Summer is a time for road trips. You gather the family, load up the car, and head out on the open road. One approach is to take the direct route. When we lived in Seattle and our children went to college in SoCal, we made the trip up or down the west coast in 20 hours. Another approach is to take the scenic route. As one friend expressed it, you simply follow the yellow line to see where it leads.
As the author of the book of Hebrews opens chapter 7, it appears he is taking the scenic route through the Old Testament. Chapters 7-10 are the longest doctrinal section of the book. The author wants his readers to understand the importance of the high priesthood of Jesus Christ. Jesus belonged to a superior order (ch.7), establishes a superior covenant (ch.8), serves in a superior sanctuary (ch.9), and presents a superior sacrifice (ch.10).
In 6:20, the author stated that Jesus became “a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (This is a quotation from Psalm 110:4, which is recognized as a messianic psalm.) Since many of us don’t know the Old Testament very well, we are unfamiliar with Melchizedek. We don’t know who he is or why he was significant. The author spends the first half of chapter 7 explaining Melchizedek’s identity and the second half of the chapter describing his significance.
Melchizedek was a King-Priest (1-3). The author goes back to Genesis 14 where Abraham encountered Melchizedek after the battle of the five kings. Abraham’s nephew, Lot, had been captured, and Abraham and his trusted servants set out on a rescue mission. On the successful return journey, Melchizedek, the King of Salem, comes out to greet Abraham. Abraham gives him a tithe (10%) of the spoils as a thank offering to God Most High. Melchizedek, in turn, blesses Abraham.
From this story, we learn seven facts about Melchizedek. (1) He was the King of Salem. (2) He was a priest of God Most High. (3) His name means king of righteousness. (4) King of Salem means king of peace. (5) We have no record of his father, mother, or genealogy. (6) We have record of his beginning or end. (7) He is like the Son of God in that he remains a priest forever.
Some have concluded that Melchizedek was an angelic being. Rather than put forth a supernatural origin, the author seems to be emphasizing his unique position. Others have concluded he was the preincarnate Christ. However, the author says he resembles the Son of God. Most likely, Melchizedek was an historical person of whom we know very little.
Melchizedek was greater than Abraham (4-10). The author gives us four details to emphasize Melchizedek’s superiority to Abraham. (1) Abraham gave a tithe of the spoils to Melchizedek. The lesser thanks the greater. (2) Melchizedek blessed Abraham. The greater blesses the lesser. (3) Melchizedek had an eternal priesthood. Without a recorded ending, his priesthood seemingly lasts forever. (4) Levi paid titles to Melchizedek through Abraham. Though not yet born, there is a sense in which Levi also gave a tithe through his great-grandfather.
In his commentary on Hebrews, Chuck Swindoll shows the significance of the relationship between Melchizedek and Jesus.
|In the narrative, Melchizedek was …||
In his nature, Jesus Christ is …
A priest outside the Levitical priesthood, therefore not a minister of the Law of Moses, which came much later
|The ultimate Priest outside the Levitical priesthood, therefore not a minister of the Law of Moses, which he fulfilled|
|A “king of righteousness” according to a translation of his name||
The true King of Righteousness, because he purchased righteousness for us on the cross
A “king of peace,” as Salem means “peace”
|The real Prince of Peace, who will one day bring a kingdom of universal peace|
|Without a record of parents, having neither his beginning nor end recorded in Scripture||
The eternal Son of God, having neither beginning nor end, eternally one with the Father and the Holy Spirit as God the Son
Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary: Hebrews. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017. p.108
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on June 23, 2019. It is part of an ongoing series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.