“For this Melchizedek—
King of Salem, priest of the Most High God,
who met Abraham and blessed him
as he returned from defeating the kings,
and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything;
first, his name means king of righteousness,
then also, king of Salem,
meaning king of peace;
without father, mother, or genealogy,
having neither beginning of days nor end of life,
but resembling the Son of God—
remains a priest forever.” Hebrews 7:1-3
In Hebrews 7, the author continues the discussion about Christ being our high priest. To help make this case, the author points to the Old Testament figure Melchizedek. As the author of Hebrews wisely observes, Melchizedek allows us to see how the Messiah can be both a king and a priest, without coming from the priestly family of Levi and Aaron.
Melchizedek is a very mysterious figure. He only appears in two verses in the Book of Genesis (14:18-20). In these two verses, we are told several things about Melchizedek. We are told that he is the King of Salem, the priest of the Most High God, and he blesses Abraham. He presents Abraham with bread and wine. Though this might all seem like trivial information, the author of Hebrews draws from this information and shows us how these things point us toward Jesus.
The author of Hebrews spends a lot of time talking about Melchizedek’s name and his position as the King of Salem. His name, Melchizedek, means “King of Righteousness,” which gives us a vital clue about his character. Along with this, we know that Melchizedek ruled over a significant city–Salem, which would later be renamed Jerusalem. We know Jerusalem is important because it is where God would locate His temple; it would be where God chose to dwell among His people. In Genesis, before the temple was constructed, and before Israel was created, we see that Melchizedek, the King of Righteousness, is the ruler of this holy city. We are also reminded that the name “Salem” means “peace,” which adds another layer to this interesting figure. Not only is Melchizedek the King of Righteousness and the King of Salem, but he is also the King of Peace. His titles, and his actions of laying out bread and wine, foreshadow an even greater king, Jesus–the King of Kings–and the work that He would do in Jerusalem.
As amazing as all of this already is, the author of Hebrews points our attention to something else. We are reminded that Melchizedek is not only a king, but he is a priest. He belongs to a priesthood that predates Levi and Aaron, which means Melchizedek’s priesthood is not confined to a particular family. God appointed Melchizedek to this priesthood, and this is the priesthood that God would also appoint Jesus to. This allows Jesus to be, like Melchizedek, both a priest and a king. Jesus comes from the royal family of Judah and David, and He was appointed by God to be in the priestly order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4).
Though he only appears very briefly in the Bible, Melchizedek helps us better understand how God mapped out His plan of salvation down to the smallest detail. Melchizedek shows us how Christ can be the Messiah who is both king and priest. Since Christ is both priest and king, he can perform the duties of both offices. He can offer the sacrifice of atonement to save us from our sins, and He can also rule over us and direct us in how we should live. Christ is worthy to save us, and He is worthy to rule over us, and because of this, we must live worthy of the call He has placed upon us.
Artwork: Icon of Abraham meeting Melchizedek