In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 5, verses 5-6.
First let’s discuss the Son and Father: there is nobody else in all of human history who can hold that title other than Jesus Christ. Christ is the only Son of God the Father while still being one with the Father. He could have taken on the glory of accepting God’s calling to be an ordained high priest of the Jewish faith, but He didn’t. He could have assumed God’s glory for Himself, but He didn’t. If He had done these things, He wouldn’t have been the perfect Christ who satisfied the hundreds of Old Testament Biblical prophecies about the Christ. And yet Jesus did become the ultimate priest, the ultimate pastor and Good Shepherd of God’s flock that is the church. It is only Jesus who intercedes for us with the glorious Father, who demands perfection to satisfy His just holiness. It is only Jesus who sacrificed Himself so that something could be done that had never been done before and couldn’t have been done since. Only Jesus could atone for all of humanity’s wrongdoings; nobody before or since has so satisfied all the requirements of being the penultimate and perfect Passover lamb.
And then there’s Melchizedek. Verse 6 quotes Psalm 110, which says “you are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizidek.” Perhaps ancient Jewish discussions focused a lot on Melchizidek, who is a minor, almost obscure figure in the early part of Genesis. But he was important. Melchizedek is the “king of Salem” who came out to meet Abraham and to whom Abraham gave a tenth of all he owned (providing precedence for our practice of ten percent tithing). Historically, almost nothing else is known of him though it’s interesting to note that “king of Salem” likely means that Melchizedek was the ruler or high priest of Salem. That location was, according to some scholars, what became Jerusalem. How fascinating is it, then, in knowing this considering the later importance of Jerusalem to the stories of King David, King Jesus, and even in our world today.
Some Bible scholars say that Melchizidek may have been a pre-incarnate Jesus, come to reside for a short time with His people but, as the author of Hebrews notes, “a priest forever” (and the only priest forever). Other Bible scholars think Melchizekek may actually have been Shem, the son of Noah. Shem had been on the Ark with Noah and the rest of their family, and is regarded as the father of the line of Semites (“Semite” being derived from the name Shem). Shem was the son whom Noah blessed after Noah’s post-Flood sin of drunkenness. He lived an extraordinarily long life both before and after the flood; after the flood he and so many others bore many children to repopulate a lonely and empty earth. If you flow out the timeline, you find that there is a short period of overlap in the lives of Shem and Abraham, so the theory becomes possible, maybe even plausible. That about exhausts my non-internet-researched knowledge of the topic; if more is to be known, we’ll have to consult Google, Bible scholars, or both.
In a few chapters we’ll talk more about Melchizidek; much of Chapter 7 is about him. Whether he was the pre-incarnate Jesus or Shem or someone else altogether, if we navel-gaze about who he was we miss the point of what he represents in this verse (and in Psalm 110). Melchizidek was the example of an ultimate high priest, one who would be able to intercede for man on man’s behalf. Pastors do this. They are men of character who both minister to us in ways we need, and pray to God on our behalf, which we also very much need. The priesthood was and is a necessary function to human existence even when we don’t hold it in regard. Pastors and priests, other than Joel Osteen, don’t make much money. We hold them in high esteem yet we insist that the most effective of them live in near poverty. Like God Himself, when times are good most of us don’t seem to want our pastors around, but when we fall on hard times we want them there immediately. Whether he was Jesus, Shem or someone else, this is the kind of person Melchizidek must have been. He must have been a deeply spiritual man who sought God’s will and God’s wisdom. He must have been a man of impeccable character. Melchizidek is a man from whom we can learn much even if we actually know very little about him.
Hold on to these thoughts…we’ll need them in a little while.
For more reading: Genesis 14:18, Hebrews 6:20, Hebrews 7:1-22, Psalm 110:4.
Lord Jesus, thank You for the life of Melchizidek, and for the example He set in how You want Your priests and pastors to live here. Indeed, Lord, for how You desire all of us to live.