To understand the book of Hebrews, one must have background knowledge on the character of Melchizedek.
This Priest-King was a type of father to the Jewish faith and the writer of Hebrews would eventually use him to show that Jesus’ priesthood was universal, royal, righteous, peaceful, personal and eternal. Therefore, he is an historical figure of some significance.
Except for a few places within the Bible, Melchizedek is lost to history. In Genesis, there are only three verses about Melchizedek contained in Genesis 14.
1000 years later, David makes a brief mention of him in Psalm 110:4 – declaring for the first time that Messiah’s priesthood would be like Melchizedek’s. Finally, the author of Hebrews – 2000 years after the Genesis account – offers the most significant information about Melchizedek.
Throughout the centuries, many theories have been presented about Melchizedek. He has been said to be a divine being, an angelic being, and Shem-son of Noah. This Priest-King has been thought of to be an allegorical human high priest, a symbolic name for the human Davidic Messiah, and an historical and heavenly figure higher than the angels and lower than the Son.
He’s also been thought of as a picture of Christ himself – a Christophony of sorts. Then, obviously, he was a Canaanite Priest-King of Salem who worshiped the true God.
It is easy to see that the word Melchizedek is a combination of two Hebrew words meaning together “King of Righteousness.” From Genesis 14 it becomes clear that this King was the King of Salem or Jeru-salem at that time.
Salem (or shalom) means “peace”, thus, the title “King of Salem” means literally “King of Peace.” To many theological historians these symbols infer that Melchizedek truly was the pre-incarnate Christ – or Christophony.
However, to believe this theory, one would need to ignore the historical data offered in Genesis 14. Next, it contradicts Hebrews in that Christ could not be better than Melchizedek if He were Melchizedek.
The scriptural nomenclature of “the Lord appeared” or “the Angel of the Lord appeared” which always accompanies OT Christophanies is absent here.
The linguistic evidence can be read in such a way where the name Melchizedek is not so much a personal name, but a title for ancient Jebusite rulers of Salem.
Clearly Melchizedek was an actual person, so what does the Bible say about him?
From Genesis 14 the reader learns that when Abram returns from a victory over Kedorlaomer, Melchizedek – the King of Salem and priest of God Most High – brings him bread and wine.
This Priest-King blesses Abram by blessing God Most High who helped him conquer his enemies. Because of this blessing, Abram gives Melchizedek a tenth of all goods he recovered in the war.
From these few verses, an entire theology of the priesthood is formed, and thousands of years later Jesus is compared to this enigmatic figure. In the next writing, we will discuss what Melchizedek means for the priesthood, and how Jesus is greater than this greatest of all human priests, even those from the Levitical line.