Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Melchizedek

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 remains 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. 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.

Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. For it is attested of Him,

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews 7:1-17 (NASB)

The story of Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek and Hebrews 7:1-17. Was Melchizedek actually a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ in the Old Testament? Who is the mysterious priest and what is his relationship to Yeshua?

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-seven: Melchizedek
Originally presented on October 12, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

We finally exit the elementary principles of the faith and get back into that “meat” the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews was talking about. That meat starts with Melchizedek.

Lancaster started out by quoting from Lech Lecha:

When he returned from defeating Chedorlaomer and the kings with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh, which is the Valley of the King. And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him, saying,

“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your foes into your hand.”

And [Abram] gave him a tenth of everything.

Genesis 14:17-20 (JPS Tanakh)

So who was Melchizedek? He’s the King of Righteousness. The King of a place called Salem, which is an ancient name for Jerusalem. He’s also called a King of Peace. Sound familiar?

melchizedekLancaster says (and I’ve heard this before as well) that many people believe that Melchizedek is a “pre-incarnate Jesus”. In other words, Jesus showed up in disguise in the Old Testament to honor Abraham. I’ve always had trouble with this interpretation, as it cheapens the incarnation of Jesus being born of woman (much later in history) by having him just appear and disappear in this sequence of events. Fortunately, Lancaster also has a problem with this. But then what is Melchizedek’s relationship to Jesus?

Here’s one connection (sort of). Lancaster says that Melchizedek shows up bringing bread and wine to give Abraham a banquet foreshadowing the banquet of Abraham in Messianic Days. What banquet you ask?

I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…

Matthew 8:11 (NASB)

Oh. That banquet.

So Jesus is supposed to give Abraham a banquet in the Messianic Kingdom? Seems kind of reversed. You’d think Abraham would hold a banquet in honor of King Messiah. On the other hand Abraham did give Melchizedek a tenth of everything after receiving a blessing, but we’ll get back to that.

Lancaster did bring up the midrash in Judaism that suggests Melchizedek was actually Shem, the son of Noah. While this works in terms of the chronology of events, it can’t be true because the writer of Hebrews says that Melchizedek is without genealogy or ancestry, which Shem definitely had.

Lancaster, dispelling the midrash in this case, then quotes the following:

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 6:19-20 (NASB)

We know about the order of the priesthood of Melchizedek from this:

The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at My right hand
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
The Lord will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying,

“Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”
Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power;
In holy array, from the womb of the dawn,
Your youth are to You as the dew.
The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Psalm 110:1-4 (NASB)

All this seems to indicate that the Priest/King Melchizedek had established a priestly order. What do you have to do to join this order?

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 remains a priest perpetually.

Hebrews 7:1-3 (NASB)

the letterLancaster admits that on the surface, this sounds a great deal like Melchizedek could be Jesus. On the other hand, saying he was without father and mother just means that the Torah doesn’t mention them, not that they didn’t exist. Also, it says Melchizedek had no genealogy, but Jesus has a very specific genealogy. He has to in order to qualify as the Messiah King.

Lancaster directs us back to his understanding of why this letter was first authored. The Greek-speaking, Jesus-believing Jews in Jerusalem were going through a crisis of faith. They had been persecuted by the Sadducees who were in control of the Temple. They had been cut off from the Temple, from the sacrifices, and from the (Aaronic) priesthood. And as Lancaster said in past sermons, no one approaches Hashem without a priest.

But the Hebrews writer is saying that they did have a priest, just one of a different order than that of the Aaronic priesthood. But how could that be?

You shall gird them with sashes, Aaron and his sons, and bind caps on them, and they shall have the priesthood by a perpetual statute.

Exodus 29:9 (NASB)

This is a fancy way of saying that the priesthood descending from Aaron was established forever. It was never-ending. It could not be ended or replaced.

So how could Messiah, of the tribe of Judah and the house of David be a priest?

Because he belonged to a different order of priests. The order of Melchizedek. But is there such an order or was the writer of Hebrews speaking metaphorically?

I asked before, what would you have to do if there were such a priestly order and you wanted to join it? According to Psalm 110:4, you had to be immortal because it says, “a priest forever.” As far as we can tell, Melchizedek was not immortal, even though the Bible never records his death (or birth for that matter).

If Melchizedek was a literal King/Priest of the city of Salem, which at that time a Jesubite city ruled by a Canaanite King, then this couldn’t have been a role that Jesus just “popped in” for and then popped back out again up into Heaven after a brief chat and a nosh with Abraham. He would have had to rule over Salem on a day-to-day basis, being the head of a very real government in a very real city with very real human citizens.

Doesn’t seem likely that this is Jesus.

We do know something about Melchizedek as a priest, though. He blessed Abraham and Abraham paid Melchizedek.

But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. 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.

Hebrews 7:7-10 (NASB)

AbrahamIn almost any context, Abraham, having received the promises from God, was the biggest wheel at the table, so to speak. No one was of a higher authority than Abraham relative to the purposes of God. If anything, Abraham should have blessed Melchizedek, since only the greater blesses the lesser, just like fathers bless their children. That Melchizedek, the Priest of the Most High God, blessed Abraham, then he was superior to Abraham. Also, Melchizedek should have given a “tithe” to Abraham if Abraham were truly in the catbird seat.

If, as the above-quoted verses from Hebrews 7 attest, Aaron and his descendants were “still in the loins of” Abraham, it would be as if, in blessing Abraham, Melchizedek were blessing Aaron and his sons, thus establishing that Melchizedek and his priestly order was superior to Aaron and the Levitical priestly order. This is also why Melchizedek would receive a tithe instead of paying one.

Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.

Hebrews 7:11-12 (NASB)

This makes it seem as if the Melchizedekian order replaces the Aaronic order of priests, and thus Jesus replaces the Levitical priesthood, the Temple, the sacrifices, and the Torah.

Lancaster says he’ll address all that in a subsequent sermon, but in short, Jesus being in the order of the priesthood of Melchizedek doesn’t replace Aaron’s priesthood (and the sacrifices, the Temple, and the Torah), but he represents a different order that exists in a different venue, the Heavenly Temple Court, while the Aaronic priesthood has authority over the earthly Temple and sacrifices.

As I’ve already mentioned, verse 14 addresses the differences between the ancestry of Melchizedek (whose ancestors are not mentioned) and Jesus (who had a very specific ancestry).

And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. For it is attested of Him,

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews 7:15-17 (NASB)

Notice this says someone “in the likeness of Melchizedek” and not Melchizedek himself. Also, this order of the priesthood of Melchizedek is not established through a “physical requirement,” that is, who you are descended from, but rather, “according to the power of an indestructible life.” By being the “first fruits of the dead,” (1 Corinthians 15:20), Jesus was the first to have the power of an indestructible life, thus only he was and is qualified to enter into the priestly order of Melchizedek. It comes down to the writer of Hebrews saying that Jesus can be a Priest of a different order than the Aaronic priesthood because Melchizedek had previously been accepted as a Priest of Hashem and was not a descendant of Aaron.

All this I more or less knew, though Lancaster nicely filled in some of my information gaps…

…but…

What Did I Learn?

Take silver and gold, make an ornate crown and set it on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. 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. 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.”’ (emph. mine)

Zechariah 6:11-13 (NASB)

Compare this to the following:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch;
And He will reign as king and act wisely
And do justice and righteousness in the land. (emph. mine)

Jeremiah 23:5 (NASB)

LevitesBoth of these are Messianic prophesies. The passage from Zechariah describes the Israelites returning to their Land after the Babylonian exile. The Temple was in ruins. Prophesy said the Messiah should have arrived at that point, rebuilt the Temple and restored Israel. Where was he?

According to Lancaster, Zechariah’s answer was to prophesy that a (righteous) Branch would come to rebuild the Temple. Then the prophet commanded that a crown be made and placed on the head of Joshua the High Priest, and that he would represent the Branch who would one day come to rebuild the Temple and to sit on the King’s Throne, and that the Branch would also be a Priest, and that he would bring peace between the office of the priesthood and the office of the King.

The kicker is that the High Priest’s name is “Joshua”, which is “Yehoshua” in Hebrew (transliterated), but the Jews coming out of Babylon were speaking Aramaic, not Hebrew. They would have pronounced his name “Yeshua,” which we translate into English as “Jesus.”

The writer of the Book of Hebrews is trying to encourage his readers by saying they really do have a High Priest, one who is in Heaven, even though they are cut off from the earthly High Priest. Based on the precedents set in Psalm 110 and Genesis 14, that High Priest is King Messiah, who like Melchizedek, is both a King and a Priest, which was also prophesied by Zechariah.

This was good news for the Jesus-believing Jews reading this letter, but it’s also good news for us. Even though Kohens are identifiable today, there is no Temple in which they can offer sacrifices. Yet no man comes to God without a priest. But we, like the readers of the Hebrews letter, do have a High Priest, one who brings us near to God. we have Yeshua, we have Jesus, who is both King and Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

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5 thoughts on “Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Melchizedek”

  1. James, you shared:

    Hebrews 7:11-12

    This makes it seem as if the Melchizedekian order replaces the Aaronic order of priests, and thus Jesus replaces the Levitical priesthood, the Temple, the sacrifices, and the Torah.

    Lancaster says he’ll address all that in a subsequent sermon…

    My question is did you review the “subsequent sermon”? I’d love to read it.

    Thanks.

  2. Joy! Thank you. Sorry I didn’t notice the date on your post… that it was relatively new… I’ve been reading your articles almost all day today & can hardly stop because one just leads to another. So I am learning so much from you. Thanks again.

  3. @Linda — While I don’t know how Lancaster approaches the passage you cited, one aspect that most folks don’t appreciate is that the background view is one in which the heavenly sanctuary and the earthly one are operating simultaneously in parallel, with the earthly one reflecting the operations of the heavenly one and receiving its authorization therefrom. The lack of this perspective also is responsible for a less-than-accurate English translation of the passage. For example, the word rendered as “change” can mean simply “difference”; hence what was intended as a comparison becomes falsely tainted with a sense of replacement. The encouragement offered in the Hebrews sermonic letter is that operations of the heavenly sanctuary continue to be effective even if those of the earthly one become unavailable, or are interrupted, or the sanctuary is destroyed outright (all of which occurred either just before or just after this letter was circulated).

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