Melchizedek: The Solution to the Priest Problem

Melchizedek: The Solution to the Priest Problem

Written by: 
Published:
February 2, 2022

Sabbath school commentary for January 29–February 4, 2022.


Jesus could be a king because he was from the tribe of Judah, like David. But Jesus could never be a priest because he was not from the tribe of Levi, like Aaron. As we’ve seen already in Hebrews, the author is working very hard to bolster the faith of his Jewish audience who believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah who would deliver good things to his followers. Now, decades later, it appears that after dying publicly and then appearing to a few folks and then disappearing in the clouds, Jesus has not returned. Life is not better. The Romans continue to dominate their lives, and their synagogue-going Jewish friends and family treat them as dumb or crazy. 

The author of Hebrews has already drawn on Jewish scripture to show that Jesus conforms to the Messiah model as a king and as a helpful brother among many other roles. But the Messiah is also a priest, a mediator, a symbol of atonement. As noted in the beginning, Jesus cannot be that by definition, due to his parentage. How can this problem be resolved? 

Melchizedek!

His name literally means “king of righteousness.” 

The Adult Bible Study Guide notes how the brief anecdote about Melchizedek in Genesis 14 fits with Hebrews 5 and 7 to create a solution to the priesthood problem. 

Hebrews 7:15 explains that Jesus was Priest “in the likeness of Melchizedek” (NKJV). This is what the earlier expression in Hebrews, “according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:6, NKJV), means. Jesus was not a successor of Melchizedek, but His priesthood was similar to his.

Instead, Hebrews uses the silence of Scripture regarding Melchizedek’s birth, death, and genealogy to build a typology, a symbol, for Jesus’ priestly ministry (Gen. 14:18–20) and reveals that Jesus Himself was eternal. In short, Melchizedek was a Canaanite king-priest who served as a type of Christ.

The author of Hebrews makes his argument. Melchizedek was an ancient king of Salem (contemporary Jerusalem?) as well as a high priest. So righteous a king-priest was he that father Abraham (of you all listening) paid tithe to him. Not a Levite, but a very legit priest, according to the scriptures. Therefore, what about Jesus? Or as the author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 7 (NIV): “And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared: ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek’ ” (15–17).

The lesson explains: 

“Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron?” (Heb. 7:11, NKJV).

Priests are mediators between God and human beings. Hebrews says, however, that Levitical priests could not provide complete, confident access to God because they could not provide perfection (Heb. 7:11, 18, 19). After all, they themselves weren’t perfect; so, how could they somehow bestow perfection upon others?

Guess who was more perfect according to the law than the priests? Jesus! Would not that also make Jesus a perfect mediator, even more effective than the Aaronic priests?

Case closed. Jesus. All. He fits the messianic pattern of a Davidic king and of a perfectly good priest.

 


Alexander Carpenter is executive editor of Spectrum

Title image: “The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek” by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1626 [public domain]

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