Old Testament Fulfillment Series: Abraham Meets the King-Priest Melchizedek 

Gen. 12:1-3; 14:17-20; Hebrews 7:1-17  

I found as a pastor that many people were intimidated by the Old Testament. To introduce folks to the Old Testament is to introduce them to the four key figures of the Old Testament, who are by far the four most quoted figures in the Old Testament: Adam, Abraham, Moses, and David. If you understand these four figures, it creates a wonderful repository for approaching the New Testament. And it gives you a spine to understand the Old Testament.  

What we have seen is that Christians are asked to relate to each of these four figures differently. We understand redemption through the lens of Adam, Abraham, Moses, and David. And only collectively do they give us a full understanding of who Christ is and the fullness and splendor of Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes. Adam we relate to racially, as the head of the human race; Abraham we relate to redemptively; Moses we relate to legally; and David we relate to royally. These are very important lenses through which we understand Christ. He comes to us and fulfills all of this as second Adam, Prophet, Priest, King, new Lawgiver, and also Suffering Servant. We saw that, in the very birth of humanity in the Garden of Eden, Adam took the fruit. We know there’s nothing inherently evil about fruit. So this becomes a symbolic act, because taking the forbidden fruit creates a possibility of something dramatic happening. The eating of the fruit becomes what I called an anti-sacrament. If a sacrament is the outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace, this is clearly an outward sign of an inward and spiritual rebellion. And so Adam and Eve, by taking the fruit and eating it, enter into the fellowship of the rebellion. And because, unfortunately, we are all in the loins of Adam when he sinned, we all sinned with him. Therefore, the whole human race is cast into sin, and there’s no way any human can save us. 

It’s a pretty bleak moment. It’s why we call it the Fall. It’s like a bad day in the history of humanity, to say the least. God immediately begins to build a response to this act in Genesis 3 verse 15 and forward. The plan of redemption slowly begins to unfold, including how Christ will come. In fact, He’s the only one eligible to come as the second Adam. Remember, the motto of the rebellion was, “Not Your will but mine be done.” And all of this unfolds in the first garden, the garden of Eden. Christ comes in the second garden, the garden of Gethsemane. In that moment, Christ says, “Not my will but Thine be done.” So Christ reverses the curse. Christ becomes the second Adam. And wherever Adam disobeyed, this new Adam obeyed. And now we have, of course, these two great headships of the human race, Adam and Christ, under which all of humanity will be gathering. So we’ve been unfolding that. We saw that the main point of the call of Abraham was to recognize the scope of redemption. It was not simply a restoration of the Jewish race or the building of the Jewish people, but the restoration of the whole human race. God promises Abraham in the Jewish covenant that in his seed, all nations will be blessed. And this becomes the kind of seminal phrase that gets picked up through the great commission, the great texts in the New Testament, and becomes, of course, the foundation stone of the scope of redemption for all the peoples of the earth. 

Not only is the plan of redemption unfolding from Genesis 3 forward, but the Fall also continues to unfold. And as we read through Genesis, we find that not only is it personal – the personal guilt of Adam and Eve as they sinned and entered into the rebellion – it also clearly becomes social, it becomes interpersonal. 

You have the first murder in Genesis chapter 4. Then we get to Genesis 14, where we see all these nations fighting each other. It shows that even the nations are now in conflict. The text actually begins with these five nations at war against four nations, and eventually the four nations beat the five nations. This national tribal kind of warfare is probably not that unusual in the ancient world at this time, but it’s mentioned in particular because of how it involves the city of Sodom and Lot. Recall that when they were progressing and all their sheep and cattle were growing, they had so many cattle that they couldn’t all stay together. So Abraham said to Lot, his nephew, “You choose left, I’ll go right. You choose right, I’ll go left. We can’t stay together. We need more space to move our sheep and crops out.” So they parted ways. Lot chose to go to Sodom, and he settled in the plains of Sodom. When this battle takes place, Lot is arrested, taken into captivity along with their children and all their belongings, so he’s caught up into this. This was a massive force of people and military for the ancient world. Abraham only has 318 men, so he decides to do a rescue attempt. It’s amazing how God gives so much good military strategy to these early patriarchs. They always outsmart people. But they chase them, they route them, they basically divide the men up and surprise them, and the men think it’s a much bigger group than it is and eventually panic and flee. And they strew all of the belongings for 30 miles. Abraham is able to recollect all of the stuff from all of these battles. It’s a big, big victory for Abraham.  

In many ways, it’s like another day of conflict in the Middle East. But then something really odd happens, and the Jews can never forget it; they ruminate over it for a thousand years. Because suddenly they come back from the spoils – they’re having this amazing experience of recapturing and restoring Lot to his family – when suddenly this man named Melchizedek comes up out of the blue in verse 18. Melchizedek has never been mentioned up to this point. He’s never mentioned again except in the hymn in Psalm 110. Only twice in the Old Testament is he mentioned, in other words. He comes up, and he’s not been a part of any of this conflict. And there are at least six things about Melchizedek that astound the Jewish people, and this comes up in all kinds of ways in the Talmudic writings, etc. There is lot of speculation all through their history about it, both oral and written. 

First of all, and of course Hebrews 7 recounts this, his name is Melchizedek, king of righteousness. It either means king of righteousness or one who serves the king of righteousness. What is that? It’s really powerful.  

Secondly, he is king of Salem, king of peace. This is a very early reference to Jerusalem. That obviously gets anyone’s attention, especially if you’re a Jew. So this person is the king of Salem, the king of righteousness, or one who worships the king of righteousness.  

Then the big, amazing thing, thirdly, is that he is king and priest of God Most High. All right, priest of God Most High. King and priest. How does that work? It’s not possible in the Hebrew mind. Because the priests come from Levi, and the kings come from Judah. These can’t be resolved in one person. That becomes a very important messianic point, as we’ll see, as Christ fulfills all of this. 

And then, fourthly, he emerges with no calling card. Now in our world, we don’t care about this. I meet somebody and take their hand and say, “My name is Tim Tennent.” That will not work in the ancient world. No one cares who Tim Tennent is. They still don’t care, but the ancient world certainly didn’t care. But what you would say is, “I’m Tim Tennent, I’m the son of so and so… my grandfather fought this great battle and did this great thing.” And they would say, “Oh, now we know who you are.” You see, everyone is connected. There’s no personal autonomy (in the modern, post-enlightenment sense) in the ancient world. And so you are who you are because of who you’re from and who your mother and father are and all of that. That’s very crucial to your identity. Someone shows up, and they have no idea who his mother and father are. They don’t know when he was born. They know nothing about him. That becomes a huge factor in the mind of the Jewish people. Who is this guy who just kind of shows up from nowhere? No genealogy. Nothing.  

Fifthly, he then breaks out bread and wine and serves them to Abraham. And of course, bread and wine are the staples of life. That’s the basic point. But it becomes, of course, the kernel of the Passover, the kernel of the Eucharist. There are very powerful images being sent forth. That’s a lot to reflect on.  

Finally, sixthly, Melchizedek not only blesses Abraham, but then Abraham tithes 10% of all the spoils to him. As you know, the tradition in the ancient world was you tithe 10% to the king. The lesser always tithes to the greater. So that becomes a point of mystery. Why would Abraham give this man 10% of everything? Abraham, of course, doesn’t owe Bera, King of Sodom, anything, but Abraham refused to accept anything from him. He gives everything back. He says, “because if I keep one thong of your sandals, someday you’ll say, “I helped make Abraham rich.”” We often count Genesis 22 as the place that really tests Abraham’s faith, but here we see already – we don’t emphasize this text enough – how Abraham shows very early on his absolute trust in God’s promises. Remarkable, remarkable passage.  

This memory stays with Jewish people for a thousand years. Finally, David writes this amazing Psalm in Psalm 110, this coronation Psalm, perhaps preparing for his own son’s coronation as king Solomon. But it becomes a messianic Psalm of hope, of course, because the kingship always foreshadows that. We see later that David, of course, becomes the kingly connection to the Messiah. He says in Psalm 110 verse 4 that the Lord has sworn and will not change his mind. “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” Now, isn’t that an amazing statement? Who’s ever heard of the order of Melchizedek? This is something that David articulates here in Psalm 110. It’s very, very powerful, and eventually we get another glimpse of this in Zechariah 6, which, of course, David wouldn’t be aware of at that point, but later on, because Zechariah has another prophecy about the branch, the Messiah called “Branch” who will come. And He will bring a harmony to the kingship and the priesthood and be united into one Messiah. There are hopes unfolding about what is going to happen when Christ comes. Hebrews 7 makes a great point of all of this. And, of course, Hebrews wants to point out that there are a number of reasons why Melchizedek becomes a very crucial figure for us as Christians.  

First of all, he says, the Melchizedek priesthood is permanent. Just like today, we take Eucharist, we give Eucharist. We need forgiveness of sins like everybody else. The priest always sacrifices for their own sins, then for the sins of others. So there’s this amazing sense with Melchizedek, where something different has happened, because David says in verse 4 of Psalm 110, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” The priesthood of people lived and died, passed on. Yet this is an eternal priesthood. That is truly remarkable. Now, of course, people have speculated that Melchizedek was a theophany or a Christophany, but that’s not the point in my mind. It’s not that. That he has no calling card, no known genealogy, is how he’s understood in the old covenant. It’s a permanent priesthood.  

Secondly, Abraham tithes to him, not the other way around. It shows that the lesser is tithing to the greater, and he makes the same point that I made with Adam in that Levi is in the loins of Abraham. We don’t have this connectedness; we live in a world of autonomy. But from the Biblical perspective, not only are you sitting here, but all of your descendants are sitting here in you. Now why is that important? Well, my very first appointment on my very first Sunday, there were 22 people present. I was so disappointed. I thought, this is my charge, 20 people? And a man came up to afterwards and said, “Oh, pastor, this was a great day. Everyone came out, you know?” My second week, we were down to 15. So my first church, I started with 15 people. And it never dawned on me that all of my people’s descendants were in their loins; I was preaching to thousands. (This is not in the text; it’s a marginal reading). But the fact that Levi is inside of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob means that when Abraham tithes, essentially Levi tithes. That’s what the text of Hebrews 7 says.  

And thirdly, of course, is the character of the two parties involved. The Levites, who were sinners, said that Melchizedek is considered to be one without any lineage or ancestors, so he has the power of an indestructible life, at least in type form. Melchizedek becomes for us a hermeneutic or an interpretive way of understanding through a lens how Christ comes to us as the High Priest. Because this becomes the problem: Jesus Christ comes from the line of Judah; how can He fulfill all the strands of the Old Testament? The Bible claims that Christ is both; He is the great fulfillment of the prophetic expectations. He’s the great King; He’s also the great Priest. The order of Melchizedek becomes the way in which Christ can be both King and Priest because it’s an order that trumps out and precedes the order of Levi. 

So brothers and sisters, I believe that this passage in Melchizedek will hopefully inspire us about the importance of Christ being our High Priest, the One who represents us before God, the One who allows us to be in Christ. Just as we were once in Adam, we’re now in Christ’s second Adam. We’re also in Christ as the great High Priest who brings us into the presence of God. And it’s because of our being in Christ, and I argue only because we are in Christ, that we can then go boldly into God’s presence with joy. That’s the basis of it: who Christ is, according to the order of Melchizedek.  


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