Monday, September 13, 2010

Who Was Melchizedek?

We start the broadcast today with a Facebook question from Richard who writes, “I would love help understanding what Hebrews 7:3 is communicating?” Of course that is the very enigmatic passage that you find concerning Melchizedek. He is described as “king of righteousness, and “king of Salem,” which means king of peace” (Heb. 7:2). He is also said to be “without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually” (Heb. 7:3, NIV).

We should note immediately that the Bible not only designates Melchizedek as “king of righteousness,” and “king of peace,” but overtly tells us that he is without father or mother, he is without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, and that like the Son of God he remains a priest forever. So though he did not trace his descent from Levi, yet the Bible tells us that Melchizedek collected a tenth from Abraham, and then blessed Abraham who had the promises (Heb. 7:2, 4). And then the text tells us without a doubt the lesser person—Abraham—is blessed by the greater person—Melchizedek. In the one case, the tenth is collected by men who die and in the other case by him who is declared to be the living, so note that in contrast to men, who die, Melchizedek is declared to be the living (Heb. 7:5-10).

Despite of all the evidence, of course, over the years one word caused me to question Melchizedek as a Christophany or a preincarnate appearance of Christ. That word is the word “like.” I thought that this might have been an analogy for Christ or a type of Christ. But at looking at this more clearly, I discovered that “like” is hardly a game changer. That particular Greek word, by the way, is only used once in the entirety of the New Testament. (I’m not saying “like” in English, but the Greek Word that was translated “like” in this particular context.) Therefore, I think it is unwise to be dogmatic about the definition of that word as translated into the English language.

If “like” is properly translated it doesn’t negate the notion of Melchizedek as a Christophany. All you have to do is look at the words of Daniel, where Daniel says, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence” (Dan. 7:13, NIV). And then contemplate the reality that despite the word “like” in that passage, Jesus combined this very passage with Psalm 110, which is that great coronation psalm, in evidence of the fact that He was in fact divine. And He used that argument before Caiaphas and the court that is condemning Him to death. So, again, the fact that the word “like” is there, shouldn’t cloud our understanding of the passage.

There’s little doubt in my mind in reading Hebrews 7 the great coronation Psalm 110 in which Melchizedek is also mentioned, and then the Genesis passage where Melchizedek appears to Abraham that this is a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. It’s a Christophany very much like the Angel of the Lord appearing in the Old Testament.

What eventually changed my mind was looking at the biblical text. What initiated the looking at the biblical text was the Dead Sea Scrolls, quite frankly. The Melchizedek Scroll is a classic case in point where you find Melchizedek and the Almighty as words that are interchanged by the Essenes. So as they studied the Old Testament, they saw Melchizedek very clearly as the Almighty. Now the Dead Sea Scrolls are not the acid test, it is the Word of God that is the acid test, but it did cause me to look more closely at the biblical text.

Interpreting Scripture in light of Scripture, I think that it is very clear that Melchizedek is in fact a Christophany. He is in fact a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ.