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A man called “Melchizedek”

Consider then how great this Melchizedek was. Even Abraham, the great patriarch of Israel, recognized how great Melchizedek was by giving him a tenth of what he had taken in battle. — Hebrews 7:4

The relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament has been described as follows: “The New is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the New revealed.”

There are good grounds for believing this is an accurate assessment of the relationship, as can readily be seen from the way Jesus “quoted passages from the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining what all the Scriptures said about himself” (Luke 24:27), and from the way Old Testament passages were interpreted in the New Testament to show that they held messages that would only be understood in New Testament times.

An example of the Old Testament being revealed in the New is found in the interpretation of the story of Melchizedek. This rather enigmatic figure appeared briefly in the biblical record when he encountered Abraham after his famous victory over five kings (Genesis 14:17-20). Melchizedek was “king of the city of Salem and also a priest of God Most High” (Hebrews 7:1). He blessed Abraham for what he had done. Abraham, in turn, gave Melchizedek 10 percent of his spoils.

There is no record of Melchizedek’s parentage or progeny, and his name means “king of justice.” “Salem,” the name of the city over which he reigned, means “peace.”

Those are the details, spoken and unspoken, which the writer of Hebrews applies to Christ. Because Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham and gave a blessing to him, he was seen as superior to Abraham. And because there is no record of his parentage or progeny, he is seen typologically as living on. In addition, because Levi, the father of the Jewish priesthood, was, as it were, “in Abraham’s loins” (7:10), Levi’s priesthood was inferior to the priesthood of Melchizedek, precisely because Abraham was inferior to Melchizedek!

It must be admitted that this interpretation is hard for Westerners to grasp. The application of this story by the writer of Hebrews uses typology, a method of interpreting Scripture that is not commonly used today—even though the method was common in the early days of the church.

The point was to show that the Jewish (Levitical) priesthood was incapable of offering the salvation which only the eternal priesthood of Jesus (Melchizedek) could provide. Therefore, the Jewish people who had been attracted to Christ, but were in danger of drifting away from Him, should recognize that only Christ can offer salvation. Should they turn from Him, they would find hope in no other system.

This is something that Jesus Himself underlined when He insisted, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

For further study: Hebrews 7:1-14

Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.