“Quick” is the operative word since the Bible passage discussed below has only 55 of them. Found in Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible if you are Jewish), the passage is mysterious, provocative, and revealing.
As indicated by the title of this piece, four minutes from now the mystery is solved and you will have a new appreciation for a “priest” named “Melchizedek.”
The 55 words are:
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine.
He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram saying,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.
And blessed be God most High who delivered your enemies into your hand.”
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything (Genesis 14:18-20).
Immediately Melchizedek is “mysterious” because he has no introductory lineage. He appears without context or connection — highly unusual in the Bible.
Millenniums later, the mystery of Melchizedek’s identity continues when the meaning of his name is written in the New Testament’s Book of Hebrews:
First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace” (Hebrews 7:2).
In the Genesis passage, Melchizedek’s first title, “King of Salem” provides us with important clues about his “real” identity and why lineage was unnecessary. The word “Salem” stems from the Hebrew verb “Shalem” meaning to be, make whole or complete. The word itself means peace or perfect. And later in the Old Testament, Salem eventually becomes Jerusalem.
In the opening sentence, Melchizedek’s impeccable credentials validate his first action, “brought out bread and wine.”
Now, fast forward to Jesus’ Last Supper and the first Holy Eucharist that today is celebrated in millions of masses around the world:
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup [of wine] saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you (Luke 22:19-20).
Hence, Melchizedek immediately bringing out “bread and wine,” raises the key question associated with this mysterious passage:
“Is Melchizedek the pre-figuration of Jesus Christ in the Book of Genesis?”
The clues are revealed in his identity: “He was priest of God Most High.”
And what he does next: “…and he blessed Abram saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.”
Since Melchizedek gives Abram a blessing, “by God most high” has to mean Melchizedek is himself, “God most high.”
Moreover, if Melchizedek is Jesus Christ, who was both fully man and fully divine, then the next sentence supports that belief when Melchizedek also praises God with a blessing, saying to Abram:
“And blessed be God most High who delivered your enemies into your hand.”
The final sentence of the passage establishes what churches today call a “tithe.”
“Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.”
Note that Melchizedek did not ask Abram for anything. But Abram, a wealthy man, was moved to submit a “tenth of everything” to this man’s commanding presence. Even though Abram does not utter a word to Melchizedek there had to be a powerful connection because in the next chapter, Genesis 15, God makes his official covenant with Abram, and in Genesis 17, God renames Abram saying:
No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations (Genesis 17:5).
Now let’s explore the Melchizedek references and explanations post-Genesis, first in the Old Testament Book of Psalms, and again in the New Testament Book of Hebrews.
Many Christians believe, as I do, that Jesus is the Messiah spoken of as “a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4).
But the Psalm description conflicts with what was written in Exodus (28:1-3) that Jewish priests originate only from Aaron, the brother of Moses and his sons — known as the “Levitical priesthood.” This priestly class stems from the Tribe of Levi but more specifically the decedents of Kohath, one of Levi’s sons from which “Kohanim”, the Hebrew word for priests, is derived.
However, centuries later, the writer of Hebrews raises a question about the insufficiency of the Levitical priesthood:
If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? (Hebrews 7:11).
That is an insightful question with two simple answers: Humans are flawed, and humans are sinners. But here is a more detailed explanation from BibleStudy.org:
“Jesus, however, came from the tribe of Judah, a tribe which Scripture says nothing concerning the priesthood (Hebrews 7:13 -14). He was not eligible to be a priest. How could he then “legally” serve in such a capacity after his resurrection? The answer is the creation of the order of Melchizedek.
God intended, in advance, that the Old Covenant Levitical priesthood last for only a short time (Hebrews 7:11 – 12, 9 – 10) and be replaced. This is why the Biblical appearance of Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18 – 20) occurred many decades before Levi (Abraham’s great-grandson) was born and more than 300 years prior to Israel receiving the law (Exodus 20).
The existence of his order, prior to the giving of the law, meant that it would not be bound by its rules regarding the priesthood. This made it possible for Jesus to serve, after his resurrection, as High Priest before God.”
What a brilliant, strategic move to have Jesus “grandfathered” in as “a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek” before the priestly law was given to Moses.
Ultimately, around the year A.D. 32, Levitical priests were threatened by Jesus’ growing power and influence among their people. Then, after trumping up charges of blasphemy, they successfully managed to turn him over to the Roman authorities for death by crucifixion.
I am not afraid of speaking the truth because I am a Jew who believes that Jesus was the Messiah. Ironically, my father was descended from Aaron’s line of Kohanim — my maiden name is Kahn and Cohen was his mother’s and my mother’s maiden name.
Yes, my love for Jesus and this Melchizedek passage is complicated but — like the root of Salem — “perfect,” “whole,” and “complete.”
Tell me if you enjoyed this four minute Bible study and I look forward to your comments.
Editor's Note: This column originally published at RedState.