Seventh-Day Adventists/Who is Melchizedek?
Have you given any thought to the identity of Melchizedek? He appears to have been the pre-incarnate Christ to whom Abraham gave a tithe perhaps because he recognized his divinity. For example read Heb. 7:1-3: “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; 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;
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.” Note that he was King of Righteousness and of Peace. He had no father or mother, no beginning or end, therefore he was eternal. Paul says he was like the Son of God and was a priest continually or forever. This is pretty good evidence that Melchizedek was Jesus. What are your thoughts?
Dear Brother Anthony:
Like most serious students of the Bible I have indeed considered the identity of the mysterious Melchizedek. To the casual reader of the Bible the verses you quoted may settle the issue for them, i.e. Melchizedek was the pre-incarnate Jesus. However, let’s look at the issue in more detail to see if your conclusion is biblically correct. The only appearance of the historical Melchizedek occurs in 3 verses in the book of Genesis.
“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ He gave him a tenth of all” (14:18-20 NASB).
Many centuries later David mentioned Melchizedek in one verse of Psalm 110. “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’” (v. 4 NASB). This is referring to the Christ. “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet” (v. 1 NASB). These 4 verses are all that we have concerning Melchizedek in the Old Testament. Paul knew this Psalm was referring to Jesus. “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22 NASB; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:22-25).
In the New Testament only Paul writes of Melchizedek and that only in his letter to the Hebrews. There Paul exegetes the 4 Old Testament verses giving us a wealth of information. He mentions Melchizedek twice in chapter 5 (see vs. 6 & 10). In the closing verse of chapter 6 Paul mentions again that Jesus is our High Priest after the order of Melchizedek (see v. 20). Then in chapter 7 Paul expounds on the mysterious Melchizedek as a type of Christ. In the first verse and the first part of verse 2 Paul simply recounts the historical facts. “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, 2 and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything…” (NIV; cf. Genesis 14:18-20). Then Paul begins to exegete the text.
Melchizedek was “by interpretation” (KJV) king of righteousness and king of peace. Jesus literally is the King of Righteousness (cf. Jeremiah 23:6; 33:16) and the King of Peace (cf. Isaiah 9:6). Melchizedek was so only by interpretation of his name and of the city where he ruled. [Note: Salem may be the city later renamed Jerusalem (see Psalm 76:1-2)].
“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’” (Hebrews 7:1-2 NIV).
This indicates that the two were not the same person since one was king of righteousness and peace only by interpretation and the other was so in reality. In the very first chapter of this letter Paul portrays Jesus as the King of Righteousness. This comes through better in the NKJV and the NASB rather than the NIV which has “justice” in this verse. “But to the Son He says: ‘ Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom’” (v. 8 NKJV).
In v. 3 “without Father or mother, without genealogy” is Paul’s way of pointing out that Melchizedek was “priest of God Most High” yet he did not possess the proper family history to be a priest under the Old Covenant. Therefore, Jesus cannot be excluded from the priesthood just because he is not of the tribe of Levi (cf. 7:6 & 7:14). Paul has already emphasized that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek not Levi (cf. 5:6, 10; 6:20). Paul is pointing out that there is a greater priesthood than the one in the order of Levi.
“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” (7:4-7 NIV).
Paul continues in v. 3 “without beginning of days or end of life” does not mean Melchizedek was an eternal being of some sort. Paul’s point here is that the Levitical priesthood had a beginning of (priestly) days and an end of (priestly) life. Priests under the Old Covenant could not begin being priests until 30 years old and couldn’t be priests after 50 years old (cf. Numbers 4:1-3, 23, 30, 35). Melchizedek’s priesthood had no such limitations; therefore, Paul could say, “he remains a priest forever”. Paul sees Melchizedek’s priesthood as the perfect type for Jesus’ priesthood.
Further on a more mundane level Paul is also noting that Melchizedek has no family history recorded. This is highly unusual in Genesis where important individuals generally have a genealogy recorded. Melchizedek just suddenly appears and then disappears. Genesis does not mention his birth or death. One would expect his father to be listed, that he married and had sons and daughters, lived X number of years and died. Yet Genesis is unusually silent on this. So Paul writes that Melchizedek is without father, mother and genealogy. It’s as if he had neither beginning of days nor end of life. According to the rabbis if something is not recorded in the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) then it does not exist in the world. So Paul could say Melchizedek was a priest forever. Of course Paul did not really believe that Melchizedek was still wandering around first century Jerusalem performing priestly duties. However, this all typologically fits the true eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ and that was Paul’s point.
The statement, “resembling the Son of God” is another proof that Paul is comparing two different persons. If Melchizedek was Jesus he would be called the Son of God not “resembling” the Son of God. Also Jesus could be said to be “resembling” Melchizedek (cf. Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 5:6, 10; 6:20; etc.). One cannot resemble himself thus Melchizedek and Christ are different persons.
The final statement of v.3, “he remains a priest forever”, as just noted, Paul wanted to remind the Jews that unlike the Levitical priesthood there were no limitations on Melchizedek’s priesthood. Paul sees this as a type of the everlasting priesthood of Jesus.
“Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (7:23-25 NIV).
Paul summarizes his main points in 7:11-19.
“If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared: ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’ The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God” (NIV).
So I believe that it is clear that Paul was not teaching that Melchizedek and Jesus was the same person. Rather he was teaching that Melchizedek and his priesthood make for an excellent type for the non-Levitical priesthood of Jesus. In other words, Paul is using the superior priesthood of Melchizedek to legitimize the priesthood of Jesus in the minds of the Jews. For our high priest is after the order of one who was priest before Levi and was greater than Levi by virtue of the fact that Father Abraham paid him a tithe (cf. 7:4-10).
Another reason to believe that Melchizedek and Jesus are not the same person is that Melchizedek spoke of his god as God Most High or El Elyon in Hebrew (see Genesis 14:19). This was a title commonly used for the Canaanite god Baal. Abraham prefaced this title with the true God’s name Yahweh, thus Yahweh El Elyon (see Genesis 14:22). If Melchizedek was actually Jesus he would have known God’s name and not referred to him by the Canaanite god’s title. It was not until many years later that God’s people appropriated the title, God Most High, and commonly applied it to Yahweh.
Consider that God swore that Jesus would be a priest in the order of Melchizedek. “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’” (Psalm 110:4 NASB). God would not swear that if Melchizedek and Jesus was the same person. “You are a priest forever according to the order of yourself.” God swearing that the Christ would be according to the order of Melchizedek shows two things. One: That they are different persons. Two: That the Old Covenant and its priesthood were destined to become obsolete (cf. Hebrews 8:13). The fact that God would inspire Psalm 110:4 proves that the Old Covenant was always meant to be temporary. For Him to not say that the Christ would be in the order of Aaron proves this. For under the Old Covenant the high priest had to be according to the order of Aaron.
I believe that Melchizedek was a righteous Canaanite priest-king living in a Canaanite city in a Canaanite land. He worshipped god under the title of El Elyon or God Most High and for him, as for all Canaanites, that was Baal. Apparently out of his righteousness he gave Abraham food and drink after his return from a victorious battle. Abraham, in turn, gave him the customary tithe. Then having served his purpose this type for the priesthood of Christ vanished into history.
God Bless You,