Was Melchizedek a man or a type of Christ? Was he actually Christ in a pre-incarnate state?
Melchizedek shows up in just three books of the Bible: Genesis, Psalms and Hebrews and nowhere else.
Melchizedek In Genesis
The first one, Genesis 14:18-20, tells us that Melchizedek was a king and a priest. He and Jesus Christ are the only individuals the Bible says were both a king (Gen. 14:18; Matt. 27:11) and a priest (Gen. 14:18; Heb. 2:17). Genesis 14:18-20 tells us that the king of Salem, Melchizedek, was a priest of the Most High God. He was not a pagan priest, but a priest of the one and only, true God. Melchizedek must have enjoyed the name king of Salem since the name of Salem means “peace.” It is the old name for Jerusalem (Ps. 76:2). If we only read Genesis, we would assume he was a man.
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tenth of all. (NASB) Genesis 14:18-20
Melchizedek In Hebrews
But the book of Hebrews creates a question about him when it says the following:
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he abides a priest perpetually. (NASB) Hebrews 7:1-3
We must ask ourselves what does scripture mean by “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he abides a priest perpetually?” At a first reading it sounds like Melchizedek is not human but deity. But the Greek language helps us unscramble this passage. The Greek word for “made like” is APHOMOIOO. It is a rare Greek word and occurs in the Bible only here in Hebrews 7:3. The word means “to copy or model.” The word was used to refer to a woodcarver who made a piece of wood to look “like” an ordinary animal. The wood was not made into an animal but looked like the animal. In the same way, Melchizedek was not Jesus but he is like Jesus. He is a type or picture of Jesus Christ.
The book of Hebrews was written to show its readers that Jesus is a high priest. In order to be a Jewish high priest, a male had to first be a Jewish priest. God said that a priest had to born of parents who were Levites (Num. 18:6-7; Ezra 2:61-62). This was the first requirement. A Jewish priest had to be a Levite. Therefore, the Holy Spirit needed to show that God recognized someone else in the Old Testament whose family were not Levite. Someone whose family history did not go back to Aaron. Melchizedek was a high priest and he had no family history. Scripture did not record Melchizedek’s family history or genealogy. From an official viewpoint – from scripture – Melchizedek did not have a father or a mother. He did not have a family history. He was not a Levite. This is the point!
But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham, and blessed the one who had the promises. (NASB) Hebrews 7:6
He was a priest without a family history. God had recognized him as a real high priest and the readers could see that Psalm 110:4 agreed with Genesis. If these Jewish readers really believed the scriptures, this was a powerful statement. Jesus could be a high priest and not be a Levite. Jesus’ genealogy was traced back to King David (Matt. 1:1, 6, 16; Rom. 1:2-5; Heb. 7:14). Both Melchizedek and Jesus were not Levites (Heb. 7:15-16).
At the end of Hebrews 7:3 we read that Melchizedek was “a priest perpetually” and in Hebrews 7:23-24 we see that Jesus is a priest “forever.” What is the difference? The answer is in the Greek again. The root Greek word for “perpetually” is DIENEKES and the root Greek word for “forever” is AION. DIENEKES means “continually” or “without interruption” and AION means “eternal.” AION is stronger word than DIENEKES. This means that Melchizedek is not like Jesus. Jesus will live forever but Melchizedek will only be a priest “without interruption” – no recorded death! Hebrews 7:24 also tells us that Jesus is a high priest “permanently” or APARABATOS. APARABATOS means that Jesus’ high priesthood is “immutable.” This is never said of Melchizedek. Melchizedek will be superceded but not Jesus. They are not identical – they are only like one another.
Hebrews 7:4 also says that Melchizedek was a man.
Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. (NASB) Hebrews 7:4
Not only was he a man, but he was great. Melchizedek had a great reputation. Was he a righteous priest-king? Melchizedek means “king of righteousness.” How often does scripture talk about a man being great? Abraham recognized him and submitted to him. He was a king of a city with people who followed him. This is not an Old Testament appearance of Jesus since He did not live here on earth as a man until His birth thousands of years later. But Melchizedek is an example to us, an example that we are to be righteous even as He is righteous. God wants this in our life – to be like Him.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; (NASB) 1Thess 4:3
. . . because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” (NASB) 1 Peter 1:16
Who was Melchizedek? He was a man whom God used as a type of Christ. He appeared on the pages of scripture to show us thousands of years later that Jesus is our high priest. The old Law is gone. A new high priest has arrived, One who is merciful and faithful (Heb. 2:17).