the hope of melchizedek

It's good to know that we as current day Christians are not the only generation to be faced with questions, misunderstandings, and confusing traditions about our faith. In our small group tonight, we're going to be discussing one of my favorite topics that is missing from your typical Sunday School upbringing: Melchizedek.

Melchizedek appears only a few times in the Bible. In the Old Testament, there are direct references to him only twice (Gen 14:17-24 and Ps 110:4). He is a mysterious figure who could, seemingly, be nothing more than a brief cameo of a character in Abram's life. Melchizadek is much more, however; he is a key component in the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Messiah.Melchizedek is, without question, one of the most mysterious characters in the Bible. He comes on the scene and then leaves so quickly with very little exposition to the reader about who he really is or why his blessing to Abram is so important. Jewish tradition surrounding Melchizedek only serves to further the mystery surrounding him (of course, as my wife reminded me to clarify, this is Rabbinic literature and not canon. I only mention this here because I find it interesting how many stories have accumulated about Melchizedek):
  • In the Midrash, the Rabbis identified Melchizedek with Shem son of Noah. (E.g., Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 32b; Genesis Rabbah 46:7; Genesis Rabbah 56:10; Leviticus Rabbah 25:6; Numbers Rabbah 4:8.)
  • Rabbi Isaac the Babylonian said that Melchizedek was born circumcised. (Genesis Rabbah 43:6.)
  • Rabbi Eleazar said that Melchizedek's school was one of three places where the Holy Spirit manifested itself. (Babylonian Talmud Makkot 23b.)
  • The Rabbis taught that Melchizedek acted as a priest and handed down Adam's robes to Abraham. (Numbers Rabbah 4:8.)
The real problem comes, however, when we note that Genesis clearly states that Melchizedek was not simply a king, but also a priest to God Most High. This is quite an issue because, ultimately, all priests came from the line of Levi. Of course, Levi wasn't born yet (Abram/Abraham begat Isaac, begat Jacob/Israel, begat Levi) so Melchizadek is some kind of different priest. Melchizedek is decidedly not of the Levite lineage; in fact, he is not given any sort of clarification to his lineage. What we do know is that - seeing as he was a priest of the Most High God - Melchizedek had a relationship with God that was outside of God's calling of Abraham. According to Hebrews, Melchizedek actually trumps even Levi as priest, as Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek (Heb 7:9, 10) through Abram.

Central to our faith is the Christ is Messiah. Throughout the story of the Jewish people, prophets are given messages from God, many of which have a double meaning: a message for the culture of that day and a message that foretold the future. The lump sum of these messages come to prophesy the coming of Messiah, who would be a kinsman redeemer for the nation is Israel to heal the broken relationship between man and God from the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden.

This Messiah would be both a priest and king. We often hear of Christ referred to as the Son of David, as Messiah was to come from the root of Jesse. This is where the prophecy of Zechariah muddies things up: Messiah was to be both priest and king (Zec 6:13). Priests come only through the lineage of Levi, of which the kingly lineage (Davidic lineage, tribe of Judah) was not. So how could a man be both a priest and king?

With this need for Messiah to fulfill the prophecy and be both Priest and King, Melchizedek becomes a central figure to the validity of Christ as Messiah and, thus, a major character in the theology of our faith.Even more so, the priesthood of Melchizedek (the priesthood of Christ) brings us eternal hope. Looking back at the second reference to Melchizedek in the Old Testament brings us here:

The Lord has sworn an oath and will not take it back:

"Forever, You are a priestlike Melchizedek." (Ps 110:4)

The great theologian, Paul, explains it to us thusly:

The priests of Levi were finite and imperfect. Ultimately, their priesthood was to be abolished because a better priesthood came not "based on a legal command concerning physical descent but based on the power of an indestructible life." (Heb 7:17). So the history of priesthood is as such:
  1. Melchizedek was a priest of the Most High God, possibly reigning over the area of Jerusalem (as he was King of Salem, which some believe was the former name of Jerusalem)
  2. The role of priesthood was given to the descendant of Aaron, descendant of Levi
  3. The coming of Christ, through the power of an indestructible life, continued the priesthood of Melchizedek
Paul makes very clear the benefit of having a priest who has indestructible life, over the priesthood of Levi whose members ultimately die:

Therefore He is always able to save those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them. (Heb 7:25). 
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