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What does the Bible mean that Jesus is a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek?

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The Bible says that Jesus Christ is “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” So, who is Melchizedek, and what does it mean that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek?

To better understand both the person and position of Melchizedek, we should first review the biblical events prior to the introduction of Melchizedek. In Genesis chapter 14, there is an account when the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboyim, and Bela engaged in combat against the kings over Shinar, Ellasar, Elam and Goyim. This was five kings with their soldiers, against the four kings and their men. In the battle, the armies of the five kings were routed and fled before those of the four kings. Then:

“The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and possessions, since he was living in Sodom . . . When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them . . . He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.
     Then, after Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer [king of Elam] and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley)” (Genesis 14:11-17).

Abram rescued those who’d been taken captive. He also recovered “all the goods” which had been looted by them. Afterwards, Abram was returning from this victory when he was approached by Bera, the king of Sodom (cf. Genesis 14:3).

You may recall that Sodom was a town known for its ungodliness. It was one of the cities, together with Gomorrah, that God destroyed because of its wickedness (Genesis 19). In a sense, Sodom characterizes alluring temptation, wickedness, defeat, and ultimately destruction. Too, the king of Sodom, whose name was Bera, gives an imagery of that crafty and evil tempter, the Devil. Actually, in Hebrew, the name Bera means “son of evil.”

Satan is a deceptive and cunning serpent who is intent on leading men astray (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:3). Likewise, the king of Sodom was an ungodly charlaton with evil intentions which were well-guised. His offer would be enticing. But his intent was to lead Abram astray.

When the king of Sodom approached Abram, Abram was presented with temptations to retain “wealth” that the townspeople had acquired through ungodly means (which would be a form of idolatry); and, consequently, indulge in self-glorification. For, the king of Sodom had in mind to pervert Abram’s victory, and place Abram in a compromised position that could ultimately lead to a spiritual defeat. As, “those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9).

But our God always watches over his children. Before the king of Sodom could speak to Abram; the Lord God, the God of Abraham [Abram], orchestrated the events by first leading Melchizedek before Abram that day.

“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’
  Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” (Genesis 14:18-20)

This account is the only explicit time in Scripture that Melchizedek appears. Still, from these verses, we know that Melchizedek was both “king of Salem,” and “priest of God Most High.”

Melchizedek, the king of Salem: the word “Salem,” sometimes written as “Shalem,” has meanings of “full, complete, safe, whole, peaceful.” It comes from the same root as another familiar Hebrew word – shalom. “Shalom” is used for greetings of both hello and goodbye. Too, “shalom,” is as often used as a salutation to express peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. In the same way, “Salem” carries these connotations of peace and prosperity.

In fact, the writer of Hebrews tells us, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.”

“The name Melchizedek means ‘king of righteousness,’ then also, ‘king of Salem’ means ‘king of peace.’ Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever” (Hebrews 7:2-3). So, Melchizedek was, positionally, the “king of peace” and “priest of God Most High.” His very name means “king of righteousness.” And, Scripture offers no lineage, no beginning, or an end of the life for Melchizedek.

King of righteousness, king of peace, and priest of God Most High: all these titles infer an image of Christ! This is to say that, by name and titles, Melchizedek is a “type” of Christ who foreshadowed the person of Jesus Christ.

Further, consider Melchizedek’s town, Salem. Salem is known as Jerusalem today. Notice the name salem within the name Jerusalem.

Yes, Salem is now the town of Jerusalem. This is not speculation—it is backed by Scripture. For example, Psalm 76:2 says God’s “tent is in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion.” Also note, in Scripture, Jerusalem is often synonymous with Zion.

The name “Jerusalem” is often said to mean, “City of Peace,” or “Heritage of Peace.” These are appropriate. Still, a deeper study of the name Jerusalem shows earlier spellings for Jerusalem, as “Yerushalem.” “Yerushalem” comes from combining the words “Yeru” and “Shalem.” “Yeru” means “foundation stone,” or “cornerstone.” Therefore, the name Jerusalem can also be translated as “cornerstone of peace” or “foundation stone of peace.”

Can you see the symbolism in the name Yerushalem? Christ Jesus himself is our chief cornerstone (cf. Ephesians 2:20), who is the Prince of Peace. Those in Christ will live with Him forever in peace in “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem” (Revelation 21:1). “The Jerusalem that is above is free, she is our mother” (Galatians 4:26).

And, as Melchizedek came from Salem (Zion); he preludes “the deliverer [Jesus Christ] will come from Zion” (Romans 11:26).

Some suggest that Melchizedek is a Christophany—which is a preincarnate appearance of Christ in Old Testament times. There are accounts of Christophanies in the Old Testament, but I don’t believe Melchizedek is one. Rather, Melchizedek appears to have been an actual man living during the days of Abram. I think both this account in the Old Testament and the writer of Hebrews give substance that Melchizedek was indeed an actual man.

First, Melchizedek accepted the tithe offering of Abram’s recovered bounty. That would seem senseless if Melchizedek wasn’t a living person. Too, the writer of Hebrews speaks about Jesus Christ as “another priest like Melchizedek.” In speaking about another “like Melchizedek,” we can concur that Melchizedek was not Jesus himself, but Melchizedek foreshadowed the coming Messiah—just as Moses spoke about the coming Messiah saying, “a prophet like me” would come (cf. Deuteronomy 18:15).

While Melchizedek was not a preincarnate appearance of Christ, Melchizedek did give some portrayal of the coming Christ’s attributes.

Melchizedek represented a king of peace who was “without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God.”

Christ Jesus is greater. He is the Son of God. He is “Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:6-7). “He was God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:2). And, “the punishment that brought us peace was on him” (Isaiah 53:5).

“Melchizedek” means king of righteousness, yet Melchizedek appeared for only a short time.

Christ Jesus is greater. “His righteousness endures forever” (Psalm 111:3). “The LORD reigns forever . . . He rules the world in righteousness” (Psalm 9:7-8). Through Jesus, we can be credited as righteous before our heavenly Father because “the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22). For, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Melchizedek was called priest of God Most High, but his tenure was limited as a priest.

Christ Jesus is greater, and He is eternal. “Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant. Now there have been many [serving as] 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” (Hebrews 7:22-25).

Further, “Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, ‘You are my Son; today I have become you Father.’ And he says in another place, ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek’” (Hebrews 5:5-6). “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” (Hebrews 7:16).

Consider also, what Melchizedek brought to Abram.

“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine” (Genesis 14:18).

Melchizedek “brought out,” that is to sacrificially provide from his own provision, bread and wine. Bread and wine represent the body and blood of Christ, which He sacrificed for us.

  “Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’
  Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the convent, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:26-28).

Melchizedek then blessed Abram:

  “And he blessed Abram, saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.
And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand’” (Genesis 14: 19-20).

The Bible says about Melchizedek’s blessing of Abram; “without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater” (Hebrews 7:7). Meaning, Melchizedek was, in his position, “greater” than Abram. Expounding on this, Melchizedek’s blessing on Abram came some time later than God’s promise to  Abram that, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). So, Melchizedek was indeed a great man of the Lord God.

Christ Jesus is greater. He is The Lord. He is the giver of blessings—the One from whom all blessings flow. And “blessed are those who wash their robes [in Him], that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city (Revelation 22:14).

Abram then gave a tithe (a tenth) to Melchizedek (which Melchizedek accepted). “And he gave him a tithe of all” (Geneses 14:20 NKJV).”

(This post isn’t about the applicability of tithing within the New Testament church. Although, there are some who hold the tithe as an Old Testament requirement under the Law which, they claim, isn’t applicable to New Testament times. Yet, this is the first account in the Bible that speaks of the tithe, and it was before the Law. Here, the tithe was joyfully and unreservedly given by Abram (who is later called “the father of all who believe”) to Melchizedek, a person we now see was a type of Christ. In my opinion, that’s about as New Testament as you can get! We would do better to not look at the tithe as a requirement, but as a joyful privilege to return to God a portion of what He was bestowed in our stewardship.)

The wicked king of Sodom had been silent when Melchizedek was there. Yet, shortly after Abram’s wondrous experience with Melchizedek, Abram would have to deal with a cunning, but subtle, temptation offered by the king of Sodom.

I suppose Melchizedek had left when:

“The king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.
  But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘With raised hand, I have sworn an oath to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’” (Genesis 14:21-23).

The king of Sodom’s offer sounded appealing on the surface. And, Abram could’ve easily considered the recovered goods as deserved rewards. Yet, this wasn’t from the Lord. Instead, it was an unrighteous lure of acquiring wealth that had come from towns whose practices were inundated with wickedness. That would’ve put Abram in a position of collecting wealth which he knew was acquired through practices which God forbade. That would give the devil a foothold for accusations. Further, to retain the recovered goods could’ve caused the townspeople to ultimately resent Abram. After all, the goods were originally taken from the townspeople possessions when their towns were looted. So the townspeople would’ve wanted back a large portion of what was taken from them.

Furthermore, the king of Sodom had asked Abram to give him the people. However, there wasn’t need for Abram to give the recovered people to the king of Sodom. If so, that would’ve, in essence, kept them in continued bondage, under the direction and authority of Bera, that “son of evil.” In this, the king of Sodom was like Satan, the evil one, who quests to keep men in bondage.

Instead, Abram could simply release all those who had been taken captive and allow them to return freely to their homes. For, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

The Lord Jesus Christ: He is one who the persona of Melchizedek points to.

For, Jesus is our true peace. Through Him, and only through Him, can anyone be credited as righteous before our heavenly Father. He is our high priest who sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for us (cf. Romans 8:34). “And of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33).

Yes, to be in Christ is to be blessed in true freedom! Praise be to God Most High!

 

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