Melchizedek the priest is mentioned in Genesis, Psalms and Hebrews. What is the meaning of Melchizedek? Was He just a priest? Was Melchizedek Jesus?
In Genesis 14 we are introduced to a mysterious priest named Melchizedek. After Abram did battle to rescue his nephew Lot, we read that Abram interacted with this individual named Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18).
Melchizedek is described as the “king of Salem” and “priest of God Most High.” This individual pronounced a special blessing on Abram, and afterward Abram gave Melchizedek a tithe (10 percent) of what he gathered from the spoils of war. We also read that this individual “brought out bread and wine” (verse 18). This is reminiscent of the New Covenant Passover ceremony.
The book of Genesis only devotes three verses to this individual. After these three verses, the narrative goes back to Abram’s experiences, and nothing more is mentioned about Melchizedek.
But even though this individual fades from the Genesis narrative, Melchizedek comes up again in other books. In fact, we learn more about Melchizedek’s identity and significance in the books of Psalms and Hebrews than we do in the book of Genesis.
Melchizedek in the Bible
After Genesis, Melchizedek is mentioned in only two other books of the Bible. What can we learn about Him from these sections of Scripture?
Melchizedek in the book of Psalms
Melchizedek is next mentioned by King David in Psalm 110:4. This is a messianic psalm, meaning that it prophesies of the coming of Jesus Christ. It’s interesting to note that David lived over 900 years after Abram tithed to Melchizedek.
Speaking of Jesus Christ, David writes: “The LORD has sworn and will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’”
David’s messianic prophecy begins to show us that Melchizedek was much more than just an ancient king-priest who had a brief interaction with Abram.
David makes a connection between Melchizedek and Jesus Christ by stating that the Messiah would be a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. This is fascinating since the priests of Israel were priests because they descended from Levi and the high priest was of the lineage of Aaron. So the Messiah would not be of the same priestly order as the priests of Israel!
Melchizedek in the book of Hebrews
Melchizedek isn’t mentioned again until we get to Hebrews 5 in the New Testament. Here the author of Hebrews, likely the apostle Paul, gives us even more insight on this mysterious king-priest. Interestingly, the book of Hebrews was authored roughly 1,000 years after the last mention of Melchizedek was written in the book of Psalms. So each mention of Melchizedek in the Bible is separated by nearly 1,000 years of time.
In Hebrews 5 the author is writing about Christ’s role as High Priest of the New Covenant. Within his explanation of this topic, he quotes Psalm 110:4.
Here’s what he writes: “So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He [the Father] who said to Him: ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.’ As He also says in another place: ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’” (Hebrews 5:5-6).
A few verses down, this connection between Christ and Melchizedek is restated. We read that Jesus was “called by God as High Priest ‘according to the order of Melchizedek’” (verse 10).
This is significant for us to understand because it shows the connection between Christ and Melchizedek. But we still are left with the question: who exactly was Melchizedek?
When we come to Hebrews 7, we learn more about Melchizedek’s identity. In verse 2, the author explains the meaning of the name Melchizedek, “being translated ‘king of righteousness,’ and then also king of Salem, meaning ‘king of peace.’”
The name Melchizedek is of Hebrew origin and means “king of righteousness” (it is a combination of the Hebrew melek, meaning “king,” and tsedeq, meaning “righteousness”). The title king of Salem means “king of peace.”
These titles alone should show us that there was something extra special about this individual. It’s very difficult to apply the terms king of righteousness and king of peace to any human being! Romans 3:10 tells us that no human being is righteous, while verse 23 affirms that all have sinned.
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 of peace. While some people may be described as peaceful or even peace-loving, no human being can bring peace to the world. That is the sole domain of the One who is the Prince of Peace—a ruler with the wisdom and power to establish and maintain peace on earth.
Melchizedek was “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.”
When we put all these facts together, we can come to only one conclusion: Melchizedek was the Being who later came to earth as Jesus Christ.Melchizedek was eternal. He existed for eternity and will exist for eternity.
This is not a description that can apply to any human being! Every human being has had a mother and a father. And every human being has a beginning and an end to his or her life (Hebrews 9:27).
Melchizedek 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).
When we put all these facts together, we can come to only one conclusion: Melchizedek was the Being who later came to earth as Jesus Christ. Melchizedek was “the Word”—the second member of the God family through whom the Father created all things. When Abram tithed to and was blessed by Melchizedek, He was interacting with the preincarnate Jesus Christ.
To learn more about who Jesus was before He came in the flesh, read “Jesus in the Old Testament?”
The significance of Christ’s holding the Melchizedek priesthood
The author of Hebrews concludes verse 3 by saying that this Melchizedek “remains a priest continually” (Hebrews 7:3). This Melchizedek still is, and will always be, High Priest.
The significance of this truth is that Jesus Christ is our perfect, eternal, holy High Priest. “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” (verse 25).
He doesn’t hold the office of high priest that was passed down from Aaron of the tribe of Levi. The descendants of Aaron held a physical priesthood that served a physical nation. That priesthood had a beginning and was composed of physical human beings. The occupants of that office sinned and made mistakes themselves.
Instead, Jesus holds a priestly office that existed long before Aaron or any of the Levites. The author of Hebrews makes the point that Levi didn’t even exist when Abraham tithed to Melchizedek (verses 9-10). Instead of being a priest “according to the law of a fleshly commandment” (verse 16), Jesus holds a priesthood that far excels any human priesthood. He’s a priest “according to the power of an endless life” (verse 16).
It is a priestly office that has been occupied by only one individual—Jesus Christ Himself. You can be made right with God and can pray to the Father through the King of Righteousness (Melchizedek) and the King of Peace (King of Salem)—Jesus Christ.