The Lord’s Day Morning
May 12, 2013
“Jesus and Melchizedek”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Hebrews chapter 7. We’re going to be looking at verses 1 to 10 this morning as we continue to make our way through this great letter. As you’re turning there, make sure and allow your eyes to fall on the last two verses of chapter 6 as well, because there you will see the reasons why the author of Hebrews is going to go into an extended discussion of Melchizedek in this passage. We’ve said so far, as we’ve worked through Hebrews together, that the theme of this book is “Better” – Jesus is better. Hebrews 1:1 to Hebrews 4:13 emphasize that Jesus is a better Savior; He’s better than Moses. Hebrews 4:14, all the way to the last verse of this chapter, Hebrews 7:28, will emphasize that Jesus is a better Priest. The author of Hebrews is arguing to his congregation and to you and me that Jesus is the Savior we need; He’s the Priest we need. And He’s a better Savior and He’s a better Priest than we will find anywhere and everywhere else. And he has piled on Biblical arguments, and that’s what he’s going to do in this passage today.
If you were to look at Hebrews 4:14 you will see that Jesus is called there a “great high priest.” And throughout this section, from 4:14 to 7:28, various arguments are made to show that Jesus is a great High Priest. But back in chapter 5, verses 6 and 10, for the first time Jesus is connected with Melchizedek. But nothing is made of that. And several of you asked me last week, as we read to the end of chapter 6 and I didn’t spend an extended time talking about Jesus being a priest according to the order of Melchizedek, “Are you going to skip that over?” No, I was holding that for this week because it’s in this passage that the author will finally open up that connection. You know, Melchizedek is only mentioned two times in the Old Testament. He’s mentioned in Genesis chapter 14 in the passage after Abraham has rescued his neighbor Lot from the marauding king of the Canaanites who has captured him and his family and has taken him off. And Abraham goes after him and recaptures him and brings him back. And when he does, this king, Melchizedek, the king of Salem, mysteriously appears and blesses Abraham. And then Abraham offers tithes to him. That’s the one place where Melchizedek is mentioned in all of the Pentateuch, in all of the books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible.
But he is mentioned again one other time in the Old Testament, in Psalm 110 verse 4. It’s that great psalm that begins, it’s a psalm of David, and David says, “The Lord says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand.’” And so in that psalm, a psalm about a king-priest who is David’s Lord, in Psalm 110 verse 4, the Lord says to that king-priest, “I have made you a priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” Now the person, Melchizedek, is mentioned eight other times in the Bible – only two times in the Old Testament, eight other times in the Bible. And guess where they are. They’re all right here in the book of Hebrews. From Hebrews 5 to Hebrews 7, Melchizedek will be mentioned eight times. And we’re right in the heart of the material that the author has to teach us about Melchizedek. Now why is he talking about Melchizedek, this rather obscure person from the Old Testament? Because he wants you to understand something about Jesus. The fundamental point here is not that we would come away knowing more about Melchizedek. The fundamental point is that we would come away being more in awe of Jesus and more trusting of Him. Now we need to know about Melchizedek in order that we can be built up in that way. But the fundamental point in this study is not that we would come away with our heads crammed with facts about this Old Testament figure, Melchizedek, but especially that we would know Jesus, we would understand who He is and the offices that He holds for us, and that we would trust in Him more and that we would be assured because of our trust in Him. So before we read this passage together, let’s pray and ask for God’s help and blessing.
Heavenly Father, all Scripture is given by inspiration and all Scripture is profitable, so we pray especially as we study a New Testament passage about a relatively obscure Old Testament figure, that by Your Spirit You would open our eyes to see Jesus and to understand what we are being taught about Jesus as we are being taught about Melchizedek. And then we pray, O God, that You would apply this truth to our hearts so that we would understand and believe and have hope and peace. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.
See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
You need to know how great a Savior your Savior is and you need to know how great a Priest your great High Priest is, because you’ve come here today with big problems and you have big sins, and you need to know that you have a Savior and a Priest who is big enough to deal with them. And that is ultimately why the author of Hebrews is writing these words. This is an argument that’s going to continue all the way to chapter 10, and the purpose of the argument is to show the superiority of Jesus and thus the superiority of your hope, the superiority of your assurance of forgiveness of sins, the superiority of your assurance of salvation. All of this teaching about Melchizedek is designed to help you understand something about Jesus. And that something that you are to understand about Jesus is to strengthen your hope and assurance, to know that you have a Savior big enough to deal with your problems and a Priest who is able to deal with your sins. And so let’s bear that in mind as we get ready to study this Old Testament figure from the misty, mysterious past.
It’s introduced to us, isn’t it, in verse 20, where the author of Hebrews says that Jesus has gone before us as a forerunner, “having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Now this will begin, in the verses that you have just read in chapter 7, a long discussion about Melchizedek. And I want you to see two or three things that are taught there because they focus us ultimately on Jesus as our Savior and Priest.
MELCHIZEDEK IS GREATER THAN ABRAHAM
The first thing that we see is that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham. In fact, in this passage by implication, it’s going to be taught that he’s greater than David. Melchizedek is greater than Abraham. And that’s emphasized in two ways. Look at verses 1 and 2. When Melchizedek meets Abraham, what does he do? End of verse 1 – “he blessed him, and to him Abraham appointed a tenth part of everything.” Now understand the context.В Lot has been captured by petty Canaanite kings, and he and his family and his possessions have been carted off into captivity and Abraham rallies three hundred or so of his men and off they go to get him. This is the stuff of an Indiana Jones adventure! This could be a great movie. And Abraham defeats Lot’s captors and brings Lot and his family back. But when he comes back, he is met by this mysterious person, Melchizedek. The very name means, “king of righteousness,” but he is identified as the king of Salem. That is, he is the king over the territory in which the city Jebus will one day rest. The Jebusites of course occupy the site which became the city of David, the city of Jerusalem. This king of Salem will come out, appear before Abraham, and he will bless Abraham!
Now that’s huge, because in Genesis 12 verses 1 to 3, we are told that it was God who blessed Abraham and that He blessed Abraham so that Abraham would be a blessing to all the families of the earth. So when you have an encounter between this Canaanite, land-occupying king, Melchizedek, the king of righteousness, the king of Salem, and Abraham, you’re expecting for Abraham to bless him because Abraham has received God’s blessing and Abraham’s job now is to be a blessing to the ends of the earth, but it’s Melchizedek that blesses Abraham! And the author draws attention to it in verse 1. “He blessed him,” and notice what he says in verse 7 – “it is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior.” So Melchizedek’s blessing of Abraham shows that he is greater than Abraham. But not only that, Abraham’s tithing to Melchizedek shows the greatness of Melchizedek. Look at verse 2 – “To him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything.” And look at what the author of Hebrews says in verse 4 – “See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils!” So the fact that Abraham took a tenth of what he had gotten back from the Canaanites who had kidnapped his nephew Lot, the fact that he gave a tenth of that to Melchizedek shows the greatness of Melchizedek.
What’s the point? The point is that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham. It’s also the point, by the way in passing, that Melchizedek was the king of Jerusalem before David was. Why? Why is the author of Hebrews telling you that? Because of what he said in verse 20 of chapter 6. Jesus is a priest according to the order of Melchizedek, and if Melchizedek is greater than Abraham and David, then Jesus is greater than Abraham and David. That’s the first part of his argument.
MELCHIZEDEK IS GREATER THAN LEVI
Now here’s the second part. Not only is Melchizedek greater than Abraham, Melchizedek is greater than Levi. Levi is the clan of Israel from which all the priests come. No male in Israel that was not of the tribe of Levi, could be a priest. If you were of the tribe of Benjamin, you could not be a priest. If you were from the tribe of Judah, you could not be a priest. If you were from the tribe of Dan, you could not be a priest. You had to be from the line of Levi and Aaron and the Old Testament priesthood were all descended from Levi. And here, the author of Hebrews argues that Melchizedek was greater than Levi and therefore greater than the Old Testament priesthood. And how does he argue that? Well look at what he says in verse 3. “He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.”
Now he tells you two things that show the superiority of Melchizedek. One, he has no genealogy. No genealogy of Melchizedek is recorded in Genesis 14. We’re not told where he came from or where he went to. We’re told very little about him. But for priests, the genealogy was quite important. If you couldn’t show in your genealogy that you were from the tribe of Levi, you couldn’t be a priest. And think of how important that would have been in the days of the New Testament when Israel had been carried off into exile and genealogies and records would have been lost. It would have been very important for a person to be able to establish themselves as being in the line of Levi in order to be a priest. But Melchizedek had no genealogy. And furthermore, unlike the Old Testament priests who changed year after year because they lived and they served and they grew old and they wore out and they died, but he is a priest forever. So in those ways, he is superior to Levi.
And furthermore, look at what it says in verses 5 and 6. “Those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people.” In the Old Testament code, you brought tithes to the priests. Some of that money was used to operate the worship of Israel. Some of that money was used for the upkeep of the house of God. Some of that money was used to support the priests and their families. Kind of just like what we do today in the Christian church through the giving of God’s people. Well, that was written down in the law that the Levites were to take tithes; they were to receive tithes from the people. But we’re told in verse 6, “this man who does not have his descent from Levi received tithes from Abraham.” And so again, his superiority is signified.В Notice what we’re told in verses 9 and 10. “One might even say that Levi himself, who received tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.”
Now all of these things are designed to show that Melchizedek is greater than Levi and greater than the Old Testament priesthood. Now what is that meant to show? Well, it’s meant to show that Jesus is greater than Levi and greater than the Old Testament priesthood because He is a priest not according to Aaron, not according to Levi, but according to Melchizedek – Hebrews chapter 6 verse 20 and again, Hebrews chapter 5 verse 6, and Hebrews chapter 5 verse 10. Jesus is a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. The whole argument is this – Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, Melchizedek is greater than Levi; Jesus’ priesthood is according to the order of Melchizedek and therefore is greater than the priesthood of Levi and Aaron and the Old Testament priesthood. So there’s the simple argument that’s going on. But there’s more to it than that. There’s more to it than that.
MELCHIZEDEK IS LIKE JESUS
In the final analysis, Hebrews 7 verses 1 to 10 does not argue that Jesus is like Melchizedek. It argues that Melchizedek is like Jesus. The argument isn’t that Jesus is like Melchizedek; the argument is that Melchizedek is like Jesus. Look at verse 3 again. “He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God.” Now that’s a statement about Melchizedek. And the statement is that Melchizedek is like Jesus. It’s not that Jesus is like Melchizedek; it’s that Melchizedek is like Jesus. Now this is mind blowing. I want you to think about it for a minute. The author of Hebrews is saying that Jesus is not like this figure who existed hundreds and hundreds of years before he came into this world, but Melchizedek is like Jesus who existed eons before Melchizedek existed. It’s not simply, you see, that Jesus is the fulfillment of an Old Testament foreshadowing; it’s the Melchizedek is the shadowing of someone who existed long before he existed. By the way, this is one reason why some of the older interpreters go back to Genesis 14 and they see it either as a Christophany or a theophany, some sort of a pre-incarnate manifestation of Christ there in Melchizedek. But the point is that Melchizedek is a type and the type always has the reality existing before the type comes into the world. The type is there because the reality already exists.
The author of Hebrews is pressing on us two massive truths about Jesus – He is eternal and therefore His priesthood is eternal. And He as God has the power of blessing us. What’s the argument here? Melchizedek is greater than Abraham; Melchizedek is greater than Levi. Jesus’ priesthood is according to Melchizedek; therefore He is greater than Abraham and Levi. And here’s the take-home for us. That means that because Jesus is greater than Levi and the Aaronic priesthood, because Jesus is the real great High Priest, because Melchizedek is like him – it’s not that Jesus is like Melchizedek but it’s that Melchizedek is like Him – because of that we can know two things about Jesus. First, He is eternal, and second, He is able to bless. Now look at how the author of Hebrews emphasizes that.
Look at the first point. Look at verse 3 again. “He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.” Now what does he tell you there? He is like the Son of God in having neither beginning of days nor end of life. The emphasis there is that Jesus is eternal. And whatever that means, that Melchizedek resembles the Son of God in having neither beginning of days nor end of life, it emphasizes this – Jesus is an eternal priest In fact, that’s explicitly said. “He continues a priest forever.” Now why is that so important? This congregation that the author of Hebrews is writing to, some of them are tempted to go back to Judaism and somebody has made this argument to them. “If you will come back to Judaism, you won’t lose anything from your heritage. If you come back to Judaism you won’t lose anything from your heritage like you’re having to give up being a Christian. And you won’t lose anything religiously because you come back and you’ve got a high priest and you’ve got a promised Messiah. You won’t lose anything.” And the author of Hebrews is saying, “Oh no, oh no. That Old Testament priesthood was a faint foreshadowing of the real Priest. In fact, that Old Testament priesthood was inferior to Melchizedek’s priesthood and Melchizedek’s priesthood was just a picture of the eternal priesthood of Jesus.” Jesus is the priest that you need. He doesn’t wear out. He doesn’t tire. He doesn’t falter. He doesn’t fail. If you have sin, He ever lives to intercede. If you have sin, He died once for all so that your conscience is clean. Those Old Testament sacrifices had to be offered year after year. Jesus, once died, and then He ever lives to intercede for those who trust in Him. Jesus is the Priest that you need. Jesus’ priesthood is eternal and perpetual. It never goes away; it never wears out.
One of my favorite scenes in the New Testament is the scene of Stephen dying in Acts chapter 7. And when he lifts his eyes up to heaven he sees Jesus standing. Now it’s the only place we see Jesus standing in the New Testament. Every time we see Jesus at the right hand in the New Testament how is He postured? He’s sitting. Why? Because that’s the picture of reigning. When you’re sitting on a throne you’re reigning. Why would Stephen as he died, why would he have looked up and seen Jesus standing? Because if you look in the Old Testament, standing is the posture of prayer! When Moses is praying for the children of Israel in battle, he’s standing with his hands outstretched! That’s why I stand with my hands outstretched during the invocation. That’s the posture of prayer. And what’s Stephen seeing? Jesus is at the Father’s right hand interceding for him right at the moment of his need. And that’s the great High Priest who you have if you trust in Jesus Christ. He ever lives to intercede.
And it’s not only that He’s eternal and that His priesthood is perpetual, it is that Jesus is the one who blesses the one with the promises. Now get this – in Genesis 12:1-3 it’s God who blesses Abraham. In Genesis 14, Melchizedek blesses Abraham. What is going on there? God is the one who blesses. God is the one who can give you true blessedness. The author of Hebrews is telling you that it is through Jesus that Abraham was blessed. It is Jesus who is the one who blesses. Notice that it’s emphasized here, twice – verse 1, “Melchizedek blessed Abraham;” verse 6 – “Melchizedek blessed him who had the promises.” Why is this emphasized? Because the author of Hebrews is emphasizing that it is Jesus who is the one who is able to bestow all of the blessings of the promises of God. If you turn your back on Jesus, you’re turning your back on the one person who can bestow the promises of God on you.
You know there’s that passage in John 8 verses 56, 57, 58 where Jesus is having a conversation with a Jewish leader and He says these provocative words – “Abraham rejoiced to see my day and he saw it and was glad.” And the Jewish leaders are furious! “What are You saying, Jesus! You’re not even fifty years old yet and You’re saying that Abraham rejoiced to see Your day! How could that possibly be?” And you remember what Jesus said? “Before Abraham was, I am.” And they knew exactly what Jesus was saying. They sought to stone Him because they knew He was claiming to be God. The author of Hebrews is saying to his Jewish-Christian congregation, “Do you know who it was who blessed Father Abraham? It was Jesus. Do you know where you can get the blessings of God’s promise? Only Jesus. If you turn your back on Jesus, can you receive the blessings of God? No, you cannot, because they are bestowed by Jesus, and Melchizedek is just a picture of that.”
My friends, in your struggles with your problems and in your fight against sin, the Priest that you need is the One who is eternal and perpetual. And when He blesses, no one, no one can take that blessing away. You see, that’s why the author of Hebrews is telling us these things about Melchizedek because he wants us to know that we have a great High Priest.
Heavenly Father, help us to trust in Jesus and to fully understand who He is. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.
Now we’ve got the joy of singing these very truths back to God. If you’ll turn with me in your hymnals to number 306, we’re going to sing the wonderful Isaac Watts hymn, “Jesus, Our Great High Priest.”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.