Melchizedek is an intriguing figure who is mentioned in Genesis, Psalms and Hebrews. We need to examine all of these to really understand who He was.
Many people have asked about the identity of Melchizedek, the figure who appears at the end of Genesis 14. After Abram did battle to rescue his nephew Lot, we find in Genesis 14:18 that Melchizedek came out to meet him. Melchizedek is described as the king of Salem and priest of God Most High. It is to this individual that Abram gave a tithe (10 percent; see our article “Tithing: What Is It?”) from the spoils of war.
“The order of Melchizedek”
Melchizedek is mentioned again in Psalm 110:4 but is not discussed in any detail until we come to the book of Hebrews. In Hebrews 5:6 and 10 Jesus Christ is said to be “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” This is significant for us to understand because it shows the connection between Christ and Melchizedek.
When we come to chapter 7 of Hebrews, we learn more about the identity of Melchizedek. We are told in verse 2 that the name means “king of righteousness” and the association with Salem means he was also the “king of peace.” These are terms that in their truest sense are very difficult to apply to a human being. Romans 3:10 tells us that no human being is righteous, while verse 23 affirms that all have sinned. Considering that, it seems unlikely God would call a human being the “king of righteousness.”
The same thing is true of the title “king of peace.” The prophet Isaiah identifies the Messiah as the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) and in Romans 3:17 we are told men do not know the way to peace. While some people may be described as peaceful or even peace-loving, no human being has the means or knows the way to bring peace to the world. That is the job of One who is the Prince of Peace—a ruler with the wisdom and power to establish and maintain peace on earth.
“Without father, without mother”
The final piece of the puzzle we need to examine is found in Hebrews 7:3. Here we are told plainly that this Melchizedek was “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.” This is not the description of a human being. Every human being has a mother and a father. And there was a time before we existed and there will be a time after we cease to live.
Melchizedek is not described like that, but rather is described in terms that speak of an eternal existence. According to the first chapter of the Gospel of John, there are only two Beings who qualify as being eternal: God the Father and the One who became Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14).
Most scholars will agree that Melchizedek prefigured Jesus Christ, but some will not want to conclude that Melchizedek was actually the preincarnate Jesus Christ—the being who was later Christ. They point to the phrase “made like the Son of God” and say that being like Him is not the same thing as being Him. Other translations say “resembling” or “bearing the likeness of” the Son of God. This again shows the close association Melchizedek had with the Christ.
But the wording of Hebrews is also technically accurate. If we conclude that Melchizedek was indeed the One who was later to come to earth as the physical Jesus Christ, then we understand that in Abram’s day He was like the Son of God because He had not yet become the Son of God. The author of Hebrews wrote with the understanding of time and history, knowing that the One who appeared as Melchizedek to Abram had not yet appeared as the Messiah but would do so some 2,000 years later.
The author’s point concerned the past, present and future: “This Melchizedek remains [present tense] a priest forever” (Hebrews 7:1-3). This Melchizedek still is, and will always be, our High Priest. Therefore, we conclude, based on Scripture, that Melchizedek was none other than the preincarnate Jesus Christ. Similar language is used to describe Christ in Revelation 1:11-13; 14:14.