The Most Important Bible Character You've Never Heard Of

Have you heard about Melchizedek?

I wrote about him a couple of years ago, but I wanted to condense the information into a more readable post.

Melchizedek is mentioned in Genesis, Psalms, and Hebrews. But chances are, you've never heard of him.

Photo Credit: miraculix1951 (creative commons)

So who is he?

When you read about him in Genesis, he seems like a minor character of little consequence. Yet the fact that both David and the author of Hebrews mention Melchizedek means we might want to give him a second look. (For the purposes of this post, I'm assuming Paul wrote the book of Hebrews.)

Before we dive in though, let's read the full account of him in the book of Genesis:

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.”
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

It's all so clear now, right?

Maybe not. But believe it or not, Melchizedek is an allusion to Jesus.

There are a number of things worth noting in these three verses alone. Here are six:

1. His name

As Paul writes, Melchizedek means "king of righteousness" (Heb. 7:2). In a similar vein the prophet Isaiah writes this about the Messiah: "He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever" (9:7).

2. His hometown

Melchizedek is king of Salem. Sound familiar?

Genesis 14:17 tells us that the setting for the Melchizedek narrative is the Valley of Shevah, a place just northeast of Jerusalem. So are Jerusalem and Salem the same place? It seems plausible.

Centuries later Jesus rode into Jerusalem where the people proclaimed Him as king:

Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel! John 12:13

3. The bread and wine

When Melchizedek brings out bread and wine to Abram, the Christian can't help but think of the Last Supper.

When Jesus gave the bread and wine to his disciples, he says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). The “new” covenant references the old covenant between God and Abram. The Last Supper immediately precedes Jesus’ sham trial and crucifixion by which God established the New Covenant with mankind. Similarly, the offering of the bread and wine by Melchizedek to Abram immediately precedes the “old” covenant that God made with Abram.

4. His blessing of Abram

Paul notes that "without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater" (Heb. 7:7). To proclaim to the Hebrews that someone is greater than Abraham, their patriarch, is a bold statement. Yet Jesus Himself said to the Pharisees, "Before Abraham was born, I am!" (John 8:58).

5. That Abram gave him a tithe

Before God gave Moses the Law commanding a tithe, and before Israel even existed, Abram gives Melchizedek a tenth of everything. Why? He must have realized what the scriptures tell us: that Melchizedek was "priest of God Most High" (14:18).

I like the way Paul puts it:

One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor. Hebrews 7:9-10

Metaphorically, God's people prepaid tribute to the Messiah.

6. His status as king AND priest

This is the heart of the matter.

When God established Israel, He was their king. Yet when the people demanded a king, He gave them one. But He intentionally separated the monarchy from the priesthood.

This is ultimately why Israel's first king, Saul, lost favor with God. Tired of waiting for Samuel, he took it upon himself to perform the priestly duties, paving the way for David to take the throne.

And speaking of David, he makes mention of Melchizedek's special status:

The LORD has sworn 
And will not change his mind: 
"You are a priest forever, 
In the order of Melchizedek."
Psalm 110:4

The second person "You" in this psalm refers to the Messiah, Jesus Christ himself.

This is why we should pay attention to Melchizedek. Where God intentionally separated priestly duties from those of a king, Jesus came and reunited the two.

Jesus is not only the king, but also the priest.

So what does this mean for the Christian (and why should we care)?

It means that Jesus is the head of the church. Not the Pope. Not the High Priest. (Now you can see why the Pharisees were so threatened.) Christ has religious and political authority, and He was the fulfillment of the law.

Some believe that Melchizedek was Jesus Himself. Some believe he was an angel. But even if he were a mere human, he is a symbol and a foreshadow of Christ. This is but further evidence that Jesus is who He said He was.


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