The Melchizedek priesthood is an important concept in the Bible that has to do with the authority and power to act in God’s name. Here is an overview of what the Bible teaches about the Melchizedek priesthood:
Melchizedek Briefly Mentioned in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, there is a mysterious figure named Melchizedek who is briefly mentioned in Genesis 14:18-20. He was the king of Salem and a “priest of God Most High.” He blessed Abram and received a tithe from him. Melchizedek’s lineage and background are unknown, as he seems to appear out of nowhere and then disappears from the biblical narrative just as quickly. The lack of detail surrounding him caused later readers of the Bible to be intrigued by his character and station.
Psalm 110 Presents Melchizedek as an Eternal Figure
Melchizedek next shows up, indirectly, in Psalm 110, where God makes a solemn promise to the psalmist’s lord: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek'” (Psalm 110:4). This associates Melchizedek with eternity and presents the Melchizedek priesthood as superior to the Levitical priesthood under the Law of Moses, which passed from one mortal priest to another through hereditary succession. Melchizedek’s priesthood is perpetual, transcending human limitations.
Hebrews Analyzes the Significance of Melchizedek
The most detailed information about Melchizedek comes from the New Testament book of Hebrews, specifically Hebrews 5-7. The writer to the Hebrews mentions Melchizedek as part of a complex argument about the supremacy of Christ’s new covenant. He points out that even Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek and was blessed by him. Melchizedek thus seems greater than even the exalted patriarch Abraham (Hebrews 7:4-10).
The writer goes on to explain that the Melchizedek priesthood must be superior to the Levitical priesthood, for several reasons:
– Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham, the ancestor of the Levites, showing the Melchizedek priesthood is preeminent (Hebrews 7:4-10).
– The Melchizedek priesthood is eternal, unlike the temporary Levitical priesthood (Hebrews 7:23-25).
– Melchizedek was made a priest based on “the power of an indestructible life,” not hereditary descent like Levi (Hebrews 7:16).
– Melchizedek’s priesthood was already active when Abraham lived, before the Law was given, showing it supersedes the Law (Hebrews 7:11-14).
– The Melchizedek priesthood is unique, being both royal (king of Salem) and priestly (priest of God Most High) (Hebrews 7:1-3).
The writer concludes that Jesus serves as a high priest “after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:10). His analysis in Hebrews establishes that the Melchizedek priesthood entails royal authority, eternality, superiority to the Law, and connection to God’s promises.
Implications of the Melchizedek Priesthood
Though Melchizedek himself appears only briefly in the Old Testament, the concept of the Melchizedek priesthood developed into an important theme. Here are some key implications:
– It shows that God’s activity and authority were not limited to the nation of Israel. Melchizedek, a Gentile, served as a priest and blessed the ancestors of Israel.
– It demonstrates that Christ’s new covenant is superior to the old covenant under Moses. The Melchizedek priesthood transcends the temporary Levitical priesthood.
– It associates Christ with an eternal, royal priesthood that is connected to God’s oaths and promises. Christ has everlasting authority.
– It provides typological parallels between Melchizedek and Christ, the true king and high priest.
– It shows that Christ’s priesthood is based on indestructible life and transcends earthly limitations, unlike mortal priests.
In summary, the Melchizedek priesthood represents the eternal, supreme priesthood that Christ fulfills. It shows that Christ is the true king and high priest, with unending authority and life. Hebrews uses the Melchizedek motif to argue for the supremacy of the new covenant that Christ mediates.
Jesus as High Priest After the Order of Melchizedek
The New Testament teaching about Jesus as high priest after the order of Melchizedek means that Jesus fulfills the royal, eternal priesthood typified by Melchizedek’s brief appearance in the Old Testament. Consider the parallels:
– **Royal priesthood** – Melchizedek was both king and priest. Jesus is the royal Messiah from David’s line as well as our great High Priest.
– **Connection to God’s promises** – God’s oath about the Melchizedek priesthood (Psalm 110:4) is part of the covenant promises to David that find fulfillment in Jesus (Luke 1:32-33).
– **Eternal priesthood** – Melchizedek’s priesthood is perpetual. Jesus holds an eternal, indestructible priesthood. Death could not conquer him or remove him from priestly service.
– **Superior to the old covenant** – Just as Melchizedek’s priesthood came before the Law and is superior to it, so Jesus’ new covenant replaces the old covenant of law keeping.
– **Based on indestructible life** – Jesus rose from the dead to eternal life. His life is indestructible. He serves as high priest forever by the power of an indestructible life.
– **Blesses God’s people** – As Melchizedek blessed Abraham, so Jesus spiritually blesses all of God’s people, his church, as the true king and priest.
– **Receives offerings** – Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek; believers offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus, the true high priest (Hebrews 13:15-16).
– **Mediates a new covenant** – The Melchizedek priesthood theme supports the teaching in Hebrews that Jesus mediates a new, better covenant between God and his people.
Jesus fulfills the Melchizedek typology as the divine Messiah-Priest who reigns eternally over God’s kingdom and serves as high priest of God Most High, securing salvation for God’s people. His indestructible life guarantees endless continuity in his priestly work of intercession, blessing, and aid.
The Priesthood in the Old and New Testaments
The Bible refers to multiple priesthoods, with differences between the Old and New Testaments:
– **Levitical priesthood** – The Law of Moses established Aaron and his descendants as hereditary priests for Israel. They offered sacrifices and served in the tabernacle/temple.
– **Melchizedek priesthood** – Melchizedek served as a priest-king who blessed Abraham. His priesthood was eternal and superior to the Levites. He typifies Christ.
– **High priesthood of Jesus** – Jesus fulfilled the Melchizedek priesthood as the eternal High Priest for the new covenant. He offered himself as a sacrifice and lives to intercede for us.
– **General priesthood of all believers** – Scripture teaches that all Christians are part of a holy, royal “priesthood” under Christ (1 Peter 2:5,9). We offer spiritual sacrifices of praise and good works.
So the Melchizedek priesthood contrasts with the temporary Levitical priesthood under the Law of Moses. Jesus fulfills the Melchizedek typology, and all Christians have priestly privilege and duty as part of the new covenant.
Controversies About Melchizedek
In the history of interpretation, Melchizedek has been a source of intrigue and controversy. Bible scholars have debated various theories about this mysterious Old Testament figure:
– Some propose he was actually a pre-incarnate appearance of the Son of God – a Christophany. But Hebrews distinguishes him from the Son.
– Mystical Jewish texts like the Qumran scrolls promote him as an angelic figure. But Scripture does not call him an angel.
– Groups like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses teach he was a man who was immortalized and became a heavenly priest. But the Bible does not say this.
– Other interpreters argue he was the king of literal city who served as priest also. This is the most biblically consistent view.
In the end, the Melchizedek mentioned in Genesis 14 was likely an actual king of Salem who also had priestly duties. The lack of biographical details about him allowed later Scripture to use him as a type foreshadowing Christ, the ultimate High Priest who is both king and priest eternally.
Themes and Symbols Connected to Melchizedek
Certain concepts and symbols cluster around the biblical theme of Melchizedek and his priesthood:
– **Bread and wine** – Melchizedek brought these (Genesis 14:18). They later became symbols of Christ’s body and blood for communion.
– **Salem** – The city of which Melchizedek was king. Later equated with Jerusalem, it points to the Messianic reign of the Prince of Peace.
– **Righteousness and peace** – Melchizedek’s name means “king of righteousness” and he ruled in Salem, meaning “peace.” These are messianic qualities.
– **Tithes and offerings** – Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe, showing the value of offerings to support God’s kingdom. This foreshadows Christian giving.
– **Eternal life** – Melchizedek’s enduring priesthood hints at eternal life. Christ’s indestructible life guarantees his unending priestly service.
So biblical themes like righteousness, peace, sacrifice, blessing, and eternal life cluster around the figure of Melchizedek, taking on new layers of meaning when applied to Christ.
The Melchizedek Priesthood in the Book of Mormon
Apart from the Bible, the Melchizedek priesthood is a notable teaching in the Book of Mormon, a text sacred to the Latter Day Saint movement. Here are some key ways it discusses Melchizedek:
– It is part of the “high priesthood” given to men like Alma.
– Receiving this priesthood makes one a “high priest” like Melchizedek.
– It is necessary to teach, baptize, and govern Christ’s church.
– This priesthood has been on earth in various eras from Adam down to modern times.
– Prophets like Moses sought to establish this priesthood among God’s people.
So in the Book of Mormon, the Melchizedek priesthood refers to authority and apostolic succession to lead the church organization and perform rituals like baptism. This differs from the biblical emphasis on Christ as the fulfillment of Melchizedek’s typology.
Lessons Christians Can Learn from Melchizedek
Though he appears only briefly in the biblical text, Melchizedek can teach us some valuable lessons:
– God is not limited to appointed structures – Melchizedek was a priest of God Most High though outside Israel. God can raise up leaders as he wills.
– Appearances can be deceiving – Melchizedek seems ordinary but Scripture later reveals he typified Christ. We should not judge by outward appearance.
– Details aren’t everything – We know little about Melchizedek. Our lack of information should not prevent us from learning from him and seeing God’s hand.
– Contrasts teach – Comparing Melchizedek to the Levites highlighted instructive differences. God gave Melchizedek as a provocative type of Christ.
– Jesus fulfills all – Everything in the Old Testament – people, events, symbols – finds its meaning ultimately in Christ. He fulfills Melchizedek’s priestly typology.
Though brief, the biblical testimony about the Melchizedek priesthood provides rich insights into Christ’s eternal high priesthood and the sweeping message of Scripture.