I recently preached from Hebrews 7, which means I had the opportunity to talk about one of the most mysterious and intriguing figures in the bible, Melchizedek. Throughout the day, I had multiple people approach me and ask some variation of the same question:
"So what do you think, Pastor Aaron...was Melchizedek actually Jesus?"
I intentionally did not open up that can of worms on Sunday because I felt that it distracted from the main point of the passage, that Jesus is amazing because he is both our king and our priest. However, since so many people asked, I thought that it would be a good topic to address here on the blog.
There are two big words that you should be familiar as we tackle this subject: theophany and Christophany. Generally speaking, a theophany is when God appears to someone in a visible form. Sometimes, the Lord appears as something inanimate, such as a burning bush (Exodus 3:2) or a storm (Job 38:1). But very often, God appears in the likeness of a man. For example, before Samson was born, "the angel of the Lord" appeared to his parents (Judges 13:3). The word "angel" means messenger, and in this case we see that the messenger was in fact God himself. How do we know this? Because after the angel of the Lord disappears, Samson's father cries out "we shall surely die, for we have seen God" (Judges 13:22). This is a classic example of a theophany.
A Christophany is a closely related term, but a bit more specific. Before his incarnation (coming to earth in human flesh), the Son of God existed eternally with God the Father in heaven (John 1:1-14). And when we took on flesh and was born as the man Jesus...well, everything in human history changed. However, many theologians and bible scholars see appearances of the Son of God in the pages of the Old Testament, prior to his incarnation. For instance, people often see Jesus in the story of Daniel 3. In the story, three young Hebrew men are thrown into a burning furnace as punishment for not worshipping the king's statue. But when one of the soldiers looks into the burning furnace, he says, "I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods" (Daniel 3:25, emphasis mine). This is a classic example of what many (myself included) believe to be a Christophany.
Why Do People Think Melchizedek is Jesus?
As we've studied Hebrews, it is clear that the author wants us to see Melchizedek as a "type" of Christ, something that serves to point us to Jesus. In fact, Melchizedek is such a Christ-like figure, some would argue that Melchizedek must be a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus himself (a Christophany). Consider the evidence:
- Like Jesus, he is both a king and a priest.
- Like Jesus, he is a "king of peace" and a "king of righteousness."
- Like Jesus, "he remains a priest forever."
- The author of Hebrews says that Melchizedek is "without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life." Taken literally, this would mean that Melchizedek is an eternal being.
It is easy to see why many people think that Melchizedek is actually a Christophany, because he so clearly resembles Jesus in many ways! However, I do not believe that Melchizedek is actually Jesus for three primary reasons.
Melchizedek ≠ Jesus
1. The Word "Resembling"
The author of Hebrews says that Melchizedek "resembles" Jesus, not that he is Jesus. The Greek word that we translate as "resembling" is aphomoioō, a word that makes its only appearance in the New Testament here in this verse! There are a few related words that we translate as "picture" or "likeness" or "compare," all of which lead me to conclude that if the author of Hebrews wanted us to see that Melchizedek was actually Jesus, he would have chosen a different word.
2. Non-Typical Theophany
The story of Melchizedek in Genesis 14 is very different from other theophanies. In virtually all other theophanies, the person who is meeting with God has some awareness that they have been in the presence of the divine. But in the story of Melchizedek, there is no moment where Abraham acknowledges that he has been in the presence of God. True, Melchizedek abruptly appears and disappears from the narrative, but there is nothing in Genesis 14 that explicitly leads us to see that God himself has been present.
3. Priests represent mankind
Earlier in Hebrews, the author says that every priest is chosen "from among men" (Hebrews 5:1). The whole point of the priesthood is that a chosen and anointed human stands before God as our representative. Because Jesus is fully man (along with being fully God) he is now able to serve as our perfect priest. But before Jesus, the ultimate priest, the bible clearly teaches that priests are humans who serve in a representative role.
Speculation vs. Clear Truth
Some Christians will take the description of Melchizedek in Hebrews 7 more literally, leading them to conclude that Melchizedek is in fact Jesus. Other Christians will conclude (as I do) that these verses are to be taken figuratively, and that Melchizedek is merely a human who points very clearly to Jesus. However, these differences of opinion should neither distract us nor divide us. At the end of the day, what matters most is that we have a great high priest named Jesus, one who has paid for our sin, who pleads our case before God, and who loves us with an everlasting love!