Jesus: A High Priest After the Order of Melchizedek

Several days ago, a friend asked me to explain the statement in the book of Hebrews that Jesus is “a priest after the order of Melchizedek.” This designation of Jesus as a priest after the order of Melchizedek has baffled many Christians and has produced several interesting interpretations. The purpose of this post is to study the meaning of the statement in Hebrews that Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Five times in the New Testament, Jesus is called, directly or indirectly, “a priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:11, 17). The text in Hebrews 5:5-10 presents two examples of the designation of Jesus as a high priest:

So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:5-10 ESV).

The proper understanding of Jesus as Melchizedek must begin with Genesis 14:18, where Melchizedek is introduced for the first time: “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High.”

Melchizedek met Abraham when the patriarch returned from the pursuit of Chedorlaomer and the other Mesopotamian kings who had taken Lot as a prisoner of war. In the text, Melchizedek is introduced as the priest of God Most High and as the king of Salem. Salem is an ancient name for Jerusalem: “His abode has been established in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion” (Psalm 76:2).

The identification of Melchizedek has been highly debated in the history of the church. Jewish tradition has identified Melchizedek with Shem, the son of Noah who, after the chronology in Genesis, survived the flood and lived at a time when Abraham was alive and was his contemporary for a hundred years.

Christian tradition has proposed different interpretations to identify who Melchizedek was. Origen said that Melchizedek was an angel. Others have proposed that he was the Holy Spirit in human form.

Many Christians, ancient and contemporary, have said that this is a classical example of a Christophany in the Old Testament, that is, Melchizedek was Jesus Christ himself, who appeared to Abraham in human form.

The concept of Christophany should be rejected because it contradicts the statement in the book of Hebrews that Jesus was designated a priest after the order of Melchizedek. If Melchizedek was Christ then how could Christ become a priest in the likeness of Melchizedek?

Another view is that Melchizedek was a type of Christ. The typological interpretation suggests that the priesthood of Melchizedek was a type of Christ’s priesthood. As Melchizedek was a priest of the Most High God, so was Jesus. As Melchizedek was a king, so was Jesus. Both Melchizedek and Jesus were royal priests. In the persons of Melchizedek and Jesus the offices of priest and king were combined.

The text in Genesis indicates that Melchizedek was a Canaanite king who reigned in Jerusalem before the city was conquered by David and became the capital of the united monarchy (2 Samuel 5:6-10).

As king of Jerusalem, Melchizedek combined the offices of priest and king into his official duties. The combination of priesthood and kingship into the office of the king was not uncommon in the Ancient Near East. For instance, Ethbaal king of the Sidonians and the father of Jezebel, was also the priest of Astarte (1 Kings 16:31).

So, when David conquered Jerusalem and made the city the capital of his empire, he called the stronghold of Zion “The City of David” (2 Kings 5:9). David incorporated the original inhabitants of Jerusalem into the population of Israel and became their king.

Since the king of Jerusalem was also a priest, David became a priest, not because he was a Levite, but because he continued the tradition established by Melchizedek. This is what Psalm 110:4 is trying to communicate. The words of verse 4 are addressed to the king: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.’”

Melchizedek now becomes a type of the Davidic king. The descendants of David will be king and they will be priests; this is clearly expressed in 2 Samuel 8:18: “and David’s sons were priests.”

The priesthood of Melchizedek is used by the author of the book of Hebrews to prove the claim that Jesus Christ was a high priest. In Israel, the high priest had to be a Levite and a descendant of Aaron. Since Jesus was from the tribe of Judah and a descendant of David, it was impossible for the writer of Hebrews to say that Jesus was a high priest.

But, this is precisely what the author of Hebrews is emphasizing in his writing. As a high priest, Jesus presented a sacrifice for sins. Jesus Christ was the “great high priest who has passed through the heavens” (Hebrews 4:14). Jesus Christ was the high priest who opened the way for people to approach the throne of grace (the Mercy Seat) with confidence so that they “may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

The writer of the book of Hebrews then is saying that Jesus became a high priest, not because he was a descendant of Aaron. Jesus because a high priest after the order of Melchizedek because he was a descendant of David and a legitimate successor of the legacy left by David when he became king of Jerusalem.

By saying that Jesus became a priest after the order of Melchizedek, the author of Hebrews is emphasizing that Jesus “become a priest, not according to a legal requirement concerning bodily descent” (Hebrews 7:16-17), but because of the promise made to David that he and his descendants would become priests forever after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4).

The erroneous view that Genesis 14:18 is a Christophany or that Melchizedek was an angel or even the Holy Spirit makes it difficult for the reader to understand the meaning of the statement that Jesus Christ is a high priest “after the order of Melchizedek.”

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41 Responses to Jesus: A High Priest After the Order of Melchizedek

  1. Julio says:

    >Professor,You should include the fact that LDS (Mormons) are the only christian church in the present days that claim to have received the Melchizedek priesthood from messengers from above. Something to think about.Forte abraço.

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  2. >Julio,This view, taught by the Mormon church, is difficult to accept. If David and his family became priests because they continued the tradition established by the king-priest of Canaanite Jerusalem, how can the Mormons claim they received the priesthood from Melchizedek if they are not from the family of David?Thank you for visiting my blog and for your comment.

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  3. >Since you are reading Hebrews as saying that the connection between Melchizedek and Jesus is mediated through David, could this designation have any messianic undertones? And do you know if there are messianic readings of Melchizedek in Jewish sources (such as the DSS, Tgs, etc)?Thanks,Matt<

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  4. >Matthew,Melchizedek appears in Philo, Josephus, and other Jewish writings. He also appears at Qumran. A fragment designated 11QMelch makes allusions to Melchizedek. If you are interested in pursuing this topic, I recommend that you consult the article “Melchizedek (Person)” by Michael C. Astour in The Anchor Bible Dictionary 4:684-686 and the article “Melchizedek (11QMelch)” by George J. Brooke in The Anchor Bible Dictionary 4:687-688.Again, thank you for your comment.Claude Mariottini

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  5. Andy says:

    >Dear Dr. Mariottini,Thank you so much for delineating the substance of the statement that Christ is a high priest “after the order of Melchizedek.” It had never occurred to me that, because the high priest had to be a Levite descended from Aaron, Jesus — a descendant of David from the tribe of Judah — could not be legitimately presented as a high priest by any other means. In retrospect, where verse 3 says, “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever,” it seems abundantly obvious that the intent of the writer is to provide a valid basis for claiming the high-priesthood of Christ.Sincerely,Andy SturtMy Blog

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  6. >Wow. This is something I’d never thought of before. Thanks for the article.And to show that I really paid attention: your reference in the penultimate paragraph should be to Ps. 110:4.Peace.

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  7. >Andy,Thank you for your comment. I apologize for the delay in responding to what you wrote. I agree with you that the writer of Hebrews was trying to explain how Jesus could be a priest without being a Levite. You are not alone: many people do not ask the question about Jesus’ priesthood. When they do, they must find a justification for the fact that Jesus performed the work of a priest. The writer of Hebrews provides a good justification for Jesus’ work.Thank you for visiting my blog.Claude Mariottini

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  8. >Milton,Thank you for your comment and your correction. You are right: the reference is to Psalm 110:4. I will make the change.By the way, are you available to work as my editor? Claude Mariottini

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  9. Anonymous says:

    >Claude Mariottini,I’m a student at a Bible College in Kansas City and I’m working on a paper about Jesus being our sympathizing high priest. I came across your blog and I just want to say…it was sooooo helpful, so clarifying!! It brought so much more clarity into understanding what it means in saying that Jesus is a high priest in the order of Melchizedek and how it’s even possible. Going through the line of David made it so much more understandable. Oh and it makes me love and trust Jesus more…he has fulfilled EVERY prophetic promise and he’s coming back to reign as king of Israel. I LOVE how it not only establishes him as high priest forever, but also as king!!! Thank you for sharing-it was so clear. You must be a great prof. May the Lord continue to give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him (Eph. 1:17) and the ability to teach with clarity!! Bless you!

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  10. Anonymous says:

    >Sorry…I forgot to sign my name in the last post…I’m Stephanie, by the way!! :)

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  11. >Stephanie,Thank you for visiting my blog. I am glad that my post on Jesus and Melchizedek was helpful to you in the preparation of your paper. The Old Testament has much to teach Christians about the truths taught in the New Testament. I hope you do well in your paper.Visit my blog again and when you do, leave a comment.Claude Mariottini

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  12. David Larsen says:

    >I just wanted to supplement Julio’s comment above. He talked about the Mormons having the Priesthood of Melchizedek. You answered: how can the Mormons claim they received the priesthood from Melchizedek if they are not from the family of David?I believe you answered this in your post where you talk about the Royal Priesthood. Didn’t Peter say that the whole Church was to be considered part of this Royal Priesthood, which was, in fact, the Melchizedek Priesthood. This would seem to mean that church members from all families and lineages could now participate in the Melchizedek Priesthood. Mormons believe that instead of passing it from father to son, Jesus passed on the Melchizedek Priesthood to his Apostles, who passed it into the Church. Joseph Smith claimed to receive this priesthood through a visitation from Peter, James, and John.I would be interested in your opinion on this.

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  13. Anonymous says:

    >Professor,Are you aware of a trend nowadays of some church leaders being referred to as high priest by some of those in their heirarchy?Is this in any way compatible with our classic Christian understanding that there is only one high priest in the church… Jesus Christ? I don’t think so but I’d like to hear your view.Femi

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  14. >Femi,There is no reason for anyone to call himself “a high priest.” Those who do so, do so without any biblical authority. The function of the high priest in the Old Testament was very specific and no one today fulfills that function.The New Testament teaches that Jesus is our High Priest and only Jesus can make atonement for our sins.Claude Mariottini

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  15. Anonymous says:

    >Hi, great post. One thought that came up for me is that one might say that it was the Levitical high priest who sacrificed Jesus, as he demanded his death and Pilate washed his hands and all, while Jesus allowed it, but not necessarily as the priestly sacrificer. This would be odd, as it’s not in the temple, but has that line of thought been raised before, and what are yours on it? Thanks,Chris

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  16. >There is a young woman who claims to be a former Christian and who calls Jesus a blasphemer etc. She is very confused about the whole Melchizedek/Jesus connection, and needs someone to discuss it with her. I wish I knew more about it, but maybe someone here does and can speak to her in depth. Her address is http://www.youtube.com/gbjew Tnaks

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  17. >Matthew,I watched the video in which the young woman talks about Christianity and Judaism. There are several things she may not know about Christianity that needs to be clarified.However, my blog is not designed for this kind of apologetic. Maybe you should visit the web page of Jews for Jesus because they specialize in presenting a Messianic understanding of Judaism.Thank you for visiting my blog.Claude Mariottini

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  18. Russ says:

    >Hi Professorthanks so much for your work.do you think there is any connection between us as Christians being part of a royal priesthood, that we are to be a nation of priests that bless and interceedlove to learn your thoughtsruss

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  19. >Russ,This is precisely the mission of every Christian. As a nation of priests, we are to minister and intercede for those who do not know Christ. The priesthood of the believer means that we must offer sacrifices of praises to God.Claude Mariottini

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  20. rob says:

    >Hi, are comments / questions still open for this post?peer

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  21. rob says:

    >Hi, are comments / questions still open for this post?peer

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  22. >Rob,Thank you for visiting my blog.Yes, you still can make comments to any of my posts.Claude Mariottini

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  23. Anonymous says:

    >I have heard it said that on the day of atonement when the High Priest went into the Most Holy of Holy to offer up the sacrifice if any sin be found in him he died and did not come back out alive. And a rope was tied to the High Priest just in case to drag him him out. If so where are the supporting scriptures found. Thank You John

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  24. >Dear John,The story about the rope tied to the high priest’s waste or around his ankle before entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement is a legend. This information is not found in the Bible nor in any Hebrew document.The ceremony about the Day of Atonement is described in Leviticus 16. Leviticus 16:3-4 describes what the high priest was to wear: “This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on.”I hope this information will help you. Thank you for visiting my blog.Claude Mariottini

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  25. Bob says:

    >Dr. Mariottini,Thanks for your article. I have a question of a similar topic. I was reading in 2 Samuel Ch 6 of David doing the burnt offerings in front of the Ark of the Covenant. It ocurred to me that he is not a Levite and then it also ocurred to me that Saul had also performed a sacrifice in 1 Samual 13 and he was not a Levite either. Saul got rejected as king by God for his lack of faith in not waiting for Samuel. But David's sacrifice got fully accepted. I'm thinking because he acted on faith to do the sacrifice. But I'm wondering: Did he have any right by what we know as scripture to make such an offering?

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  26. Bill Cribbs says:

    >I believe that there should be a slight rewording in several places in the blog as well as in the comments. Melchizedek was not A priest of the most high God. Neither is Jesus A high priest. In his time, Melchizedek was THE priest of the most high God. Today and forever, Jesus is THE high priest of God. We, His believers, are royal priests underneath His leadership.Blessings,Bill Cribbs

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  27. >Bill,Thank you for your comment and for visiting my blog.There is a problem with what you are saying. The God of Melchizedek was El Elyon, a pagan God worshiped by the Canaanites.Come back again to my blog at the end of August and I will explain who El Elyon was.Claude Mariottini

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  28. >Bob,Thank you for your comment and for visiting my blog.David made a sacrifice because when he became king of Jerusalem, he also became a priest in the same way Melchizedek was a priest. It seems that most of the kings in Jerusalem offered sacrifice until the days of King Josiah when the practice was abolished.Claude Mariottini

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  29. Bill Cribbs says:

    >Hi Dr. Mariottini,I don't subscribe to the idea that El Elyon is a pagaon god. In Hebrews 7:1, Melchizedek is described as being priest of the "most high God". In Gen. 14:18-19, he identified Abraham as "Abram of the most high God". They are both identified with the same God. We know who Abraham served.If there was also a pagan deity which was called by that name, it is inapplicable to Melchizedek and Abraham.I respectfully disagree.Bill Cribbs

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  30. Anonymous says:

    >Jesus is/was Melchizedek "King of Righteousness" without Father or Mother., back then HE was the "WORD" "The Logos" who became Jesus Christ son of God and son of Men divested and made lower than the angels why all the confusion? no human could be labeled "King of Righteousness"

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  31. Bill Cribbs says:

    >Jesus is not the same person as Melchizedek. Melchizedek was not the "King of Righteousness". That was just the meaning of his name. He was a Gentile king who preceded the Jewish tribes by centuries and was, by providence of the Holy Spirit's inspiration, documented to be a TYPE of that which was to come. Jesus, the antitype, is the ONLY incarnation of God in the world. To say that Melchizedek WAS Jesus is an assumption. Truth cannot be based upon assumption alone.

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  32. Anonymous says:

    >As Christians we tend to through much study miss the point that as God said in Isaiah the birth of Immanuel (Christ?) is a sign – We are the main event. Just a puzzle – Melchizedek was without Father and Mother, Christ with a mother but no earthly father, the one to come – with earthly father & mother? Read Revelation Chaps 2 & 3 – The One who overcomes? Just think of this. The dominion is ours but Adam lost it. It is to be restored to us. Read Gen 49:10 & also 'God ruleth in the Kingdom of men and He gives it to whomsoever he willeth' and also 'when the Son of man cometh shall he find faith on the earth? THINK – The message is for 'babes'

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  33. Bill Cribbs says:

    >It doesn't say in Genesis that Melchizedek doesn't have a father and mother. In Hebrews it mentions that he is listed without ancestry so as to be a TYPE of Christ, our High Priest. A priest under the law had to be under the Levitical ancestry. Melchizedek HAD parents, but they aren't recorded…THIS is what makes him a prophetic portrait of the High Priest to come, namely Jesus.I disagree that WE are the "main event". Jesus, and Him alone, will always be the main event. He has the "name that is above every name". The Holy Spirit bears witness of HIM. The Father bears witness of HIM. His miracles do…His words do…creation does.We, the Church, get to be the Bride of Him, but He will always be pre-eminent in history, past, present, and future.

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  34. Anonymous says:

    >Mormons Melchizedek Priesthood is not perfected because the city in the mountain mentioned by Jesus Christ is the salt of the world for the end days. Melchizedek deepness is saving the unseen world the fallen angels bringing them back asn angels of the sky. The Immaculate Conception of Blessed Virgin Mary will have a great impact when the CROSS OF SALVATION BOTH FOR SEEN AND UNSEEN when known to the world, M…PLEASE DISCOVER THE HILL OF PAGA IN SAN ENRIQUE ILO-ILO PHILIPPINES… FERDINAND MAGELLAN PLAYS A SIGNIFICANT ROLE FOR MAKING PHILIPPINES AS THE STAR OF THE EAST FOR THE END TIMESREV. JONI SALCEDO, A MELCHIZEDEK PRIEST…. YOU CAN REACH ME IN MY YAHOO AS skydive underscore 28

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  35. Bill Cribbs says:

    >REV. JONI SALCEDO, it never ceases to amaze me the various shades of confusion that religion takes around the world. I have never heard of this perspective and it blows my mind how anyone can derive this kind of thing from the Scriptures. It is IMPORTANT and IMPERATIVE that you stick with the Bible as contained within the 66 canonical books, preferably translated from the Textus Receptus and Masoretic Text. These "additions" to scripture are destructive and deceptive to say the least!

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  36. Anonymous says:

    >I was researching information on the history of royal sashes, and came upon this blog. Wow! I have always enjoyed the challenges of reading and coming to clearer understanding of the Old Testament. Often I wonder how much better we would live our Christian lives if we actually understood the history behind the OT and the people that lived during those times. Do you know of any specific spiritual significance related to sashes in God's Word?+Katrina

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  37. Anonymous says:

    >Can energy be destroyed? Can energy be created? No, it can ONLY be transformed. Melchizedek to Christ Jesus is a form of communication. How it happen is not the point. The Holy Spirit was not a dove, but He come down LIKE a dove. John witness one how looked LIKE the son of man…listen

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  38. Anonymous says:

    >Okay no one has mentioned this part: Was our subject "Melchizedek" ordered as in commanded to do the task or is the phrased order meaning as a group or sect or type of…I have heard both sides talked about so what is the scripture to support either side of the coin here?

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  39. >Dear Anonymous,No one ordered Melchizedek to do anything. Read the biblical text again.Claude Mariottini

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  40. >What about what happened to Uzziah when he attempted to go in and offer incense before the LORD?

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  41. Wellington King says:

    Dear Dr. Mariottini,

    Thank you for mentioning the Bible Dictionary articles.

    Yours,

    Wellington King

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