Questions About Melchizedek
“Some allege that the mysterious ‘Melchizedek,’ whom Abraham met when returning from the rescue of Lot, was a physical manifestation of the pre-incarnate Christ. Would you comment on this?”
It certainly is true that there were numerous pre-incarnate (i.e., “before the flesh”) appearances of the Lord Jesus during Old Testament times (see: "A Brief Study of “The Angel of Jehovah”".) However, “Melchizedek” was not one of them, even though some, e.g., Ambrose of Milan (A.D. 340-397), and a few modern commentators, have so contended. But the distinction between these individuals is evident from the various biblical expressions comparing them.
- Christ was a priest of God after the “order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6,10; 6:20; 7:11,17). The word “order” (taxis) signifies an “arrangement.” In this connection, it means “of similar arrangement,” i.e., the nature of, or “just like Melchizedek” (Danker, et al., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000, p. 989). The meaning is this: in some sense the kingly-priesthood of Jesus would be similar in nature to that of Melchizedek. Note the reference to Psalm 110:4 above, and observe that Christ made the application of this Psalm to himself in Matthew 22:43-45.
- Similarly, when the writer of Hebrews notes that Melchizedek was made “like unto the Son of God” (7:3), he makes a clear distinction between the two. Also observe the term “likeness” in 7:15. Melchizedek’s regal priesthood was providentially prepared to pre-figure that of Christ — a marvelous example of Heaven’s preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Again, though, this comparison between Melchizedek and Christ negates the identification of them as being the same individual.
- Twice the inspired writer uses the word “another” (heteros) to demonstrate a comparison between the illustrious Old Testament priest, and the Son of God (Hebrews 7:11,15). The term “another” indicates they were not the same in identity.
Melchizedek was a “type” of Christ, that is, certain features of his divine service (his reign as king and his function as a priest) were an Old Testament visual aid; a prophetic preview of various aspects of Jesus’ role, but these two men were not the same person.
“What does the writer of Hebrews mean when he said that Melchizedek was ‘without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like unto the Son of God, abides a priest continually’” (Hebrews 7:3)?
It is this rather enigmatic description that has led some to adopt unusual views with reference to the Old Testament priest-king. None of the expressions in Hebrews 7:3 is to be assigned a literal meaning. Rather, they are terms that depict the nature of Melchizedek’s priesthood, in contrast to the Aaronic priesthood, as such prevailed under the Mosaic regime. A careful consideration of the context is essential in the interpretation of these expressions.
It was not that Melchizedek was “without father, without mother” literally, or that he had no genealogical background. No, the truth being conveyed was this. Whereas the Aaronic priesthood resulted from being a part of a family line, i.e., the descendants of Aaron, Moses’ brother, the priesthood of Melchizedek was bestowed directly by God. And it was precisely in this manner that the Lord Jesus was appointed as our High Priest; he did not inherit it by means of a physical lineage (cf. Hebrews 7:14).
There is an interesting text from one of the Amarna letters (more than 350 clay tablets from the Royal Egyptian archives, cir. 1400-1360 B.C.) that illustrates this matter. These letters were produced by scribes in Canaan, Phoenicia, and southern Syria. In one of these letters (No. 286) there is the claim of Abdu-Heba, king of Urusalim [Jerusalem], which says: “Behold, as for me, it was not my father and not my mother who set me in this place; the arm of the mighty king brought me into the house of my father!” (James B. Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East, Princeton: University Press, 1958, Vol. I, pp. 269-270). This is not to suggest that Abdu-Heba was Melchizedek, only that the circumstance of bestowal in the former’s case is strikingly similar to the language regarding Melchizedek.
Melchizedek was not without physical parents; the reality was, he did not owe his position to them. The same was true with reference to Christ. It was not his Hebrew lineage that brought him to the priesthood; it was by means of a direct appointment of Jehovah.
Nor is the phrase, “having neither beginning of days nor end of life,” to be pressed literally. Surely no one contends that Melchizedek is still alive somewhere upon the earth! Here is the reality of the situation.
According to the biblical record, the Levitical priests served in the tabernacle from the time they were 25 years of age, until they were 50 (Numbers 8:24-25), but no such limit is suggested in the scripture record regarding Melchizedek. As far as the Genesis narrative reveals, there was neither beginning nor end to his administration. And, as F.F. Bruce observed, in this respect “the silences of the Scripture were as much due to divine inspiration as were its statements” (The Epistle to the Hebrews — Revised, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990, p. 160).
In the case of Christ, our “High Priest” (this designation being used 17 times in the epistle to the Hebrews), the Lord will serve in this capacity throughout the span of his entire reign, until such fades into that eternal administration (cf. Revelation 5:13b). And the effect of Jesus’ heavenly priesthood will be unending! All of earth’s redeemed will praise him eternally.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.