Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Melchizedek - Christ's prefiguration

Upon returning victorious from battle, Abram is blessed by Melchizedek, King of Salem - Genesis 14

This study is especially tricky because of the mysterious shroud over the character. However, I believe that Hebrews is centered around Jesus, our eternal high priest. And Jesus is represented to the patriarchs in the old covenant through Melchizedek (MZK). Many consider MZK to be the prefiguration of Jesus Christ.

MZK is translated to "king of righteousness", and king of Salem means "King of Peace." - Hebrews 7:3
The study of Melchizedek (MZK) is mysterious and somewhat confusing. He appears briefly in Genesis 14 as the King of Salem (short for Jerusalem) long before the nation of Israel and the regular priesthood began. His name doesn't appear again until Psalm 110. Then, when the new covenant is established through Jesus, MZK's name appears for a final time in Hebrews. He is compared to Jesus in several ways:

1)  King and Priest: In Genesis 14, MZK is mentioned as the king-priest. In ancient times, priestly and kingly duties were often performed by the same person. In this instance, he is said to be a prefiguration of Jesus Christ. Jesus is also referred to as our great High Priest, the one who mediates between God and us. Jesus is also our King, who all authority has been given. MZK's priesthood is made eternal through Jesus Christ.

2) Greater than Abraham - "He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything." (Hebrews 7:2) The one who collects the tithe is greater than the one who pays it. The one who bestows blessings is greater than the one who receives blessings. In this passage, MZK is seen doing both of these to Abraham. Even though Abraham was blessed with the promises of God, he was still not as great as MZK.

3) Hope for a better covenant: MZK, like Jesus, is said to be a priest forever. Jesus didnt become a priest by his ancestry, but by an eternal oath from God. "The Lord has taken an oath and will not break his vow; You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek." (Psalms 110:4) MZK did not descend from Aaron like the other high priests had. Hebrews 7:15-16 alludes to a priest like MZK (Jesus), who didnt become a priest based on ancestry, "but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life." "Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them." (Hebrews 7:22-25) Under the old covenant there was continual sacrifice. But under the new, better covenant, there was conclusive sacrifice. Christ's sacrifice was permanent and final.

4) Without genealogy: "Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains priest forever." - (Hebrews 7:3) Contrary to other the other chapters in Genesis where explicit genealogy is given, there is no mention of MZK's children, parents, birth, or death. One author writes it this way: "That he was a real, historical figure is clear, but the author of Hebrews uses the silence of Scripture about MZK's genealogy to portray him as the prefiguration of Christ. MZK's priesthood anticipates Christ's eternal existence and his unending priesthood." Though we don't know who MZK's ancestors were, we know that he descended from a non-priestly tribe. We also know that Jesus came from a non-priestly tribe, the tribe of Judah.

MZK preceded Jesus as an eternal priest. One whose kingdom was made with an eternal oath from God. One who introduces a better hope by which we draw near to God. One who is compared to our true High Priest who "always lives to intercede." One whose priesthood is eternal, and is greater than Abraham.