offered…who would accomplish what the Levitical priesthood could not.  It is therefore the argument of the writer of Hebrews that what is needed is a new and a different priesthood and a new and effective sacrifice. He sees in Jesus Christ the only High Priest who can open the way to God; and he calls the priesthood of Jesus a priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, whose One sacrifice of Himself was the perfect provision humanity longed for. The point of contrast here is clear, Christ has not need, like the Levitical priests, to offer sacrifices for his own sins at all; for he has none. Neither does Christ have to offer sacrifices for the people day by day, or repeatedly; for his one offering is forever sufficient.

28 For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.

          Under the old order every high priest was mortal, frail, and infirmed. The new priesthood was introduced by an oath of God: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind ‘You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek’.”(Ps. 110:4) God does not swear lightly. In Christ, His Son, we have a perfect priesthood.  What Christ is to His people, He will be to them forever.

          These last verses (vs. 26-28) summarizes the author’s argument in chapter 7: (1) Those who served in Levitical priesthood were appointed by the law, but the new priesthood has been appointed by the word of a sworn oath.  (2) The law which appointed men to the Levitical priesthood was superseded by God’s oath which was given after the law. (3) The Levitical priesthood consisted of frail men, but the new priest is the eternal Son. (4) The Levitical priests are characterized as having to continually make sacrifices, but the Son has made One sacrifice, which is forever sufficient.[13]

          As Hebrews chapter 7 comes to an end, the writer’s masterful presentation of Melchizedek as a type of Christ concludes. He has clearly shown that in order for humanity to be provided with a priest who could offer the ultimate sacrifice for the sin of humanity, it must come from another order of priesthood other than the Levitical order. A.B. Bruce states, “It is a great thing for a people to have a Melchizedek at the fountain-head of its history, a man fitted by genuine holiness and righteousness to transact on behalf of his fellow-men with God.”[14] While Melchizedek serves as a type of the priestly order humanity needs, Christ is the reality and fulfillment of all the types and shadows Melchizedek represented.  O, what a Savior.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

 

ENDNOTES

[1] A.C. Kendrick, Hebrews, (Philadelphia, Pa.: American Baptist Publication Society, 1889), 84.

[2]Myles Bourke, “Hebrews,” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, eds. Raymond Brown & Joseph Fitzmyer (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), 932.

[3]  R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Epistle of James (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1938), 213.

[4] A.B. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, (New York: Charles Scribner’s & Sons, 1899), 251.

[5]  William L. Lane, “Hebrews 1–8,” Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 47a (Thomas Nelson, 1991), 1:69.

[6] Donald Guthrie, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Hebrews, (InterVarsity Press, 2009), 159-60.

[7] Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 258-261.

[8] Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, PNTC, (Eerdmans, 2010), 265.

[9] William Plummer, Commentary on Hebrews, (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Baker Book House, 1872), 300.

[10] Leon Morris, Hebrews, (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1981), 70.

[11] Bourke, Hebrews, 933.

[12] William Plumer, Commentary on Hebrews, (Randolph and Company, 1872), 302.

[13] O’Brien, Hebrews, 281

[14] Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 254.

 

 

 

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