A few weeks ago I was reading through the book of Hebrews and something jumped out at me that I had not ever noticed before. Hebrews has long been a very treasured piece of scripture to me, having been used by God many times in the past to get me to understand aspects of the Gospel that I didn’t quite grasp. Anyhow, as I was reading through it again recently, I was suddenly struck by several things that the author has to say when talking about Jesus being “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek”.
In chapter 7 it says: “This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.” (verses 1-3)
It’s funny how you can read stuff over and over again, and never notice things about what you’re reading. But there in verse 3, it says “he remains a priest forever”, and the crazy part is, he’s actually about Melchizedek there. Of course, the verses are talking about Jesus too, how his priesthood is different from the Levitical priesthood, as it says: “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.”(7:23-25)
I was actually pretty blown away by what I was reading. Essentially what it says is that Jesus has a priesthood that is comparable to the one of Melchizedek, because he doesn’t die, and so can serve as a priest forever. Now, this is easy enough to understand when we are thinking about the Resurrected Jesus, but never before had I thought about exactly how that was supposed to work when talking about Melchizedek! I had heard of the idea that perhaps Melchizedek was an example of an Old Testament “Christophany”, the suggestion that maybe Melchizedek in fact was an appearance of the pre-incarnate Jesus, but as I examined the text more closely, I had to conclude that this would seem highly unlikely.
What we see is Jesus being compared to Melchizedek, or more specifically, we see their type of priesthoods being compared, i.e. they both have “eternal priesthoods”. The very use of the phrase “in the order of” virtually necessitates the fact that we are talking about two, separate people here, and not two manifestations of the same individual. Also, more specifically in chapt. 7 verse 2 it says, “resembling the Son of God” (when mentioning Melchizedek). Why would it make any sense for the author to make such a statement, if the person he was talking about was the Son of God anyway? Of course the Son of God would resemble the Son of God. That hardly seems like it would be something worthy of explanation. But we can clearly see that the two beings are being talked about as having similar characteristics, but yet are not the same person.
So, we are left with some rather bizarre details about Melchizedek that require explanation. One of the other descriptions that really struck me was where it talks about Melchizedek being “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life.”
Now, at face value, it would seem rather obvious what that would be a description of. That is the description of an immortal being. When you take those statements, and try to figure out a way to apply them so as to be a description of a regular human (to try and explain Melchizedek as not being the pre-incarnate Christ, but just a “godly king” who lived in Canaan, which is the other main theory) things start to get very convoluted indeed. For many years I guess I had always just assumed that the term “without genealogy” simply meant that no one knew who this Melchizedek guy was descended from, and the significance of that had something to do with how his priesthood was being emphasized as different from the Levitical priesthood, etc. But when you stop and think about that, through the lens of how things tended to operate back in the O.T. days, such an idea is really quite a stretch. Knowing one’s genealogy was something of vast importance in the culture of that time, and anyone who has spent much time at all reading the Old Testament realizes this, as you read account after account of “So-and-so, who was the son of So-and-so, who was the son of So-and-so, etc., etc.!” Everybody knew their ancestry back then, unless I suppose you were the rare case of an individual who born to a woman who didn’t know who the father was, or was orphaned as an infant or something. But then, what are the odds that such an individual would go on to become a king? That seems like even more of a stretch. If anyone was particularly fixated on knowing their genealogy, it was the kings and queens of old. Not to mention, at this point in history, there isn’t even all much genealogy to keep track of. Abraham was only ten generations removed from Noah himself! Meaning that the ancestry of everyone on the planet at that time only went back that far. I would venture to say that most folks at that time could trace their lineage back to Ham, Shem or Japheth, no problem…
But beyond all this, it says, “Without father or mother“, and then also, “without beginning of days or end of life“….
Why would you use such descriptions to describe a mortal man who simply had an unknown ancestral line? You just wouldn’t. That’s my point.
When you look back to Genesis to see what it says about when Abraham met this Melchizedek guy, you don’t find a lot of details. In fact, the writer of the book of Hebrews seems to have an understanding of who the guy was that goes beyond the meager description provided in the Old Testament text. And it’s interesting to me, that the first two chapters of the book of Hebrews, start out by launching into comparing and contrasting Jesus with the angels. So, essentially what you are left with is the idea that Jesus’ priesthood is almost a combination of both the Aaronic/Levitical priesthoods, and that his priesthood is ultimately the totally superior one. Like the Levitical priests, he brought a sacrifice, but it was not an animal sacrifice, which was never sufficient to forgive sins, but He sacrificed Himself. But, unlike the Levitical priests, who were mortal and thus constantly had to be replaced because they kept dying, Jesus lives forever and thus can stand as our mediator in Heaven forever, because He has eternal life…
So, if Melchizedek was an angel, what would that mean? Why would he have been hanging around Canaan and talking a tenth of the plunder from Abraham, etc.? How could an angel be regarded as a “priest of God”? What the heck is “Salem” anyway?
I can only speculate at this point, but I’m inclined to think that perhaps it ties in somehow with this whole “divine council” idea. If there is indeed some real weight behind this concept, and that after the tower of Babel incident, God allowed the various angelic “council-members” to have more direct assignment over each of the separated people/language groups, then we might suppose that God would have set aside a particular angelic “council member” or “tribal deity”, if you will, for the nation that He was intending to create for Himself later down the road through Abraham. If that were the case, and Melchizedek was indeed that being, then he could almost be understood as a type of “place-holder” for the Messiah, the true King and Priest who was to come. This is what makes the most sense to me anyhow, and seems to make sense alongside other instances in scripture, for example in Daniel chapter 10 where it refers to the various “princes”, who are in fact angelic beings who have some kind of jurisdiction over different kingdoms.
The other thing that is kind of a weird sidenote, is that nowadays, if you go and google “Melchizedek”, you get inundated with just tons of New Age and Kabbalistic stuff. (sort of similar to if you search for info on Enoch or anything else that has a large degree of angelic connection). If Melchizedek was in fact an angel, then it wouldn’t be at all surprising that an ancient occult system such as Kabbalah would have a fair amount of twisted teaching surrounding the identity of this being, and it would make more sense, in comparison to if Melchizedek had just been an ordinary human.
Overall, I’m not necessarily totally convinced one way or the other, and I suppose it’s not something that perhaps even makes a great deal of difference, doctrinally speaking in the end, but if nothing else, realizing that I could have been reading about an ancient angelic figure all this time and not ever realized it, just goes to underscore how strong this tendency sometimes is, to read the Bible through our own preconceived lenses, and miss what is often right in front of our noses…