Hebrews 7:1–10 (NKJV)
By the beginning of chapter seven, the writer of Hebrews has been alluding to the priest Melchizedek for some time. He compares Christ (our great High Priest) to Melchizedek often in the lead up to this chapter. In this passage, he finally begins to make clear the reasons why the comparison works. Those common traits are outlined in the Scriptures and discussion below.
1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” 3 without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.Hebrews 7:1-3
Melchizedek was, of course, the priest who met Abraham as he came back from war against the kings who had kidnapped some of Abraham’s family members and taken some of Abraham’s goods. He took servants with him and conquered the kings, saving Lot and his family and recovering much spoil from the battle. Abraham gave Melchizedek (king of Salem, priest of God) a tenth of all the spoils, a tithe. He was called king of Salem, which means king of peace, and was also called king of righteousness. The parallels to Christ are evident. Jesus is the One Who speaks peace into contentious and worrisome situations. He is the Righteous One, holy and perfect in all His ways. Then, the author gives even more information about Melchizedek, which draws the comparison even closer. He is without father or mother, or at least there is no naming or mention of them in the Biblical text. There is no genealogy which outlines his origins. There is no mention of his birth or death, so he seems to be a priest continually.
Melchizedek appears to be an archetype, a model of priesthood. Unlike the Hebrew kings, Melchizedek represented the tradition of sacral kingship; he united in his person the dual honors of royalty and priesthood.* Christ is also seen in His dual role as King of kings and as the Great High Priest. Melchizedek is seen with no obvious genealogy or references to family, and no birth and death dates. This hints of an eternal nature to his existence. These features are similar to Christ in the spiritual sense. While He was born and died and had an earthly mother in His physical walk on earth, in the spiritual realm He has no parents, no beginning, and no end. Melchizedek is a type or shadow of Christ, or else–some may interpret–could have been a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ in the Old Testament. Either way, the implication is that the Priest-King synergism in his role and his apparent lack of beginning or end makes him the appropriate archetype for the priestly role of Christ.
4 Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. 5 And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; 6 but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. 8 Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. 9 Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.Hebrews 7:4-10
Melchizedek’s greatness is established by the fact that Abraham paid tithes to him. Abraham came to be known as the primary patriarch of the nation of Israel. While Adam and even Noah predate Abraham, the promise to him and his seed make him the definite marker of the genesis of the nation. Tithing is begun with Abraham, not Moses or the Levitical codes. Even the Levites, priests who would later receive tithes from the people, paid tithes to Melchizedek. How? They were represented in the loins of Abraham, as he was their father (ancestor) and he gave tithes to Melchizedek. The Levitical priesthood is characterized in this passage as the lesser priesthood, and the priesthood of Melchizedek and Christ as the greater. The priesthood of Christ in heaven is greater than the priesthood of men on earth. Here, mortal men receive tithes from their brothers, but in heaven the One who lives forever receives them and blesses accordingly.
Christ follows the model of the priest Melchizedek, but goes beyond his model by operating in an eternal and divine manner in an eternal house or temple. Serve Christ. Understand that Israel’s sacrificial system was a type of what would come through Christ. The offering of bulls and goats was partially sufficient until the spotless Lamb of God shed His blood to take away our sins forever. The priests received tithes on earth, but now Christ receives them in heaven as we give to His church. Tithing is not just a command of the Mosaic law. Tithing predates Moses and has outlasted the Jewish priesthood. What does all this mean? Christ is the Great High Priest, greater than the priests of Israel, able to forgive sins by His own blood, and not the blood of bulls and goats. Christ is perfect in every way, righteous and holy, Giver of peace, without beginning or end. His priesthood supersedes that of Aaron or the Levites. His priesthood is pure and eternal and effective. While Melchizedek may have been a man, his circumstances demonstrate the manner of Christ’s priesthood, showing the reader the order of Melchizedek, of which Christ is the fulfillment.
*William L. Lane, Hebrews 1–8, vol. 47A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1991), 164.