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Melchizedek the Priest


Most Jews expected the promised Messiah to be from the royal line of David, a reasonable conclusion based on the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7). Psalm 110, a psalm of David, was read as a promise about the Messiah’s kingly reign. But that psalm also describes the Messiah as a “priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4).

The author of Hebrews has already made three references to Jesus in connection to this psalm that mentions Melchizedek (Heb. 5:6, 10; 6:20). Using the only other Old Testament passage about Melchizedek (found in Gen. 14:7–20), he highlights several important aspects about Melchizedek that help us better understand Jesus, the Messiah.

First, Melchizedek was both a “king of Salem and priest of God Most High” (v. 1). Although most Jews anticipated a kingly Messiah (as promised in Ps. 110), the reference to Melchizedek in the psalm reveals that the Messiah would also be a priest. The dual meaning of Melchizedek’s name now makes sense when applied to Christ: “king of righteousness” and “king of peace” (v. 2).

Second, Melchizedek had a mysterious eternal quality, with no backstory: “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life” (v. 3). He shows up in the story and then disappears, with no recorded beginning or end. This resembles the eternal “Son of God” who “remains a priest forever” (v. 3).

Third, Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, who “gave him a tenth of the plunder” (v. 4). Melchizedek blessed Abraham, not the other way around. In a sense, through Abraham all of Abraham’s descendants paid homage to Melchizedek! Thus, if Christ is a priest in the order of Melchizedek, then He is truly superior to all who came before.

Apply the Word

The author of Hebrews makes ample use of Old Testament passages to better understand the person and work of Christ. All of Scripture truly is Christ-filled! Go back and slowly read the account of Abraham and Melchizedek in Genesis 14, asking God’s Spirit to open your eyes to see Christ in ways you may not have noticed before.

BY Bryan Stewart

Bryan A. Stewart is associate professor of religion at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. His particular interests are the history of Christian thought and the way that early Christians interpreted the biblical canon. He is the editor of a volume on the Gospel of John in The Church’s Bible series (Eerdmans), and he has done extensive research on the ways that the early Church preached on this Gospel. He is an ordained minister. 

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