Episode 13: Was the Mysterious Melchizedek in the Old Testament actually Jesus?
Today we are reading Genesis 14, Nehemiah 3, Matthew 13 and Acts 13, following the Robert Murray M’Cheyne Bible reading plan. Our big Bible question of the day is all about Melchizedek, one of the most interesting and mysterious figures in the Old Testament. As of today, we are 3 chapters into Nehemiah, and we’ve barely talked about him! I hope to rectify that in an upcoming episode of the podcast. For now, we begin with Genesis 14, which is an action packed passage, to be sure!
When I was a kid, I thought the Bible was boring, but I don’t actually remember why. I also thought Lord of the Rings was boring and inscrutable when I tried to read it in 4th or 5th grade, and honestly both of those opinions are childish rubbish. The Lord of the Rings is one of the best works of fiction ever written, and the Bible is chock full of fascinating and interesting things, and this passage is a great example of that. Military strategists and historians should study this passage because it is honestly one of the first incidents in all of recorded history that features advanced war tactics and what we now call guerrilla warfare. Considering that military tactics were much more conventional even during the times of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, I find it fairly interesting Abram was thousands of years ahead of his time in terms of strategy. Think about it:
he divided his forces against the far superior forces of King Chedorlaomer and attacked them by night – Abram had military wisdom! Using the clever tactic of a night attack with his army split into two groups, he succeeded in rescuing Lot and recovering all the plunder (all the goods) seized by the partnership of the five kings. And then, on the way back from this stunning victory, Abram encounters a mysterious figure, who brings him some bread and wine and blesses him. This person is Melchizedek, and Abram gives him a tithe/tenth of all the spoils of the battle. For thousands of years since then, people have speculated about who, exactly this guy Melchizedek was.
“King and priest. None other of the house of David save our Lord Jesus Christ could claim the union of these two offices. In Christ we have a King and a priest, as also with Melchisedech of old, a great type of Jesus.”
C. H. Spurgeon, “Seeing Jesus,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 61 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1915), 47.
“Clearly, from a passage in Hebrews there is something v. special about Melchisedech, but I don’t know what it is. There’s lots to find out, here and hereafter, isn’t there?”
Letter to Mrs. Johnson, C. S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed. Walter Hooper, vol. 3 (New York: HarperCollins e-books; HarperSanFrancisco, 2004–2007), 608.
“WE will not enlarge upon the story of Melchisedec, nor discuss the question as to who he was. It is near enough for us to believe that he was one who worshipped God after the primitive fashion, a believer in God such as Job was in the land of Uz, one of the world’s grey fathers who had kept faithful to the Most High God. He combined in his own person the kingship and the priesthood; a conjunction by no means unusual in the first ages. Of this man we know very little; and it is partly because we know so little of him that he is all the better type of our Lord, of whom we may enquire, “Who shall declare his generation?” The very mystery which hangs about Melchisedec serves to set forth the mystery of the person of our divine Lord. “Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; he abideth a priest continually. Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.”
C. H. Spurgeon, “First King of Righteousness, and after That King of Peace,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 30 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1884), 121.
7 Reasons I believe that Melchizedek was actually a Christophany – an Old Testament manifestation/appearance of Jesus:
- His name: King of Righteousness and King of Salem/Shalom. This is not persuasive, just evidential.
- Melchizedek was a priest AND a king. This was specifically forbidden by God, and King Uzziah – who tried to be both king and priest – was struck by leprosy for doing so. There are two king-priests in the Bible: Jesus and Melchizedek.
- Melchizedek served wine and bread to Abraham. This seems a bit on the nose, doesn’t it? It doesn’t have to be a nod towards Jesus serving wine and bread to the disciples – the New Testament never draws that connection – but it certainly seems significant to me.
- As mentioned in Psalms and Hebrews, Jesus was priest in the order of Melchizedek, not the order of Aaron, as every other priest of the Jewish people were. Consider this: why in the world would Jesus – God’s son and God Himself – be of the order of ANY human priesthood? That seems rather absurd, doesn’t it?
- The writer of Hebrews, in discussing Melchizedek and Jesus in depth and in parallel, seems to go out of his way to make the case that Melchizedek was significant and great, which is fairly odd considering that the Old Testament devotes a mere handful of verses to Melchizedek. But, consider these quotes from Hebrews, “Now consider how great this man was: even Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the plunder to him.” (Hebrews 7:4) “But one without this lineage collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises.7 Without a doubt, the inferior is blessed by the superior. ” (Hebrews 7:6 – did you catch the obvious implication that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham?)
- Perhaps the primary function of a priest was to be a mediator between humans and God. There were many thousands of priests, but still Paul could say in 1 Timothy 2:5, “There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. ” There is only ONE priest like Jesus – who reconciles God and humanity – only ONE mediator like him. Considering how the writer of Hebrews talks about Jesus and Melchizedek in parallel – literally the only two priests in history that are in the order of Melchizedek, it would seem that these two priests are actually the same priest, with different names. (Consider Isaiah in this regard: Jesus will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”)
- The above items are certainly weighty, but not altogether convincing, and if they were the only evidence that tied Jesus and Melchizedek together, I would be content to stay with Spurgeon and Lewis and say that there is no solid biblical proof that Jesus and Melchizedek were the same person. However, there is one more passage that we have in the book of Hebrews about Melchizedek, and I can’t imagine how that description of him could possibly be about anybody but Jesus Himself. Consider:
” Without father, mother, or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.“Hebrews 7:3
There’s really only two options here: either the writer of Hebrews was simply exaggerating a lot, or Melchizedek is an appearance of Jesus. How could a human being not have a father or mother? How could a human being not have a genealogy or genetic relatives? How could a human being not have a beginning? How could a human being be immortal and NOT DIE? How could a human being be a priest FOREVER?!? The writer of Hebrews makes it crystal clear in chapter 7 vss. 23-24 that all other priests prior to Jesus died (“Now many have become Levitical priests, since they are prevented by death from remaining in office. 24 But because he remains forever, he holds his priesthood permanently. “)
So – that’s my case for Melchizedek being more than simply a type of Christ, but an actual manifestation of Jesus Himself. There are other places in the Old Testament where this might have happened also, and theologians usually call this a Christophany. One prominent example is when Joshua meets the Commander of the Armies of the Lord prior to the Jericho battle, and Joshua falls down and worships, and the Commander does NOT stop him, as every other angelic being does in that situation.