Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Life and Times of Melchizedek

Today I want to talk about a mysterious figure in the Bible.  It is a person whose life and times we know nothing about except for a brief encounter with Abraham recorded in Genesis. 
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand." And he gave him a tithe of all.  Genesis 14:18-20 NKJV
And there you have it.  Only three small verses to tell the entire life story that we know of Melchizedek.  There are a few interesting things to note here as we continue our study.  The first is his name.  Melchizedek means "king of righteousness."  King of Salem means "King of Peace."  He took to Abraham bread and wine (the elements of the Lord's Supper).  He was a priest to the true and living God, preceding the Levitical order.  He blessed Abraham and Abraham gave him a tithe.  We have no knowledge of when he was born, when he died if he did even die, who his parents were, or what happened to him before or after this encounter.  I think we will see in today's study that Melchizedek is none other than Christ Himself. 

We will spend most of our time in Hebrews today, but before heading to Hebrews we need to take a quick stop in Psalms. 
A Psalm of David. THE LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool."
The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies!
Your people shall be volunteers In the day of Your power; In the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning, You have the dew of Your youth.
The LORD has sworn And will not relent, "You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek."
The Lord is at Your right hand; He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath.
He shall judge among the nations, He shall fill the places with dead bodies, He shall execute the heads of many countries.
He shall drink of the brook by the wayside; Therefore He shall lift up the head.  Psalm 110 NKJV
This Psalm is a Messianic prophesy of the return of Christ.  Here we see Jesus being called "a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek." There is much to be said about this, but I will reserve my interpretation and take us now to Hebrews where God brings all these fascinating things said of the mysterious Melchizedek together for us.
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated "king of righteousness," and then also king of Salem, meaning "king of peace," without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.  Hebrews 7:1-3 NKJV
Here we reprise what we read in Genesis to the man called King of Righteousness and titled King of Peace.  Here Paul affirms that we know nothing regarding his heritage.  The first clue here to Melchizedek being a Christophany (that is an appearance of Christ in the Old Testament), is regarding the fact that we know nothing of his mother or father, beginning or end, and the fact that he remains a priest continually.  Being a priest continually implies his priesthood has no beginning and no end. The priestly order of Melchizedek is an eternal order established by God Himself. 
Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better.  Hebrews 7:4-7 NKJV
To me and you it is probably not that big of a deal for Abraham to be giving a tithe to Melchizedek.  To the Jew that is an entirely different story.  Abraham was the patriarch of patriarchs to to speak.  He was the father of their nation.  For the Jew, there is no higher man than Abraham.  Even for us, though, the man of whose lineage we are grafted into and the man who was given the promise and bearing the Messiah through his lineage, paid tithes to this man.  The lesser gives tithes to the greater so consider indeed how great a man Melchizedek was when even Abraham tithed to him.  Paul then goes on to reprise the Levitical law in that all of Israel was to give a tithe of all they had and produced to the Levites for their service to the Lord.  In the case of the Jewish nation, that tithe was given to the Levites, their brethren.  Melchizedek had no relation to Abraham and so his tithe was given to another lineage.  Considering Melchizedek blessed him and the greater blesses the lesser, the implication is that the line of Melchizedek is superior to the line of Abraham.  Who can be such a man who has a greater lineage than the chosen people of God?  I daresay that none other than Christ Himself. 
Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives.Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.  Hebrews 7:8-10 NKJV
And now Paul gives his instruction that the order of Melchizedek is greater than that of the priestly order of the Levites.  First the Levites receive their tithes while they live.  When the they die, that priestly order is passed on through their lineage.  In terms of Melchizedek, his order is eternal and in that he eternally and continually receives tithes.  So the first superiority is that the order of Melchizedek is eternal whereas the order of the Levites is mortal and temporal.  Furthermore, being that Levi resided still in Abraham in that the genetic familial lineage that became Levi was still in Abraham at that time, Levi tithed to Melchizedek through Abraham.  What Paul is saying is that even the Levites, in a way, tithed to Melchizedek. 
Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.  Hebrews 7:11 NKJV
And now that we have established the the order of Melchizedek is superior to the order of the Levites, he will explain why.  First of all, the Levites were responsible for ministering the Law.  In that, if that priesthood was perfect, then the law would have brought perfection.  If the law brought perfection, there would have been no need of another priest.  We know that the law did not bring perfection and therefore the Levitical order was not perfect. If the Levitical order was perfect, Jesus would have been called of the order of Aaron. Being that is was not, Jesus needed to be a pries of another order, that is of the order of Melchizedek.  And so with the priesthood being changed to Melchizedek instead of the Levites, there is a change in the law in that the new priest was not of the order of Levi, as directed by the law. 
For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. Hebrews 7:12-16 NKJV
Jesus, being called a priest, is of the tribe of Judah.  That is a problem.  Moses called for the tribe of Levi to be priests and made no provision for someone of the tribe of Judah to be a priest.  There had to be a change in the law for that to be possible.  The change is that the old law was one of fleshly commandment.  That is you had to be of the genealogy of Levi in order to be a priest.  Genealogy is an function of the flesh.  Melchizedek, being eternal, is of the spirit.  The change is in that the priesthood changed from a fleshly legacy to a spiritual anointing.  Furthermore, the law being one of commandments of the flesh only led to imperfection and in its imperfection alluded to another law that would lead to perfection.  God gave the law, and if that law was the final say it would imply that God can not create perfection.  The very fact that Levitical law leads to imperfection shows that there must be a law leading to perfection as that is what God's standard is. 
For He testifies: "You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek." For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.  Hebrews 7:17-19 NKJV
And so with the introduction of Jesus and the New Covenant, the Old Covenant is annulled.  That is because of the change in priesthood.  The Levites came and through the Law of Moses our sin was revealed.  The Law existed not for our perfection, but to show us our imperfection.  Jesus, as our new high priest according to the order of Melchizedek, gave us our lifeline out of the mire of our sin.  As it showed our imperfection, the law showed us our need to a new law.  The old law made it impossible for us to draw near to God, but the new law that is in Christ we can draw near to God.  Jesus came to fulfill what the law revealed we needed, that being a Savior. 
And inasmuch as He was not made priest without an oath (for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him: "The LORD has sworn And will not relent, 'You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek'"), by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant.  Hebrews 7:20-22 NKJV
There was an oath that one took when made a priest.  This oath was an oath from an imperfect man to a perfect God.  What is amazing about the priesthood of Jesus, is that the oath is from our perfect God to imperfect us.  Whereas we can turn on our oaths, God never will.  Paul refers back to that oath being in Psalm 110 that we read earlier.  The old way was man living up to a covenant made by God, the new way was God living up to a covenant made with God.  the old was was unsure (more accurately impossible) as it relied on our ability to live up to our end of the bargain.  The new way relied on God alone (and God will not deny Himself).  Jesus came and made that which was impossible into something that was absolutely sure through Him.
Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people's, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.  Hebrews 7:23-27 NKJV
The role of the priests was to make intercession of the people to God.  They were the mediators.  The problem is that they all died.  They lived to make intercession for a time and then died and then someone else took over.  They all had their own personalities and it all affected their ministry and so things kept changing from priest to priest.  Some were good priests, some were bad priests, but none were perfect priests.  This all changed with Jesus.  Jesus, being eternal, lives forever to make intercession for us to the Father.  Our Mediator is now eternal.  God has become our Mediator to God. The other problem is that the priests were men just like everyone else.  They were sinners, the were imperfect, they could not themselves live up the to law they were called to minister.  Jesus, on the other hand, is holy, perfect, without sin, and separate from sinners.  Jesus, though He became man, did not sin as man does.  He lived the law He ministers and in that His righteousness is imparted to us.  The Levitical priests had to make daily sacrifices for their own sin and the sin of the people, but is Himself the sacrifice for our sins taking those sins upon His sinless self.  And Jesus is that eternal high priest of the order of Melchizedek.

And so why do I believe that Melchizedek was none other than Christ Himself?  First of all, his lineage is not given nor is he included in the lineage of anyone else.  We also have no indication of how he died or even that he ever died.  We also know that his order is the eternal priesthood of Jesus.  Think about it, Jesus was born of the tribe of Judah.  Melchizedek has no part in the genealogy of Jesus.  How then can Jesus be of his order?  He was declared to be of that order by God.  In other words, Jesus was appointed to that order by the Spirit and not the flesh.  Can Jesus, who is God, be grafted into anothers spiritual lineage?  To do so would make Jesus inferior to Melchizedek.  Of course that is not possible.  Melchizedek must be Jesus.  Think about it, how can God be part of created priestly order?  God would be the founder, not a legacy.  God established the order of Melchizedek and in that the only way that He can be "of" the order of Melchizedek is if He is Melchizedek.  Besides, who else is called eternal, king of righteousness, king of peace, etc other than Jesus?  I do believe that Melchizedek and I believe Scripture supports that. 

So why is this important?  Why is Christ appearing in the Old Testament so important?  It is important because we often have a hard time understanding that our God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  We seem to think that God sort of changed His mind when Jesus came along when nothing could be further from the truth.  David clung to the grace of God in the Old Testament just as much as Jesus taught the wrath of God in the New Testament.  The same God who rained fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah is the same God who sent His son to die for our sins. The grace of the New Covenant can not exist without the law of the Old Covenant because without the law there would be no need for grace.  The law of the Old Covenant can not exist without the grace of the New Covenant because without grace there would have been no point to the law.  I say that because why would God create us and set up a law He knew we would fail at if He had no other plan?  Without grace, the entire purpose of Creation would have been for judgment.  Of course we know that is not why God created us.  God also did not change His mind when Jesus came along.  God first prophesied Jesus to Eve.  His coming was planned from before the foundation of the earth.   It was not God who failed when it came to the law as the purpose of the law was to show us that we ourselves were failures.  The Law, being the Word of God, was perfect.  We were not.  The law came to show us our imperfection.  The law came to show us our need for Jesus.  We are justified by the sacrifice that Jesus made for our sins.  The Old Testament saints were saved by their hope in the coming Messiah.  Jesus' grace was poured out for the Old Testaments saints who put their faith in His coming just as much as God's wrath will be poured out on the New Testament people who reject that hope.  Jesus appearing in the Old Testament is a reminder that our God is the same today, yesterday, and forever. 
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Hebrews 13:8 NKJV

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