Who Was Melchizedek and Why Was He So Important?

Chara Donahue

Contributing Writer
Published Jan 10, 2022
Who Was Melchizedek and Why Was He So Important?

Genesis introduces Melchizedek – a “priest of God most High,” as he blesses Abram. He is mentioned again in Psalms, but we aren’t alerted to how much attention we should give him until we see his name again in the book of Hebrews. For as much mention the author of Hebrews gives to Melchizedek we know it is worth our time to discover who he is and what he was about. Each word of the Bible should be held with reverence because we know each one was inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 110: is talking about Jesus, “’You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’” The Matthew Henry Concise Commentary said this about the Psalm:

“[Jesus] is the Priest of the order of Melchizedek, which was before that of Aaron, and on many accounts superior to it, and a more lively representation of Christ's priesthood.”

So who really was Melchizedek who was an imperfect foreshadow to Jesus and why should we care?

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bible open to the book of Hebrews

Who was Melchizedek?

“…First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, ‘king of Salem’ means ‘king of peace,’” Hebrews 7:2.

With a name like that, we can expect great things, but little is revealed in our introduction to the revered Melchizedek in Genesis 14. Kings who were once allies waged war in the Siddim Valley, and during this time, Abram’s nephew Lot was taken prisoner. Hearing of this, Abram sets out to reclaim his relative and his possessions. This is a great show of the power Abram had (see reference to his 318 trained fighting men), we sometimes forget the sheer amount of clout the man carried with him, but what is most important in this passage is that Melchizedek is clearly superior to Abram.

Melchizedek in Genesis

After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!"And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. And the king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself." But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, 'I have made Abram rich.' I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share." (Genesis 14:17-24)

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Melchizedek Blesses Abram and is a Faithful Priest

As Abram returned from his victory over Chedorlaomer, the King of Sodom, the King of Salem came to meet him. Melchizedek was this King of Salem and a priest of God Most High. While the king of Sodom seeks to wheel and deal over the plunder Abram has just acquired, Melchizedek brings bread and wine with him and speaks a blessing over Abram. After receiving the blessing, the first recorded tithe is given to a priest showing his high rank.

We can assume from the high regard in which he is spoken that Melchizedek acted as a faithful holy representative. We don’t know how he came to know the Lord, because there is no scriptural revelation on this, but he calls the Lord the name we see through the scriptures: El Elyon, the God Most High.

Abram and Melchizedek part ways and we don’t hear the name of the priest again until it is uttered in the messianic Psalm 110, “…Arrayed in holy splendor, your young men will come to you like dew from the morning’s womb. The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek….’” Jesus himself confirms that this passage of scripture is about him in Matthew, and the writer of Hebrews then provides us with more exposition and explanation of why this is truly great news.

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who was melchizedek high priest

A High Priest for All

The author of Hebrews repeatedly contrasts Old Testament heroes and practices and then profoundly reveals how Jesus is the better and truer fulfillment of the Hebrew’s beloved traditions and patriarchs. In chapters 5 through the beginning of chapter 8 the author focuses on the superior priesthood of Jesus over the Levitical Priesthood as the eternal, perfected priest of the order of Melchizedek.

The Levitical priests would represent the people of Israel before God. They became priests by lineage, which didn’t guarantee righteous living; see Aaron’s son’s unauthorized fire or Eli’s wicked sons for example. Over and over the Old Testament prophesies that the Messiah will be a descendent of David from the line of Judah.

Genesis is filled with genealogies, but for Melchizedek there is no record of his lineage, before or after. Melchizedek was a priest in an order that had no beginning; because Jesus is the order’s greatest priest, it will also never end. The great news found here is that Jesus is not a Levitical priest for the Israelites, but a priest of the order of Melchizedek – meaning he is a priest for all.

Though the Jew and the Gentile were once separated by promise and law, through Christ all of humanity was extended the opportunity to be drawn near. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace,” Ephesians 2:14-15.

Jesus is superior to every Levite office, including priesthood, because like the first high priest Melchizedek, his priesthood extends to every nation, tribe, and tongue, and “Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.” Hebrews 7:22.

We can’t get so wrapped up in the stories of our individual lives only to find we have lost sight of the big story – the metanarrative tale that God is weaving. Melchizedek is but a thread in the story that tells of the salvation of souls through Christ, and that thread highlights a more complete view of our glorious Savior. Melchizedek is important. Any glimpse in scripture which offers a more complete view of Jesus is beauty and truth that we cannot set aside. He is the perfect one, the Ancient of Days, the priest forever!

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A Priest of a Different Order

A Priest of a Different Order

Pastor Ben Skaug talks about Jesus as a priest in the order of Melchizedek in his video, “Who Was Melchizedek? What is His Significance?

“He is the king of righteousness whose kingdom is a kingdom of peace. The book of Hebrews then points to Melchizedek as a type of Christ in that Jesus Christ is a priest not of the Levitical order. He does not do his work inside the earthly Tabernacle, but he does it in the heavenly realities. Why? He is a priest of a different order – an eternal order, one that has no beginning or no end.”

This Ligonier Ministires article, “The Priest From the Order of Melchizedek,” talks about the importance of Jesus being our priest of the order of Melchizedek – because Jesus couldn’t be a Levitical priest.“Jesus, who was descended according to the flesh from the tribe of Judah, could not serve in the priesthood that Moses describes, namely, the Levitical priesthood (7:14; see Num. 18). Yet, that does not mean our Lord is unqualified to be our High Priest; rather, it means His high priesthood derives from a different—and superior—priestly lineage,” according to Ligonier Ministries.

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Rio's Christ the Redeemer statue

Jesus: The Eternal Priesthood 

The Ligonier Ministries article, “The Priest From the Order of Melchizedek,” goes on to say:

“Moreover, the order of Melchizedek is superior because Christ holds it not by virtue of mere physical descent but “by the power of an indestructible life” (v. 16). Psalm 110 foresaw that the Messiah would hold the Melchizedekian priesthood forever, and our Lord’s overcoming death means He will never set aside His priesthood. If we come to God through the priestly ministry of Jesus, we can be sure that like His priesthood, our lives will be eternal. Knowing that Christ holds an eternal priesthood, we are confident that we are secure in Him forever. Our salvation is grounded not in our ability to persevere but in the power of the eternal High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, Christ Jesus our Lord, to preserve us.”

3 Untold Bible Stories and What They Tell Us about God: “Melchizedek is a fascinating character that we read about in Genesis. Melchizedek shows me that God was known to more than Abraham’s family, and those three verses in Genesis make me wonder about those people and the stories of their encounters with God Most High. Melchizedek give us a glimpse of God’s work in people outside of the Bible’s story line.”

Chara Donahue is a freelance writer who is working on her first book. She enjoys doing biblical counseling, speaking to women, and savoring coffee when her four kids are out playing with dad. She holds an MSEd from Corban University, is passionate about seeing people set free through God's truths, and is the founder and editor of Anchored Voices. Get in touch with her on Facebook or Twitter.

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This article is part of our People from the Bible Series featuring the most well-known historical names and figures from Scripture. We have compiled these articles to help you study those whom God chose to set before us as examples in His Word. May their lives and walks with God strengthen your faith and encourage your soul.

4 Things You May Not Know About Abraham in the Bible
5 Things to Know About Luke from the Bible
6 Things You Didn’t Know About Paul from the Bible
John the Baptist: 6 Powerful Truths from His Life

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Originally published Monday, 10 January 2022.