Looking for a Priest Like Melchizedek (Psalm 110)

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During Advent, we anticipate and celebrate the coming of Christ. But what does it mean that Jesus is Christ? Last time, we learned that “Christ” and “Messiah” are synonyms that mean “Anointed One.” In the Old Testament, three offices required ceremonial anointing: prophet, priest, and king. By studying Deuteronomy 18:15, we joined God’s OT people in looking for a prophet like Moses and learned that Jesus met all the criteria. Jesus represents the Father, declares his word, and calls us to repentance.

Let’s turn to Psalm 110 and look at another aspect of Christ as the Anointed One:

1 The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” 2 The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! 3 Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. 4 The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” 5 The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. 6 He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. 7 He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.

Christ, the Son of God (v.1)

Verse 1 is curious. We know that there is only one Lord, yet David says that the Lord spoke to my Lord. The Lord God speaks to the Lord, the Messiah. Jesus cites this verse in Mark 12:35-37:

While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”‘ David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”

When David penned Psalm 110 “by the Holy Spirit,” David recognized that the Messiah would not only be his son (descendent), but also the Son of God. Jesus used this verse to defend his divine identity.

Chiastic Structure (v.1, 7; 2, 6; 3, 5; 4)

In verse 1, a king is enthroned: the Lord asks the Messiah to sit at his right hand, until his enemies are overthrown. Verse 7 may communicate the same idea: “He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.” Since water is often used a symbol of affliction, some think that drinking from the brook refers to a period of suffering and lifting up his head refers to a subsequent exaltation. This would certainly be true of Christ, who “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow.” Christ humbled himself in suffering, therefore he was exalted. If this is true, then verses 1 and 7 are closely connected. But since the imagery is in question, let’s look at verse 2.

In verse 2, Messiah will come with a rod of strength to rule his enemies. Look at verse 6: “He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.” It is clear that verses 2 and 6 communicate the same idea: Messiah will come to conquer his enemies.

Verse 3 describes the reaction of Messiah’s people to “the day of his power.” Is there anywhere else in the Psalm that this idea is communicated? Verse 5 says, “The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.” It is unmistakably clear that verses 3 and 5 are parallel verses.

So, what does this tell us?

If you learned how to write a five-paragraph essay in school, you may have been told to put your thesis sentence in the first paragraph. In English literary structure, key ideas are usually at the beginning. But this is not often the case in Hebrew literary structure. What we have in Psalm 110 is a clear case of chiastic structure, where highlighted ideas go at the center. David signals that verse 4 is of great importance by surrounding it with sets of parallel ideas and phrases. God’s oath to the Messiah is of the greatest importance to David: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.'”

Melchizedek (Gen. 14:17-20)

Melchizedek is only mentioned one other time in the OT, in Genesis 14:17-20.

17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

While this may not seem like much to go on, Psalm 110 makes clear that the Messiah will be like the mysterious priest-king Melchizedek. Some have suggested that Melchizedek was actually Jesus, showing up before his incarnation; however, it is safer to view Melchizedek as a type of Christ. A “type” is when God uses a person, place, or institution as a symbol or example of what is coming in the future.

So, what was Melchizedek like? 

  • First, the priesthood of Melchizedek was universal. He was not just the priest of one nation. Melchizedek served Abraham, the king of Sodom, and the kings that were with him; they all recognized Melchizedek as a priest of the one true and living God.
  • Second, Melchizedek was a kingly priest. He was both the priest of the Most High God and also the king of Salem. Melchizedek was a priest-king; he held two anointed offices.
  • Third, he was the prince of peace. Salem means “peace” and Melchizedek was the king or prince of peace.
  • Fourth, he was the king of righteousness. His name—“Melchizedek”—means “king of righteousness.”
  • Fifth, he was superior to Abraham. Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek and was blessed by Melchizedek. The one who blesses is always superior to the one who is blessed. This alone should startle us. Abraham was the one man chosen out of all the earth to receive the great promises of God. He is the father of all the faithful, and yet he recognized that he was inferior to Melchizedek.
  • Finally, he was superior to the Levitical priests. When God called the Levites to be priests in Israel, he commanded the people to pay tithes to them. But remember, the Levites were Abraham’s descendants. Rather than receive tithes, Abraham paid tithes to yet another. He recognized there was one even more worthy to receive tithes than he or his descendants.

We should also consider at least two things that the text does not say. First, the text does not give a genealogy of Melchizedek. We do not have a record of his mother or father. And finally, the text does not record the death of Melchizedek; therefore, there is no record of his priesthood ever coming to an end.

Based on David’s words in Psalm 110, we should expect the Messiah to resemble Melchizedek in at least some of these ways.

It’s no coincidence that Zechariah 6:13 identifies the Messiah as a priest-king who brings peace:It is he who shall build the temple of the Lord and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” Isaiah 9:6 famously predicts that “his name shall be called…The Prince of Peace.” Despite these prophecies, the exact nature of the Messiah was not clear. For old covenant people like David, looking for a priest like Melchizedek was like living in the shadows. They needed a bright light to shine.

Jesus and Melchizedek (Heb. 7:1-8:7)

Thankfully, the New Testament provides radiant clarity. The author of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Spirit, confirms what one might have suspected after listening to the Old Testament prophets, and explains why it is so vitally important for you and I to understand. Let’s read Hebrews 7.

7:1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed himand to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 3 He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.

4 See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! 5 And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. 6 But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. 8 In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him. 11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron?

The Levitical priesthood was not a perfect priesthood; it did not offer a complete and permanent solution for sin; therefore, a better priest needed to arise. By introducing the superior priesthood of Melchizedek before the familiar Levitical priesthood, God was teaching his people that the Levites and their sacrifices were not a permanent solution. Instead, the Levitical priesthood was to be a constant reminder of the need for a better priest. Faithful Israelites like David were looking for a priest like the mysterious priest-king Melchizedek. Let’s continue with v.15:

15 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is witnessed of him [by David in Psalm 110:4], “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

The law, which established the Levitical priesthood, has been set aside because it was weak and useless. The law made nothing perfect, so Jesus—a better hope—was brought in, making it possible to draw near to God. Jesus was appointed as a priest by an “oath” made by God—the oath recorded in Psalm 110:4!

20 And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 21 but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’” 22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. 23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

  • Like Melchizedek, Jesus is superior to the Levitical priests.
  • Like Melchizedek, Jesus is superior to Abraham. In John 8:48-59, the Jews ask Jesus, “‘Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? … Jesus answered, ‘…Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.’ So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”
  • Like Melchizedek, Jesus is a kingly priest. He is both the great high priest who sits at the right hand of God the Father, and also the king who destroys our enemies—sin, Satan, and death.
  • Like Melchizedek, Jesus brings peace and righteousness—peace with God and true holiness through the removal of sin by his blood.

The Uttermost Salvation Provided by Christ’s Priesthood

As a priest in the order of Melchizedek, Jesus meets all of our needs. Hebrews 8-10 explores in great detail how Jesus is a great high priest. But there is one verse in Hebrews 7 that summarizes what Christ’s priesthood provides. Verse 25: “Wherefore”—because he is a priest in the order of Melchizedek—“he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (KJV).

In The Deep Things of God, Fred Sanders comments on the phrase, “save them to the uttermost”:

It was that particular combination of words that stuck in the minds of English-speaking evangelicals and became a motto for embracing the full scope of the gospel. Two of evangelicalism’s greatest preaches, John Wesley (1703-1791) and C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), were drawn to these words repeatedly. Wesley cited them often, and in his Notes on the New Testament explained the “uttermost” of Hebrews 7:25 as “all the guilt, power, root, and consequence of sin.” Wesley preached a version of full salvation that struck many as outrageously optimistic about how far salvation could go in personal transformation. Defending the message of the early Methodists, Wesley wrote that ‘what most surprised us, was, that we were said to ‘dishonour Christ,’ by asserting that he ‘saveth to the uttermost;’ by maintaining he will reign in our hearts alone, and subdue all things to himself.’ … Wesley, with a vision of perfect holiness, pictured ‘the uttermost’ as entire sanctification.

Sanders explains how Spurgeon elaborated on the text differently based on his theological convictions, but draws the attention back to “the challenge that, with one united voice, they present to any age that diminishes the gospel.” He continues:

The fact that Spurgeon had a Calvinist uttermost and Wesley had a holiness uttermost is insignificant compared to the more basic fact that both of them had big thoughts about the gospel and pushed hard to communicate them. They perceived the scope of salvation and struggled to frame thoughts big enough to accommodate it. Neither of them could be reproached with “your gospel is too small.”

Hebrews 7 looks back to Psalm 110 and Genesis 14, and sees something that is foundational to the monumental teaching that we can be saved to the uttermost. At the heart of the gospel is a Priest after the order of Melchizedek, who offered himself as a perfect, one-time sacrifice for sins, then ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father and intercede for us, so that whoever plunges in to the fountain of his blood can be made perfectly whole.

Jesus Christ is Jesus the Anointed One, the anointed priest. He is the great High Priest above all priests, and his gospel is the great gospel above all gospels. Sanders concludes:

A gospel that is only about the moment of conversion but does not extend to every moment of life in Christ is to small. A gospel that gets your sins forgiven but offers no power for transformation is too small. A gospel that isolates one of the benefits of union with Christ and ignores the others is too small. A gospel that must be measured by your own moral conduct, social conscience, or religious experience is too small. A gospel that rearranges the components of your life but does not put you personally in the presence of God is too small.

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Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold is President and Founder of Holy Joys. He serves as a preaching and teaching pastor in Newport, PA, where he lives with his wife Alexandra and son Adam. You can connect with him on Twitter @jsarnold7.