Psalm 110: Jesus our priest in the order of Melchizedek

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Bible Studies on the Messianic Psalms

Psalm 110 Part 2: Jesus our priest in the order of Melchizedek

by I Gordon


Let's start with a question. Who would you say are the greatest or most important people in the Old Testament? I shall now pause while your grey matter kicks in... Waiting... waiting... what's taking you so long... come on, I haven't got all day! Right, who do you think? Who would make your top 10? Abraham? He is the father of Israel and of all those that believe. What about Moses, the one who lead Israel out of Egypt and right to the borders of the Promised Land? What about King David - the one after God's own heart? Who else would make your list? Elijah? Enoch? Queen Esther? Her courageous act saved the entire Jewish nation from slaughter. And let's not forget Joseph and Joshua or the amazing Daniel! All were tremendous men of God. It is quite likely that the character we will talk about in this study hasn't yet made your list. Yet, according to scripture, he is greater even than Abraham himself. I'm talking of course about the somewhat mysterious character of Melchizedek. The reason that you probably overlooked him is because he is mentioned by name in a whopping 2 verses in the Old Testament. So, you're forgiven for forgetting him!

Psalm 110 Recap

We mentioned last time that Psalm 110 is a short Psalm of only 7 verses yet it is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament where verse 1 alone is quoted 7 times and the whole Psalm is quoted or alluded to 27 times. It is a prophetic Psalm that takes in the ascension of Christ and, most importantly, His return at the end of the age. We saw last time that it is written by King David as he hears a conversion between God the Father and His Son. The Father is telling Jesus to sit at His right hand until His enemies are made a footstool for His feet. We saw also that this Psalm pictures Jesus first as Lord, then as King, then as Priest and finally as Judge. We looked at the significance of Jesus as Lord and King last time and we'll look at Him as our Priest today. So we will begin our study in verse 4 of Psalm 110 and go all the way down to, argh, verse 4 today. Ok... 1 verse but it contains 20 words so that's plenty!

Melchizedek? Why is Yahweh talking about him?

Psalms 110:4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek."

The second thing that David hears the LORD, Yahweh, saying to the Lord at His right hand, Jesus, is this: 'You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.' In the New Testament it says: Hebrews 5:11 NASB Concerning him (Melchizedek)  we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 

So hopefully you are not dull of hearing and hopefully, even more so, I'm not dull of teaching! We saw last time that Jesus would be a king that would rule from Zion as mentioned in verse 2. But now we read that He will also be a priest forever. What is strange about this? According to the Old Testament law, the two offices of priest and king were kept entirely separate. You couldn't be both. Can you remember what tribe the priests came from? Yep, Levi. And what tribe did God designate as the royal kingly tribe? Again, you're spot on and two for two... the tribe of Judah. God specifically kept the two offices separate... and never the twain shall meet. There were severe consequences for any who attempted to merge the two roles of priest and king. Can you think of any king who thought he'd get away with doing the priestly role as well? One such case was of a king called Uzziah. Let's have a quick nosey at that so we see how serious this was.

 King Uzziah - A 'mostly' good king who makes a massive mistake! 

Overall, Uzziah was a good king... a godly king. For a good part of his life he is blessed and he had success after success... everything he touched turned to gold. The whole first part of the chapter in 2nd Chronicles 26 speaks of this. But in verse 16 comes the dreaded 'but'.

 2 Chronicles 26:16-21 NIV (16) But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the LORD his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. (17) Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the LORD followed him in. (18) They confronted him and said, "It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the LORD God." (19) Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the LORD's temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead. (20) When Azariah the chief priest and all the other priests looked at him, they saw that he had leprosy on his forehead, so they hurried him out. Indeed, he himself was eager to leave, because the LORD had afflicted him. (21) King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house --leprous, and excluded from the temple of the LORD. Jotham his son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land. 

He started to see himself above God's law... He was the king and could do as he pleased. Or so he thought. And with his heart hardened towards God He did a very stupid thing. Usurping the role that God had ordained for the priests, he went into the temple to burn incense to the Lord. Often we have to be very careful when everything is going well and life is a breeze! We get complacent. We become proud. We start making the rules. We start to forget God. Our prayer life starts to dry up. Our Bible reading and fellowship with the Lord starts to wane... It's human nature. Be careful for these stories are our stories as well - they show what human nature is like! But why did God make such a big deal of this? Why was the judgement upon Uzziah so severe? Because God had someone in mind that would one day be a Priestly-King... someone who would unite and perform both roles. And it sure wasn't Uzziah! It wasn't for anyone to take that position upon themselves. God Himself had to declare it and God is never pleased when anyone tries to take the position that is given ONLY to His beloved Son. Not then, not now. And that includes religions such as the Catholic Church that put a human mediator between God and man (that they call a priest), when there is only ONE mediator between God and man and that is Jesus Christ! No man could just decide that they would be a king and a priest. It had to be declared by God Himself.

David hears the declaration!

Yet David, in Psalm 110, listens in on a conversation where a coming One would be both king and priest!  [1]  He hears and records Yahweh's declaration to the One at His right hand saying 'You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.' But how could God do it? If priests have to come from Levi and kings from Judah, how can one person be both priest and king? What David heard is that there would be a whole new order. The coming One wasn't going to be a priest in the order of the Levites, but in the order of someone called Melchizedek! Now, when David heard and recorded this, it had been 1000 years since Melchizedek had been around. And even then he only got a couple of verses in Genesis 14 where he was mentioned. There had been 1000 years of silence concerning this man and everyone has forgotten all about him... except God that is! I think it is best if we look at his very brief cameo in scripture because it was obviously one that is important.

Mystery man Melchizedek

Here is the background to the passage: Abraham and his nephew had been living and travelling together but they were getting too numerous in their livestock and helpers so they decided to go separate ways. As they surveyed the rich land in front of them, Abraham left the choice up to Lot as to what He wanted. As Major Ian Thomas used to say  'Lot could take the left or Lot could take the right, or for that matter Lot could take the lot, but God's covenant was still with Abraham - and he knew it. That was all that Abraham really needed to know.'  So Lot chose the valley of Jordan to dwell in and ended up in that infamous and ungodly city of Sodom. He went after the best of what he saw but it came with a cost. Kings from the east, from the areas that would become Babylonia and Persia (Iraq and Iran) came against the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and took both people and goods from these cities. Included among those taken away were Lot and his family. So when Abram heard what had happened to his nephew he went after them with his own army at night and was able to recover both the people and their possessions. As he was returning from this great victory Abraham is met by two kings. Let's pick up the story from there:

 Genesis 14:17-24 NIV After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). (18) Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, (19) and he blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. (20) And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (21) The king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself." (22) But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath (23) that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, 'I made Abram rich.' (24) I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me--to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share." 

So we have two kings that came to meet Abraham. The first king mentioned is the king of Sodom. Given how Sodom is portrayed in the Bible it would be fair to say that this king is not the godliest of men. This king has an offer and a temptation for Abram - you can keep all the goods, just return the people.  [2]  'Oh have I got an offer for you! I'll make you rich. Just sign on up...' A very tempting offer indeed! Thankfully, there is a second king as well. But he has something different to offer - bread and wine, fellowship, communion, and the blessing of God. These two kings represent the different pulls upon the believer in every age.

What can we learn from this?

Many temptations, in many forms, hit Christians. This is especially so in this difficult age and society. Many Christians are overtaken by such temptations. Covetousness, lust, pride and the love of money... these things are not frowned upon but promoted in our culture. Most marketing agencies based their ads on one, or many, of these temptations. You must have more! Keep up with the Joneses! So Abraham, who has just come off a great victory and a high, has these two voices drawing him in different directions. One towards what he can get in this world and one towards fellowship and the blessing of God. It's the king of Sodom versus the king of Salem. It is always the way. The king of Sodom, representing the world, is saying 'Take all the goods and riches and keep them for yourself... you can have them. I'll give them to you.' We may see this as an innocent offer but Abraham took it pretty seriously.

 (22) But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath (23) that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, 'I made Abram rich.' 

Unfortunately, many within Christianity have not taken this same path as did Abraham and have gone after the offerings of the world  [3]  instead of that fellowship; the bread and wine that the King of Salem offers. In fact we have a whole section of the 'church' that now equates the blessing of riches with godliness! And you can apparently tell how 'blessed' you are by how well off and prosperous you are! Good grief... how far have we fallen?

So what made Abraham resilient in the face of this temptation? With every temptation comes a way of escape and thankfully Abraham has been strengthened for he has met and fellowshipped with another king - a true godly king. This is Melchizedek, the king of Salem. The name Salem means 'peace' and would later be renamed to Jerusalem. The name Melchizedek means 'king of righteousness'. So Melchizedek is the king of Jerusalem, the king of peace, the king of righteousness. He comes and communes with Abraham and blesses Him. Not a bad person to meet on your travels! He is, of course, a type of Jesus, the true King of righteousness and peace. It is the presence of the Lord Jesus in our lives and our fellowship with Him that overcomes the temptations of the world. Notice also that as well as a king, Melchizedek is said to be a priest of the Most High God. Here is the first mention of someone being both king and priest! Notice also that he comes to Abraham with bread and wine. In the New Testament Jesus used the bread and wine as symbols of His body and blood, used in communion as a memorial of what He did for us on the cross. But here is the first mention of the bread and wine in the Bible and it is what this king of peace and righteousness offers as he comes out to commune and fellowship with Abraham. It is obviously very symbolic.

Now Melchizedek is, and will always be, a mysterious figure. Genesis is very good on its genealogies but this man just steps out of nowhere. We don't know where he came from or where he goes. A crucial figure but he only gets three verses of scripture! And he gets no other mention... just silence for 1000 years until King David hears God the Father speaking to the Son saying you will be a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.

 So what does it mean for us that Jesus is a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek? 

Psalm110:4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek."

After the second mention of Melchizedek in Psalm 110, another 1000 years went by without any mention of him until the writer of Hebrews picks up on this theme. You can tell that he has been thinking on Psalm 110 and also how it says that God has sworn and will not change His mind. So let's explore this a little looking at the personal aspect for our lives.

'The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind'... 

We can stop right there. How awesome is this?  'God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?' (Numbers 23:19 NIV).  We are very changeable. Sometimes we are in a good mood... sometimes not. We tell people that we will do something and sometimes we do it, sometimes not. God will not change His mind about declaring Jesus to be a priest forever and He will not change His mind about those He has called and declared to be His sons and daughters. Nor does he change His mind on the promises given in His word. Paul, in Romans 11, uses this very thought to prove that God will fulfil His promises to the nation of Israel (and His promises to believers today). Paul tells us that the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable; or, as some versions say, 'without repentance'. In other words God won't revoke them, He won't undo them and He won't change His mind about them. The writer of Hebrews calls this thought of God's faithfulness to His promises and His unchangeable nature an 'anchor for the soul'. We have hope! And which of us doesn't need that in this ever-changing world?

 Hebrews 6:17-20 NIV Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. (18) God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. (19)  We have this hope  [4]  as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,  (20) where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. 

Think for a moment about this current age. This generation, having cut God out of their lives, is now adrift. As a society we've severed the moral anchor that kept us grounded and steady for so long, so we are now drifting away from our moorings by the ever changing winds and tides of the day. And without God, it's not just the moral anchor that is lost but with it goes the anchor of hope. It is this anchor that scripture tells us is able to keep our souls, or lives, firm and secure. Without it, we have nothing.  [5] 

I listened to a message by Dr David Reagan on hope a few months back and he related a story from the Nazi concentration camps in WWII. He said that while the prisoners had some hope, some meaning, they could endure the worst of conditions. But he went on to talk about something that saw the prisoners crack. The guards would get them out one day to dig a hole. They wouldn't tell them why they were digging the hole or what purpose it was for, but they would spend the day digging a large hole. The next day they would get the prisoners out again and this time it was to fill in the hole they had dug the day before. The next day they would dig a hole somewhere else and the day after they would fill it in. It was just meaningless and purposeless work. And a lot of prisoners cracked and committed suicide or made a break for the fence and were shot. Utter meaningless and hopelessness does that to a person.

But we, as Christians, have hope. You can be a complete idiot and lose your savings (like me!), and still have hope. It is an anchor for the soul to keep you firm and secure. And that hope is based on the unchangeable nature of God and His promises.

 'You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek'... 

The writer of Hebrews had a lot to say about Melchizedek. Let's look at some of the verses.

 Hebrews 7:1-3 NIV This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, (2) and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means "king of righteousness"; then also, "king of Salem" means "king of peace." (3) Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever. 

This, to my mind, only adds to the mystery concerning Melchizedek. People over the last 2000 years have debated exactly who Melchizedek was. Was he a normal human being? Was he an angel? Was he a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ? Most commentators take it that he was a normal man and say that the phrase  'without father or mother, without beginning of days or end of life'  is simply in respect to the fact that none of this is recorded in scripture. That could well be true. But it still seems strange to me that it says that like the Son of God he 'remains a priest forever' because I'm not sure that it would say this of a normal human who dies. I don't think I'm going to be able to end this debate! Which is ok... he can remain somewhat of a mystery man! ) The main point in these scriptures is actually not who Melchizedek was but who Jesus is and what that means for believers today.

 Hebrews 7:15-25 NIV And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, (16) one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. (17) For it is declared: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." (18) The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless; (19) (for the law made nothing perfect),  and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.  

There is that mention of hope again. It comes out very strongly in these passages. That Jesus is a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek is said to introduce a better hope by which we can draw near to God. The writer of Hebrews would expand on this more in the verses below.

 (20) And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, (21) but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: 'You are a priest forever.' " (22) Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. (23) Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; (24)  but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. (25) Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.  

I really like verse 24-25. Jesus lives forever! Thank God that we have a living Saviour. He is not in any tomb or grave but He is a priest forever! Death could not hold him down! Our great High Priest is at this very moment at the right hand of God... but has also given us His life to be in us what we are not by nature. We don't just follow the teachings of some great man that said some great things 2000 years ago and then died. He is alive forever. Risen! And He has said that he will never leave nor forsake us  [6]  . He intercedes and cares for us. That is part of what it means that Jesus in a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. That is ultimate hope!

J.Vernon McGee spoke of what this means for us:  'My friend that is where we need to put the emphasis. He died down here to save us, but He lives up there to keep us saved..."He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him." He is able to keep on saving you. "To the uttermost" means all the way through. He is able to save us completely and perfectly. He is the Great Shepherd who up to this very moment has never lost a sheep. Do you want to know something? He never will lose one. If you are one of His sheep, you may feel like you are going to be lost, but He is up there for you and He is watching over you.' 

Again - this is part of what it means that Jesus is a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.

And this is ultimate hope, confidence and expectation!

[1] ↩  William MacDonald writes  'One of the extraordinary features of the Kingdom is that the Lord Jesus will combine in His person the dual offices of king and priest. It is a combination that is highly dangerous in the case of mere human rulers; the loud, long cry for separation of church and state has not been without valid cause. But the combination is ideal when Jesus is the Ruler. Uncorrupted kingship and spiritual priesthood will give the world an administration such as it has longed for but has never known.' 

[2] ↩  Which may have been an innocent offer but as a type it sure sounds like something the enemy would say! 'Have all the riches and success that you want - I'm just after the souls...'

[3] ↩  I found out that God wasn't overly interested in making me rich the hard way. I'm pretty cautious and conservative when it comes to money. There is a part Scottish background down there somewhere! Only once have I really taken a risk with my money. Only once! This was 15-16 years ago. A friend of a friend, a Christian man, came to our house and told us about an investment. You know, one of those 'too good to be true' investments. And against my better judgement and normal conservative tendencies I trusted him and invested quite a bit of money... far too much money in fact. Well, you know how this is going to end. Not well. I lost it all. When I found out I did what some men of God do in such circumstances - I vomited. Literally! I was sick. The thought that I had worked all those years and saved hard just to lose it all was a bit of a killer. Now I had prayed about it. And looking back you could say that I was given a sign or reason enough not to invest. But I carried on. So.... Life lesson number 1: God isn't so interested in the dollars. Life lesson number 2: He does want us interested in the One with the bread and the wine!

 Proverbs 23:4-5 NASB Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, Cease from your consideration of it. (5) When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings Like an eagle that flies toward the heavens. 

The good thing with God is when you put Him first, He looks after His own. But contentment in whatever situation you find yourself is the key! Matthew 6:25-33, Philippians 4:12-13, Hebrews 13:5, Luke 12:15, Psalm 37:3-4, 1 Timothy 6:10-11

[4] ↩  I like the imagery that the Bible uses concerning hope. It is called the Door of Hope (Hos 2:15). Hope is a door. It can provide a way out of your current predicament and open up new opportunities. It is also a helmet. We are told to put on the helmet of the hope of salvation (1 Thess 5:8). It guards a pretty important part of your body - your mind. And here, hope is an anchor for your soul. It keeps you firm and secure, even when the wind and waves would batter!

[5] ↩  This week in New Zealand (where I live) we had the headlines that New Zealand has just set a record. The headlines read: 'A record 564 people committed suicide in New Zealand in the past year' Youthline spokesman Stephen Bell said "The main way we are losing young people in the 21st century is them killing themselves." Now New Zealand is a beautiful country. Compared to the majority of countries in the world, it is a wonderful place to life. Yet we are losing record numbers of our youth due to suicide!?! Where is the hope for these young people? Only in God!

[6] ↩  I had an email this week from a young man who was struggling with his salvation. In his words he is perpetually tied up between grace and works. He believes he is saved by grace but worries that if he doesn't see enough change in his life or doesn't have enough good works that Jesus will 'spit him out of His mouth'. Such a thought essentially comes back down to works not grace. The salvation of a genuine believer isn't 'daisy chain salvation.' It isn't 'He loves me, he loves me not. He loves me, He loves me not.' A born again believer has the hope (which is a confident expectation based on the promise of God who cannot lie!) that 'He who began a good work in you WILL carry it on to the day of completion' (Phil 1:6) Jesus, as our priest forever in the order of Melchizedek is able to save 'completely' all those that come to Him for salvation.