After the Order of Melchizedek
Here we meet Melchizedek, whose name means “king of righteousness.” He is a somewhat obscure figure who appears in Genesis 14:17-24, just after Abraham rescued his nephew Lot from some kings who had taken him captive. He is called “priest of God Most High,” and blesses Abraham in the name of that same God. In response, Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of what he had. (A tenth is a “tithe.”) What is even more interesting in this account is that when the king of Sodom approached Abraham to thank him (he was one of the kings Abraham inadvertently helped by defeating the other kings who had captured Lot), Abraham refused, for he said, “I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’” Abraham knew which man was righteous and received a blessing from the one, but adamantly refused for his name to even be mentioned in the same breath with the other.
Melchizedek’s name shows up again in Psalm 110:4, a prophecy concerning the Messiah, and is quoted in reference to Jesus in this passage in Hebrews. What is going on here is again how the New Testament, or covenant, outshines the Old. The old covenant relied upon priests to offer sacrifices, constantly. They were all of the tribe of Levi, Abraham’s great-grandson, to whose tribe Aaron belonged. But Christ was not of that tribe; he was of the tribe of Judah. So how could Christ be our high priest?
The answer to this question lies with this obscure man who blessed Abraham. He wasn’t even an Israelite (as they were the children of Abraham), much less of the tribe of Levi. He just shows up there in Genesis. Hebrews mentions that he is “without father or mother,” not literally of course, but that his genealogy is nowhere recorded. Thus, in this way, he prefigures Christ in that he has “neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he continues a priest forever.” So Christ fulfills the prophecy about being a priest, a new priest, a better priest than the Levitical priests of the old covenant. And as a new kind of priest, one who lasts forever, he brings a new and better covenant. And what can be sweeter music to the ears than to hear the words, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” As the holy, innocent, and unstained “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), his sacrifice is “once for all,” ever efficacious for us.