4. Melchisedec (continued)
Besides, if in the priesthood of Melchisedec we must see a small remnant, a faint glittering of Adam’s original priesthood, and if Christ is priest after the order of Melchisedec, it follows that also the priesthood of the Savior, in distinction from that of Aaron, is only a restoration of the original priesthood of man in the state of righteousness. And against this presentation of the matter we have grave objections. It is rooted in the false conception that salvation is nothing but the reparation and restoration of creation. What Adam failed to do, Christ accomplishes. If Adam had not fallen, he would have attained to eternal life, and the human race would have attained to heavenly glory in and through him. But since he fell into sin and death, Christ must take his place, and obtain for us the eternal righteousness and life. Salvation is repair work. Sin and the devil really marred the work of God and prevented Him from realizing His original creation purpose. But this entire view is contrary to Scripture, and unworthy of God, Who is the Lord and hath done whatsoever He hath pleased. There never was any other purpose in the eternal mind of God than that which is now attained in Christ, the anointed Servant of Jehovah. That purpose was to lead the Church and all things to their heavenly destination and perfection in Christ. Not the first, but the second Paradise of God is the end that must be attained. Not the covenant as it was established in the first Adam, but the tabernacle of God as it rests in the last Adam, the incarnated Word, the Lord from heaven, is the purpose God had in mind from before the foundation of the world. Not the priesthood of the first Adam, but the far more exalted priesthood of the Son of God in the flesh, is the divine ideal. Unto the attainment of that priesthood, which is as far more glorious than the original priesthood of creation as the Son of God in the flesh, raised and exalted at the right hand of God, is more glorious than the first man Adam, all things are subservient, and must serve the counsel of the Most High, even the fall, sin, the devil, and death. And Adam’s original priesthood was only a faint image of that glorious priesthood of the Son of God. Rut if this is born in mind, it should be evident that the priesthood of the historical Melchisedec, which was typical of the glorious priesthood of Christ, cannot have been a weak afterglow of Adam’s priesthood.
The place of Melchisedec and his priesthood will have to be found in the line of grace.
His historical origin must be traced, not to paradise and the state of original righteousness, but to the ark, and to the grace Noah and his seed had found in the eyes of the Lord.
Not in the line of reprobation, in which by the power of a certain common grace a remnant of the original integrity is preserved, but in the line of election, in the generations of the people of God, saved by sovereign grace, the priest-king Melchisedec, as Abraham met him after his victory over the allied kings, must be placed. Historically, he was a real man of flesh and blood, and all the strange things that are written of him in the epistle of the Hebrews dare not be applied to his person, but have reference to his peculiar priesthood as typical of the priesthood of Christ. As priest he stands without father or mother, without genealogy, but as a person he has his descent in the generations of the sons of God.
In the abstract it were quite conceivable that Melchisedec even as a person was called forth by a wonder of God’s grace, simply for the purpose of creating an altogether unique type of Christ, so that even as a historical person he appeared suddenly and inexplicably, without any historical connection with his contemporaries, as a priest of the Most High. There are those that prefer this explanation of his exalted figure. In that case he simply appears as a wonder of God’s grace. He cannot be explained in connection with the history of his time. There is no relation between him and the world of his day and environment. As a unique individual, as a marvelous exception, he appears in the midst of a wicked and perverse nation. And in the midst of a world full of iniquity, he appears as a priest of the most high God, a wonderful manifestation of the wonder of God’s grace.
But there is no need of such an interpretation, and the sober narrative of Genesis 14 leaves a different impression. He was a real historical person. He certainly was king of Salem, and he must have rule over a real people. And as king he was also priest of God in the midst of his people, and in a sense, the people over which he ruled as king-priest must have been a priestly people, consecrated to God. The narrative of Genesis 14 leads to the conclusion that at the time when Abraham sojourned in the land of Canaan, there still was a group of people, a small nation, that knew Jehovah, that served and worshipped the Most High, and that through Melchisedec as their high priest, brought their sacrifices to the God of Sinai. Indeed, the Canaanite, too, was in the land, and the Canaanite was accursed, and had long trampled the covenant of Jehovah, established with Noah and his seed, under foot. Rut in the midst of a wicked generation there was also a remnant of God’s people, according to the election of grace, a people that knew and served the Lord, and that were headed and represented by the priest-king Melchisedec. Rut if this is true, it is but natural to look for a historical explanation of this marvelous priest-king and his people. Only, this explanation must not be sought in the line of the wicked reprobates, but in the line of the generations of the people of God, in which, even outside of Abraham, God still preserved His covenant in those days.
Nor can this present any special difficulties, if we bear in mind the organic development of God’s covenant and its continuation in the line of generations. Then it is at once evident that Melchisedec as a priest of the most high God, together with the people over which he ruled, has his origin in the ark. In the ark and through the flood the Church of God had been saved out of and from the wicked world. And with Noah and his seed God had established His covenant, not a certain covenant of common grace with all men, but His covenant in Christ in the line of election. Rut as always, so also from the loins of Noah there developed the twofold seed, the seed of the promise and the carnal seed. The main line of the covenant according to election ran through Shem, and was afterwards more specifically limited to the generations of Abraham. Rut this may not be understood as if with the calling of Abraham God’s covenant was strictly limited to him and his family, so that the father of believers was a lonely remnant of those that knew Jehovah, and called upon the name of the Lord. He who would thus explain the situation at the time of Abraham’s calling, would fail to reckon with the organical development of the covenant line in history. Not at once and all of a sudden was the fear of the Lord limited to the generations of Abraham. For, first of all, during Abraham’s life many of the old patriarchs from the generations of Shem that culminated in Terah, the father of Abraham, were still alive, and even Shem was still living when the father of believers was called. Even though the immediate ancestors of Abraham apostatized and turned to idols, there must have been thousands of others in the earlier generations that kept the covenant of Jehovah. Resides, although the generations of Shem had been mentioned as those that were destined to receive the covenant blessing in a special sense, for a long time the fear of the Lord must have been preserved also in the generations of Japheth, and it is not even improbable that also in the line of Ham there were found those that called upon the name of Jehovah. In view of all these data, it is by no means strange that even in the land of Canaan, at the time of Abraham’s sojourn in the land, a group of people is found that have the knowledge of the true God, and that are ruled and represented by a priest-king like Melchisedec. Some four centuries later we meet with a similar figure in the person of Jethro, the father in law of Moses. He, too, was a priest of the Most High among his people, although the line of the covenant in the narrower sense of the word did not run over the children of Keturah, but over Isaac, for “in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” Hence, if only we bear in mind the organic development of the covenant in the line of generations, we have no need of explaining Melchisedec as a product of common grace. Nor is it necessary to interpret his appearance as priest of the Most High through an exceptional wonder of God’s grace. Although he stands outside of the generations of Abraham, and, perhaps, even of Shem, Melchisedec as a historical person must be explained as belonging to the generations of those that feared the Lord, and with whom God still continued His covenant.
He was a priest of the Most High by grace.
And as such he was a type of Christ.
5. After The Order Of Melchisedec
Interesting as may be the historical appearance of Melchisedec as a king-priest, Scripture is chiefly concerned with his typical significance. Emphatically the Bible teaches that Christ is a priest after the order of Melchisedec. This is the teaching of that beautiful, prophetic-Messianic Psalm 110 as further interpreted in the epistle to the Hebrews. Distinction is made between the priesthood of Aaron and that of Melchisedec, and with this distinction in view Christ is said to be a priest according to the similitude of the latter. This does not mean that there is an antithesis between the two orders of priesthood, and that the two exclude each other. It is evident that in certain respects they were alike. Also the priesthood of Aaron foreshadowed that of the great High Priest that was to come: Aaron, too, was a type of Christ. The situation is rather thus that, while the priesthood according to the order of Melchisedec included that of Aaron, the former is of a far more exalted character than the latter, was much richer in significance, of a wider scope, of far greater power and authority. And while the priesthood of Aaron found its final fulfillment in Christ, and in some respects also its termination, that of Melchisedec was so realized in the Lord that in Him it is perfect and remains for ever.
The question, therefore, is: what is the distinction between the two orders of priesthood? In what respects was the priesthood of Melchisedec of a higher order than that of Aaron? Scripture emphasizes especially two points of difference. The first is that, while among Israel the priestly and the royal offices were separated, so that one and the same person could not function in both offices, they were combined in Melchisedec: he was a royal priest. And the second point of difference is that, while the priesthood of Aaron in its specific meaning was temporal, and must come to an end as soon as the perfect sacrifice was made, that of Melchisedec was everlasting. In both these respects Christ was a priest according to the similitude of Melchisedec.
This is emphasized, first of all, in Psalm 110. This Psalm is peculiar in that it is directly Messianic. By this we mean that, while in other Messianic Psalms David speaks first of himself, and only in last instance of the Christ that was to come, this cannot be said of the one hundred and tenth Psalm. Usually there was a historic occasion for the Messianic prophecies in the psalms in the person and circumstances and experiences of the human author of these psalms, especially of the psalms of David. David was a type of Christ as the theocratic king of Israel, and his experiences, his battles, his victories, and his sufferings foreshadowed the suffering, victory and exaltation of the Messiah that was to come. And when in those circumstances David, inspired and guided by the Spirit of Christ, expressed his experiences in the psalms, whether in lamentation and wailing because of his suffering and reproach, in deprecation against the enemies of God and His Anointed, or in triumph over his foes, he spoke, indeed, of himself, but thus speaking, he prophesied at the same time of Christ. The Spirit of Christ in the psalmist made use of his personal experiences and circumstances to draw a prophetic picture of the Messiah. But this is not the case with Psalm 110. It is directly Messianic. Its contents cannot refer to the Psalmist.
That this is true is evident, first of all, from the very first verse of the Psalm: “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” In His controversy with the Pharisees the Lord refers to these words as proof that Christ is the Son of God: “While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying. What think ye of Christ, whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?” and we read that the Pharisees were not able to answer him a word. Matt. 22:41-46. Cf. Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44. From this first verse of the Psalm, and from the application made of it by Christ, it is evident, therefore, that David is not at all speaking of himself, but refers consciously and objectively to the Messiah. Him he calls his Lord, And to Him Jehovah said: “Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy foot stool.”
But this is true also of vs. 4: “The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec.” It is true that, according to some interpreters, these words must be interpreted as being spoken by the people, and addressed to David. But, first of all, this explanation is contrary to the tenor of the whole psalm, which, as has been shown, speaks on the Messiah directly. It is quite in harmony with the context to say that also these words are addressed to Christ. And, secondly, they could not have been spoken of David. For the offices of priest and king were not combined in him. He was king of Israel, but the priesthood was found in the generations of Aaron, not in those of Judah and David. Hence, these words cannot heave reference to him. Nor can the interpretation be accepted that one of the priest-kings of the time of the Maccabees is the author of this psalm, and that the reference is to him. It is true that in some of the Maccabees the two offices of priest and king were combined in the same person. But the one great objection to this interpretation is that the psalm is Davidic, as is sufficiently proved by the Lord’s own reference to it in the words quoted above. Hence, there is only one possibility, and that is, that the words concerning the priesthood after the order of Melchisedec are immediately and directly Messianic. And this is corroborated by the reference to them in the epistle to the Hebrews,
Now, even from these words in their context it is evident that the priesthood after the order of Melchisedec was distinct from that of Aaron in two respects. First of all, it is a royal priesthood. For in the kingship is combined with the priesthood. For in the context we have a description of Christ in His royal glory, of the King going to battle at the head of His people, and victorious over His enemies. It is to Christ in His royal power and exaltation that it is said: “Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” And to this victorious and exalted King it is promised by oath: “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” Even as Melchisedec was a royal priest, or a priestly king, so also Christ will combine in Himself the kingly and priestly office, and that, too, in final and highest perfection, at the right hand of God. And, secondly, in close connection with this combination of the royal and priestly offices, the priesthood after the order of Melchisedec is distinct in that it is forever: “thou art a priest forever.” The priesthood of Aaron would come to an end; that of Melchisedec as realized in Christ is everlasting.
This interpretation of the priesthood according to the similitude of Melchisedec with its special element in the combination of the royal and priestly offices is quite in harmony with the prophecy of Zechariah in Zech. 6:9ff. The prophet is enjoined to take silver and gold of them that of the captivity have come from Babylon to Jerusalem, and to make crowns of the precious metal thus acquired. These crowns he is to set upon the head of Joshua, the high priest, thus indicating prophetically that the priest shall be crowned king. However, this is to be fulfilled, not in Joshua, but in the BRANCH, for the prophet must explain his prophetic act by saying to Joshua: “Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold, the man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of this place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord: Even he shall build the temple of the Lord, and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” It is evident that in this prophecy we have a further prediction of what was already promised in Psalm 110, and that the last words have no reference whatever to any alleged covenant of redemption in the eternal decree of God, but to the harmonious union between the king and the priest, united in the one person of the BRANCH, that is, of the Messiah.
And this is rather elaborately developed in the epistle to the Hebrews. Of Melchisedec as a type of Christ the author of this epistle is speaking. And calling attention to his name, and to the place of his reign, he explains that as a typical figure Melchisedec was both king of righteousness and king of peace. The name Melchisedec signifies king of righteousness, and as Salem means peace, king of Salem signifies king of peace. And concerning his priesthood the author of the epistle to the Hebrews reminds us, first of all, that Melchisedec was a priest of the most high God, and, further, he describes him as appearing “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abiding a priest continually” Heb. 7:1-3. You understand that all this is applicable to Melchisedec, not as a historical person, but as a type of Christ, and with reference only to his priesthood. He appears in Genesis 14 as priest without any reference to his descent or genealogy. Nor is anything said about his end, or about the continuation of his priesthood in his generations. He had no need, as did the Aaronitic priest, to prove that he descended from the priestly family. And in all this he is typically, not personally, made like unto the Son of God, the Christ, in Whom all these typical traits are realized in highest perfection. And here again, the same two elements of the priesthood of Melchisedec that were mentioned in Psalm 110 appear on the foreground: he was a priest-king, and his priesthood is everlasting.