Theme: Both King and Priest
In this week’s lessons we learn how Psalm 110 and the book of Hebrews points us to the Lord Jesus Christ as the one who brings a new and better covenant.
Scripture: Psalm 110:4-7
In today’s study we continue our discussion of who Melchizedek is and why he is so important. John Calvin described Melchizedek simply but respectfully as a man who, although we know nothing else about him, “alone in that land was an upright and sincere cultivator and guardian of religion.”1
Melchizedek is not Jesus Christ, then. But although he is not, he is nevertheless an important Old Testament type of Christ. In that respect, two important things are told about him. First, there is his name. It is not necessarily a proper name, though it could have been. It is more of a title, meaning “king of righteousness.” It means that Melchizedek stood for righteousness in an age when most other people did not. Melchizedek (king of righteousness) is a significant title for Jesus who has become “our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). Second, Melchizedek is said to have been a “king of Salem,” which means “king of peace,” another apt title for Christ. By becoming our righteousness Jesus has been able to make peace between a holy God and ourselves.
The second time Melchizedek appears in the Bible is in the psalm we are studying, and here he is clearly used as a type of the Messiah. The first verse described David’s Lord as a divine Messiah to whom God has given dominion over enemies. The next two verses describe the extension of his rule through those who are his willing servants, that is, the church. Verse 4 adds that the Messiah will also be a priest, and that according to “the order of Melchizedek.”
This would have been a novel and probably shocking idea to the Jews who read David’s psalm initially, because kingly and priestly functions were never united in a single person in Israel. On the contrary, they were carefully kept apart. There seems to have been something like a system of checks and balances in Israel, much like we have in the United States, where we separate the executive, legislative and judicial branches of our government. We keep these branches apart, and we give to each powers the others do not have. So also in Israel. No king could be a priest; no priest could be a king. In fact, when Uzziah, the king of Judah, attempted to offer incense to the Lord by entering into the temple, where only the priests were allowed to go, God judged him by afflicting him with leprosy (see 2 Chron. 26:16-23).
The reason for having a balance of governmental power is obvious. Mere human beings cannot be trusted with excessive or uncheckable power. As Lord Acton put it, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But Lord Acton’s dictum does not apply to Jesus Christ, since he is no mere human being. Jesus is the God-man, as perfect in his divine as in his human attributes. Therefore, he (but he alone) is qualified to be both a priest and a king forever.
Melchizedek, being a type of Christ, was both; he is called “king of Salem” and “priest of God Most High” in Genesis. Psalm 110 rightly gives both titles to the Messiah, David’s greater son: the first oracle noting his appointment of him as king, the second as priest (vv. 1, 4). Significantly, we find the same combination in Zechariah 6:9-15 where the Messiah is called “the Branch.” It is said of him, “He will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD. It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two” (vv. 12, 13).
1John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, vol. 1, trans. by John King (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), p. 388.
In what two ways is Melchizedek a type of Christ?
What does verse 4 indicate about the Messiah that would have been shocking to the Israelites? Why is the system of checks and balances not adhered to in this case?
What does Zechariah 6:9-15 indicate about harmony?
Reflection: What elements of harmony do you see in the life of Jesus Christ?