WHO WAS MELCHIZEDEK, AND WHAT WAS HE ALL ABOUT?
by Shawn Brasseaux
“Can you shed some light on who Melchizedek was and what he was all about? There seems to be confusion over him.”
What a question. Thanks! The Bible provides very little about Melchizedek/Melchisedec in the Old Testament. We must go to the “New Testament” Scriptures for the majority of information about him. Melchizedek first appears in the Bible in Genesis 14:18-20: “ And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.  And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth:  And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.”
From Genesis, we learn three things: (1) Melchizedek was the king of Salem (later called Jerusalem); (2) he was the priest of the most high God, (3) and Abraham paid a 10 percent tithe (income tax) to Melchizedek (head of the local government). Historically, we never read about Melchizedek in the Bible again. We do not know where he came from prior to Genesis chapter 14. Also, we do not know what happened to him after Genesis chapter 14. Hence, Melchizedek is one of the most enigmatic characters in Scripture.
We also know that Melchizedek lived about 500 years before the Aaronic (Levitical) priesthood of Israel was instituted. God created Israel’s priesthood beginning with Moses’ brother, Aaron, and, according to Exodus 28:1, Israel’s priests had to be men of the tribe of Levi, and, of that tribe, they can only be sons of Aaron. Thus, with Israel and the Mosaic Law, Melchizedek’s priesthood is done away. As far as we know from the Bible, no one assumed Melchizedek’s priesthood; the Levitical priesthood is the priesthood that continued all through the Old Testament economy. In contrast, nothing more is said about the Melchizedekian priesthood after Genesis chapter 14.
When we come to our Lord Jesus Christ, the Bible says He will be Israel’s High Priest. For example, Hebrews 3:1: “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.” And chapter 4 of Hebrews, verses 14-15: “ Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.  For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” These verses will be fulfilled at the Second Coming of Christ onward, right into Israel’s earthly kingdom (His 1000-year reign). But, Christ cannot be a priest of Aaron’s order/course/office because of a covenant change. We will discuss this briefly.
Notice what King David wrote in Psalm 110:4, about 1000 years before Christ: “The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent [change his mind], Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” According to Hebrews 5:6,10 and Hebrews 7:17,21, this is God the Father speaking to His Son, Jesus Christ. Notice Hebrews 6:20: “Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” Thus we see that God the Holy Ghost included Melchizedek in the Old Testament in order to give us a preview of what Jesus Christ would become one day. In other words, Jesus Christ will pick up where Melchizedek left off 4,000 years earlier with his own priesthood.
While I strongly encourage that you read all Hebrews chapter 7 to get a better understanding of this, light commentary will be provided here. That chapter explains how Israel’s priesthood (the Levitical priesthood, as found in the Mosaic Law) will be done away when Jesus Christ makes the New Covenant with Israel at His Second Coming (Hebrews 8:8-13; Hebrews 10:15-17; cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 11:26-27). The Lord Jesus Christ will replace the Levitical priesthood with His own priesthood of the Melchizedekian course. The reason for this is very simple. The Levitical priesthood is associated with the Old Covenant (Mosaic Law). However, since there will be a New Covenant with Israel, there must also be a new priesthood to accompany that new covenant. The Levitical priesthood can only operate in the Mosaic economy and it can only benefit the Jews. In contrast, the Melchizedekian priesthood has no limits. It was pre-Israel, pre-Law, and pre-Moses, so it can involve the whole world, and remember that Jesus Christ will rule over the whole world as King and Priest in His millennial kingdom.
Notice Hebrews 7:11-12 talks about this change in priesthoods and covenants: “ If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?  For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” In the ages to come, the New Covenant will replace the Old Covenant, and Jesus Christ’s Melchizedekian priesthood will replace the Levitical priesthood.
Melchizedek is a type (preview, figure, shadow) of what Jesus Christ will be one day—both a King and a Priest. Interestingly, Melchizedek served as King and Priest of Salem (Jerusalem), the very place where Jesus Christ will serve as King and Priest one day! Notice Zechariah 6:12-13 speaks of Jesus Christ as King and Priest. Hebrews 7:2 says that Melchizedek was not only “the King of Righteousness” (the meaning of the Hebrew word, “Melchizedek”) but he was also “the King of Peace” (his title was “the King of Salem,” and shalom/salem is Hebrew for “peace”). The King of Peace and The King of Righteousness are both titles of Christ (see Isaiah 9:6-7 and Jeremiah 23:5-6, for example). This shows us just how intricately written God’s Word is… the Author of Genesis knew what Hebrews would say, some 1500 years later, to be fulfilled some 3500 years later!
SUPPLEMENTAL – WAS MELCHIZEDEK A THEOPHANY?
Was Melchizedek a pre-incarnate Jesus Christ? (This may be the “confusion” you referenced?) Hebrews 7:3 has been used to support this notion: “Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.” Some have argued that Melchizedek must have been God in human form in order for Melchizedek to be known as “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life.” “Who else but God could have these attributes?,” it is asked.
For a while, I wondered about this myself, never being fully satisfied with others’ comments on the subject. Not long ago, I settled it in my mind. Personally, I believe that Hebrew 7:3’s language here is vague because the (original) Old Testament description of Melchizedek was unclear. As mentioned earlier, the Scriptures do not provide explanations are to Melchizedek’s origin, his family/lineage, when he was born, when he died, what happened to him, and so on. In stark contrast, the characteristics of Aaron’s (Levitical) priesthood are clearly defined in order to limit its participants.
The Aaronic priesthood, the Levitical priesthood, began with the Law of Moses. It ended with Rome’s destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple in A.D. 70. As made clear in Leviticus and Hebrews, the Levitical priesthood had a strict bloodline, so not just anyone could serve in it. In comparison, Melchizedek’s was limitless, having never really had a clear beginning nor a clear ending. Melchizedek served Gentiles evidently, for national Israel was not in existence during his priesthood. In contrast, the Levitical priesthood only served Israel. The Gentiles who bless Israel in her program and Israel herself need a High Priest, and Jesus Christ will be both the Gentiles’ High Priest and the Jews’ High Priest in the ages to come. Additionally, Jesus Christ’s priesthood will never end because, unlike the Levitical priests who were replaced after their demise, He will never die (see Hebrews 7:23-28). In reality, Jesus Christ has no father and no mother—He is the eternal Son of God. Details about Melchizedek were withheld in order to closely identify with Jesus Christ, and to make Melchizedek the perfect preview of the King-Priest Jesus Christ will become in Father God’s own time!