Melchizedek, (mel KIZ uh dek) king of righteousness; 22nd century B.C; Genesis 14:18.
His mysterious appearance and disappearance as a friend of Abraham and worshiper of God has led to speculation about Melchizedek’s origins. Some think that this historical king-priest had no father or mother, nor any descendants, but existed eternally, such as the archangel Michael. In the New Testament, he is pictured as a supernatural figure whose untraceable origins and eternal life prefigure the divinity of Jesus Christ.
When Abraham met him, Melchizedek was king of
Salem (short from of ) and a priest of the Most High God. This was a propitious meeting, at which this king-priest interceded on Abraham’s behalf. Melchizedek offered bread and wine to the war-weary Abraham, a prayer of blessing for him, as well as praise to God for victory over Chedorlaomer and his allies, who had previously kidnapped Abraham’s nephew Jerusalem Lot. For this service, Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe of all the bounty won in battle.
The Melchizedek mentioned in the Psalms may be the same one as in the Genesis account, or he may be the more symbolic idealized king-priest that would foreshadow Jesus’ priestly ministry. According to the writer of Hebrews, the priesthood of Melchizedek was greater than Abraham and the Levitical or Aronic priesthood (as Levi was subordinate to Abraham; hence also to Melchizedek).[i]
So who was he really? He was king of
and priest of the most high God and other glorious things are said of him. The most rabbinical writers conclude that Melchizedek was “Shem” the son of Noah, who was king and priest to those that descended from him, according the patriarchal model. This is not at all probable; for why should his name be changed? How come he came settle in Salem Canaan?
Many Christian writers have thought this was a “Theopany” or “Christophany” and that this was or Lord Jesus. The appearance of the Son of God himself. Known to Abram, at this time, by this name, as afterwards, Hagar called him by another name (ch16:13). He appeared to him as a righteous king, owing a righteous cause, and giving peace. It is difficult to imagine that any mere man should be said to be without father, without mother and without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life. It is likewise difficult to think that any mere man should, at this time be greater than Abram, in the things of God, that Christ should be a priest after the order of any mere man, and that any human priesthood should so far excel that of Aaron as it is certain that Melchizedek’s did.
The most commonly received opinion is that Melchizedek was a Canaanitish prince, that reigned in Salem, and kept up the true religion there; but if, so , why his name should occur here only in all the story of Abram, and why Abram should have altars of his own and not attend the altars of his neighbor Melchizedek who was greater then he seems unaccountable.[ii]
The lack of biographical and genealogical particulars for this ruler, whose name meant “righteous king” and who was a king-priest over ancient
, allowed for later revelation to use him as a “type of Christ”. His Superior status in Abram’s day is witnessed by (1) the king of Jerusalem , the first to meet Abram returning in victory, deferring to Melchizedek before victory, deferring to Melchizedek before continuting with his request and (2) Abram, without demur, both accepting a blessing from and also giving a tithe to this priest-king. Sodom
Priest of the most high: The use of El Elyon (Sovereign Lord) for God’s name indicated that Melchizedek, who used this title 2 times (verses 18,19) worshiped, served and represented no Canaanite deity, but the same one whom Abram also called Yahweh, El Elyon (v.22). That this was so is confirmed by the added description, “Professor of heaven and earth,” by being used by both Abram and Melchizedek (verses 19 & 22)[iii]
It appears that Melchizedek was a type of Christ. Evidence points to him as an actual king, his name means “righteous king” who was a king-priest over Jerusalem and later revelation seems to point to this meaning as well in Psalms 110:4 and Hebrews 7:17
Specifically in Hebrews; like Melchizedek’s priesthood, Jesus’ was first and last based on who he was. It had nothing to do with the physical body but everything to do with eternal power, the power of an indestructible life. The comparison is Jesus to Melchizedek so it can not be Jesus to Himself there for it must not be a Theophany… and the evidence for the other two just don’t hold as much ground. Therefore the best educated guess can be that Melchizedek was probably a man that symbolized the person of Christ
[i] Dietrich Gruen. Who’s Who in the Bible An Illustrated Biographical Dictionary. (Lincolnwood, Illinois, Publications International, LTD. 1998) 207.
[ii] Mathew Henry. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 1991.) 78.
[iii] John MacArthur. MacArthur Bible Commentary. (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson, Inc. 2005.) 34.