The priesthood of Israel as an office limited to Aaron and the tribe of Levi came to an end with the advent of Christ and His opening of it to all of God’s people (1 Peter 2:9–10). Yet that does not mean a unique priestly office for a select, anointed individual passed away entirely. There remains the priesthood in the order of Melchizedek, where Jesus sits forever as our Great High Priest (Heb. 7).
Our study this weekend will examine the benefits of Jesus as the High Priest of the children of God. Today and tomorrow we will examine the Old Testament background of this office, which includes the appearance of Melchizedek in today’s passage. Genesis 14:17–20 contains the only substantive historical information we have on this character, as all of the other biblical references to Melchizedek look to the events described in this text in order to make a theological point about his priesthood.
First, it is important to see that Melchizedek, unlike the later kings of Israel, held the offices of priest and king simultaneously (v. 18). Kings such as David might have performed some priestly functions on occasion (2 Sam. 6:12–15), but no old covenant king was also an appointed priest. Melchizedek, on the other hand, was a priest-king and able to exercise the functions of both offices at all times.
Second, there is great significance to Melchizedek’s name, which comes from the Hebrew words for king (melek) and righteousness (zedek). Melchizedek was a king of righteousness worthy to pronounce God’s blessing on Abram at this point in the history of the Lord’s unfolding covenant of salvation with His people. Being that he was a king of Salem or Jerusalem (v. 18), it is entirely appropriate that he should serve as a model for the greatest Priest-King, who now rules on the throne of David that was first established in Jerusalem (Luke 1:26–33).
Finally, the gifts of bread and wine to Abram (Gen. 14:18) reveal the great generosity of Melchizedek, which is itself a model for all godly leaders. In a day and age when only kings ate a regular diet of bread and wine, the distribution of loaves and the fruit of the vine to Abram was a generous expression of the king’s care for the patriarch. Such generosity marks Christ and all those who pattern their lives after His way of giving abundantly to His people.
John Calvin comments on today’s passage: “The same Person, therefore, who was constituted the only and eternal Priest, in order that he might reconcile us to God, and who, having made expiation, might intercede for us, is also a King of infinite power to secure our salvation, and to protect us by his guardian care.” That which was true of Melchizedek is even more true of Christ Jesus, and for that we must be grateful.